Digifest Startup: Think Dirty

Think Dirty App breaks down exactly what is in your cosmetics and personal care products, so you know what you're putting on your skin and washing down your sink.

Think Dirty won Digifest's ITS A START pitch competition in 2012. Applications for this year's competition are now open!

Lily, anyone that has ever heard you present before knows that you are incredibly passionate about your industry.
Where did your passion for clean beauty come from?
Thank you.
Think Dirty was a project born out of a personal passion to find out the truth in the beauty industry. I was compelled to think about it as a result of severe allergic reactions to some beauty products. It wasn’t until I stumbled across Annie Leonard’s, “Story of Cosmetics,” which examined the wide-spread use of toxic chemicals in the beauty industry, that I discovered the causes—phthalates, common in synthetic fragrances, which were likely triggering my reactions, and making them worse the longer I used products from the line. Appalled by the thought of using serious chemicals on my skin, I began doing my own research.
My mom was also diagnosed twice with breast cancer, so I wanted to learn more about products and their contents. I learned that serious chemicals were incredibly common in mainstream beauty products. Even worse, these chemicals were showing up in products labeled “natural” and “organic.” I created Think Dirty, an app that quickly scans a product’s barcode and determines how safe it is to use based on a “dirty” meter - 0 being the safest products, 10 the most questionable.
Bobbi Brown is a personal business idol of mine for beating the big cosmetics brands of the 1980s with a clean and simple product design.
Who do you see as the movers and shakers of the cosmetics industry today? ...other than you of course!
A few of our verified brand partners are doing important work. Biossence for example is innovating with sustainable and safe ingredients.
The Detox Market is doing an important job of curating a selection of green and sustainable options of beauty and personal care for consumers and they are expanding to NYC!
Tropic Skincare is another brand partner of ours who has an innovative business model, and committed effective, cruelty-free, vegan and non-toxic skincare for users around the world.
Since 2007 the share of college students majoring in the arts has fallen by 45%, in favour of more business-y degrees like engineering and math. As a tech founder, do you find this an alarming statistic?
I also observe a similar trend that fewer arts major starting co. The world is missing out having creative people to start companies. Personally, I would like to see a more diverse perspective in the tech startup scene. Engineering perspective is valuable, at the same time tech is attempting to solve a lot of societal problems currently. Those issues need standpoint from policymakers, sociologist, psychologists, social workers, etc. Missing that valuable perspective might lead to our oversights of having the tech to amplify problems. Especially related to AI and machine learning. When robots are looking up to us for solutions, how can we ensure our biases are not being learnt from robots to perpetuate the problems.
NYT venture capital writer, Erin Griffith says that tech founders only care about their “quest to move fast and break things—regardless of what broken objects are left in their wake.”
Do you agree with this assessment of startup culture?
I don’t agree and since Facebook got hacked, this example shows us that motto is not working. The opposite should be a more thoughtful approach to starting companies and think about the consequences of their product and services. Few examples have shown us move fast and break things is a bad idea. Especially in light of the Facebook hack that impacts over 50 million users’ account and data got breached. Another recent example I could think of showing the lack of foresight on the unintended consequences of some to these startups, Bodega which aimed to disrupt the corner stores currently ran mostly by immigrants. Our obsession with disruption allows us little room to think about if there are specific industries need disruptions.
Juicero is another startup comes to mind. When it comes to juice, maybe we don’t need a wifi machine to press a bag of fruits. While our bare hands will do the job.
Another interesting thought is to think of most solutions come out of silicon valley with an even more critical eye. Most answers from tech might not be equipped to solve societal problems. Here’s an interesting piece on the common topic of universal basic income.