Nicole Alvino had a heart-to-heart talk with herself after her career at Enron Corp. went to the dogs. She was working 15 to 18 hours a day in finance when her job tanked with the rest of the company. Fortunately, she had already made plans to go to business school, so she took the time in the interim to mentally chart out a new path.
“I went backpacking in Australia and New Zealand and I took some time away to think about what I really want to be doing,” recalled Alvino. “I knew that I always wanted to start a business but I never knew how it would manifest itself or when it would happen.”
Alvino was accepted to Stanford University’s MBA program and decided to use the experience to soak up as much information as she could and let her business come to her.
“When I went back to business school I thought, ‘I’m not going to let this unfortunate [Enron] experience tarnish me,’” she said. “I went back with the mindset of starting a business. I had no idea how that would come about but I had all of these phenomenal mentors and the most valuable thing that I learned is that you just have to go out there and do it.”
Alvino’s opportunity came before she even graduated from business school. A husband and wife who had started Nourish, a spa in Noe Valley, asked Alvino to write a business plan to revitalize the business, focusing on education and personalized attention in skincare. Being a spa buff, Alvino willingly accepted.
“There’s been amazing advances in skin health technology,” said Alvino. “But from the consumer side, there is not something for people who want the medical side unless they go to a stuffy doctor’s office. So that’s how the concept was born.”
After writing the plan, Alvino was asked to find the funding, which she admits was not as easy as she thought it would be. People who had expressed interest when the idea was just a seedling turned out not to be that interested when it came time to put up their money. But Alvino persisted and raised enough money to open the spa, Dermalounge, at the former Nourish location at 1301 Church St.
“That was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done in my life,” she said. “I’m such a passionate person but convincing people that I could actually do it was just a different thing. I was a little naïve in approaching it but I talked to some very smart people who gave me very good advice.”
Dermalounge opened in December and Alvino said that so far it is doing quite well. Her vision is for Dermalounge to be an all-inclusive spa, offering everything from Botox to hair removal.
“My plan is to have five to seven Dermalounges in the Bay Area and then start expanding from there,” she said. “The goal is to build a consumer brand and be known as the expert in skin health and be the place where everyone goes to take care of their skin and hair removal needs. I firmly believe we could have one in every neighborhood in the Bay Area.”
Alvino said running a spa is not quite as different as her Enron life except that she no longer works for “the man.”
“Always in corporate America, I felt like a cog in the wheel even if I felt like I was working on what I thought was a really cool deal,” she said. “But at the end of the day I felt like one of the little people making rich people richer. Now everything I do has direct impact not only on the business but on my clients.”