"There are so many factors to consider when picking beauty products: age, ethnicity, color shade, hair type, whether you have dry or oily skin. It can be a very difficult, very personal process, especially for ethnic women. So the House of Mikko recommendation service is built around connecting people. Once a user fills out a comprehensive beauty profile—focused mostly on hair care, for now—we give her recommendations based on the best products used by like-featured women, so she can see which ones they buy and how well they've worked. We're powered by real women, and there's a real efficiency component in that."
Fast Company: How did the idea for House of Mikko originate?
Kimberly Dillon: I was interning at a beauty company and I was fascinated that women were still calling an 800 number to get advice on which products would work for them. And a lot of women don't like going to makeup counters because they feel pressure to buy something. And not everyone wants to read 15 reviews of eye cream online. The idea was to answer the question, "How can we help a woman discover the products that work for her unique characteristics?"
Did you discover anything about your users that surprised you?
When you say "beauty," I think most people tend to think about makeup, but a lot of the value our users get has been more about personal care—"My hair is drying out" versus "I wonder what type of lipstick would look good on me today." We also quickly realized that women want to share their own words of wisdom with other women—it's a two-way street.
Why is it so important to make recommendations based on real women?
A lot of beauty is sold on hope and aspiration and not on efficacy. There's always going to be a tension between wanting to look better and wanting something to work for you. Traditionally, the beauty industry plays on the look-like-a-celebrity factor. But Web 2.0 women really want to know how to actually use these products. They go to YouTube to see an actual woman and do a guttural check in realizing that this woman is real.