Grace Choi is a 30-year-old serial inventor who is taking on the $55 billion makeup industry by giving women the power to have what they want, when they want it. Picture this: you snap a photo of a tropical purple flower and in less than two minutes you can print a lipstick in that exact color. And you’ll do it at home with Mink, your personal 3D printer.
You don’t need to know how to code, you don’t need to understand 3D printing and you don’t need a boatload of money.
Grace is a Harvard Business School graduate and the creator of Mink. We spent hours talking and her story is bigger than being the brains behind the machine – she’s an activist who is using 3D printing to empower women.
Denise: You launched Mink at TechCrunch Disrupt NY last month and it was a big hit. You said that you invented Mink because you want to give control back to women. How will Mink do that?
Grace: Traditionally the definition of beauty was defined by the major makeup companies like L’Oreal or Estee Lauder. Beauty is defined by the colors these companies choose to manufacture, which are the ones they think will sell and the ones we see on the models they select to represent their brands. What if you want a color that you think is beautiful but the industry doesn’t? You can’t have it because you can’t control what the industry produces, and the most tragic thing about it all is that we don’t even question it. We have been trained so well by these companies that we blindly accept the narrow band of options in front of us.
Mink gives you the power to have what you want, when you want it – it’s no longer up to the companies to decide or anyone else for that matter – it’s now up to you. By putting this control into the hands of the younger generation of women I’m hoping to instill in them confidence, rockstar confidence. If we can do that we will see some great, great, great women leaders sprout in the future, and that is a fantastic thing.
Denise: What is your definition of “the younger generation of women?”
Grace: Females ages 13-21. Mink is a movement, the product is a vehicle that helps with the motion. If you want to change the world you have to start with the youth.
From a business perspective, this age group hasn’t formed their makeup buying habits yet. Females ages 13-21 are still experimenting with cosmetics and they are underserved. Mink is a fun product. Girls in college and high school will have fun with it. I’m not out to change a woman’s habits – more mature women are of course very welcome to use Mink, but that’s not my motivation.
Denise: How does Mink work?
Grace: For starters, you’ll be able to make lipstick, lip gloss, eye shadow, blush, nail polish, brow powder – pretty much everything except foundations and face power (that will come later).
This 2-minute video shows you how it works:
And we will have a Mink Case that the makeup pods go in. I can’t reveal why it’s so cool, but it’s so cool.
Denise: Does Mink use the same ink that I use to print work documents?
Grace: It’s not the same ink that’s in your home printer. It’s very different – the ingredients of this ink are FDA compliant, cosmetic grade and come from the same exact sources of those of trusted brands.
Denise: You expect Mink to be available to women next summer. What will the printer cost? Will Mink lipstick be in the Maybelline or the Chanel price range?
Grace: Initially, Mink will probably cost around $300. A lipstick will start out in the Maybelline range, but because of economies of scale, could even be less than Maybelline in the future.
Denise: You are disrupting the beauty industry. How is the industry reacting to Mink?
Grace: I think the beauty industry is a bit anxious at the moment because with any change comes uncertainty. Some companies have reached out and I’ve let them know very clearly how I think they could fit into this whole thing. Perhaps digitally. Perhaps they could manufacture their own substrates (base materials) to be compatible with Mink. Or even ink cartridges that are compatible with Mink. There are a billion ways to be involved with this platform and they are very welcome to be a part of it, just like everyone else.
I’m very open to partnerships and collaborations and would be super excited to do so. However, because of the mission of Mink, any talks of acquisition or taking equity by a beauty company will never be open for discussion. I think the first company to truly understand this — actually cooperate instead of trying to be undermining — will do very well for themselves.
Denise: You’re a one-woman shop. Will you need to grow?
Grace: Mink is not a traditional company. It’s still a one-person company. I’m a hardcore, creative person. I’m also a hardcore entrepreneur. I’ll eventually need to raise capital to grow but I’ve stopped meeting with traditional VC firms because I’m tired of yelling – I yell at them because they are being stupid. I suppose there’s this friction because we have conflicting priorities. I am interested in building the future, not companies.
I’m pretty much unemployable, I think I’m literally the worst employee in the world because for me, employment is enslavement. I don’t want to be responsible for running a company and employing people because that’s enslaving to them and me. What I want to do with Mink is to make the tools and machines that will enable people to be independent, make their own money so they can enjoy their own freedom.
To stay true to my mission and make Mink accessible to as many young women as possible, I am creating innovative partnership opportunities for companies who need me and I need them. Examples are the companies that manufacture printers, and I do believe the beauty industry will come around.
Denise: You’re very strong and only 30. Where does that belief in yourself come from?
Grace: My parents emigrated from Korea, I grew up in Brooklyn. My dad had a fruit store, a simple store, but I watched and learned how to run a business and how to negotiate.
Education is really important because through education I was able to go up the socioeconomic ladder. At Cornell and Harvard Business School, I was exposed to a really diverse group of smart people, experiences and opportunities. I realized that everyone is the same person; nobody is better than anyone else. Money doesn’t make you a smarter or better person. Knowledge is very, very powerful and the right educational experience can help you acquire this knowledge.
I suppose that’s why I get a little peeved at a certain cohort of individuals in Silicon Valley who encourage young people to drop out of school. Have they lost their minds? You know who else says that? Gangs, gangs tell young people to drop out of school.
Denise: This isn’t your first or second rodeo. You’ve been inventing stuff from medical devices to jewelry. How do you know when to cut your losses or keep moving on?
Grace: You need to know when things aren’t working, cut your losses and move on. I think the key thing is to get it out there and understand what the demand is and if you hit it on the head, you’ll definitely know and you have to run with it. An inventor is the same as any creative person – singer, artist, composer – as creative people we have to do what’s best for the idea. Once we get a hit on our hands, execution is the most important thing. Execution is where a lot of inventors fail, and honestly I’ll be very frank — I have not super-perfected execution. But this idea of Mink, its purpose is too important, so I’ll make sure to not let my ego get in the way of its success, as long as I always do what’s in the best interest of the idea permeating then I’ll make the right decisions and this idea will never die.
And the opposite, when you have a “not hit” on your hands, you’ll have a question mark, “Is this a hit?”
Denise: Could the future include women making and selling cosmetics from home? Could Mink create new jobs to empower women?
Grace: Absolutely yes. It not only creates new jobs, it creates freedom. The whole point of Mink is to stimulate creativity and open opportunities for women, empower them, and give them the freedom to do what they want in terms of how they want to live their lives. They can be entrepreneurs, support themselves and not be tied down to a structured job if that’s what they want. That’s one of the goals that I set out to do.
I believe that it is wrong to ask women to sacrifice and change themselves to fit a corporate work structure that does not work for women. If we want more women leaders in the workplace, we need to change the structure of work to fit women.
I want women to think huge and say to themselves, “I could be the next beauty mogul, the next “it” founder, and do it the way I want to do it.” These women are out there, they just need the tools. That’s what Mink is – the tool.
I love manufacturing, I love machines and making tools for people to make things and be creative. I have a lot of machines and things I want to build, so let’s get on with it!