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Published September 24, 2018
Published September 24, 2018
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In preparation for the Beauty & Money conference in New York, Benedict H. Auld, CEO and Founder of Lapidarius, caught up with founder Ming Zhao of Proven, one of the independent beauty brands hand-picked to share their business and product in a quick-fire round of presentations at Beauty & Money New York.

What is the unique value proposition your brand or product brings to the category?

We feel that there is a lot of pseudo-science when it comes to skincare and beauty, and that the future of skincare will be personal and personalized. The biggest element of differentiation for us is that we provide products that are unique to a person’s skin and to their circumstances. We base our personalized recommendations and the creation of products on a large database of beauty knowledge. Proven is one of the first attempts at creating products based on evidence. My cofounder, Amy Yuan, is a computational physicist from Stanford and has partnered with key thinkers in data science and machine learning to create what we call the Skin Genome Project. In 2018 we won MIT’s AI Idol startup of the year award.

How did you do it?

The path to creating the company began with two smart women being fed up with the products we were using. I have a business background and was working at a grueling private equity finance job in Hong Kong and it ravaged my skin and made me age much faster than I should have. I went from looking young to looking like I’d been through a presidency. When I realized this I panicked and spared no expense in trying every possible skincare product. It was important to me to preserve my skin and maintain my youth; I didn’t want to lose my soul and my looks to my job. I spent so much money on new products and listened to the promises, but nothing worked.

It wasn’t until I had customized product made for me by a facialist that I realized the power of personalization. My eureka moment was understanding that only when all factors are considered—genetic skin background, your location, your lifestyle—could a product truly work. Increasingly workouts are tailored, medicine, food, and vitamins, why wouldn’t skincare be tailored too? I saw this as a way to make the future of skincare a reality for people like me who have struggled to find the right solutions. My cofounder had a similar story, she had a skin condition and she built a crawling database that also had her condition to identify what products gave them good results vs. bad results.

It’s taken us many years to identify the right data sources. Today we pull from across 14 sources including skincare brands, retailers, review sites, and 4,000 scientific journal articles. It’s a very robust database and it continuously grows, and as more users come in through the funnel, it creates a network effect for continuous improvement as we go forward.

"More than a brand, we’re creating a new category: personalized beauty. And we aim to dominate it."
By Ming Zhao, Founder, Proven

What is the most important thing an investor should know about your brand? More than a brand, we’re creating a new category: personalized beauty. And we aim to dominate it. Proven is the first time that technology and beauty have come together. We have recognition from leaders in tech as well as on the beauty side. Our company came out of Y Combinator, and we were also part of Sephora’s beauty innovation program.

What would your ideal investor look like?

Our ideal investor would be passionate about the marriage of cutting-edge technology and a $450B beauty industry. We think our technology can completely change the face of the industry, and we want investors who see our vision and are willing to work alongside of us to help write that story.

Who is the muse for your brand? That is, who is the consumer target that you are creating your products for? 

In some ways we created the brand for ourselves. We are smart, career-driven and family-driven, we both have small children, and we invest in our looks. We’re not just nerdy girls, even though that’s what our resumes may indicate. We’re beauties with brains, and that’s the customer we want to connect with—women who are overachieving in every area of their lives.

Traditionally, the beauty industry has only focused on a narrow segment of the population in terms of ethnicity, age, and geographic location. You can be underserved if you’re Asian or Hispanic, if you live in a rural area, or if you’re a man. We want to serve the underserved and we know we can uniquely address many more people through personalization.

What is your vision for the brand? Where do you see the brand in 5 years?

My vision is to create a better approach to skincare. The average person spends more than 45 minutes researching before buying products, and 55% of beauty products have a negative post-purchase reaction. People are wasting, time, money, and hope, and feeling constantly defeated because they buy products that don’t work for them. We have a more consumer-centric approach, because we design products specifically for you and the way you live your life. As your life changes, we want to take that into consideration and evolve the product for the person.


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