Kozhya Air is an easy-to-use product that seamlessly integrates spa technology and ingredient transparency. Designed by entrepreneur Yoanna Gouchtchina and her team of German engineers, this portable high-tech device aims to revolutionize at-home skincare routines. The future of serum application no longer lies in our hands (literally), but in Kozhya Air’s. This apparatus delivers 100% active ingredient micro-particles into the skin, maximizing skin health and minimizing serum waste. Although Kozhya offers the beauty market a unique product, the company is one of many self-funded start-ups to fall short of success but one of the few to candidly discuss the inherent struggle. They are a testament to the trials and tribulations of a new business navigating and attempting to break into the industry, and their story is far from over.

BeautyMatter had the opportunity to speak with Yoanna and gain insight into the inspiration, creation, and crusade behind transforming the Kozhya vision into reality. Read on for our Q&A:

Tell us about what inspired you to design Kozhya Air?

While looking for active solutions for my skin, I came across a beauty salon pressure technology and enjoyed the effects. However, the equipment was bulky, expensive, stationary, and therefore inconvenient to use at home. So, I began to search for something smaller but couldn’t find anything. I thought to myself: with the technology readily available in the beauty-salon industry, why wasn’t there something on the market for at-home daily skincare routines for those who cannot regularly see a cosmetologist? Thus the concept of Kozhya Air was born—I was determined to fill this market niche.

Out of the thousands of skincare technological innovations on the beauty market, what makes Kozhya Air special?

The most critical advantage of Kozhya Air is that it is the first at-home hand-held device for deep-pore serum application. There are Clarisonics on the market that cleanse the skin before active cosmetic application, but there is no device that enhances the delivery of serum to truly treat skin before applying a daily cream. We are closing the gap that exists between cleansing and applying product.   

To date, this has been a self-funded venture. What are some of the difficulties you have faced as a self-funded startup?

A self-funded venture translates into having limited financial resources for the tasks that you need to perform—this is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand it is a hassle to ensure each task is completed in a cost-efficient way without jeopardizing quality, but on the other hand you learn quickly and how to optimize. I feel that with limited investment there is a faster learning curve and you learn how to build processes that are efficient from the beginning because you do not have the luxury of extra money. The difficulty of course is keeping the team motivated. I have been fortunate to work with mature professionals who have been involved in the creation of Kozhya: our engineering and product design talent, manufacturing and lab science partners, as well as promotion and marketing team. Now we need  financing to build our operations and bring Kozhya Air to market.

Why did you choose to crowdsource fund versus another funding source? Why did you decide to use Kickstarter instead of Indiegogo, for example?

Our first goal was to give the customers a preview of the product before going to market, which we accomplished. Kickstarter seemed to be the more appropriate choice for a product like Kozhya Air; however, two days after we launched the campaign the platform altered the game rules and reverted back to its fund-the-underdog-artist vision. The timing for a campaign like Kozhya on a platform undergoing changes has been less than ideal.

Kozhya Air was on Kickstarter ​in November ​with an $88K goal and raised only ⅓ of the needed funds. You pulled the plug on this campaign—why? What is your next funding move?

The main reason for cancelling the campaign was the realization that our PR budget exceeded the funds that we needed to raise to manufacture the product, which made keeping the campaign economically inefficient. However, the campaign provided excellent insight into customers, what people are looking for, and things we need to adjust. Although we pulled the plug, we will continue with development plans and bring the product to customers as promised by the Kickstarter deadline which is May 2018 or sooner. For funding we plan to raise seed funding and finance the rest from company profit.

How did the Kickstarter experience affect the Kozhya team morale?

It did not affect team morale too much. Of course, it would be nice to have a funded campaign. Yet, we collected sufficient statistics in the process to make necessary estimates for product market entry. In this case we view information as more valuable than a short-term success, and we now know where to focus our efforts.

What has been the biggest challenge as a start-up skincare tech company breaking into the ​merging​ beauty and wellness worlds?

It is always difficult to be the new kid on the block. No matter ​what industry you are in, new is always met with resistance. However,​ our product is not offering something that a regular person hasn’t already heard of—we are just making active serum application more effective, cheaper, and convenient. One serious business challenge that we continue to face is timely establishment of sales channels in order to meet the goals we set.

Kozhya combines two proven concepts based on decades of scientific research: efficacy of micro-particle penetration and benefits of high-potency active ingredients. What is the advantage to pressure-based atomization technology in delivering serum?  

The advantage of small particles is obvious since the smaller they are the easier it is to penetrate the skin. By adding pressure to the equation we aid the penetration of small particles—in our case of active serum ingredients—into a deeper layer of the skin. Think of it as providing nutrients for your skin from the inside out. However, there is another significant advantage: By applying pressure during serum application you increase microcirculation in your skin that aids in a number of rejuvenation processes. So, you get not only deep application of ingredients, but a simultaneous boost via air massage.

The active serum formulation is backed by cell biology, chemistry, and dermatologic research and evaluation and is deemed 100% natural. Because natural is an unregulated term, legally means nothing, and oftentimes leaves consumers confused, how does Kozhya define natural to its target demographic?

I agree with you regarding the issue of brands labeling their products as natural when they often are not. Kozhya is a deep treatment of the skin before you cover and protect it with creams, therefore it only makes sense to use if it delivers both active and natural ingredients. And by 100% natural we mean 100% nature sourced. As a matter of fact, on our packaging, you will be able to read a short explanation of what each of the active ingredients does. We believe in full transparency. The time of I-have-no-idea-what-is-in-my-cream is passing, and if a brand would like to provide any sort of value to its consumers, they need to inform them about what is in the product.

Kozhya’s serum is approved by the European regulatory authorities and Kozhya Air is currently pending a US patent. Given the fact that the US government is shamefully behind the times when it comes to regulating ingredients used in beauty products, are you concerned that the EU vetting processes for your serum will not be applied in the US?  

The regulation in the EU is stricter than in the US, no doubt. Moreover, Germany is the strictest market out of all the EU countries. There was one ingredient that we wanted to use which is allowed in the EU and the US, but Germany is the only country that prohibits its use due to insufficient information about long-term effects. Since our product is being certified in Germany we are confident that it will not come under any scrutiny in the US.  

You recently received confirmation to pitch before QVC buyers at the Watermark Conference in February 2018. How does QVC fit into your distribution/marketing strategy?

Yes this is a very exciting development. There is a huge opportunity with channels like QVC for Kozhya products, where customers receive a full product story within minutes before making a decision to purchase. QVC has a few beauty tools on its platform but nothing like Kozhya Air, and so we believe our product will fit perfectly into the QVC portfolio.