When actress Cara Santana first heard about Uber’s gig economy model, she thought it absurd. She wanted to rebuke the idea. But now it’s a noun, verb and an adjective. In 2014 she took the same business model and started The Glam App, which brings local makeup, hair and nail artists to women looking to beautify their lives from home. Santana, also known for TV roles in “Salem,” “Santa Clarita Diet” and movies “Reunion,” “Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3: Viva La Fiesta!” and the upcoming drama “Steps,” points out Uber has changed the way people see the free-market economy and bolstered independent contractors. CEO Santana only has eight full-time employees with offices in London and Los Angeles, yet Glam has over 30,000 active users in 22 markets in the U.S. and U.K., and over 2,000 stylists.
The company recently partnered with L’Oreal for an exclusive artistry program called the Glam Academy, curated in collaboration with Beyoncé’s go-to artist Sir John who is curating four new looks for The Glam App this year using L’Oréal Paris products. Workforce intern Ariel Parrella-Aureli recently chatted with Santana about being an entrepreneur, hiring employees and creating a strong company culture.
Workforce: Why did you pick the gig economy structure for the app?
Cara Santana: The social culture of the modern-day working woman, the millennial, is instant gratification, convenience, accessibility. They really believe the shape of the culture was going to a place where, either because of time constraints or because of this need and ability to get most things instantaneously, that the beauty industry would fit in. With 65 percent of women working more now than in 2008, you have obviously a culture of millennials who have grown up where they are able to get things when they want, whether it is Postmates or Tinder or whatever. We have to be able to fill a real need, which is beauty — it’s not going anywhere. It felt like a natural progression to apply this model to the business of beauty.
WF: How has your acting career helped your app company?
Santana: How it really helped me is being an “entrepreneur” which is the term I think that gets thrown around a lot, and being an actress, there are a lot of similarities. There is no linear path, there is no handbook on how to get to success; you don’t do A and get to B. there is a lot of rejection, creating your own brand and identity as an actress and same with a business. The turmoil and the struggle of “making it” in the acting world is very similar to “making it” in the small business entrepreneurial world. And thinking outside of the box, having a tough shell, being open to rejection and hearing “no”—there are a lot of similarities in it, so that prepared me for resilience and to march to the beat of my own drum and have faith in myself.
WF: How do you balance being a CEO and a celebrity?
Santana: My mom has always taught me, you can’t do everything on your own. She has always been a working mother, ever since I can remember. When I started to build The Glam App, I knew inherently that I wasn’t going to be able to build it on my own and make it successful. I surrounded myself with people whose strengths were my weaknesses, whether it’s partnering with Joey, who had a very strong creative vision, which is not really my forte, or hiring a COO who was very strong in operations and hiring an assistant who could help balance my schedule. That is a large team, and such cohesion helped simplify and streamline everything I’m doing and it allows me to really create that balance.
WF: How do you build your workforce in this industry?
Santana: The challenge to any business is the hiring. When I talk to other CEOs and owners of businesses, it is always the staff. You really want to create a company that has good culture. You want to have like-minded people working for you. It is such an interesting time — millennials are now the workforce. I am looking for innovative, ambitious and creative talent who have the best qualities millennials have to offer but with a really strong work ethic, because a startup is just categorically different than any other type of environment. It is long hours — I work 80 hours a week, everyone on my staff pretty much works 50 minimum and we are a small team, so you want to find people who are invested in the cause who really want to see The Glam App meet its potential.
WF: What are the positives and negatives to this business model and specifically to the beauty industry?
Santana: The biggest challenge is converting behavior. When something is new and not the norm, there is a natural sense of reservation to it and so big cities like Los Angeles or New York, where people have been getting their hair and makeup done at home, it’s a luxury. But in Phoenix or Dallas, that is really changing the normal behavior [of the makeup industry]. We are allowing all women — no matter their socioeconomic status, age, where they live — you are allowing them the opportunity to have affordable and accessible beauty experiences in some capacity. You are also enabling this group of artists; the hair, makeup and nail professionals, who otherwise would have a very limited ability to work, whether it be in a salon or building their own freelance business, which is incredibly hard. We are allowing these stylists to build their brand, build their clientele, supplement their income while allowing young consumers and stay-at-home moms and working women to find the time to feel good about themselves without having to compromise on their life.
WF: How does this affect local beauty salons or makeup stores?
Santana: I like to always say we want to be their partners. We are not trying to cut and color — do all of the salon-type services. What we are trying to do is simply the styling aspects. Salons cannot always fill all of their needs. Maybe there are not enough stylists; maybe someone wants an in-house call. We want to work hand-in-hand and enable the growth and progression of stylists and beauty providers in every capacity, so we hope it positively affects the salon space.
WF: What is the partnership with L’Oreal going to do for the company’s growth?
Santana: Partnering with such a recognizable beauty brand helps our artists see what we are doing that people are taking notice. This isn’t just a fly-by-night idea, but there is real legitimacy to the business, and brands like L’Oreal and Dolce & Gabbana, the W Hotel, Glamour Magazine — all these people we are working with are realizing the value of the market. This really is the future.
WF: How do you create a common work culture and value system with employees on the internet and working remotely?
Santana: It is a work in progress. You want to instill a sense of incentive and desire to work toward a common goal. We do a lot of incentivized tasks, whether it is winning trips to other offices, incentivizing our stylists to bring in clientele by providing them with a program that gives them rewards back. We certainly try to create a fun and positive working environment and create a company culture of like-minded individuals who want to work hard, who are bringing creativity to a “sterile business model.” It is about finding those young millennials who are interested in making a change and making a social impact while maintaining the Generation X sentiment of work hard and play hard. Today’s generation is really driven by the ideology of making an impact. Do I feel valuable? Am I doing something substantial? Am I being recognized? It’s a balance but having incentives and creativity to really garner the interest of your employees and independent contractors is key. As long as you are playing to that base instinct and base feeling of those needs, you get a successful employee.
WF: What have you learned about being a CEO in the workforce?
Santana: I look back at who I was or what version of myself I was two years ago and the version of myself I am today — it’s leaps and bounds different. The hardest part is picking and choosing your battles and creating an environment where people want to come to work. I didn’t go to business school so a lot of what I am learning I am learning on the go. The hardest part for me has really been balancing the work and the small successes and really taking a moment to identity what has been a win versus moving on and bulldozing to the next thing, and balancing my personal life and not losing my own identity.
Ariel Parrella-Aureli is a Workforce intern. Comment below or email email@example.com.