Is Customised, Data-Driven Skincare The Future?
Meghan Maupin is co-founder of Atolla, a brand pioneering custom skincare based on a fascinating data-driven model. We love Atolla because its a vegan and cruelty- free solution to common skincare issues!
Tell us about Atolla and its values. Atolla’s mission is to help people become more confident in their skin and their skincare. Education and transparency is key—teaching people about their skin health measurements (oil, moisture, pH) and how that relates to what ingredients they should and shouldn’t use. With a focus on skin health, we aim to always show real skin (and that isn’t always perfect). You won’t see us posting photoshopped skin or models with makeup on. Today more than ever, beauty brands have the obligation to represent the diversity of the world we live in. Another core value for Atolla is accessibility; we believe that everyone should have access to the amazing products, designed for their unique skin needs.
Tell us your business story. Although we officially launched less than a year ago, we’ve been developing Atolla’s technology for over two years. The idea for Atolla came from my personal struggle with my skin. In grad school at MIT, I started experiencing allergic reactions on my skin that I had never had before. I began keeping a skin diary to keep track of what products I was using, what I ate, and other factors that might have contributed to my skin changes, but found it really complicated to determine what to use and not use.
I met my co-founder Sid at [MIT business school] Sloan and he was dealing with a similar issue with his eczema. Together we started thinking about a more scientific approach to skincare, leveraging the extensive AI/ML knowledge at MIT. We met our third co-founder, Dermatologist Dr. Ranella Hirsch, through MIT as well and together we combined our backgrounds in design, data, and dermatology to re-imagine the skincare experience.
Congratulations! We would love to hear more about the future of Atolla. Our long-term vision is to use all of the data we are collecting to build a predictive model for skin health so we can help people prevent skin issues, in addition to treating them. I’m really excited about this year because we have been growing rapidly and starting to see some really amazing developments in our predictive models. We’re getting ready to launch moisturizer and cleansers, as well as more serum ingredients like retinol and peptides. At the same time, we’re improving our digital app features to make it easier than ever to track your skin health progress.
Tell us your product story. Atolla takes a unique approach to product development, designing our formulations from thousands of user data points. This is flipped from the typical industry approach of creating a trendy formulation first and then testing on a “representative panel” of less than 50 people to see who it works best for. Before developing the Atolla serums, we spent a year refining our technology and collecting physical skin data through in-person pop-ups and beta programs. From there, we analysed our data and looked at user needs and preferences. My dermatologist co-founder Dr. Ranella Hirsch curated a list of highly efficacious, researched-backed ingredients to include in our formulations. Your Atolla serum is customized on several levels: your base, active ingredients, and percentages of active ingredients. Our patented system uses machine learning to analyse the efficacy of your formulation (through different types of data) and continuously adapt it to your needs each month.
Tell us about using data to develop the serums? When we started Atolla, we knew that it wasn’t enough to rely on survey-based data, which suffers from self-reported bias. How do you know how oily your skin is if you don’t know what oil levels are normal for people similar to you? Therefore, we knew we needed physical measurement, especially to test important skin health factors like pH that can’t be measured in any other way. Developing the Skin Health Kit, we wanted it to be: 1. Affordable, 2. Done at home (with nothing to send back to a lab) and 3. Easy to use. We leveraged existing paper-based materials used in clinical research and made them customer-facing. Our skin testing tools measure oil, moisture, and pH within seconds and the results can be instantly uploaded through our web app. We send users a Skin Health Kit every month so they can continue to test their skin and track their progress. We also use that data to refine their formula and make any adjustments to suit their current skin needs.
Tell us about who supports and inspires you? During this quarantine time, Slack has been a great channel for me to connect with other entrepreneurs and peers. There’s two channels I’m pretty active on: Dorm Room Fund (connecting all the student entrepreneurs they invested in) and Lean Luxe (connecting DTC modern luxury businesses). The MIT Entrepreneurship community has also been amazing, especially the connections we made through the Delta V accelerator when we were first starting Atolla. I have many female founder friends who are at a similar stage to me; I love being able to have honest conversations with them about fundraising, hiring and leadership!
Best piece of advice you’ve received? A recent piece of advice I got was to do team retrospectives frequently, not just with a big push or sprint. Our team is pretty agile, so we’ve found it useful to do retrospectives to improve on our process and communication. But I think it’s great advice to check in even without a deadline to ensure that teams have an opportunity to connect and iterate; it’s more critical now than ever with remote work becoming the norm!