Imagine an app where you can get a manicure or have your hair styled at your home with the ease of ordering a pizza.
Multi-tasking Israeli women, with the largest families in the developed world, know that personal beauty services are the first to go when it comes to their personal time-management. Finding the hour to park, wait and sit still for a manicure is a logistic challenge.
The time-crunched woman is the niche market that Maya Gura is building her booming business around. But her business, Missbeez home beauty services, is more than a personal success for the working mother. It provides skilled employment for more than 500 Israeli women who otherwise would be having a hard time making ends meet. Since she opened shop in Tel Aviv 2015, they have provided home delivery of beauty services to some 60,000 women.
Take one of her employees, whom I’ll call Tatiana. After the army, she studied to be a beautician, and simply couldn’t survive on the NIS 5,000 salary of an assistant in a beauty parlor. But since signing on with Missbeez, she’s earning twice that amount, doing hair and nails at the homes of clients. She says she could never have built this client base by herself, but is quick to answer orders that come in constantly on the user-friendly app.
That’s exactly what Gura had in mind when she started Missbeez. At age 40, it’s her third business. “I’m a serial entrepreneur,” she says.
GURA IS the daughter of Soviet refuseniks, who got permission to come to Israel from Vilna when she was 11.
“I was plunged into school in Ramat Aviv, of all places, without any Hebrew, and found myself communicating with friends in English,” she said. Her near-perfect English and Russian together, along with now native-level Hebrew are a business asset. Her first job after the army and a BA in psychology from Ben-Gurion University was at Getty Images, selling professional stock photos. Influenced by her entrepreneurial husband, Eyal Gura, she was inspired to automate the project.
Soon, they created a system to police the Web for people illegally using Getty photos. That became their first joint company, Picscout, and Gura went from working for Getty to Getty becoming one of their first customers. Their next company, The Gifts Project, provided a means for friends and colleagues chipping in on a gift to shop online together. One of Gura’s two master’s degrees is in business management.
But Gura’s success in business wasn’t fulfilling a deeper need: creating something that would improve Israeli society.
So she went back to school in 2011, taking up an old interest in criminology.
Her practical experience in criminology included working in a prison, and meeting women who had turned to prostitution out of desperation. Many of them were young, some single moms, who simply couldn’t make a living doing menial tasks. Every well-intentioned non-profit program to help them had failed. It broke Gura’s heart.
“The jobs they were offered after jail were boring and powerless.
Imagine slicing salami in a supermarket all day but not having a meal to feed your children,” said Gura.
But many of these women did have marketable skills. “One was a baker, another a beautician, a third trained dogs.” she said. “I thought of creating a database of freelancers. They lacked business skills, but I didn’t.”
Although a dream to help the former sex workers hasn’t worked out, it inspired her to help other low-income women.
Her research showed that the steadiest demand would be for home-delivered beauty services.
“It was my ‘Eureka!’ moment,” she said. “It’s essential to build any platform from the very beginning aligned with the interests of the people who use it, and if you truly deliver value, the unit economics will work out for all parties.”
Gura says the women who work for Missbeez almost always get a customer the first day on the job, and within three weeks they’re as busy as they want to be, says Gura. “No one has to take on a customer or to travel to a neighborhood she doesn’t feel comfortable in.”
I liked the idea of supporting Gura’s freelancers, but was worried about having strangers in the house. I agreed to give it a try.
Because Missbeez is run only from a smartphone app, Gura expects her clientele to be aged between 25 and 60. I found it simple to download and use. You fill in your address, method of payment and then click on a service you’d like. There are various nail and hair treatments, makeup and massage. You can order for yourself or with a friend. In Tel Aviv, where the service is well developed, you can reputedly get a treatment almost on the spot.
In the morning, I requested a manicure for an evening hour.
I heard back from MC, full name given, with her background and six recommendations. I clicked “okay” and she sent me a text asking what colors I liked. Fifteen minutes before the time, another text arrived that Missbeez was on its way. By then, I had dinner warming in the oven and a visiting grandchild in pajamas – advantages of being home.
A delicate and soft-spoken young woman sporting a Missbeez black-and-red vest arrived at the appointed hour. MC worked in her older sister’s robust cosmetic business before the army.
But her sister’s business flattened out as she had four children.
MC tried a short stint in a mall manicure bar, but the pay was too low to pay for her college studies. She heard about Missbeez on Facebook and both she and her sister signed up as soon as Gura opened in Jerusalem last month. They passed the vetting for proficiency and the background checks. A month later, the work for Missbeez in the evenings is paying her studies in the morning. She’ll simply work less during exam time. Her sister is glad to be earning a good living again. From what they hear from their Tel Aviv colleagues, there’s every reason to be optimistic that business will get even better.
How is Jerusalem different? Fewer massages and more last-minute wig styling, says Gura. And like many Israeli ideas, Gura is already exporting. Missbeez is opening in London, and soon after in Barcelona. Before getting on the plane, Gura makes sure to book herself a manicure. The writer is the Israel director of public relations at Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. Her latest book is A Daughter of Many Mothers.