May 25, 2021

Reno startup FreeByrd helps entrepreneurs build online business

Cam Bannister (CEO), left, and Derik Bannister (CPO) are co-founders of FreeByrd.

By Kaleb Roedel

A few years ago, Cam Bannister, a traveling hair stylist from Reno, was on Instagram when she came across a picture that froze her scrolling thumb.

It was an image that a hair stylist posted of a client’s hair that was highlighted via a technique called “balayage,” a hand-painted style that Bannister specialized in.

“It’s very easy to mess up, so you notice when you see someone do it flawlessly,” said Bannister, who proceeded to check out the hair stylist’s account. “I was curious what her engagement was on social media. And it devastated me that she only had 100 (followers), and her skill was clearly that of 100,000.”

At the time, Bannister was a traveling hair stylist serving hundreds of clients in Dallas, Los Angeles and New York City. She made her own schedule, she made six figures, and she helped “make people feel beautiful.” Bannister, however, noticed that many talented peers, like the aforementioned stylist she came across on Instagram, were “struggling to fill their books and be successful.”

“I was like, how do we help these professionals be more discoverable with their unique set of skills?” Bannister said.

In an effort to solve that problem, she teamed up with her tech savvy husband, Derik Bannister. And in 2018, the Bannisters launched a Reno-based software as a service (SaaS) startup, FreeByrd, that provides a web-based platform for hair stylists to do everything from build a website to create an online store.

Three years later, FreeByrd has close to 100 clients — across an array of industries, not just beauty — and is generating $10,000 in monthly recurring revenue (MRR), Bannister said. She added that their startup, so far, has raised $170,000 in funding.

FreeByrd, which offers a 14-day free trial, has three different online platform plans available at either monthly rates ($25, $99 and $199) or month-to-month fees ($35, $125, and $250).

FreeByrd products include an all-in-one web builder with DIY or done-for-you membership options; integrations with email marketing platforms like Mailchimp and payment processors like PayPal; the ability to split-test different web pages to see what converts the most visitors into customers; and more.

“We see fellow creatives go forward and create a very simple online toolkit, which has been quite rewarding,” said Bannister, co-founder and CEO of FreeByrd. “People who could barely use an iPad are adapting our software, so it’s been pretty amazing. They’re taking their skill-set and diversifying it and monetizing it online.”

Meanwhile, the pandemic, Bannister said, has created an even bigger need for not only hair stylists, but all entrepreneurs to bring and build their business online.

“I think many probably speculated it would be important to do it one day,” Bannister said. “But it’s no longer important, it’s a need. Working heavily in the hairstyling community, many didn’t understand that they needed to be online until COVID hit. And it doesn’t have to be difficult.”

Bannister said FreeByrd took last year as an opportunity to further simplify its platform and offer affordable membership plans that enable entrepreneurs to make money using their platform. As a result, the startup saw an influx of inquiries. Influencers in the industry, Bannister said, have also spread the word about FreeByrd’s benefits on social media.

Success stories include a hair stylist who tripled her retail sales in about three months of using FreeByrd, a hair stylist who made $168,572 in less than six months of selling classes online using the platform, and more, Bannister said.

The company will be rolling out new features and technologies later this year, Bannister said, adding that the startup is projecting to reach $50,000 monthly recurring revenue by the end of 2021.

By 2023, FreeByrd hopes to help more than 100,000 businesses succeed online.

“I want to empower the globe to be successful and come online and have tools that are fun,” Bannister said. “So that business can be embraced in a way that is not intimidating, even if you’re using the most high-technology like FreeByrd’s bringing out. FreeByrd is simply our hope of a brighter future for people to be successful online.

“And we want to help people get there without the intimidation or fear — and create that safe space to dream.”