Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

How Austin Entrepreneur Chelle Neff Created Her Business From The Ground Up

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Texas chapter.

For this article, I interviewed the owner of Urban Betty Salon Chelle Neff. Chelle and her business have won numerous awards in the salon industry such as being named one of the Top 200 Salons by U.S magazine not only once but 11 times! As well as, Austin Fashion week awards, A golden boot for best Austin stylist in 2011, A golden boot for Philanthropist of The Year in 2014, Entrepreneur & Startup of The Year in 2016, Finalist in Women’s Way Awards in 2016 & 2018, named ‘Best of The Best’ in 2018 & 2019, named Business of The Year in 2020, and named one of the Top 250 Fastest-Growing Private Companies in Texas. Chelle serves on the Forbes Business Council and is on the board of many other organizations here in Austin.

chelle’s Start in the salon industry

I asked Chelle to first describe how she got into the salon industry and what some of the first things she did were when she moved to Austin to pursue cosmetology.

“I came from a family where college wasn’t talked about very much and most people didn’t go to college, therefore I didn’t have encouragement to go to college. I saw when I was young a headline in the Abilene Reporter-News about the local high school having a cosmetology program, and I was curious so I enrolled at 16 and became licensed at 18. Freshly licensed and out of high school I moved to Austin and worked my way up to higher salons. I actually started at Super Cuts.”

Urban betty’s beginning

“I rented a Salon Suite and that was the first initial stepping stone of running my own business. While I was renting the salon suite I was also doing lots of hair and updos for weddings, and I wanted a website to be able to showcase my work. I was encouraged to create a unique website domain, and that’s where Urban Betty came from because my first name is actually Betty named after my grandmother. I was at the salon suite for about 3 years before opening a brick-and-mortar in 2005, and it made sense to name the salon Urban Betty because I already had the website. In the beginning of the business it was only 6 chairs, and I wanted everyone there to be a contractor who rented a chair from me. Quickly after that, I learned with that business model everyone wants to do their own thing, and that’s not what I had envisioned for my business. I wanted a cohesive culture and environment to reflect the brand as a whole, so I slowly phased the business into a commission-based model in 2011. Urban Betty then expanded into the salon suite that our flagship location is currently at with now 16 chairs. As the business grew I started to hire more employees, and really put focus on social media and marketing to get the brand name out there. In 2017 there was a lot going on behind the scenes for Urban Betty so I retired from doing hair to be able to devote more energy to managing the business. After this, I had the means to open Urban Betty’s second South Congress location which is a smaller boutique style. In 2021 we launched Urban Betty’s product line which includes an unscented and lavender-scented shampoo and conditioner. We also collaborated with a local candle company, Wild Susan, to create complementary candles to the shampoo and conditioner. In 2022 we expanded our flagship location to create more chairs, and a treatment room to be able to offer esthetician services at the salon. Now in 2023, we are opening a Round Rock location that will house 18 chairs and a treatment room. It’s been a wild journey. Never in a million years did I think that this would happen. The business has now become its own entity with its own momentum which allows me to focus on now being a mom, and I’m secure knowing that the business can run on its own.”

urban betty’s biggest challenge & Biggest Achievement

I asked Chelle to describe what she thought the biggest challenge in opening up and running her business was, and what her biggest achievement was.

“The pandemic. The salon had to close for 2 months. If I hadn’t hired a salon consultant group in 2014 that advised me to keep 3 months worth of fixed expenses in savings we would have had to close down. It took 6 years of business savings in just those 2 months because my fixed expenses were not what I thought they were. The pandemic was a necessary evil to show me how much it took to run my business, and how much my business could withstand. When we reopened we could only open at half capacity so that was difficult as well. I am most proud of being able to provide healthcare for my employees. In our industry that is not a norm. It took 8 or 9 years after opening to be able to have the profit to be able to provide that for employees, and that was a big milestone for me. I have been in a position where I didn’t have health insurance, and couldn’t afford it. I didn’t want my employees to ever be in that predicament.”

Chelle’s Advice to aspiring entrepreneurs

“Bootstrap it! If you can do it yourself, don’t take a lot of outside loans from entities that aren’t trustworthy. Credit is going to be your best friend if you are aspiring to do it on your own.”

University of Texas freshman nursing major '26