Lesielle: Award-winning personalized cosmetics that adapt to changing skincare needs

© Lesielle

This Spanish AI-powered device combines with a mobile app to track the daily condition of your skin and tailor-make cosmetics for each customer 


Imagine having your own personal skincare and beauty consultant 24/7. Spanish startup Lesielle is disrupting the beauty sector by offering customized products that can be tweaked according to the changing needs of individual customers.

Founded by industrial pharmacist Rubén Rubiales Vázquez in 2016, Lesielle is gearing to tap the lucrative cosmetics industry that is expected to grow to US$805.6 billion by 2023 at an annual CAGR of 7.14% from US$532.4 billion in 2017. Demand for specialist skincare products, in particular, will also surge with the growth of aging populations worldwide. Skincare is forecast to remain the most profitable product category in the cosmetics market with a global market worth US$177.15 billion by 2024. It's also one of the most prominent sectors where nanotechnology is being introduced to create new beauty products and anti-aging formulas to increase sales in a highly competitive business.

Consumers are also becoming more aware of the advantages of different products through social media, vloggers and other brand influencers. The development of more sustainable and organic personal care products will continue to be the focus for major brands worldwide. Sales are also expected to reach US$14.9 billion by 2021 due to the rapid growth of e-commerce distribution channels and expanding markets in Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa.

Rubiales, who is also CEO of Lesielle, discusses the future of skincare in an exclusive interview with CompassList, shortly before the production of the company's first commercial proof batch of adaptive cosmetics in Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz.

This interview was conducted in Spanish and translated. It has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Q. Can you tell us about your life before founding Lesielle?

A. I studied Pharmacy at the University of Seville. Like many pharmacists, I spent some time working at a pharmacy to save up for my specialization studies. Then, I traveled to France to complete a master's in Industrial Pharmacy. I eventually got a job at Gattefosse, a cosmetics and pharmaceutical raw materials laboratory in Saint-Priest, France.

However, I had to go back home to take care of the family business at the end of 2014. In just over two years, the family's clothing business Tamara Flamenco Dance became one of the top two national e-commerce sites for flamenco dancing costumes. Once the business was well-established, I went to live in Switzerland with my girlfriend and looked for a job in the pharmaceutical industry. But I got the idea for Lesielle and here I am, back in Jerez.

What inspired you to create Lesielle?

The idea arose from a personal need. I was looking for very specific cosmetic product for myself, a hydrating cream that also eliminates spots, when I realized how difficult it was to find. I shared the problem with my girlfriend and we started to investigate personalized cosmetics. But we realized that the expertise required was underdeveloped. You had to go to a pharmacy or order online, do tests and then wait for the products to arrive. Since they are made for you, you cannot return the product if you don't like it and there's no way to test it beforehand. Additionally, some ingredients were incompatible for some people.

In short, the modus operandi of the cosmetics sector has hardly evolved in recent decades. Our search inspired the idea of cosmetics that could include all the ingredients you want. The ingredients could also be changed or adapted to your skin's needs, because the skin changes continuously due to external circumstances like weather and the seasons. The skin is also affected by internal factors, such as hormonal changes. That was how the idea for a hi-tech device that allows the users to create their own customized cosmetics simply came about.

© Lesielle

How did you form your team? What were the major challenges of starting the business?

There are three co-founders. In addition to my girlfriend Sophie Suter, who is a company advisor, the other co-founder is Alberto Portillo, an aeronautical engineer. He is the CTO and was responsible for designing the aerodynamic part of the Formula Student-Formula 1 for this competition among universities. He went to Barcelona to work at an engineering consultancy, but came back to Jerez when I called him to join us to co-found Lesielle. 

Later came the rest of the team that now comprises 10 people, starting with our design manager Inma Santiago, an engineer in Industrial Design and Product Development. She is part of the core team. We also have external collaborators. We've been pretty lucky. We had the help of an experienced investor and got some clients during the early days. Other people also wanted to invest in us, mainly because of the international recognition of the Cosmoprof prize. The adaptive nature of the product also attracted a lot of attention.

But there have also been difficult moments. In December 2016, we had to start over with the design of the prototype because the result we got was not efficient enough. It was initially designed as a manual device, but we saw the advantages of doing it electronically. We added a small long-life battery so that the device only has to be charged up every two months. 

Attracting investment also brought some challenges. There's always some disagreement about the investment conditions and the Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign that had to be solved. The latter because we did not have the luck of being promoted and all the traffic had to be generated by us. Production has been a challenge, too. There was a lot of hard work, from our final life-size prototype that was ready in October 2018 until the time when the industrialized product was obtained. For example, we had to find reliable suppliers and get good prices for the components.

What exactly are adaptive cosmetics and what is your business model?

What I can tell you, since we have some confidentiality agreements on this matter, is that Lesielle has a consumables model like Nespresso, where the capsules give profitability to the business in the long term. However, we have two lines of business, B2B and B2C. The first is the most important at the commercial strategy level because we are the first personalized cosmetics for immediate sale company in the market.

We will also target consumers directly because we have managed to reduce costs by up to 90% compared with competitors. There are devices on the market that cost €700 with a recharge of about €250 per month. Our first treatment lasts approximately 1.5 months, with two dosages a day at €99. A refill, lasting 1.5 months, will cost about €35.

Adaptive cosmetics are personalized cosmetics that can change over time. Customers can also order the cosmetics they want, whenever they want. They can customize the cosmetics as they wish and change them for each dose ordered, according to their skin changes due to environmental conditions, hormonal changes and other factors. So, users can always alter the product according to their individual needs at any time.

However, our most important clients will be independent beauty professionals and large beauty retailers.

What are your milestones since you launched?

The project started at the end of March 2016 and the company was incorporated in June. By September, we had three full-time staff. In May 2017, we produced the first functional prototype and applied to patent the Lesielle device. In the same month, we entered the Minerva program of the Vodafone accelerator. We won the Andalusia Innovates Award 2017 in December and in February 2018, Lesielle won the Best Project Award at the Keiretsu Investment Forum.

The next milestone that I would highlight was in February 2018, when we completed a crowdfunding round on the Kickstarter platform with 100% success to raise our target of €20,000. This also helped us to validate the product and test the market because several packs, including the device and the treatments, were offered for sale at exclusive discounts.

Just two weeks later, we won the Cosmoprof Worldwide Bologna 2018 "Best of the Best," the most important award in the cosmetics industry won by the most innovative. Lesielle Cosmetics was selected as the best cosmetic product among 2,500 companies and more than 580 products. In addition, Lesielle was a finalist in the CEPYME (Spanish Confederation of Small and Medium Size Companies) Awards. The company also won the Andalusian Award for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

In August 2018, our first investor joined the company. Our first round of investment was solely managed and closed by Francisco Fortes, the lawyer and business manager of Antonio Banderas. In October 2018, Lesielle was a finalist at the South Summit as one of the 100 best startups.

The next milestone is happening right now, when we start mass production. Previously, we opened a store from which the reserve list has been managed. The first proof production run of 3,000 units is practically 100% reserved. Once we check that everything is well, we'll make another much bigger production run. The first will be limited to Spain, although some units will be sold overseas. The second run will be for our international distributors.

© Lesielle

Let's talk about turnover and investment. Do you have competitors?

We did a trial sale of over two hundred units to validate the market. All were sold. But, the main production and sales started in 2019. On investment, I can tell you a general figure. Obviously, it is misleading because the founding team has not received a salary for three years. Including the investment round, €325,000 has been pumped into the business.

Several top 10 multinationals have already approached us and shown interest in the products. We will be open to more investment rounds to scale the business once we have finished our proof production run. At the moment, we are only talking with potential investors.

Personalized cosmetics has not yet reached the mass market sector so we can say that we don't have competition because our goal is to target this market. But we are not alone because there are alternatives, such as pharmacy-produced personalized cosmetics, or personalized cosmetics marketed as luxury products. However, in the adaptive cosmetic market and at our prices, we are alone.

What technologies do you use? 

We have applied for both EU and international patents for the AI-powered device. We also use airless technology for the cosmetic bottles to eliminate any contact with air that allows the cosmetics to be better preserved.

We also created our own cosmetic formulation system that separates actives and bases. This helps us to create customized formulas in record time. We can have a new active in two days, or less, although it has to undergo checks afterward. In addition, the isolated formulation of the actives allows them to be mixed more efficiently.

In traditional creams, there can be incompatibility between actives, the most common being vitamin C and retinol. If they are stored together, one of the two would not be in their best environment and would be degraded because vitamin C is a stronger acid. In our system, they are kept separated in their ideal mediums until they are mixed inside the device. The cosmetic is thus freshly formulated in the most optimal conditions for the user. By producing one dose at a time, the actives do not degrade and are always in optimal condition at the time the cosmetic is created.

We also have a mobile application that is already in beta and will be available for the next product launch. The app has its own quite complex algorithm that can track the state of the user's skin condition, weather and pollution factors to recommend any changes as needed.

Tell us about how your products actually work?

Use is very simple, not only for the final consumers but also for beauty professionals. We have separated the bases and the actives. The bases are the ones that provide hydration and must be consistent with the skin type of the user. The actives come individually separated and are used as the treatments.

All the ingredients are kept in separate compartments and users can choose exactly what they want when mixing the dosage before use. The bases are classified according to skin types and a simple color system has been designed for the actives. For example, if the users want to correct something, they should look for the red actives. If the users seek to prevent a skin problem, they use the yellow actives as antioxidants. If the users want to treat imperfections, they go to the purple color. A series of options are offered within each range and the users can choose the ones that suit them best.

In the case of changes in the skin, for example, due to hormonal causes, the user can change the base. This can also apply to the change of seasons. For example, the skin tends to be drier in winter and less dehydrated, or more oily, in the summer. Or you can add an active, such as an exfoliant if you notice there is more oil in your skin. By simply adding a new active, you've already created a new cosmetic. The advantage is that the ingredients can be changed for the next dosage. For example, by adding an anti-pollution active if a lot of pollution is detected in the environment.

To get the best from the products, the consumers can get advice from their trusted beauty professionals. For example, aesthetic clinics can follow up on the treatments for their customers. The consumers can also count on Lesielle’s mobile app to track their skin's evolution and recommend the most appropriate changes as required.

Could you tell us about future plans?

In the short term, our plan is to deliver the proof production run of 3,000 units. Once we have confirmed that everything has gone well, or made the necessary adjustments, we'll go on to the international production run. We already have agreements with distributors in many countries.

In the medium term, we want to consolidate internationally, while enriching the treatment options and adding more textures for the bases. We currently have the option between a light texture and a nutritive one for each skin type. We also want to improve the company's image and designs.

We have been designing the device, the product ranges, the bases and the treatments for three years. Our year will be 2019. We believe that we can change the cosmetics industry. In my opinion, there hasn't been anything disruptive in the sector for many years. Our product is disruptive. It may change the way we understand cosmetics, as it is no longer a fixed product for everyone, but an adaptive one for each individual consumer.

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