The SkinSpirit case tells the story of Lynn Heublein, an entrepreneur who started her career during the technology boom of the 1990s and eventually achieved success as a pioneer in the medical spa industry. In 1993, Heublein cofounded Catapult Entertainment, one of the first video gaming companies that allowed players to “talk” to each other via a dial-up modem connection. Mpath Interactive purchased Catapult in 1996 and Heublein went on to serve as Mpath’s COO during and after the company’s IPO in 1999. After having established herself as a highly-respected technology executive, Heublein realized that all other aspects of her life had suffered as a result of her laser focus on her career. In 2000, she decided to take a year off to reconnect with herself, during which time she met Dr. Dean Vistnes, a plastic surgeon who shared with her his concept for a “medical spa” where patients could receive minimally invasive aesthetic procedures such as laser hair removal or Botox in the comfort of a spa-like setting.
In 2002, Heublein and Vistnes launched SkinSpirit in Palo Alto, opening two more locations in Walnut Creek and Mill Valley over the next eight years. In the summer of 2013, SkinSpirit acquired Calidora, a med spa located in Seattle, Washington, which added three more locations to the company’s portfolio. By mid-2015, Heublein was now faced with a series of options for how to most effectively expand the company in the months and years ahead: raise money from institutional investors to scale more quickly, raise money from individual investors to retain more control, or self-fund growth with the help of conventional debt. As Heublein explores each of the options before her, she must weigh the pros and cons against her own goals of creating financial wealth for herself and her employees, while retaining the most satisfying parts of her job—developing new revenue opportunities, recruiting new talent, and continuing to build a brand in the med spa category.
This case is taught in Formation of New Ventures, a core entrepreneurship class which explores various aspects of the entrepreneur’s journey through all the phases from start up through scaling. In the SkinSpirit case, the goal is to provide students with a model of an entrepreneur who has stepped out of the “typical” MBA’s path as a hard-charging tech executive to achieve success building a less traditional “lifestyle” business. Through her journey, Heublein not only achieves the balance that evaded her in the early days of her career, but she also achieves professional success. The case concludes with the question of how she can best scale the company going forward, forcing the students to consider the decision not only in the context of what is best for the business, but also what is best for Heublein.