It’s not an exaggeration to say social media has completely changed the beauty industry, making makeup artists and enthusiasts more visible — and more respected for their skills — than ever before.
But somehow, there’s not a go-to social media platform explicitly built for beauty lovers. Of course, there are ways for us to use social media to find each other and trade tips. But there’s no beauty-only community for this.
Rita Ravindra, founder of the app MiaMia, is hoping to change that. And if anyone can do it, it’s her — she’s a veteran of both the tech and finance industries, even having worked at Myspace in its heyday.
MiaMia is built to help beauty junkies connect not only with each other, but also with strangers. Mostly, though, Rita is hoping that it’ll make product recommendation and shopping a little bit easier. If you’re using MiaMia the way it’s intended, you’ll have a roster of your best IRL friends whose beauty shelves you can shop — plus you’ll be following people you don’t even know, whose looks are similar to yours or whose style you like. Instead of having to text your bestie and ask what lip gloss she was wearing in her latest selfie, only to have her say she’s not home and can’t remember the name, you’ll be able to access all her products and looks and figure it out on your own.
This app is clearly something the beauty world’s needed forever. As someone who probably has 100+ beauty products taking up space in her apartment right now, I definitely wish I had a way to organize them digitally just for my own purposes so I would stop re-buying the same three lipstick shades over and over again by accident. And having a place to send my friends when they frantically text me for product advice would be great, too.
So I talked to Rita all about her history in the world of startups, and her new app. You can download MiaMia on the App Store and join the Android waitlist at www.miamiabeauty.com.
How did you make it to where you are today?
I’ve been in the tech industry for a while. I was at Myspace for like four and a half years and learned a lot about social there. After I left Myspace in early 2011, I worked at a couple of early-stage startups where I helped companies raise money. I was an investment banker, too, so I did investment banking in the past. I managed all operations as number-two to the CEO.
After that, I was like, “I really wanna build a platform for women.” So I quit my job because I had this idea in beauty, and my background and beauty contacts came together.
Hold up — we love and miss Myspace! What’s something you learned at Myspace that still applies to social media today?
First and foremost, listening to your users is really important. Understand what their needs are. What we’ve learned is people really wanted to connect with their friends and have real connections. That was part of the reason why Facebook took off like crazy back in 2008, because it was really easy to connect with your friends. That was a good lesson for us. When we built MiaMia, we wanted to make it really easy for people to connect with their friends.
Did you find you doubted yourself sometimes, working in such male-dominated fields?
I think that’s a hot topic right now in the zeitgeist. But I never felt different being a woman, I’ve got to say, in finance or tech.
A lot of that is thanks to my mom. I always negotiated my compensation. I pretty much asked for what I’ve wanted throughout my career. I wasn’t treated any differently, thankfully. I know that’s very unique.
The one time I felt like “oh, wow, I’m a woman” was when I started raising money for companies. That’s where people may have had an opinion of me or what my skill set was without really knowing me. I would get questions on finance stuff like, “Have you thought about building a financial model?” And it’s like yeah, no shit. I’ve been an investment banker in the past.
People were presumptuous about me when I was trying to raise money.
The numbers show that investors are less generous when it comes to female-led companies. Did you find that to be true?
I was trying to raise money for a company that I was advising and we weren’t able to raise the money, but ended up selling the company so it worked out fine. The last two startups I was at, I was number two to the CEO and we were able to raise money. With MiaMia, we just started to raise money recently. I don’t attribute our ability to raise $$ or not to me being a woman. It’s more like our traction needs to be in a different place. We need a good amount of users or engagement to raise money.
Can you tell me about the app itself and where you got idea?
It actually really goes back to one experience. I was with a friend of mine and she happens to be Indian as well. She was wearing a really beautiful blush and I was like, “What’s the color? I think it’ll look good on me.” She couldn’t remember the name and didn’t have the product on her. and I thought, “Wow, that’s so dumb [that there isn’t a solution to this problem].” Women rely on beauty products multiple times a day and it’s a big part of our lives, but there isn’t an easy application, where I just have my products in a list in some form, where I can purchase, share it and see what my friends are doing in one place.
She ended up texting me a photo [of the blush], and I did research and ended up purchasing it. I observed that and realized every time I’m out with girlfriends, we end up talking about beauty in some way. Whether it’s undereye cream or nail polish or lipstick or whatever, we’re always learning from each other and it gives me joy to share it with my friends.
I never understood there wasn’t an easy way to share it with my friends, because we do it all the time in real life. That’s how MiaMia came together, because I wanted to see if we can build a social app in beauty.
So it’s kind of like reviews, but from people you know. Do you ever read beauty reviews yourself?
I do but to be honest, I really trust my friends much more than reviews. There’s a stat out there that says 55% of the time women buy beauty products from friends or people they trust in real life.
Plus half the time, reviews just seem fake…
I just read an article about that on Racked.com. I know a lot of people do rely on reviews. So there must be some truth to it. The challenge with reviews is you don’t know who the reviewer is. Like do they live in LA, where it’s hundreds of degrees out? What’s their complexion color? Are they 40 or 25? You don’t necessarily have the same needs.
Does MiaMia link people with friends, or strangers? Or both?
I think it’s gonna be a combination of both. Because we just started, you may not be able to find your friends right now. But you might search for people by location, or who look like you, or who are in your age range. That’s the behavior we’re doing.
Basically, MiaMia is a discovery tool. When you log in after registering, you see looks. We feature three looks a day and we have you get into the feed and do a Pinterest- or Instagram-like feed of all the different things the community is creating, whether they’re influencers or brands or regular users. What we’re seeing is people are adding looks to their profiles from people that look like them, or gaining inspiration from them. That’s the way they’re discovering products. You can see exactly those products that are required to create that look. You can also click on a product and learn about it or save it for later. The look feed is the discovery part.
Activity is everyone following what they’re up to, whether it’s adding looks [or other things]. Your profile is the center of the app in that it’s where you store the products you use and where you can share and purchase them, create looks through the profile, and keep track of what you’re doing throughout the community.
The last component is being able to search. If you’re searching for a particular user or a brow look, or that Anastasia brow kit product, the search is where you can kind of do all that. You can purchase through the app.
How do you keep from getting distracted and looking at social media all day as “job research”?
Getting in an Instagram rat hole? I just don’t. I think of Instagram for MiaMia as a great lead-generation tool for us. I think of it more as a business tool. Like I publish a little bit of personal stuff, but most of it is around MiaMia. So I don’t end up spending a lot of time on it as a result, because I always think of it from a work perspective.
Have you noticed that the beauty industry seems to be more respected now than it was five or 10 years ago? Maybe because of how visible users are on social media.
That’s a great question. From a business perspective, there’s a reason why beauty is such a big industry. Even in a recession it grows. People like to feel good about themselves and if it takes a $7 lipstick to do it, people will do it because it brings them joy.
It’s art and it’s amazing what people are creating on different platforms. I just think it’s awesome. If it takes a good hair day or great skin, if that’s what makes you feel confident enough to ask for your raise or a promotion, then that’s awesome. I think people are viewing beauty in a much different way because on a macro level, as an industry, it’s not going anywhere.
Does this app feel different from other things you’ve worked on?
It’s much more of a passion because I built it. It’s just been such a cool thing to see our vision from day one to where we are now and I’m just really proud of the fact that we started building in March of last year and we launched something pretty quickly. We launched our first versions pretty quickly. I’m proud we were able to do that and get it out there.
What’s the number-one sign that a business is going to succeed?
What’s important is, like with Myspace, you need user engagement and to see that the startup can grow without spending a lot of money on marketing. I’m self-funding the company so I haven’t taken any outside investment yet so we’re not spending $money on marketing. We’re constantly testing — like what free marketing strategies can we use to help us grow? That is the testament to the success of a startup, being able to acquire users without spending a lot of money and then coming up with the monetization process.
What advice would you give to girls who want to do what you’re doing?
I’ve spoken at a few colleges recently and I actually try to mentor as many young women as I can, because I think it’s really important to build up the next generation. A couple things that have always stuck out as useful. One is building your network from day one. Setting up coffees, doing lunches, developing relationships with people is super important. Your LinkedIn — who you know and your network — is just what you live and die by. I think a lot of times you have to pay things forward and try to help people. A rising tide raises all ships. I feel like my network wants to ensure that I succeed. That’s a great thing to have from day one.
A second thing is to learn how to be resourceful. Leveraging who you may know or just trying to figure things out as best you can and without much expense is really helpful. For example, if you’re building a company and you need an editor, thinking about who in your network knows somebody who can write. Thinking about different online resources you can spend money and find someone amazing or someone who can do 80% of the job. Being resourceful is really important, especially when you’re starting a company.