Visualize yourself achieving your goal: Envisioning a positive end result helps make achieving that goal more likely. I never questioned that I could become a doctor despite the historical timing making it unlikely. Clearly seeing myself as a practicing physician from an early age seemed natural and helped tune out all of the road blocks that I encountered.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Audrey Kunin M.D
Audrey Kunin M.D., is a board-certified dermatologist, author, clinician, educator and the Founder and Chief Creative Officer of DERMAdoctor. Establishing herself as a trailblazer in the industry, Dr. Kunin created DERMAdoctor to address the all-too-common skincare concerns that were overlooked in the beauty industry, providing a hassle-free, highly effective, prestige treatment for these conditions, problem-solving without irritation and with no prescription necessary. These clean, cruelty-free and clinically tested formulations empower the consumer with solutions never before thought possible. In addition to founding DERMAdoctor, she is an accomplished radio and television talk show guest and has graced the pages of top consumer magazines. Her work can also be found in The DERMAdoctor Skinstruction Manual: The Smart Guide to Healthy, Beautiful Skin and Looking Good at Any Age, which she wrote. In late 2020, Dr. Kunin is slated to launched her be + well podcast which invites listeners into conversations with Kunin and leaders in the beauty industry discussing topics on new innovations, trends and the future of beauty.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
I began DERMAdoctor at the end of 1998 initially as an e-commerce platform for consumers to purchase hard to find dermatologically correct products. Within the first year of answering consumer emails and drawing upon my own experience as a board-certified dermatologist, I realize that there were many niches within the skin care category that were being underserved. As I had a chemistry and compounding background, I realized that I would be able to create formulations that would aid in common problems seen by dermatologists. It took me approximately four years and I launched with just a handful of products with treatments for a variety of concerns ranging from keratosis pilaris which affects half the world’s population, to under arm skin discoloration with a brightening antiperspirant, as well as a redness reducing cream for sensitive and rosacea-prone individuals.
Shortly thereafter, we entered retail partners such as Nordstrom, Sephora and eventually Ulta Beauty. With two essentially competing business models, by 2014 we realize that we needed to focus solely on our DERMAdoctor brand and divested the others. Today, we are in over 1,200 retail stores here in the US and have a global presence with cross-border e-commerce in China, and a strong presence in the Middle East and the UK.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Several stories come to mind and in the end, they inevitably have the same two take aways- trust your gut and never give up.
I once presented a new product launch to a prominent retailer who told me, “no one will ever buy anything with a chicken on it.” The packaging has a chicken running across the box and jar with foot prints left behind, playing off the everyday name for keratosis pilaris which is “chicken skin bumps” and our tagline being “say goodbye to chicken skin.” It was a fairly contentious discussion. That product, our KP Duty Body Scrub, was a category creator and went on to become that retailer’s top-selling body scrub for a decade. It continues to be one of our top-selling products and I am excited to share that our next generation KP Duty Body Scrub is launching in November!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Unquestionably innovation. We were the first company to focus on keratosis pilaris with a patented treatment, the first to address underarm discoloration with a brightening antiperspirant, and the category creator of the dual physical and chemical exfoliating scrub. We hold four patents on novel problem-solving formulations. It is our innovation that gives us our competitive edge against the beauty corporations of the world.
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?
My husband, Dr. Jeff Kunin, has been my non-silent silent partner from the beginning of creating DERMAdoctor. Without his technological abilities and his financial insights and business development strategy to guide us through this process we would never be where we are today.
During the first year of our business, Jeff would stay up late every evening into the wee hours of the morning, despite having a regular day job, in order to help me with the technology aspect of our fledgling e-commerce business and to work out all the kinks. Back in the beginning in 1998, we still had dial-up Internet service and it wasn’t unusual for servers to go down. It was really a very complicated feat to have any type of business on the Internet and Jeff just managed to conquer every obstacle he encountered.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience is literally the art of being able to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get right back to work when life knocked you down or, in this case, business and as a business owner presents trials and tribulations. I think we all realize that there’s going to be many of these moments throughout the life cycle of a business. I suppose the most resilient people may be cockeyed optimists. They don’t even consider giving up even when perhaps they should. And the eternal optimist in them believes that not only will they get past whatever obstacle life has thrown their way, but that they will flourish in spite of it.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Oprah Winfrey. Portions of her difficult childhood followed by the educational support of her father with later success are very inspirational to me and something I can identify with.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
Multiple people told me I could never become a physician when I first realized that was my career goal, back in the late 1960’s — after all girls didn’t grow up to become doctors. I simply shut them out — it never occurred to me to believe them. I had made my decision at the age of 10 and that was that.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
Years ago we had an advertising dispute with the FTC. DERMAdoctor settled in order to avoid the cost of litigation and out of a spirit of cooperation with the FTC. While a trying ordeal, in the end, we implemented new policies and procedures and became a stronger company allowing us to bring innovative products to market with this additional knowledge.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
As a first generation American on my father’s side, no primary relatives had ever graduated college. My father was incredibly supportive of my decision to pursue higher education and incredibly proud that I wanted to become a doctor. But as neither parent had the knowledge base or the financial resources to help me apply to school, I was essentially on my own to navigate the system.
I typed the applications I had sent for in the mail (it was the late ‘70’s), took my standardized testing without any type of prep classes (we had never heard of such a thing!), had no guidance on where to attend college except the mandate it had to be in state to keep tuition down and applied for student loans. I figured out everything from the fluff of how to decorate a dorm room (I was sent with nothing more than my clothing and an LL Bean Hudson Bay blanket for my bed), to how to compete academically and survive and thrive despite a lack of funds and life skills.
Hunger was an ongoing theme during both undergraduate and medical school. Learning to stretch a dollar by purchasing a baker’s dozen donuts that would act as my sole daily meal for a week (1–2 donuts a day) in college, getting a job at Domino’s Pizza answering phones as it not only supplied pocket change but was often the only meal I ate when “oops” orders occurred, to living on a 33 cent box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese a day during portions of medical school are pervasive memories. It was all worth it in order to achieve my dream.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Visualize yourself achieving your goal: Envisioning a positive end result helps make achieving that goal more likely. I never questioned that I could become a doctor despite the historical timing making it unlikely. Clearly seeing myself as a practicing physician from an early age seemed natural and helped tune out all of the road blocks that I encountered.
2. Stay positive: Do what you need for your own mental health to remain positive and not allow yourself to become depressed during inevitable downturns. Work with a therapist, take antidepressants if necessary, embrace your wellness needs, and turn to friends, family and your social support network to get through darker times. You can’t go it alone. I have done all of the above at one time or another. Letting yourself get too low can make it so much more difficult to claw your way back.
3. Play to your strengths. Do what you are best at and delegate the rest.: My strengths at DERMAdoctor include creativity, product development and brand evangelism. I know my limitations and delegate tasks I know someone else can perform better and far more efficiently.
4. Take decisive action. Too much red tape or the inability to make a decision are competitive drains on an individual and an organization.: We are lucky to have a tight, effective group in our company where we can nimbly make decisions and run with them.
5. Learn from your mistakes and failures. If you keep doing the same thing you will come up with the same outcome.: We have worked with manufacturers for years. Even though we have wonderful working relationships, you cannot let your guard down — we learned the hard way the one time we didn’t follow protocol. It will never happen again.
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. 🙂
I believe medicine has to be readily accessible to everyone globally. I am a member of a medical board working to build and staff a clinic for The Joseph School in Cabaret, Haiti and have seen, in person, what healthcare challenges patients experience in third world countries, and frankly our own, too. Availability of medications, vaccines, diagnostics and physician access are critical needs we must endeavor to provide.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders 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, especially if we tag them 🙂
Bill and Melinda Gates would be my dream private discussion team to meet with. Spanning business, e-commerce/beauty and most importantly their philanthropic medical initiatives ticks all the boxes. I would especially love the opportunity to be mentored in how to complete our Haitian medical initiative we have begun and further expand health opportunities within the community.
How can our readers follow you on social media?