Bringing AI to Hair Salons

PROVO, Utah – Dec 15, 2021 – Barbers are often busy with their hands in clients’ hair—cutting, trimming, dyeing, and styling. Understandably, answering a ringing phone isn’t usually their first priority. Luckily, BYU math junior Austin Petersen recently thought of a solution: an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered, phone-answering company called Lovage Labs. Thanks to the Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology at the BYU Marriott School of Business, Petersen’s company received needed support and has been running in barber shops, hair salons, and other small businesses for several months.

The idea for Lovage Labs came to Petersen in fall 2020 when his wife asked him why more people don’t have access to AI. As they discussed the topic, Petersen formed the idea for an AI-powered drive-through system for fast food restaurants. He met with friends to work on the project, but they realized the drive-through concept was more difficult than anticipated and pivoted to a new idea. Petersen and his team eventually created Lovage Labs, an AI system that automatically answers phones for businesses. The product is used primarily in hair salons and is customizable to help answer customers’ questions and book appointments.  

The company witnessed success less than a month after releasing its product in April 2021. “Using our AI, one of our first customers booked 30 additional appointments that they would have completely missed otherwise,” Petersen says. “Sometimes when employees are running around and taking care of customers, they don’t have time to answer the phone. Our customers love our system, and our AI makes their lives easier, which is our main goal.” 

Petersen, a native of Alpine, Utah, believes that without the help of the Rollins Center through this year’s Founders Launchpad, he and his team would not have received enough help in the beginning stages of their company to accomplish what they have. The launchpad is a summer program that aims to help teams of student entrepreneurs work on their companies in a dedicated space and focused environment.

“The Founders Launchpad was key to our success,” says Petersen. “The Rollins Center gave us an office space, which was so helpful because our team set up everything we needed and worked together. Additionally, we were right next to other fantastic teams of entrepreneurs that we exchanged ideas with.”

The launchpad also provided Petersen and his team with money, which they used to hire additional team members. “Our company probably wouldn't still be growing today without the launchpad,” says Petersen. “I can’t quantify how much the Rollins Center helped us, especially with our commitment levels. We sat down and said, ‘Okay, let's work on this full-time.’ Before the launchpad, I sometimes looked at what we had to do and said, ‘Oh, I’ll get to that in a week or two.’ However, my time with the launchpad was different, because my company finally became something I could truly focus on 24/7,” he continues.

One of Petersen’s main goals with Lovage Labs moving forward is to make AI accessible for as many small businesses as possible. “I don't care if you are a personal trainer, a barber, a massage therapist, or a real estate agent, I want everyone to use Lovage. I wish every single small business in the world could have access to AI so they could focus on what they do best,” he says. “If you are, say, a plumber, what you do best isn't answering the phone. Your main priority is to fix problems with your customers’ plumbing. I hope we can expand to other service-oriented businesses soon. When people think of accessible AI, I want them to immediately think of Lovage Labs.”

Outside of his business, Petersen enjoys spending time with his wife, Regan. One of their favorite pastimes is trying new foods and eating at lesser-known local restaurants. For example, they recently visited House of Frybread in Provo, which he highly recommends. “I tried the honey lavender frybread, which was absolutely delicious,” he says. 

Whether he’s trying unique foods or testing out new business ideas, Petersen doesn’t shy away from unfamiliar territory. “Throughout the process of creating our business, we’ve had to be willing to pivot in an entirely different direction or try something completely new,” he says. “Yes, we’ve experienced failure, but I believe challenging circumstances in life always improve if you keep pushing onward. That’s been my experience with Lovage as well.” 

BYU math junior Austin Petersen finds fulfillment in trying new things, including starting his own business. Photo courtesy of Austin Petersen.
BYU math junior Austin Petersen finds fulfillment in trying new things, including starting his own business. Photo courtesy of Austin Petersen.

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Sarah Calvert