Need a date, dinner, a haircut? There’s an app for that. In fact, apps are changing the way that we live in New Orleans. Recently, we sat down with two entrepreneurs who have come up with innovative ways to harness the power of smartphones and tablets to make everyday life a little easier — and certainly a little more interesting. Alicia Alonzo Reynaud started Spafoo.com as a way to bring professional spa and beauty services right into your living room and Leigh Isaacson launched Dig, the dog person’s dating app for dog lovers looking for romance.
Tell me a little bit about your apps. Let’s start with you, Alicia. What is Spafoo and why home beauty services?
Alicia: Spafoo is an on-demand, on-location app providing a connection with a licensed local professional in every city across the country, offering massage therapy, makeup application, hair services, mani-pedis, in your hotel room, your event space, your home, your office.
My husband and I have been in the industry for 18 years, with two different brick and mortar versions of salons. So we have been working with these licensed professionals, including my husband who is one, for all this time — you know, making life easier, creating great spaces, providing high-quality services. And then we knew that it was time for version 3, is what I’ll call Spafoo, where we’re evolving the industry to meet the modern demands. We knew that this would fill a gap and really provide a modern way of on-location services that people were expecting in a quick, fastpaced world.
All right, Leigh, let’s talk to you a little bit about Dig, the dog person’s dating app. What gave you the idea?
Leigh: I love talking about how Dig started because I get to throw my sister under the bus. She was dating someone and she has a Cavapoo. Just picture a teddy bear; it’s a half King Charles caviler spaniel, half toy poodle mix. It’s adorable, that’s all you have to know. And she was dating a guy who got to the point where he didn’t even want the dog in his apartment, and she just said gosh, I wish I knew up front that he wasn’t really a dog person and it wasn’t going to work out. We’ve talked to so many people who have this type of story. We said, well, we should create a dating community where you know that up front. There are so many parts to being a dog lover — a dog lover in New York City with a chihuahua in their purse compared to a dog lover here in Louisiana, going out hunting, there are different types of dog people. So, even within this community you need filters and searches that help you find the right type of person. And that’s what we’ve created.
People using dating apps now have three or four apps at a time, so you’ve got big general dating apps, but the trend now is moving to niche dating apps, so you can cut to the chase, find someone you have something in common with right away. And we saw that there was just a gap. There was a missing huge community of people dedicated and emotional about the same one common interest.
I’m a research person. I was a Fox 8 reporter here in New Orleans, I did some investigative work, that was my favorite, and what I found in my research is that 55 percent of single adults in the U.S. are pet owners and one-third of marriages start now from online dating. You think about this huge market that’s out there of people really emotionally connected, and their main compatibility issue is this companion they’re already with, their dog. So we said, well, we’ve got to jump on this.
So is the proliferation of apps making life easier, or is it giving us too many choices?
Leigh: Technology’s fascinating because people have this love/hate relationship with it. You’re using your apps for everything, but then you’re using them to get off your phone, right? So you want to use your app for a means, but it’s not necessarily the end. So, for our dating app, we’ve got features that help you get out — dog friendly locations near you, so you can suggest a first date idea. The mix, I think, is really evolving. People do want to get off their phones, but the app world has created this new community where you can find a means to an end more quickly, more fun.
Alicia: Spafoo is making things easier for the licensed cosmetologist by providing all of the tools of their business in this tiny piece of technology they carry around with them. They no longer have to carry all the other pieces that create a brick and mortar environment. So, you’re eliminating all of the difficulties that come along with the salon environment, and you are making things a one-on-one experience. What is very common in the industry is that people build relationships, they have connections. And so that piece that allows for that connection and relationship is still existing, but it’s allowing that customer or that client to still live their life and go about their day. Then, hey, I’ve got this one hour that I can fit this in, come meet me here, boop boop, send your request and all of it happens in one place, where you’re not having to pull out cash, you’re not having to pull out your credit card again. It’s all already set up within the app to process, so you’re eliminating that complication, too.
The idea with Spafoo, and with the dating app, too, is that it’s a multichannel way of marketing today. You’ve got radio, you’ve got television, you’ve got print, but now you have apps that are communicating to people, with various pieces or layers that give other information that makes the services more useful to their lives.
A lot of people feel like technology and computers are creating more isolation in society, and yet both of you have created apps that are bringing people together.
Alicia: Yeah, I mean, there’s no beauty service without two people.
Leigh: Dating is really difficult with one person. We really do want to get people out and together. I think a lot of the apps, when you take a look at your phone, it’s a game. You’ve got HQ, which is a trivia game where millions of people get on the app at the same time every day, and they are communicating. It’s a new community formed by these apps, so even though it’s isolating, at the same time you’re bringing people together who never would have been together.
How many apps do you have on your phone,Alicia?
Alicia: Probably about 25. But they’re all really specifically chosen because I know I’m going to utilize them. You have to get your app to people who know they can make sense of this in their own life; it solves some problem, fills some hole for them. It’s definitely a pick and choose marketplace, where you are deciding what apps go on your phone and take up your memory space. That’s why I think you’re going to see the evolution of apps away from this non-connection to a connection, where we’re still working with each other but using the technology to make it easier.
Leigh, your app is based on the belief that common interests make for good relationships. According to your statistics, 77 percent of people mention their pets in their dating profiles and men holding puppies are supposedly 27 percent sexier. So, why do dogs make us better lovers?
Leigh: You are more likely to be empathetic, caring, maybe athletic; some studies say you’re likelier to live longer with a pet. When you think about what you’re looking for in a companion or a mate, the same statistics or the same attributes of a dog person match that. So, you’re looking for these people who show that they’re responsible, that they’re caring, they’re trustworthy, and you see that with dog people. So, if you are looking for someone who is empathetic and trustworthy, maybe a little sexier and athletic, then you should be dating a dog person.
Not cat people?
Leigh: Cats are the number one question I get about my app; it’s when are cats coming. It’s clearly a market out there. For our dating app, we believe you have to get off the app and out in a place to meet someone to be able to find out if you’re compatible, and there’s just not the infrastructure around bringing your cat out like there is bringing your dog out. Maybe we can do some sort of video app in the future, where you can stay at home and meet other people with your cats, but for right now we want to make sure it’s absolutely clear this is a dating app for dog people.
Do you get all ages and backgrounds?
Leigh: Dating apps range, so you’ve got dating apps that are really geared towards 18 to 25, some that are geared for 55 and older. We’re finding that most of ours are between 25 and 44. You’re a little bit older if you own a dog most likely. We had a lot of women join the app very quickly. We suddenly were like, oh boy, we’ve got to go get the men. But all I had to do was tell men that statistic and they started showing up. So, we had to adjust a little bit, but our demographics have worked out that it’s pretty much single people with dogs or looking for dogs ages 25 to 44.
Alicia: Women are absolutely a larger part of our market. I would say that our age range is much broader, because we do find that a lot of older professional women are in need of these services. So, probably about 30 to 65 is our range right now. We can see it, though, really achieving a higher quality of life for an older age group, people who are homebound, people in need of more home services. We see it from the professional side, people who are living an on-demand lifestyle, who are rapid-pace and working long hours, but you can have your service done as you’re still making your time in your office happen. So we see that it’s working professionals and a lot of women.
Is the app life also about convenience?
Alicia: Yeah, with Spafoo, you choose the time you’re sending your request for. So you are deciding when this service will happen, and that is a convenience factor that we knew was necessary for the client. And we knew that the service provider would be more flexible when using this kind of tool, and they can add it on to what they’re doing in their professional setting. They can use this tool in a non-compete way of still utilizing it with their salon environment, so we see it as an extra way of working, an additional mode of income.
Are apps learning to be more organic and evolving for these niche audiences?
Leigh: On Tinder and Bumble, we like to say you can swipe forever, you can find thousands of people, but it may take you that long to narrow down your search. You can look through hundreds of profiles a day. At the same time, you can have another app where there might not be as many people on it right away, but you know the people on it have something in common with you. Dating apps are the number one way for homosexual couples to meet, and for heterosexual couples, it’s right after meeting through friends. That means people aren’t going to bars and hoping to run into someone anymore. This is a much more convenient and probably safer way than the older ways, so you are bringing those communities together, getting them out, but at the same time, they’re evolving to create the communities you want to be a part of.
What does it take to create an app?
Leigh: For Dig, we were lucky enough to get accepted into the accelerator program through the Idea Village here. Through them, we’ve been able to work with mentors in the tech world, product development, investor relations. One of our mentors in product development and software development was able to help connect us with developers. Without those connections it would have been very hard. It’s incredible how this is the perfect size city to help make those connections and at the same time not be competing, where people do want to help each other, but it’s just big enough that you’re not going to be stepping on each other’s toes. So, if you do have an idea, this is really the city to bring it to fruition.
Was New Orleans a good place to develop Spafoo?
Alicia: It’s an excellent size for being accessible by walking, easy to drive around and very convenient for us because of having a previous brick and mortar environment and knowing lots of licensed professionals. So, we were able to build our professional base, work with the clientele that already existed and see how those two meshed together in this kind of platform. When you talk about technology and an app, there’s also that piece that a lot of apps are not monetized. The beauty of Spafoo is that there’re lots of ways to actually create this into a money-making venture. So, as we move forward in partnerships, we’re increasing the likelihood of their brand image being out there. So, monetization was a big piece to our platform. It’s been a long road of process development, a lot of steps and bumps that you had to iron out.
Leigh: I’d say bumps is a great word for it. This is our third development team since July. It’s hard to find that right match. It’s such an important piece of your entire business if you’re running an app, so making sure you have that community that is flexible is a huge part of that.
People also get confused about the difference between a website and an app.
Alicia: The app is the business, and we have absolutely seen that confusion. The website is an informational marketing tool; it communicates our message, but that is all that it is, although it is a back-end access for our professionals to manage their accounts. So that is our work right now, just continually educating the customer base and the professional base of how this is changing the industry and what to expect as it evolves. But the confusion between the website and the app has been very clear; we have had people say we will call your website, and we’re very confused by that. But we also know that we need to speak the message of what the app does and how it operates.
As for you Leigh, people understand a dating app is not a website. But do you have to add new gimmicks and tricks and swiping to compete in a crowded market?
Leigh: Swiping is actually going by the wayside because it feels too much like a game. It’s not personal. So we took that feedback and we actually put up dog paws at the top, you click on each one and you have to scroll to the bottom and see their profile before making a decision on that person. It really makes people take a moment and actually consider the person they’re looking at and the dog, because their dog profile picture is on there as well. But that’s a huge bonus to us, that we aren’t the first in this entire dating app world, so we can learn from a lot of other ones.
Another thing we learned was how to grow. For a dating app you need a lot of people in one place for it to work so, if you try to launch nationally too quickly you’ll get a big boost in numbers, in downloads, but you’ll have one person in Chicago and one person in Atlanta and no one’s going to match with each other. So, we’ve learned a lot from the public data that’s out there and from other apps that have tried and failed.
Dig, the dog person’s dating app, will host Dog’s Mom Day on Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Deja Vieux Food Park, 1681 Religious St., with food, music and canine connections encouraged.