L’Oréal’s Guive Balooch on why a leader needs to make time for all ideas

“Make time for all ideas. Listen to everyone’s pitch. At L’Oréal, we have an internal innovation contest called Beauty Shakers, where anyone, any level, any role, can submit an idea. For the incubator, hearing every idea with an open mind helps determine the best partnerships for both sides.”
I had the pleasure to interview Guive Balooch. As the global vice president of L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator, based in Clark, NJ, Guive has helped evolve L’Oréal evolve to a legacy beauty company that is a true tech player, shaking up the industry by bringing digital beauty experiences to consumers everywhere. Designed as a startup within a large organization, Guive’s dynamic team partners with entrepreneurs, academic institutions and experts across a diverse array of fields to unearth breakthrough research and first-to-market technologies.

How did you get started in the industry? What led you to L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator?

 My story is one of luck and learning. Ultimately, I fell into beauty. My father was a professor at Berkeley, inspiring me to respect knowledge and science. After receiving a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, I started my first job developing compound pharmaceuticals. It was during this time that I realized the pace of innovation was much slower than I anticipated, and at the same time, I learned how much I enjoy the experience of developing something that might truly make a difference in people’s lives.

I came across a role with L’Oréal when looking for jobs outside of California. At the time, L’Oreal was pursuing research that would lead to the development of better beauty products for people with ethnic hair and skin types, which involved evaluating hair properties. It reminded me of my past osteoporosis research which centered on understanding how to strengthen bones. During the interview process, I made the connection between keratin (hair) and collagen (bone), and joined the team.

I quickly took a liking to the branding, marketing and consumer side of L’Oréal’s business, and moved to NYC to lead open research and innovation through university partnerships. While universities typically provide great intellectual partnerships, the lengthy contracts can hinder nimble product development. That is what led us to start collaborating with startups coming out of universities rather than the institutions themselves. This model — coupled with the brief of creating connected beauty — ultimately led to the creation of L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator in 2012.

What is the funniest or most interesting story that has happened to you during your time at L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator?

All of our products undergo demanding testing for consumer safety and efficacy, but many never witness this sometimes-unglamorous process. The Incubator team and our trial participants visited central Florida one winter to test the La Roche-Posay My UV Patch prototype — a wearable sensor that measures individual UV exposure. Forty consumers from young adults to senior citizens had to walk in a two-mile square four times over the course of a day — essentially the length of a marathon — before jumping in a pool that evening with patches all over their bodies. It was a sight to see, but amazing when you think about the rigor and extremes L’Oréal takes around testing tech and products.

So what does L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator do?

We create the most effective, most innovative beauty products by combining technology and design to focus on consumer needs and enhance the consumer experience.

With that mission in mind, we work with external partners and L’Oréal’s 30+ brands to build dynamic experiences and products at the intersection of beauty and technology. Great beauty technology creates a link between diagnosis and personalization, and we are lucky to be the team developing cutting-edge tech that fulfills unmet consumer needs. For example, our team worked on Lancôme’s Le Teint Particulier, which offers customized foundation at the counter for more than 20,000 skin tones. Another focus is design, which is the single-most important element in tech product development. Our ultimate goal is to create products that consumers do not see as technology, but is something core to their daily lives — enhancing their overall experience and performance.

How have you (and/or L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator) used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Our projects are rooted in using technology to bring value to people’s everyday lives. For example, My UV Patch encourages healthy change in people’s sun exposure behaviors. The introduction of Lancôme’s Le Teint Particulier dramatically expands our foundation shade offering, bringing beauty products to consumers we previously could not reach.

What are some things you learned building partnerships for L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator?

1. Understand your partners. Many startups are afraid that larger companies simply want to take their technology and absorb them. People are shocked to hear that I have had to convince startups to work with my team at L’Oréal — even as the number one beauty company in the world. Truly great and promising startups have to make careful decisions as they grow, which is why it is so important that we treat startups as partners, not suppliers.

2. Teamwork and collaboration. The best way to foster continued innovation is to become deeply ingrained with partner teams and understand the common goal. Truly transformative technologies emerge when a group of people draw inspiration and believe in the vision of one another.
 3. Think outside your lane. Some of the greatest successes of L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator come from drawing knowledge, ideas and people from outside of the beauty industry. This cross-pollination of technologies from other industries with our knowledge and science in the beauty space leads to exponentially better innovations for our consumers.
 4. Make time for all ideas. Listen to everyone’s pitch. At L’Oréal, we have an internal innovation contest called Beauty Shakers, where anyone, any level, any role, can submit an idea. For the incubator, hearing every idea with an open mind helps determine the best partnerships for both sides.
 I have been blessed with the opportunity to interview some of the biggest names in business, VC, sports, entertainment, etc. Is there a person in the world you’d like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, or I might be able to introduce you.

I would love to meet Oprah one day. Simply put, I love her because people love to work for her. She has the ability to inspire others to strive toward the common goal of greater good with passion and grit — and that is no easy feat. I am inspired people like her who are able to unite others for a higher purpose.