For Yazmin Cavale, building a successful technology-based business requires more than just a good idea, an innovative product or service, or even access to adequate capital and resources. You have to meet a need, she says. You have to fill a niche or answer a question or solve a problem.
“That’s it!” Cavale exclaims, interrupting her own train of thought. “What entrepreneurs are really doing is solving problems. Every good idea represents a potential solution, expressed in business terms.”
Cavale is the co-founder and CEO of GLOW, an on-demand mobile beauty app launched in 2016. Users of the app can book a variety of professional beauty services — hairstyling, application of makeup, spray tanning — delivered in their own home, hotel or office.
A native of Puerto Rico, Cavale — known to friends and associates as “Yaz” — moved to the Boston area with her family when she was 5. She studied fashion merchandising and then spent a total of 18 years in New York, Los Angeles and Miami, with a career in the beauty industry that included working with the major brands Estée Lauder, Laura Mercier and Trish McEvoy.
Today, Cavale has been in Birmingham for more than a dozen years. She moved to the city to be near her mother and stayed after she met her husband, Jim, and they started a family. A fellow transplant from the northeast, Jim Cavale came from upstate New York to Alabama on a baseball scholarship to the University of Montevallo, 40 miles south of Birmingham. He remained in Birmingham after college and became a serial entrepreneur, ultimately starting Iron Tribe Fitness, which grew into a national franchise prior to his exit from the company to start a new venture last year.
With Iron Tribe growing, Yaz started a beauty business in the Cavales’ garage. It grew, too, to the point that Yaz and Jim decided to found GLOW, and she commissioned Birmingham-based digital agency Platypi to develop the app. Beyond the firm’s award-winning work, Cavale says, the selection of Platypi was intended to make a statement.
“I could have gone to Atlanta or Nashville to get a firm to build my app,” says Cavale. “But it was important to me to stay local. The entrepreneurial community in Birmingham is amazing,” she adds. “Everybody supports everybody else. You don’t find that in New York or on the West Coast.”
One part of that burgeoning community that benefitted GLOW was the Velocity Accelerator program at Birmingham’s Innovation Depot. Cavale called the program “incredibly important” to her company’s development, including helping position GLOW to secure $250,000 from local investors that, among other things, enabled the company to expand to Nashville. She says her experience is indicative of the climate that is driving technology-based economic development in Birmingham.
“Things happen faster in Birmingham,” Cavale declares. “People get to know you and they’re rooting for you to succeed. The community really backs you up.”
Which is not to say that substantial hurdles for minority and female business owners do not remain. Cavale is straightforward her assessment of the work involved in making inroads.
“Being female, being a minority, and being from outside the South, I think I really had to prove myself,” Cavale reflects. She recalls one meeting with a prospective investor who listened to her pitch but then wanted to know what her three children would do during the day, when she would be busy running the company.
“My first thought was, ‘Oh, really? Would you ask that question of my husband?’” Cavale laughs. “But I just said, ‘My children are fine. I appreciate your asking. Now, let’s talk about my business plan.’”
When it comes to the idea of Birmingham emerging as a technology hub of the 21st century, Cavale says all of the ingredients are there. And she has a message for anyone considering where they might move to take advantage of emerging opportunities in technology fields.
“Birmingham is a great city,” Cavale says. “It’s beautiful, there’s a great quality of life. And if you work hard, engage in the community and have a voice, you can make things happen.
“Why wouldn’t you want to live and raise your family in a place like that?”