K18 Biomimetic Hairscience is an overnight success a decade in the making, led by co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Suveen Sahib, a champion of innovation and a leader in the global biosciences space. After a conversation with Aquis founder Britta Cox, he realized the hair industry was based on addressing a cycle of need created by the issues caused by heat styling, chemical treatments, and environmental factors.
Suveen left his work in the tech industry on a mission to understand the biology of hair. Fueled by his passion for minimalism and biomimetics—the practice of learning from and mimicking nature—he began working with top bioscientists who spent 10 years mapping and testing the entire protein expression of the keratin genome. This research unlocked a deeper understanding of hair biology and birthed the K18Peptide.
Developed by applying computational models with sequence analogy used in biotech to the molecular structure of human hair, the novel molecule—a unique amino acid sequence—works on a molecular level repairing broken polypeptide chains and cleaved disulfide bonds, providing lasting renewal rather than temporarily patching damage created using traditional cosmetic chemistry.
In December 2020, Sahib launched K18 Biomimetic Hairscience taking the industry by storm with an in-salon professional service. Within 18 months, the treatment had reached 20,000 salons in over 100 countries garnering a cult following in the pro channel. A year later, the brand launched its hero bond-building Leave-In Molecular Repair Hair Mask with Sephora, supported by its massive TikTok #K18hairflip challenge, cementing its dominance and becoming a best-selling hair care brand at the beauty retailer.
With more than 20 billion TikTok views, backed by $45 million in funding the brand witnessed 87% year-over-year growth and is projected to hit $100 to $125 million in revenue for 2023. Suveen remains focused on delivering innovations that unlock radical simplicity, speed, and hair freedom for all.
What’s one piece of advice you’ve gotten that’s guided you?
I have two favorite pieces of advice. 1. Magic always lies at the extreme edge of discomfort. And 2. There is no better strategy than applying common sense and following your instinct. It eliminates the white noise, helps you stay closer to your DNA, and keeps you focused on outcomes that really make a difference.
What accomplishment are you most proud of so far?
Elevating stylists as our north star and supporting their artistry, alongside my exceptional teammates; that has been our most proud accomplishment to date. Stylists drive everything that we do; they are the foundational pillar and help drive advocacy and love. We look to create solutions that help drive their artistry and transformations, together with their business economics. The most satisfying feeling is getting a DM from a stylist saying that K18 has helped their color work or helped their styling with less frustration and in less time because the canvas of their client’s hair is healthier. Receiving those messages daily is priceless.
What’s been your best business mistake or failure?
Over the years, I have learned the difference between reacting and responding by looking deeper into your DNA. In 2009, I was dealing with the economic downturn while still working in the tech space. I, like everyone around me, was reacting to the crisis. Driven by panic and fear, I was looking to everyone else and matching my actions to what those around me were doing. That proved to be the least sensible way of keeping the business afloat. I learned the hard way that business outcomes are driven by understanding your DNA and using that core truth to respond in an ecosystem in crisis.
Apple’s strategy when it was close to bankruptcy in 1997 is one of the best examples of response. Steve Jobs simplified the portfolio, brought renewed focus and energy back to the company, then concentrated on launching the iPad and iPhone. Those changed Apple’s destiny. K18 was born during the pandemic. We leaned on the phrase: Shine, Survive, Thrive. If we can aim to shine through a crisis, it improves the odds of our survival and that puts you on a path to thriving. K18 shone through the crisis by keeping our focus and staying true to our DNA. We believe in driving innovative solutions with stylists as our north star; they fuel the flywheel of innovation and growth. And that less is more. You don’t need a lot of products, steps, or time to achieve healthy hair. Plus, the healthier your hair, the less products, steps, and time you need.
We targeted profitable growth from Day 1—that helped solidify our foundational pillars and carve out the space to survive, and ultimately emerge out of the pandemic as a thriving business.
What advice would you give to the next generation of beauty entrepreneurs?
Firstly, true innovation is key. You should aim to solve a real problem; to differentiate yourself and add value. I believe technology and innovation should mitigate daily frustration and waste. They should always radically simplify the way you manage your life, or in our case, your relationship with your hair. Our entire brand philosophy is centered around the idea of doing more with less. Our products work with the biology of hair so that our consumers need less product to get to a desired state of hair happiness, and this creates less waste. Secondly, know your market, your “why,” and speak to it in a compelling way. Any brand can speak to the “how” or “what” of their brand. Find the components of your brand that can fuel advocacy and adoption and follow this up with an ironclad business strategy that holds true to your specific product value and audience adoption.
What excites you the most about the future of beauty?
The possibilities in the beauty industry are endless—especially as science, efficacy, and sustainability take center stage. Up to this point, the beauty industry has been short on optimizing design and functionality when it comes to product sustainability. Nature is the ultimate engineer; it has optimized design and functionality for over 4 billion years. It’s time to shift our thinking and learn how to harness the inspiration that nature gives us.
At K18, it’s about taking nature’s designs and functionality and transferring those to solve human problems. This is why biotech and synthetic biology are the future of the beauty industry. Working with nature as a partner can strengthen our relationship with beauty and wellness. Optimizing these learnings has the potential to restructure everything—how we create and how we interact with the world.
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