On Building A Startup Changing The Face Of Skincare

Published: January 23rd, 2020
Nathan S. Bryan
Pneuma Nitric Oxide
from Austin, Texas, USA
started April 2019
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Dr. Nathan S. Bryan Ph.D. I am a biochemist and physiologist having spent the past 20 years in medicine and academic research of nitric oxide. I have more than 20 issued US and International patents on nitric oxide. My product technology has sold hundreds of millions of dollars in the dietary supplement and nutrition space. In April 2019, I established Pneuma Nitric Oxide LLC, a company whose mission is to develop nitric oxide-based skincare products.

Based on my research we developed Pneuma Nitric Oxide, our flagship nitric oxide generating anti-aging skin serum. Our customers are consumers and professionals. We also sell through retail, medical practitioners and medical spas to provide for their patients and clients. Our Pneuma Nitric Oxide serum is off to a super-fast start. People who try our Pneuma nitric oxide serum love it. They can actually see it working right before their eyes. We have received only positive glowing feedback to date. This is not surprising to me since there is nothing like this in the skincare and beauty marketplace.

Our customers recognize that this technology is meeting an unmet need and they never have seen anything like it, thus it’s taken off! It has gained the attention of major media outlets and is positioned as the next big thing in skincare. What makes Pneuma Nitric Oxide so unique is that it provides anti-aging on a molecular level. The financial success of Pneuma Nitric Oxide has exponentially exceeded even our most aggressive projections.

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

As a student at LSU School of Medicine in Shreveport, I was introduced to the science of nitric oxide. I quickly developed an interest and passion for understanding how this miracle molecule worked in the human body and how we could harness its therapeutic activity. I was recruited by and trained with Ferid Murad, M.D., Ph.D. winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on nitric oxide. I’ve held faculty positions at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and Baylor College of Medicine and spent my entire career studying nitric oxide. During my 20 years in research, I have made many seminal discoveries that made Pneuma Nitric Oxide possible.

Learn from others’ mistakes so you don’t have to repeat them.

The body naturally produces Nitric Oxide. By age 40, Nitric Oxide production diminishes by as much as 50% and greatly affects the aging process. The body’s loss of Nitric Oxide affects everything from cardiovascular health, brain, and immune function, inflammation, and oxidative stress and even signs of aging on the skin. In fact, all chronic diseases of the aging stem from poor circulation and loss of oxygen and nutrient delivery to individual cells and tissues, such as in the skin. It became clear that it might be possible to harness this amazing molecule to have a positive impact on the human race, and it has. My research and patented product technology have helped millions. I discovered that the skin needed support from the loss of NO. I established the company and created Pneuma as a topical application that could deliver nitric oxide directly to the skin. I felt a nitric oxide skincare product and its anti-aging properties would once again help millions and revolutionize the beauty industry.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

There are years of scientific research in every bottle of Pneuma Nitric Oxide. For skincare, the challenge was to create a process to generate and deliver active nitric oxide to the skin. Nitric oxide gas is created as a result of the instantaneous interaction of molecules. This presented countless hurdles from the bottle and bottling process to the physical properties and supply of the finest raw ingredients. We developed and tested numerous formulations and many delivery methods including a dual-chamber bottle, which proved crucial in providing potent and effective Nitric Oxide to the skin. However, not without significant challenges. To ensure consistency, repeatability, and efficacy we had to devise the strictest manufacturing and testing protocols leading to the patent-pending manufacturing process. We then subjected our formulation to rigorous and costly independent studies to confirm the benefits and efficacy of Pneuma Nitric Oxide. The results exceeded our expectations. Third-party clinical trials cost can cost between $40,000 to more than $100,000 and can take 3 – 4 months to complete. With skincare, one must complete allergy tests prior to commencing the trial. Our products are based on science, fact and verifiable results, not marketing hype without the data to support our claims.

Pneuma means breathe of life. Galen, the Roman physician from around 200 AD described a gas that animated or “vivified” the human. Furthermore, he described this gas as the element that allowed the brain to talk to the heart and liver. We know this molecule today as nitric oxide. So we felt it fitting that Pneuma describes what our product does. It delivers this life-giving gas and you can actually see it work.

Here is a video of PneumaNitricOxide in the lab.

Describe the process of launching the business.

Once we had our product branded, packaged, claims reviewed by our legal team, and all the typical efforts needed to launch a product, we were ready for market. We decided on a soft launch at the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine Conference in May 2019 in Orlando Florida. I’m a regular speaker at this conference and the physicians and health care practitioners at this conference know my nitric oxide science. They aren’t afraid to offer their honest opinion on products. I thought this would be a great place to launch our product to hopefully pick up some key learnings that we could implement prior to going full speed ahead. The feedback was just as positive as from our focus groups. Industry professionals loved Pneuma and wanted to know how they could offer Pneuma Nitric Oxide to their patients. Several of my colleagues and recognized leaders in his field-tested Pneuma Nitric Oxide on their patients. They were so impressed with the results and the potential applications of Pneuma, that we quickly developed a source of revenue to help fund the company. We also launched a direct to a consumer e-commerce site that began to generate revenue. To date, we have been cash flow positive and have been able to bootstrap the financing of our company and fund our own growth.

There is a challenge to marketing a new invention and in our case a new category of product, we must first educate the consumer. Most don’t even know what nitric oxide is or appreciate the impact of the loss of nitric oxide as we age. We have created a new category in skincare and beauty called “nitriceuticals” and it is based on the delivery of verifiable bioactive nitric oxide in consumer products. We realized early on, that most of our prospective customers and our target market did not understand what nitric oxide is or why they need a nitric oxide skincare product. As a result, the majority of our efforts have been on educating the market on the importance of nitric oxide in and on the human body. In short, we have to explain that aging is the result of insufficient nitric oxide production. Without nitric oxide, cells and tissues of our body, including our skin, cannot get the oxygen and nutrients they need to do their job. As a result, they fail and become dysfunctional. On the skin, this means loss of hydration, wrinkles, inflammation and advanced signs of aging. It is remarkable that the restoration of a simple gaseous molecule can provide so much benefit to the skin. People love science and people love the results even more.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Seeing is believing. What’s working for us is getting Pneuma in the hands of influencers and customers. Once you try Pneuma Nitric Oxide, you love Pneuma Nitric Oxide. This is why we have a very high customer retention rate. It takes a village to market a product, PR, Social, Website, Search Marketing, Internal marketing efforts, National TV, Print, Online Media and more but nothing is more effective than the relationships we build. Much of the sales of Pneuma come from our education efforts and the interest generated at my lectures, TV, Media and from professionals and vendors. Amazon is a double edge sword. It can be an excellent sales channel IF it can be controlled via tight controls of the channel, resellers, and trademarks. Without these controls, you can lose control of your product and possibly your brand.

Pneuma is not another “me too” product. We are the first to market and the only product of its kind on the market. No company or product has ever addressed the loss of circulation and blood flow to the skin, which to me, as a scientist, is surprising since it is what causes aging. We are able to serve a missing need and we have solved a major problem in skincare and beauty.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

The company is doing very well today and the future looks outstanding. We live in a time where the senior generation is willing to spend their kid's inheritance to make their lives more fulfilling and to live better and longer. This has never happened in history. The baby boomer generation also has the largest share of wealth than any other generation. My take-away is that people will spend money to live a healthier life and to look better. Most people don’t mind getting older they just don’t want to feel and look old. That is where we can help. Margins are historically very good in the beauty and skincare space, especially for science-based, clinically proven products that allows us to also give back and advance the research.

Similar to many companies in the beauty and skincare industry we employ both a direct sale and wholesale strategy. Wholesale accounts are fairly straight forward. However, the lure of big-box and their websites, direct response and TV resellers are enticing however, wrought with unforeseen charges and deductions. The challenge of any new company is to price the product properly and have a diverse go to market strategy that allows you to maintain overall profitability. Customer acquisition costs can vary greatly by the channel and with the drastic changes to Google’s search algorithm, paid search can be very costly with limited return.

Today we are primarily an e-commerce company however, we are rapidly expanding into very strategic relationships with brick and mortar luxury retail and their online presence. Interestingly, we have a very strong medical channel where we sell through health care practitioners and medical spas that resell to their patients and clients. This provides very strong credibility to our brand and our science as we have many physicians that trust and use our brand in their patient practice. Pneuma Nitric Oxide has endless applications. Our long term goal is to address those needs in a controlled and strategic roll-out.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Through starting Pneuma Nitric Oxide, I’ve learned that the relationships and friendships that I have built over the years may be the most impactful to my business. I utilized networking and relationships to open-up new doors, opportunities and strategic partnerships to which I would never have had access early on in the business.

Consumers of skincare and beauty products, are savvy and educate themselves and make informed buying decisions. As a scientist and researcher, the challenge is providing complex information in a way the consumer needs to receive it and speak of the benefits from the consumer’s perspective. I’ve learned that without proper marketing and messaging that connects with potential customers, you could have the best technology on the planet and not sell a single item. The importance of proper messaging cannot be overstated.

Like most business owners, I am too close to the product to make clear decisions about what is important to the end-user. This is why we created a team of Marketing, Social Media, Public Relations professionals who are passionate about the product and mission and willing to learn and grow with us. They help shape our messaging and our story to create raving fans of our product. Our customer’s feedback continually validates our mission and motivates us to continue the innovation and science to bring the best products to the market. Raving fans tell others and our customers are our best marketing tool.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We try to use the most cost-effective tools to accomplish our mission of educating the masses on the importance of nitric oxide for skincare and beauty. Social media is a big focus, as we value the feedback and pulse of our end users we use Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram to connect with new customers.

Our fulfillment is handled by a trusted and reliable colleague whom I have known for many years. Everything we do is about leveraging our relationships to the mutual benefit of both parties. We do business and hire people that share our philosophy, share our passion for what we do and how we can change and impact people’s lives. This is a priority for us and everything else aligns.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill has been a book I have referenced and re-read over the past 30 years. I prefer non-fiction and stories of successful people and their journey to success. I have spent most of my reading time devoted to books on famous scientists and how they were able to make important discoveries but most importantly how they learned from the mistakes and unsuccessful experiments to pivot, design new experiments to get to answers to important biological questions.

Two such books are The Double Helix by James D. Watson, Winner of Nobel Prize for the discovery of the structure of DNA and Advice for a Young Investigator by Santiago Ramon y Cajal. While I think books are important, there is nothing that can replace or compete with real-life experience and learning from the people around you and with whom you work.

Over my 20 years in research, I have been trained by and interacted with pioneers and leaders in their respective fields, Nobel Prize Winners and leaders of large organizations. Over the past 10 years, I interacted with business and marketing executives. While I have learned many important lessons from both, I have learned most from my interactions with poor leaders and poor people managers. It is important to observe and recognize great leaders and to emulate them. However, recognizing how poor leadership, poor people management and mismanagement of company assets and resources can hinder success is just as, if not more, important.

Every life experience, whether positive or negative, is an opportunity to learn and grow. I continue to surround myself with positive successful people that I can learn from and I eliminate the negative toxic people that hinder my own personal growth and our company growth.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Don’t let fear keep you from starting a company or pursuing your dreams. The fear of failure, the fear of loss cripples many entrepreneurs and fear of seeking approval on what brings you purpose or passion. Find a mentor, someone who is successful in the area in which you want to start a business and shadow them. I’ve found that most successful people are willing to and want to help others succeed.

Learn from others’ mistakes so you don’t have to repeat them. Making mistakes in your business costs you money however, learn from them. Anticipate what may or may not happen and be prepared to react or shift accordingly. The difference between success and failure is being proactive vs reactive.

Expect the unexpected. There are many complexities and forces that will govern your business. Some you can control and many you cannot. The problem I have seen in business is that the people running the business are not passionate or have an intimate relationship with their product or service. If you do not love your product and feel absolutely passionate about it, how can you expect your customers to be?

This is easy for me since I know and understand the power of nitric oxide. My job is to share my passion and knowledge with everyone so they too may see and understand how life-changing this simple molecule can be. My advice to entrepreneurs is to solve a problem or create something of value that can improve people’s lives. If you do that with the intent of positively improving the lives of others, everything else will fall into place. You should not be focused on making the cash register ring. Focus on others and serve. When you do that and you positively impact other people’s lives, the cash register will ring as a consequence. It does not work the other way around.

Where can we go to learn more?