Part of a series of articles on female founders, Ziana Kotadia (MBA ’22) asks Grace Gorenstein (MBA ’22) about her beauty startup, tys.
Tell us more about your start-up, tys?
Tys, sounds like ‘ties’ and stands for “treat yourself”. I’m trying to build a tech platform which makes the experience of booking beauty appointments easier. Currently, the process of making an appointment is clunky and outdated. I found that when I was working in high pressure roles in financial services, and my time was limited, I didn’t have the time to call several nail salons to find an appointment and play the walk-in roulette. This seemed to be a problem that so many other women were also facing. Taking care of yourself, even if it is just for 30 minutes, creating a moment of respite, is so important. Women tend to be self-sacrificing with time, energy and resources. I want to create this one tool which empowers a woman to take a small break in her busy days to get treatment and take care of herself. If I can create one moment of joy, and peace, for another woman using this technology, I’ll consider tys a success.
When did you first start thinking about tys?
The first iteration of this idea was when I was working in New York. For me, having my nails done was part of being dressed and going into the office. As the only female professional in my office, I felt there was an expectation to show up, and to show up well. Midtown Manhattan however, was a deadzone of nail salons. I thought to myself, I can’t be the only working female in the area that needs an 8am appointment before arriving at the office no later than 9am. I asked myself, why aren’t these salons open earlier or later? I vividly remember that I faced this problem even before I was working. During high school, when I was getting ready for prom, I sat in the pedicure chair waiting for 90 minutes. At that age, I was too shy to say anything, so I just kept waiting. By bringing consumer-facing technology to the largely analogue nail industry, I aim to empower the consumer a little more in a market where she has historically taken what she can get, and hasn’t necessarily enjoyed the experience of self-care.
How has your experience pre-HBS helped you develop this tool?
Following banking, I worked at a consumer focused private equity firm, where my role was to identify interesting high growth consumer companies and understand whether my firm was a good capital and operational partner for them. Many of those conversations included discussions as to how technology was changing consumer value propositions and uplifting consumer expectations; for example, Amazon Prime’s one-day shipping guarantee has fundamentally altered consumer expectations as to how fast they expect to receive products ordered online. During that experience, I got to talk to some incredible founders. However, I also spoke with a lot of people whose ideas I doubted. What I found inspiring about the founders of these doubtful ideas was their commitment and passion. This made entrepreneurship seem so much more achievable and realistic. During HBS, finding a community of women who are so supportive of me solving this problem, and encourage me to pursue this idea, has given me real confidence. Finance could be very “dog eat dog”, but the women at HBS have done nothing but uplift me. I don’t think I would have had the confidence or self assurance to pursue this idea if it wasn’t for the amazing women I’ve met here.
What stage is tys at now?
I am in the process of completing our pilot launch. I am building the technology to launch in 10 salons in the Cambridge area so that women of the Harvard community can start testing this service. Though tys will always be primarily focused on elevating the consumer experience, I’m also trying to figure out how to improve value to the provider. This is a two-sided marketplace, so I want to build something that will help salons with staffing, scheduling, pricing and customer service. I’m hoping to develop my thesis on how tys could work as a two sided marketplace, and then build capabilities in other service areas, such as eyebrow threading and waxing. After that, I will need to raise some serious money to develop a sustainable application. The fear of failure is real, but I am trying to be resilient. Even if the pilot fails, I will take the venture as a success, because I’ll have learned and pushed myself along the way..
What made you want to launch tys by yourself? Are you looking to expand your team and find a co-founder?
I am absolutely looking to expand my team, but I’m not looking for a co-founder at this time. We all support the narratives about determined male entrepreneurs, single handedly building technology businesses. Think of Pierre Omidyar, Jeff Bezos, or Aaron Patzer. I really need someone with technical experience to join me in fighting the good fight (i.e. eliminating chipped nails from female existence), but given the gender bias within tech, I haven’t found a partner with both a deep understanding of tech and also the consumer problem.
How are you balancing HBS and this?
I’m not! This is when I really appreciate having other founders on campus. I’ve had a hard adjustment coming back to being in person. Before this, we had small breaks between classes where I could do laundry or do a little bit of grocery shopping. My internship this summer was also remote, so I was able to work on tys in the early morning before work, after the workday ended, and on weekends. Being in the classroom is all consuming, in the best way possible, but I definitely feel like I’m not as connected to as many people as I was last year. My balance is way off right now, but I’m hoping things will settle soon once I’m in a better routine.
Grace Gorenstein (HBS ’22) grew up in New York. She founded tys to digitize the nail salon booking experience. After two years of investment banking, Grace co-ran the L Catterton Flagship Fund’s Proprietary Deal Origination team. Representing a $2.5bn consumer-focused fund her work resulted in $470M in capital deployed. tys is her solution to the challenges professional women face when trying to book everyday beauty appointments.
Ziana Kotadia (MBA ’22) is from the UK, and most recently made the move from London to Boston. She loves to travel, learn about new cultures and enjoys eating her way through cities. She loves to cook and is passionate about great food.