Dossa works on the custom formulas.
Zahir Dossa ’08, MEng ’10, PhD ’13 has a new look—long, luxurious hair in the name of research. “It’s important to see how others experience the product. My buzz cut wasn’t great for that” he says. Dossa is the co-founder of Function of Beauty, a hair care company with a unique proposition—custom formulas for each customer. Dossa launched the company in 2015 with Josh Maciejewski ’07, SM ’08 and chemist Hien Nguyen.
For Dossa, a 2010 Soros Fellow, the path to the beauty industry started in the service sector. As an undergrad, he launched Selsabila, an organization that provided treadle-powered water pumps to farmers in Sudan. When a colleague learned about Dossa’s success with the venture, he invited him to Morocco to devise solutions for farmers in that country. Dossa helped establish a co-op for farmers of Morocco’s endemic argan tree, which produces oil popular in food and beauty products. From that co-op came haircare company, The Argan Tree, where Dossa found success. When large chains like Whole Foods approached him to distribute the product, he knew it was time to pivot. “We had always focused on selling directly to customers,” he says. “When we saw the only way to grow was to move away from that, the idea for Function of Beauty emerged.”
For his new venture, Dossa wanted to keep some aspects of The Argan Tree, like selling directly to customers. But he also wanted mix things up—literally. “We would always ask The Argan Tree customers how we could improve the product. We would get so many different answers for what made the perfect shampoo,” he says. To build a custom product, Function of Beauty asks customers to take an online quiz where they can share their hair type, hair goals, and even the preferred color of the shampoo and conditioner formula. Function of Beauty then builds the custom formula for each customer and prints their name on the bottle. Based on the quiz, there are 12 billion possible combinations.
How does a company that has yet to repeat a formula stay in production? That’s where Maciejeswki comes in. “We knew we wanted to get a precise amount of ingredients for each formula, we just had to figure out how to get that in the bottle,” he says. Maciejeswki was tasked with devising a production line capable of creating one-off combinations. The results sounds a little like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. “Imagine 100 different ingredient tanks with pumps attached to each tank. A computer tells each tank how much to put in the bottle,” he explains.
Dossa credits MIT-style problem solving with finding the right production vehicle. “If you were to talk to most MIT kids about the production they would say, ‘That makes sense.’ But if you talked to most beauty industry people they wouldn’t think this was possible,” he explains.
Dossa says the one-of-a-kind products have been a hit. “People love everything right down having their name on the bottle,” he says. But with 12 billion combinations possible, there is a small chance for overlap among customer formulas. Dossa says he’s ready for it. “I’ve got an alert set up for it. It would be neat to link those two people up as a beauty twin,” he says.