Makeup Goes Mil­len­nial

How Colour pop is put­ting a new face on the on­line cos­met­ics busi­ness

Fast Company - - Contents - By Sheila Marikar

Colour­pop’s dig­i­tal-first strat­egy has made it a ris­ing star in the cos­met­ics in­dus­try.

Sib­ling en­trepreneurs Laura and John Nel­son launched Colour pop with a sim­ple idea: makeup that would be na­tive to Instagram, not drug­store shelves. It was 2014, and the duo—both work­ing as ex­ec­u­tives at Spatz Lab­o­ra­to­ries, their fa­ther’s beauty in­dus­try sup­ply com­pany—saw Instagram and Youtube per­son­al­i­ties post­ing makeup tu­to­ri­als that were at­tract­ing huge au­di­ences. The Nel­sons also noted an uptick in over­all cos­met­ics spend­ing, which they at­trib­uted to ex­cite­ment over those how-to videos and on­line prod­uct en­dorse­ments.

Tak­ing ad­van­tage of Spatz’s high-vol­ume man­u­fac­tur­ing in­fras­truc­ture, they cre­ated a com­pany called Seed Beauty, which they hoped would serve as an um­brella for a range of new brands. The first of these was Colour pop, of­fer­ing prod­ucts specif­i­cally aimed at the kind of young peo­ple who were ob­sess­ing over, say, Youtube demos of how to do a cat eye.

To­day, Colour pop and Seed are ma­jor play­ers in the makeup busi­ness (Colour pop has more than 4 mil­lion Instagram fol­low­ers—four times as many as Revlon). Seed now acts as an in­cu­ba­tor and ven­ture-cap­i­tal fund

for a range of makeup com­pa­nies. Its high­est-pro­file brand is Kylie Jen­ner’s Kylie Cos­met­ics, and it pro­duces lines for so­cial me­dia stars such as Jenn Im, Kath­leen Lights, and Kar­rueche Tran. The com­pany’s mer­chan­dise is de­vel­oped and made on its 200,000-square-foot Ox­nard, Cal­i­for­nia, cam­pus. On any given week, Laura says, there are at least 1,000 dif­fer­ent prod­ucts be­ing man­u­fac­tured across the en­ter­prises.

In an in­dus­try dom­i­nated by multi­na­tional stal­warts, the Nel­sons’s dig­i­tal-first strat­egy has al­lowed them to tap into a cus­tomer base that has lit­tle in­ter­est in the brick-and-mor­tar re­tail ex­pe­ri­ence. “For us, [dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing] is like breath­ing,” says Laura, who serves as the com­pany’s pres­i­dent (her brother is CEO). “You don’t think about when you’re go­ing to take a breath, or how, or how long. It’s a fluid, nat­u­ral part of the rhythm.”

Be­cause it makes its own prod­ucts and sells ex­clu­sively on­line, Colour­pop is able to un­der­cut the prices of more es­tab­lished brands; its most pop­u­lar item, an ul­tra­matte lip­stick, costs $6 (sim­i­lar ones at Sephora start at around $12). The com­pany can zip from con­cept to mar­ket in a mat­ter of days, cap­i­tal­iz­ing on fast-mov­ing trends. Take that lip­stick: The Nel­sons no­ticed that sim­i­lar prod­ucts were trend­ing on so­cial me­dia in early 2015, and by sum­mer, they had their own take ready to go—long be­fore the her­itage brands could re­act. The con­cept is sim­i­lar to that of “fast fash­ion” brands such as Zara, which make their own ver­sions of high-end de­signer cloth­ing items at much cheaper prices.

But Colour­pop isn’t sim­ply knock­ing off luxury goods. In­stead, it’s re­act­ing to what­ever dig­i­tal in­flu­encers are ex­cited about at any given mo­ment, whether it’s a costly MAC eye shadow or a dis­count-store NYX lip­stick. Em­ploy­ees are in con­stant con­tact with cus­tomers, of­ten mak­ing fast tweaks to prod­ucts or strat­egy in re­sponse to on­line feed­back. “Our busi­ness model gives us the op­por­tu­nity to be very in tune with fans,” Laura says. “When you ask them to get en­gaged, it’s im­por­tant to show an im­me­di­ate re­sponse. If it takes months, they feel dis­en­fran­chised. Like, ‘Why should I even tell you what I think?’ ”

From the start, a core el­e­ment of Colour­pop’s strat­egy has been match­ing its makeup to the right on­line beauty stars, who spread aware­ness with tremen­dous ef­fi­ciency. Ev­ery em­ployee—there are cur­rently around 1,000, with an av­er­age age of 25—is ex­pected to closely fol­low the beauty-in­flu­encer world, no mat­ter how tech­ni­cal their role at Colour­pop is. “We have for­mu­la­tors, chemists, and color match­ers who say, ‘This shade I de­vel­oped, we have to send it to this blog­ger,’ ” Laura says. That ef­fort doesn’t go un­no­ticed. “They come up with things you wouldn’t imag­ine wear­ing, but you put it on the right in­flu­encer and it looks per­fect,” says Karen Gon­za­lez, a makeup per­son­al­ity with more than 3 mil­lion Instagram fol­low­ers. “It makes you want to step out of your box. Some brands, you don’t hear from them [very of­ten]. Colour­pop isn’t like that—it’s con­stantly hap­pen­ing.”

Two more Seed brands are set to launch in 2017 (the com­pany isn’t ready to re­veal de­tails). And while the Nel­sons say that they cur­rently have no plans to move into brick-and-mor­tar stores, they are work­ing on ways to make their small-screen brands more tan­gi­ble, such as live events. “We’ve heard from our fans that they want to see and touch Colour­pop in real life,” Laura says. “We’re try­ing to come up with in­ter­est­ing and cre­ative ways to do that.” As for fu­ture Colour­pop prod­ucts and celebrity part­ner­ships? The Nel­sons have no idea—which is ex­actly how they like it. “We’re not com­ing at this from a top-down ap­proach,” Laura says. “It’s not a per­son­al­ity-driven brand; it’s not a makeup-artist brand. We want to lis­ten to our fans more than we want them to lis­ten to us.”

“When you ask fans to get en­gaged, it’s im­por­tant to show an im­me­di­ate re­sponse.”

Bright ideas A key part of Colour­pop pres­i­dent Laura Nel­son’s strat­egy is re­act­ing fast to fan feed­back.

Wel­come matte

An as­sort­ment of Colour­pop’s prod­ucts, in­clud­ing its ul­tra-matte lip­stick

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