In a few short years, Emily Weiss' brand Glossier will be one of the top leaders in the beauty industry. Why? Modern consumers are more sophisticated than ever, and companies like Glossier that produce quality products and create authentic connections with their audience will succeed. To savvy business leaders like Emily Weiss, profitability and sales are second to genuine conversations. By putting the focus on creating real connections and investing in the lives of their customers, the Glossier brand has accumulated lifelong fans and advocates.
"We believe that beauty should be fun, easy, imperfect, and personal. Above all, we believe that you give life to products--products don't breathe life into you."
Duane: What did you want to be when you were a kid?
Emily: It depends on how old I was. I was really interested in being a veterinarian. As a kid, like a teenager, when I realized there was more to life than just being a veterinarian or firefighter, there's more options. I wanted to be a business owner, like a store owner. I really wanted to create a boutique, kind of like a curated boutique. I remember I even gave it a name called the The Edit.
I always was really fascinated by building brands and by brand environment. Around the year '95 I was 10, so between then and 2003 were my formative teenage years. It was the era of Contempo Casuals and Hot Topic and 5-7-9 and all the mall stores. I really wanted to create a brand -- some kind of fashion or style, or lifestyle kind of brand.
Even when I was 9 or 10 and other people were doing lemonade stands I started a baked clay jewelry company. I created business cards and a logo and created pre-collateral and stationery, kind of all the sort of collateral that sort of goes along with that brand. It was called Clay Creations and More. I don't know what the "More" was because it was actually just clay.
After spending time in fashion publishing, I think it was interesting that you went to digital and almost like a tech side. What did you see that showed you there was opportunity there?
I think it was a natural evolution based on time. I think print will always be beautiful, wonderful and luxurious in its own way because it's an object, but in terms of where I was getting my information, my day-to-day consumption of style and beauty information and inspiration, everything went toward digital.
I wanted to create something I wasn't seeing in the market with relation to beauty. I felt like I was being left behind -- left out or spoken down to by the beauty industry and by the pre-existing beauty platforms that were out there. This was in 2010. I guess the medium for "Into the Gloss" was just almost secondary to the main mission which was to create this new positioning for beauty, for girls like me.
The medium became digital because: A) it was easier to do and took less capital. I think I invested like $750 initially. And B) because it just made sense. I think creating an online platform was the right medium for what were doing. I think now still, even with Glossier, the mission kind of remains the same and what we're doing is still striving to rethink beauty and elevate it, but also make it accessible to everyone. That's why with Glossier we're making use of extremely high quality "luxury products" going direct to consumers so that we can both have a better connection with that consumer and make it accessible for them in price and distribution, hopefully alleviating all those stressers that come with the beauty shop experience right now.
What have you learned the hard way?
I think everything you learn the hard way. I didn't go to business school. For me, everything I've done is learned because I went to art school. I'm an entrepreneur at heart, but I have no formal training besides just firsthand experience. I've learned everything the hard way. I'm fortunate in that I haven't had a massive debilitating fuck up yet. I mean, knock on wood. I'm sure I will and I'm sure I'll probably be better off having gone through it whenever it happens.
There is such an incredible number of both opportunities and evolutions. I don't know who said this, but I think it's really true: "Startups don't starve, they drown." I think that's really interesting because it speaks to the fact that there's an overwhelming number of options and an overwhelming number of things to do and not enough resources in people, in time and in money to do everything. Hence the drowning. You have to make the right decisions. Just be able to recognize that it's time for change and then adapt accordingly.
What characteristic or personality trait of yours has been key to getting your business where it is now?
Probably just genuine, true passion. What is that saying? For every two steps forward you take one step back. Or is it for every one step forward you take two steps back? Whatever it is, you're trying a bunch of shit. You're throwing a ton of stuff at the wall and you're hoping it works. In a lot of cases it doesn't, and so the only thing that keeps you going -- it's not money, it's not quality of life -- the one thing that keeps you going through testing and learning, is the entire job is basically loving what you're going after and really believing it's something that will improve other people's lives. I think what has kept me going through the years at Into the Gloss and now Glossier is getting that feedback from women who have touched and seen it.
It makes me feel more comfortable with myself to know that what we're doing is actually improving women's lives. I can only speak for myself as a CEO and founder of this company, but I think the rest of my team would probably say the same thing. They're here because of the mission. I think the number one thing that's allowed it to be successful and to keep going, is that we haven't given up.
I think passion is so important because if your team believes in their leader, and usually it's because of the leader's passion, they buy into it and become advocates for the brand. Also, they'll make sacrifices when things are difficult to go the extra mile. I think you do a good job of that, I can tell they believe in your mission.
You can't fake it. If you don't have that passion I feel like everything is so much harder. Then it becomes a job and you're just going to work.
You hit on a couple things in the last question, talking about throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks. Passion to drive when things are difficult. That's a great point. I believe when you launch a business one of the most difficult things is managing the highs and lows. There's no certainty to anything you're doing, it's either feast or famine. You're either super happy or super frustrated. How do you get through those low parts? What do you think, how do you get through those difficult times?
I think personal time and experience just helps with that. Period. You let things, both high and low, you kind of just surf through them. For me, it's not letting either of those things affect me too much. When something is so great, it's about not losing our heads and saying okay, everything's wonderful! It's so great! I'm so excited! I think it's knowing that everything happens and there's those great moments, but that doesn't mean we've made it. There's the freak out moments where something has gone wrong and that doesn't mean we're fucked.
What are you most proud of so far to date in your career?
Probably the thing I'm most proud of is that this company over the years, and especially today more than ever, has enabled a very, very large segment of women who, whether they knew it or not, were passive beauty consumers. Kind of skeptical maybe? Very, very smart, but skeptical beauty consumers who maybe felt like they didn't really trust beauty. They didn't really feel like beauty had their best interest at heart, or they didn't feel like they really had a friend to help them understand beauty in a way that spoke to them.
I'm happy that there's this huge audience of women around the world who have become active in their beauty lives. They've taken ownership over their relationship with beauty and we've been able to help them do that. It's no longer something that is superimposed on these women. It's no longer that they feel like they're being sold to or marketed to and don't want to engage with beauty because it's cheesy or it's too much BS.
I was one of those women before, and I think Glossier is really enabling a lot of those women. They're writing us saying "Finally, I have a company that I can relate to and have products that do what they say they're going to do. I feel more comfortable and I feel excited about beauty in a way that I haven't before." I think that's the thing that makes me the most proud.
What advice would you give someone who wants to start their own business?
Study a lot. Become very, very informed and very educated on the market you're going into. What kind of capital you would need to do what you're going to do. What sort of partners you need in order to do what you need to do. When you might become profitable.
Basically just educate yourself, and if I can do it then anyone can do it because I educated myself from reading business books and talking to people who had MBAs.
Being vulnerable is important, because in order to become the most prepared you have to admit that you don't know the answers right away. There's a fine line between pitching and selling and saying "I'm right," and also being open to feedback. Maybe I say something about my company and a person across the table from me, whether it's a VP, whether it's an editor, or whether it's a customer, says, "Well, actually I disagree. Have you considered this?" I find that just being vulnerable is important for an entrepreneur. Being able to ask questions and learn, constantly learn, is the number one most important thing.
Finally, what makes you happy?
I think I'm most happy when the team who's here really gets fired up about something that they're working on totally on their own. They're just firing on all fronts and on their own trip of wanting to improve part of the business, or they thought of some opportunity and they're just grabbing it by the horns and going for it. I think that's what makes me the most excited because those are the times that I feel the most excited, too. We're a team of 25 people, so those eureka moments are really exciting to watch.
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