Innovation Saskatchewan is responsible for implementing the province’s innovation priorities and helping grow Saskatchewan’s tech sector. Effective April 2022, this includes operation of the Innovation Place technology parks in Saskatoon and Regina.

Interview with SalonScale CEO and Co-Founder Alicia Soulier

Scaling Up And Changing An Industry

SalonScale has been breaking new ground ever since it launched back in 2017 with a colour management product to help salon owners control costs and reduce waste. Now, just a few years later, SalonScale has changed the entire salon industry and they’re not done yet.

We spoke with SalonScale Co-Founder and CEO Alicia Soulier about what winning the 2021 STIC Product Award (operating 5 years or less) sponsored by Innovation Place means to the team, inspiration and stumbling blocks in product design, crucial support from the ecosystem and what’s next for the company.

Congrats on winning the Product Award (operating 5 years or less)! Where did your initial inspiration for SalonScale, a scale and app system that calculates the exact cost of hair colour, come from?

The original inspiration came from a problem I was having as a salon owner dealing with issues of pricing hair colour, but also renovating my salon. One day during renovations, I bought paint and then went to go get some frozen yogurt and when they charged me by the weight of frozen yogurt using a machine system I thought “Oh this is all we need!” We needed a scale with a bluetooth application that talked to the scale.

That's where the inspiration came from: part renovation, part stress of having a brick and mortar and it birthed itself into something that I knew was going to change the industry.

Wow! Developing this idea and product, were there any pitfalls, stumbling blocks or lessons learned for you and your team?

Great question! There were lots.

The core SalonScale product and functionality still exists today. However, one of the hardest things for me early on was selling the technical aspect and what it would do for the businesses more than what it looked like. I was a hairdresser for years and I’m a more visual person, so I wasn’t used to the most viable product model where you put out a product that looks like crap — I like to sell pretty looking things! Every time we had a new feature, I wanted it to look pretty and I had to keep fighting against myself because we needed function over design. We needed it to work first before we put lipstick on it.

However, I think that impulse is vastly different from other product companies that usually aren't as worried about the design process — they just like to build and execute. What it did for us is it built a world-class team that was able to communicate things in different ways, put the unlikely designers on the forefront of building our products and create more of a design process on how we actually build products today.

Truly I believe our whole process and how we save a lot of money and time by designing and mocking things up before we over-engineer is something to watch, especially for other product companies.

Did you ever have an “aha moment” during the process that made you confident you were on the right track and your product would solve a problem for customers?

That specific moment was when I realized the quote "parts + labour = price." I realized that the entire salon industry has never separated their parts from labour and I was in fact holding the tool that I created in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan that would change the industry and could give parts for every salon in the world.

That was my aha moment. My wow factor. SalonScale is the solution to that problem.

SalonScale recently graduated from the Co.Lead program in Co.Labs after initially winning the Co.Launch pitch event in 2018. How has participating in the Co.Labs programs as well as staying and growing at Innovation Place helped develop and shape your product for the market?

Everything requires support. In order to take on these massive goals, you need to be surrounded by as much support as possible, especially in the areas that you're not strong in.

For me, as a former salon owner, I had strength in selling and vision, but when it came to technology and how to build a tech company, I don't think I would have been able to do it without the ecosystem.

When you become an entrepreneur, you think you're paving the way alone, but in reality you're making yourself attractive for others to help support you, so you're actually never really alone. If anything, the ecosystem and being at Innovation Place allowed me to realize that success means seeing all these faces around me that get the success because they're supporting me. It's not just me, it's the ecosystem.

SalonScale has already expanded its product line with fun new scale colours and app upgrades. Are there any new developments we should stay tuned for?

Yes! I always say I'm on the path of innovating and not renovating. I will never build software that already exists and renovate it and make it look cool. I will always innovate.

SalonScale core as it exists today was a new innovation to separate the parts from the labour, but SalonScale is so much more than a scale. Now, we're moving that product into a full backend inventory and colourbar management software called BarTab, hopefully launching in 2022.

Essentially salons are going to be able to put their supplies on a tab and when they need to order supplies they're using with SalonScale core, they can use BarTab to order automatically.

Was there a demand from your customers for this new platform or was this your own innovative thinking?

A little bit of both! Part is you are always challenged to think bigger, especially if you're taking on venture capital. I had to think "Is my problem only as small as a calculator that measures colour or what do salon owners need every day that could be a bigger problem?"

That's where I unlocked this bigger problem, which was the supply chain issues, the lack of communication and that there's no boots on the ground because COVID-19 has severely disrupted things. Salon owners don't want sales people coming into salons, so how could SalonScale become a digital salesforce? That's where BarTab came in.

What’s your best advice for someone currently developing their product or trying to generate product ideas?

Time takes time. You're going to feel like this massive clock is ticking and you're running out of time and probably money.

Remember that if time takes time, then it's really important to sit down with your thoughts, write them out and get the things out of your head as much as possible before you start hiring people and growing your team.

We have a tendency to think only in partial ideas and then ask for advice. It's a distraction. Ask yourself what happens if you take the time to think fully, get all your ideas out and then ask for advice or feedback?

What does this award mean to you, your team and your company?

Oh gosh. A lot!

If someone would have told me that as a former hairdresser and salon owner that I would win a science and innovation award, I'd probably laugh!

For our team, we have fought so hard. What's really impressive is that SalonScale operates very much marketing and sales focused, so for us to win on a product just shows and gives pride to our teams that we are doing the thing! It's putting us on the map and allowing people to see us as a desirable company to hopefully attract some of these technicians to come and work for us.

Being in a salon tech industry, it's not always easy to build a team. That's why this one means a lot to us. We won this as a salon tech company and hopefully this will give us the recognition to continue to scale and add more people to our team.

That’s awesome! Thank you for sharing your story with us. Is there anything you would like to add?

It's so important to show up for yourself, your beliefs and your dreams because what's the worst thing that's going to happen?

If I didn't believe in myself, then I don't think 17 people would have a job and I don't think an industry would change. So, believe in yourself!

- January 24, 2022