A Site for Sore Eyes: My Startup Story of Color P.I.

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By Asmau Ahmed (Founder, color p.i.) My startup story begins long before color p.i. was chosen as one of a select few Astia clients, long before I built the technology, and certainly long before I wrote the business plan while I was at Columbia Business School. My story begins with years of unsuccessfully navigating cosmetic counters and aisle in search of colors to make me look my best. I would spend hours trying on makeup only to come home and realize that I didn’t like the colors. As an engineer and beauty enthusiast, I was compelled to address the problem with technology. And so I built a technology called color p.i., which provides custom color profiles and instant personalized make-up recommendations to shoppers who upload headshots. My goal, beyond making shopping simpler for people like me, was to do for beauty buffs what Pandora does for music buffs. Beauty buffs know that most people don’t roll out of bed looking gorgeous. It takes work. And so did the creation of color p.i. Here are a few startup lessons I learned along the way: Startup Lesson Learned #1 — Share Your Idea If you’re a first-time entrepreneur, you might be worried about people stealing your idea. Don’t. I hate to break it to you, but if it’s such a great idea, the likelihood that you aren’t the first to think it up is high. It’s the execution that counts. To execute well, you need to surround yourself with a support network. So get out of your cocoon, and seek advisors, successful entrepreneurs, and accelerators. Share your idea with them, and consider their opinions. You’ll likely to end up with a better plan than you began with, and you’ll have a network of people keeping an eye out for your success. The support I got from the Astia community and from Kapor Capital made the world of difference for me. Startup Lesson Learned #2 — Love It or Ditch It There are many emotional highs and lows involved in building a company. In order to succeed, you need not only sheer determination, but also the anchor of love and passion. In other words, it’s not enough to have a great business. You’ve got to love it. For me, when all logic defied continuing (running out of funds, others losing faith, negative feedback, etc.), the only thing that kept me going was the passion I had for color p.i. It’s not solving world peace, I know, but I believed in it and loved it enough to carry me through the low tides. Startup Lesson Learned #3 — Acknowledge the 600-Pound Gorilla in the Room Many entrepreneurs encounter bumps along the way to a launch. In my case, the bump was literal — I was visibly pregnant at the time I was ready to pitch color p.i. When well-intended friends suggested that I postpone my pitch until I had the baby, I decided that I already faced challenges as a black woman pitching a technology startup, and I could cope with adding pregnancy to the mix. That said, I knew the unspoken question in the room would be “how is she going to balance running a start-up with being a new mom?” and I wanted to opportunity to address it. So, I wove plans to take a month off for the baby into my presentation, demonstrating that the month I was taking off made sense for the business cycle. My advice — talk about the sensitive subjects! It won’t matter to those who don’t care, and it may help along those that do. About My Startup It’s human to want feedback. Which is why people are always looking for a response to the way they look. Until now that feedback has had to come via family/friends, and online user reviews. Yet online, the existing visual technology to render this feedback has been fragmented, arbitrary and not intuitive, particularly in the color arena. The digital space lacked the technology to make real time color recommendations, until color p.i. We use a patent-pending methodology to automatically correct colors in user-provided images thus capturing actual shades. We can literally ‘intuit’ color recommendations from the user proved image. As empowering as these recommendations are to the end user, the multi-faceted data being gathered is equally, if not even more empowering, to the companies in the beauty and fashion spaces using color p.i. Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Asmau Ahmed is Founder of color p.i. Her proud accomplishments include being a Mom, building a gel model of the human brain to aid cancer research, and, of course, founding her startup color p.i. She loves running and Scrabble (not at the same time), and lives in Connecticut with her husband and son. Asmau holds a B.S. with honors in chemical engineering from the University of Virginia and an MBA from Columbia Business School. Follow her startup on Twitter at @colorpiinc.