by: Megan McPherson
This summer, the Dingman Center will be conducting interviews with the eight student startups who are participating in the Terp Startup summer incubator phase of our Fearless Founders accelerator program. Participating student entrepreneurs received $3,500 stipends that would enable them to work exclusively on their startups over six weeks in the summer.
Picture this. You’re a bride, and today is your wedding day, the day you are meant to look more beautiful than any other day in your life. Every meticulously planned moment of the day seems to be going off without a hitch, until your makeup artist shows up an hour late. Forgetting about the bridesmaids, she hurriedly goes to work on your face, only to leave it a caked on, ghoulish mess. With no time for a do-over, you spend your last moments before the ceremony not quietly reflecting on the beautiful journey you and your significant other are about to embark upon, but rather hastily adding and removing makeup with a compact mirror. You arrive to your venue 30 minutes late, stressed and feeling less than fabulous.
No exaggeration: this is a real thing that happened to a friend of mine. On the most recent season of HBO’s Girls, Marnie undergoes a similar trauma on her special day. Booking a freelance makeup artist, expecting them to show up on time and also give you the end result you want is a task so notoriously difficult that it lends itself to parody. But it doesn’t have to be so hard. POSH, a University of Maryland startup founded by rising junior Nathalyn Nunoo, is a beauty consultation service that takes the stress out of booking freelance makeup artists.
Nathalyn’s passion to change the game in the beauty industry began when she started freelancing as a makeup artist two years ago. After speaking with numerous other artists, clients, event planners and photographers, Nathalyn learned that, surprisingly, the most sought after quality in a makeup artist was not skill. “They’re looking more for the character of the person and the kind of service they provided,” Nathalyn explained. POSH seeks to provide for the beauty industry what Nathalyn says is a much needed “form of security, reliability and professionalism.”
With these pain points in mind, Nathalyn joined up with her friends and co-founders William Kwao (logistics) and Elania Tait (public relations) to form POSH. First, they set about recruiting a number of vetted makeup artists, discerning through a series of interviews the artists’ commitment to punctuality and general customer service skills. When a customer goes to the POSH website, they don’t have to search blindly to figure out which makeup artist would best suit them. After the customer enters in some basic information about the type of event and their desired look, the POSH team selects the ideal makeup artist for the occasion. POSH also confirms the artist’s prior bookings, ensuring that there are no conflicting appointments so that the artist will arrive within a 15 minute window of the intended arrival time. Customers can also pay in advance, eliminating the discomfort that often comes with settling payments on site. Describing the ideal POSH experience, Nathalyn says, “It should be so easy that your husband or your dad can book a makeup artist for you, and you’ll like it.”
The POSH team has made fast progress on their business idea. After coming up with their initial concept in March, they applied and were accepted into the University of Maryland Startup Shell incubator. The informative talks, resources and community that the Startup Shell provides gave them a solid starting point to flesh out their recruiting process and business model. During their summer in the Dingman Center’s Terp Startup accelerator, Nathalyn read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries to incorporate the tenets of the flexible “lean startup” methodology into POSH. Polly Vail, this year’s Rudy Award winner for Mentor of the Year, also proved to be a valuable resource for POSH as their advisor during the program. “She made us realize the importance of actually growing with our customer,” said Nathalyn. Initially the team focused externally on recruiting more artists and clients, but they ultimately decided to look inward toward building a stable infrastructure and clear company culture.
So what is POSH’s vision for their company culture? “An environment where everyone feels comfortable being themselves,” Nathalyn replied. As a Biology major and a female entrepreneur in a decidedly non-STEM industry, Nathalyn has worked to embrace her creative pursuits and ignore doubts from people who see POSH as a distraction from her studies. “I’ve had to learn how to artificially create confidence,” she said, adding, “It’s a skill to try to truly be yourself. It’s a skill to not let other people’s opinions get to you, because people usually have a really strong opinion at the beginning when things don’t look well. But when things start to look great, it’s all 360.” Nathalyn is no stranger to the ups and downs of entrepreneurship—she’s been hustling from a young age, with past exploits that include: freelance makeup artist, photographer and graphic designer; seller of jewelry, fake tattoos and even muffins (though she apparently can’t bake). “I just couldn’t imagine not having your own thing,” she admitted. More than anything, Nathalyn values “being sure of yourself, no matter what.” An important lesson in entrepreneurship, as well as beauty.