Wednesday Dec 4, 2013 by Dennis Keohane - Staff Writer, VentureFizz
Recently, I had the chance to talk with one of Gloss48's co-founders, Laura Bronner, about the niche beauty product marketplace that she, Jill Kravetz, and Jodi Slater started and officially relaunched last month.
I learned a lot about this up-and-coming former MassChallenge company. I also learned that beauty products are like craft beer, that green is the best shade of eye shadow for me, and that Gloss48 wants to dominate the world of beauty products.
Here is the entire conversation:
Where does the name 'Gloss48' come from?
Bronner: "Originally, we really wanted to emphasize the fact that we are content and commerce; we are a discovery site for niche beauty brands. A big piece of that is creating an online magazine, so 'gloss' references the glossy pages of a magazine and, also, the gloss, the sort of sheen, you get from beauty products such as lip gloss, etc."
"During an investor meeting, someone turned to us and asked, 'I mean how many products could a woman possibly use?' So we sat down and came up with a credible number of products that a woman could use from start to finish in one day. We ended up coming up with forty-eight. That's everything from toothpaste, to hair conditioner, to a hairdryer and more."
So how did Gloss48 come to be?
"Jill and I started the company a couple of years ago. Jill was the first female partner at the Parthenon Group, and then she started Cue Ball. After that, she started a local chain of nail and waxing salons called MiniLuxe. She hired me while I was working on a salon project in Chicago, and I moved to Boston to help Jill run MiniLuxe."
"We started talking about what we should do next, and we started focusing on these amazing niche brands that we had been selling at MiniLuxe."
Why niche brands?
"We knew our customers loved them. They were brands you couldn't find at Sephora or the department stores. They were really unique, they were fun. There was a big gap in the market because Sephora and the department stores were moving away from these types of brands."
So what is the niche beauty market like?
"The beauty product industry is a lot like the beer industry. Most beers that the average person can name are owned by a few major conglomerates. Even if you think its a craft beer, its probably owned by Anheuser-Busch."
"Its very similar in the beauty industry. Most of the brands that you can get at Sephora and the department stores are owned by a few major brands (Estée Lauder, L'Oreal, etc.)."
"Like the craft beer industry, there are these amazing products out there that are started by founders who have this specific need or passion. They create incredible products. There are definitely consumers looking for them, but they have zero marketing budget and they have no way to distribute."
"On the consumer side, shoppers can't really get access to this universe of niche brands. You kind of need a bartender to show you around a little bit, so Gloss48 brings together those communities."
Where do these niche brands come from?
"It's fairly easy to start a beauty line. Because the industry is so dominated by these enormous companies, there is a lot of creativity and competition on the niche level; there is a lot of room to do something different.
What was one of the key growth moments for Gloss48?
"Jill and I realized that we were business folks and we needed a tech person. That's when we found Jodi."
"Jodi is a user experience expert, a thorough, through and through beauty-junkie, and she specializes in taking offline experiences, like shopping for beauty products, and bringing them online."
"It was really fortuitous that we came across each other."
So then Gloss48 as it is today was borne?
"The three of us ran a beta test for fifteen weeks. We built the site ourselves, packed boxes of goods, etc."
"We got to a point where we were spending so much time running the day-to-day business that we couldn't keep up with it. So we put the site on hold, and did a round of fundraising."
"We raised funds in May, rebuilt the site and rebranded as Gloss48. We did a soft relaunch in October and then officially launched in November. The funding was from a group of angel investors." [To this date, Gloss48 has raised $800K in funding]
How did you connect with the PayPal StartTank?
"We had heard about the PayPal StartTank through a couple of different channels. One of them was through Karen Murphy and 85Broads. It was perfect because we were working from home for almost two years, were about to hire a team, and needed office space and all the resources that the Start Tank could provide."
What will success would look like down the road for Gloss48?
"Total Beauty Industry Domination." [Bronner was somewhat joking, but, you could tell, she was somewhat serious as well.]
So what sets Gloss48 apart from anyone else in the beauty industry?
"We really set out to do something different, and something that is new and fresh in the beauty industry. Part of that is offering these niche brands that are really exciting and not available anywhere else. Part of it is also that the tone of our content is very anti-beauty industry."
"The beauty industry tends to be pink and soft and we are anything but that."
So how has the response been so far?
"What we've learned so far is that women are really excited about it and they find it fresh and exciting."
"We've already got a ton of users and we've only been live for a few weeks."
What's next in terms of innovation for Gloss48?
"We have technology in place where we can learn about our customers and start offering them products that are more personalized."
"If we know that you, Dennis, like green eye shadow [How did she know?], then I can make sure that when the green eye-shadow goes on sale, you'll be one of the first to know about it."
"We have all that tech in place, it's just a matter of collecting enough data and implementing it in a way that is meaningful."
Is Gloss48 making any money?
"I can tell you that it is exceeding our expectations. We are seeing significant growth and that is more exciting than anything."
Gloss48 is definitely a company to keep an eye on. Bronner, Kravetz, and Slater have been adding team members and new customers each day. They have great founding leadership and a market that is ripe for disruption. Also, Bronner is pretty good at keeping a straight face while being "done up" for the camera: