Clarisonic Founder Dr. Robb Talks M&A, Influencers and Next Business Venture

Dr. Robb Akridge has been giving people skin-care advice since 2004, when he cofounded Clarisonic.
But these days his guidance goes far beyond the dermatologic realm — and touches all aspects of business, including distribution and influencers. Akridge, who remains with Clarisonic as a spokesman through the end of the year, is on the verge of launching a new company. While mum on the details, the entrepreneur sat down with WWD over coffee at Society Café in Manhattan to dole out advice for budding entrepreneurs and tease his new business.
"During those Clarisonic years, I was on Nordstrom floors, Dillard's floors, cleaning women’s faces, talking to them about their skin, getting feedback on what they want, and that really hasn’t changed much," Akridge said. "Women still want to look good, they want to feel good about themselves. Now they call it wellness, but back then it was about having beautiful skin and feeling good about it.
"That's what I'm still doing — I'm listening to the consumer and figuring out what they want, and right now they want wellness. They also want customization, and they want something that will excite them when they see it…so, that's what I'm working on," Akridge continued.
Other hints he gave on the product include: It's still in beauty, there will be variations available for different price points, and it'll be primarily sold direct-to-consumer, though he does still love the QVC model and would happily launch there, he said.
Being thrust back into entrepreneur land after 15 years of working at an established business has given Akridge an interesting perspective on how the industry has shifted. He's doing things differently with the venture — especially when it comes to fund-raising. He's been watching the beauty landscape carefully, and has yet to be convinced on the scalability of influencer brands.
"I have ideas in other areas, but I have credibility in beauty," Akridge said. "Influencers can have, like, four million followers because they're really into skin care or fashion or whatever, and now all these influencers are starting to launch their own personal brands.…It doesn't mean that every influencer that goes out and creates a brand is going to have an audience that will buy. Then, how do you as an influencer expand your customer base? What it'll do is start fragmenting the market.
"How are you going to amplify your signal if you're one of 1,000 influencers? It's not going to happen," Akridge said.
That doesn't mean he's not planning to seed his new brand with the influencer community, though.
"We’re going to make sure the brand is amplified and well-received through influencers, which is different than Clarisonic — when Clarisonic started there were no bloggers," Akridge said. Instead, in 2004, Clarisonic gained credibility through the professional channel in dermatologists' offices, and gradually made its way into retail distribution. Now the brand is owned by L'Oréal. 
But before it got there, it went through an extensive fund-raising process, with more than 200 angel investors.
It's something that these days, Akridge advises to avoid.
"We went through three rounds of putting in our own money and then we got prototypes and we said, 'OK, now we need real money to actually produce this thing.' We produced these prototypes, they were butt-ugly — horrible — and we went around to rich people, angels, and said, 'rich angels, please give us some of your money, and this is how much we need for production,'" Akridge said. 
But there wasn't a minimum cutoff for contribution, and Clarisonic ended up with more than 200 angel investors, all with different sizes of investment, he said. "The challenge with that was the fact that there were so many people you had to keep in the communication line." 
Right now, Akridge has 11 investors in his new project, each of whom invested at least $50,000. He said that since he has a track record in the industry, several groups, including his marketing team, engineers and formulators, wanted to be paid partially or entirely in stock versus dollars.
"The balance is, what's the company worth, and what percentage do you want to give to the vendors, what percentage do you want to give to the angels, and balancing it so that I can still have the lion's share and run the company," Akridge said. 
It's important to keep that equation in mind as part of the plan, and to start thinking about exit opportunities early on, Akridge advises other entrepreneurs.
"When I talk to people about growing their company or creating their company, I say, 'OK, how are you going to exit?'" Akrdige said. For some, the easiest way to go about it is to pick a sales number and agree to run a process once the company gets there, he said.
His other advice for entrepreneurs is to patent their ideas — for his next project, he already has five patents, he said.
"You can’t just create a cosmetic brand without having something totally different that’s patentable. Who needs another active ingredient?" Akridge said.
He tells entrepreneurs, "Your ideas are precious, don't tell anybody your ideas, patent them," he said. "Then, be true to yourself, go for it, you know the brand and what you want to create better than anyone else. And before you even launch your product, while you're creating the brand, know how you're going to sell it and go through those scenarios."
It's something he's keeping in mind for his next act.
"The exit strategy is to sell it to a large corporation at some point in time," he said.
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