Today’s startup spotlight is on FutureDerm, one of the top beauty blogs in the world.

Here we talk to founder and CEO Nicki Zevola.

IC: To start things off, what’s FutureDerm about and what do you do?

Nicki: I started FutureDerm in 2007. At the time, I was a medical student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. I was studying to be a dermatologist, and at the time I would read a lot of popular beauty magazines and watch TV shows related to beauty, and I realized nobody was talking about the science behind beauty products. In September of 2007, I started a simple WordPress blog addressing ingredients, formulations, combinations of ingredients, and that sort of thing. It started to really take off, and by 2011 we were rated the #1 beauty blog by Shape magazine readers. By 2012, I decided to take a leave of absence from medical school — I was in the MD/PhD program — and I decided to pursue this full time.

Today, FutureDerm is the go-to resources online for the science behind beauty products. We’re currently ranked one of the top 20 beauty blogs in the world in terms of traffic and popularity. We also have a FutureDerm Media service where, for a number of brands and companies, we create blogs and do online marketing and social media. We essentially manage the day-to-day implementation of their online marketing strategy.

IC: You really branched out naturally into other avenues that were available to you.

Nicki: We did, we did, and our ultimate goal is to get to several million views per month, and to be in the top five beauty blogs in the world. In the meantime, we’re getting to meet a lot of really great people and to provide what I think is a really great service to a lot of brand and businesses — to teach them online marketing and to really grow their online presence for them. There are so many people who have awesome businesses and understand technology or manufacturing or operations, but they don’t necessarily understand online marketing, such as the importance of blogging or social media. We’re able to create that content, amplify it, and distribute it for them in the right ways.

Startup Spotlight - FutureDerm - presented by Imagine Careers

Nicki Zevola, founder and CEO of FutureDerm

IC: What gave you encouragement early on that really got you to take that first step of creating your blog?

Nicki: For me, a lot of this is about authenticity. Obviously going down the medical school — doctor, dermatologist, professional, traditional — route is a very safe, and profitable, thing to do, for lack of a better word. But at the end of the day, I felt at home, if that makes any sense, with the blog, with the business, and with the online marketing side of things. I’ve always had set times to work on the business, and whenever I work on this I feel like it’s to my passion and to my strengths, and I also can’t imagine life without my staff. They are the most dedicated, loyal, and incredibly hardworking people. To think if I had continued along the MD/PhD route I wouldn’t have met any of them, and it’s almost heartbreaking for me!

A lot of this comes down to authenticity, and living a life that’s very honest and true to my values and my purpose in life.

IC: Let’s talk about that a little bit more. Was there anyone who started this up with you, and how has your team grown along the way to bring you to wear you are now?

Nicki: Definitely the AlphaLab program through Innovation Works was priceless. Through AlphaLab — we were cycle 9 in June through December of 2012 — I was able to attract our Art Director, Meredith Komarek, and also our visual specialist, Erin McCandless. Then through just generally growing the company and things like that, we now have a staff writer, Taylor Barbieri, and we have a Director of Operations, Jim West, and we have more staff we are bringing on as we have more media clients. And of course we have investors too — Alicia McGinnis, Bernard Stoecklein, and Chris Randall have all been very supportive from the beginning. Just really a great team of people. And I can’t go without mentioning Jim Jen; he’s the director of AlphaLab and he’s our advisor now too.

IC: You mentioned you’re working to grow down the avenue of consulting. What other key people do you see FutureDerm needing over the next 6-12 months to accomplish that?

Nicki: For each individual client that we obtain, we need more writing services, we need more design services, and more social media. Sometimes the social media can be handled by a very talented writer or designer, but it depends. We of course need more project managers to handle those, and as we get more specialists, we’ll probably need software engineers both to help the consulting side, but also because FutureDerm’s traffic continues to increase and we’ll definitely want to get more specialized applications for our sites.

IC: What are the most important characteristics you look for when adding people to your team?

Nicki: There’s three things I look for: integrity, intelligence, and energy. I got that off of Warren Buffet. Warren Buffet says if someone just has integrity and intelligence you can teach them the energy, but if they just have the intelligence and the energy but no integrity, your business will go down. So I’m really all about hiring people who have all three. You have to have integrity, number one. Number two, people who are intelligent in that they are very skilled in what we hire them to do. And three, just really energetic, go-getting types. They do what they say they’re going to do. They meet deadlines. Sometimes they exceed those deadlines and they consistently exceed expectations.

IC: Do you want to talk about where your offices are and what you like about your space?

Nicki: We’re in the Riverside Center for Innovation, and I like it because I feel like in AlphaLab, we were in college, and now I feel like we’re in grad school. We’re surrounded by a number of different startups and businesses at various levels, and it’s always fascinating to have conversations with people who are at different stages of their businesses. One of our investors actually has a company here, and we have some great conversations just running into each other. Having a community, but a community with less hand-holding, is fantastic at this stage of my business.

IC: What other networks or organizations around Pittsburgh have provided guidance to you as you’ve grown?

Nicki: Babs Carryer [Director of Education and Outreach] at the University of Pittsburgh’s Innovation Institute, she’s been absolutely phenomenal. Innovation Works in general has been fantastic. And the Pittsburgh Technology Councilas well, providing us with publicity. Everytime we turn around people are saying they saw us at the airport while waiting in line, with the advertisement they did there for us. Their radio show has been great too for getting us some publicity locally.

Startup Spotlight - FutureDerm - presented by Imagine Careers

FutureDerm has also created their own product line, which they sell in their online store.

IC: What do you enjoy most about FutureDerm?

Nicki: You know, it really comes down to the people. I think we have really great people who work here. I feel blessed and honored to work with them. It’s humbling to work with people who are more talented than you in different areas. I think that’s really been my favorite part. That and just living authentically and doing something I genuinely love to do and feel like I’m good at.

IC: Always a plus! When do your best ideas come to you?

Nicki: I journal constantly. I have journals and journals full of notes and ideas; generally when I’m writing is when my best ideas come to me.

IC: When is the last time you went on a trip or vacation, and where did you go?

Nicki: In February I got engaged, so we took an engagement trip to New Orleans and it was wonderful. We’ll be honeymooning in November in Mexico, so we’re very excited.

IC: Well congratulations! Are there any last things about FutureDerm you want people to know, or anything coming up?

Nicki: Continue to follow our blog! We’re also in talks right now for a book deal. We’re really trying to become a household name when it comes to the science behind beauty products and becoming an authoritative blog in that space online. I’m really excited for the future, and in the meantime, if anybody needs any blogging, online marketing, or design services, we’re more than happy to look into consulting for you and helping out.

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