The same people who invented Sonicare toothbrushes have another emerging hit on their hands. This time, David Giuliani and his team of scientists and engineers in Bellevue, WA, who make the Clarisonic device have created a sonic-wave powered brush that’s designed to give people a cleaner, healthier-looking face.
They’re marketing a $195 luxury consumer product in the middle of a recession — and it’s working. Their angel-backed company generated sales of $40.1 million in 2008, up from $1.7 million three years earlier. It has now turned profitable on an annual basis, and has grown to 150 employees after adding 20 new people this year, Giuliani told me last week when I visited his office. This year will be “considerably” better in revenue, although he wouldn’t disclose projections.
Clarisonic’s technology is new, but the problem it’s trying to solve is old. Anybody who’s walked by an American magazine stand knows there’s a powerful demand for products to help people look and feel younger and healthier. There’s also no shortage of late-night TV hucksters with overhyped lotions and potions, so it can take a while for a legitimate product in the skin care business to gain traction. But for those that do succeed, like Allergan’s anti-wrinkle product Botox or Medicis’s Restylane, the rewards can be huge. The U.S. market for skin-care products is estimated at about $20 billion a year, according to Impact Marketing Consultants.
The Clarisonic product has been around for five years, but it started gaining momentum in the past two. It started in 2007 when Oprah gushed on her TV show that it was one of her favorite things (that always helps). More recently, Courtney Cox confided on The Rachael Ray Show that Clarisonic is one of her beauty secrets. Cameron Diaz, Tyra Banks, and Justin Timberlake have all said publicly they are fans of Clarisonic. None are paid spokespeople, says marketing director Bill McClain.
Social media has been even better for Clarisonic. Back in June, a young woman with an earnest voice, Michelle Phan, posted a rave review of the Clarisonic product on YouTube. Within a few hours it had 15,000 page views. Three months later, the review has gotten more than 320,000 viewers, and Clarisonic didn’t have to pay a dime.
“People who use the product love it,” Giuliani says. “The important conclusion that the market is drawing is that this thing really works. It shocks people. They’re used to things that don’t work. You should see customers when they hear about it. They say, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve heard that one before.’ So we need to deliver for them.”
The story of Clarisonic began in 2001, a year after Giuliani, a Stanford-trained electrical engineer, became a wealthy man through selling his company, which developed the Sonicare toothbrush, to Dutch consumer-products giant Philips Electronics. The founding team had all worked together on the Sonicare. Robb Akridge brought immunology skills; Steve Meginniss was the mechanical engineer; Ken Pilcher, the electrical engineer; and Ward Harris, the chemist.
They set out to focus this science and engineering talent on coming up with something special for skin care. “It’s so big, and overlooked,” Giuliani says.
The original ideas were to try something with light technology, or chemicals, but ultimately the team settled on something right in their wheelhouse—sonic technology like what they’d used to clean teeth with Sonicare. Their key insight: Our skin tightens up when … Next Page »
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