Maya Adly wondered why there wasn’t an OpenTable equivalent for personal services like barbers or nail salons. So she built it.
Through her startup Roar, Adly is looking to change the game for online bookings and investments into female-founded companies.
I remember the first time I used OpenTable. You mean I don’t have to call the restaurant!? It was such a relief to not have to pick up the phone, knees shaking, fearing that nothing would be available. Or, even worse, I could sense the disappointment—a feeling louder than even the busiest restaurants on a Friday night—on the other end of the phone that I would even think to ask if they could do me a solid and let me dine at their establishment.
Maya Adly remembers, too. For me, it was social anxiety. For her, it was more free time amidst the rigors of a demanding corporate gig.
“As a working female in the office six days a week, it's very hard to manage personal appointments,” Adly shares. “Whenever I had time to get my nails done, I would spend an hour calling multiple different businesses trying to find availability. OpenTable was basically my lifesaver. I would just book a restaurant right away and go, ‘Meet me here for drinks after work.’ I thought, ‘How come there's nothing somewhere for personal services?’” she recalls.
Adly started building. She named it Roar, a nod to her hometown of Alexandria, a city in northern Egypt near where the Nile River meets the Mediterranean Sea. Fittingly, she chose an animal—the lion, her favourite—that has a rich history in both her home country and in the world of branding.
“I wanted something to embody the power and the strength of going after what you want—having the power to book all your services on one app. So, ‘Roar’ and the branding is black and white. Even if you see my apartment,” Adly says, ducking her head out of the Zoom screen so I could confirm the palette, “everything is black, white, or gray. We're going for luxury, trying to command power.”
To understand how she got here, how she started building out the business in Vancouver, you need to do a little intercontinental travel. Adly’s mother lived in Canada prior to getting married and raising two girls. So Canadian citizenship naturally made the country an easy choice for relocation when the family started looking into schools for Adly and her sister. Once it came time to start her career, Adly moved from Toronto first to Calgary and then to Edmonton where she started working for fintech company Paylidify.
As if she were locked in a strange, corporate version of Snakes and Ladders, Adly worked her way up the company while her free time declined at a rapid rate. It was this push and pull between personal and professional that drove Adly to entrepreneurship. She recalls making the decision in late 2020 that it was time to go out on her own. With that, Adly left both Paylifidy and Alberta, opting for another city where river meets sea. Vancouver would be the home base for Roar.
“I packed up my car and moved to Vancouver last February. Wow, it's almost a year now,” Adly reflects. “I did the touristy thing for a couple of months and then went, ‘Okay, it's time to start this.’ Vancouver is a great home base. There’s more nature out here, a lot more to do.” No longer a tourist, Adly grew her team. She fleshed out sales processes. She put together a marketing team.
Since she started her business in 2021, I was curious how COVID had impacted entrepreneurial proceedings. I pictured a response that detailed the hardships of working with the public service sector whose businesses can’t exactly pivot to virtual. It’s hard to get your nails done via Zoom, after all.
“It actually gives us an advantage because everything is becoming appointment-based,” Adly points out. “I think COVID has definitely accelerated us. A lot of different businesses are now looking at online booking and transitioning into that, which allows us to basically integrate with their software right away and get them up and running. They're looking for different ways of marketing and getting more exposure out there, which is basically what we’re offering them. We’re filling in empty appointments.”
Accelerated, indeed. By December of last year, Adly and Roar had closed a pre-seed round.
One of her investors is Geoff Osler. The former Apple and Adobe exec and current founder and CEO of S!ng, a platform to help musicians and visual artists mint NFTs, connected quickly with Adly’s approach. "My first reaction when I read the Roar business plan was that it was so obviously useful, ‘I want this myself… but someone must already be doing it.’ And judging by the reaction of others I’ve told, I’m not alone. I think Maya and her team have identified a significant unmet market need and a growing list of businesses who have already signed on as Roar partners seem to agree,” Osler said in a statement.
“A lot of startups begin by creating a new technology and then seek product-market fit—I’ve been guilty of this myself. However, what truly impressed me with Roar is that they began with the opposite approach. They’ve listened to their customers first and are rapidly developing the solution they need. This is their unfair advantage which, to me, made the investment a no-brainer," he continues.
Another investor shared that Adly closed her pitch with a powerful call to action: “I won’t stop until I make this the next Uber. So my question to you is, ‘If you could invest in Uber’s first round right now, would you?’” Admittedly, that line had even this mere writer looking at his wallet.
To become that next juggernaut tech company, Adly has her sights set on a seed raise later this spring. Adly says her and Roar were looking to develop a strong investor foundation during the pre-seed raise. Now those early investors are opening doors for her in the VC and angel communities. Adly hopes the warm introductions lead to a seed raise by May or June—all in the name of changing the game for female entrepreneurs. Adly noted something that Harvard Business Review, Forbes and Crunchbase all agree upon: Funding in female-founded startups is somewhere in the staggeringly low ballpark of 3 percent. “I'm definitely looking to change that in Vancouver,” she says.
In keeping with the theme of positive change, Adly raves of the switch to entrepreneurship. “I made it a thing where every month I would take a little ‘me-cation’ as I like to call them, whether it's a weekend in Whistler or just a reset at home. But I've been making sure to sharpen the saw. I don't overdo it. In my corporate role, I knew that I was not happy and it was due to [overworking]. If I wanted to truly make this long-term and build a company, to the position that I wanted it to be in, I knew that I definitely needed to take care of myself. That includes travel and making sure that I can fit in what is important to me, what keeps me sane.”
Adly earned the rest. Recently, Roar has onboarded hundreds of businesses onto its platform and is launching soon in Vancouver and Edmonton. Adly likens the structure for those businesses to SkipTheDishes or UberEats—a small monthly subscription cost then Roar takes a commission from each appointment booked. The platform is free for users, though, meaning it’s only a matter of time before the spa treatments or nail appointments during those “me-cations” are all booked using Roar.
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