Building a global beauty business is no mean feat, but it was Charmaine Chow’s way of shaking up the skincare industry that made us truly sit up and take note.
A former investment banker with Goldman Sachs, Charmaine Chow founded the digital platform GetHarley in 2019, as a tool for online dermatology and skin consultations. It now has over 100,000 active users and a network of more than 1,000 aesthetic doctors and dermatologists; including leading names such as Dr Sophie Shotter and Dr Maryam Zamani. The aim: to help deliver better and personalised skincare and skin health advice.
Now, having secured £42 million investment led by Index Ventures, GetHarley and Charmaine are set to go global. Citizen Femme sat down with the inspiring beauty businesswoman to discover the vision behind her company, what a week in her busy schedule looks like, and the secrets to her successes…
On Being the founder of GetHarley
“I founded GetHarley because I wanted to reimagine the experience of getting skincare advice and buying skincare”, Charmaine tells us. “Beforehand, shopping on your own was a confusing and complicated process and, from a time perspective when you are busy, it didn’t make sense either. By helping build a connection between skincare customers and trusted voices of authority, people can get the advice they need and better outcomes.”
What GetHarley also does is help give you access to prescription-strength and practitioner-recommended (aka ‘medical-grade’) skincare, should you need them. Many of these products aren’t available on the high-street due to legislation or because the brands want customers to have a discussion with an expert to check they are suitable for your skin. That includes tretinoin (a prescription-only retinoid) which can be helpful for both wrinkles and acne, as well as brands such as SkinBetter Science (our beauty editor’s favourite). That makes receiving them in GetHarley’s signature brown parcel even more exciting.
“Over the past few years, there has definitely been more awareness brought to skincare”, says Charmaine, “but the nuances can easily be lost online if you don’t have access to the right experts. I also want to stress the importance of getting advice on a personalised level, which can happen when you enable connections to be built between customers and clinicians.”
“Our focus for the near future is to be able to help customers with even more of their skin issues, with a particular focus on categories such as healthy ageing, acne, menopausal skin and pregnancy, which gets a lot of (understandable) interest. Male skin is another important category, with the demand for male skincare really increasing, and we are also looking to expand our offering of makeup-skincare hybrids too, for a truly holistic approach to skin health.”
Advice for building a business
“We have an acronym at GetHarley that will only become more important as we grow as a business. It’s ‘A HUG’, which stands for ‘Authenticity’, ‘Honesty’, ‘Unity’ and ‘Growth’. By keeping those goals in mind, I feel confident we will stay true to the vision that I’ve had for GetHarley since the beginning. I am so proud of bringing that vision to life and for achieving my aim of putting together a brilliant team, of now over 100, based on those principles. It has been brilliant to help make skincare less overwhelming to customers, and, perhaps more unexpectedly, I’ve seen GetHarley help build a strong sense of community within the clinicians we have on board too.”
View this post on Instagram
Advice for those seeking skincare help
“My biggest piece of advice is that you don’t shop for skincare product the way you shop for clothes. It’s not necessarily about what is new – and you need to stick with something to see results. Skin health is a marathon not a sprint. That’s why it is so important to build a curated skincare plan with the help of a true skin expert.”
“You see a doctor for everything else – and the skin is your largest organ – but until recently you only sought help when it became really life-affecting. It’s also really easy to forget that more is not always better, so try not to get too distracted by product hype. You want to choose skincare that is right for your individual skin, not just what is being talked about, for example on social media. That’s why I truly believe that building a partnership with a clinician for advice and guidance is so important and I think being able to do that digitally [as with GetHarley] means that relationship is available much more accessibly.”
A Week In the Life
“I like to start my week by getting the admin and planning started, so Mondays are what I call my ‘catch-up days’. I tend to start around 8AM and if I am in London that will be in the office, as I think skin-to-skin contact with the team is so important. I increasingly travel a lot for work, especially as we make GetHarley an even more global business. I’ve just come back from a trip to San Francisco and New York, so when I’m not in the office, I’ll be working remotely, in consistent contact with the team. It’s useful to be able to work from anywhere.”
“Tuesdays are my internal meeting days as I tend to find this is when my team and I have some ‘ready to go’ energy that we use to our advantage. I always want to meet with the team early in the week to set us up for success, and that means not just for the week ahead, but for the coming months and beyond.”
Wednesday and Thursday
“Wednesdays and Thursdays are my thinking and strategy days, which can also mean a lot of lunches and dinners with brand partners. I am a big believer that as a businesswoman you need to spend a lot of time thinking and being thoughtful. If you aren’t clear or considered with an idea or an instruction, you can send people off in the wrong direction, which obviously has a big impact on your progress forward.”
“Fridays are mainly filled with external meetings and more social things. After all, GetHarley is all about building better and stronger connections. Ultimately, my plan for the future is focused on doing the same thing really, really well. That means, as the business grows, the vision hasn’t really changed.”
“What I have noticed though, is that my job seems to change every two years. For example, in the first year, I was focused on how to make sure the client is happy. By year three, I focused on who to hire to build the business in the right way, and by the fifth year, there’s been an emphasis on process and policy, as we look towards greater scaleability. I never thought work would be fun, but it is running GetHarley, and by 2025, I hope to see GetHarley as an even more global business. I am psyched to see how the team especially continues to flourish.”
“Outside of work, if I am relaxing at-home, I love silly movies, like Nancy Myers. I’ll light a fire and have a hot cup of tea. When I’m out and about, it is all about spending time with the people I love. I’m trying to get better at leaving my phone at home too. I like to try to get out and go for walks, and am aiming for one or two good weekends a month, where I am a little more unplugged.”
We may earn a commission if you buy something from any affiliate links on our site.
Lead image credit: Charmaine Chow, GetHarley