Meet the brother-sister biotech skincare startup with a global presence
Hollywood actresses Blake Lively is a fan, and so are celebrities like Sofia Vergara and reality star Kourtney Kardashian.
All three use a skincare product from a biotech skincare startup eXO Skin Simple that just launched within the past two years. The company has an unusual selling point: Its lotion has an active palliative ingredient, something called exosomes or lipid microvesicles, already found in the human body that no one really knew about before. The company says each bottle has 150 million of these cellular exosomes.
This is also the story of an unusual brother-sister small business model, a geek-meets-glam squad duo. It’s a rare business model — family-run companies — that only one in five entrepreneurs even attempt given that sibling rivalry has blown open massive gullies and splits in families.
“When siblings work together, differences in management styles and business cultures become glaringly obvious,” said Peter Pieraccini, chief operating officer and chief financial officer of eXO Skin Simple. “And there’s not a lot you can do about it.”
Pieraccini and his sister Catherine Enright launched eXO Skin Simple in 2017 after they figured out they could do something with Pieraccini’s scientific research products.
Pieraccini owns a biotech research lab in the biotech triangle of Raleigh Durham, N.C.
“We have a global presence, but outside of our specialized, vertical target markets, you wouldn’t find many people who know we exist, let alone who could explain what we do,” Pieraccini says.
Enright is the one tasked with explaining: “We’re selling skin intelligence, a simple, clean product where the science is you, the most important ingredient is you. Our philosophy is this: simplicity is radical. We launched in 2017 and our sales have doubled already.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ve heard all that before, the promotion of the pseudoscience of skincare, right?
Women like Helena Rubenstein who launched skin lotions cooked up in their bathtubs a century ago, selling glamour as a science to ready customers who first got their skin “diagnosed” and then their skin treatment “prescribed”—which was really, say lanolin, mixed in with herbs that were supposedly from the Carpathian Mountains.
Beauty magazines are shot through with a nimbus cloud of articles quoting skin care executives who talk like a fortune cookie about their products, knowing readers have gold fish memories and will move on to the next trend of the moment.
But dig a little deeper, and you’ll see what eXo is saying sounds like common sense. One of eXO touts is this: Their skin lotion can save money by being an all-in-one eye cream, toner, and face product. “The war is over, you don’t need to buy multiple products,” says Enright.
Think about how much money you’ve wasted through the years on skin creams that haven’t evolved past the era of Noxzema or Jergen’s lotions.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed those brands. But we’ve all been there before with thick night creams. Pasty, with a bit of toothpaste undertones. You wake up in the morning and you can swear you can see an image of yourself on the pillow. And your skin still feels inflamed, like you need to let your face anneal in a freezer.
But what about a skin cream that’s based on, well, what’s already in your body? Why fight City Hall?
Enright says: “Our product is based on deep, biotech science, a human biological no other else has. The story is we are home-cooked, we are healthy and clean. Our philosophy is we are current and modern.”
“The story is we are home-cooked, we are healthy and clean. Our philosophy is we are current and modern.”
So what the heck is Enright talking about?
It starts with Enright’s brother Pieraccini, who works with exosomes. About 35 years ago scientists discovered that exosomes are more than tiny, otiose vesicles ferried along inside a stem cell, little more than cellular garbage, cast offs.
Scientists discovered these cellular couriers act as carrier pigeons that can deliver nutrients to fix other damaged, aging cells.
“There are trillions of these cells inside the human body, the healthy cell spits out exosomes so the body can heal itself from one cell to another,” says Enright.
For the wonky definition, here it is, according to science writer Michele Wilson: “Exosomes are tiny vesicles that are derived from multivesicular endosomes. They are released from cells and have been shown to persist in the circulation for hours….exosomes contain a variety of components, including proteins, lipids, RNA and DNA) and are taken up by target cells, they are thought to represent a novel form of cellular communication.”
Exosomes are now so important that scientists at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine believe they may hold the key to powerful, targeted drug therapies, or biomarkers for clinical laboratory treatments, even precision medicine.
So Pieraccini called up his sister a few years ago after researching exosomes, and said, let’s put this in a topical cream.
But Enright was skeptical. “It’s a massively saturated market, the skin lotion market,” she explains. “But I thought, if we can make it clean, as natural as possible, and affordable, we’ve got something.”
So the two mixed in next-generation, natural beauty ingredients like kelp, Irish moss, sea lettuce, vitamins C,E and A oil, and noni oil. They made it cruelty-free, paraben-free, gluten-free, and voila.
A cream that makes your skin feel young again, hydrated, radiant, calm. “Land, sea, and me,” says Enright. “Because we develop and make the exosomes and skin products ourselves in our own lab and research facility in North Carolina, we can radically keep the price down.”
“Because we develop and make the exosomes and skin products ourselves in our own lab and research facility in North Carolina, we can radically keep the price down.”
I tried it, it drops right into the skin and feels immediately anti-inflammatory, you can feel it palpably icing your skin.
What also acts like a coolant in this rare business model where old family feelings are an accelerant to yet another raw, primitive fight is a natural, first instinct funny bone reflex, a keeping-it-real sensibility that both Enright and Pieraccini have.
Enright “called dibs on the technology by securing an exclusive license. Classic big-sister move,” says Pieraccini, who adds that “eXO is for all those times their parents told them to play nicely together.
Ok so, what’s it really like working with your brother trying to make a family business successful?
“Keeping it real creating something naturally healing and keeping the family together, as families are dissolving,” says Enright.
It requires moving past the basic family fights every family has, and pushes you to grow. Think about it. You’re working with someone who has seen you since birth, watched and experienced how you fight and laugh, maybe even covered for you or snitched on you when you got in trouble with your parents.
Here are illuminating observations from both.
Learning to roll with it.
Pieraccini explains with an anecdote: “A few years ago I took my scientific team for a visit to meet the people in the New York office. It was a chance for the scientists to meet. At the time, the meat packing district in Manhattan was becoming very fashionable, and at my sister’s suggestion we all met for dinner at the fanciest new restaurant in the neighborhood.”
“As an aside, my company is doing well due in part to careful cost control. When we go out, we have a good time, but we’re not a giant corporation that can afford to waste money on lavish entertainment. In other words, it’s okay if you order the steak and lobster for dinner, but I expect you to finish it.”
“At dinner, it was pretty obvious who represented which company. My sister and her associates were the good-looking people at the table; by contrast, it was easy to see who the scientists were.
“When the waiter came to our table, my sister asked him, ‘What’s your most expensive bottle of white wine?’ He answered, and she replied, ‘I want two!’ If one of my employees had pulled something like that, it would have been game over. But when your sister does it, what can you do. She won that one!”
Work-life balance does get crazier.
Meaning, a family business member can email or call whenever, after hours, weekends. Meaning managing so there are boundaries between personal and professional lives.
Family businesses set their own company’s culture.
It’s their family values, they have that bond of love and trust, they know each other’s hot buttons. So that means they don’t have to interview a whole phalanx of people to find workers who match their family values.
But different ways of thinking and different problem-solving approaches are important, they might need different perspectives that will help the business grow over time.