Lawyer turned entrepreneur launches her beauty business in 4 months
You’re stepping out of the salon with perfectly coiffed luscious locks, feeling like a million bucks. “Huzzah” you think to yourself, “Carol from accounting won’t be the only one with amazing hair at work tomorrow.”
Then, the heavens open…
Ex-NYC banking lawyer Diane Younes (29) feels your pain. And she’s doing something about it.
With hair and make-up as perfect as Amal Clooney and style to rival Garance Doré, it makes sense that Younes is behind Hong Kong’s first on-demand beauty service, Sponge.
Younes knows how busy life can get so she’s bringing the salon directly to your door. “I cater to women of today: they’re busy, they’re kicking ass, they’re mums, career women, jet-setters, awesome girlfriends, everything.”
Get your hair, make-up, and eye-lash extensions sorted in the comfort of your home, the office, your mate’s place, on a boat (probably).
“Quite frankly, if you’re not willing to bet on yourself, there’s no point.”
This French/Lebanese beauty gets s*** done. She worked morning, noon and night for four months transitioning her business from concept to execution. She’s conquered the Hong Kong market and is now set to roll the business out in a city near you. “I plan to offer more beauty services and grow outside of Hong Kong” she explained.
Recently we chatted about why starting a business is not for everyone, a few home truths about the entrepreneur lifestyle and a secret about Younes and Michael Jackson…Younes also took on the Iris Lillian Quick-Fire Question Challenge like a pro – check out how she fared in the video, below.
When did you land in Hong Kong?
April of last year.
NYC to Hong Kong – that’s a big move! What prompted you to up-root?
My husband was offered a job in Hong Kong. I came out to visit a few months beforehand and fell in love with the city. After nine years living and working in New York City it was time for something new. You don’t get to hike and go to the beach so much in New York!
With French and Lebanese heritage, a childhood in the UK before college in America and Canada do you ever get confused about where home is?
Yes! Being from different cultures is pretty cool. I take what I identify with from each culture. The attitude of “just do it” is very American. I was raised French so I appreciate really good food and family time. I also inherited the Lebanese flair for beauty and have always done my make up the Middle Eastern way.
“Would I bet on myself that I can make it?”
Can you pinpoint the exact moment you came up with the Sponge concept?
Yup! I was googling “best nail salon, Hong Kong,” and when I saw the prices I thought “I just don’t get this.” In New York, manicures are cheap so I got one every Sunday. I wanted to continue my routine in Hong Kong but I didn’t want to break the bank.
The rent and salaries in Hong Kong push the prices up waaay too high. This got me thinking, “How can I provide beauty services without real estate? I go to their location. Boom.”
That’s how Sponge was born.
Sponge has really taken off! Why do you think that is?
Convenience. You know how busy a working week can be. You get home and you’re exhausted. It takes energy and time to get yourself to a salon, to sit there and travel home again. What happens to your pedicure if it rains? What happens when you put on your shoes?
What if you have a newborn baby? A bunch of our customers hold their newborns and breastfeed as they get their hair and make-up done. They often thank us because they feel like themselves again.
Four months! How did you get your business up and running so quickly?
I made it my job. When you have something in mind and you want to get it done, it’s just a matter of doing it. I put in the hours, and I was lucky enough to meet some amazing women who had some great advice.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to launch their own business?
There are a lot of steps before you actually take the plunge. There are so many good ideas but first you need to vet the idea, ask whether there is a demand for it and be sure you can execute it right.
Also, if you’re going from a corporate to a startup, the paycheck is not consistent. Be ready for that!
So, should we all ditch the corporate world and become entrepreneurs?
Starting a business is not for everyone. We all take different paths in life and there’s not one that’s better than the other. There’s one that’s right for you – or multiple! My corporate career was not a bad path. It was the right one for me at the time.
Is there such a thing as a typical career?
More people are now realising that they can have multiple careers, whether it’s at the same time or one after the other. It’s more and more accepted. In fact, I think it’s applauded. At least it is in the U.S.
“Failing is part of having a business. If you’re failing it means you’re doing something.”
“What the heck am I doing? I have no idea how to do this!” Do you ever have these thoughts?
Yes. But I don’t listen to them. I’m a big believer in, “Fake it till you make it.” I constantly check in with myself and ask, “Would I bet on myself that I can make it?” Usually it’s “yes.”
Quite frankly, if you’re not willing to bet on yourself there’s no point – because no one else will do it for you.
Were you always planning to shift away from the law and go at it alone?
No, oh my god. I always wanted to become a lawyer. I started doing internships in law firms when I was 12. Being a lawyer is a great profession: it keeps you on your toes, it’s about constructing an argument which makes sense in order to win an argument. I love it.
I think the launch of Sponge reflects my own personal growth – figuring out what I want to do at this point in my life.
“It hurts to fail. You have to be able to pick yourself up again.”
In many cultures there is a stigma associated with a failed business – how do you interpret failure as an entrepreneur?
Failing is part of having a business. If you’re failing it means you’re doing something. If you can’t embrace failure, you’re not ready to have your own business. It can be on a small scale, maybe it was the way you answered an email to a customer. It hurts to fail. You have to be able to pick yourself up again.
When I make a mistake I say, “OK, this hurts, I’m going to feel it for 24 hours and then wake up the next day, learn from it and never do it again.”
“Good make up comes from good skin.”
What’s a secret most people don’t know about you?
I used to be extremely shy growing up. Dancing to Michael Jackson was the only thing that brought me out of my shell. As soon as Michael Jackson came on I would start dancing – and I still do to this day! Although I’m not shy anymore!
How would your best friend describe you?
I am loyal and always there. I’m very determined. When I told them I was leaving New York and my job, to move to Hong Kong and set up Sponge they were like, “of course you are Diane.”
You must have your make-up routine down pat, take us through it.
Good make up comes from good skin. So I start with a gentle cleanser, Avene.
I don’t use toner because it dries out my skin. I use a serum from Clinique for radiance and then Clinique Moisture Surge. Then I move on to the make-up. I start with a primer, then use foundation and lots of highlighter.
Silly question, do you have a favorite make up brand?
No! I use a mish-mash of different products. I find the right products for my skin and stick to them. Maybelline mascara is good – there are a lot of good higher end mascaras like Diorshow Mascara, but Maybelline is like a quarter of the price and it’s just as good.
How would you describe your personal style?
New York meets Paris.
So, are your go-to fashion brands American?
Nope. I mix high cost and low cost brands but always spend more on staples. I love Tori Burch, H&M, Zara and Club Monaco. Gap Jeans are great for curvy girls because, believe me, when you’ve got curves you need the right jeans and Gap always has the right ones.
Do you have an amazing business idea you want to move from concept to launch but have no idea where to start? Let us know in the comments below and click here to ask the smartest group of business women and female entrepreneurs around how they would get the ball rolling.
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Lawyer turned entrepreneur launches her beauty business in 4 months