It may seem strange that the latest hair color innovation is coming from a venture capitalist and a digital marketer rather than a multi-national beauty firm, but that’s the way beauty’s evolving these days.

Madison Reed, as the new company is called, indeed offers a new way of delivering hair color, a beauty service more than 89 million women take part in each year. The company, based in San Francisco, sells premium hair color formulas packaged in high-end DIY kits on, complete with illustrated instructions, developer, barrier cream, a cleansing wipe, a cap, gloves, and specially formulated color enhancing shampoo and conditioner for $29.95. The high-end nature of the kit aims to turn some of the pain points of at-home hair color into delightful moments. For example, two pairs of comfort-fit black rubber gloves come in each kit, while the barrier cream is scented. The concept aims also to target the two friction points most common with at-home color, selection and consultation. To do this Madison Reed’s rich website displays dozens of photos of end-result color, along with various ways to customize your shade. They also offer colorists’ expertise via a call center. Consumers can text, email or speak to colorists, and even send them images of their hair, so that color selection and consultation can happen remotely.

The company is the fourth by Amy Errett, who prior to founding Madison Reed with business partner and marketer Sabrina Riddle, opened the San Francisco office of the venture capitalist firm Maveron, which was co-founded by Howard Schultz. Maveron is also an investor in Madison Reed.

“All the changes in technology and personal care contract manufacturing allows for something like Madison Reed to exist now. Years ago you really couldn’t do this unless you were a chemist. Now there’s a whole world of manufacturers out there,” Amy said.

The idea for Madison Reed, named after Amy’s daughter, came from conversations with women “and seeing that they don’t always have the time to go to the salon when their roots start coming in. Our idea was to develop salon quality products and deliver them on any frequency basis someone wants,” Amy said.

What sets Madison Reed apart from other at-home color is the color itself, which Sabrina Riddle said has been formulated to be multi-tonal to be on par with what’s offered in salons. There are 27 permanent shades and all are free of ammonia, resorcinol and parabens. The color is made in Italy.

“We have two women who have been hair colorists their entire career who are acting as our R&D and we have leaned into their expertise. We are also working with Sally Hershberger as an advisor. We’ve been testing product in her salon,” Sabrina said.

Amy and Sabrina stumbled upon another possible distribution opportunity aside from direct to consumer when testing out their color formulas in salons.

“Salons are buying our tubes of colors. Traditionally salons have to mix colors to get multi-tonal results but they don’t have to mix ours because the formulas already have two to three tones in them. They’re as good as anything being mixed in a salon, where the magic usually happens. That’s how good it is,” Amy said.

Selling the kits to salons is something the two are considering.

“We are actually hearing that some salons want to be able to sell the box to give their customer an at-home option. We are exploring this.”

While salons present a selling opportunity, don’t expect to see Madison Reed in any retail outlets.

“No, we will not be sold in Sephora,” said Amy, or any other brick and mortar for that matter. “We are not pursuing retail. We feel strongly that our responsibility is to the consumer and when you go through someone else, another channel, you don’t control the brand.”

In April 2013 the two received their first round of funding (mainly from venture firms in Silicon Valley) and they now have $3.9 million to take the company into its first year of operation. A key piece of information fuels their optimism for success: of the 89 million women who color their hair, 40 million color at home and 49 million go to salons.

“We think that certainly there is a significant market in the DIYers but we also think many salon women may turn to us maybe every other time they need their roots done.”

Every box of Madison Reed offers a free gift; the first box contained a Julep nail polish. The second gift is a $25 gift certificate to ideeli.

The company’s website,, acts as an online look book of all the shades offered. Users are encouraged to take a brief questionnaire about their hair, hair color and skin complexion. Ultimately, about a dozen or so colors appear, all of which are clickable, which then takes users to a page with even more color options and examples. Madison Reed also has a smart phone app, which is programmed to give video instructions and take verbal cues so that users hands don’t have to touch screens during usage, presumably because they’ll be covered in hair color. A timer on the app can let you know when your color processing treatment is complete. Users are encouraged to post results on Madison Reed’s Pinterest and Instagram pages to drive trial.