There are some people that are born to be founders, seeking out ventures from childhood and thriving in the fast-paced start-up world. Our latest podcast guest, James Mishreki, founder of Skin & Me (personalised dermatological treatments) and Life Supplies (refillable bathroom essentials), is that person.
From his early teens, his dream was to be ‘a businessman’, which for him has meant taking risks. He went to university, but it wasn’t for him, and he now sees it as wasted time – ‘it wasn’t a bad experience, I had a lot of fun, but they were three years I could have started a company in.’
His first venture wasn’t a new business though, it was as a professional poker player, which he says shares many qualities with what he thinks makes a successful founder. ‘It’s very risky setting up a company. Most start-ups fail, everything can go wrong… you’re just faced with impossible high-risk situations every day and I think poker got me a bit more comfortable with that. And it got me better at thinking long-term.’
You can see this long-term thinking clearly in James’ brand Skin & Me, which was born out of his vision for the future of personalised skincare, a category dominated by confusing messaging and a panacea approach to customers. Even the choice of yellow for the brand was done by analysing the competition, with most other dermatologically approved brands going for a clinical look while they wanted to feel warm.
The advantage of this approach is that the business remains focused on customer needs and enhancing the customer experience. The way to keep customers subscribed is to give them a product and experience they can’t get elsewhere. To have a ‘credible human being recommending a skin care regime’ who can prescribe effective medicated products, rather than standard off-the-shelf creams. ‘People really value having a single source of truth, it takes a weight off their shoulders.’ And for their hundreds of thousands of customers, Skin & Me is that trusted source.
Despite stepping back from being CEO and launching Life Supplies, Skin & Me is still a priority. They feel like they’re ‘only just scratching the surface’ in the UK and so they’re not international yet. They may be at some point in the near future. He remembers pitching to investors in his seed round that they would go international in the first year, but ‘it is really hard to do that and it’s a lot of complexity and I think it would have taken our eye off the ball in our core market, which is the UK.’
Deciding whether to go international is a big inflection point. Our experience is that going too early can really backfire. Taking our 7, 17, 70 growth inflection points as a guide, doing international well works best when the business has brought in the people, systems and brand-building changes necessary to ready itself for the £17m to £70m growth stage. For James, 7, 17, 70 resonated most around team size, ‘that is the beauty of a start-up. In the very early days, when you’re seven people or less, you can work together via osmosis, you all stay in tune with each other, because you’re all in the same office and everyone knows everything… When you get to 17… you do need more structure at that point.’
When the podcast was recorded, James had just emerged from the most stressful weekend you could imagine, the Silicon Valley Bank crash – ‘I just don’t think the body is meant to go through that rush of emotions that quickly.’ Both of his companies banked with SVB. As a poker player and risk taker, our interviewer Mary Nightingale questioned whether this near crisis will make him more risk adverse. James didn’t think so, ‘comfort with risk is different to comfort with terror.’