Q&A: Grace Choi, Founder of Mink
On technology, beauty, and the science of innovation
With the infinitely customizable Makeup Hacker, Mink has made 3D-printing technology accessible to millions. The premise is simple: Find a color you want to wear as a foundation, eye shadow, or even contour, and scan it into the Makeup Hacker app to determine the RGB color values of the desired shade. You plug this information into the “hacking” device, which then transforms your makeup into the color you wanted. You can do this over and over with new shades, instead of having to purchase them individually from any overpriced retailer.
Recently, Furthermore caught up with Mink CEO Grace Choi to see how her work and innovative perspective led to the creation of Makeup Hacker, and how others can adopt a similar inventive mind frame.
Q: Business school was a big turning point for you, which led to founding Mink. What were you doing before you went to school?
A: Before business school I spent a good number of years innovating new products in a variety of industries. I spent a long time at a lab at Weill Cornell Medical School working on medical devices and continued to work on similar projects for my advisor at his company a year or two afterwards. I then tried my hand at retail products. My first was a convertible necklace that I later licensed to Home Shopping Network. Other areas in which I’ve worked include footwear, food and what I’m more commonly known for now, cosmetics.
Q: How did you identify the need for 3D beauty printing?
A: I had a small, pretty traditional, cosmetics startup during business school. I was selling a BB cream that was very popular in Asia but had not yet hit the U.S. It was during that experience I was exposed to the cosmetic manufacturing process and saw how it led to the propagation of Anglicized beauty ideals throughout society.
Growing up as a minority in the U.S., people who looked like me were very underrepresented in the beauty dialogue. They still are. With the new technologies that have developed and matured over the last decade—and as consumers continue to move toward digital—I saw there was an opportunity to create a new dynamic which could eliminate the systemic social oppression towards women and minorities that the cosmetic marketing engine creates. I hope to instead build a system where we empower women through expression, creativity and entrepreneurship and create more inclusive and diverse dialogue in beauty.
Q: How is the Makeup Hacker an evolution from previous Mink products?
A: The product has certainly evolved since the original presentation of the makeup printer, but the core idea is the same in each iteration: being able to instantly create a cosmetic straight from the image or video in which you discover the product. There’s a big difference between a product that is buzzy versus one that is practical. Ideally you’d want both but being buzzy alone won’t be very sustainable, so we’ve been working hard to make a product that’s not only really exciting but also something that is truly useful and adds value to our users’ lives. This ultimately led to the development of Makeup Hacker by Mink, which is the final embodiment of this idea.
Q: Have you invented any other products that will never see the light of day?
A: It’s quite a list since making little knick-knacks is a bit of a bad habit for me. An example of one that I filed away was a "dry umbrella”, an umbrella that never gets wet so you can throw it in your bag without worrying your things would get damp. It’s a neat idea but umbrellas weren't really my passion, so I decided to take a pass on it.
Q: How do you think others can develop this kind of outlook—to identify the need or potential for a certain product?
A: Look within your own experiences. For me, I think a lot of my inspiration comes from my experiences working in different industries. Inventions are in essence a means to solve a problem, and if a solution to your problem doesn’t exist then there is a lot to learn. But it’s important to note, the hard part in this exercise is not finding a solution; it’s correctly identifying the problem.
Q: And how does your work experience impact this inventive mind frame?
A: Typically in large corporate settings, idea generation happens by looking externally. They see what’s happening in space around them, like current trends, adjacent markets, things that smaller players have successfully implemented, or products submitted by their current vendors. Then they adapt them to fit the overall product offering. The key here is minimizing risk because the system is so large there is a lot of investment and setup that goes into launching a new product.
Q: How do you make room for fitness in your busy schedule?
A: I actually joined Equinox because I needed to relieve the stress of running a business. Exercise, for me, has been a great way to get my mind off things and reset when I’m faced with a challenging situation. I think it’s a much better decision to unwind with a workout than with a drink. I have a trainer that I meet with twice a week, and it helps to have a set schedule and someone who is planning my workouts to make sure that they’re challenging. We track my body and muscle mass every few weeks; it’s rewarding to see the results of the work I’ve put in.