Live Tinted’s Path to Product Market Fit: How to Build a Loyal and Passionate Community Before You Even Have a Brand

Live Tinted’s Path to Product Market Fit: How to Build a Loyal and Passionate Community Before You Even Have a Brand

Live Tinted co-founder and CEO Deepica Mutyala sits down with First Round Partner Todd Jackson for a behind-the-scenes look at how she built a loyal and powerful customer base long before she ever had a product to sell.

As a young South Asian woman growing up in Texas, Deepica Mutyala vividly remembers wandering the makeup aisles in stores in search of other women who looked like her — modeling the products she loved to buy. But there were none — instead, it was a parade of nearly identical-looking white models.

“I remember telling my family, I’m going to create a brand one day and change this,” Mutyala says. “And they laughed and told me to go study for my SATs, because you know, they’re Indian parents.”

From that point forward, every decision Mutyala made was an intentional one. Each step forward she took in her career would be in service toward launching a beauty brand that would represent the people who looked like her.

Mutyala is the founder and CEO of Live Tinted, a beauty and cosmetic brand created to solve unique beauty concerns for all skin tones.

Its signature “Huestick” product (a 3-in-1 color corrector that can be used on eyes, lips and cheeks) has won the Allure Best in Beauty Award three years in a row with over half a million units sold. Since it launched in 2018, Live Tinted has sold over 1 million units and is the first-ever South Asian-owned beauty brand to launch at Ulta.

Mutyala also has an impressive list of industry titans on her cap table. Just a handful of her earliest investors include makeup mogul Bobbi Brown, Toni Ko (founder of NYX cosmetics) Payal Kadakia Pujji (founder of ClassPass) and Andy Dunn (CEO and co-founder of Bonobos).

Mutyala was able to do this by pulling off a tricky maneuver: leveraging her 75,000-person-strong online community into a loyal and passionate customer base for her brand — months before she ever had a product to sell.

As we continue to unravel different founder journeys in our series, it’s become clear there’s no linear path to product-market fit. While some founders choose to hone in on user research for years before launching their product, others take a sharp left turn, scrapping together a demo as fast as they can and releasing it to the world. There are no limits to the number of detours you take, it only matters that you eventually get on the right course.

But there are certainly roads less traveled, and Mutyala’s story is a first-rate example of how plunging headfirst into community-building and marketing can pay off big time.

Up until now, we’ve heard from over a dozen founders in the tech industry, working on B2B SaaS products and consumer products alike. But there is still plenty of wisdom to be learned for founders in any industry from Mutyala’s story. Her fascinating career in the beauty industry (on the corporate, startup and solo influencer side) provided crucial lessons and connections that she collected towards building her pioneering brand.

In this exclusive interview, Mutyala shares the story of how Live Tinted came to be. She tells us how she tapped into an overlooked area of the market to anchor her brand, why she built a community space for those folks long before she even had a product in mind, and how she leaned on that community to get valuable customer feedback so that her first launch was a blockbuster success.

So let’s rewind the clock to go all the way back to when Mutyala took her first steps into a blossoming beauty career.


The idea of eventually building a beauty brand for Southeast Asian women kept rumbling around in the back of her mind as Mutyala went through college as a business major. Her first entry into beauty was through an internship at L’Oreal and the plan was to become a brand manager, go to Harvard Business School and eventually launch her own brand.

Instead, Mutyala ended up at beauty subscription startup Birchbox in 2012 — which at the time was an up-and-coming business shaking up the brick-and-mortar-dominated beauty industry with its monthly subscription box model.

Mutyala started there as a marketer and eventually moved to the product development team. Her move into the startup world proved to be serendipitous.

“I was a few years into my role in marketing at Birchbox and doing a lot of content for them — including monthly shoots where I’d get my makeup done and I was constantly around makeup artists.”

Mutyala remembers one particular instance when an artist started putting something red under her eyes that felt like lipstick. Perplexed, Mutyala asked what it was, and the artist informed her it wasn’t lipstick at all, but a color corrector.

This may feel like makeup semantics. But the experience was pivotal for Mutyala.

“My first question was: what’s really the difference? Because I’m not a makeup artist. I’m just an everyday girl who loves the beauty industry and I’m always thinking about how I can simplify this space. While this artist was telling me a lot of reasons these two products were different, what I heard was essentially nothing.”

The whole experience led Mutyala to come up with a neat trick. Using plain red lipstick, she applied it under her eyes to cover dark circles and mask dark spots on her face. When Birchbox passed on the idea of creating content around the beauty hack for their own editorial team, Mutyala seized the opportunity for herself. “I filmed a YouTube video of me applying this to my under eyes and then it took off.”

Screenshot from Mutyala’s viral video where she applies red lipstick to her under eyes to mask dark circles. 

“It was my second video ever. I didn’t even have ad revenue activated,” she says. “I filmed it on a phone, vertically (not horizontally — a rookie mistake). I didn’t know what I was doing. But I knew I had tips and tricks that were catered to an audience that no one was speaking to. And it turns out 10 million people agreed.”

After pressing “upload,” Mutyala’s life changed overnight.

Her lipstick hack caught like wildfire. She racked up millions of views on her video and thousands of comments. She was invited to show off her trick on national TV programs like “The Today Show” and “The Dr. Oz Show.” New subscribers and followers were pouring into her YouTube channel and Instagram, many of them South Asian women like herself, thanking her for such a simple solution to a problem many of them shared.

I realized I should dive into this virality and see what happens. I kept thinking, if I lean into this, I’ll have a built-in audience before I even have a brand.

So Mutyala took a leap of faith. She quit her job at Birchbox to pursue a full-time career as a beauty influencer. For the next three years, Mutyala was creating regular content for her YouTube channel, steadily growing her engagement numbers and living off income from brand deals and ads. She was slowly inching closer toward building a business, but she got an extra nudge when she was approached by someone who was building a brand with a similar vision, who offered Mutyala the opportunity to be the face of their brand.

“This person was interested in creating their own beauty brand for South Asian women because their daughter was half Indian and he wanted to build a brand for women with skin tones like her. That’s when I realized that if I wasn’t going to build this, someone else would.”

I didn’t want to own 10% of someone else’s company. I wanted to build my own.

But imposter syndrome reared its ugly head, as did creeping societal expectations Mutyala battled.

“As a South Asian woman, I hadn’t really seen anyone else successfully do what I wanted to do,” Mutyala says. “There was Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi, and she was our hero because she was the only female South Asian CEO to look up to. But I didn’t feel anything like her. When I looked at her, I saw a woman with a traditional business background and a pedigree that just screamed CEO to me. I still didn’t know if there was room for me yet.”

So Mutyala sought out advice from the only person she thought would relate to her — her cousin Neilesh.

“I come from a family of all doctors and I also have lots of first cousins — 20 actually,” Mutyala says. “But Neilesh is the only one of them who isn’t a doctor. He went to Harvard Business School and is an incredibly smart guy. He became my go-to person for advice and resources to help get this idea of a business off the ground.”

After riffing with him on ideas about what it would take to get a beauty brand off the ground, Mutyala had a true lightbulb moment.

“I thought — wait a second — what skill set does Neilesh bring to the table that I don’t? And do our superpowers come together nicely to complete two halves of a whole? We ended up realizing that we should do this together,” she says.

Although neither of them had built a company before, with her strong marketing background and his formal business training, Mutyala felt confident they had the right combination of skills to get something off the ground. “I knew how to market a brand, and he knew how to handle operations and logistics on the backend.” So her cousin Neilesh joined as co-founder and COO, a position he still holds today.

The dream Mutyala had been thinking of ever since she was 16 had finally taken shape. They were ready to build.


But instead of immediately diving into crafting product prototypes or deep customer research, Mutyala was adamant about starting by building a space where her audience could connect with one another.

“After working in the beauty industry on the corporate side and the startup side, I saw that there was a community of people who hadn’t seen themselves represented,” Mutyala says. “You would look at any magazine and it was the same story about the same girl. This was back in 2018 before being diverse and inclusive was embraced as a good business decision.”

So Mutyala seized the opportunity, launching a simple Instagram page to fill the void, guiding her own followers she amassed as an influencer to follow the page.

“Looking back at it now, at the time, it was really important to me that people that look like me saw themselves in beauty,” Mutyala says. “Once I started to actually go through with building this brand, I realized there’s a lot of people that don’t feel like they’ve been represented, which is why we decided to call the community Live Tinted. The concept is we all have a tint to our skin and that unites us. I wanted to come together around a shared experience.”

Every day, Live Tinted would feature people who weren’t traditionally represented by the beauty industry by uploading their photos and stories to Instagram. Community members would engage by commenting and sharing posts organically on the platform. The success of the account started to snowball.

Alongside a growing fan base, existing brands started to take notice. As one of only a handful of prominent beauty pages on Instagram routinely posting images of deeper-skinned South Asian women, Live Tinted provided existing brands a space to join the conversations, as well as a way to signal their own commitment to diversity in beauty. “Pretty soon we started to become an authoritative voice of inclusivity within the beauty industry,” Mutyala says. This helped to even further legitimize the brand.

Building a community platform doesn’t have to be anything fancy, nor do folks need to quit their full-time jobs to become influencers to manage it. Here are a few startup-friendly shortcuts Mutyala took that helped spike Live Tinted’s growth.

  • Pick one social channel and stick with it. “We started Live Tinted as a simple Instagram page and would post new content daily. This helped our growth exponentially. Then over time, we were able to turn our followers into our email subscriber base which turned into our guest list for events — diversifying our marketing channels without doing any extra lift,” Mutyala says.
  • Don’t sweat the name - you can change it later. “I knew it was going to be a journey to nail down the perfect name,” Mutyala says. “We went from Live Tinted to Tinted and back to Live Tinted again. At this stage, we were testing what would resonate most with people and the changes didn’t stop us from growing to over 75,000 members. What matters most at the end of the day is to own the name.”
  • Piggyback off existing brands. As Live Tinted’s platform started to garner a reputation for being a diverse and inclusive community space, Mutyala leveraged that rep as a selling point to partner with other big brands. “Existing brands wanted to partner with us to showcase their commitment to diversity in beauty. So we took full advantage of that position,” Mutyala says. “We’d throw events with well-known beauty brands like Cover FX and Create & Cultivate, with the intention of fostering a conversation around diversity and inclusion. This helped market our brand to even more folks.”

Using community as a springboard for product development

Not only was Live Tinted’s strong digital community its best marketing channel, but once it grew to nearly 100,000 followers, Mutyala was able to extract valuable insights from Live Tinted’s members that were crucial to unlocking a new innovative product. There were two key ways Deepica leveraged her community for product development.

The first was what Mutyala calls “Instagram focus groups.” These were simple off-the-cuff polls that Mutyala posted on Instagram Stories to crowdsource information. “Even at the time the beauty industry was so saturated. We all felt like, ‘Oh my god, I don’t need another eyeliner.’ So I started to ask the Live Tinted community, ‘What do you feel is missing from the beauty industry that you’d want to see?’ Overwhelmingly, 98% of the community said that their number one beauty concern was hyperpigmentation and dark circles.”

Very quickly, this became the launching pad for the product Mutyala knew she needed to make. “Between my viral video that racked up millions of views, thousands of comments and now my community three years later saying this was their number one beauty concern, I realized nobody had created a solution for the same situation I had gone viral for a few years back,” Mutyala says. “That inspired our very first product, the Huestick.”

The community was also instrumental in getting folks to live-test the product. “Our community was always rooting for us. They were genuinely excited about our interest in product questions and became our biggest champions,” Mutyala says. “So when we shared the opportunity to test out a potential product, we had no shortage of volunteers.”

There were so many volunteers that Mutyala ended up having to curate testing groups through a selection process, in order to make sure she a had diverse group. It was also an intimate process, full of mutual trust.

“We invited volunteers to come to my house in LA to try out the product, test it, and make sure it worked for them,” Mutyala says. “While we’d post publicly asking our community for help on a project, we were never explicit about what we were building. Everything product-related was all behind the scenes.”

Deepica Mutyala, co-founder and CEO of Live Tinted


Things seemed to be falling into place for Live Tinted. Mutyala had the idea and a passionate and engaged customer base. She even had ins with top manufacturers in the industry.

In the makeup industry, so much of what ends up on shelves comes from only a handful of manufacturers. Without the right connections and the right brand cachet, it can be an uphill battle to push your way into those doors. Without them, smaller beauty companies take the risk of producing lower-quality products with subpar manufacturers.

“I had connections with manufacturers because of my Birchbox days. And that led from one intro to another to another. We ended up being able to work with the best and biggest labs in the industry. It’s not easy to get in those doors as a new brand. But I spent my entire career building these relationships to get into those doors.”

But unlike building a SaaS startup, where you can quickly code an MVP to get things up and running, Mutyala was staring down a significantly longer timeline just to get something ready for customers, especially with the plan to sell direct-to-consumer.

“It’s a 16 to 18-month process to develop a new beauty product from scratch,” Mutyala explains. “Much of that is coming up with a formula, testing that formula and sending it back and forth between the lab, and of course coming up with the right brand marketing and packaging.”

It meant that Mutyala and her small team of four were racing against the clock. “During the first year operating as a community platform, I raised $500k in a pre-seed round, mostly from family and friends and other angel checks. I had to make ruthless pivots to keep that money from burning. I originally wanted Live Tinted to be an editorial outlet, and I was paying someone full-time to do content and creative for us. But I quickly realized that didn’t make any sense for us, we needed all the money to go toward making a product. So I re-prioritized.”

And her team got to work on a product brief. “The first thing was to create a ‘no-list.’ We went through what ingredients we knew we didn’t want. Being a clean beauty brand was also really important to me, which meant our options became that much more limited.”

Mutyala also leveraged her deep background in marketing to nail the exact branding and packaging surrounding her product, so that when the formula was ready, everything would be in place for launch.

“I wanted there to be meaning behind every detail of our branding,” Mutyala says. “Nothing was too small. We wanted the slogan for the brand to be ‘every shade in between.’ The color of our packaging was copper — a metal that felt in between gold and silver. We also didn’t want anything about the brand to feel trendy. We wanted it to be timeless and tied to culture. Copper is a metal that is tied to Indian culture, but also African culture, Hispanic culture and so many others. So not only was copper an in-between shade, but it also connected people. Our actual packaging had a brushed finish to it — it was imperfectly perfect. All the little things added up.”

As the waiting period began for perfecting their first product, Mutyala shares three of the most important lessons from this period of getting her brand off the ground that she imparts to other early-stage founders looking to get scrappy.

  • Make lemonade out of lemons. “One of the things we wanted to create was a clean red color,” Mutyala says. (To be a clean brand in the beauty industry means products have to be made with non-toxic materials and transparent about their ingredients.)To create a clean red hue is virtually impossible without using Carmine, which makes the product not vegan. So the first red we got back from the lab was actually a burnt-brown color, which is not what we originally wanted. But we ended up launching it later down the line as an eventual lipstick color and it became a bestseller.”
  • The best people might come from unexpected places. “For the packaging of our products, we didn’t have the money to work with the fancy agencies. We first tried partnering with a more affordable consultant, but I hated it. It’s how we ended up with a freelancer who wasn’t even in the beauty industry. But she was a genius who had a great eye and helped us come up with our branding.”
  • If you have no product to sell to investors, sell yourself. “To get my first $500k was hard. Really freaking hard. Because I was going out to investors and asking ‘Give me money for something that doesn’t exist yet.’ But I learned through the pitching process how much people were investing in me over anything else. So in my investor deck, I included data from partnerships I had done with Glossier and a few other big-name brands from my influencer days showing my conversion data on my promotion codes. I was able to prove that when I told people what to buy, they would buy,” Mutyala says.

Building hype as a GTM strategy

Unlike the process of formulating a new beauty product, where trial and error can all be done relatively behind the scenes, the only question remaining for Live Tinted’s upcoming product launch was price. They were ready to ship the Huestick in three different skin tone shades: Rise, Origin, and Perk. Mutyala and her team decided to price them at $24 each.

“Pricing the Huestick was tough because the product was the first of its kind,” Mutyala says. “To figure it out, we were looking at both the market for multi sticks and the market for color correctors and landed on a price point that felt fair to us, but still accessible.”

Once the product, packaging and pricing were sorted, there wasn’t much left to do other than hit publish on the Huestick product page. After months of hard work, it was finally the moment to find out if Mutyala’s gut intuition was right or not.

The original product launch of Huestick. 

“There was no master plan to launching. The game plan was to post a couple of times on our social media channels and then I would promote the crap out of it.”

There was this weird sense of self-belief I had. I truly had no doubt that this was going to work. I was almost delusionally confident.

The strategy was to post three times: Two weeks before, she would start teasing the idea of a product, one week before officially revealing it was going to be a product, and finally releasing the launch post. When they finally pushed the product live on a simple landing page, Mutyala’s DMs flooded.

Screenshot of Mutyala’s Instagram post announcing the launch of the Huestick back in 2019.

“The comments were all really, really sweet. So many people said ‘Holy crap Deepica you did it. You made a brand for us.’ The plot twist was getting such an emotional reaction from people outside of Indian culture that were praising the product and told us they felt seen.”

Thankfully, the sales numbers matched the DMs and kind comments as well. The Huestick sold 10 times what Mutyala had projected to sell in the first few days of launching.

We hit our first month’s sales goal in one day,” Mutyala says. “Our average cart size was $50, telling us that people were buying the Huestick in multiples. It was so validating because I worked so hard to get to this moment and it was so rewarding that the community got behind us the way it did. I remember thinking, ‘Holy sh*t, we have a real business.’”

It feels like Live Tinted’s product launch happened overnight, but there was so much unseen effort on the backend. I spent my whole career making sure all the previously closed doors opened for me.


Live Tinted launched with just one product, the Huestick, in May 2019. “After we launched, my immediate thought was ‘We have to scale, we need to launch more products,’” Mutyala says. “But at the same time, I was also figuring out who I needed to hire to get us to the right scale.”

In the midst of adding a new shade to the Huestick line, formulating new products they wanted to create, keeping the business afloat and hiring new team members, the pandemic shut the world down.

“Right before the pandemic, we went on Good Morning America and sold out two of our Huestick shades,” Mutyala says. “We thought we were in a good place. We had already ordered enough of the product from our manufacturers to replenish our supply, but then our factory shut down the next week.”

For the next four months, Live Tinted was out of stock of two of the most popular shades of their only product. At this point, the company was still operating direct-to-consumer, meaning they weren’t relying on any brick-and-mortar sales from big box retailers. With no new way to replenish and no new products on the horizon, sales inevitably started to take a hit.

“The pandemic definitely hurt our sales, because we couldn’t produce new products. We didn’t grow at the capacity we wanted, not because our customers didn’t want to support us, but because we didn’t have anything for them to buy.”

But hindsight really is…2020. Mutyala reflects on her launch day and what she would’ve done differently if she had to do it all again.

  • Have more products in the pipeline. “Looking back, if I was doing this from a pure business perspective, and not the joy of building for the community, I would have a rollout of products ready to go immediately after launch to continue to capture this loyal audience’s market share,” Mutyala admits.
  • Fundraise immediately. “Our data was incredible at the time of our launch, and the smart thing to do would have been to go and fundraise at that moment,” Mutyala says. “We launched with the original three shades and had strong organic support. After we launched the fourth shade of the Huestick for the holidays, we saw an extremely high repeat rate in sales. I would imagine the reactions to our run rate would have been really positive. But it just wasn’t my focus at that time running the business — I didn’t have an hour to think about fundraising. All I could think about was how to keep going.”

To keep the momentum going for Live Tinted amidst the manufacturing stall, Mutyala and the team brainstormed carefully around their next move. “Between May 2019 and October 2021, it was a lot of figuring out what products we wanted to create, how to keep the business afloat, and who we wanted to hire.”

Raising a seed round

Mutyala had managed to get her business up in the air off $500k, but she now had her sights set on a bigger vision for the company. To get to more products and hire top talent, she needed more cash. But it turned out to be even tougher than the last fundraise.

“The seed round of funding really messed me up,” Mutyala recalls. “We had a term sheet in place and then the investor pulled out during the diligence process. I learned so much from that time — it slowed us down almost by six months. It makes you question everything. What did the investor learn in diligence that made them think I wasn’t worth investing in?”

But silver linings are everywhere in startup building, and when one door closes, Mutyala was relieved to find others opening.

“It was hard to see in the moment but it was a blessing in disguise. I got excited by a valuation number and I went with the highest term sheet rather than the right partner, even though we had many term sheets in front of us. Big learning lesson there.”

I learned through the pitching process how much people were investing in me over anything else. No one cared where my co-founder went to school or who else I had on my cap table. They were betting on me as a human being.

Live Tinted ended up raising a $3 million seed round in September 2021. The following month, it switched up its sales strategy.

“We always thought we were going to be direct to consumer at launch. Quite frankly, because of the Glossier effect, it felt like that was going to be our business model for a long, long time,” Mutyala says. “I knew I had a built-in audience and a really strong community behind us. So it felt like, why give up the margin to a retailer if we had a loyal audience that would buy our products?”

However, about a year and a half after launching the Huestick, Live Tinted partnered with Ulta to sell its products in its retail stores.

“There were many reasons why we wanted to go into a retailer after our launch, but the main one was that the whole ethos of our brand was we wanted people to feel seen. And I connected it back to my own experience as a teenager. I wanted people to walk into retail stores and see our products and immediately feel someone was looking out for them,” she says.


Fast forward to 2023, and Live Tinted has kicked things up quite a few notches since the pandemic shut things down. It expanded its product line to 17 items, with the signature Huestick still being the highest-rated item on its Ulta page.

When Mutyala looks back on the guts it took to hedge all her bets on her community and the discipline it took to wait 18 months for any sort of market indication, it shocks her.

“I’ve been thinking about the idea of fear a lot lately,” Mutyala says. “It blows my mind that because of a viral video, I quit my job at Birchbox and just went for it. But I truly think being a founder was always what I was meant to do.”

The plan for Live Tinted now is to continue to scale, create more innovative products for the beauty industry, and continue representing every person who has historically not felt seen in the products they’ve bought before.

But the beauty industry isn’t the only space where underrepresented minorities are feeling the brunt of being historically left out of the conversation. “I still am learning to lead and be assertive,” Mutyala says. “It goes back to not seeing many South Asian women as CEOs. I think with my limited examples of powerful Indian women running companies, part of me felt like I needed my Harvard cousin and the credibility that came with his degrees to start this brand.”

But as Mutyala discovered, forging the right connections and leaning on mentors and peers can only get you so far. Her biggest piece of advice that she tells founders now is to remember that your journey is exactly that — your journey.

“Don’t listen so much to other people’s advice,” she says. “For my first $500k, I had the guidance of so many amazing mentors and entrepreneurs. When lots of people are giving you advice, it can be great for emotional support, but at the same time, it can be a lot of noise.”

You’re not trying to replicate somebody else’s business, you’re trying to build your own. So sure, take subject matter experts' opinions to heart, but make your own decisions with what they tell you.