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Photo courtesy of Shine

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

People

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.

3 Min Read
Business

Five Essential Lessons to Keep in Mind When You're Starting Your Own Business

"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.

Find A Need And Fill It

I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.

Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.

Have Working Capital And Credit

There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.

I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.

Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.

My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.

Know Your Product Thoroughly

I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?

My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.

My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!

More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.

Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth

I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.

I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.

Delegate From The Bottom Up

I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.

In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.