Alex Dastmachi’s path to founding a successful company was a little more challenging than many entrepreneurs—to say the least. Surviving revolution and war during his childhood in Iran, Dastmalchi convinced his parents to let him migrate alone to the U.S. at the age of sixteen. Arriving by way of Pakistan, then Austria, he finally arrived in California in 1987. He spoke barely any English.
Today Dastmalchi is the founder and CEO of Vanity Planet & Kove Audio, a global company offering a robust portfolio of innovative beauty, tech, and lifestyle products. The brand has achieved a presence at household-name retailers including Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, Walmart, and Urban Outfitters.
Dastmalchi recounted his early struggles and achievements to a rapt student audience at the Baker Executive Speaker Series. He noted that one source of inspiration for starting the skincare company Vanity Planet was that as a young man he had a severe acne problem. At great personal expense—two to three months’ paycheck, at the time—he visited a well-known Beverly Hills dermatologist. Dastmalchi said that realizing that such treatments were generally reserved for the elite sparked in him “a passion for beauty devices, and for making affordable yet high-quality tools and services available to customers.”
The entrepreneur said he recognized early on in the business that to truly keep abreast of trends, he needed insights from others. “I’m not the demographic—I’m not the perfect person to go out there and find [new] beauty products and devices,” he said. “As a leader, my job is to serve my team [and] enable their ideas.” Among the creative, younger people he has brought onto the team is Toni Battaglia, Vanity Planet’s Director of Product Development and Brand Strategy, who joined Dastmalchi at the Baker event.
Tech Solutions in Skincare
Battaglia described one of Vanity Planet’s recently-launched innovations, an app called Skin Reporter, which provides users with a customized assessment of their skin using only a cell phone. Users snap a photo of their face and the app scans it for areas of concern such as oiliness, hydration, and wrinkles. Customers are provided with a “skin score” and recommendations for products and beauty routines.
Enabling customers to “take their skin health back” (in Battaglia’s words)—to do more for themselves outside of spas and estheticians’ offices—is one of Vanity Planet’s aims. Dastmalchi and Battaglia noted this has been especially relevant during COVID, when most people weren’t going out for beauty treatments. The two said they are excited about continuing to develop tools and technologies that reduce costs and enable more accessibility at home.
Funding a Fledgling Business
Dastmalchi mentioned that Vanity Planet was not backed by private equity, and a student asked how he was able to raise the necessary funds to launch the business and maintain it over the starting period.
The entrepreneur described how he used his own capital for the proof-of-concept stage. He sold some initial products, gathered data on the demand for them, and approached friends and family for additional funding, discussing their expected return. He said those individuals remain investors in the company.
“I’m a relationship guy, I’ve had relationships all my life and they turned into amazing support,” Dastmalchi said. “We created a win-win situation and I’m a big believer in that. If you only look at it as ‘your side’… the likelihood of you growing [more quickly] might be hindered.”
He added that the company has survived some tough times, including a loss of several million dollars in 2019. But Dastmalchi said he returned to basic principles of unit economics and successfully scaled the business. 2020 was Vanity Planet’s most profitable year to date, both top- and bottom-line. He said of the current year, “Post-COVID, again people thought [our business growth] was impossible, but we have kept it up with the same acceleration.”
New Markets, New Directions
Looking to future trends in the skincare industry, Battaglia predicted significant growth in the device area. She added that Vanity Planet is “putting a lot into LED and anti-aging devices.” Battaglia and Dastmalchi also noted that men are becoming an increasingly important demographic. Currently 20% of Vanity Planet’s customers are male, and the brand has begun to design products with them in mind.
No matter what direction the company takes, Dastmalchi said, “Always from the beginning—today and into the future—we’d never sell a product that we don’t love ourselves. We have to believe that it creates value, that it actually works, and that it’s available at a really good price.”