An entrepreneurial spark of ingenuity can hit curious thinkers at any moment. You could be walking along the beach or enjoying a day on the green, or you could, quite literally, be sitting on a multimillion-dollar business idea. At least, that’s how it happened for ZitSticka Co-Founder Daniel Kaplan.
For the past two years the pioneering solution for adult acne has graced ecommerce platforms including Net-a-Porter, Goop and Amazon, and is the go-to for the likes of Chrissy Teigen and Yara Shahidi, but its humble inception was far from alluring.
Confronted by an uncomfortably located golf-ball-sized boil, Kaplan began treating the painful hair follicle infection, leading him to create the first ZitSticka prototype.
“I wish the story was a bit more glamorous, but alas, I got a massive boil on my bum,” Kaplan tells The CEO Magazine. “After using this chaotic contraption of ichthammol (a black tar-like drawing salve) and plasters, I had a lightbulb moment. But instead of just a drawing salve, I wanted to create something that had effective ingredients within the actual patch.”
With his background in human biology combined with Co-Founder Robbie Miller’s pharmaceutical experience, the entrepreneurs used their expertise to invent the innovative skincare treatment.
“Your skin is something that is forever changing and this ridiculous idea of having perfect skin is not something that we stand for.” – Daniel Kaplan
And it seems the brothers-in-law turned business partners were onto a booming concept. Just eight months into their business journey, the duo secured a US$5 million series A funding round led by venture capital firm BFG Partners.
Launching in the US with its inaugural product KILLA – which is a penetrative stick-on patch using microdart technology to directly deposit acne-fighting ingredients to stop formation – ZitSticka has since developed a tailored offering using technology pioneered in Korea.
“When we were developing KILLA, we couldn’t understand how there was no such thing as an impregnated acne patch with acne-fighting ingredients on the market,” Kaplan says. “Fortunately, we were the first to discover and bring the Korean-pioneered technology to the western markets.”
Positioning themselves as a tech skincare brand has helped the entrepreneurs to break out of the noisy global acne market – an industry expected to reach US$4.61 billion in 2025.
“With my background in human biology and Robbie’s in pharmaceuticals, skincare and tech, we knew we had a super innovative idea that we could turn into something big,” Kaplan says.
Helping boost confidence
Don’t be fooled by the fact it’s a teeny, little sticker – its powers are far greater.
Aiming for skin positivity in a digital world of filters and flawless, edited images, ZitSticka is dedicated to boosting confidence and promoting acceptance.
“We started the company with the goal of not only sharing our products with the world, but also promoting skin positivity,” Kaplan explains. “It’s a relatively new concept, especially on social media, and it’s one we hold at the centre of our brand.”
Acne is the eighth most common skin condition worldwide with the prevalence of adult acne increasing in recent years. Affecting 85 per cent of women and 15 per cent of men, Kaplan and Miller have fought to break the stigma around the taboo topic.
“Acne was commonly thought of as a flaw, when it’s only a natural element of the human body,” Kaplan says. “We want our community to talk about acne like how we’ve begun to talk about wrinkles or other pigmentation – it’s a part of life.
“Your skin is something that is forever changing and this ridiculous idea of having perfect skin is not something that we stand for. We want to encourage the progress our skin makes and not the perfection that so many people think they need to attain to be beautiful.”
The ZitSticka journey to popularise skin positivity is one that can benefit everyone, from those starting out in their careers to the leaders wanting to make their next big move.
The link between how people feel about their appearance and the confidence they exude goes hand in hand across all areas of life, especially in the workplace.
Just over one third of adults in the UK reported feeling anxious and depressed because of their body image, while one in five adults believe images on social media have caused them to worry about how they look.
“The link between clear skin and confidence is a marriage as old as time and cannot be understated,” Kaplan says. “A huge factor that goes into the stigma about adult acne revolves around mental health as well.
“If you’ve experienced acne in your lifetime, especially more severe acne, you know it can have a largely negative impact on your mental health.
“In the times we’re living in right now with social media and the beauty standards that it perpetuates, it’s important that all brands work to normalise things that are part of everyday life and be as transparent as possible.”
Prioritising skin positivity since the company’s inception in 2019, the ZitSticka co-founders hope to empower everyone.
The global anti-acne dermal patch market is expected to grow by 10.5 per cent between 2021 and 2026, with research suggesting the growth is down to destigmatisation around skin concerns on social media.
And as a digitally native brand, ZitSticka is right at home in destigmatising the dermal lurkers.
“While we offer efficacious acne-oriented products, we also want to emphasise that having acne is such a natural, human experience that should never make you feel less than,” Kaplan shares. “We wanted to promote more transparency that normalises acne and promotes vulnerability.
“In being more vulnerable about our skin, we think it’s possible to cultivate a community in which people feel more empowered to treat their acne, while also promoting self-love and self-acceptance.”
In the space of two and a half years, ZitSticka has expanded across the globe reaching some of the biggest markets in the UK, US and Australia, allowing its skin positivity mission to flourish.
Flooding Instagram feeds with untouched images of real faces, raising money for Trans Lifeline, and starting a ‘Progress, Not Perfection’ campaign on Instagram to share authentic skin journey stories are some of the inspiring ways the brand is making its mark towards an inclusive and accepting future, shaking up one of the most superficial industries.
“We want to reshape and reconceptualise the conversation around acne,” Kaplan tells The CEO Magazine. “We want to be everywhere for everyone, given everyone gets acne.”