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Making Tech Pretty: Spotlight on Coco Meers

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Written by: Northern Trust Wealth

A flight delay, an eyebrow wax and an entrepreneurial spirit inspire a new way to book salon appointments.

Some top tech companies started in the unlikeliest of places, like college dorm rooms and garages. For Coco Meers, the idea for PrettyQuick, an app that matches users with nearby salons and spas that have open appointments, came while she was stuck in an airport.

“I had a flight delay, and were it not for being stuck in an airport, I would have used that ‘found time’ to get my eyebrows waxed, an errand that had lingered on my to-do list for too long” says Meers, 32. “I thought: Why isn’t there an app where I can just press a button and be connected with a trustworthy, available aesthetician to do my eyebrows?”

From there, PrettyQuick was born. Similar to restaurant reservation sites, the app allows a user to log on, select a service — like a manicure, haircut or massage — and browse all available, recommended salons. Once a member verifies appointment details, PrettyQuick confirms the opening immediately either through text or push notification.

The app is free to members, and a team of beauty editors vets all salons and spas. Spa services, including tip, are billed directly to the user’s card on file. “I just wanted to make it easier for women to take care of themselves,” Meers says.

The Brains Behind PrettyQuick

A Birmingham, Alabama, native, Meers moved to Chicago in 2009 after working as a brand manager for L’Oréal in Paris for five years. The Windy City’s entrepreneurial community inspired her after a brief stint as a marketing consultant for local startups.

“I knew I could do something with my corporate experience, but I wanted to do something bigger,” she says. “Starting something from the ground up felt like the best opportunity to make the biggest impact.”

But she knew turning the “aha” moment in the airport into a viable business wouldn’t be easy. Women-led private tech companies are more capital-efficient, achieve 35 percent higher return on investment, and when venture-backed, bring in 12 percent more revenue than tech companies led by men, according to a 2014 book by Vivek Wadhwa and Farai Chideya titled, “Innovating Women: The Changing Face of Technology.” Yet women start only 3 percent of tech companies.

Having earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Princeton University, Meers knew she needed to improve her formal business education in order to launch her tech startup. So in 2010, she began her master’s in business administration degree from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

“I never wanted to look at my own financial statements and not understand what was going on,” she says.

While at the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Meers rounded out the rough edges of her beauty app idea and met the future chief operating officer of her company, Shreena Amin. Amin’s investment banking background provided a strong complement to Meers’ beauty industry expertise.

The pair went door-to-door to hundreds of salons and spas throughout Chicago to determine how an app could best serve the local beauty industry. “A high-end hotel spa is vastly different than a small neighborhood nail salon, but they all had something in common, and we needed to find that common pain point,” says Meers.

Over and over again, she heard that salons and spas had no reliable way to market themselves. While many said that their business came from word of mouth, that wasn’t easy to track or quantify. PrettyQuick could change that by providing salons and spas with a simple, easy-to-learn platform to book customers, fill empty seats in off-peak hours and increase their exposure.

In the fall of 2013, Meers officially launched PrettyQuick in Chicago, where she intends to become a household name for beauty booking by mid-2015. PrettyQuick is also available in Washington, D.C., Boston, Dallas, Miami and San Francisco. Not one to set small goals, Meers expects to launch in 40 markets over the next four years and grow the business into a billion-dollar brand.

Finding Inspiration Outside of the Business

“As an entrepreneur, you have to live and breathe your business,” Meers says. “But if you allow yourself to get out of your own head and out into the world, you’ll find inspiration and guidance in all parts of your life that you’d never expect.”

For Meers, inspiration is derived from the arts. A ballet dancer for most of her life, she knows firsthand the transformative power of the arts.

“It was a source of discipline and creativity, a physical and emotional outlet,” she says. “It exposed me to music, lights and stage production, and nothing excited me more than being in the theater and making something out of nothing.”

Meers co-founded the Joffrey Ballet’s Auxiliary Board in 2010, joined the board of directors in 2012 and now serves as co-chair of the ballet company’s marketing committee.

Staying involved philanthropically isn’t just something she does for fun or out of obligation — she needs it. All entrepreneurs should make it a priority, she says. “I’ve met mentors and business leaders through my work with the Joffrey. Every time I interact with the arts community, I take something incredible from it.”

On top of her business and philanthropic work, Meers also became a first-time mother in March. As for how she navigates all of the personal and professional responsibilities, she admits that she doesn’t have all the answers, and that’s OK. “Ask me again in six months,” she says.

She’s gotten some advice from other trusted entrepreneurial mothers and knows there will be bumps in the road. But she has no intention of slowing down.

“My focus on this company isn’t at odds with the kind of mother I want to be,” she says. “I work all the time. But I also love my work, so it doesn’t feel like work. I want to show my daughter that she can do anything she sets her mind to.”

And hopefully she’ll treat herself to the occasional massage or manicure while she’s doing it.

 

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