Clarisonic Cracks Big-Time With $100M Sales, Riding Rave Reviews From Lady Gaga, Oprah

Xconomy Seattle — 

One of Seattle’s hottest tech startups has nothing to do with the sizzly Internet trends you read about a lot—social media, location-based marketing, or mobile apps.

It has everything to do with making more than 2 million women so far—Lady Gaga and Oprah among them—look good and feel good about themselves.

Unless you read fashion magazines, you’d never guess such a success story is unfolding at a Bellevue, WA-based company with a boring official name like Pacific Bioscience Laboratories. The same engineers and scientists who put sonic wave technology inside the Sonicare toothbrush have applied their skills to the systematic removal of makeup, dirt, surface bacteria, dead skin cells, and oils from the skin, through a handheld tool called the Clarisonic. The sonic-wave skin care device, which debuted in 2005, surpassed $100 million in annual sales for 2010, according to president Jack Gallagher. That’s more than double the sales it produced two years earlier.

The company doesn’t disclose detailed financial numbers, but it is “very profitable,” and has added about 100 employees in the past 18 months, bringing its staff up to almost 300 people, Gallagher says. Clarisonic now has gotten big enough that it has a budget to run ads in major beauty magazines—Vogue, Allure, InStyle. The success of Clarisonic has even inspired a health and beauty product giant, Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG), to throw its weight into a competing product. And given the relatively low level of market awareness of sonic skin care, and the overseas sales potential, this new market has a lot of room to grow, Gallagher says.

“When this story is told, Clarisonic will be one of the great success stories of Seattle entrepreneurship,” says Dan Rosen, the chairman of the Seattle-based Alliance of Angels, and an early investor.

“We’re very fortunate,” Gallagher says. “We’ve invented a new product category.”

Clarisonic was founded in 2001 by electrical engineer David Giuliani and a team of people he had previously worked with at Optiva. That was the company that developed the Sonicare toothbrush, which was sold to Royal Philips Electronics for an undisclosed sum. As I noted in Xconomy’s last profile of Clarisonic back in September 2009, Robb Akridge brought his immunology skills; Steve Meginniss was the mechanical engineer; Ken Pilcher, the electrical engineer; and Ward Harris, the chemist.

The founders chipped in some of their own cash in, and raised some more from local angel investors, including the Alliance of Angels and San Francisco-based private equity firm Rosewood Capital. Pacific Bioscience Labs hasn’t taken any venture capital, Gallagher says, and has pulled in less than $20 million to get where it is today.

Gallagher is the former president of Optiva/Philips Oral Healthcare, where he oversaw the effort to drive Sonicare toothbrush sales from $130 million to $300 million a year within three years. He says it’s now clear that Clarisonic has the potential to be … Next Page »

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