Welcome back to my LDC Black Women In Tech profile series. I’m happy to bring you an interview with a hot entrepreneur named Kimberly Dillon, founder of House of Mikko, a “personalized recommendation engine that helps customers discover the best haircare, skincare, and color beauty products for them, based on their unique features and beauty goals.” She is quite a trailblazer and certainly one to watch as 2012 kicks off. Here’s a peak inside my recent conversation with a fellow player in the digital space:
LDC: I see you’ve been covered by certain mainstream tech/media outlets. We rarely see the brown face of a tech entrepreneur profiled in these types of outlets. Why do you think that is, and how did you overcome that hurdle?
KD: I dont think that there are many minorities that are starting tech companies that are high growth. Most consumer web startups 1) take a lot of money to scale up to millions of users 2) and often these ventures don’t make immediate revenues. I think we tend to be more comfortable with more obvious business models.
I think there is a lot of risk in this. I overcame this hurdle by moonlighting. I spent a year working full time and working on House of Mikko. There were nights I would fall asleep on my laptop in a coffee shop. I spent the last year saving, knowing that I was going to eventually quit to work on House of Mikko full time. I literally left my well paying job 3 weeks ago to work on this full time so it’s still a process! I think I took the jump, because I feel like I need to give this all I got.
LDC: What led you to become an entrepreneur in the tech space?
KD: I love the internet. I am a total geek. I literally am writing this on my laptop, playing “words with friends” on my iphone, and watching hulu on my ipad. Its an obsession.
LDC: What was it like attending the University of Michigan Business School?
KD: Michigan was great. It was great playing ground for me to work on business plans, pitch my ideas, and dream big. I even worked for an Isreali VC firm during school and spent several weeks in London and Paris, interviewing hundreds of VCs and Angel Investors. It was an eye opening experience. Most people don’t have exposure to how Venture Capital works, and here I was going to dinner in London talking about deal flow.
LDC: Where are you from and what was it like growing up there?
KD: I grew up in Colorado Springs and I had a typical working/middle class type lifestyle. My dad worked as a Warden and my mom was an artist. I will say that my parents always encouraged me to do anything that I was interested in. Incidentally I wanted to be a figure skater and so most of my childhood was spent skating. So I have a lot of experience being the only black person.
LDC: who/how did you obtain support as you embarked on launching House of Mikko?
KD: I have amazing support from my classmates from business school and from an organization called Women 2.0, which is committed to supporting women in high growth ventures.
LDC: how did you get inspired for the idea of House of Mikko and what has response been like for consumers?
KD: I think that the beauty industry is prime for change. House of Mikko is built on what women do already today offline and takes it online. What is currently up, is a MVP – Minimum Viable Product, in which we identified the least amount of features needed to convey the House of Mikko concept. I must say that even with an MVP, the feedback was amazing. Women feel like they are building this company with me and we have women from all of the world joining. We are always open to feedback as we are currently working on relaunching based on what our users want.
LDC: What advice do you have for female readers who have an idea for a killer site/tech start-up but just can’t seem to get the right team and finances together?
KD: I am still working on this, myself! I will say I wouldn’t drag my feet on waiting for the right resources, finding money and partners could take months! I would set milestones and if those didn’t get met I would think about what I can start to do myself – i.e. prototype the site, get high profile advisers, hire students, try to learn how to code, get into incubator/accelerator programs, etc.
LDC: What was it like working at Accenture, which was your first job after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh?
KD: It was a good training ground. Consulting just throws people into the fire. It helps you understand how to scope a project, work with limited resources, run up against tight deadlines and manage a wide variety of stakeholders.
LDC: What’s your greatest hope for House of Mikko’s future?
KD: The business has been bootstrapped thus far and we will be seeking funding from angels/VCs in October. With that money we want to change how women find their beauty products. We are all about real women helping real women find their perfect beauty. We are currently working on a great platform that will bring this to life.
Note: I also just found out that Kim has a hot new mobile product called “I Love Your Hair”. Its a mobile app to help women find and share their hairstyles. Billed as a Twitter/Instagram for hair, more information can be found on it at www.iloveyourhairapp.com
I’ll be back just in the new year with more great profiles, so keep watching. You can also find out more about tech events, webinars and more at http://www.ldcoleman.com.