Treatwell is a great example of an online marketplace solving a traditional retail problem. In Europe, hair and beauty is a huge €100bn-plus industry but one that was historically run offline with paper diaries and phonecalls. Treatwell’s freemium system enables spa and salon owners to dynamically manage revenue and price, accessing an online system with embedded staffing modules. While customers browse therapist reviews, get visibility on available bookings and pay lower prices if they are flexible. Today, Treatwell employs over 500 people and has a leading presence in more than ten countries with over 10 million appointments made through its platform annually. The Eight Roads team brought pattern recognition from investments in marketplaces like Alibaba but this investment happened before companies like Just Eat had validated the potential of internet intermediaries and long before ‘Uber for …’. There was also no clear example of a successful US start-up that had cracked the code which meant nothing to clone. Back in 2008 Treatwell (then called Wahanda) was chartering new territory, these are the elements that helped it succeed:
Killing the daily deal – No one liked having sales guys chasing a deal each day and upsetting the merchants, but this part of the business brought in a fair amount of cash. In 2012, Treatwell took the courageous decision to kill off the daily deal to focus 100% on solving the appointment booking problem that no other company had cracked. Revenue dropped by 75% and there followed an incredibly tough year which at the time, felt catastrophic. But the transformation allowed the team to focus scarce resources on building a razor-sharp sales and account management function to drive appointment booking adoption.
Going mobile first when desktop was core – For the first few years Treatwell's desktop presence evolved from listings and reviews, to daily deals, to appointment bookings. But mobile was an inevitable force that the leadership team embraced wholeheartedly, not just with in-house resource but by bringing in mobile talent from outside, including the acquisition of a Lithuanian software developer. Everyone was aligned and within 12 months mobile had exploded to over a third of all bookings, and would soon drive the majority of bookings through both mobile web and native iOS and Android apps.
Hiring superstars (even when cash is tight) – Despite struggling for cash, which every high growth business does at some point, Lopo signed a number of hires who more than anything else, bought into his vision and charisma. Klaus Nyengaard joined as Chairman after stepping down as the CEO of Just Eat. Simon Lambert and Chris Wood joined from Moo.com and OpenTable, respectively. And Giorgio Ponticelli and Benjamin Leaver made a bet to help Treatwell scale to the next level. Many took a pay cut and joined on a handshake without clear visibility of what the future would hold.
Accelerating the pace when the model showed signs of working – By 2014 it became apparent that the model was scaling with supply growing rapidly, repeat rates improving, and the cost per acquisition in core cities dropping. The team was quick to move aggressively to spread Treatwell’s wings with a systematic city-by-city playbook. Furthermore, the company found a great complementary team in Salonmeister in Germany and they joined the Treatwell family soon afterwards – it was striking how aligned the cultures of the two companies were.
Humility and learning – For several years Treatwell prided itself on being the largest global hair and beauty marketplace, until they met the folks from Hot Pepper Beauty. They had the same business in Japan and it was orders of magnitude bigger than Treatwell. Lopo and Recruit (the parent company of HPB) were quick to build a trusted relationship, exchanging experiences, similarities and differences across the two businesses. In the end Recruit became a shareholder – perhaps against the common belief that one should keep strategics out of the cap table. And they were great – open and transparent, helping Treatwell get to the next level in many areas including product feature prioritisation, sales scaling and organisational development. Tying the companies together with the 2015 exit was the natural next step.