Four Questions for Member Company Atolla
Atolla co-founders Sid Salvi and Meg Maupin showing off their skincare set.
Atolla is an MIT-founded startup that leverages machine learning to deliver adaptive skincare products. They have developed a platform to match people with their most efficacious formulations and create products that evolve as a person’s skin changes with the seasons, environment, and age.
1. Why did you start Atolla? Do you remember the moment when you first thought of the idea?
Sid: I started Atolla out of my own struggle with eczema. Most recently, when in grad school at MIT when my eczema flared pretty badly and I didn’t know what to do. I tried every single moisturizer available at CVS. Even though I have suffered from eczema my whole life I still don’t understand it well. If I can’t understand my skin and what will work best for it after significant research, I can imagine others are as confused. My background is in data science and so when Meg approached me about the idea – it clicked. We imagined a new way for people to understand their skin and to get connected with the right formulations for their skin using data science. Solve the matching problem in skincare. Imagine if instead of me having to research and triangulate what might be an effective product, I could use my skin data to create the right product for me.
Meg: In my first year of grad school, I started having health problems that caused me to keep a skin diary. On top of everything else, my skin started freaking out and I was like a detective trying to figure out the cause. I spent weeks writing down every detail of what I ate, drank, used on my face, what the weather was like. It finally clicked that there could be a better way to figure out what was going on with my skin: one that combines a smarter, data-driven approach with a better user experience.
2. How do you see Atolla impacting how we live our lives?
Sid: Atolla will give people back control over their skin – instead of the frustrating cycle of trial and error – they will know and get what is best for their skin at any given point in time. To really empower people to take ownership of their skin health.
Meg: Atolla will enable people to make better and safer decisions, armed with knowledge about what their skin needs. For example, knowing that a particular ingredient or food makes your skin break out can help people prevent those issues. In addition, we can provide people with the best products for them, adapting to changes in their environment and routine. So it’s one less thing that people have to think about managing.
3. How have New York and Newlab positively impacted the development of your business?
Sid: I couldn’t think of a better place to start our business. I love New York and after having lived here for almost 8 years, I think of myself as a New Yorker. New York is the center of the consumer world and we have been lucky to develop a strong network of advisors and mentors here. Consumers here are on the cutting-edge and thus we chose New York to do our pilot this past summer. The Newlab community has been amazing in our journey – in our Kickstarter we leveraged the advice and help of the staff and other companies here. We couldn’t have run a successful Kickstarter without Newlab.
Meg: Being in New York has been amazing for our business because we can more easily test and learn (like in our Skin Lab pop-up this summer). In addition, we have access to amazing mentors and companies, both through communities like Newlab and through our network at MIT. Because our company is at the intersections of consumer, health, and technology we’re able to leverage the resources of Newlab to help us solve some of the complex problems we’re facing. There’s likely someone dealing with a similar issue in a different field or application.
4. What do you see as your responsibility to make technology ethical and accessible to all?
Sid: Accessibility is super important to us. That’s why we have priced our subscription at $50/month. In addition, transparency is critical – our customers should know how their data is being used and hold us accountable. Transparency is built into our Atolla analysis experience and is one of our core values. We always think about how we can give new insight to the customer about their skin and help them feel smarter.
Meg: As a consumer-facing business, it’s our responsibility to ensure that our product is accessible to people both in terms of usability, price point, and distribution. As a technology company, it’s our responsibility to ensure we are inclusive and diverse in our data modeling of skin – that’s it’s not just the number of data points we are collecting, but the diversity of data points for age, location, ethnicity, lifestyle, etc.
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