Skin Inc

Kaveri Marathe
June 22, 2016

“Lazy girl skincare” is how Singapore’s Skin Inc founder and CEO, Sabrina Tan, jokingly describes her brand.

Not that Tan would know much about being lazy—at the age of 34, with two kids, and ten years of experience under her belt working in the IT industry for companies like HP and IBM— Tan left the path she was on to become an entrepreneur.

“I asked myself, ‘Why isn’t there a skincare brand that leverages technology to detect the lifestyle and environmental changes in your life?’” Tan said. She set out to create one.

Tan’s brand offers a range of serums that can be customized to meet an individual’s skin care needs.

Within four years of launching in Singapore, the company had entered several Asian markets and secured a partnership for distribution with cosmetics retailer Sephora. Today, Skin Inc products are available for purchase in over 100 cities worldwide in standalone shops and Sephora stores, as well as globally on the Skin Inc website.

Tan attributes her global success in part to the wide applicability of her products to women of all different skin types. “Beauty is a universal language!” she observed. She added that the openness and improving the speed of the Internet around the world has helped: “With social media today it’s so easy for us to relate and engage and hear from global customers directly.”

Another factor in her success was Tan’s background in IT and understanding of the evolving nature of business in the Internet era.

“We were born digital and global,” Tan said.

She established her company as a global entity from the beginning, with R&D and manufacturing based in Japan, an innovation team in Cincinnati, Ohio, and headquarters in Singapore. She explained that the reason for this layout is to capitalize on different countries’ strengths in order to keep pace with the market: “The marketplace is moving so fast, but just because you have speed, doesn’t mean you can have quality. If you look at the example of Apple, they were able to scale their manufacturing while still delivering a good quality product into the hands of the consumer. It’s hard to ensure that these two objectives match with both your suppliers and manufacturing.”

The company’s global expansion posed several challenges, noted Tan, especially in the areas of product registration, tax and trademarking. She advises leaving enough time to manage the administrative aspects of entering a new market. “Often we had consumer demand in a new market but couldn’t move in due to registration processes.” Since filing paperwork and getting approvals is such a streamlined process in Singapore, she said, it came as a surprise that receiving similar approvals in other countries could be so onerous.

She advocates the use of a “70-30” model, where smaller countries recognize the legitimacy of a rigorous national or regional regulatory body and eliminate some of the baseline regulatory requirements. “We shouldn’t have to start from ground zero in every new market we enter.”

Sabrina Tan