Sheldon Gay ’91 shares how his passion for STEM—nurtured at Lowell by legendary teacher, Theresa Anderson—led him to pursue his BS in engineering at Drexel University and his MBA at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and then use his expertise to impact communities in positive ways. Sheldon has worked as a product manager and senior customer support analyst at EVERFI here in DC and recently launched The Shop App, which offers users “the modern urban barbershop experience.”Where did this journey begin?
I have always told people that I never wanted to leave Lowell. It is by far the school I have the fondest memories of. I was just telling my aunt recently that I was so disappointed that I didn’t get to attend past 3rd grade. Lowell was the first school that nurtured my curiosity for science and math rather than dissuading me from it, particularly as a young black child.
Having a science teacher who was a black woman completely blew my mind and was my first memory of the power of representation. She encouraged us all to be curious, but she helped me begin to understand my passion for STEM. That still means the world to me. I went on to get a mechanical engineering degree and a tech-focused MBA and became very involved in the National Society of Black Engineers. Last year, I was a regional professionals chairperson for the organization.
I could go on for days about my time at Lowell. My first real exposure to entrepreneurship was working together as a class to sell salad dressing. It’s even where I learned the word soccer. I ended up falling in love with the sport.
Know that every time I drive down 16th Street, I reminisce about those experiences and the impact it had on me in the short time I had the opportunity to attend.What is The Shop App?
I got the idea for The Shop App after getting my haircut here in the DC area. I had forgotten to bring cash, so after my cut, I had to run to an ATM. This was inconvenient, and it made me think of all the services I can pay for with my phone. I then called my barber in Philly to ask him why most barbers are still cash only. That conversation made me realize there are barbers and clients who are looking to modernize.
Searching for a new barber is generally a guess-job. You walk into a new barbershop and hope the person you choose won’t leave you with a hack-job. I sought to fix that with The Shop App by leveraging the recent social-media trend of barbers sharing their best work, namely on Instagram. I made sure that clients could avoid the guess-work and choose barbers for their skills and not just because they’re down the street.
There were certainly financial considerations for building the app, as well. Scheduling inefficiencies can account for 10-15% of missed revenue for barbers: that’s a $750 million problem. Furthermore, five billion dollars are spent in urban barbershops each year, and that number is growing as men enhance their grooming habits and women increasingly visit barbers.
I also wanted to have a community impact. Barbershops have held a special role in black communities for years. They have been a place for community gathering, entrepreneurial commerce, as well as a source of confidence. There’s nothing like that fresh-out-of-the-shop feeling. The Shop App’s mission is to digitize the urban barbershop experience and enhance the ability of barbers to grow their businesses, promote their brands, and impact their communities.
I looked around the market and saw some early entrants, but no one was bringing the full package. I decided to fill the gaps:
- We’re the first app to let you search for your barber based on how well they cut fades, beards, parts, designs, and more. Clients don’t have to play the guessing game anymore.
- No more calling or texting your barber to see when they have time. Book any time of day from your phone.
- You can easily see how long your expected wait is without interrupting the barber. You don’t have to sit and wait for hours. Instead, you can save your spot in line and get a notification when you’re next. It’s your time; use it the way you’d like to.
- Pay and tip your barber with one click. Don’t worry about stopping at the ATM anymore.
We’re looking to grow and continue to build features based on feedback and business opportunities. Investors can help us access the resources we need to help us scale quickly and strategically while maximizing impact.
We want barbers who are looking to provide a modern experience, especially those interested in growing their businesses online. A select set of the early group will be given access free for a period of time after which we will begin charging a subscription fee.
People who supply products, services, and relevant content to the barbershop industry have an opportunity to advertise, sell, and engage with a shared audience. Barbers need supplies and training. Clients need grooming supplies to maintain their look. We want to partner with these providers to reach both audiences on The Shop App.What spurs you on?
I was born to leverage technology to solve problems impacting marginalized communities. I’ve spent the past eight years working in customer-focused technology roles. I was the product manager for MedHX, a medication-history application that helps save lives. I’ve worked on a team building a web-application that helps parents teach financial literacy to their children. I see life a bit like a Rubik’s Cube: you can’t win until you consider the impact of your actions on all sides. Technology is my tool to solve that puzzle of equality.
Engineering, Entrepreneurship, and Community Impact
The Shop App’s mission is to digitize the urban barbershop experience and enhance the ability of barbers to grow their businesses, promote their brands, and impact their communities. With The Shop App, you can search for barbers based on their skills, view your estimated wait time, save your place in line, find the best local barbers with ease, see your barber’s availability, book an appointment, and more!