the first refresh
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Rachael Kam was a former lawyer turned entrepreneur. She graduated with a law degree from the National University of Singapore, and spent eight years in corporate legal practice.

Being a lawyer is indeed a stable and well-paying job — or a “safety net” — but it was not something she was passionate about.

That has since changed significantly for her. In 2014, she made the leap to be an entrepreneur and started her first business venture, Lucy & Mui, providing locally-made minimal fine jewelry to the world.

During those eight years of running the e-commerce business, Lucy & Mui enjoyed good sales. In fact, more than 40 per cent of their orders came from overseas, mainly Australia and the United States.

In 2022, she started up a brand new beauty venture. Called The First Refresh, it is an on-demand beauty platform that offers beauty services in the comfort of one’s home in as little as two hours’ booking notice.

Her vision for The First Refresh is to be a game-changer in the beauty industry by creating a platform that prioritises quality, flexibility, and affordability.

Her passion for beauty and entrepreneurship was ignited when she realised that many of the women who were beauty professionals, did not have the same flexibility to work around their family needs as she did. She saw an opportunity to create a platform that would benefit both customers and beauty professionals, and she went for it.

With the establishment of The First Refresh however, Rachael had to put Lucy & Mui on hiatus that same year, as she was unable to manage running two businesses while being present for her family.

Simplifying the booking process for beauty services

The First Refresh aims to “do beauty better” by providing technology-enabled booking, eliminating commute by bringing beauty to one’s doorstep, offering fair and transparent pricing, and delivering quality beauty services.

Shortly after the lockdown in 2022, I made an appointment with my long-time lash and brow therapist to have my lashes and brows done. It was a long back-and-forth process to book in via WhatsApp, and I remember thinking to myself that there was so much that could be done in this space.

When she finally came by for the appointment, I had a minimum-viable product to show her, in the form of a Shopify store with a scheduling app stacked on top. If nothing else, I wanted to know that I could make a difference for her.

– Rachael Kam, founder of The First Refresh

The frustrating booking experience eventually led to the launch of The First Refresh, which started out as a passion project and has since evolved to become her “life’s work”, as described by her husband.

the first refresh lash extensions
Image Credit: The First Refresh

The platform offers a range of beauty services, including nails, lashes, brows, hair and makeup, and facials. Through The First Refresh, clients can seamlessly schedule bookings online with just a few clicks as well as check time slot availability in real-time.

Beyond bringing quality beauty services to the home, it has a deeper mission to provide flexible work to women and change the face of beauty with fair wages and a community of skilled beauty professionals.

Each beauty consultant undergoes a stringent selection and vetting process — they are assessed on things like client communication, comfort levels, and technical skills — before they are onboarded, with less than 15 per cent of applicants accepted on a quarterly basis.

At The First Refresh, you can opt for either one-time purchases or a recurring subscription plan that allows flexible scheduling of self-care at preferred intervals such as three, four, or six weeks, or longer. It also allows you to skip, pause, swap, or cancel anytime after two bookings.

The Refresh Subscription is our way of challenging traditional prepaid packages in beauty salons through a technology-forward SaaS model. In 2022, the beauty industry recorded more than $285,000 in prepayment losses.

the first refresh
Image Credit: The First Refresh

With our subscription model, you pay as you use — consumers can cancel, skip or edit their subscription directly from their membership portal by connecting with our concierge team, giving the consumer full flexibility in managing their beauty needs.

– Rachael Kam, founder of The First Refresh

Subscribers can enjoy a 10 per cent discount on the retail price of services, and there is no surge or dynamic pricing applicable. In fact, it offers a lifetime pricing, which allows active subscribers to retain their subscription price for life.

Demand for house calls increased due to COVID

Rachael faced several challenges during the early days of setting up the company. She did mostly everything herself, from marketing and press to operations, and was on customer service duty 24/7.

“My stress levels were at an all-time high,” she lamented.

One of the key challenges that The First Refresh faced was scaling sustainably with heart. Rachael realised that scaling a business with high demand is easy, but doing it in the right way with the right structure, team, and culture is a unique series of challenges.

Despite the challenges, the company has steadily grown — from a one-person team in 2021, to a team of more than 30 today, with a growing list of satisfied clients and accolades to match.

“I have been incredibly blessed to have a team that supports [our] vision, works hard, is amazing at what they do, and gives me the support I need to think strategically and bring The First Refresh to the next level,” expressed Rachael.

the first refresh manicure
Image Credit: The First Refresh

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has affected many businesses, and The First Refresh was no exception. The company had to cancel small nail parties and gatherings due to the changes in rules. However, the pandemic also changed consumer behaviour, with more consumers embracing the house call model as opposed to making their way to a beauty salon.

Although disruptive, Rachael ultimately sees the pandemic as a time for them to “grow stronger, adapt faster, and survive during the toughest of times.”

Growing revenue and customer base

The First Refresh believes that with beauty, the best marketing is done through word-of-mouth. The bootstrapped startup was initially launched to only family and friends, enabling organic growth within the first six months.

We deliberately stayed away from paid marketing to allow us to test, improve and grow within the constraints that we had as a small business. During the testing phase between the second and third quarter of 2021, our revenue grew 2.5 times through word-of-mouth only.

– Rachael Kam, founder of The First Refresh

One of the keys to the success of The First Refresh is the company’s focus on customer experience. The company’s net promoter score (NPS), which measures customer satisfaction, stands at an impressive 84.7. This is 2.5 times the industry average for beauty, and it is a metric that the company tracks on a weekly basis.

the first refresh facial
Image Credit: The First Refresh

Since its inception, The First Refresh has achieved many other milestones and successes. For one, it has paid out six figures in salaries and commissions to its beauty consultant team, which is a real-life indicator of its mission in action.

“Almost half of our team are mothers — hearing about how they can scale down their hours of work to prioritise the needs of their children, being there at night and during holidays really resonate with me as a mother. As a business, we continue to push for exponential growth — we quadrupled our revenue between FY2021 and FY2022, and are looking to accelerate growth further in FY2023,” said Rachael.

The First Refresh’s mission to provide fair wages and flexible work for beauty consultants is a refreshing take on the traditional beauty industry, and is a commendable goal that will benefit many skilled beauty professionals.

Sharing future business plans, Rachael added that they will be launching their first in-house product called the Lash Magic! Serum — which promotes longer, thicker, fuller and healthier natural lashes — by the third quarter of this year.

In the year ahead and in 2024, the team also plans to gradually expand their complementary range of beauty products.

Featured Image Credit: The First Refresh

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© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)