How I Did It: Alli Webb, Founder of Drybar

What happens when you take a sister’s creative idea for a hair salon and pair it with a bald brother’s financial backing?

You get a $20 million business called Drybar.

In three short years, Drybar has revolutionized the world of hair salons. By taking the “wash and blow dry” service offered at salons and building a stand-alone business based on this service, Alli Webb has created a market niche for herself.

In her 26 salons in six states, Drybar is blowing out the hair of over 50,000 women a month. Not bad for a girl who started her business driving around from client to client in her 2001 Nissan Xterra.

How did you begin your business? What was your inspiration?

Drybar was officially born on February 12, 2010; however, the story and inspiration behind it actually began when I was about 6 years old. As a little girl with naturally crazy-curly hair, I always wanted to have it blown out straight. I would I would beg my mother to blow it out, literally, as early as I remember being aware that I had hair. As I grew up, I realized that I simply felt more put together and confident after a good blow out. My search for great blowouts continued throughout my life. It even motivated me to go to beauty school and become a professional hair stylist.

I learned that I was not alone in the need for great blowouts nor was I alone in feeling the confidence and bliss that comes after getting your hair styled. However, at 35 years old, I was still hoping and wishing for a place where I could get a great and affordable blowout in a beautiful space and fun atmosphere. I had pictured this “Drybar concept” in my head for so many years, and finally got tired of waiting for someone else to do it. So I approached my brother with the idea. He lent me the money, and we did it ourselves!

Outline the first few months/year of getting business off the ground. What were you dealing with? How were you feeling?

For starters, launching a business is completely an all-encompassing, all-consuming effort. In order to get any business off the ground successfully, it truly takes an unprecedented amount of dedication, focus and sheer will. Having a great idea is one thing, but actually pulling together the thousands of little details necessary to bring that idea to reality is another story. It took a solid six months of “high burn” where everyone involved (me, my brother, my husband, my sister-in-law, and our architect/partner Josh Heitler) was spending just about every waking hour, seven days a week, working on Drybar.

From architecture and design to branding, marketing, computer systems and public relations — not to mention finding and training dozens and dozens (now we have almost 1,000 today) of stylists. Then, once we actually opened our first shop, it took everything we all had just to keep the doors open. It was total and complete chaos in those early days, but it was also more fun than you can imagine — it was such a bonding experience for us all and really laid the foundation for our culture and values in years to come. (Check out our recently published core value, “The Heart & Soul of Drybar.”

When did you first feel that you had found success?

While I was very confident we were onto something big well before we opened based on the early reaction from almost anyone I told about the idea, there was actually one moment I remember so well a few days before we launched that really solidified things. Daily Candy sent an email around announcing Drybar, and shortly after, the appointments started flooding in.

I remember showing the books to Cameron (my husband), Michael (my brother) and Sarah (his wife) and we all just started crying together. It was a really sweet and special moment that I’ll never forget. Now, if you asked Michael, our CEO, this same question, he would probably say it was when Castanea (our private equity partners) invested $16M into Drybar!

How do you inspire your employees? How do you motivate yourself?

In my opinion, this is definitely an on-going challenge, and the single most critical aspect of the business. But, the good news is we go through an extensive process to find and hire like-minded people who share our values and passion, so we’re lucky in that the people who work at Drybar love it. Everyone who works here feels like we are a part of creating something so big, super-special, and unique, and this feeling is what has become the great motivator.

For me personally, the motivation comes easy because this is truly the opportunity of a lifetime. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to believe what we’ve created and how lucky I am that I get to do what I love everyday with the people I love.

Using your experience, what tips can you pass on to other women about launching and running their own businesses?

1. Don’t listen to people who tell you it’s a bad idea. Listen to your heart. If everyone shared your passion, someone would have already done it!

2. Make it happen. I know it’s cliche, but talk is cheap. Stop talking about, just go do it.

3. Surround yourself with people who are good at what you are not. My brother and business partner Michael have a lot more business experience than me and so together, with my hair experience, we make a great team. Knowing what you are not good at and where you need help is so important to your overall success.

4. Even though it will feel impossible sometimes, try to balance your life. If you have kids, you will feel guilty ALL. THE. TIME. When you’re working 24/7 you’ll feel like a horrible mother. And when you take time away from the business to be with your kids, you’ll feel like you’re neglecting your business. It’s a vicious cycle, but do everything you can be cognizant of not losing your life.

About the Author

author image

Kristy Campbell is a brand and corporate communications leader in Silicon Valley and serves on the Board of Directors for A Woman's Nation. She is a breadwinner and single mom of 5 children, and she writes about personal and career transformation, divorce and the juggle of work/life imbalance. She created a Facebook community called Divorcehood for divorced and single parents, so join her there to be part of the conversation. You can find her complete work at www.kristycampbellcreative.com.

Read more from Kristy Campbell

Sign Up for MariaShriver.com's Weekly Must-Read

More Posts from Architects of Change