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Think Dirty was founded by Lily Tse out of a personal journey to understand the truths in the beauty industry. Following her mother's cancer diagnosis, getting laid off from her advertising gig and winning a start-up competition, Tse decided to take the plunge.

Ever wondered how successful entrepreneurs turn their dreams into reality? What drives them to push the envelope, create change and advance their industries? We had the opportunity to ask Canadian small business owners how they transformed their ideas, goals and passions into reality.

Lily Tse founder Think Dirty — recently named a SheEO Venture and one of the 50 most innovative workplaces — shares her motivations, success stories and challenges faced as a woman entrepreneur and provides advice for other female innovators.

Q: What Motivated You to Start Think Dirty?

Tse: I created the Think Dirty mobile app in 2012 to help consumers learn about the ingredients in beauty products with a simple product scan.

My mom is a breast cancer survivor, so I am very health conscious. I realized the chemistry and toxicology of beauty product ingredients are not widely known. It’s hard to understand what the chemical names on a label means. I thought, “There has to be an easier way to understand what’s in the products we are putting on our skin.”

Think Dirty is very easy to use — you just need to point your phone to the bar code, scan, learn the ingredients, and find out whether the product is rated good or bad for long-term health. The app also gives you alternative options to purchase. Today, we have over 500,000 products in the database.

Q: How Did You Transition to Being a Startup Founder?

Tse: I had this idea while I was working, but agency life is very demanding, so I always pushed it to the side. Then I got laid off, and explored the path of being freelance, where I had some flexibility outside of regular office hours.

I looked at a few start-up competitions, and entered one in New York City. I didn’t win that one, but saw one in Toronto and thought to myself: If I win this competition, I’m going to do this full time. I won it, hired a developer and got it started. That was in October, 2012.

Q: What Challenges Did You Face When Starting Your Business?

Tse: Many studies have shown that a reason women founders don’t get funding is because of how the questions are being asked and how they have to answer.

People care about your relationship status, whether you’re married, if you have kids, a family … all of those things are taken into consideration to determine if you’re capable or not.

As a woman, you need to be aware of the type of question you’ll be asked — and be ready to change the direction of the conversation at your earliest opportunity.

Q: What Was It like to Receive Recognition as a SheEO Venture?

Tse: Nothing can compare to a group of generous 500 SheEO Activators, who believe and support female founders. They want to see us succeed. Having a network of other women founder peers is invaluable.

The funding model itself is also an innovative experiment to break through the conventional bias women experience in the venture-financing world.

Think Dirty appeared in the Top 25 in 2018 and Top 8 in 2019. We are eternally honoured and grateful for the opportunity. Therefore, this year I decided to be an activator myself. I feel proud and honoured to be a part of SheEO.

Learn more about how SheEO is making a difference.

Q: What Role Do You Think Female-led Businesses Play in the Canadian Economy?

Tse: We are an important demographic who are quietly and fundamentally changing the future of Canada.

We are not only creating jobs, but also creating jobs to narrow the pay gap — creating employment for those who don’t get a fair shake in traditional job markets. We have a lot of visible minorities in our company, and I believe that diversity is important — not just in gender, but also sexual orientation, personality types, age, all kinds of things.

Q: What about Hiring Staff? How Do You Find Amazing People to Represent Your Brand?

Tse: When I hire, I spend time making sure the candidate’s values align with what we believe in — it’s embedded in screening process. We also assess their temperament — how they behave in a real workplace situation.

I also sit as a judge at a lot of start-up competitions, and find that the students who show up at those locations have certain mindsets — they are innovative and entrepreneurial. If you recruit from those channels, the alignment is usually spot-on.

Q: What’s next for Think Dirty?

Tse: I would like to continue to expand more, with a focus on international expansion. When it comes to the user side, we would love to expand our product database and product category to household products and potentially pet products. We want to go beyond beauty and personal care — we aim to rate everything in the environment.

The 2019 Canadian SheEO Summit brought together 400 women entrepreneurs, along with political and business leaders for a day of connection, collaboration and inspiration. The event recognized the seven women-led Ventures this year’s SheEO Activators chose to support. More than that, the event was a celebration of women in business, women in government and women dedicated to changing the world for the better.

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