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For product designer Jackie Bauer, questioning the status quo is part of her job description.
After struggling with scalp psoriasis for years, Bauer began to think her high-end products may be the culprit. As the Head of Product Development at Hairstory, a start-up determined to redefine (and remake) the products that comprise our haircare routines, she decided to experiment. After months of testing, she eventually landed on a non-shampoo formula that left her scalp flake- and redness-free. Hairstory’s “New Wash” was born.
And according to Bauer and her team, their “New Wash” works, because when it comes to haircare less is actually more. Unlike other companies in the industry, Hairstory narrows in on a few multi-purpose products and leaves detergent entirely out of the picture. (The latter is actually a pretty big move. According to Ken Research, the shampoo industry, which includes all liquid hair washes containing detergent, is the largest segment of the U.S. hair care market. In 2015 alone, it made up 34% of the market’s revenues, with an estimated value of about $4 billion.)
So, how did Bauer figure out her solution lied in stepping out of line? She chalks it up to experience, intuition and a whole lot of experimentation. In this interview, Bauer and I discuss the design thinking involved in product development, her creative career as well as the tools it takes to think outside of the box.
Jane Claire Hervey: How would you describe who you are and what you do?
Jackie Bauer: I am an almost 40-year-old mother of twin seven-year-old girls, wife of 12 years and Jack(ie) of many trades. I have been told that I have a semi-obsessive slash compulsive work ethic, and something that I am most proud of is that I never, ever give up.
I always find the question, ‘What do you do?’ difficult to answer, because I do a lot. If you were to follow me around for a few days you’d see that every day is different, and frankly, I prefer that. Every single thing I learned over my 18-year career in the hair business I learned on the job—product development, marketing, operations, PR—I’ve had my hands in it all. And I do think that being well-rounded has prepared me for where I am and what I do today.
Hervey: What were you up to before Hairstory and how did that lead you here as a creative?
Bauer: Life before Hairstory—there was Estée Lauder, Bumble and bumble, Vidal Sassoon the Movie, and then Purely Perfect. I think I’ve always had a bit more of a creative brain. Actually, I find that I have a good balance between creativity and type-A personality. I was young when I started at Estée Lauder in the President’s office and my goal there was to learn as much as possible, to be a sponge. Moving on to Bumble and bumble was a big step in my career for many reasons. I realized that I love haircare, I was able to hone in on where my focus should be, and for the first time I understood the
difference between companies run by an entrepreneur versus those run by a corporation. I was very lucky in that my perspective of these two companies, in particular, was from the top down. I was the right-hand to the president(s) and it was a valuable position for me for many reasons. Much of what I learned about business and life came from my relationships with these leaders.
Producing Vidal Sassoon the Movie was another pivotal moment because of the man himself. I had the privilege of following Vidal around the world for three years, and all I can say about him is that he’s just magical. He was wise, funny, and inspirational, and the man would never stop. It was amazing to be around him and learn from him. Purely Perfect was the first iteration of Hairstory. We saw it as a bit of a market test. We put it out there knowing it wasn’t perfect, but we wanted to see if people were ready for this type of product, a detergent-free shampoo, and it turns out they were.
Hervey: You were also a professional ballerina. How did you transition from being a professional ballerina into product design? Did you experience imposter syndrome making that leap, and if so, how did you convince yourself to still make the change?
Bauer: It’s funny, I had no idea of what ‘imposter syndrome’ was, and I had to look it up. I think I still suffer from it a bit, and I’m not sure it will ever go away. But I think that’s okay because it doesn’t affect how I perform from day to day. People fake it till they make it in business all the time, but you can’t do that onstage. Ballet is a very specific, disciplined training. You do the same things over and over and over again. No one trained me for this job, there is no rule book. And because I learned most of what I know on the job, the thought of ripping the mask off and revealing what you don’t know pops up once in a while. There was no convincing myself to make the change from ballet. I didn’t have a choice in the matter, unfortunately. I got injured and I had to make what was the most painful decision of my life so far—to give up my dream and my career as a prima ballerina. Dancers know that our career-span is shorter than most, so the idea of ‘what’s next’ is always there lying dormant, until it’s not.
Hervey: Through your work with Hairstory, you’ve created some industry-disrupting products. As a product designer, how do you create things that address problems that many consumers might not even realize exist? Where do you start?
Bauer: We’ve been told by hairdressers for years to stop using shampoo, and let’s face it: The whole industry was built around what happens after shampoo, so it’s definitely been a relevant conversation for some time. There has always been a fascination with finding an alternative: baking soda, conditioner-only, clear rinses, but nothing really stuck, or more likely these alternatives were considered niche and not mainstream material. The quest for the solution persisted, but what was it? How do you clean gently and safely without giving up washing altogether?
So, I do think that we sensed a need, but we just didn’t know what to do about it, and clearly, it has taken a very long time to find the answer. I do believe that we’ve found the answer in New Wash and it could be the future of this category, yet people are still skeptical. I understand the skepticism I guess,
but I sometimes I feel like shouting from our fifth floor window, ‘You can clean your hair without shampoo, we swear! Just try!’ I realize it’s not as easy as that—it takes time and education and most importantly awareness that the problem exists.
Hervey: Product development is rooted in design-thinking. How do you think about the world and its problems as a designer?
Bauer: For me, It’s always been about problem-solving and finding creative solutions. Some people look at A and then go all the way to Z. I look at everything in between. And because I have to think about product development, as well as marketing—and there really is no hand-off, I have to think about everything. And in this digital age we live in it’s vital to think about design for the user as well. I am always analyzing my choices and refining them to come up with the best possible answer. And much of what I design is based on a heavy dose of intuition: What would I do? What do I want?
Hervey: What do you do when you’re stuck or something doesn’t work out with a product quite like you planned?
Bauer: You can’t crumble, that’s for sure. You have to deal with it head on and can’t take it personally (or try not to). Shit happens, as they say, and sometimes issues are just out of your control. I dealt with a massive problem with one of our products recently. I knew it was a sensitive formula, and we tested as many variables as we possibly could. Thanks to climate change and the extreme heat of this past summer this product couldn’t take the heat and basically fell apart AFTER it shipped to our warehouse. We didn’t even know about the issue until we started hearing from some of our customers. It was devastating and frustrating, but it was one of those things that were out of my control. So you figure out a solution as quickly as possible and make it happen, hopefully without too much collateral damage.
Hervey: Are there any Hairstory haircare routines you live by?
Bauer: Yes! My hair regimen is so important to me. I’ve been psoriasis-free for years now, so I won’t come within ten feet of shampoo. I wash with New Wash or New Wash (Rich) depending on the day, I blow-dry with Dressed Up, and once dry I use Hair Balm on my ends for a bit of texture and separation. I may be working on a new product that I’ve been testing as well. I do not wash my hair that often, so in between, I use the Powder to perk up my roots and absorb any excess oil. I’ve never been one to use a lot of products, but everything in my regimen is there for a reason and it works really well for me.
Hervey: How do you approach working with others, especially in start-up environments? What makes something work on a team?
Bauer: You have to have the right people on your team in the right seats on the bus. A good team is made of people who actually show up and give 100% every day. They bring things to the table and don’t wait around to be told what to do. I approach my current team (which is wonderful, by the way) as equals. Everyone has a voice and everyone is entitled to their opinion, and working collaboratively has worked really well for us. Every person is there because they possess a specific skill set, and working in an environment where there is no ‘dictator’ makes everyone respect each other more. I love learning from my team. They teach me and I teach them, and at the end of the day they know I’ll make the most informed decisions.
Hervey: For entrepreneurs and small business owners out there with their own products, what are three lessons you’d like to share that you’ve learned throughout your career?
Bauer: First, it’s really really hard. It’s complicated, it takes way longer than you think, and sure there will be fun times, but there will be heartache. Expect to give your blood, sweat and tears. If it’s worth it though, fight through it, and don’t give up. Second, always go with your gut, especially when something feels wrong! The little voice inside is smart, so listen to it. Third, treat people the way you want to be treated. I know, it’s one of the commandments, right? But it’s so important in business especially when you lead a team. Lead with kindness and equality, and lead with
respect. It makes a mountain of difference.
December 31, 2018 at 03:37PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs