Last week I met with Chiara and Cristina from Milan’s wellness centre YouOff - they gave me a glimpse into their market, both looking at the industry of wellness and the making of their startup. Chiara previously worked at Freeda, a female-empowering media company as Head of Finance and Cristina had her own boutique as the only masseuse.
How did it all start?
Chiara opens the conversation: We wanted to create something niche and different by broadening our horizons and seeing what was missing in the city. I was Cristina’s client for a long time and from our very good relationship I approached her pitching a business idea. I remember I had the spark of this vision while in London and trying FaceGym’s massage I thought that Cristina’s competencies and talent could be translated into a brand. We wanted to create a smart experience, with an accessible price, because Cristina’s massage is truly the definition of wellness - everyone should do it. After sometime we started brainstorming together a business plan and we found ourselves aligned on so many different points.
Cristina also adds “I came to Italy 16 years ago, I was doing those humble jobs as a waitress and maid but after I went to Brazil to train as a masseuse, I knew I found my direction and understood I really wanted to do this. My idea was creating something unique that I could replicate on other people - it was a truly spontaneous way of creating this business!
When speaking about startups, one main issue is the co-founders’ relationship, do you have any advice or thoughts on that?
Cristina takes this questions and admits “I was a bit jealous at the start of sharing my own massage, because it was my invention and my own baby - but then with Chiara I realised this could become something scalable. You have to know who you have by your side, trust them and be perfectly aligned on them: same goal, same values, like-minded personalities with respect for each other’s skills and abilities. We have a shared dream and Chiara is like a long-term romantic partner: there is a spark that makes us want to work harder each day towards the end goal. Also, you have to be rational and understand that joining forces means being complementary and not one overarching the other.
From a business model perspective how do you differentiate yourself by a spa or a traditional beauty center?
We wanted to position ourselves as a solution between the 5 star hotel service - known for its confusing catalogue and a thousand steps in between receiving the massage and starting the experience - and your classic centre. Many centres lack aesthetic values and offer a variety of massages that are confusing for the consumer: therefore we started with one unique core product - Cristina’s massage. Her experience allowed us to specialise in a massage that really enhances your wellbeing - I remember I had just arrived in Venice and told my boyfriend: "wow this massage left me feel incredible and so many other people should be able to feel the same". We also wanted to separate the commercial activity from the greater wellness experience with the goal to allow the client to really reset and turn off any thoughts: clients in fact book online and do not have to pay for anything - we don’t even sell anything on point so that the client comes in, gets her massages and goes off to his/her agenda.
How did you get to know your target market?
We found that our consumers were sensitive ones to price - especially with the standards in Italy - so we o tried to make it as accessible as possible because we really believe in the power of wellbeing and that repeating this experience can help you feel better in the long term. We wanted our clients to feel good and want to feel even better and come back to enjoy that sensation. Furthermore we were already working with my portfolio of clients and trying to expand on that. We also delved into exercises that would make us think about who our target client is? What do they believe in? What are their values?
And who did you go to for capital?
We wanted to be the owners of our project so we asked a loan from a bank which at the time offered a convenient one for female entrepreneurs.
How important was the location for your market?
It was essential - it’s part of branding. We had two options and we let go of the cheaper one because we thought that our store in Via San Maurilio was also part of our identity and an investment on marketing: basically it’s another form of communicating who you are.
Speaking of identity, how did you strengthen your brand?
We started by asking ourselves so many questions through exercises that worked on our imagination: a lot of brainstorming, talking and dreaming. Most specifically, we wanted something elegant and tasteful and if you notice we never use the word “cellulite” or “before and after” because we really want our clients to turn off while they are with us. One piece of advice for the young entrepreneurs out there is to be genuine and honest about yourself and do something that also reflects your own identity.
Chiara, I know you worked as head of financials at Freeda before, what did you like about your previous role and how did you shift from that to being a founder?
It was an exciting experience because I saw a startup grow through the years and it was useful to see how an unstructured environment like that can grow. With covid I found myself having a reflective moment, thinking about my own ikigai, how I wanted to break traditional schemes and blossom in the long term. It was a stressful time because I sacrificed a lot and the thought of starting something outside of a company gave me anxiety but I carefully listened to my own gut feeling and my own judgment and followed them.
How do you feel about being a boss mum?
It’s empowering and also a bit challenging - but I found an equilibrium between both after managing my schedule really well
Cristina, how did you feel sharing something you created?
It was hard to let go of my own “baby” - it was also weird training all those licensed professionals but I put a lot of trust in the end goal and created with Chiara our own little baby.
Could you tell our readers how to massage yourself at home?
We believe that the physical work and the energy exchange with a therapist is unbeatable and you would be required to be persistent if you really want to feel better.
What oil do you use?
A Physio one - it relaxes the muscles and it’s chamomile derived with no perfumes.
Gua-sha: truth or myth?
Manual massages are really unbeatable but the power of crystals is also amazing. Again - you really have to be consistent with all of that.
What do you always carry in your bag?
Lip balm, hair brush and glasses - I can’t see anything these days! Adds Cristina.