How SnappyScreen’s Product Design Revolutionized Sunscreen: Q&A with MBA Grad and Entrepreneur Member Katelyn McClellan
SnappyScreen is a touchless sunscreen application system. You select your protection level (SPF) and height, step into a booth, and SnappyScreen applies a head-to-toe protective coating in about 10 seconds. The sunscreen is oxybenzone-free, paraben-free, alcohol-free and does not damage your bathing suit. It’s a slick and sought after product—one that can now be found at 4- and 5-star hotels across the U.S., in locations such as Florida, Hawaii, and California, and in such exotic locales as Aruba. Before the final launch, entrepreneurial sisters Kristen McClellan (founder and CEO) and Katelyn McClellan (COO) built several prototypes to refine the product and make the experience smooth and easy.
In 2009, while a freshman at Cornell, Kristen introduced her SnappyScreen concept in an elevator-pitch competition, and came in second to a graduate student. She immediately committed to making the product a reality, spending her four years during college working on the design and then pursuing SnappyScreen full-time after graduation. A few years later, while pursuing her MBA at NYU Stern, and after working as a consultant for IBM Global Services and Deloitte Consulting for 5 years, Katelyn decided to join Kristen to bring more entrepreneurial know-how to the process.
The Design Approach
To help refine SnappyScreen into a tight, appealing, and easily marketable concept, the McClellan sisters embraced a product design approach known as minimum viable product (MVP). The MVP strategy involves stripping away excess features and focusing on the core value proposition of a new design. It’s paying off for SnappyScreen.
Below, Katelyn shares her advice for entrepreneurs interested in learning from SnappyScreen’s successes.
SoFi: How did the idea for SnappyScreen come about?
KM: The idea for SnappyScreen came to my sister Kristen on a family vacation while watching me try to apply sunscreen evenly. We’ve all had moments where we’ve struggled to reach every spot and end up with a sunburn or blotchy tan and that was definitely me. Kristen also realized that skin cancer is the most prevalent cancer among Americans — one in five people will develop skin cancer over the course of a lifetime. While people are purchasing sunscreen, only ½ of those who do, apply the correct amount. She knew there had to be a way to help people solve the sunscreen application problem. That’s when SnappyScreen was born.
SoFi: Talk about the experience with the MVP. What did the first iterations of SnappyScreen look like?
KM: Working with the MVP mindset means that your design will be imperfect and in need of change. So we had to embrace that. The first SnappyScreen prototype used everyday products in order to mock a system we knew needed to be customized. We used a paint sprayer and a mechanism used on a garage door opener to mock up the idea for a machine that applies sunscreen. The machine itself was built into a shed to offer a changing area and storage facility for guests. It wasn’t pretty, but it was enough to advance the concept and better understand how later models would work.
Our third prototype was the first one we placed in a live customer environment—the Aruba Marriott Stellaris Resort & Casino. We worked with a rapid-prototype design firm to improve the look and feel, but it was all metal and had a single push button to operate, not the touchscreen we use today. Over 400 people used SnappyScreen in just four days, which was a fantastic response rate to a totally new product! Having that success with the MVP let us know that others identified with our problem.
SoFi: How did those first users help you to continue to improve the product?
KM: SnappyScreen has two types of customers: leisure destinations—hotels and resorts—and vacationers, who are the end users. We knew we had to listen to both.
After speaking with general managers and other key individuals in the hospitality industry, we learned that they wanted SnappyScreen to be a product that can be placed at the pool or beach. To do so, we made changes to ensure the device could withstand various climates and weather conditions.
After surveying the actual SnappyScreen users, we learned that they wanted a greater choice of sun protection; so we added three levels of SPF protection to the final design. Also, by watching people use the prototype in Aruba, we realized that the design did not provide instructions on how to use the machine. In the later designs, we added the touchscreen and a “How it Works” video to make the device completely self-automated.
We were happy to get the feedback, because in addition to helping us, those types of metrics are exactly what investors need to make decisions. They wanted to know who used those prototypes during the trials, what type of feedback the users provided, and the level of excitement about the product.
SoFi: After gathering that information, what became your next focus?
KM: We focused on delivering a great product, not a product that tries to do everything. The first SnappyScreen prototype looked like a shed because we tried to do too much. When we removed the changing room and storage space, we were able to focus on the single goal of delivering fast, optimum sunscreen coverage. We knew we couldn’t get distracted by features that didn’t support that core goal. When we launched the final production model in December 2015 at the Four Seasons Los Angeles in Beverly Hills, it was a refined, streamlined, and on-point design.
SoFi: What are the main lessons you learned from the MVP approach?
KM: Don’t just strip out features; innovate and focus on the features that make a true difference and are core to your product vision. Each prototype, we continued to adapt and add features that further our goal of creating a machine that delivers fast, easy, and even full-body sunscreen coverage. For example, our latest enhancement is a stand-on base that rotates the user automatically.
SoFi: Looking back, in 2013, you pursued an MBA to help grow SnappyScreen into a sustainable business. But you already had a lot of business experience, so why go back to school?
KM: I wanted to be able to pair my work experience with a business education. There are still lessons I learned from accounting, marketing, and finance classes that I use today when making business decisions for SnappyScreen. Choosing NYU was an easy decision for me because being in the heart of New York provided for a terrific environment to meet and learn from other successful entrepreneurs.
SoFi: Speaking of entrepreneurs, you’re a member of SoFi’s entrepreneur program. What attracted you?
KM: When I graduated from NYU Stern in 2015, a lot of lenders contacted me about student loan refinancing, including SoFi. That’s when I learned that SoFi isn’t a typical lender. Along with loan options, I learned about the entrepreneur program, and was immediately attracted. It allows me to connect through events with other entrepreneurs who are on the same path. It’s also great to be part of a group of entrepreneurs to share stories and advice when you’re all in the trenches of building a company. Plus, refinancing through SoFi lowered my interest rate, which decreased the financial burden, and made it easier for me to focus on the goal of building the business.
SoFi: What’s next for SnappyScreen in 2017?
KM: Right now, we have several units on resorts across the US and Caribbean. For 2017, we are on track to roll out 50 more devices and are also raising our next round of funding to expand our sales and engineering teams.
If you’re a founder or co-founder working on your business full-time and you have student loan debt, visit SoFi’s student loan refinancing to learn more about SoFi can help you!