Nashville Company Project Belle Takes A Stand


September 21, 2016 3:17PM

You might have noticed that Nashville is a bit of a tech hotbed these days. It’s one of the fastest growing Airbnb markets, and Lyft even relocated some of its operations from San Francisco here. Additionally, Datafox named Nashville one of the top cities for tech grads. Clearly the start-up, innovative culture is flourishing in Nashville. The government, meanwhile, is busy trying to shut this culture down. Maybe you’ve noticed that too.

Nashville is the home of a new company called Project Belle, a web-based app that connects beauty and health professionals directly to consumers. No more salons, no more gyms. The professional comes to you. For some, this might be about convenience or saving time, however there are also many people in desperate need of such a service, including invalids, the disabled, and the elderly who cannot leave their home. To them, this service means much, much more.

It’s also about the professionals themselves. Did you know that beauticians have to “rent” space from the stores, meaning that they often take home less than minimum wage? The overhead cost can increase costs by up to 80%. If you take the store out of the equation, then the professionals are better paid, the customer gets a better price, and even better, all services are performed in the comfort of the home. This is the sort of classic win-win that represents the best about a free market system.

The government wants to destroy it. The Board of Cosmetology is accusing Project Belle of running an unlicensed cosmetology shop. However, Belle is not even a shop. Not having a shop is the whole point. At its essence, Belle is merely a conveyor of information, sharing who wants a service with who wants to provide it. A shop it is not.

We know why this is happening. A self-described “business competitor” complained to the board about how “disturbing” she found “this type of competition.” Does Belle have an advantage because they do not have a shop? Absolutely. However, unless you hate progress, there is nothing disturbing about it. Blockbuster probably found Netflix disturbing too, but our tax dollars weren’t spent protecting a failed business model.

We used to let businesses do exactly that when people didn’t want them anymore—fail. Now we pay for it. Why? Although Tennesseans welcome innovation through apps like Project Belle, their government is on the other side, working awfully hard to find ways to mischaracterize it and shut it down, just to protect someone who can’t compete.

Project Belle is new, but the story is old. I am hoping, this time, there is a different ending.