After four years spearheading Kollective Mobile and building killer apps for others, Sian Morson plunged into the app entrepreneurial pool herself. It was during a move from Oakland to Atlanta in 2014 that Morson realized the products she once depended on to keep her look together would not work in a different climate. Enter her brilliant idea: Cast Beauty App, a personalized beauty app that recommends products to users based upon skin and hair type according to the weather conditions. The app can even help consumers plan better for which products they'll need while traveling, as well as prepping for the next day.
"This is a real data-driven solution to beauty," says Morson. "When you think about the dollars women spend buying two and three products just to figure out what works, Cast can eliminate some of the guesswork. It can help people understand their bodies and make better decisions."
As for beauty brands, Cast will offer insight into which products are most, or least, used in certain locations. "The brands don't have the hyperlocal data. We have the latitude and longitude of each user, so that can tell them that these women in this zip code need more of that product," she explains.
While still in beta last year, the entrepreneur won the L’Oreal NEXT Generation Award for the app. "It opened doors. It gave us validation and recognition that the app has the ability to revolutionize the beauty industry," says Morson.
The Upload talked to Sian Morson about launching the Cast Beauty App and how it's positioned to help every woman slay no matter the weather.
EBONY.COM: How long did it take for Kollective to become successful?
Sian Morson: I founded Kollective Mobile in the fall of 2010. It's going great now. From a business standpoint, because of the timing and how everything has evolved with mobile we made money out of the gate. What the bigger challenge was that once we hit the third year I was able to look back and see how the business would ebb and flow. So it took three years for me not to freak out when business would get slow and to plan ahead for when the busy times were coming.
EBONY.COM: As a Black woman how hard was it to land major clients?
SM: The kind of clients I've been able to attract has evolved. I came out of advertising so my first clients were agencies that hadn't invested in an internal mobile development team. Being in the Bay and seeing how the startup ecosystem has evolved to where now, we have less advertising agencies as clients because they are not outsourcing as much. But we now have more startups on our roster, and larger companies as well. The work is better and more challenging and we're able to expand the breadth of what we do.
EBONY.COM: What was it like making the transition from helping others build successful apps to becoming an app entrepreneur yourself?
SM: It's been interesting. I give a lot of advice to people who have ideas for apps, but they don't know where to start. It's been kind of cool to put all of that into practice. I've been preparing for this for quite some time. It's really exciting to get it going. I think the timing was right and the opportunity came at the right time.
EBONY.COM: What were the shifts in culture and tech that let you know it was time to launch Cast?
SM: The biggest thing was having something that was personal to me that was born out of my experience. You read the startup books and they say, "Make sure you're solving a problem." As I talked to more people they shared with me that it was something that they struggled with as well. So that was the biggest indicator for me to explore it further and see if we can come up with a technical solution for this problem.
EBONY.COM: How did you arrive at this particular solution?
SM: The first people I consulted with were women like myself to validate that it was something that needed to be solved. Then it was about thinking how we could find a data-driven solution. We know that weather affects skin and hair and we know we can get weather data, but how do we really use technology to solve this problem. I worked with a data scientist in New York who helped to pull everything together in a way that we could develop the algorithm to feedback the products that we're recommending to people.
EBONY.COM: How does the app work, especially if women aren't sure of their skin or hair types?
SM: When you download the application you're asked to put in some basic information. That is your age range, your skin type and hair type. There are four selections: normal, dry, oily, and combination. Here's what we've learned; your skin type can shift depending on the climate and then the results are skewed based on that. Even if you're not sure of your skin or hair type, at any time you can go in and change that information and the algorithm changes to reflect that and the product recommendations will also change. We got that in the feedback as well, some women saying they weren't sure of their type, so that is something we built in.
EBONY.COM: You had 200 to 250 beta testers. How did you seed that group?
SM: Those were people I knew from Facebook and people that were my personal friends and business associates. They were people of different races and they had to be in different locations so that we could gauge the efficacy of the climate. Now it's a couple thousand users and growing.
EBONY.COM: Is the business model to partner with health and beauty product makers so that users can purchase directly?
SM: Currently we get a percentage of whatever is sold through the application. On the strength of the L'Oreal NEXT Generation Award that we won last year we are in conversations with some beauty brands about partnering. There are different things we're discussing such as a branded version of the Cast app that would only recommend products from one brand. Another option is one based on the data we're gleaning and how all of that can be packaged and shared with brands as well.
EBONY.COM: That data is going to be valuable to the industry overall. How did that process of building the right data set work?
SM: Initially it took six months. First we had to find the right database query and what questions to ask. Now that the app has been live for a couple of months the data we collected has been interesting. But now we have to go back in and decide what will be useful to beauty companies and what will help us make the app better. We're driving this aspect of personalization of beauty, so we have to make it as helpful and as useful for the people that are using it.
EBONY.COM: How are you funding your operating costs?
SM: This startup is completely bootstrapped. We have not taken on any funding. We are looking into it now. As you know, the more people that use it, the more expensive it gets. The traction and retention have been good, but it comes with escalating monthly costs.
Lynne d Johnson has been writing about music since the early 1990s, tech since the late ’90s, and the intersection of technology and everything else since the early 2000s. She currently writes, teaches and consults companies on how to better engage with their audiences. Follow her on Twitter @lynneluvah.