Asmau Ahmed’s early knack for experimentation—growing up between Nigeria and London, her family’s laundry rooms were converted into science labs—has served her well as an entrepreneur. “Like any woman, I love fashion and makeup, but my real interest has always been finding solutions to problems,” she says. It just so happened that for Ahmed, makeup was a continual headache. “My sister is just as dark as I am, but I would try on her lipsticks and look like a cartoon character,” she says. After leaving her chemical-engineering career for Columbia Business School, Ahmed worked nights on developing a proprietary technology that analyzes skin, lip, hair and eye color, knowing that minute details like undertones are often undetectable to the human eye.
In 2014, she launched the Plum Perfect mobile application, to which users upload selfies and receive makeup shade recommendations that complement their skin color. BeauTV was next. Launched in December on Plum Perfect, it generates personalized shade suggestions for makeup used in YouTube beauty tutorials. Plum Perfect’s technology isn’t solely consumer-facing—Ahmed licenses it out to IMAN Cosmetics, and a top-secret project with Macy’s Inc. is in the works. Though her vision for Plum Perfect has always been to help women find the right shade of makeup, Ahmed says her photo-based technology is at the forefront of changing consumer behavior. “It’s natural for people to take selfies, and we’re riding that wave,” says Ahmed. “The younger generation thinks more visually, and they’re going to shop more visually.”
This story first appeared in the February 16, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.