The idea was that whether you are a skincare enthusiast, a makeup junkie or even a beauty newbie, you should always have access to personalised advice and precise product recommendations that will work specifically for YOU.

Jui Bhansali’s online platform Smudg hopes to bridge the gap between women with beauty concerns and licensed professionals that are equipped to address their very individualistic needs. We caught up with the boss girl to discuss what life’s been like since she began her entrepreneurial journey, some of her biggest milestones, and her advice for aspirants looking to enter the space of beauty through a digital platform.

1. What’s your educational and professional background?

Image Via Smudg/Instagram

I am a double Post Graduate with an MS in BioEngineering from the UK and an MBA from the USA. I have worked in multiple roles in the UK, USA and India, from a research associate to a product manager to a consultant for early-stage startups, and now an entrepreneur. 

2. What prompted the idea for Smudg? 

Smudg was born out of a personal need. I am a frequent user of skincare and makeup products and even though I am well-informed, I constantly have questions like ‘What should I buy that would specifically suit my skin? Which undertone colour corrector do I need?’

And when I have these questions I do what most people who shop for makeup and skincare products, intuitively do—we try to research about the products and ask friends/ colleagues/sales assistants, or look at influencers for validation, recommendation and advice. 

Smudg was started with the intention of helping people discover, choose and buy beauty products in a way that was honest, impartial yet easy and a lot of fun!. And we do this by connecting you directly to professional skin experts and makeup artists via 1:1 online video sessions called Smudg Sessions. So you get real answers and personalised product recommendations that suit YOU!

What if you could just quickly ask someone a remedy for dark circles or that perfect shade of foundation, without having to search or research rows of beauty blogs and youtube videos? What if there was a way to get simple, quick and credible answers to your everyday beauty questions? That’s the whole point of Smudg. From lessons and tips to techniques and personalised recommendations, we’re looking to add some credibility in the cluttered space of beauty.

3. Did you always know you wanted to work in this space?

Image Via Smudg/Instagram

My academic background is in science and I come from a family of doctors. So a career in science, especially in bioengineering, was an obvious choice. I worked in this field for a few years and enjoyed my time there. I learned a lot too.  But I was always deeply passionate about beauty—skincare and makeup especially. An ardent user of beauty products myself, research and knowledge about this industry came naturally to me. 

After marriage, I found myself immersed in the world of startups, especially since my husband heads a boutique IPR firm that specialises in mentoring startups in IP. It was only after I consciously steered my career to working for start-ups, I got a chance to work for some amazing early-stage companies in the fashion and beauty-tech space. That set the ball rolling for me and I decided to focus my passion, education and enhance my skill set to enter this space. 

4. What was your first milestone and how did you get there? 

Image Credits: Smudg’s Makeup Expert, @amritakalyanpur & WeWork @wework

For me, my first milestone professionally was assembling the right team. I deeply believe that any company, especially a startup, is only successful due to the people who work in it—they need to believe in it the way the entrepreneur does, and help execute that vision. 

I started with my network of peers and colleagues and asking people around. Today I have a small but a fantastic team who are responsible for helping the business get off the ground – from just an idea on paper to going live. This to me was the building blocks of my business and the precursor to bigger things to come.

5. Who is your target audience? 

Women and men, from 19 to 45 years, who shop for and use beauty products (skincare and makeup) in their day-to-day lives will enjoy our services. These are the digitally savvy, fashionably informed, curious yet unsure, with disposable incomes who use (or want to start using) beauty products (for special events or every day), in an effort to look presentable or enhance their appearance. 

We at Smudg call them the casual beauty buyers. These consumers causally, and regularly shop online or in a store, and often buy the products for their personal usage. And as they use or shop for these products they all have common questions like – what should I buy, will this suit my skin, will this shade look good on me, what beauty routines should I follow, how do I use a product… and more. Smudg was started to provide personalised answers and product recommendations to every skincare and makeup related question that consumers may have in their day-to-day lives.

6. What is the brand’s unique selling point?

Image Via Smudg/Instagram

While there are many ways to get advice on skincare and makeup off the internet, there is no better way than to directly ask experts. At Smudg, we have licensed aestheticians and professional makeup experts who have in-depth knowledge about various brands and products, skin tones, types and textures and are equipped to take on any question!

This way you get the right advice and exact product recommendations that are impartial, honest and work just for you, to solve your specific problem directly, w/o you having to spend too much time searching and researching for products. You don’t even have to leave your home. All our sessions are 1:1, personalised and online and can be taken at your convenience. 

Think of Smudg as your friend – a friend with oodles of knowledge who will know you well, will give you the right advice and help answer all your beauty concerns!

7. What are your tips for an aspiring entrepreneur who wants to enter this space?

Do your research and believe in your idea. The beauty industry is undergoing fast and massive changes, especially in this pandemic. Assumptions or predictions that were true before are no longer valid. Shopping behaviours and consumption patterns are changing. And you have to be able to think of your product/idea to suit the changing market need, especially considering the current scenario. It’s important to keep an eye on the industry and listen to what experts have to say. Be informed, always!

8. How long did it take you to monetise your venture?

Image Via Smudg/Instagram

We rolled out a POC at the start of this year. And got a great response. This was pre-Covid when we could reach out to consumers 1:1 in workshops too. Initially, we started to help people by getting professionals and experts to answer their skincare and makeup related questions via our workshops. We used to host these workshops around the city in cafes, co-working spaces and closed member communities. We were pleasantly surprised to get paying customers in our first few workshops itself! And that gave us a lot of confidence to keep moving ahead. 

We always had the vision to go virtual and provide the same service online. Covid-19 propelled us in that direction. It took a while to get the right systems in place but now we are a completely online service. We now also have a Whatsapp group where we give out tips on skincare and makeup. 

9. Are you looking for funding for your business?

We are currently a bootstrapped company and managing all systems with our own funds. We have plans to expand in the coming months, hire more talent and build a lot more tech into the platform, for which we will be looking for seed funds. 

10. Who are the key employees one needs to secure to work in this space?

As with every startup, you need to identify your initial stakeholders. For us, it was our team of experts, designers, tech engineers and content creators. And our goal is to onboard more skin experts and makeup artists looking to do what they love at their convenience.

11. How do you intend to scale up your business in the next 5 years?

Image Via Smudg/Instagram

Given the amount of questions users constantly ask us via our sessions and on our Whatsapp group, it is our constant effort to be able to answer them in the most efficient, honest and quickest way. Using the data, we plan to build a lot more intelligence and tech into the platform, with a goal to build highly engaging and personalised experiences for our users.

We also hope to collaborate with a lot more professional skin and makeup experts. Ultimately, in future, we hope to build a digital ecosystem of consumers, brands and experts, leveraging AI and technology where we can create a completely immersive experience for anyone who wishes to discover, shop and use beauty products. 

Think you’re a Self-Starter or know someone who is? Drop us an email to be featured on The Channel 46 at [email protected]

About Self-Starters

We spotlight inspiring women who are entrepreneurs or have skill-based passion projects and are willing to share knowledge, advice and tips about getting started in the space. Each Self-Starter’s story will be highlighted in a prime slot on the Homepage for a whole week, after which their story will appear under the ‘Work’ category on The Channel 46.