Candice Georgiadis
Aug 1 · 6 min read

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Zahir Dossa, the co-founder and CEO of Function of Beauty, a digitally-native, hyper- customizable personal care company that individually formulates products based on one’s unique hair goals and preferences. Zahir is a graduate of MIT, earning two degrees in computer science and management, as well a Ph.D. in sustainability. After graduating, Zahir received a postdoctoral fellowship at the Center for Sustainability at the IMD Business School in Switzerland, where he co-authored a book on sustainable business models. Zahir’s research focused on the role of internet-based technologies to transform value chains, which eventually led him to found Function of Beauty in 2015.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Through a series of random events during my Ph.D. and beyond, I learned that women had a huge unmet need in hair care — and that the industry was not really changing (new celebrities replacing older ones, “latest” ingredients being heralded over predecessors). We now know that women have an average of 3.8 hair goals, but even back then, I saw that no products were actually solving any of these problems. Instead, the beauty industry has been segmenting people into generic categories and dictating what beauty looks like for everyone. My co-founders, (Josh Maciejewski and Hien Nguyen) and I had a deep-seated desire to personalize “Beauty” by creating truly unique, hyper-customized products that helped each and every person achieve their idea of personal beauty. Our philosophy was to let customers tell us what they want rather than the other way around. As a result, we developed our own unique algorithm that analyzes the results of each customer’s hair survey and use the latest automation technology (all developed in-house) to create an ideal product based on the data received. We get feedback across the algorithm so that we are constantly learning and improving with every customer, which allows us to create the best possible product for each individual.

Can you explain to our readers why you are an authority about Social Media Marketing?

Frankly, I’m not — but I wanted to create a product that people would love to share on social media. If you can achieve that, you get a ton of organic growth and your customer acquisition costs decrease dramatically because you’re showing customers something that they actually want. Names on bottles, bright colors, and a real personality were all things missing in the industry that resonated really well with our customer base.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

A couple weeks before celebrating our 4-year anniversary as a company (in January 2019), a couple of my earlier employees invited me out to go to Fat Cat — one of my favorite spots in NY. Although we were only going to grab a quick drink on a Tuesday evening, the night sort of took off from there. We even Uber’d an employee out of bed in Brooklyn to come join the fun. It was a refreshing and rejuvenating reminder of what really matters to me at Function — the people I’m able to build this with. It’s also nice to know that with over 200 people on payroll, I can still maintain close friendships with employees.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I had an angel investor meeting with Adam D’Angelo. I was running around like crazy and didn’t have the time to quickly learn about his background (Caltech brainchild, CTO-ish of Facebook, and Founder and CEO of Quora). There was an awkward moment when I mentioned whether he understood the tech side of things. His humble response, “well there was Facebook, and now there is Quora…”. I got the hint. He ended up investing nonetheless so thankfully I didn’t have to pay for my mistake.

Lesson: Always know who you’re going into a meeting with.

Which social media platform have you found to be most effective to use to increase business revenues? Can you share a story from your experience?

Instagram has definitely been the most effective tool for our company as it’s allowed us to engage and interact with our customers on a much more personal level. Gaining that level of access to our customers, as well as millions of potential new customers, has been crucial, especially because we are a direct-to-consumer brand and our products aren’t sold in stores. Instagram has given us a platform to not only share what our company is about but also demonstrate how our products work, why they’re better, and why our customers love them so much, which isn’t something that you can effectively do on most other social platforms. It’s also given us the unique ability to communicate directly with our customers — whether it’s asking them for their feedback on a product or having them vote on the name of a new fragrance or the type of product we should launch next — and make them feel like they are truly a part of the brand.

Let’s talk about Instagram specifically, now. Can you share 6 ways to leverage Instagram to dramatically improve your business? Please share a story or example for each.

Expand our reach — By actively engaging with followers on Instagram (i.e. tags, hashtags, sponsored posts), we’ve been able to expand our reach and overall brand awareness across a wide range of demographics. In the last 30 days specifically, we’ve been able to reach over 10M people across the Instagram/Facebook organic and ad network.

Instagram Stories — Stories specifically, has given us the opportunity to create more authentic content with our brand ambassadors and content creators. We’ve found that Stories make for a far more personal and intimate experience with both existing and prospective customers.

Customer Insights — Instagram has allowed us to leverage insights from across our entire marketing mix.

Polls & Customer Feedback — Instagram gives us the unique ability to communicate directly with our customers, including asking them for their feedback on our fragrance names and new product offerings via polls and direct messages. Our new fragrance, Naughty or (sp)ice, for instance, was a name that was voted on by customers, a fragrance that was tested by customers, and launched as a result of customer feedback.

Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

My goal has always been to start a personal revolution in which “beauty” is no longer just one singular ideal that is packaged, marketed, and sold using young, thin supermodels with professional makeup, styling, lighting, and airbrushing. This stereotyped approach to beauty is not only the polar opposite of true beauty, which is something that comes from within and is unique to each and every one of us, but is also increasingly toxic to our society. The personal movement strives to celebrate that which makes every single person unique and beautiful by empowering them to express their individual definition of beauty.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

Jeff Bezos — a visionary if there ever was one, coupled with the ability to just make it happen. I’d love to discuss visions, roadmaps, and whatever else… ideally over beers :)

Thank you for sharing this!

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Candice Georgiadis

Written by

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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