How Ruuby founder went from tracking Somali pirates to founding ‘beauty concierge’ app
t’s quite the career jump to go from working on Somalian piracy to Swedish massage, but that’s exactly what Venetia Archer did.
The 34-year-old spent a year living in Kenya and Somalia, working as a researcher into ship hijackings and ransom drops, before moving back to London and deciding to become a beauty tech entrepreneur.
Working long hours as a geopolitical risk analyst, Archer was constantly using apps like Uber to get around town and Deliveroo to get dinner.
“I started to wish that I could do the same with my manicure,” she explains. “By the time I finished work around 8pm, the salons were all shut.”
The urge gave rise to the the idea behind Ruuby, Archer’s “beauty concierge” app. Since it was founded in 2016, customers have now booked 200,000 hair, beauty and nail appointments through the app.
“Initially, my main goal was to create something I could use,” Archer says. “Success back then was one person booking one manicure through the app, but the goalposts have shifted somewhat since then.”
In the beginning, Archer had her idea but no tech knowhow. “I’d seen this glaring gap in the market for an app like Ruuby, but knew I couldn’t build it myself,” Archer explains in her Australian accent (“I moved here when I was 12, but I’ll never lose it”).
She spent a year working with a team of developers. At the same time, Archer, who lives in Notting Hill, near Ruuby’s office in Kensington, spent her spare time visiting salons and mobile beauty practitioners door-to-door across central and west London to sign them up.
Ruuby — the name is “inspired by that flash of red: the red lip, the red sole, those small, impactful nods to beauty and luxury” — went live eight years ago with a launch party and the help of Facebook: “the platform of choice in 2016,” Archer adds, “to get over 250 people sharing the news at the same time, which created that big bang impact on social.” Ruuby had 3000 customers in its first year.
“We had some serious early-stage hustle,” Archer admits. “We would move the world to ensure we could fulfil every appointment possible — but what looked somewhat seamless from the outside, with customers’ bookings immediately confirmed, was chaotic from the inside.
“Quite often we wouldn’t have someone available at the set time they had booked, so we [the initial team was Archer and two others] would get on the phones calling every therapist we knew to try to get someone over there to get a manicure appointment covered.”
Today the process is smoother: Ruuby has 15 staff and 1250 therapists, working in Manchester, Liverpool and London. Since launching with a £25,000 start-up loan, Archer has raised £2.5 million from backers including former Bulgari CEO Francesco Trapani and Henry Lane Fox’s accelerator Founders Factory.
The company’s most popular bookings are manicures and pedicures, but not everything is run-of-the-mill: “We get requests to send masseuses to spend a summer on a boat in the Mediterranean, appointment requests at 3am for jetlagged customers — we fulfil them all,” says Archer.
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Melissa Odabash and Simon Cowell are all fans.
Covid was a huge, but temporary, set back.
Archer recalls: “The lockdowns were hard: we had to stop operating, and revenues went to zero for about 11 months. A lot of people were messaging me, saying ‘do you know anyone who’d just come round in secret?’ But obviously we didn’t.”
Not even for rule-breaking politician’s birthday party? “No masseuses to Downing Street,” Archer laughs.
Post-lockdown, business has boomed: “We’ve had record-breaking months since the pandemic.”Ruuby’s turnover rose to £4 million last year and is set to hit £7 million in 2022.
Patterns have changed since the end of lockdowns: “We used to have an extreme peak before 9am and post-6pm, now it’s a lot more even through the day — and people want different things too: more wellness treatments like deep tissue massage, facials, and acupuncture, instead of grooming. But Londoners have got used to treatments at home. Ruuby is a game-changer for busy men and women.”
Ruuby is moving into hospitality, currently working with 50 hotels in London to provide spa-like treatments in guests’ rooms. Archer is also working on another raise, and expansion plans: “We want to double down on our UK markets before thinking about internationalising — there remains considerable untapped potential in the domestic market,” she says.
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