Ahana Banerjee Talks About Clear – A skincare app born from a life-long search for clear skin
On this episode of Founder Story, we’re stoked to present you the brilliant go-getter Ahana Banerjee. Ahana is the co-founder and CEO of Clear – an app that aims to revolutionize the skincare industry by helping people buy and track their skincare.
When her childhood dream of becoming a physicist seemed no longer appealing, Ahana reacted by being the most proactive version of herself she could be, in the quest to find her life’s mission that was best suited to her skillsets.
There’s always going to be so many “NO”s along the way, but if you don’t ask, you’ll never get a “YES” either!
Take a listen to Ahana’s full podcast to find out all about how she found her purpose whilst bringing her startup dream to fruition.
Ahana’s Book Recommendations:
Where to Find Ahana:
Follow her on Twitter: ahanabanana
Find her on LinkedIn: ahana-banerjee
Catch her on YouTube: Ahana Banerjee
Follow her on Instagram: ahanabanana
Where to find Clear
In today’s episode, we have Ahana the woman behind clear Ahana welcome to the show
Thank you so much. I’m so excited to be here and chat a bit about my journey with you.
Desiree – 00:00:29
Definitely, we are definitely excited to have you So the first question for us is we want to ask you briefly tell us who you are and what you tried to build
Ahana – 00:00:36
Yeah. Well, I don’t know if it would be helpful. Maybe I could give you sort of that the entire backstory and then, and then we can go from there. If that, if that will be interesting. Yeah. Okay.
Desiree – 00:00:46
Go for it.
Ahana – 00:00:47
So, um, you know, so for me, my background, let’s, let’s start deep. Let’s start with childhood. Um, I was raised internationally, so I, my heritage is Indian, but I grew up mostly in the UK.
Then at the age of 14, I moved to New Delhi, India. For two years, which was a really interesting experience being of Indian origin, but not speaking the language, not really knowing too much about the culture. And then age 16, I moved to Singapore and did my last two years of school there. And I think having that opportunity as a child to move around experiences, different cultures, and at the same time, sort of be very [00:01:00] aware of the level of education that I have had access to, it was always important for me to do something in my life to use that education for some kind of impact. And I didn’t know exactly what that was growing up. Um, but as I sort of progressed more and more through school, I thought that would be through academic research in particularly in physics.
And so when it came to applying for universities know it was, it was my dream to become a physicist. So I applied the physics and was very happy to be accepted to Imperial for that, their physics degree. So I came all bright-eyed and hungry to learn to university and to, to kind of long story short. I, I didn’t enjoy it.
Um, pretty much from the first term of first year itself, I think maybe my view on physics growing up was more that, you know, it’s a tool to understand the world around you. And it’s always got this like philosophical side to it. And you know, it’s really about intuition and explaining how the world works fundamentally.
Um, but I think at the university level, what I realized is there’s also a lot of maths and sometimes it’s not about the intuition and the understanding, and it’s a lot about just powering through a problem and that, you know, hammering at the same thing a hundred times. And the more I learn about sort of the career path as an academic and, you know, even just sort of the personality traits, the characteristics of the PhD students, post-docs professors, you know, of course, I have the most respect for them, but equally, I didn’t really feel that sense of belonging. Like this is what I was meant to do. So I had a bit of an existential crisis and I thought, well, if it’s not physics, then what is it? Um, cause you know, I took it quite seriously. The fact that this is what I geared my life up to do, and then suddenly it, it wasn’t that anymore. So my reaction to this was basically just to seek out every career opportunity possible and apply to every single Internship, insight event, networking coffee out there, just so that I could start to learn. Well, if it’s not physical, what, what can I do [00:03:00] with my skillsets?
Um, it was really through that process of just being super proactive, applying for things that I was also grossly underqualified for, but just doing it because why not? Um, and eventually, you know, I, I got lucky and I had a couple of larger organizations take a chance on me, which helped me get initial bits of experience, which then helped me get more and more career experience quite early on. And so by the time I’d finished my second year of university, um, my LinkedIn was dotted with all the various investment banks, consulting firms, hedge funds.
And I had a cold message one day on LinkedIn, from a student who’s at Oxford University at the time. And he was looking to start a student graduate recruitment based tech platform where you connected students with, um, companies and particularly in the graduate recruitment space. And he one wanted someone at a London university who could help get students from other London universities on board, but also someone that [00:04:00] enjoyed networking with these larger companies to get them, um, using the platform to source the talent.
And at that point, I hadn’t considered working at a startup. I didn’t know what a startup was frankly. Um, but I did work on a lot of smaller personal projects in my free time. I did a lot of charity fundraising work and events planning. And so this just sounded like fun. And I didn’t know what to ask for. I didn’t ask for salary or equity.
I just thought it would be some fun. And I said, yes. And I think for me, that was really the first career experience I had where I thought this is my dream job. This is what plays best to my skill set. And this is how I can have that impact on the world, around me. However, it wasn’t necessarily with that team.
Well, that specific idea or company, but I think at that point I knew that this is, this is my long-term dream. This is what I want to do. The next problem was well, okay. If it’s not with this team, then how am I going to make that happen? Because. Equally, when I graduated from university, I wasn’t in a position where I could be financially [00:05:00] dependent on my parents.
And I know it’s not trivial to just launch a venture-backed startup right out of university, where you have the funds to sustain yourself. So my plan was to start my career in finance, um, save up some money for a couple of years, and then once I’ve gained more experience, have the funds to do so actually launch something that is closest to my heart.
Something that I really feel the impact with. Um, I finished my third year of university. This was the summer of 2020. I had one more year to go. And that point I secured my finance jobs. I was feeling pretty relaxed. Um, and I knew I just had one year left, but because the pandemic could hit a lot of my extra extracurricular events, societies, things like that were cancelled.
And the thought of just doing physics for you, it was not a pleasant one. So. I thought, okay, I need something, something else. Why not start a side project? Something that can just be a bit of fun, like alongside my final year of university. And then again, we can, and I’m happy to go more into this [00:06:00] story, but about a week into working on a pretty random idea, it was called Quill and it was a B2B SAS meeting minutes automation software.
So it was a web app that basically transcribed your meeting notes and pulled out action items and released it. Or at least it tried to, whether it succeeded is a different question. Um, but that was the idea about a week into that. My now co-founder had mentioned something called Y Combinator to me, and I knew nothing about the world of Silicon Valley or venture capital.
So I actually. I didn’t know what it was. Um, I went to their website. I saw a big apply button and I think I was still very much, and I still very much I’m in that phase where if I see an opportunity, I jumped at it, even if I’m grossly under-qualified and that’s exactly what I did. I put in an application for YC a week into working on this idea with practically no progress.
Um, once I told my team, they laughed at me. They couldn’t believe that I’d done this. They were like, do you know what? This is like, Like, there’s no chance this works on. I said it’s fine. Like, it didn’t take that long. It’s [00:07:00] like, whatever, it’s my bad if I wasted time on it. Um, and then again, fast forward about four months.
Um, you know, a lot of stuff happened in between, but the crux of it was that we ended up pivoting from that previous company. There were a couple of things that were not really, I don’t agree with the best team to be building in this sort of deep tech text summarization space, but also coming back to that impact and wanting to build something, we were really passionate about.
And truth be told our life’s passion was not meeting minutes. That’s not where we felt like we even had an unfair advantage as a team and could execute better than anyone else. So we pivoted to clear, which is what I’ve been working on now for over a year. Um, but we were only four days into the pivot when pretty unexpectedly, uh, halfway through the final year of my physics degree, we got into YC.
Um, and at that point not only was it kind of a dream come true in the sense that I could build a company, but also something in the skincare space I’ve suffered with skin issues for [00:08:00] so, so long. And it’s a community that’s extremely close to my heart. So I honestly couldn’t believe that I had that kind of an opportunity at this stage of my career.
So I actually dropped out with my physics degree, but I did still graduate with a bachelor’s rather than the integrated master’s. I turned down the grad jobs and I started building the company. So that was January of 2021. Um, now it’s been a little over a year that I’ve been working on clear full-time and it was, it was a hundred percent the right decision.
Um, so we’ve grown to around six and a half thousand users with no marketing spend. Um, the app launched in June of last year and we raised a pre-seed round and now we’ve grown the team. So that’s kind of the whole life story.
Desiree – 00:09:05
It’s just amazing to see that competing. Cause I think from everything that you said is exactly the product of Clear that clearly reflects what you, both, you posted, you went from someone who’s, um, went from academia to then went to a startup and now [00:09:00] building your interest and as you possibly, so.
As I said, if somebody thinks to pick out is kind of the focus on skincare. So you said that, um, you had, acne yeah
Ahana – 00:09:39
A lot of acne post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation or with the very painful and uncomfortable conditions.
Desiree – 00:09:49
Since you, because you were trying to manage that as that’s how you was essentially exposed to the skincare. That’s why he was kept at home.
Most. It’s just like, you kind of saw skincare is like, I want to change the way it is. Like, how did that, what was the thinking around that one?
Ahana – 00:10:05
Yeah, it w it was very much the former. It was really years and years and years of suffering myself, visiting multiple GPS, dermatologists, trying to. Try different medications for it.
Um, and, and I think what a lot of people don’t realize about having skin issues is that it’s not life-threatening. And in a sense that, you know, of course, grateful that I don’t have a life-threatening condition, but on the flip side, I think psychologically it can be extremely isolating because it does still impact people to a large, large extent, whether that’s feeling embarrassed to go outside or talking to people or taking pictures, or even just that the physical pain of it. A lot of people don’t realize how painful some of these conditions can actually be. And so what, you know, when trying to look for solutions, I started by, you know, my friends and family would say things to me and they didn’t mean it in a bad way, but it’s like, what’s wrong with your face?
Which isn’t a nice thing to hear as a, as a teenage girl. And so I turned to the internet as many people do and I’m Googling, you know, how do I get rid of my acne? What can I do? And what I found is that there’s a massive community online on Facebook groups. Reddit threads, Instagram pages, YouTube channels dedicated to skincare, because actually, this is a common problem.
And a lot of people are searching for the same solutions, trying to figure out what to use. And the second problem is, you know, once you’ve identified which products to use or which medications to take, actually tracking the progress can be quite difficult unless you are very, very sort of diligent yourself and you take progress pictures in your camera, which I did.
So to try to and fix the problem. Exactly. Like I needed to find a solution and track it sort of methodically, but it’s really hard because there was no, no software or tech to support that. And so then I would have to like have in my notes up the products I was using from which date to which date, then my separate photo app, I’d have all these unflattering selfies from all these different angles, sharing my skin progression.
And I thought like, you know, there were period trackers there are diet trackers there are exercise trackers and is I can use all of them. This isn’t actually that hard to do. Why can’t I build something that can help me track my own routine? And so the more I thought about that idea, the more I realized, well, not only can that help you figure out what’s working for you and measure your own progress, but actually a big problem with the online skincare community and there are many, many good things about it. But I’d say one of the downsides is that there’s also a lot of misinformation and oftentimes what’s worked for one person won’t work for the other. So actually taking into account skin, colour, skin type, skin condition, these things are relevant when it comes to looking for reviews and feedback on a product and identifying in the first place, what to use.
So the more I connected with other people on these online forums and for context, I was on these groups for about 10 years, like a master in a news, online skin, care communities. And I read and engage with them pretty much every day, purely out of interest. I, it was only much later on when I was thinking about sort of the YC interview and actually building my career that I even made the connection.
That’s something that was so deeply personal to me that I would spend all of my free time doing, could actually be my career. And I would actually have. [00:13:00] Basically a competitive advantage because I’ve unknowingly been studying this community for the last 10 years. Cause I’ve engaged with it so much. So I spoke to a lot of the people I’d met on these communities to understand the sort of like why, why did they turn to social media to find solutions?
And ultimately when I, when I drilled into it, it came down to them wanting to see what other people with skin like them actually doing day in, day out, they wanted to build a sense of transparency. And I thought, well, if I’m already building a platform in which you yourself are able to see the products that you’re using and your progress pictures, granted, most people aren’t comfortable sharing that unflattering progress pictures, but actually most people are very comfortable sharing the products that they use.
That’s not too personal. So why not build that into the platform? Have users almost identified by their skin type skin conditions. Be able to follow their journey and actually see which products they’ve used to. Again, build that layer of transparency and help you connect with people, even on an emotional level that [00:14:00] are going through something that you can relate to. So that was kind of the initial idea. And then as we continued building and growing, um, once we started to talk to more skincare brands, because just by the design of the app, we had to get skincare products on so that people could add it to their routine so that people could need reviews and just build up the actual product experience.
What we found is that the skincare industry. You know, it’s a massive industry, but comparative to its size and the amount of money in it, it really lacks innovation. And the reason being is because that just isn’t the data there just isn’t the infrastructure. And I feel it as a consumer because products haven’t gotten that much better in the time that I’ve gone through my own sort of skin troubles.
And so the more that we realize that, you know, what are the holes, what data do brands and retailers need to actually better understand consumer habits and make better and more scientific. Formulation decisions. It all comes down to data. And what we realized is that something very powerful with what [00:15:00] we’re building, not just from the consumer standpoint, but actually if that real-time consumer insight and data insights can then be fed into these cosmetic formulations, R and D teams.
Then we can actually provide the data to these companies to actually make products that work for the people and then feed that back into the cycle. And that’s really the long-term vision for Clear is to be kind of there from the start to the end of one skincare journey and really drive innovation at an industry-wide level.
Desiree – 00:15:54
Okay. I’m going to jump a question ahead that she woke up with questions ahead because you touched on use of analytics and I think that’s from listening to your story. I think honestly, what’s made you grow because normally people will be thinking, okay, I want to expand my company while I’m going to do that, going to maybe just make websites and do it a phone.
The social media is about from what I gather is that you would look at the user data, use analytics and [00:16:00] see what is actually the space of saying, what is it that. Based on, obviously, because of the nature we’re looking at, what is working, what is, and it’s, that’s whole skin journey that you go, you guys are all overseen.
So get down to the question. What’s um, tips, can you share when it comes to user analytics, how do you get the best out of data essentially?
Ahana – 00:16:45
Why it was important to build @clear with a user-centric approach.
Yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, when building clear, we’ve taken a very user-centric approach, um, just because ultimately, you know, you build to solve a problem. And I think it’s so important that you’re not just coming up with a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist because that’s not sustainable. The company will not survive. And so just being really, really honest about what works and what doesn’t, and even before launching a product, writing a single line of code, all I did for three months was have long conversations with these people who I’d met on the skincare forums about all things skincare.
It wasn’t a specific, I know I have the best job in the world, but, um, you know, it was, it really was trying to almost identify the unknown unknowns beyond questions that I could think to ask, but just understanding how do people, you know, if they first have a skin issue or interestingly for people who don’t have skin issues who are still on these forms, like, what’s the thing that drew them in, like, why did they take that proactive?
Step, why do they try new skincare products? Why don’t they just buy the same things? Like why doesn’t it get boring for them? And actually almost just like on a human psychology level,
Why you should conduct audience research to get to know their real problems in order to create the best solution.
try to understand why people make the decisions they do. And what are the problems in that journey? And it was really through these three months of just having sometimes like 16, 19 minute conversations about someone’s entire like life story in the context of skincare, understanding what are the common themes that I’m seeing?
Like, what are the common problems? What are the common solutions people have tried? And then building that into our idea. And actually when we first came up with like Clear version zero, it wasn’t what it is today. [00:18:00] We’d identified the problem that people didn’t know which products to use. So we thought, okay, if we could build some kind of like AI recommendations tool, that’s what people would want.
They can like stand their face. It’ll be fun. And we’ll tell them what products to use. I’m sure there are parts of that that could work, but it was only through talking to people, validating assumptions. I’m trying to understand. Well, actually, even if we, as this random app told you which parts you use, the first thing people are going to do is try to find product reviews on this.
They want to see what real people are actually saying. And even better, if those people have the same skin type, then that’s like what they’re actually going to spend most of their time and energy looking at. And it’s like, well then. You know, building this AI recommendations tool is not trivial if actually just finding and connecting with people with skin like you and seeing what they’re using is what people want.
Then that’s what we’re going to build. So it really was only through speaking to people, but that’s how we landed on the insight that we did and built the app accordingly. So I think like sort of to extrapolate from that and, and the advice I’d always give is [00:19:00] just to be honest with yourself and from a product perspective if there are things that.
arent working out. The best thing that you can do is address it rather than just like keep building and the direction that’s not working, because chances have you devoted your life to solving, or at least part of your life to solving a problem that exists. It’s about finding the right solution. And sometimes your first solution wont be the, right one?
But if you just keep digging and you’re diligent and honest enough about what your users are telling you and just being obsessed with that user feedback. I think that will really guide the product decisions and almost make it very clear to you. What, what your next step should be in terms of building out a product.
Desiree – 00:20:02
I think it’s good to ground the device for anyone out there. Who’s a frequent company. Um, oh, what this is, it does sound like essentially as well. Not just the fact that you’re leading people, their skin journey, but building a community because it, as you said, it’s a very, uh, It’s research essentially is essentially understanding where you are.
And then this is my skincare, like yours. And then trying to relate to that, um,
on that note, taking it back to how clear it was, like 0.1 to one. How was that? Tell us how was the intial product.
Ahana – 00:20:44
I don’t know. Yeah, I’m embarrassed to say what clear versions. I mean, clear version, absolute zero clear version minus one was what we presented for our YC interview, which was eight hours worth of work.
Um, you know, our CTO at the time is that like, you know, he’s absolutely fantastic. So his exams actually ended on 12:00 PM of the day of our interview. And from 12 to eight, he built. Well, it wasn’t even a mobile app. It was a web app in which you could upload, you could take selfies. And then I was the backend.
So we joked it was powered by Ahana.AI and I would do, I would recommend which products to use based on the pictures. And that was truly, that was version zero of the app.
Um, and you know, from there, then what we did is we built up a BTech community through our Facebook group, just to sort of have people chat about. You know, skincare in general and see first, like, can we build a community? Can we get people to share their skin habits, asking care, routines, tips, tricks, reviews, things like that. Just to make sure that, you know, this is a thing we already noticed because there are so many online communities, but just check, we have the skills to build that.
Some early-stage challenges Clear had to overcome
And then from there, um, we had an initial closed beta launch after just a month of coding, which the app was not good enough for public release, but our beta testers is we’re very understanding, very empathetic. And even with that, it was, it was a basic app. So at that stage you could, um, upload your progress pictures, our database of products.
Wasn’t very well built out because that was another challenge. Company with no credibility, no real background. How do we convince brands to get their products on clear? So it was really, really hard in the early days. Um, and so, you know, our problem was that people couldn’t find the products that they were using on the app.
So we realized that that was actually a big draw. So we can only launch this when we, once we have enough partnerships. Yeah. I sometimes joke my life is that of a professional begging. Then I run after every skincare brand out there, I was going to, you know, the boots shops asking them, please, can you partner with us?
And it worked. And then, so after a month of working really hard, you know user testing, Making sure that the app was relatively straightforward. Um, we launched in June only after two months of properly sitting down and coding ourselves. So yeah, I think we’ve made a lot of progress in that time, but there’s still a very long way to go on the product.
I think we have built a good, like, it works. It’s functional. But there are still a lot of things that we need to do to really build a full sense of belonging and a full sense of habit as well with the routine tracking. Um, so there are a lot of exciting features in the pipeline and we have major feature releases every two weeks where launching new feature we’ll monitor the effects on retention, the user feedback, and then we iterate.
In a given direction, depending on what that feature was,
How did he get the people funding and resources that build clear today?
Sure. So I think on the people point, um, you’re looking at the people that built Clear. So I’m a pretty hands-on founder and I’m fortunate that I have a technical background as well.
Um, which you know, was, was a huge advantage and it wasn’t always that, that initial consideration. Um, but ultimately I was able to bring a team together. Not really based off of much. I think that was more based on my track record throughout uni. People knew that I was quite proactive and I just like liked to make things happen.
But honestly, like for the very initial, like early, early days of putting a team together, Um, it’s it’s you ultimately that people are making a decision where I didn’t have the idea. I didn’t know that this is where we’d be in, in a year and a half time. Um, but it was just about having those good personal relationships with people where there’s a sense of trust and they, they want to be on your team. they want to, to work with you. And I think that’s something that I’ve tried to, I don’t know, it’s like almost a weird sort of personal branding thing. Like you want people to perceive you in a certain way, such that. When you ask them, if they want to be a part of your journey, they’re inclined to say yes because they, they already believe in you based off of what they know.
Um, and since then, I think as we’ve grown the team beyond the founding team, um, I think something that we really lead with is transparency and agency. I mean, on all companies called clear and yes, that’s the community having clear skin it’s related to skincare, but it also just as a, as a founding team as well, I think.
That being super transparent with our employees, but also, you know, our users about the process of building the company. I mentioned earlier that I’ve been documenting the journey on a YouTube channel. And the reason for that is there’s not that much education out there about how, how do you build a company?
None of this is trivial. Yeah, and it’s, and it’s hard unless you’re super proactive and you go out and like seek out this information. It’s not readily available in many people who maybe have the skills just don’t stumble across this path. And, and innovation ultimately is, is lost. But, you know, it’s, it’s an opportunity that that’s gone.
So that’s something that I feel quite strongly about. And I think what’s that what that has done is created a really positive. Kind of environment for the team to thrive in as well, because I think because we are also open to learning to feedback, there’s never any sort of situation where someone suggests an idea, it gets shot down.
It’s always in, if anything, it’s the opposite. It’s welcomed that people feel that they have the agency to make decisions and see their impacts of them directly. And I think that’s probably been the. Best thing that’s, that’s allowed us to hire the types of people that we have. I wish I could say we had a fancy benefits package or how does, you know, a nice trip every year, but that’s not the case.
It really is just sort of the ongoing team culture. And I think having people feel like they’re building something innovative, we’re not copy-pasting what another company has done. We don’t necessarily have a direct competitor either. So it’s, which is the best and the worst thing, it’s the best because, you know, I really believe in what we’re working on.
I wouldn’t devote myself to it if I didn’t. Um, but you know, on the worst side we do that. Ask why invest is like, why hasn’t someone come along and done this before? Why doesn’t something like this exist? And, and my answer is that not enough people who are skincare enthusiasts like me, like building tech companies to be completely Frank about it.
I don’t think there are that many. And for the large organizations, like L’Oreal’s Estee Lauder’s. Of course, they’ve got the means, but sometimes they like the trust with consumers as consumers get more educated. Why would someone give L’Oreal all of that data or progress pictures? Whereas I think for me a huge part of, again, leading with transparency is so, so important.
This day and age in this sort of consumer climate as well, where consumers want to know where their information is coming from. Um, so I think, you know, just being very transparent is probably the biggest kind of superpower that, that we have in that sense, um,
on the funding point, you know, it’s, it’s interesting. Cause I think funding has been the hardest part of this whole journey for me. Um, and particularly when it comes to me as a founder, I think when it came to writing code, sort of like being very. Um, resourceful, getting things done, executing, being close to the community. Me as a 22-year-old person of color, a female founder, it’s all of those are advantages because I am the target audience and I’m so deeply ingrained in the community that there’s not many founders that I think would be a better fit for this specific company.
However, I think in the world of venture and raising capital. There’s so many other factors at play. And I think, you know, investors meet with so many fantastic companies all day, every day. And ultimately it’s hard for them to know which companies are going to take off, which aren’t. And there’s a lot of pattern matching that happens, which, you know, and I can go more into it, but I think at a surface level, it does discriminate founders like me.
It makes it harder for people like me who don’t have an extensive network who don’t have an already half-filled up the round with friends and family investments. You know, you can play on that FOMO because every penny that I raised I’ve had to really fight for. Um, and it’s been difficult. It’s been very, very hard, but ultimately in November, I did close out an 800 page pre-seed round, which was, you know, a huge achievement for us.
Thank you. Um, um, ultimately like our burn is low. I’m still in a very much student mindset of not spending money in places that I don’t have to. And so we, we’ve got a nice, juicy runway ahead of us? And I think we’ll be, we’ll be able to hit on next set of milestones. Um, and so thankfully money’s, money’s not a problem, right now
Desiree – 00:29:28
And did you have to do any particular fundraising to help support it or was it just like work guys? We love to do like a nine to five and do this in between. How did he get around that?
Ahana – 00:29:40
Yeah, well, no, so, so I mean, we were lucky that with YC, there was $125,000 that came with that initial sort of way of starting, which to be honest is what allowed me to pursue this in the first place.
As I mentioned earlier, like, I couldn’t afford to be financially dependent on my parents. So I needed some kind of funding to get this off the ground. So that was the initial source of funding. But beyond that for the rest of the money I raised, it was just through hustling. So, I mean, Clear was, you know, all I’ve worked on.
Um, Lord knows how many hours for the last year and without any distractions, you know, honestly, a lot of sacrifices, if anything, a lot of. Well, we use friends, unfortunately, like this is my priority right now. And sometimes that means really just focusing on one thing. Um, but I think it was around 160 or 170.
I can’t remember how many meetings I did. Um, but I met with a lot of investors. I like to say I kissed a lot of frogs as well, but there were a couple of, uh, princes in there that, uh, You know, made, made the experience worthwhile. And now we’re very lucky that we have some really good strategic investors as well, who help us be on just the capital, but also in terms of introductions to more skincare companies, brands, um, help us out with sort of marketing visibility strategies as well.
Lessons from rejection
And so, you know, thankfully got through it in a good place, met some really amazing people through that experience. I think the process itself of doing some, some days, 10 meetings a day where you have to give the same story, the same pitch with the same energy answer, the same questions, 10 times a day, get grilled on every aspect of your company.
Then, you know, in between you’ll get rejection emails from your yesterday’s meeting saying I’m not investing for X, Y, Z reason. And then two minutes later, you have to pick yourself up for the next meeting and do it all over again. Of course, it’s an extremely, emotionally exhausting and draining process. Um, but I think the way that I was able to work through that was just sort of, and, um, this is easier said than done, but just reframing it mentally.
Cause I went into it thinking that every investor meeting was a binary decision. Like if they invest good, if they don’t invest bad, like I have failed. And I think that’s, that’s not sustainable. Um, especially at an early stage company where unfortunately I feel like a lot of the companies success You keep very close to your own personal success as well.
So similarly, if things don’t go wrong and hit me, take the failure and rejection more personally as well. So I think I just, it just took reframing that actually the fact that. At the age of 22, I get to sit with these investors that taking me seriously, whether they invest or not at this stage, there’s no other career that would have even given me this opportunity in the first place to be raising money, to build the company of my dreams.
And when I put it like that, then whether it’s true or not, it makes me feel a lot better about the whole situation.
Desiree – 00:32:34
I definitely agree with the mentality, because. It’s that sense of humanity chiefs and adults. And I also agree with one of the, of the it’s slight, but she said her tendency was, um, success, opposites, but she said over the years of what she’d been doing, it’s like the opposite of success is stagnant.
So in that sense,
Um, so translating the sense of behind the, the face of success piece of the failures, the fact that you keep doing it. So that respects you have to give you some, even though it seems like it doesn’t seem like I’ve done the work I’ve done. It’s, it’s difficult. It’s clients who you are sending. May not be the person who’s done the master’s boat, passionate got company only when they learn.
And as you feel, and that’s the dream anyone would be, is it easy? No, but that’s the way you are and you’re doing something that you love. So, um, you answered the question in your discussion, so I’m going to fly towards you. How did you get your first users?
Ahana – 00:33:46
Yeah, so there were a couple of things that, that I did the first was through these. Existing communities that I’ve been appalled for so long. And it was again to put it crudely, begging, and pleading posting on them, having chats with people, asking them if they had friends who were interested in skincare, that would talk to me. Um, it was really stuff that doesn’t scale. Well, Begging pleading anyone that I knew that was interested in skincare.
I obviously use the help of these existing social media groups, because we didn’t have any kind of social media following me. There was a brand, no personally, either. Um, so to begin with it was Facebook groups, Reddit threads for skincare, YouTube comment sections for skin care. YouTube has Instagram comments, sections, and just chasing people at all hours of the day.
Um, Once I’ve exhausted. All of those connections. And, you know, that also includes like friends, family, anyone in my life I’d spoken about with skincare, with ex dermatologists that I’d seen in a sort of clinical setting, just trying any avenue I could. Um, the next thing was about sort of incentive schemes and looking at like what existing behaviors are there in this community that we can leverage to get more, to get people. Using clear. And to give you an example of something that we found when talking to actually want to bumpy to test is who was a dermatologist, is that she wastes her patients waste a lot of time in consultations, whether scrolling through that camera role, trying to find that progress pictures, they don’t remember the names of the products they’ve used in the past.
This is awesome. It’s all in one place. If you could just send me this, she’s like, I don’t want any more platforms. I just want a PDF file in an email with all of this information. If you do this, I will literally tell my patients to use it because it will save me so much time. I was like, we will build it.
We will do that for you. And so it’s things like that, which opens up a source of referalls. For free or similarly, um, you know, beauty schools, oftentimes when they’re in that training, they have to write, um, sort of like a thesis at the end where they need to track the progress and using certain products on, on people’s faces. And they struggle with the software to do that as well. So if we can build something to help them. That’s exactly what we’ll do. Um, you know, on the more like sort of standard consumer side, we know a very common thing across social media platforms is people share their skin care routines that might be through a YouTube video that might be through like adding links to our Facebook posts, many different ways you can do it, but on clear because users already track their routines.
And we actually saw people screenshotting their creator diaries and posting it on these communities as a way of sharing it. That way, like, it’s good. It’s good visibility for us, but we don’t get a referral straight away. So what we actually built was, um, like a feature where you can share your routine with a link.
So you can add that to your link tree. You can add it to these Facebook groups. And rather than it just being a static screenshot, if you click the link, it will take you to our app. Maybe you downloaded it basically. So things like that, looking at what existing user behaviours we can tap into is really the key to how we’ve grown.
I actually made a video on, uh, on how we got off as a hundred users as well. So, um, I go into more detail about like some of the specifics of my begging and pleading, um, and some of the other incentive schemes and growth hacks that we’ve used as well.
Desiree – 00:37:08
Essentially because it’s the nature of skincare is essentially building yourself as a brand.
So the question would be is how can you share your experience on building your online presence as a brand and how is it different from building your own personal online presence.
Ahana – 00:37:27
Well, honestly, at this stage, I think my personal brand and the brand for clear is quite synonymous, um, at this stage just because that’s how we’ve led.
That’s how those first sort of a hundred users or the people that I was chasing personally and chatting for hours about skincare with. And I think nowadays, again, coming back to the more educated and curious consumer. People want to understand almost more than like just an organization. They want to know who is behind it.
And I think for us, that works well because I fully empathize with our target user. Having been being a target user, being someone who’s experienced a lot of these issues firsthand. So I think what we’ve done. When, when we started clear, we did have a think about, you know, what sort of, what are our core values as an organization that we want to get across in our, in our company, branding and sort of brand DNA as well.
And a lot of it aligned basically with my own personal values, about transparency, about education, about honesty. And, and so given that there’s such an alignment there, and given that we find that consumers are more interested in people than companies, that’s what I’ve really learned with. You know, I, I wasn’t big into social media before this company.
Like I wasn’t an avid user myself. However, I did think about it sort of practically. And I thought, well, I am. Somewhat marketable. Like I know that I fall into my target user and if I can utilize that, you know, it’s much cheaper. I didn’t have to pay an influencer so I can try and build my own personal brand.
And it’s not something I’d done before, but I tried it across all platforms that was also. Part of the reason behind starting the YouTube channel as well. Again, leading with this transparency, um, started that, and I, you know, it’s not like it took off. It’s not like I’m famous, I’m monetizing on my YouTube yet, but it [00:39:00] has slowly built the company brand and the personal brand is what I talk about as the company.
But of course, it’s me talking then, similarly I tried with, with Instagram, um, I tried with Twitter. I tried with LinkedIn with Tik TOK and had varying levels of. On them. I think Instagram and take soccer. The ones that I struggle with the most personally, um, but Twitter, for example, did way better than I was expecting it to.
Um, in the sense that every time I have a bit of a, I know I say something controversial and it goes. It instantly converts to app downloads, which is the entire purpose I’m even on these platforms in the first place. So I think actually seeing that similarly with LinkedIn, um, LinkedIn went better for me than, than Tik TOK and Instagram.
And so that got a bunch of investors interested in a lot of people that invested in our funding round, came through LinkedIn, or they’ve watched my YouTube videos. So I think in that sense, actually trying to build my own brand from scratch was helpful. But similar to how, you know, you have to be honest when looking at user feedback, it’s, it’s, you know, not a nice pill to swallow, but I haven’t had take talk.
I tried so hard. I was doing four videos a day for a whole month and no idea they were funny, but clearly no one else. So, you know, whereas on Twitter, some tweets that I didn’t think were funny or edgy or controversial, apparently got a load of attention. So. I think it’s just about trying what works. And once you find something that does sticking with it, if it achieves the goal that you you’re looking to achieve.
And I think right now, we’re kind of in that phase of starting to build the brand personally, but also, you know, as a, as a company,
Desiree – 00:41:02
if you can go back to your younger self, what piece of advice would you give?
Ahana – 00:41:06
I think it would be related to what you were saying about failure and success. Um, I think that for me, um, maybe like sort of more broadly, like imposter syndrome as well.
I think previously when I feel things like that, I would feel this total and utter sense of not belonging and feeling like. I shouldn’t do something because I felt imposter syndrome. Whereas now my view on that has completely changed because I think every hour of every day I feel imposter syndrome. And to me, that’s a sign that I’m pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.
And it’s actually a good thing because the alternative is, as, as you said earlier, it’s like stagnation. You’re not growing personally, professionally, whatever it is, you know, if you’re not feeling slightly uncomfortable or learning something new that you haven’t done before. So I think viewing. Imposter syndrome is, it’s kind of like a positive is like a sign that you’re on the right track and viewing failure as a part of success as well, because, you know, I think you said it so well earlier, but behind every success is immense failure.
I mean like the amount of rejections and no’s, I’ve had in every sense, whether that’s asking users, if they like my app asking investors to invest, ask me influencers to work with us, asking. You’re asking people to join the team. There’s always going to be so many nos along the way, but if you don’t ask it, you’ll never get a yes either.
And so I think just totally changing my view and my expectations about rejection and failure and imposter syndrome, I think would be the key things that I would tell a younger Ahana to, to be mindful of.
Desiree – 00:42:47
Good advice to those who are listening to this podcast. Now, um, the next one I would say, so what’s no code, no code two was to YouTube daily.
Ahana – 00:43:04
Yeah. So, I mean, Clear was built with, um, like with code. Um, but I would say that from like a product perspective, we use Figma a lot for our mock-ups, um, and UX design. So that’s, that’s a no code platform that’s really helped our whole [00:43:00] development pipeline. And I think that even, you know, if you’re at the stage of sort of pre MVP, but looking to get initial feedback from users, You don’t have to devote time into coding because platforms like Figma is so powerful that you can give a user a whole demo of an app without knowing how to code or building anything.
So we use Figma a lot. Um, I don’t use it so much personally anymore. Um, but it’s been instrumental for our, our product progress, but otherwise, to be honest, I think right now, like my, my life is fairly, fairly no code in general. It’s just a lot of emails, a lot of social media. A lot of callls, um, all day, every day.
Uh, but I think, yeah, I think Figma is like want for Y frames for mock-ups is, is a great, no code tool for people looking to kind of get an idea off the ground
Desiree – 00:44:11
What do you see the future is going to be like, do you have it, what are your plans or tell us about your mindset for clear at the moment.
Ahana – 00:44:17
Yeah. So, I mean, I think this is a really exciting time for us because we’re past the point, you know, if like getting that initial product, like sort of even the first year is always, there’s so much change.
So many things happening, figuring out exactly what market you’re building, what problem you’re solving. And so I feel like now we’re really at this pivotal stage where. We’re starting to secure big partnerships within the industry. So we want a big contract with L’Oreal, um, a couple of weeks ago, which was super exciting, I think, to, to have the validation from a massive player like that, that actually, yes, this data infrastructure is needed.
Yes. You know, lack of top, we need less toxicity in the way people learn about social media skincare through social media is needed is, you know, it’s a, it’s a great feeling, um, like who doesn’t love some external validation. So I think we’re at the point where that starting to happen, it’s getting easier for us to form those partnerships with brands.
Equally we’re seeing the user feedback and getting better and better each month. But I think really very clearly the key priority for this year is product market fit, which comes from users and comes from the community building and the habit tracking. So for as long as product is the number one priority. We’re not spending anything on our marketing or user acquisition. We are a product led company. We want to lead with the app itself, scratch every inch that a skin color has. And once that’s been achieved, I’m already confident that the rest will fall into place because we had those discussions. We’ve started building the relationships with the brands, so on and so forth.
So what. Once the users are obsessed with all app. And once people are really able to get their value themselves of tracking that progress, learning about which parts do you use, making more informed purchasing decisions? I’ll definitely feel like the first half of the battle is won. And I think after that, it’s just about making sure that we execute to make sure that we’re using all of that amazing insights to really innovate in the industry and seeing that innovation happens firsthand, not making it a more marketed industry.
Like we don’t allow advertising on our platform. That’s the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve. We’re not trying to make that Brett friends better advertising. We’re trying to make them more innovative. So I think just making sure that, that, that really happens. And then I think my like dream and goal would be to see someone like try a product, maybe not go so well, the brand sees what’s wrong.
They like change something in the formulation to actually make it better. And then some like that same person or someone else then like tries it and it works. And then like that, the word of that spreads through all platform. I feel like that’s the whole end to end process that once we’ve achieved, I feel like my job is not done, but I, I feel very satisfied and like, I, you know, I’m achieving what I set out to achieve.
Desiree – 00:46:58
Touching on that note. Um, what would you say is the most rewarding thing that you get as a founder is the fact that you’re helping someone in their skin journey. In fact, that’s okay on that sheet, building my company. And because I’m a long way from home being independent was a suspect that you would assume in your company, this is your work.
Most of them would know there’s multiple things. That’s maybe the most.
Ahana – 00:47:24
Yeah. I think that the whole experience is incredibly rewarding, but I’d say the number one thing is definitely the user feedback, especially with something like this. But as I said, it’s so close to my heart and something I’ve bought through myself.
It seems someone who’s also struggling feeling like that day is slightly better or feeling like they’ve actually seen some progress in their skin or they figured out what product works really well for them. Um, but I think, you know, on a selfish note, as well beyond the, on that side of things, it’s the amount of personal growth and learning that I’ve had from the experience.
I don’t see as many other careers that could have taught me this much about so many different things that I would never even have thought that. Getting the opportunity to learn about. And so I think, you know, it’s, it’s not an easy job. There’s a lot of stress and things that you don’t, that you do have to worry about that you wouldn’t with other more traditional career paths.
But at the same time, to me, it was always a priority to learn as much as I possibly could, especially at this phase of my career. And in that sense, I can’t complain because I’m always, always, always learning.
Desiree – 00:48:28
I want to say it’s selfish because Indians say you’ll go and. Um, last question. Thanks. Your books.
That’s changed the way that you think.
Ahana – 00:48:39
Okay. I’d say number one is outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Um, I really, really liked that. I’m going to be honest with you very much. Um, a lot of people are surprised, but like, yeah, I’m not a very avid reader. Um, I would say, yeah, I would say that the second book, um, The stranger by Albert Camry, which is like a sort of existentialist philosophy book that I read when I. I think 14, but I, it stuck with me and that’s what really got me interested in just like, thinking about thinking. Um, and, and I think maybe to an extent changed the way that I viewed circumstances and, and change in life. I think going through that, I was also, that was in when I was moving around as a child.
And so I think sort of always unlocking like a deeper level of thinking that was the first book I read that like helped me do that. Um, and then along a similar vein, I would say still to house five by when I get, that was also one that I read as a teenager. And it’s, I guess like on the face of it, it’s, um, it’s a book about the war and about bombings in, in Dresden, in Germany, which is not the stuff that would interest me at all.
Um, however, Especially as a child. Now I’m so much more interested in history and politics, but when I was younger, I didn’t understand any of it. But again, it has some really quirky sort of scifi. Philosophical elements to it. And I think it just combined, again, it was a different way of thinking and it’s a very funky sort of alternative book.
I found it’s a classic, but in the same way, it’s not like a straightforward fairytale story. Um, it was just a book that really stuck with me, um, for the rest of my life.
Desiree – 00:50:30
Okay. So thank you for being with us and share with us. Share with us with journey.