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Danielle Gronich & Kayleigh Clark of CLEARstem: “Don’t ride the highs too high and the lows too low”

Don’t ride the highs too high and the lows too low — I can’t express enough how important this is. There can be very high highs and very low lows in business, especially in the startup phase. Let me give an example. Danielle and I recently had a call with a major celebrity’s buyer & […]

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Don’t ride the highs too high and the lows too low — I can’t express enough how important this is. There can be very high highs and very low lows in business, especially in the startup phase. Let me give an example. Danielle and I recently had a call with a major celebrity’s buyer & assistant. It was a call revolving around a significant opportunity that could take our company to the next level. It was incredibly exciting, and all the energy was flowing! The next day we had a call with our (past) shipping company. During our transition to a new one that would take a few weeks, they had completely stopped shipping out our orders with no notice. This fulfillment situation caused immediate panic as we wondered how we would fulfill our customer’s orders in a timely manner and not lose their trust in the brand. It’s important to stay realistically optimistic but not let highs hit too high and the lows hit too low or else it could crush your confidence as a leader and entrepreneur.


For my series on strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Danielle Gronich and Kayleigh Clark of CLEARstem. Danielle Gronich, known as the “acne guru,” is a skin care expert, author and pioneer of the successful treatment of acne. Her clinic, San Diego Acne Clinic takes a holistic approach with a 98% success rate for getting people clear, and keeping them clear. Together with Kayleigh Clark, she is the co-founder of CLEARstem Skincare, a groundbreaking anti-aging, hormone balancing, scar revising and anti-acne skin care line. Gronich established the San Diego Acne Clinic after battling her own cystic acne for some 10 years. None of the typical methods — antibiotics, lasers, hormonal modifiers, prescription creams, peels and even two rounds of Accutane — worked for her, and the many physicians and dermatologists she consulted could not seem to crack the code. She left the corporate world, dove into clinical research, and went back to school to find the answers for herself, earning her license as a clinical esthetician and acne specialist. She learned that acne has multiple triggers that operate in tandem, and that thoroughly evaluating each case in a holistic way — both internal and external — is the only way to help truly manage skin. Today, her clinic has thousands of success stories to tell including celebrity clients. Gronich is a regular contributor for numerous health and wellness publications. Kayleigh Clark,the co-founder of CLEARstem Skincare, holistic nutritionist, and wellness expert with a keen understanding of the ingredients we put in our bodies for better or worse. She developed severe cystic acne in her mid-twenties and tried in vain to find a cure until she discovered the San Diego Acne Clinic, where she met Gronich. Not only did her acne clear up, but through their sessions, the duo discovered their mutual passion for helping other acne sufferers achieve clear skin without sacrificing their health. That’s when CLEARstem Skincare was born. Guided by a passion to make a positive impact, she studies the latest research and is a regular contributor for numerous health, wellness, and lifestyle media outlets. Clark is also a published author and the co-host of the “Balancing Your Hustle” podcast on iTunes and GooglePlay, which focuses on balancing career, passions, and wellness.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Covered in bright red, inflamed, painful cystic acne, I was a year out from my wedding feeling completely overwhelmed and at a loss with how to fix my skin.

I was overly stressed and spending thousands of dollars on skincare products, going to estheticians, and doctors I hoped and prayed would fix my skin. The worst part, I was a holistic nutritionist! Shouldn’t I know how to fix my own skin?!

That’s when I met Danielle (my now co-founder in CLEARstem). Danielle owns San Diego Acne Clinic and is well known for having a 98% success rate for getting people clear among thousands of clients (including some celebrities!).

We immediately bonded over our love for whole body wellness and skincare. With Danielle, I learned all about the internal and external triggers for acne. This included supplements, secret pore clogging ingredients, foods, and a ton of other triggers that I had no idea about!

After achieving the clear skin I had been struggling with for years and learning so much in the process, Danielle and I decided to develop our own line for others who were dealing with the same issues and searching for real solutions.

Danielle had a connection with a world renowned chemist that took our idea on! We set out to create the very first anti-aging and anti-acne line with zero toxins. We wanted to help others get clear skin, especially because (despite what many think) people are not just dealing with acne as teens, but continue to struggle with it in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and even 60’s!

Our founding belief: That people shouldn’t have to choose between anti-aging products that clog your pores or acne products that age your skin. Why not have both??

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

In the beginning, before we had a packaging and fulfillment center, we had to fill, seal, package, and ship every bottle by hand. In the first year of business our largest amount of sales was on Amazon, and since we were doing Amazon FBA to get Prime status, that meant we had to fill, seal, package, and ship hundreds of bottles at a time to Amazon to keep up inventory.

On one occasion, we were cutting it really close to selling out on Amazon (which is a huge no-no). Our bottles were arriving just in time to hand-fill and get them shipped off (when I say “just in time,” I mean we had literally hours to fill and ship them back out).

The bottles arrived, I open up the boxes, and instead of our white and blue packaging, they were BRIGHT PINK! Panic set it. Amidst a minor panic moment- there was a silver lining. I ended up sharing this entire experience on social media and it was a HIT! Everyone loved the pink bottles and begged us to sell them.

We were able to fill all the bottles and get them off to Amazon in time, made a quick new image with the pink bottles that we switched out on Amazon. Crisis averted!

Moral of the story: Not everything will go to plan. You need to ready for bumps in the road, flexible and solutions oriented. Sometimes what seems like a problem can actually turn into an opportunity.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

There is nothing more humbling than filling 2,500+ bottles of your own product by hand! When we first started with a packaging and fulfillment center for our line, we were rookie’s. Neither Danielle nor I come from a product development or cosmetics background. So literally everything was new to us! When having our bottles filled, we did not know there was a choice between a cosmetic fill and a regular fill. Our facewashes automatically were filled “regular”. Which meant in a 6oz bottle (which we later found out holds 7.5oz of product), was filled with 6oz of product. Makes sense right? Wrong.

We had the majority of product shipped to our warehouse with a few bottles sent personally to us. When we opened up the box, our bottles looked half empty! Even though the 6oz bottles were filled with 6oz of product, the bottles didn’t look filled all the way. We knew our customers would NOT be pleased.

What did Danielle and I do? We had thousands of bottled pulled from inventory, shipped to us, and we personally topped off and resealed every single bottle.

Lesson learned: There is a regular fill and a cosmetic fill in the beauty world! When working with a new packaging & fulfillment center, it’s always a good idea to have a person with expertise look over your order before it’s placed to ensure you are not making any “rookie” mistakes. Also, there is no such thing as too many questions, especially when starting out!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

It is engrained in our company’s DNA to provide education first and products second. We are here to make a difference and create positive change in people’s skin.

Danielle and I both are genetically prone to acne which means even though we manage our breakouts through nutrition, skincare, and wellness practices, we are still easily triggered to breakout. This is why we have devoted our lives to not only healing our own skin, but taking the knowledge we have gained and sharing it with everyone who needs it. We are our customer, we understand the major hits to self-esteem and confidence that acne causes, we get the bring-you-to-tears frustration that happens when you try everything possible, and we recognize the dedication it takes for a lot of people to create positive change in their skin.

Even though we sometimes wish we were not so acne prone, it brings us that much closer to our customer and allows us to support them in ways we may not have been able to if we didn’t understand their skin battles.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are! We can’t share too much, but we are teaming up with an incredible Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and creating a clear skin course! Our goal is to help more people clear their skin, and skincare is just 1 aspect of achieving amazing skin. Since we sadly can’t have everyone come visit San Diego Acne Clinic to clear their skin, we want to bring all the educational benefits of the clinic to them! Our course will take you step-by-step through everything that affects your skin: nutrition, hormones, supplements, pore clogging ingredients, stress, and give you action steps within each module to make positive changes. We are so excited for this course to launch and know it will be a game-changer for many individuals looking to positively change their skin from the inside out.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Culturally as women we have been told to take care of everyone else around us first, then ourselves. Things have changed. I am a huge believer in always putting your oxygen mask on first. You cannot be of service or positively lead anyone if you yourself are burning out. There will always be endless to-do lists, those will never go away, so make sure you set aside time for yourself every single day. Even if you can only commit 1to 0 minutes some days, do it. The more you can manage your own stress, the more you can show up as your best self, and lead others to help them and their team thrive.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

We are always evolving and learning. It’s so important to realize that we are powerful, but we don’t know everything. When managing a team, make sure that everyone voices are heard and valued. There is always something to learn, and other perspectives can be so valuable. I also highly suggest learning each team member’s enneagram, it is so helpful to know how people best receive information and how you can communicate best so both parties are heard and understood. Communication can be a make or break when managing teams!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Danielle and I both value other leaders in the wellness and business community taking time to answer our questions and provide mentorship. It is how we have been able to learn so much and continue to grow. There have been three people that really stand out who I have been incredibly grateful for throughout our journey. It would be an injustice to leave any of these women out.

Christina Rice

Christina has been a CLEARstem supporter since day 1. Literally from the beginning of even forming the company, she was there encouraging, asking questions, and a huge supporter of both Danielle and I. Christina is extremely respected and an authority figure in the wellness space, she has used her platforms on social media and her podcast to educate about CLEARstem. We have had so many men and women transform their skin and when we ask where they heard about us, many times its from Christina. She has been a pivotal part of reaching and educating more people to positively change lives!

Glenn Rich

Glenn headed up all of marketing for Liquid IV and is now more on the brand strategy side.

She has been with Liquid IV from the very beginning so she has been a part of the process of going from startup to a multimillion dollar company. She had been an invaluable contact who evolved into a close friend over the years. Anytime we have questions about new marketing channels, ideas, or contact connects Glenn is always willing to hop on a call or make an introduction. We are forever grateful for her knowledge, guidance and support.

Kacia Fitzgerald

When you are feeling low in need of a “You got this, you are changing the world and impacting so many people” text. Kacia is there before you even know you need it yourself. I truly have never met anyone in my entire life that shows up so authentically herself, brings a high level of energy and gives 100% of herself to the people she supports. Kacia has an innate ability to see things from such unique perspectives and can completely transform any situation into a powerful learning lesson. She has been such an impactful part of our journey over the last year.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Success is not achieved alone, and we are full believers in giving back what we have received. Since we are entrenched in the startup and wellness space, we have used our success to support other startups and individuals in our space. This can be through collaborations, mentorship sessions, or simply giving “5 minute favors” which is making a quick connection that helps someone else grow.

Support is incredibly important to us because when you feel supported you are less stressed, not operating out of fear, and motivation increases.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. You don’t know everything — Having an open mind to other perspectives and being self-aware that you do not know everything is one of the single most important pieces of advice I have ever received. This has come into play many times, especially in Danielle’s and my business partnership. One of the reasons Danielle and I work so well together is because we know and understand each other’s strength and weaknesses, and we always take both of those into consideration when making decisions. For example, when we first started to focus heavily on social media, we didn’t see exactly eye to eye. Instead of battling back and forth who was right vs who wasn’t, we discussed reasons why we each felt certain ways, and understood we both had unique points of view on this topic. Each of us surrendered to understanding we didn’t know everything when it came to social media and looked for guidance in others when building our platforms.

2. Learn to pivot — Remember my story above about the pink bottles? I can tell you right now there are tons of times just like that one where we had to pivot. We were hit with something unexpected and instead of dwelling on something we couldn’t control we quickly changed and took back control of the situation. In the pink bottle story, we pivoted by marketing and selling the bottles that our customers ended up loving. We were also able to partner with Holy Matcha Café in San Diego to sell our pink bottles in their retail location and it was a huge hit!

3. Don’t ride the highs too high and the lows too low — I can’t express enough how important this is. There can be very high highs and very low lows in business, especially in the startup phase. Let me give an example. Danielle and I recently had a call with a major celebrity’s buyer & assistant. It was a call revolving around a signficiant opportunity that could take our company to the next level. It was incredibly exciting, and all the energy was flowing! The next day we had a call with our (past) shipping company. During our transition to a new one that would take a few weeks, they had completely stopped shipping out our orders with no notice. This fulfillment situation caused immediate panic as we wondered how we would fulfill our customer’s orders in a timely manner and not lose their trust in the brand. It’s important to stay realistically optimistic but not let highs hit too high and the lows hit too low or else it could crush your confidence as a leader and entrepreneur.

4. Focus on your strengths, delegate your weaknesses — I recently was having a conversation with my friend Brandin Cohen (CEO of Liquid IV). He said “tell me your pain points”. I told him how we were struggling to really crush it and figure out Facebook/Instagram advertising. Then Brandin gave me some of the best advice. He said, “Kayleigh, you could lock yourself in a room for a weak, learn everything there is to know about Facebook/Instagram advertising, and at the end of the day you would be a media manager. Is that what you want your roll to be?” I said no. He responded by saying “I know what I am good at, and I know what my weaknesses are, I choose to delegate my weaknesses so they are accomplished as strengths, and it leaves me time to focus on what I am best at day in and day out.”.

5. Always ask for referrals before signing a contract — This has been a lesson learned and very tangible business advice. When Danielle and I were first looking for a warehouse to ship all of our online orders we were given a recommendation. We were so excited and on a bit of a time crunch, so we had a call, signed a contract, and started working with them. This ended up being one of our worst business decisions. This shipping company and CLEARstem were not a good match for one another. It led to significant profit margin being eaten up and severely stunted our cash flow. The reason for this mistake? We took one recommendation as truth and didn’t ask for other referrals or do our own background research on the company. We have since changed shipping companies and now before committing to work with any other company or signing a contract we ask for 3–5 referrals that we can speak with before making a decision.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Something we have had in mind for a long time as individuals and as a company is to work with women coming out of domestic violence, poverty, and sex trafficking. All three of these situations severely damage a woman’s confidence. These women are rebuilding their lives, finding themselves, and many times starting out on their own. It is our goal to work with these women in some capacity whether it is partnering with an organization supporting these women, mentoring, or teaching business fundamentals classes to give women the confidence and skillset to pursue meaningful careers. This is still an aspect of our brand we are really looking to build out because of its deep importance to our hearts.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If you don’t love what you are doing, leave” — Gary Vaynerchuck

This statement really hit home for me. Life is so short. I was once in a job that was not where I wanted to be, actually this happened with multiple jobs. I wondered for so long if I would ever find a career I could stick with, one that made me happy. I thought, maybe if I have an “okay” job with flexible hours, I could just have passions that I love and let my job just be a “job”. I quickly realized that I care way too much about being happy and living every day pursuing my passions to do this. There is such a cycle in society of “I hate my job, but it pays, gives me security and benefits, so I will just stick it out until I retire” mentality. The problem with this is, what if something happens before you retire? What if your life ends? And why should we suffer day in and day out in the prime of our lives In jobs that make us miserable? I don’t want to live every day for the weekend and then dread when Monday comes. I want to live every day excited for what we are building, growing, learning, and pursuing what makes me happy. If you don’t love what you are doing, leave.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Without a doubt, Sophia Bush. She is such an inspiration to us. I recently saw her speak and was blown away by her passionate for supporting women and diversity. She is creating change, breaking down barriers, and starting conversations that need to be had. Her undeniable passion for inclusion, women advancement, and entrepreneurship is incredibly inspiring. I look up to her as a leader, powerful businesswoman, and change-maker.

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