After a long day’s work recently, Fetaru Charity Flavia was late for a surprise birthday party for her friend. To make matters worse, she needed a quick make-up but she couldn’t go to her usual make-up artiste and make it to the party in time.
“Then I remembered I could order for a makeup artist using my phone. I immediately went to the Belle Beauty App and they sent me someone close to my location,” she says of Belle Beauty, a digital marketplace that connects beauty service providers to customers.
“This service is convenient for me. Now every time I want makeup, I just go to the App and find someone to have it done anytime at my place or at their offices. I use Mobile Money when I am done. I am happy with their service,” she adds.
On this day, it was Namulamie Hillah, a Makeup Artist at Hillah Beauty Uganda that is listed on Belle Beauty, who saved Flavia’s day. And on her part, since she joined Belle Beauty in 2022 as a makeup service provider, Namulamie has lots of good things to say about this platform.
“I have so far worked on more than 100 clients. The App has connected me to many customers who want makeup. It has helped a lot to build my brand name and meet more people since they have a wide range of clientele including celebrities,” she says, noting that she offers all types of makeup ranging from bridal, casual, photo-shoot, indoor and outdoor.
She says that a platform like Belle Beauty has greatly helped her tap into the clientele group that prefers to be served at their places of convenience.
According to Alice Sharon Namugerwa, the CEO of Belle Beauty, this is a product of the Covid-19 pandemic which especially affected salon women that were put out of business because of the lockdown.
“During the pandemic, we got to understand which sectors were essential or not regardless of their profitability. We saw that the beauty sector which employs between 30,000 to 60,000 people in just the urban centers was not catered for and it left a question of what happened to all these people,” she says.
“And remember that most of the people in the beauty sector are majorly informal and didn’t have any business continuity structures.”
With this in mind, Namugerwa came up with a cost-free online platform where beauty service providers could register and get connected to clients regardless of time, place, or conditions. In two years, the platform has on-boarded over 80 service providers and served more than 1,000 clients.
“We would have more service providers but some fail our quality assurance mechanisms because they are in the informal sector. However, we don’t turn people away; we still give them an opportunity to meet clients after undergoing training. We connect them to beauty schools to get skills so that quality is assured for our customers that use the platform,” Namugerwa says.
To avoid losses, customers are encouraged to pay upfront using digital payment platforms such as Mobile Money.
“When you utilize our platform, you are required to pay upfront using mobile money. Once the payment is received, the appointment is then fixed with the service provider who is paid on the same day when the work has been successfully executed. The service provider is also paid using mobile money. We try as much as possible to be cashless so that we can ensure that all the players in the transaction are happy and safe,” Namugerwa says.
Namugerwa owes Belle Beauty’s meteoric rise to its association with the HiPipo Include Everyone Program.
“When we tell people that we have been around for one and a half years, they can’t believe it. We started off participating in the Women in FinTech Hackathon and by the time we were included in the 40 Days 40 FinTechs, we had grown. Being on this platform validated our idea. This platform has taken us to spaces that we would have worked a little longer to achieve because of the mentorship and visibility that comes with the platform,” she says.
Now in its fourth season, HiPipo’s 40 Days 40 FinTechs initiative has become a household name in the financial technology space of Africa. In the last three editions, more than 100 FinTechs have been showcased, highlighting stories changing people’s lives, especially in the under-served sectors.
According to HiPipo CEO Innocent Kawooya, the testimonies coming from users of these platforms are a testament to the great work done through this initiative.
He further urges innovators to continue targeting people at the bottom of the pyramid who urgently need financial technology services to improve their lives.
Flavia notes that on top of connecting people to service providers, they should as well add beauty makeup products “so that it makes it easier for us to get them.”
Namugerwa says this is part of the plan and this provision will soon be available on the App.
On the side of service providers, Hillah says sometimes clients make appointments and when you come to the hub in Ntinda or go to the agreed location, the client does not show up.”
Meanwhile, Namugerwa says that while there are many challenges facing startups in Uganda, the biggest one is funding.
“I can’t address the regulatory aspect because you will still need funding to satisfy it,” she says.
“Most importantly, you must be very patient with a startup because even when you provide the first funding, it doesn’t mean that you are going to break through immediately. We need funding for our companies to run for like five years because what we are trying to do is an innovative solution in an economy that is just trying to get innovative,” she adds.
“There are still challenges of access to the internet yet most of the solutions we are coming up with need access to the internet…For example, if I have developed an App, I am mainly looking at the urban sector but I want my App to be a solution for those at the bottom of the pyramid. However, they don’t have access to the internet. We could use USSD but you also need funding.”
Belle Beauty has been featured as participant number two in the 40 Days 40 FinTechs initiative season four. This initiative is run in partnership with the Level One Project, Mojaloop Foundation, INFITX, Cyberplc Academy, Ideation Corner, and Crosslake Technologies with support generous from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.