Updated: Dec 30, 2020
Having adult acne can weigh on your self-esteem and your self-image. But you're not alone; in fact, clinical studies show that 40-55% of adults have persistent acne and oily skin. Many of you have tried dozens of products only to find them working temporarily, or they don't work at all. It's frustrating when you're not able to get to the root cause. Bianca Maxwell, the founder of Skinary, knew this problem very well.
The Launch Of Skinary
Bianca is the second-place winner of the first-ever Black Girl Ventures virtual pitch competition. She states that she had full body acne since she was 13 years old. She experimented with drugstores and luxury products. Bianca tried home treatments and elimination diets. She even tried beauty tech tools, aestheticians, and medical spas, and wasn't able to understand her acne problem. Like most people, Bianca wanted healthy and glowing skin, which led her to create Skinary.
Skinary is an application that leverages machine learning to understand skin issues using your personal data. It helps you to improve your daily diet, cleansing, and lifestyle habits so you can have healthy skin from the inside out. You take a selfie, and Skinary gets to work by pinpointing problem areas on your skin. The application helps you to avoid bad habits that trigger breakouts and is a complementary tool for your daily routine.
Bianca, with her background in product management, she decided to solve this problem for a lot of people. Since she has experience in product management, she began to look at what was in her toolbox. She then reached out to her network of women for support. On her team, she has dedicated engineers, a chief skin advisor, and a nutritionist. She uses evidence-based practices, so you can understand how your lifestyle may be having an impact on your skin.
When asked how she thought of the name for her app, she observed how the large tech companies are named with two based words put together. With a bit more research, she asked herself what the two critical elements of her app are? She realized it's a digital diary that tracks habits and focuses on the skin, skin + diary = skinary.
What are you most proud of?
"I'm really proud of the number of people who have joined the team because of the mission," Bianca says as a result of her mission-driven company she has been able to attract amazing talent, top-notch advisors, and founders. People reach out to her to see how they could help the mission. As a result, she has advisors from LinkedIn and amazon and people with multimillion-dollar companies. She is proud of who continues to work behind the scenes to support her, the mission, and her company.
What's the biggest fear you had during your business journey?
"I think the biggest thing, I am––Black women in tech are unicorns, so we have very high ladders to climb, we start a lot further down than anyone else does when you're trying to hit the same goals. A founder trying to raise $1 million for seed round, it's a lot harder for women of color because investments made over time have typically been a boys club nature."
Despite more organizations who are opening more doors to serve Black and Brown women founders, there is still much more that needs to be done. This fear is across the board, and it's shown in the data that this group is underfunded and underrepresented.
Describe what it was like preparing for the pitch competition.
Bianca hasn't done many pitch competitions. The Black Girl Ventures pitch competition of SXSW was her second pitch competition. "I was always working on my pitch, or my pitch deck, just consistently working on it, working on how to pitch it verbally. I spent a weekend recording myself, and over two days, I probably recorded 18 hours!"
During the pitch competition, it's crucial to be able to articulate your vision and your business. It allows you to be concise. Bianca spent a lot of time absorbing what it means to pitch. She listened and watched a lot of content. She listened to podcasts about pitching, and this gave her insight on questions that the judges may ask her.
Her advice is to practice with yourself. Then pitch to friends, pitch to the camera because this helps with the tone and pace. Your friends can provide you with the feedback you need to tighten your pitch. Take a little time to understand your pitch deck design because it's still a form of marketing. This helps you to figure out how your branding can breathe into your pitch deck because it's a deck that you'll consistently share with investors or other potential partnerships.
Tell us about a significant setback you had in your business, and how did you recover?
Bianca says her major setbacks when she first started was finding founders, specifically tech founders. She went through three founders. This had both time and monetary costs. However, the lesson was she didn't need a CTO at this point in her business, and she had more than enough technical experience to sustain Skinary.
She realized that some people are suitable for the beginning of the company. However, they don't always scale with the company. Solo founder's, she said, tend to make investors nervous. It took her ten months to learn this lesson, but within those ten months, she was able to sign partnership and licensing deals and was able to hire engineers.
How do you measure success?
"I used to think success, like one day I wanted to make a list of women that are killing in the game, it was a cool list that had Black women trailblazers to watch, and I haven't even launched the product. But, having a product that someone can come up to me one day and say that really helped me, for me, that's the definition of success. Having a product that has an impact on people's lives, that's success."
Entrepreneurs are in the business of solving problems, and being an entrepreneur isn't a journey that's for everyone. So at the end of the day, you need something bigger and more profound that's going to carry you through, especially when something happens on your journey that sets all your hard work back.
Support isn't always given to women of color in business, when has this shown and hurt or disappointed you the most?
There's this expectation that people are going to "hook you up" because you come from the same background. But, you're putting your reputation on the line. You're also most likely the "only" in the room. "What has been disappointing is people making promises for introductions and never following up from it. But on the other side of the coin, Bianca has found that support has come in unexpected places and from people who she never imagined.
What's the most critical lesson you've learned about business, in general?
Despite managing for other people and negotiating deals for others, Bianca found the hardest lesson was learning how to manage people in her business. She had to learn how to maintain boundaries. When people weren't meeting the expectations of the company, it was difficult for her to let people go specifically founders who weren't working out. "Sometimes, you have to change your management style to fit the need."
What's the most significant risk you've taken in your life thus far? And how did it turn out?
"Cashing out my 401k has been the biggest risk, so far, but it's literally paying off now, for anyone taking their nest egg to invest in yourself into an idea is a risk. But you can't expect anyone else to take a risk on you if you don't take a risk on yourself." Bianca left her job to work on Skinary fulltime, and she moved to LA right before the COVID-19 lockdown to pitch to people in the wellness space.
What's the most exciting part of your business?
The most exciting part of Bianca's business is branding and marketing and being a digital content creator. Although, most would probably say the application because of it's many cool features. With the app, you can take an AI, take a selfie, do face mapping, click on different areas of your face, create a catalog of images, such as before and after to track the progression of your skin.
What do you think the future holds for Black women entrepreneurs and small business owners?
Bianca believes the future is bright and more women are breaking into the space, although the numbers are still small, the data continues to increase every year. Bianca is part of a group called the visible figures, numbers increasing every year. She makes sure that she is in supportive communities and curated spaces for Black women. Bianca believes the current climate is opening doors and opportunities for women that weren't there before because of the pandemic, combined with women having fewer barriers historically. "I'm curious to see what builders come out of this time."
If you and I were meeting three years from now, looking back, what would it take for you to feel happy about your progress?
In three years, Bianca would love to break into one million users on her app. She would love to break into a different space in tech using their consumer data, and adding more product offerings to their consumers. She would love to have women ambassadors to help spread the Skinary mission.
What do you think is an important skill or asset you need to be successful in business?
"They need to be self-critical. I think when people are building their companies, they're not open to constructive criticism, and that's because your own personal ego can stop you from being critical. You shouldn't be hypercritical of yourself but think from a different perspective, and be honest with yourself."
Bianca continues to say be observant of how your narratives could potentially be impacting your business as there are many times where objectivity is a critical element in the process. Be Careful of tunnel vision and make sure that you can see beyond your peripheral.
Being a business owner is a tough job, how do you take care of yourself?
Despite the quarantine, Bianca continues to wake up at 6 am. She does a bit of reflecting after she meditates for an hour by writing in her journal. Bianca uses her peloton bike and eats nutritious food. And she works only a certain number of hours and makes sure she is in bed by 10–11 pm. Every day is a workday, but Bianca takes time to socialize and recharge. Morning routines are necessary for Bianca, and she has created boundaries to fulfill it.
What is your favorite quote or mantra?
"Do everything you possibly can in one lifetime." Kanye West
What's your favorite business hack or app that you can't live without?
Airtable, Google Drive, and Adobe.
What's your favorite book and podcast?
Book: Harry Potter
Name one food item you have a hard time saying no to.
There's a donut shop called Yum Yum donuts that's next door. Vegan junk food, soy chorizo burritos, and flaming hot Cheetos,
What's next for Skinary?
Skinary is in the middle of planning their launch and raising preseed. They are focused on getting as much traction and users and feedback as much as they can. They are looking to hold digital events with beta testers to get feedback and talk about their journey of using the app. They are focused on building a product that people love and use.