Meet Jess Perez, The SI Swimsuit Model Who Developed An App To Help Models Get PAID

Jessica Perez is one of the chillest models in the world. As a reader of BroBible, you’re probably most familiar with her work in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Costa Rican-American swimsuit model was voted Rookie Of The Year in 2012 and followed it up with an incredible shoot at Easter Island, one of the most remote places on the planet.

Perez’s modeling career is still as busy as ever, but she has her sights focused on conquering the start-up world. For the last few years she worked on developing an app called Tycoon, which helps keep track of personal income for models and freelancers. You don’t have to be beautiful and rich to use it: Tycoon is a deal for anyone who earns their paycheck via 1099s.

The idea comes from what she witnessed amongst her model peers: Rampant personal financial mismanagement, especially when careers start to dry up in a model’s late 20s and 30s. Tycoon helps busy freelancers track gigs and payments from their phone while on the go, ensuring that the user is paid every penny that they’re owed.

It’s not every day we have a chance to sit down with a model-turned-app-visionary, so we invited Perez to swing by our Soho office and tell us a little bit about Tycoon and her dip into the waters of tech entrepreneurship.

What’s the post-modeling career transition like? 

Jessica Perez: It’s a complicated answer. Only 1 percent of models who reach a place in their career where they can slap their name on a lipstick or make bikinis.

I think that the majority of models, there’s four or five good years where girls are making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. But once those girls start reaching ages 28 or 30, they start waking up and not having a single penny in the bank. That’s my main inspiration for creating the Tycoon app: All freelancers struggle with finances because it’s a very convoluted, complicated thing to keep track of what’s going on with yourself financially. It’s literally another job to keep track of your business while still doing the job you’re being paid to do. .

I always tell people when they complain about their desk job how easy they have it:  You go to work, you get a nice paycheck every week, and someone else calculates your taxes, takes out the right amount, and gives your health insurance.

We go home and then have to try to get money out of this agency or that company. We have to estimate our taxes with an accountant and make sure health insurance is paid. All of that takes a lot of time. You have all these models who are young or foreign and no one’s sitting down with them and explaining to them what they need to be doing besides their jobs.

They may think it’s normal to make thousands of dollars a day right now, but what’s going to happen when you wake up seven years from now and realize you don’t have an education because you dropped out of high school? When you realize you don’t have a skill set because all you’ve been doing is modeling for seven years and didn’t save any money, you run into trouble. A lot of models just assume the money is going to keep rolling in. There’s a problem if all you did during your peak earning years was elevate your lifestyle and not plan for the future.

Models need to plan for that transition period because it will inevitably come, whether it’s into motherhood or doing something on your own – you need cash for that.

A lot of these girls are really left lost. I see it with a lot of my friends. I look around and think “this shouldn’t be happening to these women.” It’s really frustrating to me, which is why I get so passionate about it.

Little by little, the economy is becoming more and more of a freelance economy. A lot of people think it’s great, but I think it’s scary. We have all these freelancers and creatives who aren’t paying attention to things like turning 60 years old without a retirement account, without any kind of savings, without knowing where to go.

That’s why I started Tycoon. It’s all about how to keep track of your money, which is the financial part of my app. I asked 80 people in a survey of freelancers, models, photographers, graphic designers, personal trainers how they keep track of their income. 65% of people couldn’t really give me an answer. They didn’t really know. People would say “I write it in a notebook or I just call and ask people to tell me what they owe me” and it’s like yeah, I’m sure those numbers are accurate. Leave it up to someone else to tell you what they owe you.

Hence the app.

Yeah, exactly. I learned how to use QuickBooks to be organized, but I’d forget to put jobs in since I wouldn’t bring my laptop traveling.  What I really needed is an easy mobile way to input a job and when to expect payment.

So are you able to then give income estimates?

With the paid version of the app. I’d like to help people go from a gross number and reach a net number. I think what happens in our industry a lot is people spend like they’re making their gross number. But models pay 20% commissions to our agencies and then another 30% in taxes, so models are like “I just made $5,000, I’m gonna go buy a $5,000 bag!”

And I’m like “No, no – don’t do it – you only made half, but no one’s telling you this!” I think it’s really an honest mistake. I’ve met models who are really smart and asked them how much they take home from their gross paycheck and it’s literally something they’ve never thought about.


The tech start-up world is very different from the modeling world. How navigating that been?

I think I spent four months vetting different development companies, looking at proposal after proposal. The hilarious thing about that was how the proposals were all over the freaking place. The cheapest estimate was $5,000 and the most expensive was $250,000.

So I had to spend a lot of time doing research and meeting people to try to get through the bullshit when it comes down to development.

The hardest part was realizing there were going to be moments where we were going to be out of control when it comes to coding. So I ended up getting these two awesome developers. Their names are Bryan Matto and Nick Plante. They’re both based in New Hampshire and I just hired them on a freelance basis. One of them was really good friends with one of my most trusted mentors. After I talked with them and told them what I wanted, I felt really comfortable.

What is user acquisition like?

Obviously the people I have the most access to are in the fashion world so I start there. I also have hit up a lot of personal trainers. They’ll go from one client to another to another and they often have a very disorganized method of keeping track of who they saw for the day and how they kept track of who they got money from. So I started going to my personal trainers and asking them would you use this and they’re like, oh, that’s awesome! I also started meeting a lot of freelance writers who apparently have a 90 day lag between when they submit an article and when they get paid, poor writers – my gosh, just like we do. They have a tough life!

Yep. It’s crazy. A lot of people don’t know that’s how the industry works. 

It’s really nuts! I’ve found that graphic designers have better methods of management than the average freelancer, but I think that might be because they’re in front of their computers all day. It might be easier for them to pop up a quick Google doc and file something away versus someone who is more on the go.

So Tycoon’s goal is to help freelancers be as financially organized as possible on their phones. 

If you make lists for your groceries, why not have one to keep track of your jobs and who has to pay you?