It’s funny how we can take certain things for granted, like hairstyles. Over the course of more than 50 years of living in different cities, different neighborhoods, or even different countries, I never worried about finding someone who could cut my hair the way I wanted. Then I’m white again.
But if you’re a person of color, it can be a very different experience. Kyle Parker discovered this when he left his hometown of Chicago to attend in 2013 Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, population 9,031. While 24% of Grinnell College students identify as people of color, less than 10% of the residents of the town of Grinell would say the same of themselves.
So it’s no surprise that it was a challenge for Parker and his classmates to find a local barber or hairstylist with experience working with non-white hair. The Supercuts at the campus didn’t exactly inspire confidence. “I went into their store and they said, ‘Oh man, I hope I don’t confuse you today,'” Parker recalled in an interview with Digital Trends. “That’s just the worst feeling.”
That left the promising NCAA basketball player with only a few options, none of which were ideal: drive three hours to the nearest major city in Iowa in hopes of finding someone who knew what he was doing, take a chance on a teammate to grow his hair, or wait until a big holiday like Thanksgiving, when he could make the trip back to Chicago.
Parker also found that not only was it an inconvenience to not have your hair cut reliably, it was also a blow to his general sense of mental well-being. “It’s not ‘you feel good, you perform well in life,'” emphasizes Parker. “It’s you look good, you feel good, you perform well.’ Most people don’t realize that.”
That’s not just a hunch. A 2016 study by Tamika Roper and John Barry of the University of London concluded that black men are more likely than other groups of people to “find wellness benefits of visiting the hairdresser.Those benefits are partly due to Parker’s understanding that you have to like your appearance to feel good, but they also stem from the past role hairdressers and stylists have played in Black and Brown communities as casual therapists. The study claims that “black men socialized and talked at the barber shop significantly more than white men or black or white women.”
Wondering if he was the only student of color who felt this way, he took a closer look at an incoming freshman class. When asked what their biggest concern was about coming to a new school in such a small community, a staggering 100% of them said “find a hairdresser” or “find a hairstylist”.
Armed with that information, Parker decided to do something about the lack of access to hair care professionals he winks at describing as “adept at our hair texture.” In 2016, at the end of his junior year, he started working on a mobile app called ClipDart — an Uber for hairdressers, as he puts it — that would connect hairdressers experienced in styling non-white hair with the people who need their services.
Using ClipDart is very simple. After installing the app, sign in with your email address, create a profile and add a photo. The photo is required from both clients and hairdressers and stylists so that they can see each other. The app also encourages you to add additional photos to your profile that illustrate the type of haircut you’re looking for, giving the hairdresser a better idea of what you’re going to ask of him or her.
Groups of two or more automatically receive a 25% discount, with greater savings as the group size increases.
You can then book an appointment. That starts with choosing a date and your location, as the app is designed to show you only professionals who work within a 40-mile radius of where you want your hair cut. Flexibility is central to the design – you can choose virtually any location, including your home, a school residence, your workplace, or even a public environment such as a park.
The app finds all registered hairdressers available and presents a range of bookable services that match what these hairdressers offer. If none of the hairdressers perform a specific service, such as coloring, it will not be shown as an option.
Individual appointments are the default, but ClipDart also offers an easy way to make group bookings. Groups are not only more fun for the customers, they are also financially beneficial for both customers and hairdressers: Groups of two or more automatically receive a 25% discount, with greater savings as the group size increases. And a hairdresser who has taken the time to travel up to 40 miles round trip can maximize their profits.
Like Uber, both hairdressers and clients can be rated within ClipDart, and a hairdresser can always decline a customer’s appointment request if that customer’s rating isn’t great, or they’re just too far away for the hairdresser to fulfill the request. meet for the specified date and time. ClipDart checks every hairdresser or stylist who joins the platform. “We’re doing background checks,” Parker confirms. “They have to be licensed before they can even use the app. Our primary concern is safety.”
Like Uber or even the Apple App Store, ClipDart collects 20% of the service fee. But Parker points out that it’s still a better deal for barbers than the traditional barber shop, where a barber will rarely see more than 60% of the cost of a haircut. When you combine that with ClipDart’s slightly higher fee structure (to offset the travel component), Parker believes most barbers can earn $35 to $40 an hour.
The process of developing the app proved challenging. Parker was still actively pursuing his studies and a basketball career that would eventually take him to Germany, where he played professionally, so creating the app was necessarily an afterthought — but one he was obsessed with. “I put everything I had right into this app,” he recalls. “Every time I made money playing basketball games, every time I did an internship in the summer, I immediately stopped it.”
Four years later ClipDart was nearing the finish line. But as (bad luck) luck would have it, two days after the official founding of his company, on March 15, 2020, COVID-19 left the world in utter disarray. “It’s extremely devastating to work on something for so long. And we couldn’t release the app because it isn’t as it is now. No one even knew the word COVID. We just knew it was killing people.”
Parker has persuaded the administration of Luther College to pay this fee, making the clipping free for students.
Running into an unexpected roadblock, many things happen to entrepreneurs. Sometimes, if it’s a deal breaker, they throw in the towel and start a completely different venture. But many are using it as an opportunity to rethink their approach and find a way to turn things around. Parker realized the pandemic was a blessing in disguise, one that forced him to rethink his fledgling company’s mission statement: “Improving the mental wellbeing of people around the world through hairdressers and stylists.” So he returned to the university environment that spawned the idea for ClipDart, but this time he went to actively solicit the participation of the school itself.
He convinced Luther College in Decorah, Iowa — 240 miles from his alma mater in Grinnell — to contract with ClipDart to bring some of the most experienced barbers in the state to campus, at a cost of between the $60 and $100 per hour. Better yet, Parker got Luther’s administration to pay this fee, making clipping free for students. It turned out to be a win-win for everyone. The school was given a turnkey and affordable way to significantly improve inclusiveness, diversity and fairness for its students and staff, improved mental well-being for those who got haircuts, and there was even a double benefit to the hairdressers and stylists. : they showed that they were indeed essential service providers, and they made much more money than if they had performed the same service in a barbershop. It also gave Parker and ClipDart a much-needed proof of concept.
“Ultimately, that’s exactly what we want, just being able to talk to someone.”
Today, Luther College still uses ClipDart-descended hairdressers for appointments every two weeks, and schools in Arizona, Nevada, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have joined. ClipDart also partners with hospitals, senior centers and conferences and continues to add new partnerships regularly.
The pandemic also helped bring another aspect of the ClipDart vision into sharper focus: charity. Parker decided ClipDart needed to do more to help the mental wellbeing of those in need. Beginning in December 2020, he partnered with several non-profit organizations to host a series of “Days of Duty” events to provide free food, clothing, showers, and haircuts.
To Parker’s surprise, attendees often skipped eating, clothing, and showers and went straight to the hairdressers. When he asked them why, they said what they really wanted was to be able to sit for 45 minutes and talk to someone. “Ultimately,” Parker notes, “that’s exactly what we want, just to be able to talk to someone, talk about our trials and tribulations, and be honest and open.”
Each of these events serves about 100 to 150 people over the course of about three hours. The effort proved so successful that ClipDart founded its own registered 501(c)(3) charitable organization earlier in 2022 called The ClipDart Give Backto continue the work.
“We know that this mental wellbeing crisis is happening all over the world and we need to solve it. That is our mission.”
As ClipDart’s non-profit and for-profit partnerships began to mature, Parker turned his attention back to the mobile app, which was shelved in 2020. ClipDart App made its official debut on the Apple App Store on February 14, 2022. There is an Android version of ClipDart also, but until it is added to the Google Play Store, it will only be available as a sideloadable APK.
As a newly launched service, ClipDart hairdressers are still concentrated in just one market: Phoenix. Parker has decided to focus his limited marketing resources on that urban area and then try to expand to other locations as the app picks up steam. It’s a formula that worked well for Uber, and Parker believes it could work for ClipDart too. He believes that the positive circle he has created through the ClipDart Give Back organization will also contribute to its adoption by both hairdressers and customers.
“Everything feeds itself. The more hairdressers we get at the ClipDart Give Back, the more they understand how essential they are, the more they understand that this is about mental wellbeing, not money — even though they get paid,” he said.
As for the future, apparently there are no limits to the ClipDart vision. Parker sees the three pillars of the company – the app, the partnerships and the Give Back – as key to an eventual global expansion, bringing the benefits of a really good haircut to everyone who needs it, if they can afford the full amount. pay or not. “This isn’t just about making ClipDart bigger. We know that this mental wellbeing crisis is happening all over the world and we need to solve it. That’s our mission,” Parker said.