Photo Credit: beautyinthebag.com
Dr. Robb Akridge (fondly called “Dr. Robb”) is a scientist by training who has done everything from study marine biology and botany to research AIDS vaccines and work for Sonicare. After jumping from a senior scientist for the toothbrush company to a beauty entrepreneur, the opportunity arose to start his own business. Dr. Robb cashed in his 401K and spent two years developing the assays and safety testing of the soon-to-be beauty device must-have: clarisonic.
After a few failed prototypes and learning curves, the Clarisonic came to life and sales began to grow. Shortly after, Clarisonic was featured on Oprah and the craze for the electronic beauty device took off.
BITB spoke with Dr. Robb about the journey to creating Clarisonic and the business advice he still uses today.
1. Tell us about your journey that led you to create Clarisonic. What have been some of the setbacks and greatest achievements along the way?
I had just finished my second post-doctoral fellowship and was planning on finding my own lab specifically in immunology and biology (which is what I studied), when I ended up getting a job offer from a small start-up called Sonicare as Senior Scientist. Since the mouth and oral healthcare have a strong correlation with your immune system, it was a natural fit with my background. This really kickstarted my path toward Clarisonic. It was there that I met David Giuliani and worked with sonic technology on a day-to-day basis. I needed to learn and investigate all the benefits of sonic technology and its effectiveness on the teeth to support legal claims. Philips ended up buying the company and at that time, David was looking to make a move and asked me if I wanted to start a company. To be honest, I was getting bored so I thought why not.
So the journey of Clarisonic had officially begun. We would sit around this table to discuss ideas and industries where we saw an opportunity. Through our research, we found that there was a huge lift in skincare and that it was continuing to grow exponentially. From there, we approached a dermatologist and asked what the biggest problem was within the skincare world. He informed us that acne was a huge issue. Naturally, we looked at the cause of acne – which was a combination of bacteria, clogged pores among other things – and different ways to resolve these challenges. There was a point when I was literally growing acne in my garage to see how LED light impacted the acne. We then started looking into how we could move the skin to help de-clog pores. We were examining different sonic frequencies to move the skin in a certain way – and we initially used steel bars. The steel mechanism was not gentle on the skin (as you can imagine) and we quickly learned that it was not the solution we were looking for. This led us to think through the idea of using bristles and developing the brush head which ended up pushing us into a totally different area. This journey, along with research and continuously innovating and testing, led us to the launch of Clarisonic.
When you are an entrepreneur you have a limited amount of money and you must complete milestones at specific points in time. Because the steel bars didn’t work, we had pressure to come up with other materials that we weren’t initially looking at to use, which is what led us to the innovation. Finding the right frequency was also a challenge and a bit of setback. Overall though, setbacks are what caused us to reach breakthroughs and achievements. Without some of these setbacks during the development process, we wouldn’t have ended up with the huge success that we have today.
2. What does a typical ‘Day in the Life of Dr. Robb’ look like?
To be honest, my days never look the same. I am certainly traveling a lot, from Cosmoprof conferences all over the world to QVC appearances and media events on behalf of Clarisonic. I am also on the board of a few beauty brands, so I often travel to meetings with them as well. When I am traveling, I usually like to get up (where ever I am staying) super early in the morning and walk two to three miles around the city just to explore. That’s really when you can get a flavor of the culture and the people. I love checking out areas off the beaten path.
When not traveling, I normally get up at 5AM, make French pressed coffee and then sit in my living room for about an hour while flipping through design magazines and watching the news. I am also always searching for various information on the internet to inspire new ideas. Since I am in the process of launching my own new business, I usually have meetings in the morning via Skype (and sometimes in person). These meetings are typically with my engineering team, manufacturers, patent lawyers, investors and other consultants to help further develop my company. Then I usually go for a walk around my property – I have a few greenhouses and over 30 acres of land with various plants, produce and wildlife. This is a great way to get some inspiration for what’s to come. I spend most of my afternoon formulating and creating (unfortunately, this is all I can share at the moment!). After a day of work, my partner Greg and I usually go out to a local dinner, followed by our favorite evening snack at-home: yogurt, honey and frozen blueberries (this also can make for a great facial mask when blended). On the weekends, I try to chill. Some of my favorite things to do include gardening and working on my vegetable gardens and fruit trees. I also love finding time to read – but mostly non-fiction books about work, gardening, plant and animal life, among other topics.
3. What is the best business advice you’ve been told and still use today?
The best business advice I ever received is, “Don’t worry about making money. Just be passionate about what you are doing and the money will come.” I am a firm believer of this mentality and live by it every single day.