This interview series features inspiring female entrepreneurs who have launched and run successful businesses. Through our peers’ experiences, we can learn practical lessons and insights to empower us on our entrepreneurial paths. Crucially, storytelling de-risks entrepreneurship so we believe it is an essential pillar in closing the opportunity gap for female founders.
Firstly, tell us a bit about you?
SF: I’ve been in the beauty industry for 12 years working as beauty journalist across various different titles, including Grazia, Tatler and Stylist. My background in beauty gave me the knowledge and contacts to start Curate Beauty, which officially launched in February 2020. I am a huge beauty advocate and love discovering new brands, products and innovations.
MV: And I’m Margot, I’ve spent my career in retail, working in buying and merchandise planning at Saks Fifth Ave, then in account management and marketing at an agency focused on brand growth within Amazon’s Luxury Beauty program, and at that time I also got a master’s in behavioural science. Working at a department store and with brands on Amazon, two businesses on very different trajectories, it became clear that neither model worked particularly well for small brands that don’t have the budgets to allocate to margin support or Amazon marketing and there had to be another solution, which is when Sam and I came up with Curate Beauty – the UK’s first wholesale marketplace for indie beauty brands.
Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?
SF: Working as a beauty editor, I was able to witness the explosion of the indie beauty category first hand. I loved that these brands had so much passion, purpose and authenticity. But when I had the chance to speak to their founders, they all explained the struggles that came with finding great complementary stockists. So together, we decided to create a wholesale marketplace platform for indie brands, where retailers could browse, buy and checkout with multiple brands, all on one site. We are essentially eliminating the need for them to go to trade shows, saving them time, resources and providing them with our expertise too!
What was the moment that everything changed for you? Describe that moment when you decided to fully commit to your idea and the first few steps you took to make it possible.
SF: After I left Grazia, where I was a beauty editor, but before we launched the Curate Beauty platform I was working as a consultant for retailers who were looking to add a beauty retail arm. I would do the buying for them, but as it grew and I signed more brands and more retailers, it was incredibly tricky to manage. I met Margot about a year ago, and we worked together on Just Add Beauty but struggled with the overload of admin that came with the current buying model. So we decided to digitise the buying process for today’s digital-first retailer. That for us, was our eureka moment!
What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them?
MV: We’ve bootstrapped the business so far only putting in our own money, which has meant we’ve had to run as lean as possible and cut costs at every opportunity. I think trying to run a business with minimal cash is something so many people have to do, but we’re really proud to have a streamlined approach to our marketplace. We don’t hold any stock ourselves as we work on a drop shipment model, meaning we don’t have to pay for the stock, hold it or ship it!
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
SF: We found out the second week into lockdown that we’d made it onto a startup accelerator with Huckletree. It was like going to business school, but we could put everything we’d learnt directly into practice with our business. To get onto the programme was such an honour and made us really feel like our business had something special, as there were so many applicants and only six businesses that made it through.
Did you take the investment route for your business or are you self-funded? Can you share some insights on your decision and the process?
MV: As mentioned previously, we are currently self-funded but are beginning to fundraise for our seed round now. We’re looking for angel investors who are passionate about the beauty tech industry, and we’d love to find people with marketplace, retail, or applicable commercial experience. We want to take the angel route in order to add value to our business not just through the financial contribution but also through individual mentorship, advice, and personal relationships that we hope to cultivate with our investors. We’ve made the decision that looking to the future it’s crucial for us to grow sustainably, not just grow for growth’s sake. We want to build a business that creates real value over time, even if that means year over year revenue growth isn’t quite as sexy as it would be with a growth at any cost attitude.
What has been your best investment?
SF: Without a doubt, our first employee. She joined us six months before our site launched, she loves beauty (having been a previous beauty writer) and has a knack for discovering great brands for the platform. She is really driven and hard-working, and it’s made getting Curate Beauty to where it is now incredibly exciting.
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
MV: Definitely. It’s been almost exactly one year since we started work on Curate Beauty, and as with everything in life, we’ve learned so much through our mistakes. I’d say the first and biggest lesson is always to shop around. Looking back, we paid far more than we should have on legal and accounting because we just went with the first options presented. Next lesson was that we didn’t really integrate ourselves into the startup community in London until about 4 months ago, which I wish we had done immediately. The resource sharing, camaraderie, and brainstorming power of just being around other founders who are going through the same things you are is invaluable. I wish we’d had that sooner.
What’s your experience of being a woman in the startup ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
MV: Both Sam and I went to all-girls schools our whole lives, have sisters, and worked in majority-female industries (fashion and beauty) our entire careers. I think from growing up in environments that protected us from the pressures of navigating gendered expectations and coming of age in industries where women were front and centre all the time, neither of us is intimidated by the prospect of being female founders. I can’t think of a single negative experience we’ve had as female founders in the startup ecosystem so far, but that may also have to do with who we surround ourselves with, as beauty tech is a female-dominated industry. However, there is no denying the ridiculous disparities in funding, which I think will only truly be solved by changing the makeup of who is making investment decisions. As I’ve done a lot of research recently on Angels and VCs, it is clear that female representation isn’t anywhere near high enough in the investor community. However, I do think that the issues of representation are more urgent in regards to racial diversity at the moment. Most of the firms I looked at had a woman or two on their investment boards, but I don’t recall seeing a single person of colour.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
SF: Hiring great people to help build the business. I think it’s impossible to be good at everything, so hiring people that have different skillsets to you is imperative. I was so elated when I met Margot, she handles all of the things I hate but that are so important to a successful business – finance, logistics and operations. And thankfully, my side of the business, which is more marketing, sales and customer relations is what she tends to shy away from.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
SF: My Dad was the reason I left the world of publishing and started my company. He was a fantastic entrepreneur who had built an incredible business from scratch without any help. We were lucky enough to have him mentor us in the very early stages of Curate Beauty, but he sadly passed away very suddenly after an accident in October. It was heartbreaking not having him at the launch in February, but I know he’ll be watching over us and guiding us in the right direction, to make the right choices.
With the future in mind, where would you like to be/where do you see yourself in the next five years?
MV: We would love Curate Beauty to be the leaders in indie beauty wholesale. It would be an absolute dream to expand across different continents and be able to bring our service to thousands of independent retailers worldwide.
Can you tell us one of your goals for 2020?
SF: Honestly, make Curate a success! Having launched it just one month before the global pandemic, we have been working so hard to meet our targets and get the business out there and known. We are proud to now have over 120 brands signed up and over 100 retailers, but there’s still a long way to go…
What can our readers do to support your business?
MV: If you’re a retailer looking to stock an incredible range of innovative indie brands, then please make an account with us! We aren’t charging any commission currently, we send all retailers a complimentary sample pack, and delivery of stock is also free.
If you’re a beauty brand looking to find new stockists, please also get in touch with us too. We’d love to help find you new stockist opportunities utilising our impressive retailer pool.
What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?
SF: I really enjoy the podcast ‘How I Built This‘, it’s so inspiring to hear how these big-name founders started their companies. Margot recently sent me ‘Startups and Downs‘ a book by Mona Bijoor which I’ve really found inspiring reading, especially for where we are in our business and I also really love Courier Magazine, it’s a brilliant publication really focusing on entrepreneurs and new businesses, I find so many ideas in there that I tear out and keep in my notebook.
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
SF: Firstly, you have to love what you do if you’re going to do it every day, but also 24/7. Starting a business is full-on and takes up so much of your time and life, so if you don’t love it, don’t do it! I also think if you’re thinking about starting something, there is no ‘perfect time’ to launch, but if you keep delaying it you will never know how great it could have been!
Where can we find you?
About your author
Leah Williams is the Blog Editor for Found & Flourish, working with Founder Lara Sheldrake to ensure every piece of published content is empowering, inspiring and well presented, just like the women we work with.
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