How Proven Skincare brought science to the art of beauty
If you wanted the perfect case study of a market ready to be disrupted, the beauty industry would be it. Globally, the industry is worth $155 billion a year but one in two customers are unhappy with their purchases, said Ming Zhao, founder and CEO of PROVEN Skincare. “We’re changing that by giving individual consumers the right products for their skin at the right time.”
It’s a pledge that has seen clients flock to the company, which is now launching a $60 million fundraising round under the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Regime A. Sales of PROVEN in 2019, when the company was launched, were less than $100,000. This figure has increased to $10 million in 2020 and over $20 million in 2021.
Like many of the best business ideas, PROVEN was inspired by the personal experiences of its founder. “I was working long hours away from home and woke up one day and was horrified by what I saw in the mirror – I looked like I had lost my youth and my soul,” he said. recalls Zhao. Shopping for expensive beauty products seemed to make no difference, but Zhao eventually met a beautician who took the time to find out more about her and recommend a tailored regimen of skincare products. “It was a transformation for me, and I just thought, ‘Why isn’t it available for everyone?'” Zhao explains.
Zhao’s argument is that since everyone is different, it makes no sense to try to sell them all the same skincare and beauty products. “One size doesn’t fit all,” she says. “The skin is the largest organ in our body, yet it is the only one for which we do not personalize care.”
To realize her vision to fix it, Zhao turned to “the smartest person I know”. She teamed up with Amy Yuan, a data scientist and engineer with a background in computational physics. Together they developed the Skin Genome Project, the largest beauty database in the world; it includes tens of millions of data points, ranging from consumer reviews of skincare products to academic studies on the effectiveness of key ingredients. “We ingested the known universe of skincare knowledge,” Zhao explains.
In addition to this, PROVEN has built an artificial intelligence tool capable of querying the database to determine what a skincare product should contain to suit a given individual, based on approximately 45 different criteria. These cover everything from a client’s skin type and lifestyle to where they live and what time of year they are when they consult the database. “Technology like this has never been applied in the consumer sector, let alone beauty products,” Zhao says.
The net result of all this data analysis and AI tools is the PROVEN value proposition. He asks new customers to fill out a short questionnaire — Zhao says it will take about three minutes — then works out the best possible combination of ingredients for their skincare needs. These are shipped to the customer in three different products: a daytime moisturizer, a cleanser and a night cream.
“You get the kind of personalized product that you would normally consult a professional dermatologist for,” says Zhao. “It’s a very simple questionnaire, but there’s a very sophisticated science behind it.”
Each three-pack is priced at $129, and customers have the option to subscribe to PROVEN, receive regular shipments, or purchase products as they need them. Regardless, PROVEN can adjust each customer’s ingredient recipe over time – as their lifestyle changes, perhaps, or simply because they now need protection against winter weather.
Zhao is excited about the potential for growth and expansion, especially with the added financial muscle the company’s fundraising should bring him. PROVEN has chosen the SEC Regulation A route very specifically, knowing that this is one of the few ways for a US company to open up to retail investors as well as the institutions that typically dominate these rounds. “We know who built this company,” Zhao said. “Our success came from our customers and our community, so we wanted to be able to repay their trust by allowing them to share in the growing value of the business.”
PROVEN’s plans include moves into other beauty categories – it is already building databases similar to the Skin Genome project to support the personalized approach in other areas of the beauty market. It also continues its international expansion; PROVEN began selling to Canadian consumers last year and is launching in the UK this month – its first venture beyond North America.
A striking feature of the company is its all-female management. “We started this business as strong, accomplished women who could see an obvious gap in the market for the products we wanted,” Zhao says. “We believe in empowering women in all areas – less than 30 female CEOs have ever taken a company public, so this investment opportunity marks a chance for women to make smart investment decisions, through women for women.”