Ahead of speaking on the Why Consumer-Centric Brands Win panel, co-founder and CEO of Function of Beauty, Zahir Dossa, shares how his company is enabling the next-generation of personalized hair care, catering to each and every hair type with a unique algorithm and direct communication with customers

Customization is the way of the future, says Zahir Dossa, co-founder and CEO of Function of Beauty, a direct-to-consumer hair care brand that marshals its own algorithm to create products as unique as the consumers they're designed for.

Function of Beauty's goal is to use the latest science and technology to usurp ‘big beauty' and enable truly individual, hyper-customized products that help each and every person achieve their idea of personal beauty. Ahead of speaking on the panel Why Consumer-Centric Brands Win, part of New York Retail Innovation Week, Zahir shared with PSFK how his company enables a level of tailoring unlike any other brand, challenging beauty standards and delivering the results customers want.

PSFK: Could you describe any consumer or retailer trends that you're leveraging or responding to with Function of Beauty?

Zahir: If you look at any other industry, from social media to fashion to technology, you’ll see that customization is definitely the way of the future. Beauty is really the only industry that is lagging, despite the fact that the recent boom of sample subscription boxes demonstrates that people are still desperately searching for the perfect products.

The problem is that the only way to make a perfect product is for someone to tailor it specifically for your needs, which is where Function of Beauty comes in. The idea of a company championing a singular notion of what ‘beauty’ looks like and then using airbrushed models and Photoshop to sell that archetype is completely antiquated. Every single person is unique and different—why negate that instead of catering to it and celebrating it?

What motivated you to start Function of Beauty? Were there particular consumer needs or demands you felt were unmet, or gaps you wanted to fill?

Function of Beauty came about after I became increasingly frustrated with the fact that for years the beauty industry has segmented people into generic categories and dictated what beauty looks like for everyone. My co-founders, Josh Maciejewski, Hien Nguyen, and I saw how unhappy people were with the products they were receiving, and wanted to use the latest science and technology to radically usurp ‘big beauty’ by creating truly unique, hyper-customized products that helped each and every person achieve their idea of personal beauty. We wanted to create products around our customers and make them as unique as they are—let them tell us what they want rather than the other way around.

You're a DTC brand competing in a category with a lot of mass retailers. What particular aspects or strengths of your brand do you feel allow you to compete, succeed and connect with consumers? Is it personalization, or convenience, or cost, a mix?

Mass retailers don’t have the ability to target each person as an individual and therefore, have to create very generic products that serve only one particular need or category—like volume or an oily scalp. The problem with that is that we’re not all the same. Everyone has their own unique hair type, goals, and preferences and these things are always changing. With our algorithms and proprietary production facility though, we’re able to provide a level of customization that no other brand can. As a result, our customers see better results with our products because unlike the drugstore brands, they were actually designed to work with their individual needs.

Love the name Function of Beauty, surely a reference to the algorithms you use to calculate personalized formulations for your products. Could you speak about using your experience at MIT and using data to inform a different, better kind of haircare?

I started Function of Beauty while I was earning my Ph.D. focusing on value chain optimization and leveraging e-commerce technologies for direct to consumer (DTC). I quickly realized that the most bloated industry was beauty, and more interestingly, that the value chain for beauty hadn’t really changed over the last 100 years. There were all these middlemen in the way.

As a result, my co-founders and I developed our own unique algorithm that would analyze the results of each customer’s hair survey and create their ideal product based on the data we received. We get feedback across the algorithm so that we are constantly learning and improving with every customer.

You own the entire infrastructure of your business, cutting out middlemen like manufacturers or distributors. Could you speak about the advantages this provides?

In taking ownership of the entire infrastructure of our business, we’re able to be far more flexible throughout the entire production process. We don’t have a huge inventory of product sitting in a warehouse somewhere, which means we have the freedom to continuously tweak our formulas and respond more quickly to our customers’ needs.

We also have the ability to communicate directly with our customers, including asking them via social media and email surveys for their feedback on our fragrance names and new offerings. Our new fragrance, Naughty or (sp)ice, for instance, was a name that was voted on by customers, a fragrance that was tested by customers and launched as a result to customer feedback.

You've mentioned that CPG products have yet to live up to their full potential. Could you expand upon this, and how you'd like to see them transform in the future?

Unlike any other industry, CPG products have yet to be fully personalized and customized to customers. Until they are, people will be getting subpar products.

What do you hope to share at the upcoming NYRIW panel?

The panel's topic of creating consumer-centric brand experiences is really at the core of our business. We tap into our amazing follower base to guide us in the R&D process, through polling on social media, in order to ensure we're creating products that they are truly interested in.

Beyond this, Function of Beauty's branding is actually not found on any of our products, as each one is instead seen as a function of the individual who created it. Everything from the bottles and packaging, to the online experience, is all branded around our customers. With this goal of course comes challenges—from creating a unique SKU for every single consumer, to designing the tools to individualize each bottle—and I look forward to sharing more about these experiences.

Function of Beauty

Come listen to Zahir speak on a panel about Why Consumer-Centric Brands Win during Retail Innovation Week, alongside other industry pioneers succeeding by prioritizing consumer needs. Tickets available now!