My Life In Tech is putting human faces to some of the innovative startups, investments, and policy formations driving the technology sector across Africa.
For those of you who have been following my skincare journey, you will remember that I spoke to a robot about my problems. Armed with my new bot-recommended skincare routine, I had a virtual sit-down with one the co-founders of BARE, the brilliant startup behind said robot. Oluwaferanmi Ogundipe is her name and building tech for black skin is her game.
This is her life in tech.
Finding the right product for your skin can be a pain. You stand in front of your mirror and you notice dark spots. Your friend recommends Product A to you and swears that it will clear all your blemishes. You trust your friend so you use it. Now your dark spots have pimples.
This is how the story goes and because you can’t afford a skincare consultant, you’ll probably listen to your friend’s skin advice again. BARE might be the fix your skincare needs.
Oluwaferanmi Ogundipe is the Co-Founder/CMO of BARE, the startup built to cater to black skin.
Growing up in Lagos, Ogundipe had wanted to be a doctor. When the time came for her to choose a course to study at the university, she went with Public Health instead. Something about giving seven years of her life to school didn’t sit right with her.
With her four-year degree done, Ogundipe turned to the world of event production and earned her stripes curating fashion shows and art festivals. Her first foray into entrepreneurship saw her and BARE Co-founder/CEO Abimbola-Kofoworola Oladeji, work on their first tech-enabled business – an online store for luxury items.
The journey to founding BARE began with an email in 2018. Ogundipe and Oladeji had both been granted a scholarship to be part of MEST’s famed tech accelerator in Accra, Ghana. This was a chance for them to pitch ideas and get funding.
For Ogundipe, moving to Ghana was an exciting experience. While Lagos meant home and family, it also meant stress. The city did not sleep and neither could you. Accra, on the other hand, was laid back but it came with uncertainty – the kind that comes with being away from home.
When they finally settled in Accra, the accelerator began and soon the time came for ideas to be pitched.
“We pitched an idea initially – we planned to run small factories where large cosmetic brands could outsource some of their production,” she says as she begins to tell me of what it had been like during the accelerator.
This idea was not deemed tech-heavy enough and was ultimately rejected. So it was back to the drawing board for both of them.
With their sights still set on creating solutions for the skincare industry, the decision was made to have a more consumer-facing business.
“We wanted to find more ways to make skincare accessible and understand how people in Africa decided what products to buy. But we found that there wasn’t enough data around black skin, to begin with.”
Around this time, Ogundipe herself was seeing a skin consultant concerning some of her skin issues. And in what may be termed a humblebrag, she admits that up until that consultation, she’d never needed one.
The new focus for their idea was now collecting data around black skin and with a skincare consultant already in the loop, the stage was set for what would be their final pitch at MEST.
Both of them, with their third co-founder Amanda Williams, pitched BARE as a product aimed at providing Africans with skincare analysis and recommendations powered by artificial intelligence.
This time the investors were thrilled. A seed fund was agreed and work began on building the BARE app.
For Ogundipe, the entrepreneurial journey has not been one without its hurdles.
“You have so much responsibility, from your staff to co-founders to investors. Everyone is expecting you to be strategic and smart and that can be daunting sometimes. But you have to keep the momentum going.”
Putting the tech in skincare
“One of the things that we are making sure we do at BARE is correct misinformation about what skincare is supposed to be.”
In a world where the response to “I have this rash” is almost always “use this ointment”, Ogundipe’s BARE tries to point out the need for proper skin consultancy.
“Sometimes,” she says, “it’s not an ointment you need, sometimes it may be dietary change or more sleep. But these are things you need a skin expert for.”
And skin experts are expensive but this might just be where BARE becomes the black skin’s darling.
BARE’s approach to data collection is not necessarily novel, but it does make for a fascinating solution to skincare analysis.
On BARE’s website, there are already customer testimonials – complete with picture evidence. For each of these customers, the journey to their dream skin started with the BARE Skin Quiz.
With the Skin Quiz, users fill in information about their skin issues or lack thereof; they also get to upload selfies of themselves. With the information provided, BARE’s system builds a skin profile for every user. After submitting responses, here’s how it usually goes:
- Because the process is still very manual, the creation of user profiles allows skin experts to provide analysis quickly for multiple people within a short time – you get your skin analysis within 24 hours.
- Your skin analysis outlines what issues you may have and also recommends products based on your needs. These products are available on a Flutterwave store run by BARE.
- After the skin analysis, users who wish to speak to a skincare specialist can have consultations and regular check-ins.
- The various skin profiles and recommendations made by the skin experts help feed the AI model and with enough learning, the goal is to have the AI respond to users without a need for any manual labour.
To infinity and BAREyond
If you were to listen to Ogundipe tell it, the future for BARE is exciting. With a goal to gather up to 5000 images to train the AI model in the coming months while providing skincare consultation to black people across the globe, she is confident that a model with a faster response time will be achieved.
With a small team of 5 currently, she is also hoping to scale soon and explore new markets in Morocco, Kenya, and South Africa.
BARE is currently partnered with skincare brands and have plans to expand. In a bid to reduce the chances of users getting counterfeit products, their skin quiz can be taken on any of their partners’ websites, and products from that partner will be recommended to the user.
As we came to the end of our conversation, I asked Ogundipe for something she thought to be a memorable part of running this business. For her, it was a DM from a customer thanking BARE for existing.
So while I’m sure your friend means well, it may just be easier to send a few selfies to BARE’s bot.