Penn Center for Innovation

I-Corps Blog: LashBee

Posted on July 17, 2015 — Kat Hinkel

Week 1

LashBee aims to make thick, long and beautiful lashes more ubiquitous by designing tools that allow lash stylists to quickly and safely apply semi-permanent eyelash extensions to consumers.  Currently, eyelash extensions are prohibitively expensive for consumers since the process is time-consuming and highly specialized.  However, those who do get the treatment, such as celebrities and brides, rave about its stunning effects for the eyes.  LashBee is creating professional tools that reduce the time and complexity of the application, allowing more beauticians to easily be trained to apply high-quality lashes.  More professionals and shorter application times will reduce labor costs, allowing for a reduction in the client price, which can broaden the market.  With over 600,000 beauty professionals in the United States alone, there is a significant market for the tools, as well as clients interested in receiving the treatment at an affordable price point.  In addition to developing tools, LashBee is opening boutique salons and offering professional training.

Week 2

Here at LashBee, we have been coordinating phone calls with lash stylists all over the country.  Given that there are few people trained currently in Philadelphia, we have reached out to esthetician & cosmetologist Facebook groups to find stylists, finding that they are truly scattered, though primarily on the coasts. Despite geographic differences, we heard some strong similarities; most stylists are frustrated that the existing product companies have a lack of transparency and poor customer service.  We also learned that they were strongly influenced by shipping times and costs, and that they truly appreciated free samples as a low cost way to try new products.  Such information is helping us strategize for our future customer policies.  From the stylists, we’ve also learned that there are a wide variety of techniques used for application and its strongly dependent on personal preferences instead of there being a consistent “best way” taught to do things.  This indicates that training programs are significantly different.  For the upcoming weeks, we hope to interview cosmetologists interested in breaking into this field to better understand why they have not yet done trainings.  We will also continue interviewing with the end user clients.

Week 3

This week we prioritized interviewing beauticians who have not yet become lash stylists.  We spoke to two students at the Jean Madeline Aveda Institute and a recently trained beautician who aspires to become a lash stylist.  We then rounded out our interview with two senior lash stylists, so we could continue to hear about pain points and trends.  The three novices all shared similar desires to learn about lash extensions and griped that such services are not currently a part of cosmetology or esthetician training in school.  This helped us view beauty schools as a large potential target market as a partner, and initial research shows that there are over 1,500 accredited schools that serve over 120,000 students.  The two who had never tried extensions before were confident that they could easily learn it, but the one who had undergone a one day eyelash training class had attempted extensions a few times , and was frustrated with the process; she remarked how it was much more difficult than she had anticipated.  This indicates to us that we should cater our messaging about more efficient and easy-to-learn tools to those who have already undergone training rather than to complete novices.  In other news, we have also been able to contact some industrial engineers who can help us move to the next round of prototyping.  We look forward to having a more developed product!

Week 4

One of the I-corp sessions focused on innovation was led by Wharton professor Christian Terwiesch, who mentioned the enlightening benefits of interviewing the extreme consumers who tend to have strong perspectives since they are or are steadfastly not avid users of a product.   We at LashBee decided to try and find some extreme users this week to see how their perspectives might differ from those we have already interviewed.  By leveraging connections, we managed to find one of the first lash stylists in the United States.  She has been training others for the past ten years and has tried almost every lash product on the market.  She went in detail about her strict training regimen for novice lash stylists – unlike the typical trainer, she does not let them even touch a person’s lashes until they have gone through many skill building activities.  For example, in her initial training session, she makes them stand upright for two hours without breaks with them simply practicing picking up lashes with tweezers.  She claimed, “I want to push lash stylists to feel uncomfortable.  I want them to be startled by how easy it is compared to what I make them do.”  Such thinking has helped us shape how we can market our products and train others to use them.  Additionally, we interviewed end users who are self-proclaimed lash addicts.  They were able to give us a sense of what they love and dislike about different lash places they have frequented.  Overall, extreme consumers seem to be more opinionated than our typical interviewee, which has given us great insights!

Week 5

The LashBee team is excited to begin the next phase of the incubator, where we will focus on energy on applying all of our learning into action.  We’ve been reflecting on the past few weeks and have generated a ton of ideas.   As we poured back over the interview feedback to prepare our work proposal, we began to do some initial synthesis of the information and “heard” some more findings that we were not even aware of the first time.  We went back to the business model canvas model and are trying to craft some innovative ways that we can solve some of our customer’s pains.  Before settling on one specific business model, we plan on doing couple of different tests of our ideas over the next few weeks!   We aim to have a more formal decision of our most efficient and customer-centric business model by the end of August.

Week 6

Retailers have goes from “brick and mortar” to “brick and click”, reflecting a larger transition towards omni-channel.  Retailers continue to innovate on how to maximize convenience for their different consumer segments.  Startups providing services rather than selling products, much like their retail predecessors, also seem to be jumping on the bandwagon of instant  gratification, which often takes form in at-home mobile services.  Still, consumers often say that they like having physical locations to have experiences. This is the reason that many retailers have began to open showrooms or choose to have a few flagship locations even though they have both e- and m-commerce.  At LashBee, we appreciate the thinking behind omni-channel and are pondering the ways that we can utilize different spaces, be it established salons, people’s homes or workplaces, or pop-up locations, to maximize convenience for our customer segments.   We plan to test customer’s reactions to different spaces before we commit to a finalized business model.  We believe this will help us segment our population and figure out flexible ways that we can scale our locations.

Final Blog

We came into the Penn I-Corps program with a fully-written business plan and firm concept for our business model.  Yet, each component of the i-corps program, from interviewing customers to getting feedback from our mentors and peers, has helped us spark hundreds of ideas for LashBee.  We were constantly jotting down new thoughts during conversations, sessions and interviews.  We even had our own two-person mini-innovation retreat, at which we brainstormed new business models well into the night.  At first glance, the sheer number of ideas as we enter the “accelerate” phase of the program is overwhelmingly scattered.  At second glance, we see themes coalescing the ideas, letting us narrow down our thoughts into three actionable concepts that we can test over our MVP.  We are confident and excited about our major pivots, and look forward to seeing what our MVP results look like.

Category: i-corps, i-corps-team-posts