Interview: Prose's Arnaud Plas on Challenging Industry Giants
The Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the DTC hair care brand talks about how to be different in a way that resonates with consumers.
Welcome to Direct-to-Conversation, a recurring interview feature from DTC Magazine. These conversations highlight insights, advice, and innovation strategies from leading thinkers in the DTC, eCommerce, and retail space. Our most recent interview was with with Sophie Bakalar, the Co-Founder of Fable Pets, the DTC pet gear brand.
In this Direct-to-Conversation, we catch up with Arnaud Plas, the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Prose, the DTC hair care brand.
DTC Magazine: Tell us a little about the a-ha moment that led Prose to come to market? When did it seem like a viable concept?
Arnaud Plas: Prose was created to upend the mass beauty market as we know it. Our a-ha moment really came in recognizing issues with customer segmentation or grouping customers broadly into categories (“long hair,” “blonde hair,” “curly hair,” “dandruff”). The truth is that everyone’s hair is different – different needs, different goals, different lengths, different styles – and mass generalization has proven time and time again to be ineffective, unsustainable, and not inclusive. With Prose, our goal was to create a customized product for the individual, recognizing that no two heads of hair are the same.
Using technology and AI, we created a DTC model that allowed customers to input their own goals and hair factors to create an entirely individualized product resulting in a better shopping experience, feedback from the customer, and an ability to improve product over time. We quickly realized that customization really does work better and we have continued to grow and improve our platform ever since.
DTC: One of the strengths of DTC is its capacity to offer personalization—in product, in marketing, and in consumer knowledge. How does that formula apply to Prose?
AP: From the start, Prose set out to disrupt the beauty industry and evolve the way customer feedback is analyzed on a personal level in real-time, utilizing AI to offer a custom experience addressing every consumer’s unique needs and goals. We don’t believe in one-size-fits-most hair care, so we reimagined the experience to power truly personal haircare and make products that are 100% customized for the individual.
Our process starts with our in-depth consultation, which gives us a complete view of everything that could have an impact on one's hair and scalp needs (i.e. specific environmental aggressors, scalp condition, weekly workout habits, stress levels, diet, etc.). Our proprietary algorithm then processes a user’s answers and uses over 85 factors to determine the unique blend of ingredients needed to treat their specific concerns, goals and preferences. The result is a freshly-bottled formula that’s just one of over 50 billion possible outcomes.
We understand that today, consumers want to shop from brands they believe in. We also understand that a consumer's life is a journey and it evolves over time.
DTC: On the surface, beauty and technology aren't necessarily understood as two entities that go hand-in-hand. What does making that pitch to consumers look like?
AP: The use of technology is at the core of our brand. When we first set out to launch Prose, we developed our own proprietary machine learning technology to develop all of the custom formulations. Our approach is not to replace human expertise with machine learning, but to enhance expertise with new insights. As we grow and gain more valuable insight from our customers, we are continuing to iterate on our algorithm and launch new versions to continue to build on our commitment of offering best-in-class, top performing, custom hair care products.
We believe “the best ingredient is feedback,” which is what inspired us most recently to develop a first-of-its kind technology, Review and Refine™, to go beyond our already bespoke products – because every individual’s hair needs are constantly evolving, therefore their formulas should be too. This proprietary technology applies “the network effect” to its product innovation – the more feedback received, the more the algorithms are able to deliver a level of satisfaction that has never been seen before in the industry. Instead of collecting and analyzing customer feedback in larger segments on a multi-year cycle like many other mainstream brands, our focus on product optimization – rather than future development that may eliminate original products – offers a more sustainable approach to haircare.
Just as our technology allows us to customize products for our customers’ hair, it also allows us to customize products for their values. We understand that today, consumers want to shop from brands they believe in. We also understand that a consumer's life is a journey and it evolves over time. With these two insights, we created a custom model that evolves with the customer and can match their values. For example, if a customer decides to become Vegan, we are able to make our products Vegan and they can continue to buy from a brand that they know, love and trust. The same goes for silicone / silicone-free, fragrance / fragrance-free and gluten / gluten-free.
Our use of technology even allows us to reach out sustainability and environmental impact goals. Prose is reinventing the personalization, customization and supply chain infrastructure to grow with our consumer. Being a custom brand means that all of our products are made-to-order so nothing is left sitting on a shelf. As a result, Prose wastes less than 3% of products, compared to the industry which accumulates 20-40% waste. Our product is better for the planet and better for our customers.
DTC: Hair care has plenty of social connotations that can be fraught at times, to the say the very least? How do you navigate that as a brand?
AP: This goes back to recognizing that every head of hair is different, and one person’s needs do not match another’s. By looking at an individual’s hair needs, factors and goals instead of segmenting hair types, we have managed to build a platform that is more inclusive, more sustainable, and more transparent. That said, we are constantly evolving and improving with each and every piece of feedback. Our Review and Refine tool has been instrumental in our improvement as a whole, and we are constantly looking for solutions and ways to be better for everybody and every body.
Start the company, whether you aspire to have a thriving small business or a unicorn startup – and remember to keep your mission in mind.
DTC: Without giving away any trade secrets, what advice would you give to an entrepreneur about launching a product in a field where there are so many giant institutions?
AP: Big players are often limited to a supply chain married to an outdated and very segmented business model; we wanted to start from scratch with Prose, creating a process to address people as individuals, and then building the supply chain to scale that. Prose was founded to challenge the beauty industry, by pioneering a new approach to hair care - one that combats hyper-segmentation and mass production.
My advice for other aspiring founders/entrepreneurs would be simple: Start the company, whether you aspire to have a thriving small business or a unicorn startup – and remember to keep your mission in mind. It’s a fantastic experience learning about yourself and people in general. Every day is rewarding, you are making such an impact on the people around you, whether it’s customers or employees… Life is too short not to go for it.