My business partner Sunny Kim and I started our skincare sampling platform, Seknd, in September 2019. We knew that consumers have a hard time finding the right skincare products for their needs and hold a “try before you buy” mindset due to all the samples that major retailers hand out at stores. So we decided to align with smaller skincare brands to help them get their products into consumers’ hands.
But we had only been beta testing our platform for a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, knocking out our supply chain and throwing our business model into a tailspin. We were torn: Do we shut down our operations and try to ride out the global crisis, knowing there is a good chance we’d never get back on our feet? Or do we pivot—fast?
We pivoted, and we’re already seeing the wisdom of that decision.
Confronting the pandemic
Our original business model was building out an online platform that matched consumers with smaller skincare brands that meet their needs and shipping product samples to them. Since I am a former product manager for Google and Sunny a former Google software engineer, we knew we could leverage machine learning and technology to make the discovery process more pleasant and attuned to consumers’ needs, wants and preferences. Our early results showed that we had tapped into an enthusiastic market.
But once the COVID-19 pandemic took hold around the world, the brands we were working with didn’t have access to the resources or the supply chain required to produce the samples we were promising online. We were devastated to realize the impact of the pandemic on our business, because we had both quit our jobs at Google to work on it.
We started rethinking the original problem we were trying to solve: helping consumers discover the right skincare products for them. We could no longer send out samples, so we started digging deeper into how customers were using our site and our social media platforms.
Most skincare information on the internet is product-specific, but the way people think about making skincare product purchases is in the context of their daily routines. In our online user community, we noticed that conversations typically start with, “Hey, I’m doing this. What do you recommend I buy?”
People were actively sharing their skincare routines, including which products they use and why they use them. We knew that if we could capture and amplify those authentic recommendations, we could build a robust, engaged community that small brands would love to tap into.
Based on these insights, we launched a new platform that crowdsources skincare routines to help our readers tap into real reviews from real people using the products. The overall business goal is the same—to grow our user base by becoming a destination for authentic, trustworthy information on skincare solutions. We can then work with authentic brands that want to advertise or market to this community.
Once we had the new concept, we had to validate our idea. I spent some long nights writing code to develop an effective crowdsourcing platform based on personal skincare routines. We then tested it with some of our existing online communities, such as Reddit. We received a great response, which was the green light for us to invest our existing resources into this new project.
Coming out stronger
We began beta testing the crowdsourcing platform in March 2020, and by April we had rolled that platform into Seknd.com. We started marketing it primarily on social media, because that’s where our core audience is. But now we’re beginning to invest more in search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing through a blog on the Seknd website.
We’ve been really lucky because a lot of our earliest users have been very supportive of our pivot, and since January we’ve averaged 15% month-over-month site traffic growth. We’ve also been able to keep our two employees working by shifting resources from procuring and shipping supplies to building out our technology platform.
We look forward to someday sending out samples again. But our pivot—growing our online community and brand partnerships model—means we’ll be starting from a much stronger position by offering two ways to attract and engage active users on our site.
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