By Sasha Mills
imi Lindgren recently became the 10th Black female founder in the UK to successfully raise VC for her business – a process which is famously insular and difficult to navigate. Simi founded Yuty (formerly Yuty Bazar), an ethical beauty marketplace using cutting-edge AI technology to match shoppers of all skin colours and skin types to their perfect products.
Simi first launched Yuty last year during the pandemic, but had been working towards the concept for 5 years before that. Now, having successfully raised £500k in pre-seed funding, Simi talks to us about the ideation process, the reality of fundraising, and where she sees beauty AI going next.
“I knew I would be without a salary for at least 6 months to a year.”
What is Yuty? The AI-driven conscious beauty destination
...And what that really means is that it’s a beauty marketplace, where we list conscious, independent beauty brands all over the world. They fall within our five pillars, which we say classifies them as conscious – they’re ethical, have clean ingredients, sustainable, have the appropriate certifications to support their claims, or we have confirmed the formulation is truly vegan.
The aim, really, is that this marketplace helps you find the right beauty products. And we’re leveraging artificial intelligence to do that. AI is this broad umbrella term – so many things fall underneath it. The Yuty product is quite specific.. The first product, which everyone interacts with, is the Yuty Advisor™. The advisor is driven by machine learning, deep learning, and computer vision algorithms.
Essentially, these algorithms take into consideration your environment, your genetics, your lifestyle, your concerns, your goals, your preferences, and these inputs go through a funnel along with your image - until Yuty matches you to the best products.
The second AI product that we have is our YutyBot which is chatbot technology. So we’re leveraging natural language processing. When we think about AI and bots, we’ve got Alexa, Siri, and the YutyBot is essentially a matching engine, but also allows you to do customer service queries. It serves three functions – marketing, matching, and customer service. It’s the first beauty bot to do that, so it took a lot of training.
Whether you’ve gone on a diet, you become pregnant - anything that might disrupt your beauty routine and make your products irrelevant, Yuty helps you find the conscious beauty products that will work for you.
Leveraging AI is the future of the beauty experience
COVID happened, and everyone’s online, so how do you make that IRL experience in URL? AI is the best way to do it, because it really allows you to get to know someone. What they’re looking at, what works for them, all these details.
We’re joint controllers of data with the customer, so they can delete it if they want to. We don’t make it difficult for customers to do that, and that was really important to me – that they understand they can delete their data if they want to.
“I was thinking, what if I could just match people with beauty products using AI?”
It’s been a five-year journey, but officially Yuty was incorporated last year
So 2015 – which was pivotal for AI, we’re talking about driverless cars, manual labour being automated, and was also the year that I fell pregnant, and the year that I was interviewed by a beauty journalist. She said, ‘Simi, you know, your skincare’s amazing. You’ve shaved your hair, you’re rocking this style.’ And I said ‘It seems super glamorous, but actually I shaved my hair because I was frustrated.’
I was having to trek 3 hours to get my hair ‘did’ every single week. I’d rocked weaves, extensions, various styles, and I just wanted to embrace my natural hair, and I just wasn’t able to find the right products.
She asked me about my skincare, and I said, well, I’ve got combination-oily skin – I didn’t realise at the time that I was pregnant – and I was just like, something’s not quite working (laughs). What used to work for me isn’t quite working. My makeup is doing this strange thing. I’d basically given up.
At the time I was at a business where I was matching PRs and brands with celebrities and influencers to help them drive press exposure, and I was thinking, what if I could just match people with beauty products using AI?
I started to teach myself AI…
It began with teaching myself Python, Ruby on Rails, getting to understand quite specific coding languages, looking at toolkits and libraries and seeing what was available to me. And I was realising that these libraries, and the data available – they’re kind of biased.
I’m Black, and I was like, where are the people that look like me in this? I’m trying to figure out this algorithm to match people to products, and I can’t quite find the right data to even test if this algorithm works. It was lots of crowdsourcing of data, asking friends and family, understanding different skin conditions.
After about nearly 4 years, I thought, right, it’s time to do this for real
I had the golden handcuffs, my salary was incredible. It stops you from really going after it, because you don’t want to disrupt the family. You understand that when you undertake this entrepreneurial journey, it’s going to be scary.
So I did try in 2019, realised I needed more money, went back to work, and saved for a further six months. I had my data science and machine learning lead alongside me while I was doing this, I was studying AI at Oxford, saving money – all of this is happening alongside having children.
August 25th of 2020, we launched our MVP. The rest is history.
Machine learning is data hungry. It won’t work without enough good-quality data. I’m so cognizant of the fact that people look so different – it’s really important that data reflects what’s going on in society, so that we can make those accurate predictions, otherwise we’re failing.
“I’m Black, and I was like, where are the people that look like me in this? I’m trying to figure out this algorithm to match people to products, and I can’t quite find the right data to even test if this algorithm works”
The fundraising process was lengthy
When I was working on the algorithms, as soon as I’d spoken with one of my mentors, he’s a Harvard Professor, he said ‘Simi, this is proprietary. You need to patent this.’ And we registered patents with the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office). It was then that I realised that we’re going to need funding.
A marketplace, it’s a capital-intensive business, plus we needed to make it sticky. First of all, how do you convince people that an AI can actually match you to beauty products? Beauty is notoriously fickle, and it’s incredibly tactile – people want to touch it, feel it.
So you’re trying to change behaviours. I knew quite early that we would need capital, and I was cognizant of that before I left work, which is why I saved. I knew I would be without a salary for at least 6 months to a year.
Things happen, the money doesn’t last, and I had to think of various innovative ways to keep our runway going
We needed capital investment, and I didn’t want debt on the balance sheet. I spoke with my mentor and advisor, Carmen Busquets, who was a founding investor in Net-a-Porter, and has invested in businesses such as Farfetch and Lyst. She gave me confidence that people and business were interested in what we were building.
It was just a matter of finding the right investment partner. What does that mean? It was finding partners that aligned with Yuty and our mission, what we believed in, and understood how long it would potentially take. We’re a tech business, so we’re not going to be profit positive for, say, 3 years. It was about having investors that believed in us and what we are trying to do.
“How do you convince people that an AI can actually match you to beauty products? Beauty is notoriously fickle, and it’s incredibly tactile – people want to touch it, feel it.”
I started off with Angels – a lot of Angels...and cold outreach
60-70% came back and were interested, but they needed a big fish that was going to be part of the Yuty journey. It was tricky. It was only when it became painful that I started to reach out to VCs. I was talking to other founders – Sharmadean Reid, Kiemu Salmon of Beautonomy, about what their experience was like and to get their advice. I thought I’d have to down tools, return to work and come back to Yuty later.
Around Christmas time, I reached out to 2 VCs that I was incredibly passionate about. I poured my heart and soul into this outreach email. This is it. If we’re going to get VC capital, for the first time ever I’m really going to sell myself as Founder. We closed three months later. More than what we were looking for. We needed £300k, and quickly the round became oversubscribed.
That’s something I never realised as a first time Founder. As soon as some capital closes, remaining capital trickles in. But getting to that point. It’s hard, really hard. It’s resilience, tenacity and constant dating. You have that courtship period – that courtship period could be even before you’ve launched your MVP.
I didn’t do that before our MVP, I was starting that process afterwards. We hadn’t paid for any marketing, our CAC was £0 – that was really important to us. That this is what we’d achieved without paying for advertising. I wanted to understand if the business was viable or I had risked all of this for no reason, and paying for advertising disguises that sometimes.
It’s something that we talk about every single day in our stand-up – how many people have we matched to the right products today?
I send a personal email to every single customer we have, because if we’re not matching customers to the right beauty products, they’re not happy, and we need to improve. Yuty will always be on a constant journey of iteration.
For the first six months of business, I didn’t want any friends or family buying. I needed to see if this was sticky with real people out there, and what they would say. It’s so important that we are incredibly customer-centric.
These are conscious products. You’ve done your bit and you don’t have to worry
You’re reducing your impact just by using Yuty. Our product roadmap and features include releases which allow people to make that shift from unsustainable products that they may be using - we plan to make it easier, so that customers can simply ask Yuty and be recommended beauty products that work for them.
The aim is to take over the world, help match people to the right products. We want everyone to think, finding the right beauty products – Yuty. Yuty helps you do that.
Yuty founder Simi Lindgren talks to us about becoming the 10th Black female founder to gain VC backing.
By Sasha Mills
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