Black hair is beautiful. Period. But between wash day and choosing the right products, the process to beautiful hair isn’t so beautiful. Lucky for us, co-founder and CEO of TresseNoire Regina Gwynn has created the perfect solution with her beauty tech startup that empowers Black women and women of color to celebrate our textured hair with personalized beauty routines with proven results.
TresseNoire’s first product was an on-demand, on-location beauty booking app for women of color. Think Uber for a stylist coming to your house or office to do your hair.
We had the chance to catch up with the co-creator of Black Women Talk Tech, the woman responsible for disrupting the technology industry with her knowledge of Black beauty, hair and consumerism.
HelloBeautiful: First thing’s first – what initially sparked your interest in tech?
Regina Gwynn: Yes! To think about my interest in tech connects to my interest in entrepreneurship. My dad was an entrepreneur, his dad was an entrepreneur, so I knew I wanted to run something, but I just didn’t know what it was. I also knew I wanted to run something big – something that would have a major lasting impact that used technology to scale and to make an idea even bigger than what it could regularly be than one-on-one interaction.
I launched TresseNoire back in 2014 with my co-founder and we originally had an idea just for a hair salon. We were like, “I’m tired of going to a hair salon [and] being there all day, so we’re going to create the best hair salon ever. Then, we started to think about how we could infuse technology into a salon concept and seeing all of these on-demand technologies that we use and are so comfortable with now – Uber, Fresh Direct, all these things that allow you to push a button and something comes to you on-demand and on-location. How could we combine beauty and tech together?
HelloBeautiful: What’s your earliest memory of your passion for technology?
Regina Gwynn: Wow, this is going to date me (laughs)! It is what it is. We had one of the first computers on the block: it was an Adams’ computer which plugs into a television, so the television was the screen. I used to play Buck Rogers and the disks, mind you, were tapes. Imagine not only was it not a CD and not only was it not a floppy disk, it was a tape that was the way in which users saved data or uploaded data into the computer itself. My sister and I thought we were the bomb because we were out there playing Buck Rogers on an Adams’ computer with a tape we would have to put inside the operating system to work. Definitely a fun time! I haven’t thought about that one in a minute!
HelloBeautiful: And, what about another beauty memory with your hair?
Regina Gwynn: I actually decided to go natural right after high school and went to college here in the New York area. Although hair rules in the South, let’s be very clear, you are going to have big hair and it’s going to be permed. Moving up to New York, I wanted a new look and I wanted to be different so I went natural in the mid 90s. I saw the natural hair movement literally evolve in front of my eyes. I was one of the very few people that had natural hair on college campuses; they called me Kelis, Macy Gray, Tracy Chapman, all the foolishness. Long story short, that was my earliest recollection of beauty and knowing that hair is hair and all hair is good hair.
HelloBeautiful: For those who may not know, what exactly is TresseNoire and what was your vision behind it?
Regina Gwynn: TresseNoire takes the trial and error of finding the right products and services for women with natural hair and we do that by matching your unique hair profile to a beauty regimen designed by experts, by our network of cosmetologists and beauty pros. This new product is a pivot from the original online on-demand beauty booking app that we had because a couple years ago, we discovered that every time we were booking clients, working with stylists and sending them out to houses and homes, the clients still had more questions. We found ourselves doing follow-up consultations where we’re working with the stylist to reconnect them and they have a quick phone call. Then, we realized our mission is to give women back the most important resource on Earth, which is time.
We thought [of] having a super quick service that would come to your doorstep as one way to save time, but there’s all these other pain points around finding these products that maintain the style that you’re in. That was the reason why we created the virtual beauty coach that coaches women in understanding what’s a good product, how do you use them, what are the styling techniques, and what is the motivation that you need to make sure your hair looks good every time. This has been a project that we started to pivot a couple years ago and just finished up finalizing all the bells and whistles. We’re in the midst of starting our launch relatively soon!
HelloBeautiful: What inspired you to combine your passion for tech with the need for knowledge on hair in the Black community? Speaking for myself as a Black woman, there’s so much I don’t know about the hair that grows on my head because of lack of resources – or lack of access to resources.
Regina Gwynn: Absolutely, I definitely am committed to focusing on women of color because we have to help ourselves. Oftentimes, there’s a larger mainstream conversation of beauty that you’re left out of, yet it’s mainstream beauty that looks to women of color for their inspiration, cultural cues and creativity that inherently lies within us. [For example] how Kylie Jenner can create a billion-dollar industry, there’s this idea that they love us, but they don’t love us. I love us, and I’m committed to making sure that the value that is inherent within the technology industry – this is an industry, this is an industrial complex, if you will – that we are repeatedly not part of.
Down to the quizzes that you fill out all the time, how many quizzes ask you about hyperpigmentation? How many quizzes ask you about the prevalence of keloids? How many quizzes ask you about different kinds of hair textures and curl patterns that could possibly be on the same head? You have to ask the right questions to get the right data. It’s important to use technology that’s good for us in a way that no one else can because we’re the ones that have the questions [and] we know the right questions to ask in order to tap into our unique market.
HelloBeautiful: Do you wish you would’ve had something like TresseNoire when you were learning more about your natural hair?
Regina Gwynn: Child, I wish I would’ve had anything back in the 90s (laughs). There was Mane and Tail and Magnesium 23. There was no Carol’s Daughter, no Shea Moisture to the extent that it is now, no Camille Rose, no Jane Carter. There was a lot of trial and error. I think because I know this person and I am this person, I’ve been that person who jumps back in the shower to rinse out all the product they just put in their hair because it doesn’t work and now you’re running late to work because you literally had to jump back in the shower all over again.
I’ve spent ridiculous amounts of money on products that didn’t work and I’ve spent two dollars on products that were amazing. I have absolutely been the trial-and-error person, but I cannot go on YouTube at three o’clock in the morning anymore. Because technology does exist and there are platforms that can allow us to create more accurate and consistent recommendations, why not?
HelloBeautiful: What advice do you have for Black and brown girls who are looking to break into the tech industry?
Regina Gwynn: First thing is to do it. Don’t wait, don’t pass ‘Go’, don’t collect $200, just do it (laughs). Don’t let people tell you that you need all of these other qualities, qualifications, and certifications. You have an idea, you have a model that can work and you have an untapped market – that’s all you need. You can figure out the rest as you go along. I think oftentimes we want to have everything wrapped up perfectly before we even begin. We have to fail. You have to give in and get started in order to be able to understand where you need to go next, but you will not have it planned out. Nothing will go according to plan.
Number two, while I’m saying that you don’t have to know everything, it will behoove you to get exposure to coding and development. One of the things I would do differently is at least take some time to get initial exposure to various tech stats. A lot of entrepreneurs are not smart in that area and they get taken advantage of by developers and engineers, they end up having to do several iterations of their product, and we don’t have the money to waste on several iterations of the product. Not to say run off and do it immediately, but do it in a smart, educated way, do it for the least amount of money as possible, and then do it.