Stanford Sloan Fellow Cristy Arbeláez was riding back to campus with a classmate, discussing what she had learned about marketing small businesses from a day of interviewing hairdressers at the Salon Professional Academy, when their Uber driver looked back toward them.
“He apologized for interrupting and said, ‘The solutions you’re discussing would really help the people I work with too,’ ” Arbeláez recalls. The driver worked for an association of landscape gardeners. At that moment, Arbeláez realized their class project, which focuses on providing marketing tools and advice for hair salons, could apply to a wide range of companies. “It really opened my mind,” she says.
This freedom to go after her ideas, and the luxury of time and resources to research them, was a major reason Arbeláez applied to the Stanford MSx Program at Stanford Graduate School of Business. She’d spent 18 years working for global consumer packaged goods companies and was looking for a change.
“My brain had become too ‘corporate-wired’ and I needed another push,” Arbeláez says. Since she started the program in the fall of 2017, not only class projects but also personal self-reflection have been a crucial part of her learning. She hopes to use her prior experience in marketing along with current research and ideas to one day open her own business.
“It can be hard to stay true to my goal because there are so many opportunities,” Arbeláez says. “But I came to Stanford GSB to learn more about starting my own venture.”
Until Arbeláez decides just what and where that will be, she is continuing to try out her project building a marketing company to work with beauty salons. The project is a brainchild of her Startup Garage class, an entrepreneurship course taught by Stefanos Zenios, the Investment Group of Santa Barbara Professor of Entrepreneurship. In Zenios’ classroom, students are encouraged to implement design thinking — while being given permission to fail and to learn.
“The class is pushing me to be comfortable with taking risks,” Arbeláez says. “It’s hands-on; there really isn’t much sitting and listening.”
For now, Arbeláez is focusing on salons in her native city of Medellin, Colombia. Each week her clients send her a photo of their handwritten ledger via WhatsApp. Arbeláez then inputs and analyzes that data in Excel, responds with a photo of a chart or graph of her findings, and Skypes with her clients to discuss potential plans of action. Arbeláez says by identifying these small salons’ key performance indicators, owners can manage the stylists who work for them more effectively. Even though it’s still in the early phase, Arbeláez recalls one business owner who was ready to let go of one stylist, but revisited the decision after learning the employee was her second-ranked employee.
“It could be some stylists are some always on top, others don’t perform as well some week,” Arbeláez says. “How can you motivate them to do a better job to always perform at their best?”