Recently, it seems like “innovative” is the new black, at least around Penn’s campus. The Pennovation Center opened in October 2016, programs like the $100,000 President’s Innovation Prize were created, and the 2017-18 school year was declared the “Year of Innovation.” However, this push for cutting-edge thinking expands far beyond Locust and into many different realms—including the beauty industry. Madison Reed, a beauty company that sold its first products in 2014 and provides affordable, salon-quality hair products at home, is just one example.
Amy Errett, WG ’88, founder and CEO of Madison Reed, is a successful entrepreneur and businesswoman. In addition to her role in Madison Reed, Errett is also a Venture Partner at True Ventures, investing in consumer and e-commerce startups. Previously, Errett was a General Partner at the venture firm Maveron LLC, CEO of Olivia—a travel company that she transformed into a lifestyle company—a senior manager of E*Trade, and founder and CEO of The Spectrem Group, a worldwide strategic consulting firm. In 2015 and 2018, Errett was named one of the “Bay Area’s Most Influential Women in Business” by the San Francisco Business Times. If one thing is certain, Errett knows how to run a company. In a recent interview with The WALK Web, Errett shares her story of creating Madison Reed, her unwavering commitment to innovation, and her advice for college students finding their career path.
According to Errett, Madison Reed is “the first prestige hair color brand with a product that has better ingredients and [is] agnostic as to where you would like to have your hair done.” Madison Reed is happy to comply if you want to dye your hair at home through a subscription basis or in the Madison Reed color bars, where professional hair stylists will apply the products to your hair. The focus is clearly on the customer: “For us it’s all about giving you confidence and allowing you to control your money and time.”
At the core of the company are three important values: integrity, love, and innovation. In terms of integrity, Errett and her team are committed to replacing potentially harmful ingredients in traditional hair color with better ingredients. The company has partnered with manufacturers in Italy that operate under strict EU regulations. Integrity also refers to giving the best customer service. The Color Crew—made up of licensed colorists—is available for hair color questions and Madison Reed’s mobile app and videos provide step-by-step guidance for consumers attempting to dye their hair at home.
For Errett, love has several meanings in the scope of Madison Reed. “I think love is an essential part of wanting to make sure that our customers love our products, we love our customers and treat them as the customer comes first, and from a team member standpoint, we have a very unique culture that’s predicated on a close community.” The love Errett has for her family is also evident in the company: Madison Reed is the name of Errett’s 16-year-old daughter.
Madison Reed is undoubtedly innovative. Once you reach the company’s website you are prompted to take a short quiz based on your current and desired hair color. When this is complete, the quiz results determine which dye would be ideal for you. The website also offers Madi, the hair color chatbot, to assist you in finding the “most flattering shade.” Other features like the “Try It On” tool uses “augmented reality” technology to see what you’d look like with this new hue. The computer screen splits your hair so that half is your normal shade and the other half is the newly-dyed color, a useful and technologically-savvy tool uncommon among other companies.
This drive to be different and take advantage of new technology is key to Errett’s mentality: “you know, I’m somebody who likes to create things that have a mission and a purpose…I didn’t like the existing ingredients in hair color as an option so I decided to go on a quest to see if I could make a better product and then [if I] could…do it at a price point that was reasonable and would…work on women’s hair regardless of what kind of hair they had. So, what inspires me is to take categories that have yet to be disrupted and to use technologies to disrupt them and mobile accessibility to disrupt them.”
This need for disruption is an aspect of the beauty industry that few people realize, according to Errett. “There’s a lot of the larger players that are doing things exactly the way that they did them forever…So I think one of the things is there’s a lot of room for disruption, a lot of room for innovation.” She explains that large, traditional companies are risking a lot if they stop the routines they have relied on for years. This affords more room for others to challenge the status quo, to “question all those norms and [to] go for it.” Although, an innovative company should never stop being innovative. Errett understands that Madison Reed has “to continually push the edge of the envelope” in how they find the best ways to color match for customers, use technology, and motivate team members. “We just always have to have an innovation perspective, or else we will end up being the ones that get innovated on.”
Innovation is not the only important aspect for a successful business. Passion is essential as well. Errett encourages college students to choose careers they genuinely care about in order for them to “find their genius,” because “whatever [people do] effortlessly flows through them.” She elaborates by saying, “So I always tell people to [not] listen to what anybody else tells you. Follow the mission you feel like has the most purpose for you…It won’t always go perfectly, but you will get up every morning being happy for what you do.”
“Follow the mission you feel like has the most purpose for you…It won’t always go perfectly, but you will get up every morning being happy for what you do.”-Amy Errett
Luckily for us, Penn offers opportunities for both innovation and passion. As a Wharton MBA graduate, Errett recognizes her education at Penn as a “very important change in trajectory.” She was able to learn new things, meet new people, and recognize future possibilities. As a self-dubbed “proud alum[na]” Errett recognizes the opportunities at Penn for current students. For Errett, “Penn has now moved from…‘all that we’re focused on is investment banking and consulting’ to a world where lots of startups and lots of innovation is coming out of Penn.” If this kind of business is what you’re interested in, Errett recognizes it’s all there. Conversely, however, she warns that if you aren’t interested in that field, don’t become involved. “Just because [working at a startup is] the trend it doesn’t mean going and getting a job at a bigger company…is a bad thing” Errett cautions. “I just think that sometimes students can be swayed by what’s the hot new thing, or what’s current because they think they’re supposed to…Life doesn’t go well for most people who just follow what other people think they’re supposed to do. Find out what is interesting to you.”
Despite her warnings, Errett leaves Penn students with some great news. “Penn is going to give you a launching pad of access and ability more than just about anywhere else. So take advantage of that and use it well.” She continues, “this is a time in your life to use this time really well. Be thoughtful about it, take advantage of it, it’s all there for you.”