First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Emma Phuong Nguyen: Thank you for your warm question. We are safe. It’s lucky that our local government did an excellent job of managing a situation at the early stage.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded BlueSkinX.
Emma Phuong Nguyen: My name is Emma, founder of a company called BlueSkinX started in 2019. We are remotely based in San Francisco, US, through the support of our pre-seed accelerator called Pioneer.
I started an entrepreneurship journey in 2011 in my home country, Vietnam when it wasn’t popular and a dream of dropouts. I joined a group of friends with their projects as a graphic designer, then their friends’ group to help and support the team at the early stage, sometimes as the first recruitment. Eventually, I ended up as a managing director of a 20-person company originally based in Boston in 2014-2015.
Nonetheless, my career projection was completely different. I was supposed to be a mathematician with a Ph.D. At the end of the third year, I have the first offer for grad school. However, my rebellious personality does not fit into school very well. I spent most of my time outside to join several projects, especially education, environment, and culture, to kill my own frustration. Looking back, most were about startups starting from student projects.
I never think of becoming a founder but a researcher working on interesting problems. Consequently, I made several leaps of faith, which eventually opened a path to top tier universities around the world and Silicon Valley as a data scientist and AI researcher in 2014-2020. BlueSkinX was born as another my deep frustration to answer the question of how to apply AI to solve problems in healthcare and climate change. Being a founder to me simply means a full commitment to push a boundary of possibility, and hopefully to a real impact globally.
How does BlueSkinX innovate?
Emma Phuong Nguyen: We started with what we know well, and it’s feasible – Skin. It turns out the huge market for skincare with billion valuations, and the skincare is one of the most active communities with a very resonating message to a climate action community. We actually re-segment this market and build a flywheel to support the economic growth of a community of climate actions based on science & technology.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Emma Phuong Nguyen: Well, this is a very rough time. Everything is super uncertain. The pressure comes from everywhere. Global travels are suspended in almost a year, probably next year. And a chain of delay. We are moving super slow with the minimum operations. Most are conversations with several stakeholders across countries. Healthcare is a very complex system, and an effort to push advancement into daily life never sounds easy. And topic like climate change is so hard to describe to those without personal experience. However, 2020 is a strong signal for the existence of our company. We just can’t be stopped and keep pushing.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Emma Phuong Nguyen: Well, it happens almost every day. I wake up at midnight, starting to work alone for a year. I am frequently burned out. I guess it was caused by prolonged stress, a lack of emotional support, and a crazy world in a pandemic. Nonetheless, it seems like whatever I do is ineffective. What I learn here is listening to rhythm and moving along the way.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself BlueSkinX in the future?
Emma Phuong Nguyen: Practice meditation – simply be aware of emotion and environment along with breath control. So far, we don’t really expect a big futuristic picture like a traditional pitch of a startup in Silicon Valley. What really works for us is a series of practical actions with a strong intention towards a solution for problems in healthcare and climate change.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Emma Phuong Nguyen: In my industry, health tech is all about a game of patience. There are not many indeed, but do respect our competitors. For example, FirstDerm is one of them. We try to have a habit of planning, but the truth is most will fail. Since our current situation now depends on vaccination, it’s hard to say anything in advance.
Your final thoughts?
Emma Phuong Nguyen: Just do it when you are wondering about your business or startup. It’s an overall message of entrepreneurship. Every failure is a lesson, and the reward is indeed an action itself.