How One Woman's Cosmetic Company 'Gramed Its Way to Insta-Success

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Ask 30-year-old Emily Weiss whether she runs her skincare line, Glossier, as a product company or as an online media company with a merchandising arm, and she replies, simply, “Yes.”

The former New York University art student, fashion intern at Teen Vogue and fashion assistant at W and Vogue started her website, Into the Gloss, in 2010 as a way to learn and share tips from women she admired, including Arianna Huffington, J.Crew creative director Jenna Lyons and the world’s top makeup artists. Weiss’ background in fashion editorial put her in touch with many of them, and her interest in their beauty regimens inspired The Top Shelf feature on her site, for which she and her team visit women in their homes and explore the products they use and why.

Women took notice—Millennials in particular—and Into the Gloss quickly attracted more than 1 million visitors per month. Its Instagram feed grew to 184,000 followers before Glossier even launched. “I see all those readers as my co-conspirators,” Weiss says. “We’ve created a community around each woman discovering and defining her own idea of beauty and showing her how to do it, not being force-fed that idea by fashion magazines and cosmetic companies.”

The Glossier line came out of listening to that community and its real-life needs. “Today’s woman has five minutes to do her face before she’s flying out the door,” says Weiss, who lives in New York City. “That’s her reality, but she still wants to look good and needs to do it with minimal effort.”

To meet her tribe’s needs, Weiss initially zeroed in on an affordable selection of four skincare products—priming moisturizer, tint, mist and balm—none priced higher than $26 and all designed to help customers put their freshest face forward.

She took her concept to venture capitalists and secured a total of $10.4 million in two funding rounds—the first, in 2013, led by Kirsten Green’s Forerunner Ventures; the second, last year, led by Thrive Capital and including Bonobos founder Andy Dunn.

“Pointing to Into the Gloss’s existing social media reach made it easy to get the money,” Weiss says. “They also liked the market size for cosmetics—$250 billion worldwide—and the opportunity to bring innovation to an industry that’s behind the times when it comes to marketing to younger women today. So many companies try to create content and a community around an existing product. We started with the community and came out with a product line to support it.”

In less than a year, Weiss went from hashing out the formulas for each product with a team of 15 to banking revenue in the multiple millions (she declined to be more specific) and managing a staff of 30. The launch of Glossier has also boosted Into the Gloss, which has seen its Instagram audience jump 45 percent to 236,000.

“Our customer is on Instagram, and it’s how and where she’s crafting her online persona, so we had to be there,” Weiss says. “We used Instagram to launch Glossier, and that’s really where the brand is taking shape.”

Twitter also represents a big base for the company, with nearly 6,000 Glossier followers adding to the 125,000 followers of Into The Gloss. Weiss is keen on tapping various social platforms differently—less as a bunch of news feeds and more like individual stores with unique inventories and customer bases. “Last year was launching Glossier,” she says. “This year we’re trying to figure out how to better bring together content, community and commerce.”

At first blush, it appears to be working.