Melody McCloskey, co-founder of leading beauty booking destination StyleSeat, is proof that sometimes outsiders do it better. As CEO and co-founder of the booming beauty giant — in 16,000 cities since 2011, and facilitating more than $3 billion in appointments — McCloskey is empowering industry professionals to take ownership of their success, not unlike the route she took to get here.
McCloskey’s journey to startup queen was anything but typical. In college, she majored in International Relations and French. She got her first taste of tech working as a PR Manager for an early stage tech company, and later at Current TV, a small network started by Al Gore. It wasn’t long before she worked up the confidence to quit and start her own business.
“In the beginning, my co-founder and I hit the pavement in a real way. We spent our early years out with the beauty professionals, in their salons, in their homes, listening to what they needed to better run and grow their business,” she says. “Because we were so close to our customers since day one, I gained real confidence that what we were building was important and needed.” Raising capital for a female-fueled beauty company in a sea of white male VCs, on the other hand, didn’t come so easily. “Fundraising is perhaps one of the biggest challenges I faced. Asking investors for money is not an enjoyable experience for me, and it’s not why you start a company,” notes McCloskey. But there’s no denying money helps. “If you want to be a certain size faster, it can be necessary. Because so many tech VCs are male and white, they didn’t understand the beauty industry or our customer base, which is overwhelmingly female and diverse. They wanted to fund companies they deeply understood, and we did not fit that description.”
Having arrived in tech via the road less traveled, there were no shortage of moments when McCloskey doubted her own capability and whether or not she deserved to be here. “I almost didn’t start my company because I was afraid that I didn’t have the right background, or that I wasn’t smart enough.” For all the women struggling with similar self-doubt, the beauty impresario warns against counting yourself out. “If you love something, and you’re tenacious and don’t put up with bs, you can do whatever you want to do.” She hopes that StyleSeat inspires more women to discover their unstoppability, whether it’s fast-tracking that career change or going full force on that side hustle. “The biggest thing that limits you is yourself.”
Today, StyleSeat has a network of more than 300,000 beauty professionals servicing more than 10 million users, with McCloskey closing out countless women-to-watch lists. For the first-time founder, it’s been a rollercoaster of fear, emotion, and trial and error, one that she’s gotten much more comfortable riding with experience and age. “The first few years of starting a business you’re doing several things a day that scare you without any experience doing them. Hiring a lawyer, building a profit loss statement, hiring incredible talent, closing a business development deal.” The fear never goes away, but you learn to cope with it. “I used to feel close to paralyzed every day, and then I got used to doing scary stuff all the time and now, even though the things I’m doing are so much bigger scale, I’m less scared because I know, whatever it is, I’ll figure it out.”
Right now, McCloskey is focused on making StyleSeat a thriving, high return business, but she’d love to try her hand at angel investing — “I want to be everything I thought was missing when I was coming up. It would be so much fun to hang out with entrepreneurs, who are super weird and crazy, and help them pursue their dreams.”