Power Players

Glossier: How this 33-year-old turned her beauty blog to a $1 billion brand

Emily Weiss, founder and CEO, Glossier
Source: Glossier
Emily Weiss, founder and CEO, Glossier

On Tuesday, cult beauty brand Glossier announced that it has raised $100 million in Series D funding. The round, led by Sequoia Capital, puts the cosmetics company's valuation at $1.2 billion, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Not bad for a five-year-old start-up that was born from a beauty blog.

"Baby me in 2014 wasn't sure if we could afford the next hire, didn't know if anyone would like her idea for a beauty company ... and hardly knew a venture capitalist from a bank teller," Glossier founder Emily Weiss, 33, wrote in an Instagram post Tuesday. "Emily in 2019 has been through hell and high water to build an incredible company with incredible people ... and [has] been among a very small minority of women raising this kind of money at these kinds of prices, to build the things they believe in."

John Sciulli | Getty

From blog to beauty brand

For Weiss, the journey started in 2010, when she launched her blog, Into The Gloss, while working as a fashion assistant at Vogue. Weiss had risen through the ranks of the fashion industry, beginning her career at just 15 years old as an intern at Ralph Lauren (a gig she snagged thanks to the neighbor she babysat for).

"I proved myself to be very valuable," Weiss, 33, told The Cut about her time as an intern. "You have to be so many things. You have to be a sponge, you have to be respectful, you have to roll up your sleeves. I really earned my right to be there. I was just like, 'Put me to work. I love work!'"

From there, Weiss worked a string of assistant jobs at Conde Nast and even briefly starred as Lauren Conrad's professional frenemy on the MTV reality series "The Hills" while interning at Teen Vogue. Working in the glamorous world of style, Weiss caught the beauty bug and launched her blog, which gave readers a glimpse into the enviable beauty regimes of fashion's elite.

Weiss's blog eventually served as a springboard for Glossier, her unicorn makeup and skincare company. She planned to launch the business with just four products and — according to The Cut — needed $1 million to do so. Out of the 12 venture capital firms she visited, Weiss was reportedly turned down by 11.

"I had no idea what I was doing," Weiss told The Cut. "I was 28 years old. I didn't have an M.B.A. I went to art school."

She finally scored an investment from venture capitalist Kirsten Green and in 2014 began building the business. Weiss did things a little differently, putting an emphasis on millennial-friendly marketing and social media.

"I wrote out, 'Here are all the things we need to launch: Website. Chemist. Office space.' And then I just checked them off, one by one," Weiss told The Cut about building the business. "Put all the balls in the air. Got pregnant with Glossier. Incubated. Gave birth to four beautiful products." Glossier's Soothing Face Mist, Priming Moisturizer, Balm Dotcom salve and Perfecting Skin Tint foundation.

Becoming a unicorn

Weiss herself has become somewhat of a fixture in the beauty and female entrepreneurship space. Her Instagram boasts 450,000 followers, who regularly comment, like and gush over the founder's photos, ranging from snaps of her cozying up to model Karlie Kloss and to shots of Glossier's Milky Oil makeup remover bottles.

Glossier has raised over $190 million to date, according to PitchBook, which also said the $1.2 billion valuation is accurate according to its data. On Tuesday, Glossier announced it more than doubled its revenue in 2018 and surpassed $100 million, adding over 1 million new customers.

As of January, there are over 300 unicorn companies (or private companies with a valuation of over $1 billion) worldwide, according to CB Insights, including Silicon Valley superstars that are dominating the on-demand industry, like Uber, Airbnb and Lyft. Five to 10 years ago, a unicorn start-up in the beauty industry might have been considered a rarity, says Alison Gaither, an analyst for Mintel's US Beauty and Personal Care Reports. But now? Not so much.

"Today it almost seems like the norm, with privately owned brands like Pat McGrath and Kylie Jenner Cosmetics hitting a similar benchmark relatively quickly," Gaither tells CNBC Make It. (Kylie Cosmetics is worth $900 million, according to Forbes.)

With its millennial pink-and-white minimalist packaging, direct-to-consumer business model and cosmetic products promising to "never cover you up, turn you into someone else, or overcomplicate your routine," Glossier has been a smash hit with young people. The prices of its products aren't exactly splurge-worthy — its Lash Slick mascara, for example, costs $16 while its Haloscope highlighter costs $22 — yet the brand is still worn by A-listers like Tiffany Haddish and Beyonce.

Glossier's impressive success is largely rooted in its direct-to-consumer strategy; the cosmetics company has just two brick-and-mortar retail stores, and forgoes selling its product at cosmetics retailers like Sephora and Ulta Beauty. Instead, it markets it's arsenal of makeup and skincare to its nearly 2 million followers on its perfectly-curated Instagram page. And, its original beauty blog Into the Gloss is still a huge draw too.

"Glossier is so successful because they leverage Intothegloss.com and their various social media channels to truly make products for their audience," Gaither says. "Intothegloss.com is essentially Glossier's focus group, and they can find out exactly what their followers want by simply asking, 'what is your favorite scent?'"

"Before launching their flagship store in NYC, Glossier relied on pop-up shops to build buzz," she adds. "And it worked."

But — unlike the skin the company's products promise — not everything is glowy. Glossier has faced criticism for its lack of transparency concerning the formulations of its products, and the "no makeup trend" it's famous for capitalizing on has been slammed for catering to women who already have perfect skin or might be considered naturally beautiful under traditional beauty standards.

And in February, the brand launched Glossier Play, a sharp departure from its barely-there approach to cosmetics. Instead, Play features high-shine lip gloss and multi-purpose glitter gel, and it has been met with lackluster reviews.

"With the recent launch of Glossier Play, it appears the brand is headed in a different direction from their traditional product offerings that were centered around skincare and enhancing skin rather than hiding it," Gaither explains. "By going bold, they are officially competing with major players such as Pat McGrath and NARS — brands that have pro makeup artists at the helm. It will be crucial for Glossier to compete at the same level or risk losing customers."

Still, there's no denying the power in its nearly 2 million Instagram followers who often eagerly await the brand's latest product announcement on its rose-tinted social media profiles. As for an initial public offering, Weiss told the Journal, "We are certainly in a position where…we are able to do that," but offered no further details.

Glossier did not immediately respond to CNBC Make It's request for comment.

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