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Tousled CEO Priya Dandawate. (Tousled Photo)

When Priya Dandawate was studying engineering at the University of Illinois, she moonlighted in local beauty parlors. She saw big inefficiencies in the salon industry that she thought the right technology could solve.

The idea stayed with her through college and she couldn’t shake it in her years working as a developer for Expedia and a program manager at Microsoft.

While still at Microsoft, she began working on Tousled, her idea to disrupt the salon industry with on-demand beauty and grooming services.

“I realized that I wouldn’t be satisfied until I left Microsoft and pursued it as a full-time endeavor,” she said.

Shortly after leaving Microsoft, Dandawate met Melissa O’Neill Albert, a longtime marketing exec with over 20 years of experience developing brands. The two decided to take the entrepreneurial plunge together.

Tousled Co-founder and CMO Melissa O’Neill Albert. (LinkedIn Photo)

“With her tremendous skills in marketing, PR, and business strategy, she is such a compliment to my skill set,” Dandawate said. “We have grown by leaps and bounds.”

They officially launched Tousled in 2015. Using the service, customers can request haircuts, manicures, massages, and other self-care services on-demand. Tousled suggests a licensed professional from the company’s network, who travels to the customer’s home, office, or other designated location.

Tousled also does monthly pop-ups with companies in the Seattle region, like Microsoft and Facebook.

We caught up with Dandawate for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Tousled is a marketplace that connects clients with beauty, barbering and wellness professionals for services when and where they want them.”

Inspiration hit us when: “Working as a software engineer at Microsoft, I kept thinking [about] applying technology to the outdated salon industry, where I spent many hours working while an engineering student. I kept thinking about the efficiencies and delight that technology could bring, especially given changing customer expectations.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “Bootstrap, because that is where you need to start, and now getting ready to close our Angel round. If you don’t put some skin in the game, we don’t think it is fair to ask anyone else to.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “The chemistry of our team and the fact that the foundation of our product is social. Yes, we are a marketplace, but we are also a beauty, grooming and wellness community. Tousled has Instagram and Facebook integration and is rich with shared photos, videos, conversations and content, leading to deep engagement.”

The Tousled team on local talk show New Day Northwest. (Tousled Photo)

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Keeping our costs down while we test different strategies and product revs.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “We think of them as ‘learning opportunities.’ Out of the gate, we assumed every tactic we used to get customers had to be ‘scalable,’ but it is good to be scrappy when you are starting. You need to figure out your product-market fit so find your customers any way you can.”

Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “We’ll take Sheryl Sandberg. If you believe the adage, ‘if you want something done, give it to a busy person’ then who better than a woman? Sheryl keeps breaking ground with open, honest discussion of challenges women leaders face and responsibilities we juggle, advocating for strong women networks, particularly in tech.”

Our favorite team-building activity is: “Brainstorming. We love solving problems and, as a startup, we have new challenges every day. How do we automate certain information? What new feature should be built into the product? It is all in a day’s work.”

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “Passion and complimentary skill sets. We want people who believe in the vision for what we are building and can add value to our team – while not locking their knees. Flexibility is also key because the business grows in many ways you don’t expect.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Roll up your sleeves and don’t think you are above doing any part of the business. Melissa and I aren’t hair stylists, makeup artists or massage therapists, but, despite our work experience and education, we still sweep up hair, carry massage tables or go door-to-door soliciting customers. You have more respect for each role if you wear those shoes, and it helps you see your business from fresh perspectives.”

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