The Startup Using Video Calls to Make Skincare More Accessible


Baalm founders Lanya Olmsted and Mandi Nyambi want to help guide people through their skincare journeys. This year, though, they’ve been on a journey of their own, steering their company’s evolution from a newsletter into a membership-based community of skincare enthusiasts.

Today, Nyambi says, Baalm is about “bringing healing and care and calm” to the beauty landscape—an area that's increasingly crowded with expensive products and conflicting advice.

To that end, the startup recently rolled out a feature that allows anyone to connect with an experienced esthetician for a video consultation. (The team is busy vetting and bringing on more of these experts.) The “skin training” sessions range from 15 to 30 minutes, with two tiers exclusive to members and one—a 20-minute, $20 intro consultation—available to non-members.

The importance of the latter option became clear in a mentorship meeting facilitated by Land Rover and The Wing. The founders met with Natalia Oberti Noguera, founder and CEO of Pipeline Angels, a network of women and non-binary femme angel investors, who counseled them to find a way to engage people who might be curious about Baalm and give them a sense of what the membership offers.

At the time of their initial conversation with Oberti Noguera this summer, the founders were in the midst of a major rebrand, which included changing the company’s name (before Baalm, it was Le CultureClub) and shifting its focus away from the latest products and beauty trends to a more personalized, holistic approach to skincare.

At first, they said, their instinct was to choose a descriptive name for the brand, but Oberti Noguera suggested they should instead try to find one that evoked an emotion or feeling. “We were doing all of these brainstorming sessions and then ultimately came down to this [sense of] calmness,” says Olmsted. “That was really great advice that [she gave us] because it helped us figure out, okay, that this is who we are at our core and now our name can also reflect that.”

In a video documenting the mentoring program, created in collaboration with the Range Rover Evoque, Olmsted said she and Nyambi wanted to “create a brand identity that will stay with us for many years to come as our company evolves.” And already it seems they’ve done just that. During their rebrand, they began piloting one-on-one consultations, and after seeing how well their community responded, they standardized the process and launched it as a service this fall.

Refining the company’s new direction

It was through talking to members, says Nyambi, that they realized there was a gap in the market in between finding skincare tips in articles and blog posts (whose recommendations may be great for one person and totally ineffective for another) and shelling out for an expensive custom-tailored facial.

“There’s really no one you can talk to to say, ‘Hey, this is what I’m doing for my skin, this is my routine, and this is what it looks like. Can you talk to me about what I’m doing wrong? Can we troubleshoot this?’ Or, ‘I’m choosing between products and I would like to talk to someone about it,’” she says.

While these are conversations people may have with a dermatologist or esthetician, Baalm’s goal is to make them more accessible and ongoing, so they can check in with a quick question or schedule time for a more in-depth assessment—all from their phone or computer.

For members—who pay a $15 lifetime fee to join, plus $15 to $40 for video sessions—these conversations can be even more productive than they might be with non-members, thanks to a skin quiz members fill out at sign-up that outlines their skincare goals, histories, and routines.

The fact that Baalm’s consultations are conducted over video call also means that they’re accessible to people who can’t necessarily find this kind of expertise locally—a benefit the founders are very mindful of. “We call it our 50-state strategy,” says Nyambi, explaining that, while she and Olmsted are based in New York City, they’ve made an effort to bring on estheticians representing a variety of ages, backgrounds, and specialties, from all different areas of the country.

Building a team that’s excited about the brand

Importantly, she says, they were looking for consult-leader candidates with a deep knowledge of product formulations, ingredients, and how they interact in the context of a skincare routine, “and not just what happens in a facial studio, because we don’t have the benefit of touching somebody's face.” Bedside manner, too, was a top priority.

“Our whole ethos is that anyone can have good skin and it’s really important that we start first with loving our skin,” she says, “so we really want to make sure [our estheticians] understand that's part of our ethos, and that it’s also part of theirs.”

As Baalm expands, Nyambi adds, she and Olmsted want to make sure that every new hire is passionate about the company’s mission. They also want to foster an environment in which everyone feels like an essential part of the team—a particular challenge now that many of the workers they’re looking to bring on will be remote, and one they address through extensive, one-on-one on-boarding and ongoing communication.

Making (virtual) space for growth

This commitment to making everyone involved feel included is also guiding their approach to in-person events, which they’ve scaled back in favor of devoting more resources to social media and other channels that everyone can access, no matter where they live. They still plan to partner with brands on live events throughout the country—and have a few in the works for the West Coast for early 2020—but their first concern is reaching the broader online community.

For this, Instagram has been vital, and in recent months, they’ve branched out beyond their (much-shared) skincare memes into informative Q&As, how-to guides, and IGTV videos filmed at home or at The Wing DUMBO, Baalm’s home base. While they haven't ditched the funny, irreverent tone they cultivated early on, the rebrand has opened the door for them to integrate what Olmsted describes as “comfy” content—think fuzzy blankets, baby animals, and self-care tips.

The founders intend to continue expanding on this strategy throughout the year, while also testing new ways to structure the membership program and monetize the company—something they also spoke about at length with Oberti Noguera.

The details of these plans are still under wraps, but with the video-consult program as one successful pilot product in the books, they’re more than ready for the next chapter.

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