Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but when it comes to getting ahold of an appointment for your hair or another treatment… that’s a different story: the bespoke nature of a lot of the work has meant that a large swathe of the professionals providing these services have stayed offline when it comes to interfacing with customers.
But that is changing, and today, Boulevard — one of the wave of software companies that’s building a route to digitizing for hair salons, nail salons, barbershops, face and skin care service providers, and others in the world of beauty and wellness services, providing services for booking appointments, messaging clients, and taking payments — is announcing that it has raised $70 million in funding, a signal of changing demand and the traction this startup in particular is getting in the space.
The funding, a Series C, will be used to continue expanding Boulevard’s product and engineering teams, and to build out more tools targeting an ever-wider set of users in the bigger wellness and beauty sector (those product additions are typically big: it most recently added a whole new payments feature). This round is being led by Point72 Private Investments, with previous backers Toba Capital, Index Ventures, Bonfire Ventures, BoxGroup, and VMG Partners also participating.
It brings the total raised by the company to around $110 million (per Pitchbook data) since Boulevard was founded in February 2016; and while the startup is not disclosing its valuation, CEO and co-founder Matt Danna said in an interview that the figure has tripled since last summer — particularly notable, given the current pressures in the tech sector and overall financial markets.
To be clear, Boulevard faces a lot of competition — other big names include Zenoti, which at the end of 2020 was valued at over $1 billion; Booksy, which Pitchbook estimates was valued at just under $540 million in November 2021 after it, too, raised $70 million earlier that year; and Fresha, which was valued at over $640 million at the end of 2021, among many others.
But at the same time, Los Angeles-based Boulevard got this funding infusion at a boosted valuation because it has been on a roll. Focusing on the U.S. to date, the company said that it saw an 188% growth in annual recurring revenue compared to a year ago, with more than 25,000 individuals in 2,000 salons and spas in the country now using its platform. It’s also a massive market — and by Danna’s estimates, still with a lot of untapped business — with Boulevard quoting figures that forecast personal care and beauty sales passing $1.4 trillion, and the spa sector passing $150 billion, both by 2025.
The gap in the market that Boulevard is building to fill is that one-person bands, independent salons, and bigger chains all grapple with the same problem. Personal care is exactly that — personal and individualized — and therefore it’s been tricky for personal care specialists to use scheduling tools to organize it. Individual clients have differing requirements, treatments may take more or less time, and specialists are not robots whose time management can be predicted.
Danna and his co-founder Sean Stavropoulos (who is the CTO) previously worked together at Fullscreen respectively as head of product and head of engineering (they were early to that idea: Danna describes it as “creator tools for YouTube before YouTube built them itself”) and he said they came up with the idea for Boulevard out of a joke between them. “I was making fun of [Sean’s] hair and saying he needed it cut, and he was telling me he couldn’t find time to get on the phone for an appointment,” he said. They realized there was a lot of friction in the process that didn’t need to be there: why did they need to make a phone call in this day and age?
“We started obsessing about this,” Danna went on. They decided that this would be what they would tackle and build as a business.
Things then took a investigative, plainclothes turn. The pair posed as UCLA students doing research, Danna said, going from salon to salon asking questions about what worked and what did not with scheduling in their workplaces. They built a picture of why so much was still done offline. In short, it was about “yield optimization,” Danna said: specialists and their salons wanted to be perfectly booked up, and salons weren’t actually completely offline, either. Roughly half used some software on premises or in the cloud, but none of it did the trick both for the salons nor their customers.
Their solution was to give users more control over how to build and personalize appointment lengths for clients depending on specific treatments and specialists, and for each booking to in turn effect how the rest of the day’s schedule looked (not unlike Google Maps and the constraint solver used there to help estimate travel time for vehicle routing in a particular set of traffic conditions, Danna explained). In time, the plan will be also to help individual consumers (clients) build their own profiles that can be applied to any bookings they make with a particular salon, and maybe potentially elsewhere, too, marketplace style.
The rebound that Boulevard saw in the pandemic is another sign of the demand in the market, and perhaps a signal that its customers and the industry in general are more recession-proof than some might have assumed. Danna said that Boulevard’s business took an inevitable pause in the second quarter of 2020 as Covid-19 took hold, but “it was bouncing back within a quarter of that,” he said. Albeit that is with a different-shaped set of workers.
“Across all of the businesses we work with, they are doing 15% more revenues than pre-pandemic, although they are down 20% staff,” he said. “It was a big reshuffle.”
It will be interesting to see how and if that continues to play out as Boulevard eyes up international expansion. But for now, it’s a startup its investors believe is on solid footing in its home market.
“As the self-care industry continues to grow, so too will the role technology plays in creating the seamless experiences that keep clients coming back,” said Eddie Kang, a partner at Point72 Private investments, in a statement. “Not only has Boulevard designed an elegant and visionary platform that fills a pressing need in a fast-growing industry, but they’ve also built a thoughtful, customer-centric culture validated through world-class retention. We’re excited to support the Boulevard team as they continue to grow.” Kang is joining the board with this round.
Academic stress takes a toll on the mental well-being of certain groups of college students more than others – a correlation further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Rutgers New Jersey Medical School study.
Credit: Nick Romanenko/Rutgers University
Academic stress takes a toll on the mental well-being of certain groups of college students more than others – a correlation further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Rutgers New Jersey Medical School study.
Published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, researchers found a significant correlation between perceived academic stress and poor mental well-being in all the students, but most acutely in those who are nonbinary, female or those who were in the second year of a four-year program.
“This study shows that college students are not uniformly impacted by academic stress or pandemic-related stress and that certain groups should be offered additional resources and support,” said study author Xue Ming, a professor of neurology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “The findings support prior studies that have shown that nonbinary adults face adverse mental health outcomes when compared to male- and female-identifying adults.”
According to the American Psychological Association, up to 87 percent of U.S. college students cite education as their primary source of stress – arising from demanding course loads, studying, time management, classroom competition, financial concerns, family pressures and difficulty adapting to new environments – but few studies have looked at how that stress directly affects mental health.
The study sought to determine if a relationship exists between college students’ perceived academic stress and their mental well-being, to identify groups that could experience varying levels of academic stress and mental health and to explore how the perception of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is affecting stress levels.
Researchers surveyed 843 college students between ages 18 and 30 in each academic year of study using questions from the Short Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale (SWEMWBS), which measures mental well-being and positive mental health, and questions from the Perception of Academic Stress Scale (PAS), which assesses sources of perceived academic stress and measures three main academic stressors: academic expectations; workload and examinations; and academic self-perceptions of students.
Nonbinary students reported the highest stress levels and worst psychological well-being, followed by female students. Both groups also reported higher COVID-19-related stress than males. Second-year students reported higher academic stress levels and worse mental well-being than students in other academic years. First-year students scored the best on the Perception of Academic Stress Scale, including stress resulting from COVID-19.
The researchers believe that second-year students as a group might be more affected by academic stress because they start taking more advanced courses, manage heavier academic workloads and explore different majors. Other factors could include increased studying and having less well-established social support networks and coping mechanisms compared with upperclass students.
“Colleges should consider offering tailored mental health resources to these groups to improve students’ stress levels and psychological well-being,” Ming said. “To raise awareness and destigmatize mental health, colleges can distribute confidential validated assessments, such as the PAS and SWEMWBS, in class and teach students to self-score so they can monitor their stress and mental well-being.”
The researchers also recommend colleges provide stress-management and coping strategies such as mindfulness meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy as well as offer stress-reduction peer support groups to help build resilience.
Frontiers in Psychology
Method of Research
Subject of Research
Academic Stress and Mental Well-Being in College Students: Correlations, Affected Groups, and COVID-19
When Kyle Planck first suspected he might have monkeypox in late June, he went to the CDC website and found six photos of different types of lesions. And that was about it for general public information.
Planck, who is a sixth-year PhD pharmacology researcher at Weill Cornell, kept looking though and found a separate part of the CDC website meant for healthcare professionals. There he found a medical slide deck with more pictures, professional journal articles and more details about symptoms and diagnosis.
Still, Planck’s search for answers was far from over. He had initially suspected an STI or Covid infection as the cause of his fever, fatigue and internal pain, but monkeypox was also on his mind. When repeated testing for both of those came up negative, that’s when he went to the CDC website for more monkeypox information, but as noted, it didn’t offer much in the way of information about where to get a diagnosis or treatment.
“It’s only because I work in academic medicine that one, I had the knowledge about monkeypox symptoms to tell my doctor that’s what I thought it was — and two, get a quick referral to an infectious disease expert to get tested and treated,” he said. “And then three is that I had the ability to take part in the investigational new drug protocol. Basically, my proximity to academic medicine gave me a lot of advantages that many people don’t have.”
Thousands of people along with Planck likely went looking for information from public health sources early on in the monkeypox outbreak and came up short. While information and messaging have improved in the weeks since then, the initial lack of data, conflicting information and government agency inconsistencies that continue even today come as consumer confidence is still recovering from widespread messaging and communications problems of the Covid pandemic.
Déjà vu all over again?
So is the US doomed to a cycle of lather-rinse-repeat when it comes to public health emergencies, outbreaks and even another mass pandemic? After all, it wasn’t only the Covid pandemic but other crises including H1N1, Ebola and Zika virus outbreaks and even further back to the early days of the HIV epidemic, that suffered the same kinds of messaging gaps and ensuing disinformation. The internet is awash in post-public health outbreak analysis and academic studies on what to do, or what not to do when the next outbreak inevitably occurs dating back many years. And yet here we are.
“Unfortunately, what we’re seeing with monkeypox is a similar situation that we found ourselves in with Covid where we’re running after answers — instead of having experts ahead of it and pre-answering some of the questions that we know are going to be top of mind with many people,” said Elyse Margolis, Real Chemistry’s president of client experience. “From an information dissemination standpoint, it’s been messy at best, and we’re trying to play catch up now.”
David Bowen, head of policy and advocacy at Klick Health, said, “We’ve seen this cycle of boom and bust before in terms of preparedness for epidemics … But you can’t be reactive in dealing with this. You need to be prepared to go in so that you have the resources, training and personnel to get a forest fire while it’s small. It’s not the time to be buying hoses and training the firefighters.”
It’s true that some catching up is happening. Messaging and availability of disease information have changed immeasurably in public health communications since Planck became ill in June — on the CDC website there is now a plethora of resources from symptom checks to prevention tips to global outbreak and US case count maps just added on Monday. Meanwhile many local city and community education campaigns have also sprung up.
Experts do believe there have been improvements in the monkeypox response compared to Covid-19 and previous public health outbreaks. The World Health Organization and the US government, for instance, declared monkeypox a public health emergency more quickly than they might have in the past. Local city responses too have been quicker with practical messaging and communications about risk and resources.
In fairness, the dependable reality of viral disease outbreaks is unpredictability. Science lags at first and then changes as new data becomes available on how best to advise people for prevention, protection and treatments. That’s certainly been true with monkeypox.
Parsing the proper LGBTQ+ communications
Still one of the key ongoing issues that seem mired in confusion in the monkeypox outbreak is messaging for the LGBTQ+ community. Men who have sex with men account for 98% of monkeypox cases according to WHO, but thanks in part to an initial hesitation to avoid stigmatizing gay men or the LGBTQ+ community in general, the messages may have been too broad and not targeted enough, some critics say.
Jim Downs, a professor at Gettysburg College, wrote an article for The Atlantic in May about monkeypox. Downs, who is the author of the recent book “Maladies of Empire” which traces the history of infectious disease in the US, questioned the wisdom of downplaying messaging to the LGBTQ+ community.
“Initially the WHO and CDC had the right intention, understanding that it would be dangerous to put out a message that could potentially stigmatize gay people. But when I wrote that article, what I was afraid of was the messaging getting diluted,” he said.
His assertion then — when only nine people in the US had contracted monkeypox — was that even though that caution around stigma was warranted, “health agencies are putting gay men at risk unless they prioritize them for interventions such as public-awareness campaigns, vaccines and tests.”
To date, about 9,000 people have contracted monkeypox in the US, according to CDC data, and as Downs pointed out, mainstream information and messaging are still not getting it right. Too much focus on the “no one is immune” message is muddying the waters and creating dangerous delays, he said.
“We have to be careful about using outlier cases as the driving force or the way we’re understanding the outbreak,” he said. “Science always acknowledges and recognizes variation, but we shouldn’t be focusing on the one or two percent of possibilities when the vast majority of cases are in men who have sex with men.”
Science and data need to stay at forefront
Margolis agreed about the importance of science. She pointed to those lessons learned during Covid as key for messaging.
“It’s important for us as communicators to think about following the science,” she said. “The world is in a very different place in terms of our ability to make decisions based on science and data, so we shouldn’t be afraid of not putting information out for fear that we’re fear-mongering. People understand more now that you make decisions based on the information you have. It’s when it’s opaque or confusing or just not there that you start to get in trouble.”
Another marketing lesson learned from previous crises, and particularly during Covid, is the power of local communications. That is, the importance of community-targeted messaging and local trusted sources speaking up.
Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco and New York are some of the cities leading the way with proactive messaging that targets the LGBTQ+ community most at risk without layering on stigma.
Klick’s Bowen reviewed monkeypox health messaging on Monday and pointed to New York as a good example of that.
“The first thing they said is ‘anyone can get and spread monkeypox.’ That’s a very simple, straightforward comment but grounds us in the idea that hits people and potentially anyone is at risk and potentially anyone is a spreader. And then they went on to talk about some of the characteristics of the outbreak in New York and who they are reaching out to most to get vaccinated,” he said.
On the ground in New York, Planck pointed to anecdotal evidence of on-the-ground messaging, posters he saw “all over” Fire Island Pines last weekend about the signs and symptoms of monkeypox. Fire Island towns such as Fire Island Pines and Cherry Grove are longtime open havens for LGBTQ+ people.
Still, Planck said even those were a bit of a disappointment in that the QR codes on the posters linked to a basic information New York State public health website.
Trusted sources, and including LGBTQ+ representation since it is the primarily affected group right now, should also be considered in monkeypox messaging efforts.
“Targeted messaging about monkeypox whether it’s about symptoms or risk reduction strategies or whatever it may be, lands better when it comes from LGBTQ+ folks,” Planck said.
The appointment of Demetre Daskalakis as deputy coordinator on the White House task force on monkeypox last week was a welcome step, he said. Daskalakis is a well-known and trusted LGBTQ+ community member and advocate. His previous clinical practice in New York focused on providing care for underserved communities there. He’s currently the director of the CDC’s division of HIV Prevention.
In June, Daskalakis narrated a CDC YouTube video outlining things to know about monkeypox at that time.
While many cities may be generally getting it right, don’t forget about more rural areas where vaccination and prevention messages may not reach, Downs cautioned. There are men who drive to cities from the suburbs once a month or so to have sex or are living in small towns and are hesitant to publicly reveal sexual preferences who need to get the same messages — maybe even more so.
Remember that during the Covid pandemic, misinformation or just the absence of enough information in rural areas and among communities of color helped contribute to poor outcomes in infection rates and even deaths.
“There’s a lot we can learn from Covid communications and the response now that we’ve had two years to reflect on,” said Briana Ferrigno, president of McCann Global Health. “The blunders around response time, the overall delays and confusion, the misinformation that persists even now and the myths at the beginning of Covid when it was downplayed by governments around the world, not just the US. … We’ve already seen some of that delay again in monkeypox with a lot of people pointing to that delay contributing to not being able to contain the disease quickly enough.”
Clearer messages needed for vaccines and treatment
So with monkeypox messaging, communications and marketing still coming up to speed is there a chance that advertising agencies and professional ad campaigns will swoop in as they did during the Covid pandemic?
Donated time and creative work from major agencies and the Ad Council — alongside big paid campaigns such as HHS’ “We Can Do This” $250 million effort — helped to deliver concise marketing messages around masking, testing and vaccinations. The Covid-19 vaccine makers — Pfizer, Moderna and even Novavax — all contributed to public health messages with awareness ads of their own about the importance of vaccination.
While that may happen with monkeypox, there is little evidence so far. Partly because the outbreak is much smaller — and unfortunately maybe seen as not as important because of severity.
HHS Sec. Xavier Becerra ruffled some feathers in the LGBTQ+ community when he said a few weeks ago — before the public health emergency was declared — that while the US needed to be vigilant he added, “But how many people have died compared to say Covid? Zero.”
Beyond general messaging about monkeypox facts and risk mitigation, there are still-emerging communications around the vaccines and treatment. The updated vaccine Jynneos from Bavarian Nordic, and antiviral treatment TPOXX or tecovirimat from Siga Technologies, are both playing key roles in public health emergencies. However, neither of the manufacturers is likely to create their own campaigns — both are suppliers only to governments and in the US, to the Strategic National Stockpile.
Planck who received a two-week course of TPOXX, which is approved as tecovirimat in the EU to treat monkeypox but in the US is only FDA-approved for smallpox, isn’t waiting for that messaging.
Planck believes the severity of his monkeypox illness was mitigated by taking TPOXX — and that’s the same conclusion a dozen or so other people he knows have taken it reached. The CDC currently is allowing the use of TPOXX to treat monkeypox in the US, but only as an expanded access Investigational New Drug (EA-IND) with supplies only available from the strategic national stockpile. Translation? It’s very hard to get, and essentially impossible outside of large cities.
While Planck knows his evidence is anecdotal — and he appreciates as a pharmacologist that the effectiveness of TPOXX still needs to be proven through clinical trials, he’s on a mission to do just that. He’s raising awareness, writing letters and speaking up at meetings with legislators and public health officials to try to speed up access and distribution.
He also wants better messaging from public health officials. But he’s not waiting around for that either. Planck along with other recovering monkeypox patients along with LGBTQ+ advocates have taken up the cause — in true young millennial fashion — sharing resources with their followers and others on social media.
They’ve created updatable Google docs with vaccine availability dates and times as well as TPOXX treatment options and possible physician prescribers from across the US. While the CDC has updated its data online, there is no official monkeypox vaccine locator or therapeutics locator.
At the end of the day, it may be the local messages and social campaigns that most effectively help turn the tide of monkeypox infections. But certainly, no effort whether federal, state, local or grassroots will work without coordination.
Bowen said, “We often talk about public health communications as it were only one way. That is agencies, in this case, government agencies talking to an affected community. But of course, really effective public health communication is two-way. It’s informed by the community that it’s trying to reach and addresses that community with the right messages, with the right messengers in the right channels. That’s always a work in progress, especially in an outbreak where you’re learning new things every day.”