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THE way celebrities do it - book make-up, hair or massage services from their smartphones to enjoy from the comforts of their homes - is increasingly gaining vogue among the masses, and local entrepreneur Douglas Gan says it's only a matter of time before this becomes a mainstay in the Singapore beauty industry.
Reportedly worth some US$14.6 billion last year, the local beauty and personal care market has been named one to watch in South-east Asia by market research firm RNCOS. It says that with rising penetration by global cosmetic brands and local spend on cosmetic products, Singapore's beauty market will grow at a compound annual growth rate of four per cent between 2013 and 2017.
And, if demand on Vanitee - a beauty services booking app he launched in May - is any indication, mobile on-demand beauty services here is set to burgeon. By the hour, the app brings in an average of 70 bookings and S$3,300 in transactions, and has since May grown eight times in bookings, five times in sales and three times in number of active users month-on-month, Mr Gan told The Business Times.
"On-demand beauty services have existed for a long time, since people began calling for make-up artists or masseurs to go to their homes; these were found mainly on classified sites. But they are new on mobile. Traditional beauty companies will partner apps like Vanitee - eventually - for productivity reasons. If they don't keep up with the times, they will watch their profits be eroded by tech-savvy businesses," he said.
He added: "What I'm trying to do at Vanitee is to bring on-demand beauty services previously enjoyed only by celebrities and tai tais to the masses and make it affordable through economies of scale."
Asked how he got into the female-dominated beauty industry, he said he was sold after a good friend who was running a female fashion business with "hundreds of millions in revenue" showed him the numbers and how women shopped online.
"I realised how much potential this industry had and was comforted by the fact that most female businesses are run by men. There are not many techies who solve problems for the women's industry at large. Most techies love to solve men's problems or general problems," said the 31-year-old co-founder.
Vanitee is not his first foray into the women's industry. In 2003, he founded FemmeFest.com, an online forum for women to exchange ideas privately. But that failed because it could not find a monetisation model, he said.
"I always had something in me that told me 'One day, I must try again. The women's industry is huge, I just had not spotted the right problem to solve at that time."
In 2011, he founded Vanity Trove, a subscription platform which delivers a box of beauty products to users each month for a recurring fee. Vanitee was born out of the beauty-services booking arm of Vanity Trove, which earns by collecting a cut on every transaction between a user and beauty artist.
The app, which Mr Gan labels the "Airbnb for beauty services", now has 280 beauty and wellness artists on board, and more than 200 locations islandwide that consumers can also visit to get their nails, hair or makeup done.
At the core of his business too is empowerment, Mr Gan said. Vanitee enables a "passionate" community of beauty artists - among them bloggers and young mothers - to run small independent businesses that let them do the work they love, but not have to worry about the complexities of managing a business.
To maintain trust and quality, Mr Gan said that every artist signed up through Vanitee will undergo up to 27 layers of checks before they are cleared to offer their services on the platform.
For instance, his team will personally meet and verify every one of them, take photos of their service locations and store a copy of their identity cards.
"Despite the stringent checks, we respect our artists' passion and creativity for their work. That is why we spare no expense in bulking up our team to support their endeavours, through services such as networking, personal assistance and marketing."
The startup, which has quadrupled its staff strength to 20 in the last six months, expects to grow by another three times in the next 12 months.
It is now even looking to partner beauty schools to improve service standards by introducing new forms of accreditation, competitions and education opportunities.
This comes after fellow homegrown beauty startup Luxola was snatched up by French luxury group LVMH's subsidiary Sephora in July, reportedly for an eight-figure sum, making it what is believed to be one of Singapore's biggest Internet startup exits this year.