Have you ever wanted to do something different with your hair—perhaps get a balayage or a new color—and not know where to go? Or maybe, you wanted to try out polygel nails for the first time and have no idea where to go get them. So. You scour through salons on the internet, sending direct messages on different platforms, asking about their rates, and bouncing through their available schedules. Sometimes, you get a speedy reply and sometimes you just don’t. Yup, it’s (more than) a bit of a conundrum.
This is just one of the beauty consumer pain points that Claire Ongcangco wanted to solve, way back in 2019. “I really saw the gap in beauty,” she shared as a speaker at the annual ‘BUILD: A Startup Festival’ held last March 22 at the Draper Startup House in Makati. “Everything has been [digitalized] already. We can book flights, hotels, and almost everything online. I buy my makeup and skincare online. But not for salon services.”
So, she sought the help of her partner, Miko Cornejo, in Concept Machine, the IT company they founded that focuses on building websites, apps, and software development for major businesses.
“Miko is a guy and most of our developers hindi naniniwala na I wanted to solve something in beauty. So, sina Miko candidly asked, ‘May pera ba dyan?’,” she laughingly recalled. “He challenged me to prove the model, to prove the business.”
And so, she did. Claire created the business model for Parlon, a witty hybrid of the words “parlor” and “salon.” She wanted to digitally transform the way that merchants sell and consumers book and buy beauty and wellness deals, whether for hair, nails, lashes, and more.
Claire herself onboarded the first 80 merchant partners of Parlon. “It was hard because we’re the first in the Philippines to [digitalize] salons. So, we’re building Southeast Asia’s largest discovery fintech beauty platform.”
“Salons and Pinoys, they love deals, they love promos,” she added. “Salons are shouting out on their social media accounts that they have promos, but they’re limited to their own audience. So, Parlon came in to [digitalize] how they sell those promos and deals to a bigger market.”
But it wasn’t always smooth-sailing for Claire, “It was really hard onboarding salons. It was really hard introducing a digital product. I was seenzoned a lot, I did cold calls..but had I given up at that moment, there's no Parlon now. There wouldn’t be Parlon making girls and men happy with their beauty, wellness, and self-care needs.”
Today, Parlon has the widest network of salon and wellness centers in the Philippines, and continues to see rapid exponential growth. “Almost 500 brands nationwide. As far as Tuguegarao, Iligan, we have [digitalized] them. It was hard, I'm not gonna sugarcoat it, but we're getting there.”
Claire was all smiles when she admitted that she was her own target consumer in the very beginning. “I actually built this product for myself,” she said. “Now I'm loving that when I talk to girls, they say ‘My first balayage, my first lash extensions, it’s from Parlon’ or ‘I discovered this salon, it’s from Parlon.’”
Some of Parlon’s current merchants partners are global brands Strip and Browhaus, as well as celebrity favorites The Secret Lounge, Benibana Beauty Hub, Emphasis Salon, Azta Urban Salon, Marqed Salon, and more.
Parlon is not just seeing growth in merchants and consumers, but in big ticket partners, as well.
“Parlon is not just an app, it's not just a website, it's actually a multi-channel system for salons. We’re the first and only Philippine company to be partnered with Google Reserve, we have a mini app in Gcash, and many, many more.”
“Parlon’s growth for the past year is mostly organic, but I know that it's not really scalable [that way] if we want to be a global platform and if we want to champion the Philippines. So, in the later months, you'll know more about Parlon,” Claire shared.
When asked what advice she could give to young entrepreneurs, she shared that it’s persistence and resilience.
“I don't adhere to ‘fake it ‘til you make it.’ I believe if you start fake, you'll get fake patrons and fake fans. For me, it's more of ‘work smart until you make it.’ And probably, work smarter and harder when you're already making it.
Learn from your mistakes and know that every day is not always a good day. Just eat your ramen, eat your cake, and just rise up again another day.”
Claire Ongcangco is the founder and CEO of Parlon. She was a panelist in one of the plenary sessions of this year’s “BUILD: A Startup Festival,” focusing on breaking down the “Founders’ Journey.” The annual festival is organized by Sinigang Valley Association (SVA) and Esquire Philippines.
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