FaceGym is not a facial treatment but a facial workout using different massage techniques including punches, pinches, whips and Gua Sha – a traditional Chinese method of healing and wellness used to relieve pain, improve blood circulation and release toxins. Inge Theron and her team are shaking up the beauty industry with a business model that combines traditional techniques with modern technologies.
Angela Chan: Why did you start FaceGym?
Inge Theron: I was a beauty and wellness reporter for the Financial Times in the UK. I had traveled, tested, and written about many spas, facials, and skin care products when I realized that the industry has two primary ways to communicate facials. The first method is to apply products focused on a topic: apply, remove and repeat. These types of topical products do not tend to give lasting results. The second method is extreme dermatology which includes advanced technology like intense lasers and invasive techniques.
Theron: I realized there was a huge white space here. Beauty is a business that breaks trust, because it’s all about the wrongs. You are constantly being told that the way you take care of yourself is ‘wrong’ so brands can sell you huge lists of products to ‘fix’ your skin care routine. Instead of shattering consumer confidence, I wanted to improve and build confidence – you need to treat your face as holistically as you would treat your body. You don’t just do a tummy tuck in the summer to put on your swimsuit; you train to get in shape. My message is: “you are already great, but let’s see how we can make you even better”. Instead of constantly battling wrinkles, let’s see how we can live peacefully with aging. Growing old is a great experience and we should celebrate it instead of demonizing it.
Chan: What do you think of lasting beauty?
Theron: I am very into the slow beauty movement. It has to be the best cream and in the best sustainable packaging. We want to send the message that by doing good you can also look good with zero waste. If I can’t do better, I won’t put another product on the market. The massage method and the products are co-created along with the training and the product must go hand in hand. This is our methodology. Our product and our application must work together to be effective.
Chan: How did you compile and create the FaceGym method?
Theron: I traveled the world to do research for three years. I wanted to create a very effective method in the studio or at home, with no downtime. I want people to embrace the idea of strength training first and then skincare. Massage and manipulation of facial muscles is very popular in Asia and it is an ancient method. There are over 40 different muscles on your face, and by training it regularly your muscle will retain memory and prevent sagging, much like training your body. To develop the FaceGym Method, I worked with fitness instructors, dermatologists, facial therapists, and even a Mexican shaman to align ancient wisdom with modern technologies like EMS, radio frequency, and ultrasound. It is a mixture of old traditions and new technologies.
Chan: What was the hardest part of a start-up?
Theron: When I started out, I greatly underestimated the art of team building. Finding the right talent is really difficult, and brilliant people are already in closed positions or owning their own businesses. You need a great team to be successful; it is the heart of a successful operation.
Chan: What do you think of your team today?
Theron: I think with a startup you are constantly building a team. Your first team could get you to the first five million sales. Then you may need to bring in some additional team members which will take you to the next twenty-five million; it doesn’t stop. I just set up a CEO very recently, and I feel like my baby is finally out of diapers and going to preschool.
Chan: Can you share your challenges during pandemic lockdowns?
Theron: After being forced to shut down each of my studios, I thought FaceGym was over. But within seven days of the lockdown, I realized there was a place for FaceGym to connect with our clients at home, like a Peloton workout but for your face. We set up a customer journey and figured out how to enable users to achieve the same results at home as in our gyms. When we started our first cheek sculpting class on Instagram, we expected 20-30 clients to show up. Over 3,000 clients attended the course. Our digital sales exploded 800% in the first few months of the pandemic, and the number of subscribers we had increased eight times the original amount. We now have 3,000 to 5,000 people a day taking our courses, and the more courses we run, the more products we sell. We also took advantage of the confinement period to design a whole line of care that we recently launched.
Chan: Have you encountered any supply chain issues?
Theron: We have faced significant supply chain issues due to both Covid and Brexit. My biggest regret was that we didn’t have all of the skincare products while in containment. We didn’t have enough products to sell, and what we had was completely sold out, with some products selling in under an hour.
Chan: What keeps you from sleeping at night?
Theron: One of my macro challenges is that I just turned 45, and as a fearless female entrepreneur, I realize that time is not endless. I don’t want to waste any more time, so I don’t sweat the little things. Instead, I like to innovate myself every six years. I have a to-do list and I don’t want to waste a minute.
Chan: Knowing what you know today if you could turn back time, what advice would you give yourself at the start of your career?
Theron: I have always been an innovative entrepreneur with a good sense of business. However, I think I should have taken some management and leadership courses. I really underestimated the challenge of being a good leader, especially during bad times. How to galvanize your team around a goal? How to become a passionate leader without being too emotional? When your name is on the door and you’ve given your heart and soul to create something that you’re putting out into the world, it’s filled with passion and emotions, and it’s terrifying. The future of business is for women to shape, to work very hard and not to set limits; go ahead, stay in your authentic feminine state, and remember that being fearless is not fearless; use this fear wisely, and it will lead you to the success you deserve.
Chan: Where do you see FaceGym in a few years? What’s the next step for you?
Theron: We have implemented a very selective global wholesale expansion strategy. We just launched on Net-A-Porter, and it’s doing well. We have also started to look at the Australian and Middle Eastern markets. Our new skin care line is doing well, but most importantly, keeping the innovation pipeline moving. Our way of thinking is more like a fitness business, but with entirely new and innovative products that you will soon see on the market. Covid opened up the world to us and allowed us to have a very deep conversation with our customers.