A new wave of entrepreneurial companies is shaking up the industry with innovative business models and strategies generating buzz—and results—in record time. CEW explores how a handful of upstarts are taking advantage of the digital landscape that has lowered barriers to entry and transformed consumer behavior.
The new beauty consumer is buying and experimenting with products online, watching YouTube tutorials and demanding authenticity and a sense of purpose from her brands. And, she is increasingly drawn to a new breed of small, entrepreneurial companies that are in tune with her wants and needs, and delivering the newness she craves on the channels where she lives.
Who are these savvy, nimble entrepreneurs who are leveraging existing technologies and upending the traditional way of growing a brand? Instead of the traditional brand-product-advertising (top down) model, they are defining new paths where collaboration, co-creation and community are often the starting point of the brand/product development process, no advertising required.
Volition Beauty is the brainchild of two industry veterans, Brandy Hoffman and Patricia Santos. Three years ago, they saw an opportunity to leverage social platforms to not only engage beauty consumers, but also drive product innovation. Inspired by game-changers in adjacent categories, such as Kickstarter, which leverages crowds and mobilizes support for specific projects, they had an ‘aha’ moment. “We thought, ‘What if we, as a brand, step out of the way and let consumers come up with innovation?’” said Patricia.
Volition Beauty’s innovators include chemists, beauty editors, makeup artists and regular beauty lovers everywhere (who participate in the profit share). After submitting their idea, Brandy and Patricia source and work with labs to vet the ideas for feasibility and transform them into tangible products.
“Our vision is to democratize beauty,” said Patricia. “Everything about our brand and products are defined by our community. The products we launch have to be supported by our community. Crowds drive every part of our brand. We are able to gauge a level of demand, and this helps mitigate the failure rate typical of other brands.”
“We love entrepreneurship,” said Brandy. “Community and empowerment are key values of ours. We’d love to have a million micro-entrepreneurs! That would be a job well done for us.”
Brandy points to the brand’s Helix AM/PM Eye Gel as a standout success that has sold out at Sephora. The product was submitted by a makeup artist and can be used at night and during the day for flawless makeup application. Another recent success story is the Turmeric Brightening Polish, which was submitted by a woman who wanted to bring an ancient Indian cultural ritual into the mainstream. The product debuted impressively at Sephora in August.
With a background in venture capital, Patricia said that Volition Beauty’s investors currently consist solely in a closed network of angel investors. “We’ve had our pick of investors. Our model is pretty capital-efficient.”
Pulp Riot, which makes hair color for salon professionals, started its business as an education movement, launching products afterward. The brand’s team of high-profile stylists, Butterfly Circus, toured the country to sold-out audiences of stylists. “So when we released product, it was an immediate thunderclap,” said David Thurston, Founder and CEO, Pulp Riot. “We came up through the beauty community. We are one of them, we aren’t top-down. There is a difference between community, and the industry who have never spent a day behind the chair.”
David is of course referring to the stylist’s chair. “My business partners are stylists and salon owners who are creating and using the product. We have relationships with so many different people, making the brand truly authentic.Not only do we have a social media presence, a giant microphone, but we have a message to share.” To date, Pulp Riot has more than 591,000 followers on Instagram.
Clicking on ‘Edu Tour’ on Pulp Riot’s website takes visitors to Pulp Riot Labs, sold-out events across the country, “that bring together some of the most talented artists in the industry to create masterpieces using Pulp Riot paint. They encourage collaboration instead of competition, and are designed to unleash limitless artistic creativity.” David said Pulp Riot was already in the formulation phase when they were contacted by Luxury Brand Partners, a company that develops and nurtures artist-driven beauty brands. “Luxury Brand Partners didn’t know we were creating a product line. They were interested in our educational effort, and they helped fund us.” Luxury Brand Partners are minority investors in Pulp Riot. The brand just closed a round of financing, soon to be announced, and is launching in Europe this month. (In addition to North America, the brand is already present in Russia and Australia).
BeautyStreamer, which had a soft launch in April 2017, is a live stream platform for beauty gurus, makeup artists and lovers. Seth Goldstein, CEO of BeautyStreamer, is a serial entrepreneur whose foray in beauty grew out of his work with brands on live advertising. “No one has approached beauty with live social experience. BeautyStreamer is a combination of Twitch, YouTube, beauty gurus and Instagram influencers.”
Although Seth had no prior experience in the beauty industry – his most previous venture was focused on making music listening social – he was driven to understand what kind of communities thrive in a live setting. “Makeup is a very good conversation starter, a safe, empowered means to build relationships remotely,” he said. “Recently a group of Filipino women put on a show called, ‘Spicy Noodles and Makeup’. No Hollywood producer will come up with something like that! That’s where the growth will come from. Real people being beautiful with each other.”
BeautyStreamer is currently working with Condé Nast’s Allure Beauty Box and its live unboxing campaign. “Live unboxing on Facebook and Instagram, with tutorials and Q&A’s, is generating subscriptions for Allure’s Beauty Box. We’ve seen significant success,” said Seth. The company is beginning fundraising efforts in anticipation of an official launch in Q1 2018. Former executives from Estée Lauder and an early executive at Google are two current board advisors.
Pulp Riot’s David Thurston’s best advice to individuals with an entrepreneurial spirit? “Be well funded!” he said. “And create something people love that makes them feel good about themselves.”