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Dr. Lily Talakoub | Founder and CEO of Derm to Door

Welcome to the RETHINK Retail Podcast, your go-to weekly podcast where we team up with industry experts to discuss the news, trends, and big ideas that are redefining commerce.

In this episode, guest host Alicia Esposito speaks with Dr. Lily Talakoub, a board-certified dermatologist and the founder and CEO of Derm to Door.

Derm to Door is a robust, curated skincare e-commerce platform with a dedicated shopping mobile application, AI-driven skin analysis and a network of tele-dermatology providers offering on demand appointments from your phone or tablet.

Knowing how to truly leverage the power of social media, Dr. Lily has also built a following of fans who watch her educational videos on TikTok and Instagram.

Host information: Alicia Esposito is a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Influencer and the Vice President of Commerce at G3 Communications. Alicia orchestrates 360-degree content strategy and tactical execution for G3’s family of retail-specific brands–you may have heard of them, these include Retail TouchPoints, design:retail and the Retail Innovation Conference and Expo. You can hear more from Alicia as she hosts the Retail Remix podcast–which you can find on all your favorite podcasting apps.

If you enjoyed this episode, please let us know by subscribing to our channel and giving us a 5 star rating us on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

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Hosted by Alicia Esposito
Produced by Gabriella Bock
Edited by Chase Atherton

Post Transcript

Alicia Esposito: Hello everyone. And welcome back to another episode of the Rethink Retail podcast. I’m your host for today, Alicia Esposito. And today we are speaking with Dr. Lily Talakoub. Dr. Lily is a board certified dermatologist and the founder and CEO of Derm to Door, a robust curate skincare commerce platform with a dedicated shopping mobile app, AI-driven skin analysis, and a network of teledermatology providers offering on-demand appointments from your phone or tablet. Dr. Lilly also harnesses the power of social media and has built a following of fans who watch her educational videos on TikTok and Instagram. Dr. Lily, as a skincare buff and fan, it is great to have you on the show today. Dr. Lily Talakoub: Thank you so much for having me. Alicia Esposito: So let’s kick things off at a high level. Why don’t you share a little bit about your background as a dermatologist and how to pave the way for you to found Derm to Door? Dr. Lily Talakoub: Great. Yeah, so I am a skincare buff, not just a dermatologist. Dermatology is a field where we diagnose skin conditions, but really sometimes the problems and a lot of the treatments come from basic skincare and just knowledge of basic skincare. So I started my practice in dermatology 13 years ago, I see over 200 women and men a week. Dr. Lily Talakoub: And throughout the years, I just found the number one problem people really just had, was they had a shelf full of products but no idea how to use the products. They didn’t know what to put on how to put it on or really what was right for them. And then with the rise of Instagram and influencers and people buying products on eCommerce, the problems actually just got worse. People just bought things because other people recommended them, but really without a knowledge of whether or not it was right for them. Dr. Lily Talakoub: So I started this company called Derm to Door where we do telemedicine, where we can see you as a patient and make recommendations and send you prescriptions. But really my gut and my passion for this project came from recommending skincare for people, but really just also teaching them how to use it. So we have an eCommerce platform that we sell best in class skincare but we have live chat where we have a team that just answers questions and we get hundreds of messages a day with people asking, “I use glycolic acid. Can I mix it with my retinol?” “I’m pregnant. Can I use this product?” “How do I put my sunscreen on? Do I do it before my exfoliant? Or do I do it after?” And just those questions that I know everybody out there has that you just don’t know who to ask, we answer them for you and we help you choose the best skincare products and it blew up because people wanted those kind of inside tips to skincare. Alicia Esposito: Yeah. I can vouch for that because I know I’ve always been someone that wants to learn more about skincare, what ingredients, or even what order to put products in and there’s so much information out there. Every person is different. Every person’s skin type is different. So like one product that is great for me may not work for you and vice versa. So there are definitely a lot of factors at play and it’s such a personal process and a personal experience. So I guess that leads me to my next question about, what motivated you to start your own skincare marketplace and what you felt was really lacking, right? What did you want to bring to the table based on your expertise that you knew you of all people could provide through this marketplace experience? Dr. Lily Talakoub: So when people ask me, “Are you a telehealth company?” Well, we are a telehealth company. We’re a teledermatology company, but I really always say we are a customer-service company. And that’s what I felt like was lacking out there. Nobody really could get assistance for skincare. So if you go to, for instance, the brick and mortar stores to buy skincare, the only people that are really helping you are the people of selling the products, right? And not many of them have really adequate or in-depth skincare knowledge. Dr. Lily Talakoub: So if you came to me and said, “I have rosacea, I need skincare products that’s really good for sensitive skin, and irritated skin and barrier repair.” We have the skin care, but we also have the tips. We would tell you, maybe your cleanser that you’re using is irritating you. We’ll tell you not to mix the acid into your products and you shouldn’t be exfoliating, and maybe your moisturizer doesn’t have enough, emollients in it that is going to soothe rosacea-prone skin. So it’s really the customer service and the expertise in skincare that was lacking. Dr. Lily Talakoub: Alicia, like you said, I really want to know about skincare. I really want the knowledge base because what’s right for me is not maybe right for somebody else and vice versa. Don’t you feel like you’re just confused by all of the ingredients that are out there and just all the products that have all these ingredients? Sometimes as you see things and it sounds so amazing, but you don’t know, is this going to mix well with everything I’m using? Does it irritate? Or maybe you’ve used something that has irritated you? Alicia Esposito: Yeah, 100 percent. I mean, I know I have a case. My core group of friends we just share skincare, like recommendations and things that we’re trying. And I was so excited to give my friend a new serum and he was like, “Ugh. I really love the idea behind this but it did not work with my skin. I got a rash and it was like, it burned.” And I was so bummed, but it really just reaffirms the fact that it is such a personal thing. And sometimes you have to test different things and in your case have an expert on hand to kind of provide that guided level of service and consultation to make sure you’re headed down the right path, not just for if you just want a new routine or maybe there’s a specific goal or need that you’re trying to address, but obviously a very innovative concept addressing a very big need, I think. Alicia Esposito: Especially, over the past two years, skincare really rose to the top in terms of priorities for a lot of folks including myself. But in terms of actually building the business, again, and this new concept, this blending of a marketplace product with service, what were those early days like for you when you first launched, right? Because I could imagine, and I say this as a non-entrepreneur, when you first bring something new to market, it’s a bit of a, “Okay, let’s wait and see how this goes.” Did you learn anything in those early days? Did you have to adjust anything? Dr. Lily Talakoub: I mean, as any startup it’s scary. Everything is scary. I never knew how to start an eCommerce company. I never had any eCommerce company, right? Understanding the backend platforms, the customer acquisition, costs, the marketing. So I’m the CEO of the company. So I handle all of the day to day operations as well. I pick all the skincare. I hand pick every skincare product that’s on our platform and I test every single one. So I also do all the testing in the backend and all the relationships with the brands. Dr. Lily Talakoub: But also learning how to do marketing was a whole another field in the world of digital marketing so it was a bit scary. It’s hard to kind of understand things that you aren’t used to doing every day and it’s also not in my wheelhouse, but as any business, a school of hard knocks teaches you more than anything else. So trial and not being afraid of failure was kind of the most important lesson. In my life, I’ve never been afraid of failing. Sometimes the failing actually teaches me more things than doing things the right way, the first time. So just doing things wrong really was important for me to learn how to do things right. Dr. Lily Talakoub: Recruiting people on my team was difficult because what was the job description of somebody that was doing maybe the digital marketing? Well, a lot of it is be able to do everything. I used to ask everybody that I hired, if I were to never show up again or never show up again on the job, would you be able to do everything that I do tomorrow? And so some people, they work at such a very high level and they sometimes can’t do the smaller task and some people do the small tasks, but really can’t see or have foresight in the strategy so it was really hard finding people that can do a little bit of both and finding the team that I needed to kind of launch was really the most important part of being able to really make it in the first year. Alicia Esposito: Yeah. I think that’s a really great point, Dr. Lilly around finding people’s skill sets and how they can naturally and organically work, like how their brain works. Because I think finding that right mix of strategic and tactical for a startup especially is really effective. But I do want to kind of drill into some of the tech innovation, how we’re using social media to build communities and to drive awareness. But before we do that, I would love for you, I mean, obviously fast forward, a little bit to where we are today. I would love for you to kind of dig into your target customers. First, a category like this, I could imagine it is pretty diverse and pretty vast, but I mean, who are you finding is turning to you, Dr. Lily, for guidance? Who’s going to Derm to Door? How is your customer base evolving at this time? Dr. Lily Talakoub: The customer base of what I thought would use Derm to Door is actually not who actually uses it every day. Alicia Esposito: Interesting. Dr. Lily Talakoub: I initially thought going into this, it would be people that never had tried skincare before. It was going to be somebody that maybe had a pimple for the first time and wanted a treatment for it. Or somebody maybe had started to see brown spots in their skin and didn’t know what to use, but it actually was not the case. We have a very high return customer rate, which is actually really important to me. I think we’re a business of retention, not acquisition of customers. Dr. Lily Talakoub: And that comes from just the unbelievable level of customer service and the attention to customer service that we provide so it’s really the very savvy skincare consumer that actually comes to us. They have an entire shelf of products, but they really don’t know how to mix some. They know that they need a glycolic acid for exfoliation and a retinol for antiaging. But the glycolic acid in retinol is irritating them so they want to know how to layer them in. It’s actually are very educated consumer that comes to us now, which is what we’re seeing through all of the questions we’re getting and the return customer. Dr. Lily Talakoub: So it was interesting because I really thought it was going to be very simple, like use a spot treatment for this one pimple, but it’s actually very complicated. If you could see all of the messages we send back, we take people’s regimen, ask them what they’re using at home reintegrate products. We’ll say, “No, stop using this. The cleanser’s okay. But the moisturizer isn’t. You need more of a serum in your moisturizer, because you’re getting too dry.” So we give so much more feedback than you would think. And so that’s kind of how we meet the individualized needs. Dr. Lily Talakoub: But also we have artificial intelligence technology built into the app. So if you download the app from the iOS store and the Android store, what you can do is actually scan your face. And it is a very highly technical and advanced AI platform that can make diagnostics on skin condition. So it can tell you have acne scars or hyperpigmentation. And if you want skincare advice, it will give you skincare advice on what products to use. But if you want a prescription, you can also choose the option for prescription. Dr. Lily Talakoub: And once we’re launching that aspect in the states as beta, this month in Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia, where I am, but also it’s going to be nationwide very soon. So the app can make recommendations on prescriptions and the doctor on the backend will approve it. So it’s highly customized. It’s personalized skincare. Well, we look at your skin scans, we look at the AI and see what the recommendations are. And we can give you both just skin referrals of products or we can actually send you prescriptions to your house for the exact problem that you have. So it’s both a technical aspect that’s individualized, but also the customer service is individualized too. Dr. Lily Talakoub: On another note, we get 100s of messages on social platforms, also asking questions as well for skincare. People scan their face, they take pictures of their toes. They take pictures of their hair loss. They take pictures of their rashes. They send it to us and sometimes I’m worried because social media is not safe, but people just want assistance and it’s really hard to find out there. Alicia Esposito: Oh, that’s great. I love your point that at not only is this an informed consumer and highly engaged consumer, but this is very retention based. So to tack onto that, I love that you dug into the AI capabilities, it’s super powerful. So I mean, how do you kind of combine all of this data to kind of create this comprehensive view of the customer? Because I mean, I feel like this is coming from a few different sources, so there’s the AI power tool, of course, you have purchase behaviors, and then there’s also that social component and I’m sure any other service channel. So is it safe to say, this is really a data driven operation? In order for it to be truly effective, data has to be at the heart of all of this? Dr. Lily Talakoub: Yes, we have a huge database. Our backend technology, our CRM platforms are pretty advanced. Every single person with their specific login has facial scans. They have prescriptions, they have skincare that we can see the history of all their skincare, their scans, their recommendation, their diagnostics of what the conditions are. So if you are a customer and you have had maybe a prescription sent to you and you message us and say, “I’m looking for a moisturizer.” Well, I can look on the backend as a doctor because it’s a doctor’s portal and see that, well, I gave you this tretinoin prescription and you’re on a cleanser for acne. So I may want to give you something that is a little bit more hydrating as a moisturizer. Dr. Lily Talakoub: So I’m not just spitting out skincare recommendations out of thin air. It’s highly processed information in a database under your background information and your prescription history. So all of that’s in a database, we have over 8,000 facial scans right now on the app. And so all those 8,000 scans go on a database and it’s tied to really a skincare journey. It’s a skincare journey because you may have acne today, but maybe in five years, you’re going to have hyperpigmentation. And in 10 years you may be calling us because you have wrinkles. So throughout that journey of your skin, we can kind of look at what you’ve been using and what’s worked and not worked. Alicia Esposito: That is so incredible. And I could imagine too, it’s valuable for cross cells as well. So you’re talking about the journey, right? Oh, if you want to further improve X, maybe try Y product. I could imagine it’s a very organic conversation or journey for a customer to be able to go from one possibly narrow or I guess you could say shortsighted product view to something a bit more broader so they can see that possibility and that opportunity to further address their needs. Dr. Lily Talakoub: Yeah. And I honestly would love it if every single person listening to this would just test the system and just ask us a question. You can text us as a text on our website, it’ll say text us and just ask a question. The hardest question you can think about your skin and see what you get as an answer and really test the depth of response that you’re going to get in terms of what you’re going to be using for your skincare, because really that’s where we’re different. We’re not going to be just giving you product recommendations, it’s integration into what your skin needs and what your current regimen is. So it would be awesome for me to see kind of all of our listeners what their questions are and see kind of how asking us really complicated skincare questions and really what information you’re going to get back because I think you’re going to be surprised on how advanced the responses are and how helpful they’re going to be in your skincare journey throughout your life. Alicia Esposito: I think my plans tonight got a little more exciting. I know what I’m going to get tonight. Dr. Lily Talakoub: I would love it. You can text directly from the website. If you go to dermtodoor.com, there’s a little tab at the bottom that says text us and feel free to text us that we answer them between nine and five all day. Alicia Esposito: Awesome. Well, we’ve been talking a lot about retention and how you’re using data to power those customer conversations, recommendations long-term relationships, but I want to make sure we hit on social media because that is something that you Dr. Lilly have become known for. You mentioned it a little bit earlier. Let’s dig into how you’re using social media for growth. Are there any specific tactics that have been effective for you? I mean, obviously I know video is big for you, but are any tips for other new brands or even heritage or more existing brands that are trying to optimize their customer experience through social media? Dr. Lily Talakoub: I would say social media, you have to be ready for a dynamic process. It is not a static process. You have to be ready to change within weeks or days sometimes your strategy. Starting with Facebook or Instagram and shifting over to Snapchat and TikTok. All of that requires different type of communication skills and honestly it feeds. And really, you have to be willing to change with the times. Dr. Lily Talakoub: I started off doing just important feed information, like what is an exfoliant? What’s an AHA? What’s a BHA? And putting things in graphics. And then I saw, “Do you know what? Graphics didn’t work.” And so we did short little videos and reels and those didn’t work. And then somebody came to me and said, “Nobody cares about what you put up there. They want to see your face. They want to see you talking about it. They want to see how you put on the product. They want to see what you put on from your bathroom at night.” And I was like, “Really? People want to see what I’m doing? Why do they care what I’m doing? I’m giving them so much amazing information that nobody would have unless you saw a dermatologist this is really important stuff.” And they’re like, “Honestly, nobody cares about that. Just put your face there, put your neck cream on it and show people how to use your neck cream.” Dr. Lily Talakoub: And so I tried it and that got more feedback and comments and impressions, and honestly, than anything that I had ever put up before. And I thought all this work I put up and all I need to do is stand in my bathroom and put things on my face. So really the most important thing I think I’ve learned is really sharing the genuine day to day applications of things. Nobody really wants to read a text or see an ad it’s just real life before and afters, real life stories, how to apply things, what works, what doesn’t works that really people connect with and that connection is what I’ve learned to be kind of the most powerful source of information. Alicia Esposito: Yeah. I think that’s a great point. I mean, as a content person, I’m a big proponent of you need to let the medium be dictated by the message, not the other way around. So figure out exactly what you’re trying to say, what value you’re trying to give your audience and find the right channel or in this case, the right social network to tell that story, because TikTok is very, and even Instagram reels is very personable having you, Dr. Lily looking at the camera, walking through the routine, showing how to apply everything. That’s really effective because maybe they’re multitasking, they don’t have their sound on, but they can see at a high level how you’re doing it. And the people that want more robust content that is maybe a bit more evergreen to you. And it’s the core fast facts or the 101 of certain ingredients and what people need to know if people want to go deeper, they can. But I feel like for social media, especially those hard hitting moments, like you said, the before and after, the how to apply, quick hacks, people love that kind of stuff. Dr. Lily Talakoub: And I honestly felt like there’s a level of comfort that you have to honestly learn. You have to learn. In the beginning I was wearing makeup in all my videos because I felt like I just looked better and I want, but then I thought, “You know what? This isn’t really real. And nobody really can connect with that.” And I had to be comfortable with not wearing makeup. And that’s hard. That was really hard for me. I had to be comfortable with looking like I’m sleepy sometimes because I am. And I have to be comfortable with looking like a mom that’s tired because I am. And so that’s a comfort level not everybody has. But really to be able to connect your consumer, they go through those stages too. So you just have to be able to kind of let go and say, “It’s okay. I can look terrible, but nobody really cares.” Alicia Esposito: Right. Or I think I saw another video. I think it was for a makeup brand, showing what happens. Like if you don’t do it right or like if you mess up or in this case, maybe certain products gave you a reaction or it didn’t give you the desired outcome. I think those are even valuable too, because it shows, “Okay, sometimes this doesn’t work out but let’s get you on the path to rectifying it. Or here’s what you do if this happens to you.” Which adds another dimension, I feel like. Dr. Lily Talakoub: Absolutely. That comfort level it’s not easy and it doesn’t come quick. It takes a while, but you kind of have to just break down the barriers and say, “My viewers are just like me and they have down days and they have days where their skin doesn’t look right and that’s okay. And I have to be comfortable with that. I have to be comfortable not wearing mascara sometimes and that’s okay.” But that was really hard. That was really hard. Dr. Lily Talakoub: Putting myself in videos was hard, but really putting myself in there with no makeup, raw, just showing my skin was kind of a very big hurdle I had to jump. But the minute I did that, my social media presence and just engagement changed. And you also have to kind of, I thought there’s certain type of platforms that we shouldn’t be in, for instance, TikTok, I felt like our consumer was a bit older than the consumers that are using TikTok. But again, like I said, it’s dynamic, social media is not static. That demographic has changed. I think a lot of people that are my age now that are my consumers, they are using TikTok, even though we didn’t think that was the case a couple years ago. Alicia Esposito: Yeah. A hundred percent. So that risk versus reward, putting yourself out there that authenticity definitely helps build trust and credibility. I’m sure in your case, as someone who has practiced dermatology and has built this incredible business, it just like creates that organic path. But Dr. Lilly we’re coming up on our time together has been such a pleasure getting chat with you and learn a little bit more about your story. But I have to ask what is next for Derm to Door? Any new innovations, new focal points for the business, or even for you personally? Dr. Lily Talakoub: Yes. So Derm to Door is going to be national telemedicine. In the next couple months, we have a huge national launch for telemedicine, for telehealth, where you’re going to be able to go to your desktop and just click on a button and be able to take a picture of the rash. Let’s say you have a cold sore, if you had hair loss, take a picture and you’ll be able to see a dermatologist nationally. It’s going to be the pretty much, one of the only platforms out there that you see a board certified dermatologist, a specialist directly from your screen. You’re not seeing just a regular mom and pop urgent care where you’re going to see a dermatologist that can directly treat skincare conditions and we’re doing the beta right now in the DC market, but it’s going to be national by the Fall. Alicia Esposito: Amazing. Well, Dr. Lily, again, thank you so much for taking the time out to join me today. It was a real pleasure getting to know you and dig deep into the business. Dr. Lily Talakoub: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. This is wonderful.