Female Founders: Dara Levy of DERMAFLASH On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Passion. Everyone has a great idea at some point, but to take an idea and turn it into an actual thing requires passion and drive. It’s the number one attribute you see in a founder. I’m not a sit-around-and-wait-for-anything kind of gal. If I want it and it’s not out there, I make it happen. Everyone has the power to manifest their own destiny.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dara Levy.
Dara Levy invented the category of at-home dermaplaning with DERMAFLASH. Obsessed with the instant, transformative results of medical dermaplaning, Dara opened an entire med spa in Chicago built around her signature DERMAFLASH™ dermaplaning facial. Performed with a surgical scalpel, the treatment removes dead skin cells, built-up residue, and peach fuzz — revealing a layer of skin that’s smoother, brighter and younger-looking. Five years and 6,000 dermaplaning facials later, Dara had an epiphany. Realizing the need to make the treatment more accessible and affordable, she invented the first ever, at-home dermaplaning device. DERMAFLASH and, more recently, DERMAPORE have revolutionized skincare by empowering people to uncover their best skin without leaving home.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I grew frustrated having to go from the back of a beauty salon to get facials to a plastic surgeon’s office to get dermaplaning and a dermatologist to get Botox. Instead, I opened my own Med Spa in Chicago, putting the best of the best together under one roof. Our signature facial was a dermaplaning treatment called…DERMAFLASH.
I’d watch women come into my spa tired, shoulders slumped and in a bad mood. They’d come out of the treatment room transformed — literally standing up straighter, glowing and feeling more confident in their own skin. There’s a real power that comes with looking and feeling good.
One day the lightbulb went off and I realized an at-home dermaplaning solution did not exist. Five years and 6,000 treatments later, I invented DERMAFLASH, the now iconic sonic dermaplaning and peach fuzz removal device — along with an entirely new category in beauty.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The industry has changed a lot since we started this journey 6 years ago. I remember walking into a meeting at Sephora with a 3D image of my soon-to-be device and receiving a standing ovation from the very seasoned (and normally very stoic) women around the table. They believed DERMAFLASH was an idea whose time had come, and that validation helped give me wings! We’ve had an amazing trajectory since then.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
This is not a funny example, but it is a meaningful one. When we first launched DERMAFLASH in 2016, the device looked very different. There were certain features that we thought were intuitive, but customers found them confusing. I made the tough call to completely reimagine the device rather than making tiny tweaks. We took all the learnings and applied them to our new design, which ended up being the award-winning version you see now. I learned that you’re not going to get everything right the first time — and if it can go wrong, it will. Every mistake is an opportunity to change for the better and grow.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
In 2017, Guthy Renker, one of the largest and most respected direct marketing companies in the world, reached out to us and partnered to create an infomercial. It was truly a magical time. The collaboration helped catapult dermaplaning to a whole new level of popularity and helped make DERMAFLASH synonymous with dermaplaning in the hearts and minds of a wider audience. I am beyond grateful to them.
Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
Before DERMAFLASH, I spent 15 years as an institutional broker at the male-dominated Chicago Mercantile Exchange. I started out as a runner and went on to lead a team of 15 men. As one of only a handful of female members, I had to let a lot roll off my back. At the time, if you were a woman who walked around with a serious expression, you were a b*tch. If you were a man with the same expression, you were simply running a business. Nowadays, things haven’t changed enough but they are getting better.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
Mentorship and advocacy are essential. I love seeing women uplift and empower each other. I insist on this culture in my company as we are female-led, and have instilled these values in my own daughters from a young age.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder, but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
The more powerful role models we have out there, the more empowered younger women will become. Seeing strong, successful women entrepreneurs like Spanx Founder Sarah Blakely, for example, helps little girls realize, “I too can achieve this.” As women, we need to decide what dreams we want to pursue rather than allowing our aspirations to be defined for us. We have to dance to our own beat.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
It’s a myth that being a founder is easy…that it’s glamorous and all champagne and roses. Starting a business is a bumpy ride. If it can go wrong, it will go wrong. Being a founder is a roller coaster ride where one day you’re firing on all cylinders and on top of the world and the next day everything crashes and you think, “My god, what am I doing?”
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
Not everyone is cut out to start a business. Some people are happy doing their job and getting a good night’s sleep! As a founder, your entrepreneurial spirit keeps you up at night. You eat, sleep and breath your passion 24/7 — and if it’s not something you’re passionate about, you shouldn’t be doing it anyway. You also have to believe in yourself and be emotionally resilient, because the ups and downs of running a business can wreak havoc on your psyche. Every challenge is a learning opportunity, but you have to be smart enough to learn from it.
Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Passion. Everyone has a great idea at some point, but to take an idea and turn it into an actual thing requires passion and drive. It’s the number one attribute you see in a founder. I’m not a sit-around-and-wait-for-anything kind of gal. If I want it and it’s not out there, I make it happen. Everyone has the power to manifest their own destiny.
2. Tenacity. This is both my greatest strength and my greatest weakness. Once I set my sights on something, I won’t stop until I’ve achieved that goal. I’ve never taken “no” for an answer. My father taught me there’s no such word as can’t. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, “If you say you can, you will; if you say you can’t, you won’t.”
3. Faith. The universe has a plan, and you are right where you’re meant to be at any given point in time. If you trust and believe this, you don’t sweat the small stuff.
4. Balance. As women, we tend to beat ourselves up and expect to do it all flawlessly and perfectly — be the best wife, mother, friend and have a rockin’ business. We need to cut ourselves a break and be kinder to ourselves.
5. Self-care. This is a pillar of DERMAFLASH and it’s essential to success. Your family, your business, and most importantly YOU can’t thrive if you don’t dedicate time to yourself.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
My husband and I live by the credo “to whom much is given, much is expected.” I try to change the world by getting involved in charities that I believe in. Instead of only contributing financially, I’ve also devoted my time and entrepreneurial expertise to help advise and grow nonprofits that hold special meaning to me.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I practice daily gratitude and try to lead from a place of grace and love. With the global pandemic, we’ve all been under a huge collective stress. In some ways, we’ve become more polarized, but we can also look at this experience as something that connects us. Empathy and kindness always win the race.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Oprah. Why? Because she’s the queen of everything. I’m inspired by how she’s fought tooth and nail for everything she has. And, more than anybody, she’s done the most with what she’s been blessed with.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.