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

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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.

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Fresh Voices

How I Went From Shy Immigrant to Co-Founder of OPI, the World's #1 Nail Brand

In many ways I am a shining example of the American Dream. I was born in Hungary during the Communist era, and my family fled to Israel before coming to the U.S. in pursuit of freedom and safety. When we arrived, I was just a young, shy girl who couldn't speak English. After my childhood in Hungary, New York City was a marvel; I couldn't believe that such a lively, rich place existed. Even a simple thing like going to the market and seeing all the bright, colorful produce and having so many choices was new to me. I'll never take that for granted. I think it's where my love affair with color truly began.


One thing I had was a strong work ethic. I worked hard in school, to learn English, and at jobs including my first job at Dairy Queen -- which I loved! Ice cream is easily my favorite food. From there, I moved into the garment district where my brother-in-law's family had a business. During this time, I was able to see how a business was run and began to hone in on my eye for aesthetics and willingness to work hard at any task I was given.

Eventually, my brother-in-law bought a dental supply company in Los Angeles and asked me to join him. LA, a place with 365-days of sunshine. How could I say no? The company started as Odontorium Products Inc. During the acrylic movement of the 1980s, we realized that nail technicians were buying our product, and that the same components used for dentures were used for artificial nails. We saw a potential opening in the market, and we seized it. OPI began dropping off the "rubber band special" at every salon on Ventura Blvd. in Los Angeles. A jar of powder, liquid and primer – rubber-banded together – became the OPI Traditional Acrylic System and was a huge hit, giving OPI its start in the professional nail industry. It was 1981 when OPI first opened its doors. I couldn't have predicted our success, but I knew that hard work and faith in myself would be key in transforming a new business into a company with global reach.

When we started OPI, what we were doing was something new. Before OPI came on the scene, the generic, utilitarian nail polish names already on the market – like Red No. 4, Pink No. 2 – were completely forgettable. We rebranded the category with catchy names that we knew women could relate to and would remember. The industry was stale and boring, so we made it more fun and sexy. We started creating color collections. I carefully developed 30 groundbreaking colors for the debut collection -- many of which are still beloved bestsellers today, including Malaga Wine, Alpine Snow and Kyoto Pearl.

There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does.

With deep roots in Tinseltown, we eventually started collaborating with Hollywood. Our decision to collaborate with the entertainment industry also propelled OPI forward in another way, ultimately leading us to finding a way to connect with women beyond the world of beauty, relating our products to the beverages they drink, the cars they drive, the movies they watch, the clothes they wear – even the shade they use to paint their living room walls! There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does. It also propelled my growth as a businessperson forward. I found myself sitting in meetings with executives from some of the top companies in the world. I didn't have a fancy presentation. I didn't have a Harvard business degree. I realized that what I had was passion. I had a passion for what we were doing, and I had my own unique story that no one else could replicate.

Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today

Bit by bit, I grew up with the business. Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today -- an author, public speaker, and co-founder of OPI, the world's #1 professional nail brand.

I learned quickly that one can be an expert at many things, but not everything. Running a business is very hard work. Luckily, I had someone I could collaborate with who brought something new to the table and complemented my talents, my brother-in-law George Schaeffer. My business "superpower," or the ability to make decisions quickly and confidently, kept me ahead of trends and competition.

Another key to my success in building this brand and in growing in business was being authentic. Authenticity is so important to brands and maybe even more so now in the time of social media when you can speak directly to your consumers. I realized even then that I could only be me. I was a woman who knew what I wanted. I looked at my mother and daughter and wanted to create products that would excite and empower them.

There's often an expectation placed on women in charge that they need to be cutthroat to be competitive, but that's not true. Rather than focusing on my gender or any implied limitations I might bring to the job as a female and a mother, I always focused instead on my vision. I deliberately fostered an environment at OPI filled with warmth. After all, at the end of the day, your organization is only as good as its people. I've always found that being nice, being humble, and listening to others has served me well. Instead of pushing others down to get to the top, inspire them and bring them along on the journey.

You can read more about my personal and professional journey in my new memoir out now, I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time.