“I always look out for potential risks, like environmental risks. A few years ago, I watched a documentary about cosmetics and how they’re very loosely regulated because, unlike food and drugs, for some reason there are some grey areas for cosmetics,” says Lily Tse, founder of Think Dirty Inc.
“A lot of ingredients aren’t disclosed and, in some cases, there are chemicals that aren’t very good for our health,” she says. “For that reason, I find that I always look for what is in cosmetic products and I realized the chemical names are just impossible to remember.” Hence began the Think Dirty project, a brand encouraging consumers to be aware of what they put in and on their bodies.
In 2013, the company launched their self-titled app, a way for users to quickly learn of potentially toxic ingredients in their cosmetics.
“With the app, you can search products in two ways: you can either type it in, if you know the name, or if the product has a barcode, you can scan it and it will show you what the rating is overall,” Lily explains. “You can also tap onto another view which gives you the full listing of ingredients rated from the most unsafe to the safest ones.” The information incorporated with each product includes academic journal abstracts and government sources, so consumers know the facts are real.
Initially, it was a lot of hard work to compile all this information. “It was a lot of sleepless nights,” she says. “The interesting thing is a lot of these resources exist on government websites. On Health Canada, they have something called the ingredients hotlist. The problem is these websites were never designed to be user-friendly.” So the information had to be uploaded to the app, which can take a lot of time and manpower.
Like any entrepreneur, Lily had many challenges in the early stages of her startup. She mentions limited resources as one great hurdle in starting Think Dirty.
“Like most people, it was financial and human capital restrictions,” she says. “As someone who was a first-time entrepreneur, you also have to convince people that you have what it takes to be it.” She says that unlike some entrepreneurs that start multiple businesses in different fields, entrepreneurs like Lily, who are focused on a single goal, have to prove to others that she’ll be successful.
That said, that passion on one project can drive a young entrepreneur to great heights. “That ties back to how badly you want this thing to exist,” she says. “This idea has been in my head even when I was working full-time a few years back. The only reason why I have to do it is because every day that I’m not doing it, it makes me feel uncomfortable.”
Lily says there is no such thing as a typical day as the CEO of her business. Her daily duties range from checking emails, dealing with development or database issues, focusing on business development—including work through an incubator program, speaking with mentors and advisors—participating in marketing opportunities like trade shows, being interviewed for press, and posting on social media. “I’m kind of the chief advertorial role,” she says. “People contribute, but I still have to review and make sure they align with our brand tone and personality. It’s a lot of different things.”
In the near future, Lily would like to grow to Android because users are requesting it. When thinking of down the road, she sees Think Dirty expanding to a larger brand. “Beyond the entrepreneurship as a calling, really educating people about non-toxic, organic, healthy living lifestyle is my personal calling,” she says.
“I hope to grow the Think Dirty app into almost a movement. If this is the app that everyone will talk about, that would make me happy.”
Photos: Think Dirty