Thanks to her unruly curly hair, Alli Webb knows how a good blowout can completely change the way a woman feels about herself. In 2010, she persuaded her brother and her husband--both bald--to help her launch Drybar, which focuses exclusively on blowouts. Eight years later, Drybar has more than 100 locations and over $100 million in revenue. --As told to Lindsay Blakely
After high school, I fumbled around. I tried college but didn't go to class much. I thought I wanted a career in fashion, so I moved to New York City. My brother Michael Landau--he's an overachiever--was living there and working in Nicole Miller's corporate office. We're very close. The joke in our family is that he is my third parent. I got a job at the Nicole Miller store in SoHo. Then Michael suggested we bring Nicole Miller shops to South Florida, where we grew up.
So we moved there and opened two stores. Soon I was managing a bunch of people, working all the time, driving back and forth--and thinking, "This cannot be it for me." Michael and I fought a lot. He wanted me in the stores all the time; meanwhile, he played a lot of golf. He was doing inventory, payroll, and the stuff I wasn't good at, but it felt lopsided.
I finally had to tell him that I couldn't do it anymore. But I also felt like I had to end this toxic situation, because we were starting to hate each other. He was surprisingly cool about it. I also revealed that I wanted to go to beauty school and do hair at fashion shows. Michael thought I should. That gave me a lot of confidence.
After beauty school, I worked in salons in New York. I met my husband, Cameron, and he got a great advertising job in Los Angeles. I thought I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom with my two kids. Five years in, I realized I didn't.
To get out of the house, I started a mobile blowout business, going to friends' homes and styling their hair for 40 bucks. My husband created a website. I posted the link in a Yahoo mommy group--and was inundated with emails.
I started thinking of having my clients come to me in a shop. That's when I went to Michael and said there might be a bigger opportunity.
It took some convincing. He's bald. I started talking to Cameron, too. He's also bald, but he thought it was a genius idea. Michael wasn't 100 percent sold, but he said he wanted to back me. Our parents, knowing what happened with the Nicole Miller stores, said, "You guys are out of your fucking minds. You should not be working together." But this time, it was my idea. He understood business in a way I didn't. And Cameron is a creative genius. I could tell we were going to be equals. I was going to run the store, Michael (who put in $250,000) would do the back end, and Cameron would do the branding.
In 2010, we opened our first location, in the Brentwood section of L.A. We had a line out the door the first day. My grand plan was to do 30 to 40 blowouts a day. We probably did 70 to 80. For six months, I couldn't hire stylists fast enough.
Michael realized that we needed to open up more Drybars fast or people would start knocking us off. We did a little franchising and then decided to raise money. In 2011, we met with a lot of private equity firms, and honestly I thought, "These guys do not get it." Finally, we met with Castanea Partners, which owned Urban Decay. They understood our vision. They invested $16 million.
In 2013, the business was growing so fast, and Castanea knew we had never run a big operation. They wanted to bring in a professional CEO. Michael was open to being replaced. I was like, "Wait. Why? We're doing great." I was really nervous about changing the culture. I finally said I'd talk to people, but that was it. I was very bratty about it.
Then Castanea sent us John Heffner. I remember seeing him down the hallway. He's 6 foot 5, wearing a suit, carrying a briefcase--corporate America. And I was like, "Hell, no. This is not the guy."
But John had worked for a lot of founder-led companies and in the beauty world. He understood this needed to be a partnership. And he had no ego. Both Michael and I left the meeting and said, "Yeah, he's the guy." John is the adult in the room--so calm, whereas Michael and I are very reactionary.
It's never easy as a founder to trust other people with parts of your business. I still want to get my hands dirty. But you have to recognize that sometimes you need someone else. Michael was that person for me first. Now it's John.
How Drybar Found--and Filled--Its Niche
"There was this huge gap in the market," Webb says. "There were full-service salons way overcharging for blowouts, and there were Fantastic Sams, which were not a great experience." Drybar synthesized the two: reasonably priced and luxurious in feel. To that last point, customers are always greeted with "Welcome to Drybar--it's nice to see you" rather than "Do you have an appointment?" Drybar blowouts start in the front, rather than in the back, as beauty schools teach (to better tackle unruly cowlicks, and provide a better visual for the customer)--and each Drybar location's management team has at least one stylist who can pinch-hit should another stylist call in sick.