Elin Abrilin has always had an entrepreneurial spirit from a young age. She opened her first hair salon aged 23 and ran three salons by the time she was 28, which she still runs in her native Sweden today.
Inspired by her experience of hair and beauty salons in a digital-first world, Elin founded Voady, a complete, cloud-based digital platform – built entirely on Amazon Web Services (AWS) – which provides booking systems, cash registers, inventory management and more.
Voady is fast becoming one of Sweden’s leading salon management software for hairdressers and the beauty industry, with more than 700 clients to date. Elin and the Voady team now have their sights set on international growth.
We spoke to Elin about her career to date, her inspiration for Voady, and how AWS technology has helped turn a concept into reality.
Designed by hairdressers, for hairdressers
In November 2018, Elin spotted a dramatic shift in her customers’ behavior and started thinking about better digital solutions.
“A decade ago, a salon’s customer requests were quite basic – you want your hair cut, your roots done, you want to look and feel good as always,” Elin explains. “But as social media grew in prominence, customers became better informed about the look they want to achieve. Customers also started to ask deeper questions, such as the environmental impact of products used, or how those products would interact with their skin.”
As a result, salons were dedicating more time and money to finding the right answers. Elin had already spent evenings and weekends advising customers of her three salons about the best treatments for their desired results, along with the prices and time required.
“Today, customers aren’t just coming in with one picture from a magazine for inspiration – they’re coming in with entire Pinterest albums! Before Voady, my salons were receiving a growing number of questions by phone, email and text.”
She spotted two crucial problems with this trend. Firstly, the extra consultancy was time-consuming: “I couldn’t do it all on my own. I needed to hire someone dedicated to consultation and social media. But the margins in hairdressing are slim, and many salon owners are small businesses, so this isn’t a realistic long-term option.”
Secondly, the personal relationship most hairdressers develop with their clients often makes it difficult to discuss prices: “Hairdressers aren’t great at charging for our time. We get emotionally attached to our customers, we are creative souls, and we want to help."
“A customer’s time in a salon should be a positive and relaxing experience, so it’s difficult to open the discussion with your prices, especially when your customer’s expectations are misaligned with what they want to pay.”
She created Voady as a system that could work alongside salon teams day-to-day to save them time and resolve any problems or questions before the customer arrives at the salon.
“I started by writing down my dream system on paper. For customers, it would consult with them online, provide the correct time and price and give detailed product information. For salons it would also support admin jobs like booking, payments and inventory.
“Everything was about removing stress for customers and salons alike. In other words, it would take care of the admin and leave us to dedicate time to what really matters – that personal relationship with our customer in the chair.”
From paper to product development
“I’ve been interested in technology since I was a teenager, and I built my own webpage for my salon business before Voady. But I had no idea where to start building this system,” she explains.
She joined a startup development program which helped her to plan, develop and build the idea: “We saw that the startup program also offered courses to build with AWS. We began building and found an angel investor who saw the product’s potential, and gave us the resources we needed to launch Voady in 2019.”
Elin hired My Hillörn as Voady’s Chief Operation Officer: “We run everything together and act as the face of Voady. We’re learning all the time and are so open-minded, which is a great strength. We have an amazing team, really care for each other, and have fun at work.
“We were fully aware that women founders receive lower capital funding from investors on average. We had to learn how to pitch and how to operate in this world, but we’re rule-breakers! When someone says, ‘you can’t do it this way’, we’re determined to prove them wrong.
“I would give other women in startups this advice: just because one investor says no, this does not mean there’s anything wrong with your product or idea, don’t let self-doubt creep in. In fact, back yourself and your business enough to be picky. It is so important to know your investors are the right people to bring into your company, and that their values align with yours.”
“We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” she adds, “but we are serious. Investors might have underestimated us – then we arrive at meetings with so much energy, we blow their minds!”
Elin also explains that the brand name translates as ‘promise’ in Madgascan, an idea that sits at the heart of their mission: “We’re driven by a promise to do better for the hairdressing community.”
With 700 clients already, Voady’s brand has grown without much marketing to date. They do not pay influencers, and the flood of positive feedback online is all organic: “We’re just focused on exceptional customer service, we’re in constant conversation with our clients, listening and reacting to their feedback,” she adds.
Continuous product evolution
For Elin, Voady will never be a finished product as they continually evolve the platform to serve clients’ needs.
“Our goal is to change the hairdressing industry, not just by delivering a solution but also by transforming how hairdressers and suppliers work, saving them time and money. Voady gives you everything you need to manage a hair salon.”
Built natively on the AWS Cloud gives Voady a competitive edge. “We don’t have heavy baggage to maintain,” she explains. “All our infrastructure is brand new and super agile, so we can adapt our goals at speed and move forward easily.
“A developer alone could not design and build a competing product; our experience, reputation and mindset from within the industry is all vital. You have to understand everyday life in salons.”
Voady now has a near-complete product range from all major suppliers built into its database, saving hairdressers hours of time that might be spent inputting names, codes and prices.
Another feature allows adaptable prices for evenings and weekends – in exactly the same way an airline or hotel booking platform operates during peak times.
“Voady gives salons everything they need to manage their day-to-day processes, and this boosts our users’ efficiency, profitability, and ultimately their job satisfaction. Every minute spent with a customer rather than an admin job is time well spent. Next we want to make this possible in Europe and beyond.”
Read Yodit Stanton’s story about how she built her company OpenSensors on AWS.