Skip to main content
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.

More from the Canadian Women Entrepreneurs Series:

CANN Forecast + SheEO: Making a Difference Through Technology and Radical Generosity

Read Next

Catherine Metrycki on disrupting the flower industry with tech-based Callia Flowers #IMadeThis

Read Next

How Women Are Changing the Face of Business

Read Next

Kathleen Quinlan on Founding Fiore Botanica From Her Kitchen #IMadethis

Read Next

The 27th Annual RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards: Celebrating Business Owners Making a Difference

Read Next

Jayne’s Cottages: Building a Luxury Cottage Rental Business Through Trust and Service #IMadeThis

Read Next

Heather Modlin on the Rewards of Creating a Non-profit Business- Key Assets Newfoundland and Labrador #IMadeThis

Read Next

Creating a Powerful Force for Women Entrepreneurs with SheEO Activator Dagmara Fijalkowski

Read Next

Jennifer Hamilton on Creating Oxygen Yoga & Fitness: #IMadeThis

Read Next

Founders of Routine Share How They Turned Their Clean, Natural Products into a Thriving Global Business #IMadeThis

Read Next

Saccade Analytics: Turning 30 Years of Research into Insight, a Testing Device for More than 200 Neurological Disorders #IMadeThis

Read Next

SheEO CAN Summit 2019: Celebrating the Women Who Are Influencing Change, Making a Difference, and Leading the Way to a Better World

Read Next

Founder of Lumel Studios, Luann Baker-Johnson, on Creating Art in the Far North

Read Next

How LeDaveed’s Andy Dale is Doing Business Differently #IMadeThis

Read Next

Innovation is Nothing Without Adoption: Q&A with Horizn founder Janice Diner #IMadeThis

Read Next

Founder of Knix, Joanna Griffiths on Building a Mission-Driven Business #IMadeThis

Read Next

Give Us Your Dirty Laundry: How Vaundry Is Solving a Tedious Chore Through Tech #IMadeThis

Read Next

Dr. Marjorie Dixon on Why She Founded Anova Fertility #IMadeThis

Read Next

Empowering Women Entrepreneurs Today, to Build a Stronger Tomorrow

Read Next

Toni Desrosiers on Why She Founded Abeego #IMadeThis

Read Next