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How I went from a New York Lawyer and Investment Banker to founding Sponge - Hong Kong's on-demand beauty company

Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?

I am a French-born New York lawyer based in Hong Kong. I have two law degrees and Investment Banking experience at Morgan Stanley and Barclays Capital in New York. Upon moving to Hong Kong, I founded Sponge, Hong Kong's on-demand beauty company.

Describe your startup in less than 50 words

Sponge offers professional on-demand beauty services, including hair, makeup and eyelash extensions, to your home, office, hotel, event – wherever! Women today are busy with work, family and life in general. Sponge makes women’s lives easier by bringing your beauty routine to your doorstep in just a few clicks.

Get pampered by beauty professionals at your own home while you catch up on emails, spend more time with your children or even sip a cocktail in front of your favourite movie. Because who wants to deal with going to the salon or spa anyway?

Sponsored by Benefit Cosmetics & Amika, Sponge has also had numerous partnerships with international brands including Sephora, UberEATS, ZALORA and YEECHOO.

How did you get started with your business?

I had just moved to Hong Kong and I was looking for an apartment. I was surprised by how expensive rent is in Hong Kong. At the same time, I looked around for good quality beauty services to keep up my beauty routine, such as hair and makeup, but I couldn't find any that offered reasonable prices. I put two-and-two together, realising that salons and spas in Hong Kong charged high prices to cover their rent expenses.

Photo credit Michelle Proctor

If you take away the need to have a salon or spa - and thus take away the obligation to pay high rent - you have an on-location beauty service. The idea of Sponge was born. Then, the first steps I took were to set up the company, segment our target market, set up a business plan, and build our minimal viable product. Within three months of having the initial idea, we did a soft launch. And a month later, Sponge officially launched. It's been crazy ever since!

What did you do to attract users and grow your business?

I spent a long time developing the brand's identity. Sponge has a very distinct personality - we are real and we speak to you just how your friend would. Just check out our Instagram account it features pictures of our clients after they've been pampered by Sponge experts. We take our job very seriously, but we also manage to have a lot of fun along the way! I believe that authenticity is what attracts people to a brand.

What are your plans for the next 12 months?

Grow the team and expand. I am very excited for what lies ahead!

Photo credit Michelle Proctor

Tell us about the challenges you have faced and what you have done to overcome this.

I believe the biggest challenge in being an entrepreneur isn't actually dealing with the logistics of it all. On a personal level, entrepreneurship can truly challenge who you are. You will be tested in a way that you haven't ever been tested before. Entrepreneurship is a whole lot of doubt, built on a foundation of belief in yourself. Let that belief guide you.

What's the one tool or resource you've found helpful?

Keeping the lines of communication open is important in a business. I use digital organisational tools, such as Slack and WhatsApp, to talk to the team. Using these tools also encourage your team to share their ideas with you at any time of the day - which is key for growth.

What's your advice for other women who are just starting out?

Pace yourself. But give it all you've got each step of the way.​

What is your morning routine?

Lots of green tea, a few minutes to myself to set my mind up for the day, and lots of emails. Although I make it a rule to not have my phone with me in my bedroom. Then the Sponge experts come to do my hair and makeup for my day's meetings.

My favourite quote is

“If you make a mistake, it means you’re doing something. Which is better than doing nothing.”

Describe yourself in 3 words

Driven, practical joker, always eating.

Where can we go to learn more?

www.gosponge.com

Instagram: @gosponge

Facebook: @gospongehk

#spongeGetsMe

About Diane Younes

Diane Younes is a French-born New York lawyer based in Hong Kong. With two law degrees and Investment Banking experience at Morgan Stanley and Barclays Capital in New York, Diane founded Sponge upon moving to Hong Kong. Sponsored by Benefit Cosmetics & Amika, Sponge has also had numerous partnerships with international brands including Sephora, UberEATS, ZALORA and YEECHOO.

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