In the United States, more than $80 billion is spent on makeup products each year. And the vast majority of dollars are spent at stores or online – buying bottles and containers of foundation, lipstick, eye shadow, and more.
But a Boise startup has a big idea that would mark a big shift in how people apply makeup.
Instead of heading to Target or Dillard’s to get a bottle of foundation in a specific color and hoping to use it all up over time, what if you could scan your skin and custom pour a small amount of foundation in your home. Enough for a week or so, customized to your exact skin tone and preference.
That’s the idea behind BoldHue, an early-stage startup based in Boise. CEO and co-founder Rachel Wilson and co-founder and CTO Karin Layton think they have a big concept on their hands.
‘Moment of magic’
“It’s like this moment of magic. Within one minute, you have your foundation,” Wilson said. “I tell people what we do – and they’re like ‘you get it in the mail?’ No, it’s like one minute at your house. They can’t even fathom you could get it in one minute.”
BoldHue, which has collected early-stage funding from Meridian venture firm Capital Eleven, has built its minimum viable product, and recently got a patent on the technology. They hope to make a public launch next year.
Here’s how it works: A customer buys the countertop device, akin to a Keurig. It comes with a wand, and the user scans their skin tone, which transmits to the larger device. Within a minute, it reads the skin type, takes personal preference into account, and dispenses enough foundation for about a week. Think of an inkjet printer, but instead of graphics on a page, it mixes the foundation. From there, the customer applies the foundation to their skin.
“All the consumer has to do is shake, apply and go pretty much.”
Wilson said it also helps because skin tone can – and does – change.
“Right now, you buy this bottle – it’s $90 dollars, and one day in the sun changes skin complexion,” she said. “For someone who goes and tans, they have to throw away $90. You’re looking at (product) on a smaller scale, so there’s more customization and personalization. A lot of makeup is an overspend. We are constantly trying to find something that works for us only to fail and have to try again.”
The idea would cut down on waste – both in terms of money, but in terms of unused product. Pricing for the system as well as cartridges and product haven’t yet been disclosed.
“The next week, you just pour more from the existing reading, or scan your skin again and start over,” Wilson said. “It gives a lot of flexibility to the consumer. Consumers are being fed marketing tactics for mass-produced products. But they want something tailored to them. They resonate with this. I want to take back what beauty is defined for myself instead of conglomerate defining it.”
While they are starting with foundation, the BoldHue concept, device and platform could go far beyond the base layer.
“We’re doing the hardest thing first. We will move on to lipstick, eye shadow, and maybe hair dye. We’ll do lipstick next because it has that same viscosity (as foundation).”
Bigger companies ‘get hamstrung’
The idea, on its face, can seem obvious. Before an inkjet printer, you had to go to a Kinko’s for copies. Before Keurig, you had to brew a full pot or buy a spendy home espresso maker. For Wilson and Layton, the idea is much the same. Bringing customization to makeup.
So why hasn’t it been done?
“I think some bigger companies, they get hamstrung. They do too much all at once. For us, this is very simple. It’s a 1-2-3 and it’s done. I think that approach is going to make us win.”
She said the key will be making it easier for the consumer, making sure the product is top quality, and ensuring it meets sustainability and clean beauty standards.
“Here’s my thing… sure, I’m nervous about it… that’s why they call it disruption is because you are disrupting an industry. We are going to piss some people off, but I don’t care about conglomerates. I care about the consumer. If the conglomerate cared about the consumer, they’d do this, but they’re not.”
From candles & college to a big idea
Wilson has experience with a prior startup that brought candles to Nordstrom stores. She moved to Boise and took what she called a “nine to five” job, but quickly got the itch to get back to startups.
Meanwhile, Karin Layton was a student at Arizona State University studying electrical and electronics engineering.
“She is the inventor,” Wilson said. “Just like a lot of startups, she found a sheer pain point. She was getting ready for work and bought another bottle of foundation, and it didn’t match her skin. She was already having a grumpy Monday and was like ‘this is so dumb? Why can’t I find a foundation? This isn’t rocket science.'”
Maybe not rocket science. But, perhaps it was electrical engineering.
“She built the prototype in her home. Though the best way was to approach it was like you would with paint. That’s how it started. She had no idea about business and is a true engineer at heart.”
Layton’s sister connected her to Wilson. Wilson agreed to consult.
“When she showed me – my mind was blown,” Wilson said. “After we started working together, I thought, ‘this is a no-brainer, this is the next billion-dollar idea.'”
After six months, Wilson joined the business full-time.
Just the start
Wilson admits BoldHue will face many challenges, but she said they’re energized to tackle them.
“A startup in general is hard,” she said. “Throw in a (pandemic) and a war and a recession… yes, it’s going to be a lot harder.”
Wilson said she joined Trailhead. Through the business incubator’s executive director Tiam Rastegar, she got connected with Capital Eleven and the Meridian VC firm’s co-founders, Travis Hawkes and David Gardner.
“A lot of investors are like, ‘this is outside our vertical,'” Wilson said. “(Capital Eleven was) if I like the founder, and I think they are going to work their tail off, and I like the product, why not work with them?”
Between Capital Eleven and another investor, BoldHue has raised $500,000. But Wilson knows that’s just the start.
“For this, we need the capital in order for it to become the product. Some investors run to the hills for hardware, and some run toward it because it’s disruptive.”
To get to that consumer launch next year, they will need more investment.
“We’re still on track, but if we don’t get the funding that we need, the timeline gets pushed out,” she said. “My $500,00 that we have in is completely deployed to product development. We’ll have looks like-works like models in the coming weeks. With some tangibility – people can touch it and try and see thematic for themselves, raising capital will be easier.”
Wilson is realistic. But she thinks they can make it happen.
“If we don’t get proper funding we shut down. That’s a hard reality. I’d be devastated if we don’t see these on the shelves. (We have) this frustration that we do get a lot of ‘holy crap this is incredible,’ – and I’m like… write the checks and let it happen and let’s do it!”
Clarification: A prior version of this story noted Wilson said “So… come at me bro” in reference to large makeup conglomerates. After publication, Wilson said she didn’t recall saying this, and at her request, we’ve removed this from the original quote.