Dr. Zahir Dossa, CEO of Function of Beauty | MIT Grad Disrupting Beauty Industry


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Dr. Zahir Dossa is the Co-founder & CEO of Function of Beauty. Graduating from MIT with a PhD in sustainable development, Zahir is a wealth of knowledge. Combining his background in computer science and ecommerce with a deep understanding that the beauty industry is constantly changing, Zahir created Function of Beauty. With a mission to celebrate every person’s unique beauty and an innovative and industry-leading algorithm, Function of Beauty can create 27 trillion unique formulations for shampoo and conditioner. 

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The Success Story podcast is focused on speaking to incredible people who have achieved success through trials, tribulations, wins and losses. In each episode we sit down with leaders and mentors.  We document their life, career and stories to help pass those lessons onto others through insights, experiences and tactical strategy for business professionals, entrepreneurs and everyone in between.

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people, beauty, industry, entrepreneurs, startup, haircare, function, company, products, focusing, personalized, brand, passionate, co founders, executive coaching, world, lesson, big, personalization, mit


Scott, Scott D Clary, Dr. Zahir Dossa


Scott D Clary  00:06

Welcome to the success story podcast. I’m your host, Scott Clary. On this podcast I


Scott D Clary  00:11

have candid interviews with execs, celebrities, politicians and other notable figures, all who have achieved success through both wins and losses. To learn more about their life, their ideas and their insights, I sit down with leaders and mentors and unpack their story to help pass those lessons on to others, through both experiences and tactical strategy for business professionals, entrepreneurs and everyone in between. Without further ado, another episode of the success story Podcast. Today we’re sitting down with Dr. Is a here dosa. He’s a graduate of MIT earning two degrees in computer science in management as well as a PhD in sustainability. After graduating, he received a postdoctoral fellowship at the center of sustainability at the IMD business school in Switzerland, where he co authored a book on sustainable business models, the years of research focused on the role of internet based technologies to transform value chains, which eventually led him to found function of beauty. And he’s currently the co founder, CEO of function and beauty, which is what he’s working on right now. So thank you for joining me excited to chat, figure out a little bit more function of beauty and learn a little bit more about you. Thanks a lot, Scott. Yeah, so walk us through, you know, very, very brief background, but like, that’s the that’s the website version, like what’s, you know, what’s your story?


Dr. Zahir Dossa  01:23

Yeah, I was always interested in entrepreneurship. But I was also interested in computer science. So I always imagined a world where I’d be able to marry those two wanted to go to MIT for as long as I can remember. And just because it had great entrepreneurship and computer science programs, and when I got there, I ended up becoming more and more interested with E commerce and direct to consumer brands, and ended up staying on board for, as you saw a Master’s and PhD, really focusing on value chains, sustainable business models, and how e commerce could become ideally a better value proposition and shopping experience, then going to a physical store during the times of COVID-19. That’s very true. But I’m actually very, you know, sticky about it. If this had happened 15 years ago, what would have happened in a world where we’re able to do so much online, whether that’s banking, whether that’s shopping for groceries, or liquor, or products from from Amazon, you know, it’s or you have Skype, zoom, all of these things that make it really easy to connect. I’ve always been really obsessed and interested in that world. And I think that’s where things are moving, but have been especially appreciative of it as of late. So so yeah.


Scott D Clary  02:53

So So I have a question. You know, you’re very evasive, you’re looking into sustainability. But you’re also very, like, I guess, entrepreneur oriented. A lot of you mentioned ecommerce, and all these other like internet based businesses. How did this come to? Was there other things that you’ve tried before that led to function of beauty? Or how did function of beauty, which is something that you know, when I, when I think of the internet, you know, really gung ho entrepreneurs that I know, I don’t know, a lot of them that go into making beauty products and decide that that’s their widget? So I’m curious, like, what led you to where we’re at now?


Dr. Zahir Dossa  03:33

Sure. So sustainability to me has always been a very big topic that goes beyond environment on its own right. So I looked at social sustainability, economic sustainability. And it really came down to efficiency and making sure value is being delivered to the most important players in in the value chain. And so a lot of my entry into beauty was actually realizing that beauty generally, was a pretty inefficient industry, you had a lot of middlemen, you had a very high price for the end products, but very low cost of goods. And so there was a lot of value being taken out by all these middle players in the value chain, and I thought, ecommerce, and beauty online basically would be a really great way of eliminating middlemen, being able to make sure that a lot of consumers were able to get higher value proposition products at more affordable prices. And so that’s kind of what led me into a company called the Argan tree. So it was a personal care line online, sold shampoo, conditioner, body wash body lotion and Argan Oil serum with this idea of Okay, can we get argan oil this vein essentially like reading it directly from a cooperative in Morocco, and then sell it directly to consumers online. And in doing so, we a We were able to give a higher amount of revenues to producers, but then also get very fair price products to consumers just because there’s no other middlemen there. And so that went reasonably well. But it seemed like for us to really expand, we would have had to go into Whole Foods sprouts, and we’re gay negotiating national contracts. And that’s when I take a step back and was like, Okay, maybe, you know, my value proposition isn’t strong enough, if I’d have to start relying on a non ecommerce way to really build this business. And so of asking a bunch of customers, you know, what would it take to make this product perfect, and everyone said something very, very different. And that’s when the aha moment happened for function where I realized what happens if we’re able to individually make products for customers. And the only real way to do that is by infusing a ton of technology into a sector that is, is pretty old school, there hasn’t been too many innovations in in beauty and personal care for a very, very long time. And so what would it look like for us to be able to come up with this online personalized beauty company. And so that’s how functional beauty started in at the time, there were no personalized beauty companies. This ability to individually fill a bottle is I think, what made us so unique and special from an engineering perspective. And henselae, you know, one of my other co founders came from MIT, and we’re best friends at MIT, and continue to stay in touch afterwards. But, you know, the other half of it was how do you actually develop a really strong brand around these products, where we’re able to celebrate people’s uniqueness and individuality for the first time in in beauty and so I, you know, went into it with a with a shaved head, I now have a very, very long head of hair, as you can see, but you know, it wasn’t necessarily haircare that really attracted me personally. But in a world where I saw a huge problem and had the perfect team to actually solve it, it was just too tempting to to not do it. And then I suddenly got insanely passionate about beauty, personal care, you know, democratizing beauty, individual ideals of uniqueness and how to create a really strong brand that’s able to create the very best products in the market.


Scott D Clary  07:37

I actually what I wanted to, and this is I introduced you, but I didn’t introduce function of beauty so there’s I personally haven’t used the brand before so I’m going to say this for people like me, even though I’m sure there’s a target demo that definitely does no function and beauty so customizable haircare brand that allows you to create shampoos, conditioner, styling products, on your individual hair types, hair goals, aesthetic performance, preferences cuse me, including color fragrance. So that’s obviously a hugely disruptive concept, in my opinion, even though coming from the outside in where I don’t have like the same knowledge of obviously, personal hygiene, haircare products that you know, you would have probably 70 of customers have, I can still see how that could be like a huge disrupter. Because obviously, when I think about beauty industry, I think that there’s still very slim margins on average. And it’s very hard probably because of all those middlemen. So you if you figure out the supply chain issue, plus you figure out like a disruptive product and concept like a novel concept. That’s essentially what you’re doing. You’re so it’s almost like a two pronged attack to a relatively busy space.


Dr. Zahir Dossa  08:52

Absolutely. It’s a huge industry, as you pointed out, it seems to be a very big problem. We were doing a bunch of just questionnaire studies, etc. Just to figure out, do we really need to personalize this and you know, the average woman will have about four hair goals. So imagine going to a shelf and being able to find those specific or in a bottle of shampoo and it doesn’t exist, right, you might find a deep conditioning shampoo or a dandruff shampoo, but to yet all for specific care goals that you want. And then for your specific hair is. I mean, it’s impossible to find right now. And so this ability to individually fill a bottle of unique formulation is super special. I mean, we now have the ability to put one of 54 trillion different formulations into a bottle, which is pretty far more than the people on earth but it just gives you an idea of just what the actual range of formulations is. And so on the one hand we’re able to get a perfect product to a customer for the first time in this space. But the other cool half of that is as their hair Care, routines change as seasons change as the preferences change, they’re able to stick with the same brand and company along that entire journey. So rather than finding another shampoo and conditioner that works and all the experimentation that goes around it, you’re able to just focus on, you know, just entering anything you need into our online portal, essentially, and getting another personalized shampoo that’s now perfect for you.


Scott D Clary  10:29

And, and as a as an entrepreneur and a founder. Like, I’m sure there’s a reason why most most companies don’t do this, and the one I can think of is expensive. It’s expensive to customize. So is it is it because you had this this really strong group of individuals that knew how to do it that could sort of alleviate some of those costs? When you start? Yeah, exactly.


Dr. Zahir Dossa  10:51

I mean, yeah, I think the one way to lower costs, right, is infusing technology into a problem, right. And so this is the first time that we have MIT engineers, navy, nuclear submarine officers, you know, people from Amazon, a bunch of different industries, actually tackling the technology part of the problem. So I think that’s the first half. So getting the the very perfect set of people to to solve the the technology of this to be able to automatically fill a bottle lightning fast and get it directly to a consumer. So I think that’s the first half of it is, is definitely figuring out the operations and whatnot. I think the second half is creating a strong brand that people are able to identify with and resonate with, right. You know, it’d be really difficult for an existing shampoo company to suddenly offer this and come across as as true, right? Yeah, I think a lot of people would see it as very authentic, because suddenly, like you’re given to somebody. Exactly. And you’ve been selling these, you know, mass produce shampoos, where you bucket people into various categories. And now you’re solely saying, no, actually all that’s fake, or more likely than not, you know, only that’s real for certain people of the population. But for other people in the population, you are unique, you are special, you deserve your unique formulation. And so I think that’s the other half is how do you create a really strong brand, around around personalization to not only make it very clear, this is something you need, but also make it something you want. And I think that’s where the other half of the brand has really come to life. And so if you go online, you know, I’m obviously very proud of the online flow, since that was originally my baby that I coated up in design. And now we have many other people that work on it. But this idea of being able to go through a very simple quiz to find out exactly what you need. But then having fun with it, you know, what’s the fragrance you want? What’s the color of the formulation, since our bottles are transparent, what’s the name, you want us to put on the bottle, the X names on bottles, too. So it’s, you know, it’s a function of Scott, or whatever it may be. And I think all of that ended up making us a very social forward brand, where, for the first time you’re having people snapping pictures of their shampoo and conditioner bottles and posting it on is, which is, which is crazy. But yeah, it’s like, you know, would you ever do that with head and shoulders? You know, VEDA or just pick your brand? Like, you know, you probably would not unless it did something crazy for your hair. And even then, like, Could you really attributed to, you know, mass produce formulation. And so I think that’s what helped us grow this huge social brand, and in the modern age, and was a brand that were able to deliver a really awesome promise. So a make a crazy promise that no, you are unique, and we will make your unique formulation, but then be able to deliver audit very, very effectively.


Scott D Clary  14:09

And, and speak about some of that, like because I’m like, I know that like the user generated content. It makes a ton of sense, right? Like, you know, you’re you’re having people take pictures, you’re posting them on Instagram. Was that was that done purposefully? Or was that done? Just by accident? When you realize that people love the product so much they want to sort of evangelize it?


Dr. Zahir Dossa  14:31

Yeah, I mean, in the earliest days, it was it felt like magic. We were a selling a product to the any entrepreneur to come up with an idea and actually sell it. It really, really, really does feel like magic. And I remember I used to get every single order confirmation directly to my email. My co founder, Josh, I like a little sound alert associated with it, but it was it was cool to see people purchase it and then send it We started seeing people taking pictures of it and posting and this is the age where Instagram was very, very young. And so mainly on Facebook that people were posting it. But, you know, based on that learning, we realized what we what we had, we actually ended up rebranding it. So if you look at very early pictures, you’ll see, you know, muted spa colors, this very salon ask brand. But what we saw was, there’s a slight disconnect between that visual identity system that we created, and what our actual customers were loving most about it. And we realize, you know, on the one hand, we do want to be considered, we do want to be effective, but on the other, we want to be loud, fun and personable as well. And so now you can see the fragrances we’ve come out with all have fun. puns, we have very bright and loud colors, we ended up increasing the size of people’s names on bottles. We that’s why we have a vertical logo, actually. So it’s functional Scott, but rather than doing it horizontally, where appear very, very small, we’re able to put it on the vertical side of the bottle things


Scott D Clary  16:09

but they they add up. Yeah, I can see that.


Dr. Zahir Dossa  16:12

Absolutely. It’s I think that I think it was, you know, this conversation with our customers with realizing, okay, this is what we what they want. We are the one brand that caters exactly to what customers want. So how do we keep going down that direction? And I think that’s how we ended up, you know, having the social following that we currently have in the super high engagement. So in haircare we are I think it’s about three times greater engagement and the next haircare company of any size, in terms of engagement. But you can look at the big online b2c players. And we’ll always be in the top three in terms of engagement. And, you know, many of them are bigger than us. But we are quickly growing as you can see, and and that’s another reason to obviously be proud to hang your hat on.


Scott D Clary  17:03

No, I think that there’s a lot of lessons. I always I always love speaking to people at disrupt industries. And I think that what I think you know, it’s safe to say it’s I don’t like to throw that word around loosely, because disruption is a word that’s used quite often now. But I think that you can safely say that what you’re doing is, is very much disrupting an industry. So I think that that congratulations. That’s very impressive, the way that you thought it through, and then whether you’ve iterated and why you’d built it out. I think it’s very impressive. And speaking through it. Now, a lot of it does make sense, like the end result, because when I first looked you up when we were setting this up, I saw 630k people on Instagram. What Oh, who cares about AirFrance? Like, you know, it says exactly what went through my mind. But that’s like, you know, when you ask a question like that, that’s a great opportunity to disrupt when you have like, who cares about a hair product? I guess the then the entrepreneur is like, Well, nobody’s so how do I make them care? And I think that’s kind of what you’re tapping into. Now, do you think, you know, I don’t think there’s a ton of people that are disrupting haircare in particular, yet, outside of you know what you’re doing? I think it’s a very legacy industry. But what are some of the lessons that you think, I guess industries could learn, or entrepreneurs could learn? That could be repeatable from your successes, that they could apply to other industries that they’re knowledgeable about? That would help them because you mentioned a few, but I’d still if you have some ideas like, like industry agnostic lessons, they can pull out of it, that they can go and disrupt whatever they’re in right now.


Dr. Zahir Dossa  18:34

Yeah, sure. So I think the first is actually something I learned. Bill Gates, at some point came to speak at MIT. And there was a few students that received the scholarship, and I was one of them. And so we actually got to talk to Bill Gates separately in a in a side room before everything had started. And I remember someone asked him the question, you know, yeah, you did Microsoft and all that. But what’s the biggest lesson you would give to any of us if we’re thinking about starting a company and, and he had an interesting insight, he was basically that if you look at success rates, it’s almost of entrepreneurs or of companies, it’s almost independent of the size of the problem. And so you know, whether you’re going to start a mom and pop restaurant or a huge software company, they’re going to have actually similar rates of success and failure. And so, you know, the first big lesson I learned from that was just solve the biggest problem in in an industry. If your likelihood of success or failure is the same, no matter what size a problem, just make sure that you’re solving a problem that’s big enough to keep you motivated and then obviously have a huge tailwind of impacts that you’re able to, to double down on. So that’s the very first lesson I would, I would give you know when it came to money Beauty, I thought personalized beauty was the biggest problem in this industry, all you had seen in the last 30 years was either here’s a new cool ingredient, or here’s a new pretty person that’s going to support and evangelize a product. But, you know, no one’s beauty lasts forever. And those role models change. And similarly, there’s always going to be a new and latest ingredient. But there wasn’t any real innovation. And so I thought, you know, in a world where there was no innovation in the sector, what is the very biggest problem that consumers are facing? And so I think that’s the first lesson I would give or at least first lesson I learned that seems reproducible is focused on the biggest problem and the industry that you’re you’re really interested in with, because all other things are going to be equal. And it’s, you know, I’ve been doing this for five and a half years if I had focused, too small, and originally I had the Argan tree was cool. But again, it was it was some slight disruption, nothing too crazy. And in fact, me right, I don’t think it would be disruptive at all. And so it wasn’t a big enough problem for me to actually rally people around and really focus on and then making big and so I think that’s the first lesson that I learned with functional beauty. Thank you. The second big lesson that I like to share and I guess have done so repeatedly, is just do it with the best team in the world. I think it’s become an insanely competitive world. And the more globalized, we make it, the more entrants that are going to be in any single industry. So even if you come up with the best solution, if you don’t have the very best team working on it, then there is going to be someone else that does it better, does it bigger, etc. And they think that’s what, you know, we did really, really well, I think if you looked at me, Josh, and he the three co founders and then all the supporting Cassie built around us, I think we are the very best people in the world to start an online personalized beauty company, or even an online beauty company, even if it wasn’t personalized. And you know, it’s a testament today, we are the biggest online haircare company in North America, probably the world depending on how you measure it. And that’s personalized or not. And even within our own sector, there’s a lot of small copycats, and competitors that have come around. But I can honestly say we have the very best team and I’m not worried at all about them. And so as a result of that, they’re able to help build this vision of personalized beauty or whatnot. But we’re always able to stay at the forefront, and remain the pioneer and remain the biggest by far just because we have the very best team working on the problem. And so I think that’s the second piece of the puzzle is, make sure you solve the biggest problem but with the very best team.


Scott D Clary  22:53

One thing that you mentioned that I really appreciate you mentioning, is when you first went and by the way, thank you that was also good point. I mean to brush over that. But also your point is I had something on my mind. And I sometimes I jump into the thoughts too quickly. So you mentioned that when you first were going into beauty, it wasn’t like, it wasn’t a passion of yours. And I have something like I have, I’m going somewhere with this. But then over the course of you know, building up the business, you were you became very passionate about it. Now, I think that, that I want your opinion on this, because I think a lot of entrepreneurs just jump into something that they’re passionate about. And it may not work out the way they want. And then they get this, you know, this disheartened, and they give up or whatnot. Now you understood how to solve a problem agnostically of what an industry was you you you knew what your core values and your strengths were and you apply that to something and it started working and you started building a passion. So can you speak to what is an important driver, or what is an important metric to measure yourself by when you’re starting something that may not always be in an industry that you are incredibly passionate about. But there is an awesome opportunity for you to succeed. Because I think that that was a really good point. I want to sort of highlight that.


Dr. Zahir Dossa  24:11

Yes, I think you know, some people are drawn to industries, others are drawn to be actual solutions that come from it. And so I think you could be one of two people I could have easily been very passionate about haircare and probably had a very, very similar success path. I would I would actually argue. So I think that that’s one and I think those people end up really focusing on industry so all their ideas will happen within this one industry that they’re super passionate about. I think the the other side of people are people who are very, very passionate about problem solving and then very passionate about very specific things that could apply to any industries. I am extremely passionate about e commerce I’m extremely passionate about direct to consumer. I’m extremely passionate about building And, and products, something you can feel something you touch. And so, you know, I think, I think you do need to have a passion in whatever you do. And I say that just because you are going to go through so many adversities, you’re going to go through so many failures, the only thing that keeps you going at night and keeping the hustle alive, going through all of that is if you do have a passion for what you’re doing. So I think I think maybe that’s the nuance there is you don’t necessarily need to be passionate about industry, but you will always end up doing something you are passionate about, in some way, shape, or form, just because I think it’s, it’s too hard to go through all those tough times without being passionate at all. But I do think that there is a strong segment of society that feels that they are not passionate about your specific industry or whatnot. And to those people, I would say, Well, what are you passionate about? Because there’s going to be something you’re passionate about, that then ends up becoming applicable to a whole host of different industries? And then you’re going to have to figure out, okay, how do I choose, you know, where to apply my passion here. And that was the case for me where, you know, looking at all the industries that there were, I was really passionate about how do you optimize and build a sustainable and strong value chain? And I looked at a very simple metric of what’s the final sale price of a good? And then what how much did it actually cost to produce that good, and whatever had a high multiple was what I was really passionate about solving and how can I make this a lot more efficient? And you know, one was coffee, if you look at how much a roasted bag of beans sells for even crazier if you look at what the actual costs behind the stuff that goes into your Starbucks, whatever macchiato you’ll see a crazy high multiple. But you’ll also see that crazy high multiple MBD as well and being just seem like something I I just ended up becoming a lot more drawn to and I think that’s because I was passionate about brand products, online, all the things that I thought I could I could better impact in the in the b2b industry.


Scott D Clary  27:08

And and one other thing that I noticed is you started this with co founders. Now was that done? purposefully? Or what? What are your thoughts on starting and starting a company? But? And also why did you work with co founders? And what value? How do they compliment you?


Dr. Zahir Dossa  27:25

Yes, sure. Anything that comes with that second lesson where it’s make sure you solve the biggest problem with the very best team so me on my own, could not do everything at function at the end, even the core principles that we are trying to achieve. I just, I am not that good, right. Like I’m really good at web design, web programming, business strategy, marketing, you know, that side of the house, when it comes to automatically putting things in bottles, that’s not my my forte operations and figuring out how to create various lines to be will actually automatically fill bottles, package them, etc. Like, that’s not my forte, but I knew that the automatic fulfillment of this promise was necessary. Otherwise, we never achieved the scale to make any any use headwinds or any big splash in the industry. And that’s where I chose Josh. Josh was one of my best friends through it, but he is phenomenal at that when it comes to this intersection between you know, automation, engineering, and then operation there’s no one better in the world that than Joshua majestic. And so he was essential. And I told my planning, laughed about it for the first bit and then thought about it. And, you know, it was like, Okay, this sounds like actually a really good idea. Let’s let’s do it. And then the other person was here, at the end of the day, I could sell a product Josh could automatically fill about how the heck do we know what to fill each product with? How do we think about what questions to ask customers on this hair quiz. And that’s where he came in. She is a best in class formulation chemist, and someone who instantaneously got the idea and value proposition so now if I interview formulation chemists, they get a scene function a DVD, they understand how it all works. When we first started, there is no personalized beauty anything no personalized skincare, no personalized haircare, you know, whatever it may be. And so to have a co founder who truly understood here’s the value proposition and here’s how I’m actually going to achieve it from a formulation standpoint was was critical. And so I don’t think we could have started function of beauty with two of us, much less one of us and so I think that’s the first big thing is making sure you really do have the very best team. I do think that there’s a third lesson that I learned along the way and I learned this the hard way. way too was it’s in a book called Scaling up. And one of the interesting things they say is for the first, you know, few years to say, two to three years of a company, the company focuses a lot more on growth than it should, and a lot less on people than it should. And so basically, you’re really focusing on growth for the first two to three years, when in fact, you should really be focused on people. And I realized, the second I started focusing on people, suddenly, you had this exponential increase in the growth of function. And so I think the early lesson is investing people and growth will follow versus the other way around. I think the second last half of that lesson, though, is you flip it after, you know, this, this initial two to three year mark, where you end up focusing a lot more on people for the second half of what you’d call a startup, when what you should be focusing on is growth, and that I think I learned a little bit quicker. And it’s really easy to get caught up. Because you’ll end up having cultural issues at your company, you really want to build a strong culture, and you’ll let any little thing get to you. But you’ll be so focused on hiring the right people, or even just getting the best people or the people within your company to mobilize and whatnot, when you really do need to be focused on how do you grow the heck out of this thing. And, you know, I ended up having to make some personal changes, just because it was like people were just not able to grow this company the way it should in the last couple of years. And as a result, we’ve been able to like, triple every every year since then, which is especially hard when you reach a certain size. I mean, you’re talking about the biggest online haircare company that’s doubling or tripling in size every single year. That’s not an easy feat, but that is where the focus area has to be. And it’s interesting, the second you start focusing on growth, but people just come people internally get better and better because they get more and more excited about the company they’re building. But then you just have so many people who are applying for various positions, and you just get such a high caliber of applicants. And so I think that’s the third lesson is focus on people when you should and focus on growth when you should. And don’t, don’t flip it to the wrong stage of the company.


Scott D Clary  32:24

That’s very good. And I see that a lot. When I see when I see younger entrepreneurs, that def I think most everybody falls into the trap of hiring the cheapest, because that’s what you can afford. And that’s what you you want to you want to bring in bodies to help you do whatever tasks but it’s not the it’s not going to get you to where you need to be. And it’s not gonna be people that are going to, you know, evangelize the company’s not gonna be people that are going to take the company to the next level is not gonna people that are going to be putting any hour at like, after work hours for the company. I know, I’ve read, I can’t remember, I think it could have been, it could have been there was a startup story about buffer, like the the auto scheduling tool for social media, and I just, it may not have been buffered, but I just remember the CEO saying, if you’re hiring somebody at a startup level, and they’re asking about benefits and vacation, it’s like, just don’t hire them. Like and it’s, it’s, it’s goodness, because I get it, some people need that. And a lot of people need all the standard benefits and you know, the vacation and the 37 and a half hour week, that’s, that’s really good. That’s how we keep you know, work life balance, but at the same time, there’s a lot of really crazy people that will go into a startup and just give it their all and they’ll come out on top. And that’s kind of like that person you need. Like that person that isn’t concerned with like the small thing. It’s, it’s almost like it was like an entrepreneur that isn’t the CEO within a company. So I guess intrapreneur or whatever you want to call it. But that’s a really good lesson that I don’t think a lot of people learn that until much, much later, you know, after they failed or whatnot. That’s really, really good.


Dr. Zahir Dossa  33:56

I completely agree.


Scott D Clary  33:57

Yeah, what Sam, so what, what’s next your fountain of beauty you’re growing at, you know, three acts year over year. That’s pretty impressive. That seems silly to ask what’s necessary medical keep growing. But is there anything, anything in particular that you’re you’re trying to achieve? As you as you keep? Keep going?


Dr. Zahir Dossa  34:12

Yeah, so the answer is keep growing. But there are there are four different ways that we really see growth, right? And why grow? That’s always a big question. But for us, we thought that personalization deserved to be a norm in this industry, not a niche. And so if we do not keep growing, keep succeeding. Then personalization will be known as just a knee jerk or even a failure in this industry. Right? We have a ton of eyes looking at us to see okay, how big is this thing really how big is online and how big is personalized beauty? And so, to us the four different areas that we think we want to continue growing to demonstrate that one is one is a category expansion, right? So how do we think about? How do we think about beauty in general, right? Like we ended up starting with personalized airfare, but we never really decided that, you know, function of you should just be about hair. It’s called function a BB for a reason. So I think category expansion is, is one big area of growth. So you can imagine other categories, whether it’s body skin, wherever else are things that we’re actively looking at. The second is geographical. So how can we sell to more and more markets, we’re now in about 45 countries, and that number keeps increasing. So obviously start with the US quickly added Canada, and then the UK and Australia. But we decided, hey, look, we had so much demand from all these other countries, we found an easy way to unlock it, you know, how do we make sure that we are able to deliver this brand proposition across the world, I’ve just been in some small corner of it. So I think that’s the second big areas, internet. And the third area is, is the channel right? So right now, we are just online on our website. But there are ways that you could mix that with in person. So whether that’s working with salons, whether that’s, you know, trying to figure out doing our own stores, or whatever it may be, but you know, how do we get people to experience and interact with a brand more than just on function of beauty.com? So I think that’s the third area. And the fourth is how do we leverage this model this personalization platform to other players? So can we help other industries? Can we end up becoming a resource? Can we help people manufacture and fulfill personalized products in non competing indices? And so I think that’s the fourth is how do we actually grow the actual idea of personalization in this platform? So I think those are the four different things out what order we do that is something that’s obviously very difficult to complicated, because right now, we’ve had the same problem that we’ve had for the first five and a half years, which is we cannot keep up with demand. So to this date, we have always had to limit how much marketing dollars we can spend, limit how much you know, organic pushes, we can really make whatever it may be just because it’s, you know, the operational intensity behind this cannot be overstated. I mean, it is it is crazy, but for five and a half years, you know, even with that growth, right, we are still nowhere close to finally being able to meet demand or just let marketing, you know, run walk. And so, you know, in a world where we have to constantly make trade offs and decide, okay, what should we pursue what should be delay, you know, that that’s what has kept us just focusing on haircare, at least for for five and a half years.


Scott D Clary  37:58

One thing that I I want to ask a couple questions, just to sort of tee this off and ask a couple questions about like, you know, your insights on what you’ve experienced over the course of your life that I’d like to do at the end of every segment. But before I do that, you mentioned something about putting this into stores or salons or whatnot. Have you thought through how to maintain? And I don’t want to like, you know, go into your executive team whiteboarding session, which I’m sure you probably have this conversation a lot, but high level? How do you maintain that personalization? The second you put it into a traditional outlet? And I’m curious if you thought through that,


Dr. Zahir Dossa  38:37

yeah. So what we really have been looking at is what are the hybrid approaches? Right? So if you go to a salon, you know, how do you actually achieve a personalized formulation? So well, we could have a login or a portal for stylists to use. And they can actually just go through the online quiz with a customer or potential customer to get their personalized formulations. So that would be the idea for salons. When we say stores, we originally had been thinking about our own stores where we can somehow try to get the crazy big automation that we have in a very small scale so that people can actually watch their products being made in front of them now, again, in a world where we can’t keep up with demand. And it’s hard enough to do this at a huge scale. Can we do this at a small scale? And so I think those would be the two things What’s your point? You know, personalization has to be at the key of it. Otherwise we just die dilute our brands and become like any other and so I think you’re absolutely correct that we want to make sure that we hold those those tenets very close to us.


Scott D Clary  39:40

Very good. Okay, so back to back to the here. You know, MIT grad turned entrepreneur. What is a life lesson that you would tell your younger self that would help you get to where you are a little bit quicker?


Dr. Zahir Dossa  39:55

Yeah, second question. I I find myself so insanely lucky to have gone down this path, I think, through all the stimuli and impetus is that led me to here. I am so shocked and so fortunate to be doing this. I mean, you’ve seen the resume, you see the story, it is really crazy to go from, you know, Hamilton, Ontario, let’s just say where I was born to MIT and then to doing function of beauty. I think that’s a, there are a lot of really crazy things that happened to lead me down this path. And so if anything, I would tell my younger self, to make sure that I kept doing the things that I did. And I, I remember, you know, when my best friend Chris Hodgins we were deciding whether to whether or not to go to this, this school 11th For 11th and 12th grade, it was like, a boarding school magnet school program, where we’d live away from home. And he decided to put his faith on flipping a coin, and the coin flip to basically stay the course stay in high school, I’d already decided I’m definitely going. But he decided to go just because it was he was just kind of bummed by by the output of that coin flip. But I think the deep down thing was if you can ever make a change, and you’re excited about it, just do it. I think at the end of the day, the coolest stories and you can look at any entrepreneur, but the things that make entrepreneurs entrepreneurs are they take all weird, Less Traveled Pat, but they almost chase a cool story or, or changes in life. Right. And I think that’s what has been so critical to, to me being able to, to now be you know, at the forefront of a very, very successful company is just being able to have had all these random opportunities that I decided to chase and, you know, I, I thought it would make for a more interesting life. And evidently, it has no it’s not. It’s not without its stresses, it’s turmoils. I mean, there are a lot of, you know, whatever tough challenges,


Scott D Clary  42:35

you build your business, it’s, of course, there’s a lot of challenges. I think it’s expected.


Dr. Zahir Dossa  42:40

Yeah, it’s, I don’t think people think about the mental toil that goes into it enough, or the interpersonal or personal challenges, just know, it’s hard to have a steady strong relationship during it, it’s hard to not lose your mind and lose your cool while while doing it all. And so it’s, it is much easier, and arguably much more convenient to, to just follow a more traditional path. And and in fact, until everyone do not do a startup, never do a startup. Just because at the end of the day, you are guaranteed a success sort of success, as most people define it by going through a very, you know, standard set of things, you know, for me, it was MIT, then I would do McKinsey, then I go Harvard Business School, and then, you know, join some PE funds somewhere like that saw, and there’s one of my best friends did that and is insanely successful, insanely happy. And, you know, it’s, it’s hard to not do that, and then throw it you know, all in a high risk move, where each further you know, the benefits are huge. But you know, if you look at the cost, and even look at the expected value, it’s it with all the risk. I mean, it’s it’s pretty, pretty low. And so I basically tell everyone do not do a start up and I think the people that don’t listen to me are the ones that are so hell bent on chasing this, this path that eventually I ended up venturing on myself or are so passionate about an idea that they couldn’t live with themselves without doing and so those are the people that ended up becoming entrepreneurs but you know, you would have to fight me repeatedly to keep doing your idea if you kept asking for my input because I would always tell everybody just don’t do a start up but yeah, it’s it’s the people that don’t listen to me that would end up probably being you know, very, very successful but don’t tell them that otherwise. Do it and not everyone should so


Scott D Clary  44:51

I like that a lot. But you know what, there is something to be said for traditional because I would have said up until about two weeks ago. Traditional is very secure. But I think that, you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about the shift in business a Coronavirus is taking the world. And I think that yeah, maybe going full fledged into a startup is still going to be the same level of stress as it was pre Crona. But I think that being able to diversify and expand and grow should be top of mind outside your immediate reality for people because you know, these traditional industries. So now we seem to have no cash flow to pay people to us. So that’s absolutely,


Dr. Zahir Dossa  45:33

and I think that’s the world needs startups, the world needs disruption, because, you know, to the point that you just mentioned and what I said earlier, imagine if Coronavirus, or COVID-19. had hit us 1520 years ago, or imagine if industries had stayed the way they’re they had and there was no such thing as Instacart or, or zoom or Skype or, you know, pick your pick your company FaceTime app, right? Like, imagine what the world would have looked like if it if it didn’t have that. So I think the world needs innovation, I think the world needs startups and entrepreneurs. And I think the onus on societies and governments and whatever it may be, is to make sure that they’re always able to keep a healthy climate for that around just because, you know, there will come a day where, you know, a lot of those things make the difference between happiness and not or survival and failure. And that’s not to say there’s a lot of startups that haven’t been able to weather this storm, right. And so it’s, you know, it is insanely risky. And a lot of startups don’t have, you know, there’s a lot of big conglomerates that just socked in q1 and will probably suck in q2 as well, but they have billions and billions of dollars of cash to weather this storm. Whereas if you’re a startup, and you know, a lot of startups have to invest all their money into growth or into people or whatever it may be, you know, they don’t have those cash reserves to actually make it through all this. I mean, we had to take on the most insane debt facility just to make sure that we’re able to continue growing and have cash on hand. But if we weren’t doing really well, we would have never been able to achieve that during this time. And so I think there’s, you know, I think we also need to make sure that we create systems and instructors in place so that startups can continue being fostered and growing, knowing that, you know, some are many will fail, but the ones that don’t hopefully make this world a better place.


Scott D Clary  47:39

Very good. Last question for you is where do you go to learn and grow? So some books that are great people, podcasts, audibles? What are your your go to things that people can, can latch on to?


Dr. Zahir Dossa  47:55

Yeah, so there’s a lot of cool management books. And I’m actually not even gonna say a single one, just because I think I don’t want to bias people that I’ve not read enough to, to actually recommend any. But I think sometimes it’s great to hear the stories of entrepreneurs going through tough times or for succeeding. I actually think the biggest growth for me has been twofold. One has been an executive coaching, I have become a much, much, much better leader through that I would not be half the CEO I am today, if it wasn’t for executive coaching. So I think that’s the first biggest thing that I would say beyond any books or anything like that. I think the best advice is advice that is personalized to you like, here’s the situation, you know, how can you do better? How should you focus on your strengths, be okay with these weaknesses or get people to cover those? Say, that’s the very first set of advice. And as a result of executive coaching, I mean, I’ve learned tremendously. I’ve learned anything that I’m spending hours doing on a regular basis, I should hire people for how do I take a step back and make sure we’re focusing on the biggest problems, how I’m making, you know, the best decisions and making decisions to not do things is countless examples I can go through to how executive coaching has helped. So I think that’s one and the second is actually along those lines, which is therapy. I think personal therapy is insanely critical and important, going through startups. And there’s a lot of founders, especially in Y Combinator, one of my favorite partners, there is a guy named Dalton Caldwell. And I remember asking him, you know, What’s the toughest thing about startups? It’s like, it’s, it’s the mental game. It is such a tough mental game, and I cannot echo that enough. And so I think that’s the second half is, you know, if you’re able to have a personal therapist and see them once a week, once every two weeks, whatever it may be. I see mine weekly. And sometimes there are issues sometimes there’s no issues but just having that cadence of making sure that I’m able to, you know, hash out my issues and some people meditate. Some people do things on their own as well. And so that’s great. But for me, just being able to have that cadence and make sure that I’m able to stay in this whole space from a mental perspective is is insanely critical. It’s I think that’s the second half that I would, I would say, so yeah. It’s executive coaching. And a personal therapist. We might too. Like those


Scott D Clary  50:30

are good, too. Yeah. Yeah. No, the mentorship is huge. And the the bespoke mentorship, I’m sure can be very, very helpful. And then yeah, like, keep in mind, right? Because everything you’re saying is, is very much in line with other entrepreneurs that I’ve worked with. And it’s tough. It’s a tough game. It’s a long game. So you got to you got to find some way to stay sane in the in the best way possible. So good. Is there anything before we wrap up? Is there anything that we didn’t cover that you wanted to chat about? Or?


Dr. Zahir Dossa  51:00

No, I think, I think that’s it just, you know, whenever people pursue entrepreneurship, or whatever, you know, don’t forget to have fun with it. Otherwise, what’s the point of it all? So So yeah,


Scott D Clary  51:13

good. Good. How do people? How do people get in touch with you? What’s the website for functional beauty? Where do they reach out?


Dr. Zahir Dossa  51:21

Yeah, sure. Function BD is just functional media calm. Yeah. Google SEO game is good enough to where if you start spelling out function, you’ll, you’ll probably find us so


Scott D Clary  51:34

good, very good. Alright, that’s it, man. I appreciate the chat. That was really, really good.


Dr. Zahir Dossa  51:38

Thanks a lot. Appreciate it, Scott.


Scott D Clary  51:40

That’s all for today. Thanks again for joining me on another episode of the success story podcast. You can download or stream this podcast wherever podcasts are available, including iTunes, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, I heart, radio, and many others. You can also watch his podcasts on YouTube. If you haven’t already. Please subscribe and share this podcast with your friends, family, coworkers and peers. Please leave us a rating on iTunes. It takes about 30 seconds, as it allows other people to find our podcast and lets our amazing guests reach even more people with their message. And remember any rating is fine as long as it contains five stars. I’m Scott Clary from the success story podcast, signing off.

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