LISA App — one of HqO’s best-in-class Marketplace partners — is a leading beauty and wellness provider that is making waves in the world of workplace experience. The company partners with employers (as well as office and residential property managers) to bring self-care directly to where people work and live. Their goal is to help individuals feel less stressed and more refreshed, productive, and valued. To learn more about their thoughts on industry trends and the future of the workplace, I sat down with LISA Co-founder Robert Richmond and asked him a few questions.
Thank you so much for joining me, Rob! Would you mind kicking us off by explaining LISA’s background and how the company got started?
Absolutely. The LISA App was really conceptualized in late 2014. I used to be a partner at a company called Chicago Apartment Finders. We were a household name at the time, and the leaders in rentals — not just for the state of Illinois, but really across the entire country. This was before Apartments.com and other related companies got their start. We were in the process of selling our company to a large commercial company. I happened to be at a stop light on the way to the closing, and I looked out my window to see a rundown salon.
I thought to myself, ‘Wow, what a shame. I feel bad for the owner.’ And then I had to ask myself, ‘Wait, why do I feel bad for the owner who allowed the salon to become rundown? I really feel bad for the artists that work there.’ Then, I realized that they’re independent contractors who could go anywhere. At that moment, I looked back at the salon and saw a Lyft car drive by. It was when they used to have the pink mustaches attached to the front of their vehicles. This got me thinking: What if I took beauty and make it mobile? That was my ‘A-ha!’ moment.
That was certainly serendipitous. How did you break into the beauty and wellness space, and how did LISA get its name?
My wife’s name is Lisa, and she has been a cosmetologist for over 30 years. I called her immediately and said, ‘Hey, I think I have an idea and I’d like to explore it.’ After I explained it to her, she thought it was a really good idea. It was essentially the Uber and Lyft of the beauty and wellness industry. It did not exist at that time, and even though it was still early on in the on-demand services industry, I knew that by the time we developed the technology we would be ready to go and pitch to customers.
So that’s what happened. It took us all of 2015 to build the app. We went out, raised money, and established a team. In January of 2016, we launched as a B2C concept. It was at this moment we realized that it would be a very expensive business model to try to go B2C — even Uber didn’t start as a B2C company. So, we decided to focus on corporations and getting their employees to become habitual users. We knew that would ultimately translate into B2C usage.
What has been your experience as a B2B company?
Once we got into the B2B world, we were present in really large companies like Walgreens, Grubhub, and Expedia. We started growing our base of users. We weren’t so quick to go back to B2C. We realized that it was a huge sustainable market in and of itself. Obviously, corporations are looking for a way to provide new, cool perks and amenities to their employees. Companies were bringing us in as many as 16 days per month on a regular basis to service their employee base. That’s how it all got started. It was really a random occurrence that I was able to utilize my skill set and Lisa’s skill set. The timing was also perfect, because I was just selling my old company. I tell my kids all the time that if I were on my phone at that stop light, I would’ve missed that opportunity. It’s all about being in the moment and being present.
That is truly an incredible story! Did you notice that some companies were more interested in your product than others, or was it the same interest across the board?
That’s a great question. You would think that more high-stress corporations would require the services the most. That’s not really the case. I mean, we still serviced a lot of call centers where people were literally on their phone all day taking complaints, but we also did many massages and services for companies that were relatively stress-free. They’d still bring us in 20 times a month. It really comes down to how much a company wants to show their employees that they care about their personal health and wellbeing.
It was almost as if companies would feel bad saying no to us, because then they would almost be admitting that they didn’t care about their employees. Look, lunches and jeans on Friday only take you so far in a corporation. As you look at the statistics, four out of five employees in corporate America would rather get a benefit over a raise. 160 billion dollars is spent by employers annually on turnover, and 80% of employees report that they’re stressed at work. When you put all three of those data points together, it really tells the story of LISA and companies like LISA.
That makes a lot of sense. Tell me more about the services you offer.
LISA provides a lot of services like massages and hair services – whether it’s haircuts or blow outs or barbers for men. Nails are one of our busiest services, and we do regular express manicures as well as gel, no-chip, and dip manicures. We stay away from pedicures in the workplace, which differs from our residential clients. Additionally, we offer skin services from facials, to waxing, to tanning, and then we also offer wellness, yoga, fitness, and meditation classes. We even have virtual events, which were really born during the pandemic.
You mentioned differences between corporate and residential services. Can you dive into that a little more?
The only thing that differs from residential is that we might offer pedicures and services that take up a little more time. All of our services for corporate clients are designed to be 30 minutes or less, because we understand that bosses and executives are very happy to offer these perks, but they don’t want employees away from their desks for too long. Normally, people would go to a salon and by the time they drive there, get the service done, and come back, it becomes a two-hour event. With LISA, you can just get on the elevator, press the floor number, hop off, and the artist is ready for you. You’re in and out with the exact same service you would get in that salon in a very reasonable amount of time.
That definitely makes sense, and it’s still helpful to break up employees’ days and give them the opportunity to leave their desks.
You’re absolutely right. It’s like a mini work vacation. Employees and team members go back to their desks feeling refreshed and good about themselves. It makes them more appreciative to their bosses for thinking about them and giving them an opportunity to rejuvenate the workday.
Earlier, you mentioned that during the course of the pandemic, most of your services went digital. What encouraged LISA to adapt to a digital platform?
Honestly, it was out of necessity. 99% of our business is in-person services. When we went from having 500 or more corporations on our platform using LISA on a daily basis, to near zero, we knew we had to make some changes. We sat down with our team, whipped out the whiteboard, and worked together to figure out how we could continue the business. One of the ideas was to set up virtual instructional videos — like how to cut your own hair, since the pandemic impacted all of those services — and offer yoga and meditation classes. We would tailor it to the company and their needs.
During this process, we realized that many people were not at work at the time. We knew that if not at work, they were probably at home. We started to reach out to high rises and multifamily units. Our pitch was very simple, because we knew people were going to go out and get these services done regardless. We asked potential clients if they’d rather their people sit in a waiting room with 30 other people where they could contract COVID-19, or if they’d rather have a single artist who was masked, tested, and wearing gloves, taking one customer at a time and following all the precautions. So, residential buildings started to say yes to us. This was the birth of LISA’s residential focus.
That’s very interesting to me, because even though you’re talking about residential, those concepts can easily also be applied to what we’re seeing in the corporate sector today. Property and office owners are adding hospitality services to attract people to the space and add value to their days.
I’ve seen that as well, and corporate clients are still using both physical and digital mediums to do this. As occupancy continues to grow within commercial buildings, companies are realizing that partners like LISA are providing a carrot, versus a stick, to encourage employees to come back into the office. To do this, they are focusing a lot of their efforts on mental health. People have been sitting in their pajamas for the last two and a half years, working from their homes. They’re not super incentivized to go back to an office scenario.
Companies are realizing that even though people can be productive at home, they’re still distracted and things are slipping through the cracks. There’s no replacement for a group of like-minded people being together and committing to a goal of success. A lot of companies started to lose business results and realized they needed to focus on the little things to show tenant and employee appreciation. If they can save someone two hours over the weekend that they would normally spend getting a beauty or wellness service done — two hours that people would much rather be spending with family or friends — by offering the same service in the workplace, it’s a win for both the company and the employee.
Do you happen to have a favorite program or service of LISA’s?
We have a new program called the SPA program which stands for the Salon Partnership Amenity. What we’re doing with this amenity is giving buildings the opportunity to offer their clients the service for free (since budget is one of the number one obstacles we encounter), where the tenants pay for it. We partner with local salons and spas in the immediate area of the building and allow them to bid on those jobs, go in, and increase their footprint within their own community without having to spend a dollar on brick and mortar. Essentially, they go from having one brick and mortar salon to, you know, 18 locations within a certain radius. This is extremely valuable, since 90% of people get services done within two miles of their home or office. It provides salons and spas a wonderful opportunity to build and grow their business.
You’re really allowing people to strengthen their connections with their homes, workplaces, and local communities.
Absolutely. It’s not even just about taking breaks from your everyday life and getting those services. It’s about recreating a sense of community in a world that has been disparate for so long. It gives people the opportunity to reestablish communication lines and learn how to have a conversation again.
Have you seen any other trends impacting the market?
Everything’s changing and so dynamic right now. People are grasping for straws trying to get people motivated and back into the workplace. We’re seeing so many trends; we’re currently getting requests for services we don’t typically offer. This includes dog groomers and daycares to allow employees to bring their pets into the office, mobile gas options, and so forth. We’ve even set up situations where people have gone and read to seniors and hung out with them. This all goes back to what we said earlier about needing a sense of community and communication. Ultimately, that is what life is all about.
We really want to help companies welcome their employees back to the office and residential buildings show tenant appreciation. We’re helping everyone we can. We appreciate those who have put their trust in us, as do our artists. Many salons and spas closed down throughout the pandemic, and we’ve been happy to give these artists work and to make a positive impact on our communities. HqO has been a great partner to us, and we hope to continue to grow underneath that umbrella. We’re really proud of the relationship, and how supportive both teams have been of each other. So, thank you for helping us achieve our goals.