SuperfoodSkinCo: Reinventing Tanning Forever

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A new skincare line that tans, lightens and heals. That’s the secret behind Matt Kocaman’s startup SuperfoodSkinCo.—a revolutionary product line that tans or lightens skin using the body’s own colour regulating systems. After decades of commercialising medical innovations, Matt reveals his insights on how he created a product that deserves to be on every person’s shelf.

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Commercialising cutting-edge medical research: from IP to product

Matt started off as a systems engineer in the 1990s, for technology corporates such as AT&T, Microsoft and Intel. During his time there, he maintained contact with a few of his high school friends. They were working on a new product, but found it difficult to navigate the business side of releasing it.

“They had difficulties protecting the ownership of their intellectual property (IP), and they also had trouble navigating a space that had been traditionally held by large pharmaceutical companies. So for them, I was their bouncing board to help them sort out ideas and how to tackle commercialising these products.”

Over a decade, Matt and a team of medical researchers had an on-and-off relationship, breaking down the concepts, technologies and methods in the medical industry. By the time 2007 came, Matt and the team were in the right place to start converting some of these innovations into tangible products that consumers could use.

“We had a vaccine that could help up to 20% of the population, and we had a couple of other innovations that if we could bring to market, could be revolutionary breakthroughs for the medical industry.”

But the issue with innovations with large-scale effects was funding. Matt and his team needed some capital to work with, in order to scale these solutions to a wider number of people.

So while the global financial crisis hit headlines, Matt and his team launched a product called a new skin care product. It was a wound healing cream that tapped into natural ingredients and superfoods, blending together the ingredients using modern medical knowledge.

Despite the circumstances, the product accomplished far beyond what the team expected.

“At the time, the product was selling so well that I recall our team mentioning we were struggling to keep up with production. That was a great problem to have on our hands.”

After the launch of the product, the brand was discontinued to focus on developing the vaccine. Matt worked with the medical team a few years later to launch another product, but due to differences in vision, ended the relationship with the researchers.

Luckily, the time he spent with leading biomedical engineers and chemical researchers meant he had the knowledge to start a product of his own—a company that would later be called SuperfoodSkinCo.

It was late 2014 when Matt received a call from a friend.

She was a leading photographer in the fashion and modelling space and she was noticing that the girls coming in for photoshoots were anxious, frustrated and moody. Because she also knew these models, she knew this behaviour was out of the ordinary. Clearly there was something wrong.

Having joined the dots, she realised the moody girls were the people using fake tans. She called Matt to understand what she could do to help and make the photoshoots a pleasant experience.

It was this situation where Matt’s team saw the problems of repeated fake tanning.

“We realised after looking at the ingredients list that many of these leading products were a chemical cocktail—the girls were turning up affected by the substances and they used so much it had affected their mood.

“In the 60s, I think they would’ve called this tripping.”

After this experience, Matt was inspired to put more resources towards fast-tracking the release of SuperfoodSkinCo., which had been in development since 2007. By March of 2015, they were ready to launch their first prototype.

“The essence of SuperfoodSkinCo. is that it’s a natural, organic wound healing cream that nourishes the skin with natural ingredients. But unlike fake tans, it does so in a way that the cells at the base layer of your skin, release melanin.”

Melanin he described, was the reason why certain types of people had darker shades of skin than others—and as a bonus, people with more melanin tended to be better at resisting UV damage.

“Our product creates colour using natural systems already built into the skin. This means the colour that comes out is perfect every time. And since the melanin is being produced from within the skin itself, the tan is won’t come off even if you scrub it. It fades exactly like a normal tan does.”

Another breakthrough that Matt mentioned was the way they made the product. No nasty chemicals—just lots of natural superfood goodness.

“All the ingredients we put into this product are edible and on their own are fantastic for your health. They are ingredients that are proven to reduce tumors, decrease inflammation and improve heart health. If we made a list of the ingredients used, we’d be able to make a lush salad!”

Scaling, messaging and new product development

But to create a product that was revolutionary in the skincare space, a lot of challenges had come Matt’s way. The first had been iterating the product.

“The formula’s been evolving over the last ten years, and each evolution has been difficult on the product development side. Perfecting the process took a lot of research and years of trial and error. But the output of that process is a product which we think is one of the best for your skin’s health.”

Another challenge he had was finding the right sales channel for the product. Matt mentioned one of the key points of his approach was his insistence to avoid wholesale distribution, which allowed him to sell to small, health-aware niche audiences.

“Since this product costs so much to produce, we knew we’d only break-even if we sold it wholesale. Our major distribution channel is through online stores, which allows us to continue using ultra-premium, medical-grade ingredients and provide the best product to our customers.”

“Who’s our audience? The bride who wears a wedding gown and wants it to remain white at the end of the day. The mum who has been asked by the dance instructor to tan their kids up for a school performance. The nutritionist who has avoided the whole tanning space because they know how bad it is to their health. Now they have a product that boosts and improves the quality of their skin, while giving them a great tan.”

As for the future of the company, Matt was excited to share that two other products were soon to be released.

“We have a super-moisturing cream that boosts skin health without the tanning effects that we’re planning to release this season. We’ve also successfully adapted our blend to the skin lightening market for Asia and we’re starting to sell in North America and Europe.”

For context, he noted that skin-lightening for Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern people was the same as tanning for Western markets. “It’s a signal of youth and prosperity. Just like how everyone on the Jersey Shore is tan, every person in emotional Chinese dramas are pale. Its a difference in tradition.”

Network effects and the importance of people

In looking back at his previous successes, one of Matt’s themes has been about being in the same room with the right people.

“Coming through firms like Microsoft and Intel, you realise that when you put smart people in the same environment, breakthroughs happen at speed. At Intel, they had a measure of the results each person was achieving compared to ordinary firms, and it was somewhere in the order of seven to one. It was staggering.”

“It got to the point where some of the inventions were five to ten years ahead of the market. They were so far ahead they could plan how to commercialise these innovations before anyone knew they existed.”

These formative experiences led him to conclude that his success in SuperfoodSkinCo. and the skincare industry was due to being around bright people.

“Being around these doctors helped me become skilled when I later approached the medical space. Working with people at Intel and Microsoft led me to think in a global, forward-reaching way. I’m eternally thankful for everyone I’ve worked with, because they gave me the knowledge to create new innovations later in life.”

“If there’s ever a slipstream to success, it would be determined by the individuals around you. Their success, their attitudes and the mental space they’re in becomes a significant force that helps propel your success.”

He concluded with some words for people just starting out.

“If I was to give any level of advice to the twenty year old person, I would say, party less than I did and explore more. Find keen, intelligent minds that are smarter than you in some way. Make them your best friends. Work together and have each other’s backs so that you can explore uninterrupted.”

“Look for people who will catch you when you slip, and will propel you at every opportunity they have when they’re around you. Those are the type of people you should have around you.”

As for their future careers:

“It’s okay that your degree means nothing. Having interviewed thousands of people with university degrees it proves to me that, more than knowledge, you have the drive and determination to see a project through to the finish.”

“And don’t wait 30 years to pursue what you want to do. Take a couple of roles now by talking to people in the space you want to work in. Call people. Talk face to face. If you work to make real relationships, you’ll find something good in the long run.”