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2024 Saints Spotlight with Brandi Corbello ’11

In honor of May, which is skin cancer awareness month, Brandi Corbello traveled back to campus to speak about her journey to developing new, clean sunscreen and Melan, the company that grew out of her desire to make clean products accessible to a U.S. audience.

David Klenk: Hello and welcome back to another edition of Saints Spotlight. Today we’re joined by Brandi Corbello, a graduate of 2011 from Thomas More, among many, many other things. Thank you so much for joining us! 

Brandi Corbello: Thanks for having me! 

DK: Starting off, how did you find yourself at Thomas More University?

 BC: I played volleyball growing up and once I was in high school and I played club, I realized I wanted to take it to the next level. I wanted to play in college and that’s how I ended up at Thomas More, through volleyball and good academics as well.

DK: What position did you play?

BC: I was an outside hitter, believe it or not. A little guy for sure, but I had hops back in the day.

DK: What were some of your highlights during your time as an undergrad? 

BC: I think a lot of the highlights were around volleyball. We had a really great team, we were really good friends. I don’t know what it’s like here anymore, but a lot of the athletes got to hang out together and become good friends. That was awesome, I think winning the PAC Championship was amazing. Getting a good network of people as you think about what comes next in life.

DK: Tell us a little bit about your career at Indico Data and being named Tech Startup and Chief Customer Officer.

BC: My career really started in consulting: management consulting. I did a lot around digital transformation or organizational transformation, found my way to Indico Data which is a series B venture capital-backed company. I run their whole post-sale team, so anything that is around the customer. Once you become a customer of a technology company, you have a lot you need to think about: you need to implement the product; you need to have adoption; you need to get value from that product. It’s a big investment. Technology is a huge investment for a lot of enterprises, so I focus a lot on that: the customer experience or the customer journey, which has been really great because I was once a customer as well so I am able to sit in their seat and have a little bit of empathy. Last year I was named Startup Chief Customer Officer of the Year, which was really amazing to get that from my peers as it was peer-voted.

DK: That’s awesome, it definitely sounds like it’s been well earned and deserved – congratulations. Can you tell us a little bit about your newest venture into skin care with Melan? 

BC:  Melan is a sunscreen company. In 2019, I was diagnosed with stage three melanoma. Once I got that diagnosis, I really started thinking about what I put in and on my body. I got super obsessed with my daily SPF, which I hadn’t been previously. I was very curious about ingredients and what I was putting on my body, because I was putting it on every day. There’s chemicals, there’s minerals, it’s like “what is this and what is it doing” kind of a thing. My curiosity led me to talking to chemists and different manufacturers around the U.S., just to get an understanding of how it’s made, what it’s made up of – with no intention of starting a sunscreen company.

I was able to finally get to a place where I understood sunscreen: how it’s made, what it looks like, what it means to the general consumer. As a part of that, all that was all U.S.-based and I was traveling a lot to Europe, while I was in Europe, I was also looking at their sunscreen products which seemed a little bit better than the ones we have in the U.S. today. I really got even more curious about that. A couple of years ago, I then found myself really becoming an advocate for melanoma research. While I started this advocacy I realized while I was talking to policymakers or state representatives and senators, that I didn’t really see any sunscreen CEOs in the room. The thing we were fighting for, was to bring better active ingredients for sunscreens in the U.S. like the ones they have in Europe or Australia. It kind of upset me that this is number one for their product and it’s what’s best for their consumer. That gave me this motivation to say, ‘What would it take for me to start a sunscreen company?” I met with the manufacturers I had been meeting with previously that gave me a ton of education around how it’s manufactured. I ended up pulling the trigger and saying, “I’m going to start a sunscreen company that is cleaner and is more accessible.” Any of the ‘clean’ products you see in the U.S. are not very accessible; You’ll spend like $44 for 5 1/2 ounces. That’s a lot, right? That’s not very accessible. They’re not very transparent. The other thing is I wanted to make sure that I was continuing to advocate for melanoma, because the whole point of sunscreen is for the prevention of skin cancer or melanoma. So, I am putting a percentage of proceeds to melanoma research and have started that partnership. That’s really where it all started and where I ended up with it. We need a product that’s fighting for consumers, and a brand that’s advocating for consumers, and putting the best possible formulations on the shelves given the constraints we currently have in the U.S. market.

DK: I can only imagine how, not only difficult it is to compete in a market, but also to compete in the market with everything that you have in your realm of knowledge and struggles to know that this is something that’s worthy of putting out there in the world and getting more people to know about.

BC: Exactly. 

DK: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

BC: I’m most proud of the fact that I decided to go all in. It’s scary, it’s completely self-funded too, which I think is exciting but I’m most proud that I went all in and it hasn’t stopped me. 

DK: I also love your logo and your entire brand of melon and melanin, what was your strategy behind creating your logo? 

BC: It’s interesting, when I first started this whole brand of thinking about creating the sunscreen company it was going to be called Nuda which translates to ‘naked’ in Italian. In the melanoma community, there’s a campaign every May – May is Melanoma Awareness Month and Skin Cancer Awareness Month – there’s a campaign #GetNaked which means go get naked for your dermatologist, so you can have your full body scan. It’s really important for everybody to do that on an annual basis, so I wanted to really tie into the melanoma community. Unfortunately, when I went to get trademarking, Nuda was already taken – not by a sunscreen company, but a skin care company. You’re in the same category, so my lawyer said you’ve got to rebrand. I was absolutely devastated when I got this phone call, I actually had just landed in Miami for a vacation. My vacation then got completely taken over by thinking about a rebrand for the company. I went for a really long walk, I went for runs, and I finally was like, “I got to tie it to melanoma, but it also should be something that’s catchy or fun or funky and how do you bring it all together?” In my head, I just kept saying: melanoma, melanoma. I ended up saying melon and then I thought about it that ‘m-e-l-a-n’ is short for melanoma but also could have a play or like a pun on actual fruit – melons. Melons have a rind that protects them; melons, once you get into them, are hydrating and nourishing. All of those things, are actually what the product does, right? It protects you, it’s hydrating, it’s nourishing, and it still ties to the roots of melanoma where it all came from. That’s how the name came together, it all made sense. Even when I was running, I said, “You know the tagline could be ‘protect your rind.'” The rind of the melon is like the skin, that protects it. Our skin is our largest organ, it actually protects the rest of our body. I thought it was just like fun and cheeky and really punny; so that was how I ended up with the name. Then as we were talking about the logo, I thought it would be really cool to have a melon, but you take the seeds and inverse them on the outside so it looks like the sun. It’s like a melon sun and it’s been really fun to come up with it. I’m honestly so blessed and grateful that Nuda didn’t work out, because this brand is way more relatable. It can span across age and any sort of demographic. It’s cute, cheeky, punny; I have so many puns all the time, like on my letters I put ‘thanks a melan.’ It’s been fun, that’s how I came up with it.

DK: You’re definitely getting more out of that in the long haul especially in the department of just the Nuda versus Melon. There’s a lot more that you can put on a t-shirt versus the eye-catching Nuda stuff out there.

BC: Yeah, and I think the moms weren’t really big fans of Nuda. A little too risque for them, which I could totally understand.

DK: What is one thing you wish more people knew about skin care?

BC: I wish people really understood, not necessarily skin care but sunscreen, and what we have in the U.S. today.  A lot of times, if you actually look at the sunscreens, while the marketing is really great, if you really look at what’s in under the label, the product is mostly chemicals and fragrance. I would say the vast majority of it is chemicals and fragrance and it’s really tough because there’s a lot of things that you can do with a product to limit chemical concentrations and make it multi-functional. Things like aloe vera or vitamin C, things that will boost those chemicals in protecting you, but also help your skin at the same time to soothe, hydrate, do all that stuff. I think a lot of the sunscreens don’t do that today, they’re just filters, UV ray filters. How do you make this multifunctional and how do you make it something that’s not just chemical based and has fragrance? Something anyone can use. I think that is a big thing I wish people knew more about in the U.S., because marketing will stump you all day long. I think the other thing too, in the market is that, unfortunately, we’ve come to this place in the U.S. where we feel like the higher the SPF, the more protected we are. I have friends all the time that will say, “Well I’m like SPF 70 or 100.” You actually have diminishing returns once you get past SPF 50. A (SPF) 70 while it feels like it’s more protecting because it’s a higher number, is actually not giving you that much more protection and you’re getting more chemicals on your skin or absorbed into your body. I wish more people understood that, because 70 and anything that’s over 50 is a marketing scam in my opinion.

DK: It really is, I’ve seen just the varying range of competitors and the only difference is that number. So when people just flock to that and assume, it’s important, to know that there’s real effects on that side of just everything.

BC: It’s not protecting you anymore than a 50,  I would say all you need is 30 every single day, but 50 gives you a little bit more so I can get on board with that.

DK: Now lastly, what advice do you have for current students?

BC:  I think my advice for current students is: be curious. Be curious about what you want to do, what motivates you, and really dig in and dig in deep. Ask questions, create a network effect, and make sure you put people around you who can help you truly understand a topic that you’re really curious about.

DK: Thomas More definitely has that type of environment to allow curious minds to grow as is shown here with you and your amazing rap sheet of accomplishments and achievements. Congrats on getting to where you are and we’re excited to see where you head in the future!

BC: Thank you for having me!

 DK: Thank you all back home for watching another edition of Saint Spotlight. Be sure to tune in to the next one, see you around!

To purchase sunscreen products from Brandy’s company Melan, CLICK HERE.