L'Oreal's Women in Digital Awards Take Tech to Task


L'Oréal's Women in Digital Next Generation Awards have, for five years now, been elevating and encouraging women in tech to go beyond themselves and produce ideas, creations that world needs. They feed innovation, foster creativity and help to kickstart the competition's finalists' futures.

On the board of advisors sit 12 powerhouse women, including the likes of Arianna Huffington, tasked with picking the three finalists. This year proved a difficult selection, with the rising numbers of female tech entrepreneurs.

Having finalized their three choices earlier this month, the chosen ones were brought to New York to pitch their businesses and chat with everyone eager to hear the stories behind HelloAva, Shine and ShearShare.

Below SWAAY spoke to each of the three finalists about their businesses and how the competition has affected their growth and mindset.

Siqi Mou, Co-Founder and CEO, HelloAva

1. Describe your business in a nutshell.

We are making the first tech-enabled customization experience for beauty products, powered by a combination of AI and expert skin advisors

2. When did you come up with the idea for your business?

We started Hello Ava at Stanford Business School last year due to our own personal frustration with skincare: Everyone's skin is unique, so why can't anyone provide us with real, data-driven advice on the best products for our unique skin?

Brands always promote their own products as the cure. Skincare experts and aestheticians only work off of a small set of brands and products that they know well. Almost every woman we interviewed has expressed the frustration that they walk into a skin care aisle in Sephora or other department store and not sure what to pick.

Siqi Mou of HelloAva. Photo courtesy of Zimbio

3. How long did it take to get the technology up and running?

It took us about half a year to build the UI platform on mobile as well as building the initial AI using the data we've collected from our beta users' profiles (photos, skin types, products they like etc).

4. How have you enjoyed this competition? What have you gained from it?

Yes very much. The mentorship, connections to beauty executives as well as the ecosystem L'Oreal was able to provide to us are tremendous. It has truly been an honor to have L'Oreal as a great partner and supporter throughout this process.

5. Why, in your opinion is there a budding female presence in the tech entrepreneur world?

The tech entrepreneur world has been traditionally dominated by male. I felt that way particularly after doing both my undergraduate and MBA at Stanford. Although our campus is quite diverse, Silicon Valley tech companies are still predominantly run by men.

I think the reason there's little female presence in the tech entrepreneur world is because it is harder for women to get funding, mentorship as well as hiring great engineers. However, in my opinion, that's changing. We've seen a great emergence of consumer technology companies run by women such as StichFix, Rent the Runway, and Rocket of Awesome. These are great examples that give us the confidence to believe that we as women have the consumer insights and if we can leverage that to our advantage, we can actually be pioneers in consumer technology entrepreneurship.

6. What do you hope to do after the competition is over? Plans for expansion?

Yes absolutely. We are already seeing great demand from people in the UK and European continent so we are definitely considering setting up international logistics. We are also going to start collaborating with more brands. At the mean time, we want to keep fine tuning our algorithm to make it smarter over time.

7. Do you see tech as an integral part to the future of beauty? Elaborate.

We do. Beauty has traditionally been an antiquated business and consumers always have to go through a lot of trials and errors to find the products that work well. Some products work great for some people but not well for others- and that's big data right there. We hope to be able to introduce the use of data to a big market that has traditionally been disrupted.

Courtney Caldwell, Cofounder & COO, ShearShare

1. Describe your business in a nutshell.

ShearShare is a B2B salon space rental app that allows beauty and barbering professionals to rent workspace by the day in cities all over the world.

2. When did you come up with the idea for your business?

We first came up with the idea for ShearShare back in 2012 while building our salon and barbershop business. Filling empty stations with licensed stylists was originally a problem that we were trying to solve for ourselves, but the idea quickly grew into a global marketplace that meets the most basic need of our industry: space to work.

3. How long did it take to get the technology up and running?

It took us 10 weeks to build the ShearShare MVP. We used data from over 3 years of manually matching stylists to workspaces to help inform our build process.

4. How have you enjoyed this competition? What have you gained from it?

It's such an honor to be named a 2017 L'Oreal Women in Digital. To stand together with other phenomenal women like Hello Ava's Siqi Mou and Shine's Marah Lidey and Naomi Hirabayashi is a testament to how female founders are shaping the next generation of beauty. Our entire team at ShearShare appreciates the budding relationship with L'Oreal, the way they've welcomed our team with open arms, and the validation from the world's largest beauty brand that we are truly designing the future of our industry. Thank you to Rachel, the Women in Digital Advisory Board, and the L'Oreal team for going above and beyond to elevate the hidden gems of female-led companies in the tech space.

5. Why, in your opinion is there a budding female presence in the tech entrepreneur world?

It's all about perspective. I wouldn't necessarily say that a strong female presence is all of a sudden “budding"; we've been present, but just not given the best opportunities in many cases. Take me for example. I've been a woman in tech for the last 20 years and have had the pleasure of working alongside some kick-butt female intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs. (See Backstage Capital's Headliners for inspiration.) Ironically, technology is now making it easier for female tech entrepreneurs to connect and support one another. And the visibility that female tech leaders have on platforms today such as Twitter, Medium, Facebook, and LinkedIn is growing. The more examples we have of women winning, the more women will follow.

Courtney Caldwell of ShearShare

6. What do you hope to do after the competition is over? Plans for expansion?

Of course! This is just the beginning. Our vision for ShearShare is to become an ecosystem for beauty and barbering professionals worldwide where every tool helps to maximize their earning potential. Today we're starting at the very beginning of the stylist's life cycle by providing easy, commitment-free access to vetted space to work. In the future, additional tools will help stylists maintain long-term success in the best industry in the world. One example of where we're headed is a brand-new tool we've recently introduced that helps simplify the financials for self-employed stylists. For the first time ever, our community of licensed cosmetologists and barbers has access to weekly pay stubs, a free tax savings account, the ability to automatically calculate and save for taxes, plus quarterly tax filing. ShearShare is not only completely transforming where and when stylists work but how they manage their business!

7. Do you see tech as an integral part to the future of beauty? Elaborate.

Great question. Yes, I firmly believe that tech and beauty will continue to collide, especially as the rising generation dictates the next chapter. Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen once said that “software is eating the world," and it's true. Just look down at your mobile device to see that technology touches every part of your day-to-day life. It allows us to connect in ways never before thought possible. And because beauty literally touches everyone in some form or fashion, the future of beauty will most certainly continue to shift to more tech-enabled options.

From a B2B standpoint, I bet we'll see a further democratization of how professionals choose to work—where, when, how, and with what tools. I can see B2C continue to transform by introducing AR, VR, machine learning, drone delivery, etc.

Marah Lidey and Naomi Hirabayashi, Co-Founders, Shine

1. Describe your business in a nutshell.

We make wellbeing more accessible. It's a daily text messaging experience that helps you to track and improve your wellbeing.

2. When did you come up with the idea for your business?

2015. We were working together for over 5 years at a previous organisation and we just spent a lot of time together, specifically over text. We were helping to scale the organization from 0 to 5 million members. But then we thought 'what if we took our friendship and our expertise in messaging to work on our first product' and so became The Daily Text. At first it was a side project and then we went full time in April 2016. Now - it's a career.

3. How long did it take to get the technology up and running?

We both come from a tech background so for us it was pretty much instant. We did a prototype with 68 people across New York and the first thing that we heard from people was 'holy crap. This is fundamentally changing my day. I feel better. I feel more balanced and I don't feel alone in the things I'm struggling with.'

Naomi Hirabayashi and Marah Lidey of Shine

4. How have you enjoyed this competition? What have you gained from it?

The other finalists are amazing. I think when you're a co-founder of a start up and things are moving really quickly you're always very appreciative of the times you get to just tell your story, and to see what you've achieved from their point of view. The other founders are amazing and I think that's the spirit of what the competition is about - community, and really lifting up other female founders creating companies to create a big life.

5. Why, in your opinion is there a budding female presence in the tech entrepreneur world?

It's kind of ridiculous that it hasn't been before but it's just that the industry has finally started to change and wake up to the tons of incredible women and people of different backgrounds that traditionally haven't been in the industry. The industry is realizing that women bring bigger returns and are good leaders.

6. What do you hope to do after the competition is over? Plans for expansion?

We're focused on growth and continuing to create an amazing user experience and we also just love our team so we're growing that out as part of our expansion.

7. Do you see tech as an integral part to the future of beauty? Elaborate.

We'll no longer talk about it separately in a couple of years. We were both very early on in the social and digital phase and remember when people used to talk about it as a separate thing to think about, but now we all talk about it as one. Events like this are great to serve as a reminder that it's all ubiquitous and that technology is no longer a side load and it's a part of everything we do. So we definitely see it as being a big part of beauty.

6min read

What Sexual Abuse Survivors Want You to Know

In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.

For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.

Believe it or not, I am happy about that.

The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.

It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).

These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.

So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.

Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.

The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."

In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.