Founded in 2017 by Monica Abramov and Anastassia (Stacey) Boguslavskaya, Lunata Hair specializes in wireless and portable styling products, including hair straighteners and curling wands. The co-founders are on a mission to free women from cords by combining beauty with tech and in the process, revolutionize the hair industry by designing innovative, game-changing hair tools.
Alpha Woman’s co-founder Leslie Andrachuk sat down with the duo to talk about what it’s like to be female entrepreneurs and how they launched the world’s first portable hair consumer technology brand.
SB: Monica and I met through a mutual friend that I knew from High School. He introduced us because we’re both in marketing and at the time Monica was launching a business called Shopbake.com. When I met Monica I just fell in love, we’re very similar when it comes to work ethic, goals and many of our interests.
Shopbake.com was an online marketplace enabling bakeries to sell and deliver custom orders to both businesses and end-customers through our platform. We also acted as a corporate concierge whereby companies could request the baked goods they wanted and we would act as the concierge to get quotes from all the individual bakeries.
We had two other (male) partners in the business but from the outset we noticed that Monica and I were really driven whereas the other two co-founders had other businesses they were involved in so they were a little more detached.
Monica and I were the faces of the company so we did all of the fundraising. In the tech space obtaining funding is very important so as soon as we had signed on a good number of bakeries and we started to make money, we went out and tried to raise funds.
We quickly realized it was a very male-dominated industry. What I mean by that is we did not meet with one woman VC or Angel Investor throughout our entire funding process until we went on Dragons Den.
SB: It was all over. We started in Ireland where we went to Web Summit. We also met an Angel Investor who flew us out to New York where we met with VCs who were all men. Some of our experiences during the fundraising process of the company really showed us the preconceived biases that women in tech experience.
We often talk about these experiences so we don’t forget them. There are so many. I’ll never forget when one of the people we met with (a man) leaned over to Monica and asked her why we don’t just make this into a lifestyle business.
SB: No, never. More examples — Monica has two kids and she’s married. She was asked why her husband doesn’t invest money into the business and also, what her husband’s salary was. One Investor told Monica that he didn’t think she could manage the business because she had two kids and 2 dogs – and that maybe she should get rid of the dogs.
I was single at the time so I found myself in some shocking situations as a result. At one point we were contacted by an Angel investor who showed a lot of interest in our business and took us to numerous meetings with VCs. When we pushed him to disclose terms of the investment he was discussing, and his commitment to the business he asked me if I could privately call him. When I called him he said “before I state the terms, I want to know where our relationship could head if I were on the board, and if there’s some potential for a personal relationship.”
The second mind-blowing instance took place with another person we were told was a tech investor. He kept pushing the meeting off and sent us the address of the meeting at the last minute. When we got to the address we realized that it was at was his penthouse apartment. We pitched to him as he sat on his couch, in his pyjamas. Yep, we hooked up our laptop to his tv and pitched to him while hung out in his jammies.
At Web Summit in Ireland, a very prominent investor reached out indicating that he wanted to learn more about our business so we met with him initially at our booth. He was quirky, doing Reiki on Monica at the booth, and telling us that he thought we both had great energy and he definitely wanted in. He was super eager to meet up again and really talk business.
We had gotten invited to a networking event so we (along with our other two, male founders) messaged him, inviting him to the party with us, figuring we could discuss more about the business at the event. At the event I suddenly found myself alone with him at our table. He leaned over and said something so wildly inappropriate to me that I don’t want to repeat it.
SB: I think it’s a numbers game. If he does that to 50 people, there might be one who thinks its fine and goes along with it. There’s also the power trip. They don’t really want you to do anything, they want to see how far they can push their power to see if you react or whether you’ll just accept and not do anything. The situation with the guy who thought it was okay to make us go to his penthouse and present to him while he’s lounging in his pyjamas – that was a classic power play.
We spent about a year trying to raise funds. During this whole process we auditioned and got on Dragons Den and we got a deal with one of the Dragons — Michele Romanow. At that time, Uber Eats and Foodora came into Toronto so the delivery aspect of our business could never compete. Even though we had the customization aspect, the market was too crowded and eventually we had to return to the corporate world.
A while later Monica called me up and told me about a new business she was working on. We had gone through this crazy trip together with our first business and had learned a lot from our successes and failures, but what we did know for sure was how well we work together.
MA: After Shopbake, I decided to go back to the corporate world. I thought it would be fine, but I realized my entrepreneurial tug was too strong. Through travelling and being in hotels where the plug was not situated close to a mirror or just the ease of use of having something cordless, I identified a need for cordless hair tools that just didn’t seem to exist on the market. We searched but all we could find were the Conair butane curling irons which were travel sized, didn’t get hot enough, and we’re suitable for travel because of the butane.
Nothing had changed in the category since then, so I decided to source some samples overseas. I ordered a number of samples and everything was just horrible. We finally found one sample that was that worked very well. Originally, this was just going to be a side business to make some extra money on Amazon.
I told Stacey about it right away but I did feel burned from Shopbake, so was being cautious. Stacey was super excited about it, and she made me excited so we decided to make it happen. We ordered a small amount to test the market, and spent time building the brand in June of 2017.
For our first round of irons we did very minimal marketing and sold only on our site and on Amazon. We wanted to get feedback on the product so we sent a postcard with the first 105 irons we sold asking for product feedback. Our first round of irons ended up selling out in two months with very minimal marketing.
At the same time, we started reaching out to buyers on LinkedIn just to see what would happen. We focussed on approaching the assistant buyers as they seemed the hungriest and we got the best result approaching the more junior staffers. We approached a number of other high-end retailers.
We finally got a response back from a buyer at Nordstrom who asked us to send her a sample. The feedback wasn’t super encouraging in the beginning but after about 4 months we heard back – the team around the office had been trying the iron and loved it and they wanted to try carrying it. We had no product or corporate infrastructure at the time so we had to hustle to become a company in basically one week.
After this exciting start, we focussed more of our time on marketing with influencers, got our product orders, shipping and fulfillment figured out while Nordstrom continued to order more product from us. From there, the other buyers started testing the products – taking the iron home and using it personally. We got a big burst of confidence because we realized that we could leverage our success with Nordstrom to get into other big retailers.
Our next big success with was with Holt Renfrew who was excited to work with us to develop an exclusive product for their customers only. We just launched the sleek, matte black version of our wand with exclusive packaging with a special case for travelling found only at Holts. It’s called the Jet Setter kit and comes with a world adapter. The new iron in Holt Renfrew is the result of the evolution of the product from the feedback we received from our customers. It gets 30 degrees hotter, and is battery powered.
In the meantime we’ve been filing patents and preparing for the launch of our flagship product, our wireless curling iron. We’re launching a Kickstarter and attending the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas in January and we believe we’ll be ready to ship the product to stores in the summer of 2019.
SB: The day after we had our Holt Renfrew meeting I was at my local cafe to do some work and Joe Mimran walked in. We had met him because we had been on Dragons Den, but there are a million people who pitch to them so I wasn’t really expecting him to remember me. Regardless, I went up to him and, after apologizing for the interruption and mentioning how we had met on Dragons Den, I told him about Lunata and basically pitched him right there and then.
The funny part about this story is that next to him was sitting another man, a complete stranger, who overheard my pitch. He literally turned around in his seat, looked at me and said, “That’s the most amazing product I have ever heard of, my wife would love this. If he doesn’t invest I will.” It was as if we had planted the guy to say these things, but of course this wasn’t the case.
I ended up giving my card to Joe and promised to send him more information. Since we weren’t actively fundraising, we didn’t have a pitch deck ready so we had to hustle. Fortunately, we had so much experience from our previous business that we were able to assemble the deck very quickly and have it on his desk in the next few days.
During the time we were meeting with Joe and his team we had actual sales updates or new stores coming on board so the process went very quickly. Joe has been amazing with providing guidance and introducing us to people with a lot more expertise in certain areas. We really can’t imagine a better partner than Joe. He’s not just an investor, he’s very hands-on in helping us grow.
Mimram only has wonderful things to say about the duo as well. “Like all true entrepreneurs, Monica and Anastassia saw a need in the market and filled it. With its debut product, Lunata is poised to become a force in the emerging beauty tech market, and I’m looking forward to help fuel the growth of the business.”
MA: We’ve discovered that we love the whole product development process, it’s really fun. Joe is helping us launch a supporting line of hair products such as styling products, dry shampoos, texturizers, and more.
Through Joe we’re able to access people who are specialists in hair, such as chemists that work with hair ingredients. We want to be sure we’re not just putting out products for the sake of putting out products, we want to intentionally develop products that solve a problem. Technology is at the core of everything we do.
Our products cater to busy people. We aim to help women look good by helping prolong the weekly blow-out, and lessening the need to wash hair every day, but still look fresh. We see a lot of women developing “hair calendars” to help them track their haircare schedule throughout the week.
Our range of products will help women maintain much healthier during the weekly cycle, as they can use our products to touch up each day, and thereby avoid the daily wash, blow and style, which is hard on hair.
MA: Go for it. We’ve learned to not take no for an answer. We got a bunch of ‘no’s’ in the beginning that eventually turned into ‘yeses’ over time. Do not take no at face value. Be persistent.
Also, it’s important to commit to something. Value your customers and the people who are willing to take a risk on you in the beginning, and get their feedback on a regular basis.
Lastly, don’t get married to an idea- be flexible with iterating as needed. Don’t be too emotionally invested in your idea, especially in the early stages. Things change quickly, for example social media. Instagram is hot right now, but perhaps tomorrow it won’t be, so we make sure we engage all of our social media platforms as we don’t know what this landscape will look like in a year.
SB: Communication is key, we talk 24/7. Sometimes we feel like we’re merging into one person, we’re that close (lol). Also, it’s very important to be open to change. At this point in the of evolution of our business we make sure that we’re both cc’d on all emails. This will have to change as we grow, but right now, it’s important for us both to be involved in everything.