After selling in 2005, its three founders, Tamim Mourad, 42, Omar Mourad, 40, and Cory Rosenberg, 38, and one employee, Francisco Gimenez, 43, wanted to create a subscription-based business in a new industry. After Tamim Mourad had dinner with a salon owner, online hair products retailer eSalon, in Culver City, California, was born.

--As told to Alix Stuart

We researched the industry for six months and discovered a lot of dissatisfaction with the quality of box hair color. We set up a basic website, and asked home hair color customers questions a stylist would ask. About 50 people responded and sent photos of themselves. We worked with a colorist and sent custom hair color to them. The response was positive. For that test, the colorist manually blended the colors. We packed the orders ourselves. That wasn't scalable, so we worked with a liquid-dispenser manufacturer to customize a machine that could mix colors in every bottle. Later, we tore it apart to improve it. We created software to link the client consultations, formulations, custom blending process, accounting, and restocking.

We launched in September 2010, but people weren't buying hair color frequently online. We engaged YouTube bloggers who did product reviews. This drew young customers, but retention was low. We had to target people who cover their gray. A Good Housekeeping Institute blog review drove our best customers to us. Today we get complaints from people who work at salons and feel threatened. That tells us we're doing something right.