Find a problem and develop a unique solution that will fix it - that’s often the starting point for any business, especially in the tech sector. For the all women team behind South African startup business, Element Applications, their goal in life and in business is to develop smart apps that will solve a range of challenges for other businesses and organisations. Their first foray into the commercial app space sees them creating a much-needed solution for salon owners who need to manage their businesses more efficiently.
LoA chatted to co-founder, Larissa Pienaar, this month to learn more about this fast moving, innovation driven business.
What does your company do?
Element Applications is an all-woman app design and development company in Johannesburg, South Africa, developing applications designed to ease our flow through daily life. Our mission is to wipe admin from the planet, and we want to do it by giving ordinary people access to the best technology available in the market. We offer beautiful, intuitive, fairly-priced solutions to companies who are looking to expand their digital reach through apps and the web.
We are currently developing our first in-house product, LILA for salons, which is what I will focus on in this story. LILA is a mobile salon management and online booking app designed to take salons off paper and into the digital space. LILA takes over the day-to-day admin of running a salon and gives people the time and freedom to practice their craft and live their lives.
“Our mission is to wipe admin from the planet, and we want to do it by giving ordinary people access to the best technology available in the market.”
What inspired you to start your company?
I went for a haircut a little over a year ago and got chatting to my stylist. I mentioned I was starting an app company and she said she desperately needed an app to run her business and hadn't been able to find one. My partner and I couldn't believe that no one had made an app for salons yet. So we went looking and sure enough, while there were apps out there, they did not appear to have been built with the creative nature of their market in mind and hadn't made any significant inroads into the industry. We were sure that with our creative backgrounds, and the help of someone who knows first-hand what the industry needs, we could build something that salons all over the country and the world would want to use. With that, LILA was born, and it's only grown larger from there.
Why should anyone use your service or product?
LILA is, of course, beautiful, elegant and intuitive, making it desirable and accessible to anyone with a mobile phone. Beyond this, LILA is being built with the knowledge that human beings are inherently creative and we want to give them the freedom to live their lives, connect with their customers, and have a human interaction with technology.
LILA is more than a product. LILA is a group of women building a community to encourage broader expressions of identity. We believe that you do not need to go to a place to become beautiful. Rather, you go there to shape and assert the identity you choose to put out to the world.
LILA's ultimate goal is to see small business owners gain access to technology usually reserved for large corporations with massive budgets and be able to use that technology to grow and expand their lives to their full capacity.
“We are currently developing our first in-house product. LILA is a mobile salon management and online booking app designed to take salons off paper and into the digital space.”
“LILA is being built with the knowledge that human beings are inherently creative and we want to give them the freedom to live their lives, connect with their customers, and have a human interaction with technology.”
Tell us a little about your team
LILA has been created by six women across all business areas, with a couple more waiting in the wings for when they are needed. The team has come together over the last year and a half and built LILA in evenings and over weekends, for no reward but the guarantee of hummus at meetings. We all have our own reasons for building LILA, but we share a common goal and a common vision, which is to make LILA the go-to app for salons across South Africa and the world. This common purpose allows us to each express our individual creativity and skill while remaining on the same path.
Building LILA would be impossible without each and every one of these people:
Lisle: Business - Mostly human, part internet. Loves technology.
Larissa: Product - Queen of Admin. Hates doing it.
Cari: Technology - Code machine. Believes the world can run on micro-services.
Madien: Design - Turns ideas into art. Lover of pretty things.
Tessa: Awareness - Knows words. Uses them effectively.
Benita: Industry - Loves her clients, not her diary.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
Two years ago, I was in a very bad job situation and my partner and I made the decision for me to quit so we could start this company together. I'm a first-time entrepreneur so expected it to be tough. The toughness out-weighed my expectations, but not for the reasons I thought. I was expecting to be hit with long hours and crazy to do lists, but I wasn't prepared for the difficult time I had just establishing a routine working for myself. I spent months battling the demons of procrastination and fear before I was able to knuckle down and do the work. Now that the train wheels have finally started rolling, it's strange to think back on the days when I knew nothing about what I was getting myself into, and I look forward to the lessons that I am going to continue learning on this journey.
“LILA's ultimate goal is to see small business owners gain access to technology usually reserved for large corporations with massive budgets and be able to use that technology to grow and expand their lives to their full capacity.”
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
Element Applications aims to be a company that builds extraordinary technology for ordinary people. The apps we have planned range from managing a household to growing a garden to saving for luxury items in a fun, gamified way. We aim to provide education and employment opportunities for women and girls in technology by partnering with NGO's, universities and other groups who are actively working to bring women into the industry. We also plan to incubate, support and mentor other technology startups and small businesses, ensuring that the company provides real value, in the form of freedom, creativity, partnership and financial reward, to all the people who work with us.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
I always said if I started a company, it would be a company that I would want to work for. Being in a position to define the ethics and principles around how we are going to treat our people and how we will approach our clients is perhaps the most satisfying part of being an entrepreneur. Being able to build a team around the shared belief in these ethics and principles, and not around a financial exchange, confirms the belief that a company like this needs to exist, and this team is the one to build it.
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
If you don't know what you're doing, do it anyway! The beautiful thing about not knowing what you are doing is you can work from a place of pure imagination. If you're not working within existing structures and traditions, you can make something completely new. Use the knowledge you have, tap into your life experience, research what you need to research on the internet, and get it done. Then just keep doing that until you make it.
Contact or follow Element Applications
Why LoA loves it….
There is always something powerful about a group of women coming together to pool their skills, knowledge, expertise and energy to create impactful products and solutions that can make a difference to people’s lives. For the team behind Element Applications, they are driven to give small business owners access to technology and innovative tools that can help them to fulfill their potential in the marketplace. This is definitely an entrepreneurial team to watch over the coming year or two as they make a real difference to other businesses through their apps and expertise. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and ceo of Lionesses of Africa