Innovators in the makeup industry are located in Las Positas. A new app, called Sebela, uses augmented reality technology, similar to Snapchat or Instagram filters, to let users experiment with makeup looks and products without putting a single thing on their faces. “Sebela” derives from the Italian word, bella, meaning beautiful.
Las Positas computer science student Neal Conway essentially creates the cogs that operate Sebela. As one of Sebela’s cofounders, he is the backend web developer, putting “all the makeup looks on the database” and making sure “the app can grab that data successfully.” He has also done consulting work with the author of this article for The Express website.
Two others are working on Sebela. Co-founder Anh Thu Le, a business major with a concentration in Tech Entrepreneurship and Design at Babson College, helps attract investors, runs public relations and designs the app. Co-founder Lily Jiang, an Engineering with Computing major at the Olin College of Engineering, works on front-end development, coding the design of the website, domain pages and the subscription system.
“I do the server—you know, the ugly stuff that goes on in the background,” Conway said.
Le initially had the idea for the company in 2021 during the COVID-19 lockdown. A beginner in makeup herself, she imagined some way to make it more accessible.
“I was trying to learn how to do my makeup. After watching Youtube tutorials, I didn’t like the makeup look on me. I ended up wiping it off and spending an hour of my time,” Le said.
“I was just driving and I was like, oh, imagine if I could see the makeup look on me before I watched the tutorial,” she continued.
There is nothing quite like this on the app store at the moment, making this app’s future promising.
“It’s such a simple idea, but nobody’s doing this right now. It feels like we’re doing something where we have our own niche, which makes me feel like we’ll be successful,” Conway said.
Other makeup companies have tried to do the same augmented reality application with their products, but they did not have the same developer power so the programs shut down. While Instagram and Snapchat have some makeup filter looks, they differ in their smaller scope.
“It’s specifically dedicated to makeup. We go a lot more in depth on exactly how to recreate the look and it’s a lot higher quality,” Conway said.
Conway met Le and Jiang on a beauty-centered Discord channel. “We were talking about beauty routines, like getting our hair done and doing makeup.” Le and Jiang were looking for backend developers through the channel, and that’s when he hopped on the project.
“Oh my god, it was so much fun. I was obsessed with that,” Conway said.
From there, he started to get into game development and learned game engines like Unity or Unreal, and general programming languages C# or C++ to help him code. In his junior year of high school, he was hired as a code tutor at the Coder School in Pleasanton.
“That really just skyrocketed me, I guess my 10,000 hours moment. I fell in love with it again, because once I got hired there I felt like I had the ability to do whatever I wanted with the computer. That’s when I really decided, oh, I want to do this for the rest of my life,” he said.
Through hackathons and coding competitions, he gradually improved his skill. He worked as a programming intern building an app called “Alonesy,” a nonprofit online therapy service. He also led self-directed projects like a Minecraft Jojo’s Bizzare Adventures mod, which has 170,000 downloads at the moment, a book-reading contest app and a chess-simulator game, just to name a few. All of which allowed him to provide what Sebela was looking for developer-wise.
Currently, Sebela has a couple dozen makeup looks to choose from and plans to expand that number as it grows. According to Conway, once the app reaches 1,000 users, it will implement a subscription-based system. Soon, users will be able to buy the products they project on their face through offsite links. Alongside letting users see what makeup products could look like on their face, the filters have video tutorials sourced from Sebela’s youtube channel and other makeup youtube channels.
Every time someone clicks that link and buys a product, the company will make a percentage of those funds. They are deciding which vendor company to partner with at the moment.
“Sephora doesn’t really want to pay us that much, but Amazon is thinking of paying us 4% of what we sell,” Conway said about the prospective companies.
One future engagement they have is to turn the app into a social media.
“People (will) be able to comment on what looks good. We’ll also want (makeup) influencers to upload their own custom looks to the site,” Conway said.
Conway, Le and Jiang haven’t been without assistance on the way. With the help of advisor Dian Yuan, co-founder of Indico Data Solutions and recently featured on Forbes 30 under 30 list, they’ve had an entrepreneurial one-up. Earning semi-finalist and finalist prizes through “Shark Tank-like” competitions, they’ve garnered $35,000 in investor dollars, according to Conway.
None of these earnings go into their pockets, though.
“We’re all just going to pump (the money) back into social media since all of us are working for free, doing this in our off time,” Conway said.
For full-time students, starting a company is no easy bidding.
Conway credited the Las Positas computer science program and Computer Science club for honing his skills.
“These professors are fantastic. Some of them go and teach at SJSU too. There are really amazing high-level classes that I don’t have to pay a lot for,” Conway said.
“I was able to get into data science and work with API’s through (the club). A guest speaker came in and taught about modifying data using Python,” he said.
An API is an application programming interface which is essentially a connection between computers or computer programs. When you use Facebook or send an instant message, you are using an API. Python is a general programming language that emphasizes code readability. These are both important for Conway’s job, back-end development.
Head of the computer science department at Las Positas, Bill Komanetsky, offers more insight into the world of augmented reality.
“Augmented reality is the ability to take something digital and place it into the real world for you to view,” Komanetsky said.
An example of augmented reality is Pokemon Go, or Tesla’s self-driving cars. The idea of augmented reality being utilized in different industries is still very new.
“The idea of augmented reality came up and only one student out of forty even knew what I was talking about,” he said.
Komanetsky worries if kids are already distracted by their phones and the internet, augmented reality will make them even more distracted. While augmented reality technology is new and exciting, developers need to make sure their technology is “fully-cooked.”
Augmented reality has primarily been used in advertising, but has capabilities to go into public service sectors like medical and education industries. App-Developer Lily Jiang will be conducting research this summer on Apple’s low-level programming language for graphics, Metal, to improve the app’s accessibility to disabled communities.
“I’ll be looking into assistant tools for blind people or visually impaired people who want to learn how to do makeup,” Jiang said.
“The idea is that the app will be able to look at what makeup you’ve applied to your face and then tell you if it’s uneven, or the foundations a little bit patchy,” she said. “Another feature we want to implement is having foundation be a party of the features, which requires a whole new set of technology” she continued.
“We want Sebela to be inclusive of helping people from all backgrounds and conditions that a lot of other makeup companies disregard.” Le said.
Le emphasized the importance of apps like Sebela, “There aren’t a lot of products in tech that solve a problem for women, so that really drives us as a team to constantly build a product that provides value to a lot of people.”
The three have plans to participate in the Babson College summer venture program, a 10-week experience for student entrepreneurs from Babson College, Olin College of Engineering and Wellesley College. Through the program, they’ll accelerate their start-ups’ progress with the help of expert mentors, dedicated advisors and an abundance of resources Babson’s Blank Center has to offer. The program only selects approximately 15 teams every summer, but Sebela made the cut. Not only do they get professional assistance, but each Babson Summer Venture team receives services with a market value of at least $200 thousand.
“I am looking forward to being mentored by entrepreneurs that have years of experience that can help us grow Sebela,” Le said.
Spending time away from school this summer will let the team direct all of their attention toward Sebela’s progress. With the team’s continued grit, passion and earned resources, Sebela looks to have great long-term potential.
Lizzy Rager is a copy-editor for The Express.