Technology is often viewed as the realm of software developers and smart home experts, but companies of every type benefit from technological advances. Some — like beauty and wellness — may not be obvious centers of tech transformation, but they’re home to some of the most unique applications of technology.
For this reason, I interviewed Ryan Napierski, who currently serves as Nu Skin’s president and a member of Nu Skin’s executive committee. Prior to his current appointment, he served as president of global sales and operations, president of Nu Skin’s North Asia region, and president of Nu Skin Japan.
1. In your Silicon Slopes interview, you described Nu Skin as both a human empowerment company and a technology company. Why do you use those terms, given that Nu Skin sells beauty products?
I think there’s a misconception that a technology company has to sell software. Nu Skin offers a variety of beauty devices that were developed by our in-house scientist, who used innovative technology — but the real reason I call us a tech company is how we use it in our customer journey.
Not long ago, I sat down with my customer experience team to map it all out. At every touchpoint of our customer experience, we use technology. How we acquire new customers, how we transact with them, how we communicate with them — it’s all driven by technology.
It’s true, of course, that virtually every company today uses tech. The difference is that, for us, technology is a way to spread opportunity rather than take it away from people.
2. You mentioned that Nu Skin is using technology to spread opportunity rather than take it away. What do you mean by that? How does Nu Skin’s use of technology differ from, say, Uber’s?
If you look at the majority of companies in the opportunity economy, you’ll see that they’re using people to improve their technology, rather than the other way around. I’ll use Uber and Lyft as examples. They’ve already stated in their long-term strategic direction documents that autonomous vehicles will be key to their success and scale. By replacing drivers with automation, they’re going to eliminate human opportunity from their value proposition.
Now, you might think that’s not such a bad thing in the case of drivers. Driving is one of the most dangerous things we do on a daily basis, right? But take Mechanical Turk, which is Amazon’s gig economy play. Mechanical Turk uses independent contractors to teach machines to do basic, simple tasks, like sorting through pictures to help a machine learn to categorize them itself in the future.
Amazon is doing this with many of the small- and medium-sized businesses on its platform, too. It uses its small business seller data to justify much larger investments in spaces it thinks it can win. It just announced a new initiative to create an Amazon clothing category, which will undoubtedly put a lot of the small- and medium-sized clothing companies on its platform out of business.
Those things are essentially the inverse of what we’re doing. We look at the challenges our micro entrepreneurs face, and we ask, “How can we use technology to help them be more effective?” instead of looking at how technology can replace them.
3. I can’t help but notice something about each of the companies you just mentioned: They were all founded during or after the 2000s tech boom. Nu Skin has been around since 1984. What role do you think that plays in Nu Skin’s technology strategy?
I think it helps us see technology, and automation technology specifically, as a tool rather than a strategy in and of itself. When I joined the company 23 years ago as a 21-year-old working my way through school, I did so because I believed in its mission to empower people and improve lives all across the world.
Fundamentally, that hasn’t changed. What’s changed is that I never would’ve imagined when I started that the gig economy would become as mainstream as it has. Essentially, it’s given us a new context for our mission. Companies like Amazon have never operated in a context other than the digital economy, so I think they struggle to zoom out sometimes.
Because we have that context, we see the good and the bad of the technological revolution. We see how it’s improved our communication and our efficiency. We also see, however, how disruptive AI and machine learning are going to be — and, frankly, already are. We do business in nearly 50 markets, and we see in all of them that people are hungrier for opportunity than ever. For us, technology is just a better way to deliver that than we had when we were founded 35 years ago.
4. Let’s look to the future now. What innovations can our readers expect to see next from Nu Skin? How might these move the beauty industry forward? The opportunity economy?
In our latest long-term strategy, we shared a plan for sourcing our own sustainable ingredients to create a seed-to-solution process that’s better for the earth — and better for our customers. Nu Skin is partnering with Groviv, a sister company to Nu Skin and an automated controlled environment agriculture (CEA) company, that uses AI and world-class scientific rigor with patented technology that controls and adjusts the growing environment. This process provides consumers safe, effective, and traceable product ingredients while drastically reducing the land and water resources required to produce them.
Sustainability has become a hot topic in the beauty industry, and it’s frankly overdue. Cosmetics require a lot of ingredients that are tough to source and produce. Through vertical integration, we can cut down on our costs and use fewer resources for production and transport. I think you’ll see more beauty companies trying that in the future.
The other piece of this is our micro entrepreneurs. We know our customers are looking at labels. We know they care about sustainability. Making our products better for the planet arms our sales force with another differentiator to discuss with customers. It makes them feel good about what they’re selling.
5. Lots of companies are trying to fit themselves into the tech and gig economy spaces right now. As a beauty company that’s done so, what’s your advice to them?
I would say there are three main things to keep in mind as you look to fit yourself into the tech and gig economy space:
1. Keep your eye on macro trends. The more influencer marketing continues to grow with social commerce, the more critical it’s going to be for companies to help people build their personal brands.
2. Figure out how to connect with more customers. Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, Estée Lauder — all these beauty companies have powerful brands. They’re going to have to figure out how to transfer some of that credibility. They’re going to have to figure out how to connect with more customers socially. Not everyone can be Kylie Jenner, of course, but partnerships like that create an opportunity for brands as well as people.
3. Lastly, do what I did. Sit down with your team to map out where your company utilizes technology to benefit your business. Find areas that are strengths and areas that are a weak point, and then figure out how technology can improve that aspect of your business model — because it’s all driven by technology.