Monica Maestre is an INSEAD MBA graduate from Spain who is driving commercial innovation for a multinational pharmaceutical conglomerate based in Singapore while building a venture that furthers her entrepreneurial mission to empower women from all walks of life.
THE STORY BEHIND THE INSPIRATION
As a young girl living in a small town in Spain called Elche, Monica watched her dad working as a pharmacist, assiduously mixing the right quantity of ingredients to create reputable face creams that people would come to get from all over the region. She watched him apply his science and skills to the practice, and stood awe-inspired.
Monica did not imagine following her father’s footsteps, and went on to pursue a career in consulting and banking. However, her newly-launched business called Novu reflects a step toward steering the direction of personal care. With this start-up, Monica aspires to transform the well-being of working women.
PROBLEM AND MARKET OPPORTUNITY: RISE IN WOMEN PROFESSIONALS
Monica does this by empowering women with a beauty regime that meets them wherever they are located, so they do not need to carve out special time in their day to travel to a salon. This trigger of inspiration emerged during her professional career when she realized how easy it is to get immersed in work and feel like time no longer belongs to you. Sounds familiar?
“There are an increasing number of busy women professionals in the workforce, and they struggle to find time for themselves while meeting expectations at home and in the office. I want to help them embed ‘me time’ into their schedules.” Monica also wants to make a positive impact on new mothers who may not be able to leave the house easily, observing that “they sacrifice their body, career and lifestyle to bring up a child” and deserve to be pampered while defining their new self.
This is where Novu comes in. This online platform allows women to choose from a suite of services such as manicures, pedicures and hairstyling from a highly-curated list of experts. You simply make a booking online, and wait for your personal beauty therapist to come to you. The service is designed to create a more reliable experience with uncompromised quality and hygiene. At other salons, you often have to pay additional fees for basic add-ons, whereas Novu puts you at ease knowing that personalized, high quality service is the standard offering rather than an added perk.
PREMIUM SERVICE: EXPENDING HIGH COSTS FOR LONG-TERM LOYALTY OF CUSTOMERS
It is commonly said that there are only two things that matter in a business: revenue and costs, and entrepreneurs are often driven to cut costs to increase profits. However, Monica has decided on a business model that insists on the highest standards of quality, even if it means expending higher costs for her products and gaining lower profits from the onset. In her view, this approach is about earning the long-term loyalty of her customers, and insuring the viability of her business in the long haul. After all, her brand promise is about empowering women, and this means not compromising on quality ingredients.
Her prices are modeled after regular prices at most salons, rather than charging a premium for her quality products and service. “I want this to be your go-to place, the everyday standard of quality and prices, not something you just use once for a special occasion. We want your weekly manicure to be with us.” The success of Novu is not tied to above-market prices, or cost-cutting ingredients; rather, it soars from the regularity and loyalty of customers and the sheer volume of subscriptions.
“I want this to be your go-to place, the everyday standard of quality and prices, not something you just use once for a special occasion. We want your weekly manicure to be with us.”
HOW SHE PICKED THIS BUSINESS? – “OBSESSION” MATTERS
“I’ve always wanted to start a business and do something that helps women,” Monica recalls. But, what exactly? She ran through a perplexing number of business ideas, such as grips for dance shoes and lifestyle management apps. “I had many ideas. They were all very complex. Finally, I had this idea for Novu, and thought: this one is simple enough to do it. I can just go ahead and…. do it!”
“If you are truly committed, you will always find a way to get it done.”
When you embark on a new venture, Monica notes that you have to be obsessed with the idea. “You have to ask: is it worth doing? Am I the right person to do it? You will be going through a lot of sh*t and face a lot of difficulties, and it is very easy to give up unless you have unwavering commitment and passion. If you are truly committed, you will always find a way to get it done.”
GETTING STARTED: YOU DON’T NEED TO QUIT A JOB TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR
Monica has been building this business steadily while holding down a corporate job, with her energy in each sphere catapulting positively in the other. She has learned that it is possible to be an entrepreneur while employed, especially in the beginning when the launch is not time-sensitive. She puts put in enormous time over the evenings and weekends, and her trick was to hire people who are independent and capable of taking the operations forward.
Resilience gets tested pretty early on in the entrepreneur’s journey, and Monica learned that the fellowship in the start-up community helped her break past numerous hurdles. “I had so many questions from day one! For example, how do I hire an accountant? Should I use accounting software, outsource, or hire in-house?” She found it immensely helpful to chat with other alumni from INSEAD to learn from their practical tips and hacks.
Even though the glut of do-it-yourself tools online make it easier to build a business infrastructure, they still require technical familiarity. Monica adopted a mindset not to get bogged down in the technical process. “I designed and launched the website quickly with help from a developer, but still plan to upgrade the entire design to match my vision more accurately.”
The critical point was to keep progressing, and iterating. “In the beginning, I chose a solution that was not necessarily the best one, but which would let me move faster.”
“In the beginning, I chose a solution that was not necessarily the best one, but which would let me move faster.”
HIRING: UNRELIABLE EMPLOYEES CAN BREAK THE BUSINESS
Investors frequently remark that a start-up is only as strong as its team, and Monica quickly learned that the team is only as strong as the founder. “You need credibility when you talk to people. For example, it’s hard to convince anyone to join you when you don’t have a website.” Even with a website, the hardest part is “finding people who buy into the idea” especially when all you have is a vision. “People who are interested in working with us,” says Monica, “don’t join for the job. They join us because they believe in what this company can become, and want to be a part of it.”
“They join us because they believe in what this company can become, and want to be a part of it.”
Even though it is laborious to find the right people, Monica doesn’t simply hire anyone who walks through her doors. “The most important thing is finding people who will turn up and honour their appointments with clients.” She is in no rush to pull a team together unless the team is right. She likens this process to relationships. “If I hire people who are unreliable, the whole thing will fall apart before it even starts.” To ensure her venture is primed correctly for long-term growth, Monica has hired a part-time HR director to oversee the arena more holistically.
NOVU’S MISSION: WOMEN GROWING STRONG TOGETHER
Ultimately, Monica envisions that Novu will provide women with a pathway for upward mobility when they join as make-up artistes and therapists. As a business owner, she consciously assumes personal responsibility in breaking gender barriers through her own venture. “It is important to create an organization where women are at the heart.”
The additional challenge women face at work is not having too many female role models to emulate how they juggle all the different aspects of their lives. “The corporate world is not designed for women, and going up the ladder feels like swimming against the stream. We believe that women should not be penalized for having children.”
To this end, Novu is designed as a work environment where women can grow and develop, even if they are running a household. “Most of our applicants are new mums who don’t want to spend 10 hours a day in a salon. We offer them an option to go back to work without compromising their family life.”
Monica is an astute business consultant, and wants to apply her business strategies not only to her own venture, but to support the aspirations of women who join her team. “One of the first things that I did was to create a career path. When people join, they probably won’t stay forever—that’s just reality. But I can help them with their ambitions. You can choose to go up the vertical of your expertise, or branch out horizontally and work for a corporate, or start your own business. Women should be able to step in from any walk of life, and use Novu as a platform to move forward.”
WHAT’S NEXT: GROWING THE BUSINESS WITH NEW REVENUE STREAMS
What matters most to Monica as she embarks on this adventure is sustainability, scalability, and soul. “I want to do what’s right. For me, it’s about giving a soul to the business. From the philosophy of how to treat the employees to the products we choose, it’s all about helping women.”
“From the philosophy of how to treat the employees to the products we choose, it’s all about helping women.”
The journey is promising. With this strong infrastructure and brand loyalty getting set in place, she intends to expand their services into numerous other domains such as facials, massage, and body treatments through a crew who are individually screened and vetted for their expertise.
With this service model in place, Monica envisions following her father’s legendary footsteps, after all, going full circle to her family roots. She aspires to do this by designing her own line of products for facial creams, drawing upon the traditional formula that her father created for skin care. In doing so, Monica will take this iconic and coveted recipe from a small town in Spain to the rest of the world.
GET IN TOUCH
Curious to experience Novu and the splash they are about to make in the personal care industry? You can connect with Monica on their website www.novu.sg or email email@example.com