She's built the second-biggest wedding planning site in the U.S.
Shan-Lyn Ma launched Zola in 2013 with one product: a wedding registry. Four years later, after multiple customers requested it, she released a suite of free tools to help plan weddings. Couples could now use Zola to create wedding websites that managed guest lists and other details. It was a runaway hit. “I think pretty much the day we launched in 2017, it just took off,” says Ma, who leveraged that traction to close a $100 million Series D round in May 2018. In the past 12 months, Zola released three more products and became the nation’s No. 2 wedding site behind the Knot. More than a million couples have plotted matrimony on Zola. “We started to expand our vision. We want to serve couples throughout the entire wedding planning journey,” says Ma. “Everything we do fits about five or six categories, and over time we want to be that one-stop shop.” --Guadalupe Gonzalez
She just wanted her product to be effective. Now she has Sephora's fastest-growing skin care brand.
Tiffany Masterson never set out to create a cult skin care brand. She just wanted to make “something as effective as what you can find in the dermatologist’s office,” she says. After spending two years researching the ingredients commonly found in skin care products, the Houstonian singled out six that could potentially trigger issues in people’s skin. In 2012, she enlisted a chemist who used her research to whip up Drunk Elephant, a line of clinically effective products that became popular in a hurry. By 2016, Drunk Elephant was on the favorites wall of Sephora; between 2016 and 2018, Drunk Elephant quadrupled revenue to “well over” $100 million. As Masterson mulls selling the company for $1 billion, she is expanding to Hong Kong, and she also has her eyes set on the U.K. and Australia as well as the launch of “lifestyle” products. “The reason we do well is because we are who we are,” says the founder. “It’s not this bravado type of attitude with us.” --Jill Krasny
Forget the big brands. She raised nearly $300 million to license and sell independent art and design.
In the years leading up to the recession, well before the advent of Pinterest and Instagram, Mariam Naficy had an idea: Why not build an e-commerce platform that crowdsources designs from independent artisans rather than relying on major (and expensive) labels? She launched Minted in 2007 as a retailer of stationery, ultimately expanding into categories including textiles, art, and home décor. “Our model is fundamentally successful because of meritocracy,” Naficy says, with designers entering Minted competitions and consumers voting for the designs they want to see for sale. “It ensures that irrelevant factors such as education, wealth, and connections do not stand in the way of the best artists finding their way to the market.” Today, more than 12 years later, Minted continues to grow. This summer it launched a licensing arm with partners including Method, which makes soap bottles based on Minted designs, and Samsung, which has a line of TVs that can display a gallery of art and photos. Minted now has more than 400 employees, 15,000 designers, and revenue in the low hundreds of millions. The company is profitable, too. Last year, Naficy raised a mind-bending $208 million in funding—the most in a single round by a female founder, ever. --Zoë Henry
She burst onto the acne market with a Korean-beauty-inspired product.
Early this year Ju Rhyu was thrilled when Target agreed to sell Hero Cosmetics’ Mighty Patch pus-absorbing acne bandages in 700 stores. In May, she was ecstatic, and somewhat daunted, when the retailer more than doubled its order so it could supply 1,524 stores—and not two months before Mighty Patch was due to hit its shelves. “We had to place a manufacturing order before we got the official purchase order, so there was some risk there,” says Rhyu. “But we did it.” The beauty sampler business Birchbox offered Hero’s hydrocolloid patches, which create a moist environment for healing, on its site last year; this year, it included them in a special assortment for some Walgreens stores. Mighty Patch is also for sale in retailers American Eagle, Free People, Urban Outfitters, Neiman Marcus, Goop, and Anthropologie—all less than two years after debuting on Amazon. Rhyu—who discovered the patch in her native Korea, where she was working for Samsung—is now prepping two new products. One, also a patch, attacks developing pimples with microneedles made of hyaluronic acid and an acne-fighting ingredient. The other restores the skin post-pimple, meaning Hero now addresses every stage of the pimple life cycle. --Leigh Buchanan
Getting her woman-first sex toys to market was worth fighting for.
After beating cancer, Polly Rodriguez found that a side effect of her radiation treatment was menopause at age 21. The experience caused her to rethink her body and to research lubricants and the world of sexual wellness--which led to the realization that most sex toys were made by men, and weren’t optimal for women. Rodriguez set out to make vibrators that don’t need to be hidden in the sock drawer: one looks like a beauty blender (it’s a teardrop sponge, gents); another is a chunky geometric metal ring. And she has found more than 250,000 customers while facing two massive hurdles: Her company is considered a “moral hazard,” like gambling, and most investment firms won’t touch it. (Despite that, she raised $3.7 million.) And makers of sex toys are prohibited from advertising on Facebook and other social media, the most obvious places to find their customers. Rodriguez has been vocal about the double standard in men’s and women’s health, and has partnered with Dame Products to launch a campaign called Approved, Not Approved to raise awareness of how that inequity plays out in sexual wellness advertising. “My most audacious goal is for Unbound to be a household brand name,” says Rodriguez, “and for vibrators and lubricants to be considered as mainstream as condoms and the little blue pill.” --Christine Lagorio-Chafkin