To mark its 40th anniversary, Inc. is matching 40 aspiring founders with 40 experienced mentors in the Founders Project. The most recent mentor-mentee pair comes from the world of beauty and grooming: Alli Webb, founder of Drybar, and Erik Anderson, co-founder of Scissors & Scotch.

Alli Webb often gets asked why she doesn't start a male version of Drybar, her pioneering hair-blowout business with more than 100 locations and revenue exceeding $100 million. "My answer is always the same: I have no interest," says Webb. "I used to cut hair, and I hated doing men's hair cuts."

But Webb knows the men's grooming industry is hotter than a steaming towel. So she was pleased to hear about Scissors & Scotch, a startup offering men haircuts and shaves, facials, head massages, and, yes, booze. "Years ago, people talked about 'metrosexuals,'" says Webb. "But now, more and more men are embracing self-care."

Erik Anderson got the idea for Scissors & Scotch in 2013, when he was a 26-year-old commercial insurance salesman newly fetched up in Omaha, Nebraska. In search of a hair cut (insurance is boring, but you still have to look good, he says), Anderson found only discount chains, women's salons, and a couple of old-school barbershops with long waits for one or two chairs. 

He began researching the grooming industry and became intrigued by businesses that prioritize customer experience. On the women's side there was Drybar. On the men's side, John Allan's: a membership-based business that gave great haircuts paired with services like shoe shines and straight-razor shaves. "I thought it would be awesome if there was something like that in the Midwest," Anderson says. "We are the same as people on the coast. We just don't get the cool new toys as quickly."

In 2015, Anderson and his two best friends, Sean Finley and Tanner Wiles, opened the first Scissors & Scotch location, in Omaha. The store, whose decor Anderson describes as "old-school barbershop crossed with modern-day GQ," was designed to create a friendly, club-style atmosphere. 

The company, now based in Kansas City, Missouri, has seven locations with three more on the horizon. Revenue in 2018 approached $3 million. Over the next year, Anderson, hoping to grow Scissors & Scotch as big as Drybar, will seek Webb's advice on everything from scaling culture to finding great store operators to launching a first product line.

Here are edited excerpts from their first conversation.

Webb Just to start with my general reaction: This is a great idea. The name is great, and you guys have some really cute things going on. But you should look at your branding a little bit more. I was looking at your website, and I didn't get a really good sense of the space--if I were a guy, where I would be going. It didn't make me feel super-connected to the brand. One thing that made Drybar successful was that people felt immediately drawn to the brand. We won them over before we got them in the door. And then, of course, we had to do a great job once they were in. 

Anderson I agree with you 100 percent. We are such a visually appealing company. But we don't do a great job highlighting what the experience looks like or what the shops look like on the website. I think that's an easy fix and something we can take action on pretty quickly. 

Webb Looking at your Instagram, I would clean that up as well. There are great pictures but it feels all over the place. If you go to Drybar's Instagram or a company like Glossier's, there is a consistency to the way each picture looks. A lot of brands have a hard time finding their voice and their look. I think you could hone in on that more.

Anderson We've done sessions with marketing firms where they try to find your brand voice and persona. They came up with Ryan Reynolds for us because we don't ever want to cross the line, but we want to run up to the line. Sarcastic and witty, but not pretentious. If I could hire someone tomorrow to run our Instagram who knew what we were going for, I would do that in a heartbeat. But from a capital perspective we are constrained.

Webb I have a girl who helps me with my personal Instagram. I pay her an hourly rate that is not that much. She is young and way savvier than I am. I know it's easier in L.A. but you can probably find some kid with a real knack for Instagram who can help you with voice. Ryan Reynolds and that personality don't come through here at all. If you want to eventually go to New York and Los Angeles, you want to have that cool factor. Not that you don't want it in Des Moines as well. But I would start thinking about that stuff now. This is so cliche, but you don't ever get a second chance to make a first impression. 

Also, you want to appeal to women. Women want their boyfriends and husbands to be cool and to go to a cool place. You should have hot guys on your Instagram. Drybar's brand is sophisticated whimsy so we can't be too provocative and sexy. But I believe you guys can and should. 

Anderson Just under 30 percent of the traffic on our website is women.

Webb That doesn't surprise me at all. 

Anderson I want to talk about scaling culture and how at Drybar you made sure the vibe in your 100th shop was the same as at your first one. We are handing this brand over to people we trust. But how do we make sure that the experience in Dallas, which we're opening in August, is identical as possible to Omaha, where we were in the shop every day? 

Webb That was probably the biggest challenge of the business. Are you guys exclusively franchising?

Anderson We are going to continue to open corporate stores, but we did pivot to the franchise model. We bootstrapped the first S&S with $110,000 we scrounged together. Then--after five banks turned us down--we got a $150,000 SBA loan. We started crushing it. And the bank was like, yeah, we will lend to you for a second location. Our first four locations were bank financed. But we couldn't keep growing one by one. At that point, we were like, if we are going to continue to scale these without giving up a giant chunk of the company, we are going to have to look at the franchise route.

Webb We have gone back and forth between franchising and not-franchising, and I could make the argument for both. On the one hand, if you get a great franchisee, they are an owner-operator on the ground working their ass off. They really care, and they can market locally. If you get a not-great franchisee, all that goes out the window. You have to be incredibly picky about who you are bringing on. Then if you have corporate stores, you have a manager who you are hoping and praying is doing what they are supposed to be doing. 

Anderson How do you keep on top of that?

Webb You should have someone coming into the stores from outside who is unbiased and whom staff can talk to. Hey, this manager shows up late or there is alcohol on her breath or whatever is going on. It is incumbent on you guys to make sure there is an outlet for that to happen. If there's not, then people start talking shit and quit and take other people with them. 

That person also makes sure that everyone in the stores feels heard and taken care of, and their needs are being met. You guys should be really open to what your hair stylists want. What makes them feel good. Sometimes, it is contests that can earn them more money. Sometimes, it is paid vacation or paid days off. Understanding those things that drive your people. 

Anderson Having someone who can go into these locations and talk to people would be great. If we could bring someone in whose sole job was to focus on team member experience and how to always improve, then that will be a huge factor in scaling the culture. And now is the right time to do that before we have 20 locations and it is overwhelming. 

Webb One thing I noticed on your site is you have some of your stylists bannered as "elite." That hierarchy in my opinion is bad for morale. And it's so subjective. One woman might love a stylist, and another sits in her chair and is like, nah. Also, I don't want a customer to think, "Oh, I didn't get the elite stylist. My blowout won't be as good." 

Anderson We had a debate about doing that on the customer-facing side. Turnover is massive in this industry, and we wanted to change that. What we came up with was there is not really a career path for people in the men's hair industry. Let's say we take someone right out of school and they are a level-one stylist. We wanted to be able to say, here's where you are today. Here is where you could be and will be. We are going to help you achieve that. But I do understand the argument of not showing that externally to customers. That is something we should think about again.

Webb I get that. But I think there are paths to grow and develop your people, especially because you are opening so many locations. You can create positions like a director of team member experience at a location. We've had someone in charge of local marketing, a stylist who is also responsible for getting more people in the door. The vast majority of our managers started out as stylists. That's why our retention rate has been so great. Invent opportunities within the company so people feel there is room to grow. 

Historically at full-service hair salons, the environment is very cutthroat, competitive, eat-what-you-kill. We have tried to get away from that, and I think we have. There is healthy competition, no doubt. At Drybar, there are stylists getting requested more than other stylists. They make more money. They make more tips. You should do tons of contests among your stylists for selling products and things like that. That is healthy competition versus saying you are better than you. That creates animosity versus we are all in this together. 

Anderson Everybody needs to be pulling in the same direction. We put our core values together about a year after we opened. They are displayed in the break rooms and everyone gets trained on them. Those are important because if we can hire the right people, we can teach them to cut hair but we can't teach them to be a team player. We can't teach personality and culture fit. That goes back to the we-are-all-in-this-together mentality.

Webb I am excited to come out to Dallas in August and see everything you guys are doing.

Anderson I'm really happy you're going to be able to see a shop. You'll be able to pick out a lot more things in person. We have an awesome group of franchisees down there. The operators have a hospitality background. We are really pumped about that team.

Webb I should connect you to our franchise owner in Dallas. She is as good as they get. They have such a strong business--five locations. Perhaps you can do some marketing stuff with them.

Anderson I would love that.

Webb They serve a lot of women who probably have husbands and boyfriends.

Published on: Sep 5, 2019