A Series to Ignite Creativity & Inspire Resilience as You Build Your Business
April Dominguez’s devotion to supporting the Latine community led her to co-create HANDSOME, an app that provides beauty and barber pros the digital tools & community to advance in their careers.
April Dominguez was the only woman and minority at an independent oil and gas investment company before pivoting and creating HANDSOME – a career and advice-sharing app for the $190 billion beauty and barber industry.
At first glance, it might seem like an unprecedented reroute, but there is more than meets the eye. Her time working at the investment company was a unique experience to say the least. After all, she was mentored by the CEO himself, witnessing firsthand the impact of building technology and raising capital. Which by the way, she contributed to raising and deploying $130 million in joint venture capital.
“I’d look around the table, and I would wear [being the only woman and minority] like a badge of honor,” admits Dominguez.
But after five years, she remained the only woman and minority in the company that she helped grow to about 50 people. Given her Hispanic and Native American roots, the company environment did not fulfill her long-term vision of pouring back into her community. So she left and set her sights on creating something that would impact the lives of marginalized communities.
“I’ve intrinsically always been very motivated to reach back and pull people forward who look like me and come from a background like mine,” said Dominguez
From humble beginnings, Dominguez knew from a young age she needed community to get where she wanted to go, and create an impact. Whether leaning on her friends and soccer team to find solace from a difficult home life or becoming a scholarship recipient where the scholars’ community held her accountable to ensure she was on track to succeed, community was the core ingredient.
“I learned that when I was a part of these communities, they would actually push me further than I could have gone by myself.”
Building to Change A Mindset
Dominguez actually created HANDSOME with her sister, who has been a hairstylist for 14 years and has successfully built nationwide salon academies supporting thousands of professionals across the nation. But there was one problem. Although the industry is hugely creative and tech-savvy, its outdated growth strategies include Craigslist, Yelp, and Instagram.
Let me explain why this is shocking. For one, the beauty and barber industry is a whopping $190 billion industry with 90% women and 66% black and Latine folks. Plus, there are more hairstylists than there are police officers or doctors. But due to the massive stigma it has as a ‘last resort career,’ the industry hasn’t had adequate support to break out of its archaic model.
“[The industry hasn’t] been given the same resources or built the same tools as [other] professionally deemed industries.”
So April and her sister put their heads together to get to work and build HANDSOME. HANDSOME is a career and advice sharing app for hair stylists and barbers to elevate and navigate in their careers. Think of it as the fusion of Instagram style, meets Reddit, meets LinkedIn , but for the beauty and barber industry. It’s a digital community to ask questions to those in the industry. How do I raise my prices? How do I fire this client? I messed up her hair, what do I do?
“[The app] is this fusion of my lived experience and witnessing my sister’s lived experience and bringing those two elements together – that’s how HANDSOME was really created.”
HANDSOME’s mission is to bring equal career opportunities to the leading industry for women and a leading industry in diversity, and aims to raise the tide for this overlooked industry to be seen as an equal in the professional space. By creating an entirely new income stream for beauty and barber professionals, the app allows them to earn more income and be respected among their peers, and even people outside their industry.
“And that’s what I think makes us a more different than most other companies,” said Dominguez.
“We’re not just building a technology product to solve a problem. We’re building something to change a mindset and to advance large communities of people.”
But getting venture capitalists to pour dollars into the creation of HANDSOME was more difficult than she anticipated. She walked into venture capitalism with experience in her pocket from her oil and gas days, knowing the data and understanding logically that barely 2% goes to Latine founders. Even less than that goes to founders serving the beauty and barber industries.
“I walked in, and I thought, I’m an exception to the rule. That doesn’t apply to me. And I got completely knocked down,” said Dominguez.
Dominguez was blindsided by the realities of the venture capitalist space. The truth is, Venture capitalists have not seen the beauty and barber industry as a respectable, credible industry. To Dominguez, it was clear that she was a diversity metric. She would get her foot in the door, but wouldn’t be taken seriously. With nobody wanting to actually pour capital into their company, the uphill battle began to cultivate self-doubt.
“It created an immense amount of impostor syndrome. I started to seriously doubt myself, my abilities, my skills, my experience. It shocked my entire system, and it took a lot to really stand up and elevate myself from the amount of imposter syndrome that I was feeling,” she said.
But everything shifted when she decided to no longer give her time to people who didn’t have majority Latines, Blacks, minorities or women on their portfolio webpage. It was strategy that proved to work. Today, HANDSOME is the 1st Latinx Founder backed by Google and on the Top 50 Startups to Watch list.
As a self-identified conscious entrepreneur, April leads her business with heart and transparency. Her biggest advice to Latines creating their own companies and raising capital is to trust themselves. With the influx of opinions you’ll receive about business decisions, clarity is key. Because at the end of the day, you know the community you’re serving the best.
“They haven’t had your lived experience. They haven’t had your expertise. They don’t have your knowledge. They don’t have your intuition. And they’re flooding you with projections of inexperience that isn’t yours or what you’re trying to solve. And so the advice is learn to protect yourself from all of that and trust yourself.”
About the Author
Chantelle Bacigalupo is #WeAllGrow Latina’s Editorial Staff Writer. She is a Bolivian-American photographer, multimedia journalist, and activist based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work focuses on issues ranging across immigration, social & environmental justice, preserving Indigenous cultures, and reproductive justice.