Skin in the game

Sabrina Tan, CEO of Singaporean beauty technology company Skin Inc, says the traditionally male-dominated technology industry and female-skewed skin care sector have a lot more in common than meets the eye.

You’ve probably been asked this a million times, but how did the idea of Skin Inc come about?

I was in the corporate world, working in IT for 11 years. My first job was with IBM, and I was most recently with Dell EMC and Oracle.

Throughout that time, I was working on the business customer side of those companies in Asia, looking at all forms of what makes a business work, from enterprise to software, as well as hardware and security.

This was a time when I was travelling extensively, and also had two children – they were three years and one-and-a-half years old then.

I started to realise that you can have money and energy, but you might not have the time to take care of your looks. Modern girls need to outsmart their skincare and beauty routine by cutting time. So I began to research Japanese skincare specialists, chemists, and dermatologists, and also experimented with different products.

And you did this by integrating your IT background into skincare product development?

Yes, because I thought if our skin changes all the time, then why can’t we recalibrate it – just like cloud computing, or the sharing economy – where we could create our own products.

So with the skin diagnostic tool Skin Inc has created, you can perform skin testing online without physically having to come down to our stores. It’s just like how Nike has changed the way people buy sneakers. Customers can customise their sneakers online, where they can choose the laces and soles they like just by clicking, and dragging and dropping.

The skin diagnostics tool is both emotive and functional.

Firstly, your skin changes all the time. So we need to be able to combine beauty with technology and software to determine what is happening to our skin.

At the same time, the tool addresses the emotional needs of customers through providing a great customer experience when they’re online. Through the skin check online, they can then customise and concoct a serum suited specifically for their skin needs. These custom serums are what Skin Inc is now famous for.

Did you transition into the role of a leader easily?

No. In fact, I didn’t view myself as a leader when I was first starting out. I’m an achiever, so I like to do things the fastest way. It become very hard to delegate, because I needed to have control.

But as I grew into the role, I realised I have a deep desire to bring the potential out of each employee, and to surprise the person I am grooming about their own potential that even they themselves don’t see.

So your leadership style has evolved quite a bit?

For sure. I would say my leadership style today is “ambidextrous” and varies according to different employees.

On a broad stroke, I see myself as someone who is very open-minded, and I feel there is no right or wrong at any time. I’m also highly energetic with my team, who will say I have an endless amount of enthusiasm to conquer challenges, solve problems, and multi-task as required.

Can you describe the evolution of Skin Inc? How did you achieve such a global footprint so rapidly?

It has been very fast for us to scale to this level of presence in just eight years. That’s because we constantly ask ourselves “why not”? There are a lot of protocols in business, but to me, it’s important not to set limits.

My Business Development Manager, for example, was actually a customer in Spain. Her willingness to ask “why not” made her a great fit

In terms of good use of resources, we are also very agile. One thing people will say about Skin Inc is our “speed-to-market”. It used to take companies three years to develop a strategy, but in today’s digital world you don’t have that luxury of time. So we are a close observer of what is going on in the market, and then we align our strategy according to it.

More importantly, we have no qualms about aborting a plan or strategy that we have decided on. If a strategy or product is no longer relevant to the market, then we have no reservations about canning it

As a female entrepreneur, how do you feel about the fact that there are fewer women than men at the helm of business today?

Well, I agree with those findings. It is something we have to address together as a community. There needs to be a conscientious effort put into educating everyone that women are not lesser beings. Whether you are a mother or an office manager, or both, we just have to be more creative in how we go about our roles. What I feel is very critical is in the change of mindset – the ability to dream and come forward to say, “yes, I will take up the challenge”.

That’s why I started the GalBoss symposium. In July last year, I brought together 28 female leaders, spanning from DBS’ Group Head of Consumer Banking and Wealth Management Tan Su Shan, to global influencer Aimee Song. I put together an event with these powerful, successful women from very diverse backgrounds to share with over 300 attendees about the importance of female leadership and empowerment.

Speaking of being creative in managing roles, how can female employees balance the needs of family and work?

As a mother and wife, you need a more customised way of managing the same role that a man might hold. Sometimes you need to be bold enough to tell your manager that its 7.00pm, you have to go home and be with your family. And I do that myself. I go home, I help my children with their homework, and once they are in bed, I switch back on my work mode. There is nothing wrong with wanting to cater to your family. Even men face this situation more and more today.

As a beauty company, do looks matter when you hire

Yes, but that’s true across all industries in today’s highly visual world, where Instagram and Facebook exist. Let’s not talk just about the beauty industry – any corporate executive putting a profile picture on their LinkedIn page or anywhere will want to ensure they look good and present their “best face” forward.

Having said that, I don’t just hire from within the beauty industry. I hire from technology, and fashion, and a range of sectors. We are willing to train anyone who is hungry enough and with the right attitude and aptitude. We don’t see ourselves as a beauty business, but as a beauty technology and lifestyle business.

Rather than “looks”, I think it’s more important how you bring out the best version of yourself overall. You don’t have to be the most beautiful person, but if you know how to enhance your assets or attributes using limited resources – then that says a lot about you as a person, and that’s the type of talent I look to recruit.

So it’s all about creative presentation then?

Definitely. But even more important than that, I look out for three characteristics during the hiring process. Firstly, the potential hire needs to be very agile. In today’s constantly changing world, there is no fixed way to do the same task. Industries are being disrupted and you need to have a game changing mindset – not just to deliver something that is “good enough”, but something that revolutionises existing solutions.

Being bold is the second trait I look for: bold in terms of not being afraid to try out new methods, or to suggest, and then implement and test new solutions. It’s fine to make mistakes, but you have to learn from them and be able to derive the value out of that lesson by ultimately creating a better solution down the road.

Finally, tenacity is important because, again, it’s a very fast-moving world. So it’s important to be tenacious and think on your feet because you never know who you will encounter in the social space. You just have to be very, very persistent, and always very quick.

Skin Inc has a broad range of products and services. How do you ensure both frontline and backend staff are able to consistently represent the brand accurately?

We have an onboarding plan that is pretty 360 degree. Each new employee receives a thorough introduction and training from their line manager so that they look beyond their own job scopes, and understand how the various functions in the Skin Inc ecosystem work together and the various pain points

I ensure that each line manager does not just sugarcoat things but really tells each employee what will not fly here. So it’s a very dynamic culture and you either fit in or you’re out. We make decisions really fast and within three months we will know if you will make the cut or not.

And there is nothing right or wrong with that because the different parts of the engine have to work hand-in-hand, and we cannot afford to have someone that is unable to adapt.

For frontline staff, we do a lot of mystery shopping. We send anonymous shoppers into the stores and conduct frequent assessments about whether the associates check off all the things that they have been trained to do; whether they say and do the right things.

Every month, our trainers also give staff a review about the areas they can improve on – be it their attire, attitude, energy levels, makeup, or customer service. It’s important that the customer walks out feeling great about themselves. To measure customer satisfaction, we also do monthly surveys through emails and customer care calls

What challenges does the difficult economic outlook for 2017 present?

I have never chosen to stay “in” business because I’m always ahead of the business. We, in fact, saw double-digit revenue growth last year despite the very challenging times for many businesses. We grew double-digits on both our retail distribution and online fronts.

How we stay ahead is by simply being relevant. It’s very important that your customers know that you care for them, that you engage them, and that Skin Inc is an exciting brand they should look out for whenever there is a big sale event like Black Friday, for example.

It’s an aspirational brand at the end of the day, just like your favourite person. Even when you are busy you still find the time for them, right? So our whole strategy is based on wanting to become that “lovemark” for consumers.Source:

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