Prose, a technology-first beauty play that launches today, relies on the traditional salon environment and relationship between stylist and client to co-create personalized, professional hair care — at scale.
“Our vision is that to create the best personalized hair care, we have to go through the stylists — not as a distributor, but as an expert of our hair. They know your hair type and that’s why we go through a professional — to have the right diagnostic help to make the right personalized product,” Arnaud Plas, cofounder and chief executive officer, said at Joli Beauty Bar on First Street here, one of Prose’s partner salons. Plas worked at L’Oréal for seven years where his most recent role was vice president of the company’s digital acceleration team.
The stylist’s expertise is integral to the company’s mission, which is to deliver completely custom shampoo, conditioner and hair masks through artificial intelligence (both during a preliminary diagnostic phase and the formulation process). Shampoos and conditioners range in price from $28 to $38 for 8.5-oz. bottles and hair masks from $38 to $58, depending on concentrations of active ingredients. All formulas are cruelty-free and free of sulfates, parabens, dyes and other ingredients that could pose potential risks.
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And when Plas said “personalized,” he really meant personalized. He didn’t mean that Prose suggests several options for someone who specifies whether they have dry or oily hair. He meant that an in-house team of chemists and engineers uses a proprietary algorithm that combines 76 ingredients with 85 data points to create more than 50 billion combinations of hair-care formulas. There is an “on-demand” aspect to Prose, too. As soon as an order has been placed, each formula is made freshly by chemists in New York.
“We did enough research and development to semiautomate the production so it’s done by a chemist, but some aspects are automated to scale. For instance, the mixing is automated as well as the filling of the bottle,” Plas said. He revealed that the company will transition to a fully automated system in the near future.
“We want to be able to produce at the same speed as a mass product.”
Following a $1.8 million round of seed funding, Plas and cofounders Catherine Taurin, research and development adviser; Nicolas Mussat, chief technology officer, and Paul Michaux, vice president of product, just closed a $5.2 million series A to fuel growth and scale the platform. The most recent round was led by Forerunner Ventures with participation from Red Sea Ventures and Lerer Hippeau Ventures.
Plas did a walkthrough of Prose’s service, which is powered by an app available for partner salons and independent stylists that helps determine information about the client, inclusive of lifestyle, diet, exercise and, of course, their hair.
The process starts with a stylist pressing two small testers to the client’s scalp to determine sebum and dandruff levels and is followed by a 23-question consultation. Clients input things such as their name, age, when their last shampoo was and more before the app spits out the results of said sebum and dandruff tests. From here, stylist and clients work together to answer additional questions that address scalp sensitivity, hair density, scalp density, hair thickness, texture, length, where the client will spend the next two months, stress levels, where exercise takes place and more.
In addition to identifying aggressors in one’s area — from UV and pollution to water quality and humidity — a client is presented with their analysis and an option to set preferences like a desire for more volume or shine and scent (or no scent) for their product. Ingredients that will go into the client’s hair care are shown with accompanying descriptions, where it was sourced from and benefits (for example, oat lipid and sunflower seed are color protectants and silk proteins help with cuticle nutrition). Finally, clients are presented with a purchase page featuring their finished hair care where they can buy one, two or all three products.
A beta phase kicked off in October and saw the onboarding of 10 partner salons in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and today, the service will open up to salons and stylists nationwide. Stylists make a 25 percent commission plus $10 on a client’s first purchase and receive 25 percent on all recurring purchases. There is also a direct-to-consumer e-commerce site at prosehair.com that allows consumers to create a formula online without the input of a stylist. It’s a similar diagnostic, but with questions tailored for a consumer-facing experience, Plas noted.
“It’s shifting from just products to service, and with feedback we will fine-tune your formula. This is where we want to make a change, to get your feedback and fine-tune this,” Michaux said, pointing out that hair is different in the winter than it is in the summer and product must reflect this.
“There’s a belief that you have to change your hair-care brand because of the season…and as we see your hair needs, the approach is to really understand why you have these needs and how we can tackle them,” Michaux continued. “When you get the product, we go a step further and give you your routine — what to use, how much and how many times per week you should be using…[because] if you have dry hair or oily hair, you don’t want to use your customer formula the same way.”
The plan is not to go door-to-door to salons to get on the Prose platform.
Michaux maintained that social media will be a “powerful lead generator” in getting partners to use the service going forward, hopefully resulting in a robust community of thousands. Once salons or stylists download the free app and get approved by Prose, there is training within the app that allows them to start selling the same day.
“We see the industry shifting from big salons to more specialized beauty spaces and there is an opportunity to partner with these people to offer a more sustainable way to retail,” Michaux said.