Mandy Moore, Sarah Paulson, Eva Mendes and many other celebrity faces have met the wizard-ing electrical genius of Melanie Simon, ZIIP Beauty founder and chief executive officer. Simon first spent 15 years as an aesthetician specializing in electrical facial treatments before she created her multi-million dollar beauty empire centered around an at-home electrical facial device, ZIIP. This white and gold device could double as a work of art but it is actually a Class II medical device cleared by the FDA. ZIIP works to tone, tighten and smooth your skin by sending electrical facial treatments through varying wave forms of micro and nano-currents through an app on your phone. ZIIP products are currently available at Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys NY, Revolve, Net-a-Porter, Violet Grey, the U.K.-based Cult Beauty’s e-commerce site, and many other prominent retailers. Here, Simon dishes on how she catapulted her love of electricity into a multi-million business empire in two short years, balances motherhood and general advice on how she gets it all done.
How did you discover your love of electricity?
At 19 I found a gem of a house that was going into foreclosure and I was able to purchase it for $38,000. In those times you had to have three forms of credit, and somehow the bank let me use my Ace Hardware and Tracy's Video rental accounts as two of them, alongside my credit card, which had a $300 a month limit. When the time came to sell, I knew I needed to do something special with the profits from the house. I decided to dedicate it to my love of skin care. I went to cosmetology school to get my license as an esthetician and moved from Mammoth Lakes, where I had been a snowboard instructor, to Santa Barbara to open my first space.
While I was doing my research, there was one name being whispered over and over again and that was Biologique Recherche, a professional skin care line from Paris. I bought their products and their facial device, the Remodeling Face machine. They sent a wonderful woman from France--and her name was actually France--to train me for a week. I remember thinking, “Dear God, I’ve just completely wasted my savings. This is so difficult. I’m never going to be able to do it.” But what fascinated me the most was the electricity and the electrical currents we used. Watching electricity and energy go back into the skin and seeing skin literally come to life in front is something that can't be achieved by any other modality in the skin care realm. I researched anything I could get my hands-on regarding electricity and skin, electricity and bone density, electricity and skin grafting. What I found was that the lower regions of electricity, specifically the low end of microcurrents and nanocurrents is the realm of electricity and electrical impulses that are identical to the human body. And they created the most lasting results on skin, depending on the desired outcome.
How did ZIIP come into being?
I have five different machines I use to create different electrical waveforms. My facial treatments are centered around electricity entirely. I had a small and devoted clientele and they gave me a lot of feedback, so I was able to really learn the nuances of changing the shape of a waveform -- from a square to a sine, from speeding up the amount of times a wave hits per second to slowing it down, or from solely using a positive current to only using a negative one. I was starting to get to the point where I was getting more national recognition in the press and people from all over the world asking me how they could get these types of treatments where they lived.
Around that time I reconnected with a childhood friend - actually my best friend's younger brother, David Mason, who is now my co-founder. He is an engineer, and was working on robotics and cloud computing in Silicon Valley. We started talking about the idea of a device and how cool it would it be if it worked with an app. We wanted to be able to send different electrical combinations at different times and treat whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted. We developed ZIIP and patented its ability to wirelessly change the programs instantly on the device from your phone. It was the first app-connected at-home beauty device on the market. We paired it with Golden Gel, which is a conductive gel masque that gets applied before every treatment and enables the transfer of electricity from the device to the skin.
We like to say that ZIIP “strikes beyond the boundaries of skincare” because it is possible to address nearly every skincare desire someone may have, from reducing acne and pigment to softening fine lines and sculpting to defining the cheekbones and jaw. Each electrical treatment (there are currently seven on our app, and the eighth is launching April 25th!) uses a different combination of waveform shapes and electrical current types, including nanocurrent, to increase ATP in skin cells, kill bacteria and reduce melasma. The results are both immediate and cumulative and ideal for any skin type at any age.
Here is the thing, ATP is a naturally-occurring chemical that you already have in your body. As you age, your ability to produce and store ATP deteriorates, which means that your body doesn’t have the stored energy it needs to repair damaged skin cells. Enter ZIIP. ZIIP’s electrical currents increase the levels of ATP in your skin, replenishing your stored energy and allowing your cells to communicate again and repair themselves, which translates into healthy skin that gets better over time.
How did you get your product onto the shelves of stores?
We started with Violet Grey because I gave a treatment to Christina Han, who at the time was working there and took ZIIP to Cassandra Grey to try. They have been incredible supporters from the beginning. From there, doors were opened with the help of David Pirrotta Brands. But no one will build your brand for you. You have to be willing to put boots on the ground and meet people and show them your device and teach people over and over again how it works. You have to be willing to have the same conversation about what ZIIP is and what it does again and again, for years in a row. And you have to be enthusiastic about it every time, because the person you’re talking to has never heard about you or your product until this moment. One of our early retail partners was Barney’s and we were THRILLED to be in the store---it took a full year of conversations to get to that point. But the product didn’t move off the shelves until we committed to spending a LOT of time on the floor, with salespeople, and with customers.
How did you finance your growth?
We raised a small amount of money in the beginning from a select group of angel investors, who are all clients of mine and whom I have known for years. Since then, we have put everything we made back into the company to develop new products and grow our team.
Do you have mentors? If so how did you seek them out?
Yes, one of my mentors is Aida Bicaj. She was one of the people who helped train me at Biologique Recherche 15 years ago. She is an amazing esthetician with a global knowledge of skin care. Marcy Taylor of Bennett Shipping, who built her multi-billion business from scratch with $500 in her bank account, is a really special person to me. Her story really resonates with me. I had to start from literally nothing and she showed me that you have to maintain your values and integrity no matter what the cost, and in the end it will only make your company stronger and better.
What is your best management advice?
My best management advice is hire people that are do-ers. If you’re going to have to spend a lot of time holding their hands and showing them how to do the work over and over again, you’re better off doing it yourself. You have to hire people you can trust to go and get your job done, especially with a small team that is a start-up. And they need to wear several hats. As we’re starting to scale, our virtual weekly meetings and communicating through SLACK have become even more essential. We live all over the country and we like to do Google Hangouts so we can see people’s faces and share screens to go over documents, from emails to graphics to outside communication. We only hire people or groups that are the ultimate experts in their arena.
How do you balance motherhood and business?
I’m lucky that my parents are so young. My mom had me when she was 20 and my dad was 23. They have been very involved in my 13 year-old daughter’s life from the start. I try to go on what I call “workations” where I spend two nights at a time at my loft/atelier in Hollywood. I basically work from dusk till dawn on those days but I love doing it. My mom and dad watch my daughter, which is an amazing thing. I feel like she gets two types of parenting this way. She gets the values of a different generation, along with my open-minded, philosophical way of parenting her. But I’m not going to lie - it’s difficult. There have been nights where she has called crying and asking me to please just come home. Every time she does that, I do. I will reschedule something or I’ll make the two-hour drive back to Hollywood early in the morning. I never want her to feel like I’m not available to her. When I’m home, my focus is almost completely on her. When we have work meetings we try to schedule them during school hours. This also works pretty well for my co-founder. And it’s the beauty of having an amazing co-founder because when my family really needs me, he can step in and take over, so I can dedicate myself to my family and he can do the same. Almost all of our team consists of working parents and we are all respectful of that. Kids come in and out of the frame on our video calls, and many times things come up and we’re completely supportive of one another. Children come first. It literally takes a village, even in a working environment.
Self-doubt is par for the course when you’re pushing yourself through a challenge. What does the critic in your head typically say to you? And any tips or lessons you use to quiet that critic?
I tell that critic, 'You know me, you know I'll go down with that ship. So you might as well go jump on the safety raft and start rowing for shore because I'm not leaving the ship.'
What is an object on your desk that inspires you?
An Astier de Villatte vase with spades on it. It's all black clay that's glazed in white. It chips easily, but I've learned to love the cracks because I get a peek inside at the beautiful, handmade structure. It reminds me of ZIIP in a way and how we treat the deeper layers of the skin. We all have all these potions in our medicine cabinets that temporarily make the skin look good on top. But it’s the deeper layers of skin, where the blood cells, nerve endings and living cells are, that is the foundation of it all. That is where healthy skin comes from. Without that clay as the foundation, there is nothing.
I wake up, order Moon Juice: two almond milks and one Silver Strawberry. I love their chia seed pudding and coconut yogurt too. I snack on this throughout the day. I also get IV drips near my loft in Hollywood: I usually get the Myers' Cocktail with glutathione to further recharge me and my skin. If I have a day off, I lay in bed and watch Pride and Prejudice and do absolutely nothing. It's really important to give yourself a break completely or sometimes you become lost in your dreams.
What are you currently reading?
“Everything I Never Told You,” by Celeste Ng. This resonated with me because it's about a woman who did not want to be a housewife and wanted to have a career. I have also been simultaneously reading “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway which reminds me of being an entrepreneur. You catch the fish of your dreams, you fight it with all your might to attach it to the side of your boat and as you sail back in, the sharks start to circle.
Currently Listening to:
Tom Odell’s “Pianotapes” and my favorite podcast, “How I Built This” by Guy Raz.
Busy Philipps, the Select 7, Pati Dubroff, Kristie Streicher
Who do you want to have a cup of tea with?
Nikola Tesla, my electric idol. But only if I could get in his milk bath infused with electricity while we enjoy our tea!
What apps are on your phone right now? Which ones are most used?
ZIIP, number one. Postmates. Dropbox. CHAIRish. Elle Decor. Slack. Headspace.
What advice would you give another woman who is unsure of where to begin when it comes to starting her own business?
Start from something that is grounded in truth. It really does drive me crazy when people chase a trend rather than a passion. And if it is a deep passion, you have to put the work in. Success wouldn't be special if it was easy.