Lily Tse left agency life to become an entrepreneur, and now she’s on a mission to help people purchase beauty products that are good for you and good for the environment. Read on to see her global idea for tech and innovation.
How did you get involved in tech?
I didn’t get involved in tech until I founded my tech company, ThinkDirty.
I went to university for Design and Business, at both University of Toronto and York University, then went into the advertising agency world.
I worked for various agencies – Taxi, Idea Couture, Sid Lee, and others – eight agencies in total over thirteen years.
It was not until I had a family issue that I got into tech, staring ThinkDirty in 2012.
My mom was sick, and therefore had to be very careful about chemicals and other ingredients that she had on her body. It got me thinking about cosmetics and the ingredients in them, and how many are potentially harmful.
This led me to found ThinkDirty, a mobile app that helps you shop for beauty products that are both good for your health and good for the environment.
You have 3 hours to make someone fall in love with Toronto – where do you take them and what do you show them?
We’d start by going to King West. You can see the TIFF area (if it’s late summer), there are a lot of new restaurants, and it’s a beautiful walk. I’d then stop at my favourite cafe, Forno Cultura, for some pastries and espresso.
After that, we’d go to Kensington Market. I love it because there’s so much character in the area with second hand stores, small shops, and cafes.
Then, if we had time, I’d take them to the Ossington area. There are boutiques and galleries you can tour first and then many great bars for a drink after.
Elevate Toronto is founded on three principles (#DiversityIsOurStrength, #DisruptTogether, #ItsOurTime). Which one resonates most with you?
I am an immigrant, born and raised in Hong Kong. I went to the United States to attend art college in Baltimore, Maryland for one year but came to Toronto when I was 19. I’ve seen first hand that Toronto is unique because of all the newcomers to the city.
Everyone who comes to Toronto – from Canada or abroad – brings their background, interests, perspectives, and identities to the city, and that’s what makes it interesting. It leads to more interesting businesses, a focus on multiple global problems, and collaboration opportunities.
What is your “global idea” for tech and innovation?
My global idea is to challenge all potential founders to verify that their problem really matters in a global context and that the industry actually needs disrupting.
There are a lot of tech solutions coming out that only affect the privileged or rich, and I don’t believe this is truly how tech will make the world a better place. I want to see people using tech to solve problems for the majority.
As well, I think you should question whether you need to be disrupting a specific area, whether people want to see an area disrupted, and whether disrupting that area would be better for customers and eventually the world.
There is no good to creating a problem just so you can solve it.
What should the world know about the Toronto tech community?
The world needs to know that Toronto is underrated based on our potential.
We are often overshadowed by NYC or SF, but the reality is we have people coming from all over the world to innovate here, the city itself is beautiful and livable, and we are welcoming of new perspectives.
These three facts mean Toronto has huge potential that is not yet fully realized.