Samson Oguntayo is co-founder of Thribe, a platform to access beauty hair care and products for multicultural women. He lives in the Greenwich/ Lewisham border.
Tell us about your business
We aim to be the Treatwell providing home service hairstyling for multicultural women. We offer a trusted platform to connect customers with hair care and products and take a percentage for every transaction.
Where did that business idea come from?
I have three daughters with Afro hair. Can you imagine the time it takes for me to get my daughters’ hair done? You’re talking something like 5 hours for each person so we can spend a whole day in a salon. Just doing hair. This is not something that you do once every three to six months. It’s something you have to do at least once a month, minimum. You have to buy the products from one place and go to another place to get the hair done. I know people who travel from Manchester to London to get their done. Ridiculous.
We’re in the age where you can order your food and hail a cab from the comfort of your home.
So we are developing Thribe as a tech platform that connects customers to stylists and products.
What is the market you’re addressing?
Over £5 billion is spent on hair care in the UK alone. The African community accounts for about 80% of that. So you’re talking over 4 billion. It’s a huge market.
The biggest players in the market at the moment are the cosmetic stores that are predominantly owned by Asians, who don’t really know much about the products. They don’t understand the different types of Afro hair textures. Hairstylists are the experts. They are the mini influencers of the community. They are the ones to be giving advice.
How did you launch the business?
I have 2 co-founders. Two of us have been working on the idea since 2016. We were looking for a long time for tech expertise and recruited the third founder in 2017.
We actually launched in Nigeria first. We released a mobile app on Android with different categories for several industries, not just hair and beauty products. We wanted to know what the market wanted. We narrowed it down to hair and beauty. The market found us.
It took a lot of time but we wanted to be sure about what we’re doing. It gave us confidence that this is definitely the industry to focus on. Back in London, we didn’t want to go through the whole costly process of building an app again so we used a basic website. We’re now trying to validate the MVP and get traction. We’d done over 200 transactions since October 2019, then COVID hit.
The next stage is to get the funding we need to go all out and take it to the next level with web and mobile apps, and to work on the business full time.
How has COVID affected you?
It has affected growth. But believe it or not, we still have customers because black people can’t just leave their hair in its natural state. It will get really difficult to manage afterwards. So our stylists take precautions with PPE kit. We’re doing that because we understand what they are going through. Not everybody can watch a video on YouTube to do their own hair. There are people who genuinely need help, for instance, people with disability, they need that personal service.
We are generating leads. When the lockdown is over we’ll probably get a surge. There are waiting lists for hairdressers.
We stumbled upon the OneTech FounderVine pre-accelerator in the process of trying to find out about investment just before lockdown. We have become more active in trying to create a network around investment. I’ve probably contacted over 50 investors. The time is now unfortunate- it does have an impact on fundraising.
Businesses will be really important in how we recover and what kind of businesses do well. I think there’s a lot to be done about that in terms of government support. Get that money back on stream. Get investing again.
Tell us about your own background and how it has influenced your business.
Marketing is my thing. I am a director of a small marketing agency that I founded in 2013 when I finished university and couldn’t get a job. That’s how I started in the business world. It was a way for me to be able to feed my family.
I always felt like there was something bigger than I was going to be doing at some point. My partner Blessing has about 20 years of experience in the hair industry, so that was a good way in. We’ve always wondered why that industry has stayed the same for decades. Nothing’s happening. No real innovation going on. I travel back and forth to Nigeria for business purposes and during my travels, I started noticing issues back in Africa that we could solve.
It’s often a combination of your professional background and something you’ve noticed in your life that helps you spot a problem. I’m a bit of a problem solver I guess.
Do you envisage the business taking off in Nigeria and elsewhere?
Yes absolutely. We’ve validated the concept in two different continents. I mean you’re talking about Africa where the spending power is nothing compared to the west and we were able to makeover a couple of hundred sales in Nigeria too. We think this could be a global business.
What challenges have you faced and how you have you overcome them?
Challenges! So many of them! Where do I start?!
One of the main challenges is trying to convince people that you could do something so huge. I mean this is huge. It’s a big deal. And trying to raise funds is no joke, especially coming from my community. You don’t have family and friends that can give you £100k. You have to bootstrap. You just keep scraping and trying to make it work.
Do you feel there’s anything in your background that’s been either an advantage or disadvantage in your startup journey?
I come from a background that teaches you to have grit. You have to develop a thick skin and get that hustle on. Just don’t stop. So I don’t know maybe it is an advantage but I’d prefer it if it was a little bit easier. I don’t think anybody wants it this way.
The advantage is your culture. You’ve seen the problems that others haven’t seen. You’re identifying a business opportunity that others haven’t spotted or exploited.
Tell me a bit about the experience of the South London Innovation Corridor OneTech pre-accelerator. What support has it given you?
I learned quite a bit from it. It opened my eyes to see what it takes. You think you have learnt and done a lot already. And then you get to the programme and they disrupt that. It was an eye-opener.
I’m a bit of an introvert but I’m starting to find out about the support that’s out there that I never knew about before. You should be able to have access to it and you know that other people do and then you realize there’s just no room for you. You know the door is not going to open.
With SLIC OneTech you see that there are some people who are focused on opening those doors or at least trying to open some of them and point you in the right direction. I was quite amazed at the work that they do. I never knew about them before.
Do you think it gave you any new skills?
It takes time to develop skills. I don’t think it’s something that you can do in such a short time. What it did was introduce new skills and made me realize the gaps that need to be filled. For instance, you need somebody in finance, you need somebody in law. That being said, I definitely know a thing or two about how to pitch now – thanks to Foundervine
What are your dreams and plans for the future?
We want to be the Amazon for everything hair and beauty related. We’ve got big plans.
Are there any entrepreneurs or businesses that you admire or who’ve been a source of inspiration for you?
Beautystack is definitely one that came up on my radar. It’s pretty impressive that Sharmadean Reed was able to make that happen. It gives you hope.
Afrocenchix would be my number one. I read the story and it was crazy inspirational.
Is there anything that you wished you had known before you set off on your enterprise journey?
I wish I knew a little bit more about the support that is available. What I’ve picked up on is that there is so much information out there but it’s all over the place. It needs to be more streamlined and simplified, more focused. With clear advice: This is what you do- step 1, step 2, step 3.
It’s quite confusing and you can still feel lost even when you have all this information in front of you.
What would be your message and advice to other underrepresented founders?
I read somewhere that this is a marathon, not a sprint. The Silicon Valley stories are not reality. That’s a different world. It’s not going to happen like that.
Just put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to reach out. With the technology that we have today, you could probably reach out to Bill Gates. With so many people we’re talking to right now it was just from reaching out to them. What’s the worst that’s going to happen?
Samson is a speaker at London Tech Week’s “How I Started: Meet the South London Founders Scaling New Ideas” on Thursday 10th September at 2 pm. Register now – https://londontechweek.com/event/how-i-started-meet-the-south-london-founders-scaling-new-ideas-diversity-and-inclusivity