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How an Australian tech entrepreneur is revolutionising the beauty industry

Techly's Business Success Series

Matt Jones is no stranger to entrepreneurial spirit.

The 32-year-old has already grown three successful businesses including Zomato, which he founded and grew in Australia following its acquisition of Urban Spoon; Quandoo, which he launched in Asia-Pacific; and Delivery Hero, which he grew to over 4400 restaurants across Australia.

In the food tech world, it’s safe to say he’s an expert.

But Matt’s passion for making the world a more accessible place has led him to pursue his most recent business venture in unfamiliar territory: the beauty and wellness industry.

Honee is the answer many of us have been waiting for without even realising. Matt created the website after he and his group of friends discovered over 99.8% of all salon bookings are made over the phone or in person.

The entrepreneur decided to look into the possibility of creating an online directory for people to find local beauty salons and make bookings online. As a result, Honee was born.

The website is not only moving mountains for the customer-service side of the beauty industry. Behind the scenes, Honee is helping small businesses use data to leverage customer relationships, grow their business and empower their team to create a positive and on brand customer experience.

With one industry already in the palm of his hand and another at his fingertips, we asked Matt to give us the lowdown on how to conquer the business world.

Over the past five years, you’ve made a name for yourself by working on some of Australia’s biggest food tech platforms. Did this stem from a personal passion for food, or did it simply make sense to apply your knowledge in this industry?

“Growing up, my Grandad on my Mum’s side was good friends with a bunch of restaurateurs which had a big effect on my childhood, but to be honest, what I’ve always been sincerely passionate about is small business.

“After my Master’s studies, I jumped at the opportunity to join Delivery Hero when it was really starting to kick off in Australia. I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time, and also willing to work for a 60% pay-cut from my salary at the bank to get in.

“I’ve always viewed a salary as a ball and chain, the opposite of freedom.

“I joined Delivery Hero when it was under A$200m valuation and now it’s over A$7 billion. Quandoo got a great A$400m exit and Zomato just doubled its valuation to over A$3.5 billion – food-tech is getting crazy competitive!

Portrait of young man with spiked brown-blonde hair, short beard and teal t-shirt.

“To be honest, though, Food-tech has nothing on Beauty-tech even though Beauty-tech is a bit in the dark ages. Aussie households spend 3x amount of disposable income on wellness and beauty as they do on eating out and takeaway.

“The reason I love the beauty industry is that it’s about one-to-one relationships. It’s such a great industry to be in, and it’s set for explosive growth now that Honee is here.”

Since artificial intelligence plays a key role in your new venture, Honee, how do you see it changing the beauty industry in the future?

“Once salons are properly networked, Skynet will use this to send stylists back in time to stop Britney Spears, her pigtails and the 90s from ever happening – ensuring 80’s female flattops and bangs survive well into the future.

“Seriously though, there are two parts to this. What salon owners need and the opportunity staring us in the face. Salon owners need rapport not reports, chat not charts, conversation not SQL queries.

“They are passionate, one-on-one relationship builders who could talk the leg off a chair. A.I. is crucial to the adoption of new technologies in the beauty industry.

“Through Nectar (our chatbot) they have 24/7 access to every bit of data about their business, how it’s performing and feedback from clients. It’s on Facebook so they don’t even have to be in the salon to chat with Nectar.

“The other part of this is the opportunity – 99.8% of bookings occur over the phone – the phone is our enemy! There is so much data out there about beauty and most of it is completely undigitised.

“We managed to get over 200,000 services listed on our platform just by doing what no one else was willing to do – collect data.”

“Pretty soon we will start seeing salons of the future powered by Honee. You’ll walk into the salon and a look book will be autogenerated for you based on styles that are trending and in your area.

“It will all be augmented, which means you can look in the mirror and see what each style looks like on you before deciding. It will all be tailored to your skin tone, hair volume, hair colour and personal tastes.

“Most of this data is already sitting and waiting on Instagram, but it’s not collated or categorised properly.”

You’ve said the idea for Honee came after chatting to the owner of a salon near your workplace. How exactly did a conversation over a haircut turn into an online beauty platform?

“I was building Zomato at the time and Chris, the owner of Preen (a Kevin Murphy salon on Collins St) would always bug me. Every time I got a haircut, without fail – “Matt! When are you going to build a Zomato for my industry?”.

“I never really took it that seriously until I offered to help Chris with some of his digital work. It was then when I realised how unconnected the industry was, how bad it was from a consumer’s point of view trying to discover exactly what they were after and how many other marketing businesses were taking advantage of salon owners’ lack of tech sophistication.

“It wasn’t long after our initial research that we had all quit Zomato. From there, we set about physically visiting every single venue in Melbourne.

Preen, where the idea for Honee was born, is one of countless salons listed on the website.

Preen, where the idea for Honee was born, is one of countless salons listed on the website.

“We did what Google couldn’t, and it paid off. Now, we get well over 3 million search impressions a month, with over 40,000 bookings. Guess the lesson is that if you want real change to occur, find people who can do it and persist! Thanks, Chris!.”

Have you always aspired to be an entrepreneur, or has everything come as a bit of a surprise?

“I always wanted to make money, a lot of it. I have competition in me.

“I guess hustle is something that has always been the fire in my blood, I failed the first two semesters of my undergraduate course because I had scaled my web hosting company to hundreds of clients across the globe.

“I learnt there are serious limits to what I can do alone, I need other people to help, you have to have a team to really succeed. I realised I was going to have to spend time learning from other people, hence the emphasis on working at Delivery Hero, Quandoo and Zomato.”

What has been the biggest challenge of your career, and how has it shaped the person you are today?

“Tough one – it’s all connected. Moving to India on a whim for a six-month internship, ultimately led to the opportunity to scale Zomato after the Urbanspoon acquisition many years later.

“Taking a massive pay-cut to work with pizza shops all day, ultimately led to the snap opportunity to jump on a plane and take over the Singapore restaurant market within five months.

“There was only one real challenge in my career, one major point of definition and that was when I decided to stick to my principles and stand up for what I believe in.

“I [once] found myself in a specific situation where I knew what we were doing was wrong and against my principles, with yearly bonuses at risk and assurances that no one would know what we were really doing. I couldn’t rationalise it the way everyone else was.

“From that point on I refused to compromise my values. Needless to say, it wasn’t the last time this sort of thing happened, but I managed to get out within a year or so after this initial case. It taught me to back your beliefs.

“Now I’m helping small business owners to have the confidence to unlock growth and become better leaders themselves.

“I am in love with the industry I work in.”

About the author

Alice is a Londoner who quit her 9 – 5 job and bought a one way ticket to Sydney. Usually found pining after Leonardo DiCaprio, drinking red wine and keeping her Instagram “on point” via @alicesantics.

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