Function of Beauty is the brainchild of Zahir Dossa, a computer scientist, with a PhD in Sustainable Development from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Joshua Maciejewski, an engineer from Purdue University with real-world experience at Amazon, who wanted to put the squeeze on all the middlemen who were making bank in the new online economy. As part of his PhD program, Dossa looked at value chain trends and realized that there were far too many middlemen in most transactions.
“We wanted to figure out how to return profits to the people who matter most,” recalled Dossa. “That just wasn’t happening.”
His first solution, The Argan Tree, was founded in 2011 with the goal of putting money back into the hands of farmers—the most vital, but often, the most overlooked component in the chain. Argan Tree sells all-natural beauty formulations infused with argan oil that is ethically-sourced by its 60-woman cooperative in Agadir, Morocco. The Argan Tree markets a range of argan-based products, including shampoo, condition, body wash and body lotion. The goal, Dossa explained, was to barebones the entire value chain. He succeeded and Argan Tree began to grow in Whole Foods. And then, something completely different took root.
“I was looking at Amazon reviews and people were telling us that they wanted more fragrance or more moisturizing properties,” Dossa recalled. “We realized that while people loved the products they wanted minor tweaks or changes to the formula.”
The solution was to create thousands of hair care SKUs or develop a system to create and fill individual orders. Obviously, they chose the later. Dossa worked on the programming, while Maciejewski built the manufacturing line from scratch, obtaining components from an array of sources. It all comes together at The Function of Beauty website, where users answer a simple four-step “hair quiz” to answer questions such as hair type (wavy, curly, coily); hair structure (fine, medium, coarse); scalp moisture (dry, normal, oily) and hair goals. The last question has the most variables, as users can select as many as five goals such as deep condition volumize, anti-frizz and nourish roots. An 8oz set is $32 and a 16oz set is $48. Gift cards are available via email and snail mail).
While it may seem complicated, the process is seamless for consumers. Function of Beauty starts with 36 different shampoo bases and 36 different conditioner bases. It all adds up to a system that is capable of creating more than 12 billion options for Function of Beauty customers from its 6,000 sq. ft. facility in Pennsylvania.
“We can produce 120 sets an hour and are increasing to 200 an hour,” explained Dossa. “We haven’t created the same formula twice!”
The only things slowing down Function of Beauty operations is the printing process as it takes 30 seconds to print each hair care set. Function of Beauty is adding more printers and will soon reach 240 sets an hour, 20 hours a day. The company fills orders just as quickly. Consumers go online at functionofbeauty.com, fill out the form, and their order is filled and shipped the next day. It’s a three-day turnaround.
“We want to match Amazon Prime,” Dossa asserted.
Other players in the hair care market will have a hard time matching Function of Beauty’s growth rate. Since its founding in December, the company’s sales have doubled every other month.
“We are the first real tech company in the beauty space,” Dossa insisted. “Now the goal is to produce $10 million a month in revenue.”
To get there, the company is optimizing its online ordering process and rolling a subscription service in an effort to develop lifelong customers. For as Dossa noted, as consumers age, their hair changes, too. And what better way to adapt to changing hair textures than to choose a shampoo and conditioner that changes with you?
Function of Beauty wants a storefront presence, too. Some place where consumers can see hair care formulas made just for them, right in front of their eyes. As a first step, the company is opening a pop-up shop in Nolita (North of Little Italy), New York City from Nov. 11-16. The pop-up will be the first time consumers can experience a live demo of the customization and filling machine in action with the Function of Beauty co-founders and chemists. Elsewhere, the company is working with Sephora, Ulta and other traditional retailers to put iPads in stores so that consumers can order their own formulas at retail.
“I never expected us to grow as quickly as we did,” Dossa noted. “There are an insane number of cool problems that we encounter every week.”
And solve, too. Personalization is the future, and down the road, Dossa predicts that Function of Beauty will start personalizing packaging as it continues to push the envelope on product performance. And Function of Beauty might move into skin care and, perhaps, fragrance, too.
Every two or three days, as the algorithms change, the Function of Beauty team finds a new hurdle to overcome.
“Personalization opens up a huge Pandora’s box, but we’re never bored,” observed Dossa. “We can’t Google a solution. It’s complicated, but fun!”
As the worlds of technology and personal care formulas intertwine, Function of Beauty is delivering personalized solutions to a growing percentage of consumers who want to take control of their beauty routines.