Diane Younes, Founder of Sponge
Founder of mobile hair and makeup on the go Sponge, Diane Younes makes it easy for Hong Kongers to pay less, wait less and allow to fit beauty into any schedule, no matter how busy.
A lawyer in a passed life, Diane shares her passion for beauty, business and doing your research.
A FEW WORDS ABOUT SPONGE
Created for the modern woman, Sponge is suitable for all whether it be a socialite, mother or career woman. Sponge is an on-demand hair and makeup service that comes right to the home, event space, hotel or office.
With a few clicks on the website, gosponge.com, and a look through categories, an appointment is booked at a range of affordable prices depending on the intricacy of what the client wants.
HOW THINGS GOT STARTED
I am originally from Paris and studied in both New York and Montreal - I was there for nine years and started my career there as a lawyer before coming to Hong Kong. My husband was offered a job in Hong Kong so we moved here together to start a new adventure together.
Within a month of moving to Hong Kong, I started thinking about Sponge. I quickly realised that Hong Kong rent is really expensive. Because of rent, salons and spas have to charge more to cover their expenses. If you take away the real estate and what do you have? An online business.
I launched Sponge within 5 to 6 months of moving here.
The key is...
Launch with a good enough product -- not the best product. Launch with a prototype and constantly communicate with potential customers, asking them what they think. What do you think about this additional service? What kinds of additions you want? Then you build it out, and go toward the website. Ask more questions: Do you like the website? Do you like the appearance? Is it user-friendly? The key is to constantly test and test and test and launch with a prototype that is good enough. Getting to market is the most important thing, and you can do it in a reasonable amount to time - you just have to stay focused on what’s important.
The biggest challenges
I think meltdowns come with the territory. It’s how you pick yourself up after a meltdown that counts. The one logical thing is that the tech pool in Hong Kong is severally lacking. We need to have an in between service between IT people who are cheap but don’t do a good enough job, and the really expensive companies that normally work with bigger companies and are really expensive.
You need to find people who will do a good job for a reasonable price and have them stick around as you grow. But you absolutely need a big team of web developers, that includes designers as well, and a product manager to relay what you need to the IT people in their own words otherwise it gets lost in translation and the end product isn’t something you can use.
Keep your head up
On the emotional side, you have to be able to roll with the punches. When you’re a boxer, sometimes you’re given the punches and sometimes you’re taking them. So when you’re taking them, you have to keep your hands up and hope for the best and then start winning when the opportunity is right.
Not everything goes to plan...
The launch was delayed a month due to the tech issues, and then I settled with a team that is amazing. Prior to the launch, we did a soft launch as well and opened it to a small group of friends to test the website and give me feedback.
Go to Coding Academies…
They are full of web developers, designers, and people who are taking on projects for a less amount of money. They will take the project or they will refer you to the right people. A lot of people don’t know a lot so you really rely on these tech guys. If one tech guy refers you then at least you have reassurance. Ask them lots of questions, ask them what happens if the project gets dropped by one of us, I ask for a list of their customers so I can check their experiences and the end products. Don’t just google “web developer Hong Kong.”
The HK Startup scene is growing...
Hong Kong is a small place, so whenever you meet someone so they probably know a lot of people who can help you out. People are very willing to say ‘you should meet this person’ who refers you to another person and everyone is open to helping you. I must say that female entrepreneurs here are totally willing to help each other out, which is awesome to see.
A FEW WORDS OF ADVICE
Any resources that you read? Workshops you attend?
Fuck Up Nights -- you’re in a room full of entrepreneurs who are telling you where they messed up and where they made mistakes. It feels so normal and puts things into perspective. You learn that 1) it’s okay to make mistakes and 2) it’s cool to make mistakes -- it’s a good launch and you come out feeling human and realize other people are human too. You see a lot of success stories, and the ideas that worked, and how they grew but there also such an unglamorous side of it and to see other people going through it as well is really reassuring.
What’s the best advice you’ve received?
To bet on myself, by that I mean investing in myself, not just money but education. Reassessing personal relationships, going back to school to study business or law, and finding out what’s best for you. In most cases, I’m willing to say that you should bet on yourself no matter way.
Create your own routine
Not having an office routine was I was so used to getting up early, getting dressed, going to the office, having set schedule. When you have your own business there is absolutely zero structure. It can be 4am and you have to take care of something or Sunday night at 8pm. That’s really hard but it’s exciting too because one day never looks like the next. If you want structure, you can implement it for yourself. You can block off times, but you have to be flexible because things come up when you least expect it.
How do you prepare for a big day?
For me, it’s putting my makeup on and doing my hair or getting my hair and makeup done. It feels really soothing because it’s part of my routine, and it makes me feel good because I’m putting forward a good image of myself. In law school, I would do my hair and makeup before every single exam. I would never go in sweatpants. I would do my makeup, my hair, dress to the nines - it makes me feel prepared.
What are your must-have items in your purse?
Confidence is key. Even when I don’t feel confident I believe in faking it until you make it. My rings are also important as well as hand sanitizers, especially in Hong Kong.
Where is your favourite meeting spot?
What does your typical morning routine look like?
I have to check my phone because we’re an on-demand business and our first appointments start at 8am. The second thing is that I pregame my green tea. Then I get through all my work emails. I make sure I have zero unread emails otherwise it drives me nuts.
What are your go-to skincare products?
There’s a face mask that I use called REN - Glycolactic Radiance Renewal Mask. It's red and smells like honey and makes your skin glow. You can get it at Sephora.
What is the one makeup product you can’t live without?
I like full coverage. BECCA does an incredible foundation and I just mix different colours to match my skin tone because it changes with the seasons.
Your go-to hair product?
Definitely dry shampoo! I just use Batiste original from Manning’s. It's cheap and it does the job well and holds every style. I use dry shampoo before doing anything on my hair even if it just has been cleaned and blow dried.
What do you do to wind-down and relax?
I have taken up weight lifting for a release and I love it! I feel like a badass. I love PURE - it’s easy to get to, has great music, good people. I feel like a different person when I come out.
Favourite travel destination?
I love to travel to Morocco. I find it so relaxing, it’s beautiful. It’s where my husband is from and where we got married.
What is your favourite shop for business clothes?
Things have had to change since I got to Hong Kong. I really like ASOS, because I am a big fan of online shopping -- obviously having an online business I am all for it. But I really don’t have that much time to go shopping.
I believe in mixing it up with some staple investment pieces and classics -- like everyone needs a leather jacket, a suit, nice boots. For trendy pieces, I go to places like ZARA and Club Monaco.
I like the variety on ASOS. I rarely shop just one brand. It’s all depending on what I need, and my style changes according to my mood, the day, the seasons, where I live. It's’ impossible to dress the same way all the time.
Any parting words for up and coming budding entrepreneurs?
Just do it. If you’re thinking about it, it’s because you want to do it. Make sure you can do it -- logistically, don’t put yourself in a bad situation. If you’re on the cusp, just believe in yourself and do it. I know it’s so cliché but you have to believe in it - first and that’s what counts.