2022 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: Hue, Harvard Business School

Hue

Harvard Business School

Industry: E-Commerce / B2B SaaS

Founding Student Name(s): Janvi Shah, Sylvan Guo, Nicole Clay

Brief Description of Solution: Hue is an AI-powered SaaS platform that empowers every beauty shopper to find the perfect makeup products for their unique complexion. Hue’s technology matches shoppers to their Hue Twins™ – a community of real people who share the same skin tone, skin type, purchase history or beauty preferences as you. We directly integrate on beauty brands’ and retailers’ websites, so shoppers can browse authentic video and photo reviews from their recommended Hue Twins™ to get a clear view of how a product looks on real people like them.

Funding Dollars: We’ve raised $2 million in seed funding, and we’ve also won several non-dilutive awards including the $75K Grand Prize at the Harvard President’s Innovation Challenge and the $15K Project Connect Grant from Unilever Prestige & WWD.

What led you to launch this venture? We came together as three women across the skin tone spectrum. We struggled with representation in beauty and finding makeup products that worked best for our skin tone – despite all being at different points of the shade spectrum. And we’re not the only ones – 80% of beauty consumers say this is the #1 issue they have with shopping for beauty online. In over 150+ customer interviews, we realized that we were not alone—people want to see real, everyday people like themselves trying on products. However, the process of finding someone who matched their skin tone and skin concerns was time-intensive and often unsuccessful.

We realized we had the opportunity to combine forces to solve this problem through our backgrounds in tech and beauty. Janvi (Co-founder & CEO) brings the product & technical experience from her 5 years at Google as a Product Manager on Google Photos & Google Search. Nicole (Co-founder & CMO) brings the beauty industry experience from 6 years as Marketing Director and Chief of Staff at L’Oreal. Sylvan (Co-founder & COO) brings the startup experience from her time as a Growth & Analytics Manager at fast-growing startups (Airbnb, Tubi). Our team met as MBA students at Harvard Business School and have been working together on Hue ever since.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? This summer, we launched our technology with multiple B2B customers including Credo Beauty, the world’s largest clean beauty retailer, and Lawless Beauty, a beauty brand that retails at Sephora, and Exa Beauty which retails at Ulta and Credo. We’re rapidly expanding to meet market demand with 30+ brands/retailers in the pipeline.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? HBS’s entrepreneurship programs and ecosystem have been absolutely critical to the success of our startup. Our venture was “born” at HBS — we came together as a team as part of HBS’s Startup Bootcamp program in our first year, where we incubated the idea. We were Top 4 Finalists for 2 years in a row at HBS’s New Venture Competition and we received grant funding to work on Hue over the summer through the Rock Summer Fellows program. We were also connected with amazing HBS alumni advisors including Chris Hobson, CEO at Rare Beauty Brands, and Dawn Dobras, ex-CEO of Credo Beauty. The overall HBS alumni community has been extremely helpful in opening doors for us. Lastly, we were fortunate to be surrounded by many other talented founders and startup teams in our class who have continued to support one another even post-graduation.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? We have always looked up to other female founders in our entrepreneurial journey. For example, the Rent the Runway founders, Jenny Fleiss and Jennifer Hyman, also started their company at HBS. We were inspired by their early days of doing “trunk shows” for customer testing on campus, and we did something similar through “shade matching pop-ups”, where we brought the top brands of foundation makeup and matched over 100 students and their partners as part of our initial research. We love how they brought a groundbreaking technology and business model concept to the retail space and hope to do the same in the beauty industry.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? There were so many valuable classes, but the most valuable for us was Entrepreneurial Sales, which is taught by Professors Mark Roberge and Lou Shipley. Our team didn’t have any B2B sales experience coming into our startup, and we’ve come back over and over again to the frameworks and practical skills we learned in that class in learning how to run an effective sales process.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? We’ve been incredibly fortunate to get to know many professors at HBS, and we have to call out 3 who have supported us:

1. Professor Christina Wallace – She was our advisor during Startup Bootcamp and was previously an entrepreneur herself in the fashion space.

2. Professor Julia Austin – She teaches a course called Startup Operations that is all about the practical aspects of running a startup and has done an amazing job fostering the student founder community.

3. Professor Jeff Bussgang – He is a practicing VC and has been incredibly generous with his time and network to help us with fundraising.

How has your local startup ecosystem contributed to your venture’s development and success? Most of our investors are based here in Boston. Especially after graduating, we have found the broader Boston tech/startup community to be very supportive and willing to help one another.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? Our long-term mission is to empower every shopper to find the perfect products for their unique skin tone, skin type, and preferences. We want to power the future of beauty commerce through our technology and will be expanding quickly from complexion to lip, eye, skincare, haircare and more.

DON’T MISS: MEET ALL OUR MBA DISRUPTORS OF 2022 or WANTED: STUDENT START-UP IDEAS TO COMPETE FOR A $50K CASH PRIZE IN OLIN BUSINESS SCHOOL’S BIG IDEABOUNCE® ELEVATOR PITCH CONTEST

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