One of Britney Winters’ goals is to “live a less confused life.”
She grew up in Houston and went to Stanford and studied engineering. She worked on Wall Street as an investment banker in New York for a few years before returning to Houston with a job in the energy sector. The company Winters worked for sponsored her MBA at Harvard Business School, and that’s where she came up with the idea for Upgrade.
“I had a really hard time finding a local extension stylist,” Winters told MovieUpdates. “Myself and a few other black female students started taking day or weekend trips to New York City to get our hair done. I also had custody of my 16 year old sister, so I managed my course load and took these trips, and it was on one of those rides that I thought there must be a better way to do this. Obviously there is a huge demand for it, and it shouldn’t be that hard to access high-quality, convenient hair solutions.”
Upgrade focuses on the wig and hair extensions industry, which will be a $13 billion industry by 2026. The company, which raised $1.7 million last year, is among hair companies targeting women and people of color such as Rebundle, Morado and theCut, raising venture capital dollars.
Upgrade’s ecommerce marketplace has two sides: one that allows consumers to choose a vetted stylist and have their wig colored or customized based on their desired look. Do you remember Mary J. Blige’s hair during the Super Bowl? That was through Upgrade. The other side of the business is a new monthly subscription service for stylists that helps them market their handmade wigs, beauty products and other digital products and services.
Stylists can manage orders from one place, including direct messages with shoppers, one-click shipping options, data insights and analytics, secure checkout, payment protection, buy now, pay later, and access to customer reviews.
“I grew up with a lot of hairdressers in my family, so I’ve seen the challenges of running a small business firsthand,” Winters said. “A hairstylist can help a woman feel better about herself. While they offer such significant value, many of them operate with limited funding and resources, ultimately impacting the customer experience. We equip them with the tools and resources so that they can work more efficiently and make themselves economically stronger.”
There is a $30 monthly subscription fee that stylists pay in addition to transaction fees for purchases. There are no subscription costs for consumers, says Winters. All stylists are independent contractors and set their own prices. The price a consumer pays depends on the chosen stylist.
This is all thanks to a new $1 million seed expansion from the first seed leads The Artemis Fund and Mercury Fund, which also includes Bracken P. Darrell and ANIM. To date, Upgrade has raised $3 million.
Winters explained that technology and product development in the marketplace, marketing and acquisition of stylists were the driving force behind the new financing. Thirty stylists are currently using Upgrade and 300 are on the waiting list.
“One of our biggest differentiators is technology,” Winters added. “Our stylists are always raving about how easy it is to run their business on Upgrade, so we decided to take that technology, make it more accessible to the masses, and level the playing field to get those stylists known.”
The company also has a flagship store in Houston that serves a triple purpose: a warehouse for the wigs and hair that Upgrade sells, a showroom where consumers can pop in to feel the hair and pick up orders, and a stylist’s workspace with private suites. rent to them. Winters says she’s proud of the space, but isn’t aiming for a huge retail footprint, other than some expansion into other major cities, such as Los Angeles and New York.
Meanwhile, Upgrade currently has 10 employees and Winters expects to double that number next year. The company earns money from the sale of wigs and hair and saw sales triple in the past year.
As part of the company’s growth, Upgrade is working to offer microloans to stylist subscribers to provide them with capital to invest in inventory. It’s just one of the tools the company provides to stylists in its network to help them grow their business, including support for corporate tax filing and profit and loss creation.
Next, Winters expects the microloan offering to roll out by the end of the year. The company will work on additional assets.
Samantha Lewis, director of Mercury Fund, told MovieUpdates that Winters knows her customers well and could do for them what Etsy did for people who make handmade goods.
“Upgrade, on the one hand, allows the stylist to help them grow their business,” she said. “With Britney’s background, she really comes here from all different angles, including the fintech angle with the micro-loans. She taught me what I needed to know about wigs, hair extensions and the problems colored women experience. It’s inspiring to have a super successful business built specifically for black and other women of color.”