The department store makeup counter can be an intimidating experience – but there are few alternatives for people looking to try out new products.

With dozens of beauty products on the market from foundation to lipstick, eyeliner and mascara, there are thousands of possible combinations for anyone wishing to change their look.

This was the situation Midlands entrepreneur Gaynor Matthews found herself in three years ago. She decided to take action.

“I’d hit a milestone age – the big five 0 – and suddenly realised I hadn’t changed my makeup in 30 years,” she tells BusinessCloud. “You can use YouTube, which is fantastic for the youngsters, but it’s not me.

“I saw this gap in the market: how do I learn about makeup? Every woman wants to learn about it, but the people in the shops don’t teach you anything. I did my research and found out that some of them aren’t actually trained – what they are trained in is product sales.

“It's an intimidating, embarrassing experience sometimes, sitting there. And you’re always worried what you’re going to look like.

“I wanted to create something that was private, specific to the user and allows them to do it at their own pace and not feel pressured into buying products – because that's what happens.”

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Matthews says that women spend a fortune on makeup which “just sits there and doesn’t get used” because they buy products in-store then lose the confidence to use it in the real world.

She set about solving the problem by commissioning an augmented reality app – available for both Apple and Android devices – which allows users to try out different makeup products in the comfort of their own home without shelling out thousands of pounds.

Guided by an avatar, they are taught how to apply the products to make the most of their features and also see what the various colours and shades would look like in real time.

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Wow How   

“It’s based on your skin tone first of all, then you put in your facial features. It’s a multi-stage process: moisturiser, concealer, foundation, translucent powder, bronzer, eyebrow filling, eyeshadow, eyeliner, false lashes, eyelash curling, mascara, blusher, lip liner, lipstick, lip gloss and fixing spray,” she says.

“If I go out I now make more of an effort, whereas I used to do the same in the day and at night. My daughter says 'you’ve got the Wow How mum!'

“I've sat in a boardroom with a lot of men and they've said 'you look ever so well, Gaynor' – I thought oooh, if I could just bottle this feeling! That's what I’m trying to do.”

Wow How

Matthews was part of the management team at HITCOM – Hosted IT Communications Limited – and exited the Voiceover Internet Protocol provider in 2014 after it was sold to an American listed telecoms firm.

“It was disruptive – we were the first VoIP provided in the UK. In those days no one understood it, just like Wow How. You find the same pattern – you get something going and let the bigger boys take it over.”

Wow How was among the first AR technologies in the marketplace. Its main competitor ModiFace was acquired by L'Oreal earlier this year for an undisclosed amount.

“I was chuffed because I decided in the early days not to get involved with ModiFace,” says Matthews. “We came up with a better technology and way of doing it.” 

The customer base of Solihull-based Wow How is growing around the world, but Matthews has concentrated its marketing and PR on the UK so far. Her plan next year is to expand more proactively into the United States, while she recently released a white-labelled version of the app.

“My vision is to white label this and customise it for other brands – and that's where I'll get the value,” she says.

“They can rebrand it with their colours, their star names, they can take bits of it, change bits, make it their own – but the underlying technology is mine.”

The firm’s customer base is growing around the world but it refuses to collect data on its own B2C users.

“We take no data. It's totally private,” says Matthews. “I don’t know who uses it because I’m not interested in that - I don’t want to share my information.”

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