Necessity is the mother of invention, according to the old proverb.
It is also the basis of many successful start-ups, and provided the inspiration for Powder, a Dubai e-commerce platform that sells clean beauty products.
"We started Powder because we were struggling to find effective clean beauty products that could make us feel good about ourselves," Amina Grimen, 36, Powder's Somali-Norwegian co-founder tells The National.
“After a lot of brainstorming and overcoming some initial apprehensions, we put together a selection of products that cure our skin problems and enhance, rather than conceal, our natural beauty.”
Ms Grimen and co-founder Ayat Toufeeq, 33, an Iraqi-Briton, moved in similar social circles in the UAE for years before bonding over the fact that they faced the same problem – finding suitable skincare products. Both used clean beauty ranges – ethically sourced products that are free from harmful chemicals such as parabens, sulphates and artificial fragrances.
“Locally, we have very limited access to good, clean beauty products ... and consumers struggle to find the right guidance and trustworthy reviews,” says Ms Toufeeq.
“Both of us shared a strong belief that nothing is difficult if one wants it. It drove us to start Powder ... now our e-commerce platform is effectively bridging the gap in the clean beauty market in our region.”
Ms Toufeeq says the idea is to ensure your skin is free of unwanted chemicals.
“It focuses on enhancing the natural beauty and not covering it up with the layers of conventional make-up or cosmetics,” she says.
Founded in January 2018, Powder began with a modest investment from its founders and their initial clients were based in different parts of the UAE.
Ms Grimen and Ms Toufeeq launched the company while employed at a global consultancy and private security company, respectively. They left their jobs in August last year to fully focus on the start-up.
Powder entered Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s biggest economy, last month after completing the first round of angel investment that raised $150,000 from a group of undisclosed investors in July.
The start-up is now fulfilling orders from across the Gulf and its founders are looking to invest more on strengthening their supply chain, marketing the site and growing brand awareness.
“So far, we have grown at a reasonably moderate pace ... primarily because we invested our own funds to run the business and did not raise money from outside during the initial stage. We wanted to test the waters first and prove our products before approaching outside investors,” says Ms Toufeeq.
She says the company will look to raise more money from another round of funding as early as mid-2021.
The online market for beauty and personal care products is booming. Globally, it is set to grow by more than 20 per cent a year to $238.5 billion by 2029, up from $35.32 billion last year, according to Indian market research company Prophecy Market Insights.
Currently, Powder is focused solely on the GCC and its founders have no plans to venture outside the region.
“There is clearly a huge market to tap into and we are growing systematically. We will establish Powder as a leading, modern clean beauty destination in the region.”
Besides their own testing and research, the founders also take account of what is popular among social media bloggers and celebrity beauty influencers before selecting the products to sell on their platform.
Currently, they offer products from more than 25 global niche and luxury boutique brands from South Korea, the Americas, Australia and Europe.
The pair say the products they offer only use quality ingredients and have become increasingly popular over the past few months.
The Covid-19 pandemic upended some of Powder’s plans for this year, but the start-up's business gradually increased and its market share grew.
“We had just started our first fund-raising journey when Covid-19 hit. There were extremely limited resources available during the first three months of the pandemic, but we remained patient and optimistic,” says Ms Grimen.
“Gradually, we saw more people coming online and showing interest in buying skincare products. Looking at the current boom, there should be no looking back.”
Powder relies on an outsourcing model to keep costs down. However, the founders plan to recruit amid expectations of a solid increase in business this year and in 2021.
“Except planning and strategising, we are outsourcing most of our work that includes logistics, fulfilling orders and web development ... but we do have a strong team of advisers. We will hire fresh talent as our business grows,” says Ms Toufeeq.
Powder is currently focused on growth over profit.
“Our focus at this moment is to scale up the business, gain new market share and establish a strong foundation. We are not thinking about profitability; it will come automatically with time,” says Ms Toufeeq.
“We are investing our profits back into the business. We are adding new brands on a monthly basis – around two per month,” she says. The founders did not disclose their revenue figures or the number of customers using the platform.
Customers can place an order and either pay upfront or pay on delivery.
Once an order is placed, it is delivered by a third-party operator within four days.
“If an order is placed in the UAE before 2pm, then it will be delivered the next day, unless it is a remote area, whereas it will take three to four days for the delivery in Saudi Arabia. We are working aggressively to reduce this,” says Ms Grimen.
Q&A: Powder’s co-founders Amina Grimen and Ayat Toufeeq
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Ms Toufeeq: I am confident that Powder will dominate the online beauty space in the region within the next ten years. We will be a top name in the clean beauty industry that users can trust. We will be based here [in Dubai] as this region offers immense opportunities to female entrepreneurs.
If you could change one thing in your entrepreneurial journey, what would it be?
Ms Toufeeq: The journey has been great so far but I wish I had left my job sooner and jumped full-time into the business at an earlier stage.
Ms Grimen: One of the lessons that we have learnt is that there is never the best or the perfect time to take an entrepreneurial plunge. If you are confident about your idea, just go for it and make it a reality. We kept engaged in our jobs and continued funding from our own pockets during the initial months of Powder. We actually wanted to achieve a sense of security before committing fully to our business. However, we are first time entrepreneurs and you learn as you move ahead.
Did Covid-19 affect your business?
Ms Grimen: Yes. It affected it in the initial months but our business recovered and picked-up very fast. More people are shopping online now and we are offering the products that they really want. We see this trend continuing in the coming months.
Are you risk-takers?
Ms Grimen: With any start-up, there is always an element of risk. It is involved in most of the decisions that we make on a daily basis but we always try to move very cautiously.
Ms Toufeeq: One of the great things about working as a team is that Amina and I complement each other's personalities well. Sometimes one of us is more of a risk-taker and the other is a little bit more conservative … it depends on the situation … and we keep switching roles.
Company name: Powder
Founders: Amina Grimen and Ayat Toufeeq
Funding: Initially self-funded but recently raised $150,000 from angel investors
Future plans: Looking to raise new capital and add more brands