How many times have you gone to a party looking like a walking sea-hag because you couldn’t schedule a blowout? Booking a beauty service with short notice used to be next to impossible. Not anymore!
Toronto-based entrepreneur Janice Liu saw a need to simplify the way last-minute beauty services are booked in the city, and she had an idea. The result was Retreat, an app that partners with Toronto’s premier salons and spas to display all available beauty appointments by neighbourhood, giving you a choice of time slots and pricing. “It offers last-minute services that fit right into busy schedules and are often listed at a discount,” says Liu. You book the service through the app and can pay and tip in advance, allowing you to strut away at the end of the experience—no wallet, no hassle.
We chatted with Liu about Retreat this week.
SDTC: What did you do before founding Retreat?
JL: My career as an entrepreneur actually began about ten years ago when I started an e-commerce start-up called Shopalu, where I sold vintage clothing. I then ended up closing it after four years and have been working with small to medium-sized businesses on their digital marketing since then.
What led you to this idea for an app?
I started thinking about what would later become Retreat a few years ago on a trip to San Francisco. My friend and I were looking to get a manicure and couldn’t find any availabilities. Back then, we thought this was a relevant problem that needed attention, and that’s how Retreat came to life.
What was the most challenging part of getting Retreat off the ground?
Building the right team. We always had the vision and we knew it could be done from a technological standpoint, but we also knew that finding the right people would be the most challenging task. Interestingly enough, it also became the most rewarding one! I learned a lot from my first start-up: back when I started it, I thought I could do everything, from photography, to Photoshop, from digital marketing to pitching… Since then, I’ve learned that you can’t be good at everything; instead, you need to find the right people who will all bring something different and amazing to the table.
What are you hearing from women who are using the app?
At Retreat, we pride ourselves on listening to what our customers have to say and how to integrate their feedback into our work. The biggest thing we’re learning from our customers at the moment is that they don’t quite totally get the appeal until the service is done and they get to walk out—looking flawless—without having to take out their wallet (since it’s all done online). That’s definitely where the appeal of Retreat really strikes.
Walk us through a typical day in your life, from getting up until going to bed.
I have to say, every day in my life is different. I usually wake up around 5 a.m. to meditate or do some writing. I then go to the gym, which is definitely an important part of my day. There’s something about getting yelled out at CrossFit [laughs] that puts me into the right mindset for the rest of the day. The reason why my days vary a lot is that at my full-time job, I’ll typically be moving around Toronto meeting with clients. However, no matter how busy I am, I always make sure to find some time to go see my Retreat team to check in with them and get some work done.
What do you love most about being an entrepreneur?
I think the greatest thing about being an entrepreneur is that you’re always on the go and pushing yourself to heights you didn’t know you could reach. I think a lot of it is about stretching to uncomfortable areas and cultivating your appetite for risk. I genuinely don’t believe that you need to give out everything at 100%, or else you need to micromanage, and that’s when things get complicated. Instead, what I like to do is focus on one problem at a time and make sure I have access to all the tools and talented people who are going to help me solve it. I also think that keeping things compartmentalized is key: if it’s work, it’s work; if it’s play, it’s play.
Any words of wisdom for other women thinking of branching out into their own projects?
My message to women entrepreneurs is that no matter the outcome, it’s actually the process of getting there that you gain the most from. It’s where you learn about yourself, where you experience the most, both as a member of a team and as a person. Something I have noticed is that in a tech-focused environment (and from a product perspective), the resources aren’t as accessible to women. What that means is that as a woman in this type of incubator, you often need to be out there at 150%. But no matter what gender you are, there’s always room to take advantage of the opportunities that surround you and make the most out of them.
Anything else you want us to know about Retreat?
If there’s one thing I think people should know about Retreat, it’s that we didn’t just create the platform for its utility or because it solves a problem, we also created it because we strongly believe that giving people access to feeling good and finding wellness is actually confidence-enabling and extremely empowering. I really think that when you give people the tools to be happy being themselves, that’s how they go on to create amazing things of their own.