Turning a beautiful idea into a start-up business

Beauty professionals Niamh McHugh and Louise Dunne set up Pucker after seeing a big gap in the market

Research shows that although men and women decrease spending during a recession, there is an exception when it comes to beauty products.

Known as the “lipstick effect”, women in particular still want to look and feel good despite financial circumstances. While their spending on many goods decreases, their spending on beauty products such as lipstick actually increases.

Niamh McHugh who works as a freelance fashion stylist and Louise Dunne, who works as freelance beauty professional in Dublin, have learned first-hand over the past decade just how much women love to look good and are now hoping to cash in on this unique feature of Irish life.

Dunne spent 10 years working for Mac in Brown Thomas in Dublin, which she says is the second busiest Mac counter in the world.


Here she saw the endless demand for beauty products and witnessed hundreds of disappointed customers being turned away as the inhouse makeup artists were booked up for weeks on end.

McHugh also witnessed this increased demand for beauty services while working as a freelance fashion stylist. She says, for example, that Irish women are so focused with looking tanned year round that they are now the biggest consumers of fake tan, per capita, in the world.

Both McHugh and Dunne found it extremely difficult to book appointments to get a simple manicure or blowdry before a night out as they were normally working during salon opening hours. Pucker, their on-demand app for booking beauty appointments with freelance professionals, was developed out of this frustration. “It was nearly impossible for me to get appointments at the times I was free and Louise found it difficult to find extra work as a freelance professional,” McHugh says.

Changing market

“We wanted to develop an ‘on-demand’ platform where freelance beauty professionals could be listed in one place,” she says. “The freelance market is booming here in Dublin so we knew there was great opportunity for an app like this.”

The app is similar to the Hailo model as it is primarily based on location. Customers log in, say where they are, what service they are looking for and when they want it.

They will then be matched with a beauty professional nearby who can come to their home or workplace at the requested time. With more than 300 beauty courses around Ireland producing 12,000 beauty graduates each year, McHugh says there is an ever-increasing number of professionals looking for work.

She also says consumer behaviour is changing when it comes to beauty. Many people are moving away from going to salons and are instead looking towards freelancers who will come to their homes.

"This is an original idea and we want to be the first to market it in Europe. To prove that the market was there, we started with a directory to see if people would pick up on the idea. We wanted to connect people with professionals and to establish lasting connections. Currently there is no directory where you can look up all freelance beauty professionals in one place, so we wanted to create that."

Start-up community

One challenge that the pair have encountered is the fact that they are dealing with a two-sided market.

“We need to make sure that both the freelance professionals and the customers are happy,” McHugh says. “Beauticians and hair stylists need to be the best in the business. Every professional needs to go through a vetting process as these people will be going into people’s homes. Right now the system is based on referral so professionals within the industry are recommending friends and colleagues to sign up for the service.

“On the other hand, we also needed to talk with customers and see exactly what services they want most. The top three services requested were blowdries, manicures and makeup so those are the three services we are concentrating on.”

Right now customers can sign up for the service on their website lovepucker.com, which will connect people with the app when it launches shortly.

The two, who have not received any investment so far, are funding the project themselves. They are already testing markets in Liverpool, Manchester and London and have received positive feedback.

“Despite not getting any funding, we have learned that the start-up community in Ireland is amazing. We are based out of a local incubator in Dublin called ‘Start Local’ which is great as we get to speak with and get sound advice from others on the same journey as us. You don’t have to stay at an office job all your life; nowadays you can create your own future.”