Yulia and I met at The Ivy Chelsea Gardens, where we shared breakfast and unpicked her jump from management consulting boardrooms to blow dries and building a terrifically exciting new brand. Taking inspiration from salons in the US and Japan and faith and foresight from her entrepreneurial parents, Yulia launched Duck & Dry - a chain of blow dry bars. We discuss the merits of bootstrapping organic growth and how Yulia has scaled the brand in just three short years to include 3 stores, a product line and a franchise operation. Oh and she had two children in that time too! Keep reading the interview to learn what is next for Yulia and her top tip on starting a company.
Current Job Founder and CEO of Duck & Dry
First Job Management Consultant in Financial Services
Education Management degree at the LSE
Go to meeting spot Berners Tavern, still one of the most beautiful dining rooms in London!
Necessary extravagance Holidays! Travelling is one of my indulgences. I miss the sun living in London and I find that getting away helps me to get a sense of perspective away from the day to day grind. And I always come back with new and fresh ideas!
Favourite productivity tool Pen and paper. I am quite old school when it comes down to planning work load and am constantly doing 'to do' lists.
Favourite blog Sheerluxe Success Stories, I really enjoy learning about the journeys of other entrepreneurs
Recent inspiration Tamara Hill-Norton, Founder and Creative Director of Sweaty Betty. I was really inspired by her story, how she managed to grow to 60 stores and still maintain and a happy family and achieve the all important work/life balance.
What do you believe that most around you disbelieve To build a successful business it does not always require a completely unique idea. Even if there are other examples of a product/ service you can still succeed by just doing it better!
What do you wish you could change in the world of startups and business One of the most challenging aspects for a new brand is to reach the consumers and build brand awareness so it would be fantastic if there was a platform for new businesses to reach their audiences faster in a cost effective way.
Yulia, start us off by sharing a little bit about yourself and your background before founding Duck & Dry?
I took a very classic route - after graduating from the London School of Economics I started working for a management consulting firm in financial services. I really enjoyed that experience and it was a great stepping stone but in the back of my mind I always wanted to start my own business. I come from a very entrepreneurial family so I've been around my parents and listened to those types of conversations since I was very young and so I knew that eventually I would want to build my own brand but it was about finding the right opportunity. At the time I was travelling a lot to the US where blow dry bars are huge and I loved the energy and the buzz that was lacking in the UK in many traditional salons. And although 3 years ago, it wasn't a completely new concept here I still felt that it was a space where you can grow and develop. My trips to Japan also inspired me to create a strong personality for the brand, they had such a strong identity across many service providers. And so I wanted to combine the experience and brand aspect to create Duck & Dry.
What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today?
From very early on I was under no impression that it was going to be an easy road. In a way, I was very much prepared that it will be quite a tough ride. But I think going into business you have an immense pressure and it is high risk so I think one of the best pieces of advice that my parents gave me was not to invest more than what you can afford to lose. That really helped to keep things in perspective and think what is the worst that can happen! At least in the early days I would advise to put in the money that wouldn't cause too much destruction to your life if you lost it.
For those who don’t know, can you tell us what Duck & Dry is and what was the motivation behind launching the company?
Duck & Dry is a beauty brand of blow dry bars known for their energy and buzz and an edited range of hair products for home use. It is an experience and brand led concept. Our stores do not look like your typical salon. We create unique interiors that cater for a social and fun environment with many of the seats facing each other or group styling areas so you can come in with friends, there is a prosecco bar and curated music lists with DJ stations. And of course we deliver high quality blow dries with exceptionally experienced and trained stylists. While our product range is 'Hatched in London, Brewed in Somerset' using natural active ingredients, bespoke scent and products that really work and are derived from our in house expertise.
How does life as Founder and CEO compare to your previous lifestyle as a management consultant?
You never switch off. Even if you are really involved in your job and in a high-pressured environment, you can ultimately still shut the laptop and have a day off. But when you run your own business it is almost impossible to do, it is all consuming. It really never stops and there is something on your mind all the time. Liz Earle spoke at a talk recently and she said the company is part of her DNA and it really resonated with me that you live and breathe the business and I think one of the biggest challenges is getting time and space away from the business. At the early stage you are wearing so many hats so the biggest challenge is separating the day to day grind from the bigger picture of what you are trying to build.
Duck & Dry
What has been the evolution and milestones you are proudest of to date?
Both of our flagship stores have opened whilst I was pregnant so that was an achievement in itself! Both children were born a couple of months after the opening so in the months leading up to the build I was heavily pregnant which was manic but at the same time kept me sane while putting things in perspective. The other important milestone was launching our own product line about a year ago. It was a labour of love and all of the products are bespoke formulas. My team of stylists helped to test them in house with real time feedback and even our regular clients were also involved in the process. It was an amazing project for all of us and Harvey Nichols was our first stockist. 2018 is also shaping up as a big year when we will be launching our first Duck & Dry franchise which is a very exciting new chapter for the brand.
Tell us about your fundraising history - what capital did you access to launch the business and have you taken any other investment
The business is entirely self-financed from savings and family. It has been incredible that we have been able to achieve this growth organically and I'm sure there will come a time when fundraising will make sense. I think investing your own funds is quite a big undertaking and you feel that pressure at all times but at the same time it spurs you on and ultimately if you believe in yourself - why not be the first one to put the money in if you can.
Who have you bought into the business as advisors or mentors and how did those relationships come about?
When I launched Duck & Dry I had a lot of conversations with financial advisors and consultants but I never actually sat down with a fellow salon owner or any services owner in the lead up to setting up Duck & Dry, which now looking back seems a bit crazy! I was so focused on my vision but I do think that it would have been extremely helpful to have had those conversations. So, in the last 3 years I have reached out to a lot of other beauty brands and entrepreneurs who I respect to expand my network in this industry in which I was a complete outsider.
What are some of the KPIs that you measure success by for both the business and your team?
For the salons we are reaching our 100,000 client mark! That is a fantastic milestone for us. Our clients range from those who get blow dries every day and those who come back for special events and every single one of them are special to us. And I still get very excited when we sign up a new retail partner for our product line and growing our client numbers in that space as well. .
Tell us about your approach to building the brand and your successful use of social media, bloggers and influencers to drive growth?
In addition to working with bloggers, celebrities and influencers we also love working and collaborating with other exciting businesses and brands. We do a lot of events both hosting other brands and also doing pop ups. We have held express blow dry pop ups with some great brands such as Adidas, Barbie, Nars, French Sole and many more. Events are great exposure to new clientele and for the brand overall. We also had a summer pop up at River Island over the Summer and recently we have opened a store within the Sweaty Betty flagship in Soho - this experience led retail phenomena is huge and we are capitalising on that.
What is your long term vision for Duck & Dry?
We would love for Duck & Dry to become a real beauty consumer brand that a wide audience of people know of and buy into. Right now, we are very London centric. I would love to raise the awareness of the brand for it to become a house hold name for quality blow dries and at home hair products.
Women in Business
What advice would you share with women in the early stages or thinking about launching their own venture?
I find that very often when people think of setting up their own business they think it has to be a completely brand new and unique idea. And if you do come up with something completely unique that is amazing but more often than not it doesn't have to be revolutionary, it can just be something that you execute better than others in the market. You see people telling you about their idea and trying to defend it by saying there is nothing else like it but sometimes it is good to enter the market where consumers are already aware of the concept.
What is being CEO and a mother really like? Do you feel like you have to make any compromises?
I think there are lots of compromises to be made, for example, I didn't really take any maternity leave either before or after my two children and I was very lucky to have two easy pregnancies. I am structured in my approach to work and I do have a nanny to allow me to be in the office Monday-Friday. I treasure those morning moments with the children, evening baths and weekends are sacred for the family. It is a very personal choice but for me I feel comfortable having both and separating my time.
Do you consciously think about building a diverse team and how can we do better to attract and retain more women?
For us it is actually almost the opposite because hairdressing is so female orientated, especially blow dries because we don't have many male clients! We are always on the lookout for male stylists, front of house and marketing talent because I really like mixed teams and think it is important and healthy to have that dynamic.
What personal qualities to you attribute most to your success?
I honestly think that at least 50% of success is just keep on going. Pure determination is such a huge factor, especially in the beginning. You have to be able to motivate yourself and have inherent drive. You have to be passionate about the company you are building. Running your own company really isn't for everyone - I wouldn't advocate owning your own business unless you truly have it in you, in which case you are already 50% on the way to success!