Glossier : Blog to business
How Glossier used content and community to become one of the top D2C brands in the US
This week let’s get into the A2Z of how Glossier created a cult with more than 60,000 people on waitlists for their products and long queues outside their stores.
In 2014, when large brands talked down to customers, constantly telling them what their skin needed, Glossier entered as a warm hug for them. They leveraged social media to create products by really listening to their customers.
Going from 11 rejections from VCs in their seed round to a $100 Mn+ revenue brand, Glossier has transformed the game in the beauty industry.
It all started with a passion project - “Into the Gloss”
Emily Weiss, the founder of Glossier, used to be a fashion assistant at Teen Vogue magazine in 2009. She had met several celebrities and had seen their beauty routines. She found this very fascinating and knew everyone else also would. So, she bought a $750 used camera and started a personal blog “Into the gloss” cataloguing the beauty secrets of fashion insiders. She used to work on this as a side hustle from 4 am to 8 am every day before going in for her job.
She showed the medical cabinets of celebs like Kim Kardashian and Karlie Kloss in a section called “Top Shelf”. This made the blog an instant hit. Everyone wanted to know what products they were using. It was both voyeuristic and useful at the same time.
She was consistent with the content and within 2 years, the blog had 200K monthly users. This consistently grew and reached 1 Mn in 4 years’ time.
She sensed a unanimous dissatisfaction from her community with the large beauty brands
Over time, the community members began to share their personal beauty tips and tricks with the community. This evolved into a “dossier”, a collection of reviews on various beauty products out there. Fun fact: dossier was the inspiration for the name Glossier.
Emily constantly heard from the community that they wanted something mild, something more suitable to wear to work. But none of the large brands was listening to this need, they just couldn’t - they were serving the retailers and not the consumers.
Glossier counter positioned against the incumbents as a “No-makeup makeup brand”. They believed in accenting natural looks instead of painting the skin.
They even challenged the incumbents on “Why should brands define beauty”. It was born from the core of the “Into the gloss” community, where everyone could have their own opinion of beauty. In the beauty category, this thought was powerful as consumers were already making purchase decisions based on their peers.
“What I don’t think is fun is editing yourself and aspiring to finally arrive at some idea or picture of perfect, untouchable “glamour?”
Emily wrote in the launch post for Into the Gloss
After No(s) from 11 VCs, they got their first $1M in funding in 2013
By early 2011, Emily had started working on Into the Gloss full time and hired an editorial director. After identifying the gap in the market for Glossier, she began pitching the idea to VCs and very famously received 11 "no(s)” before getting a “yes” from Kristen Green, founder of Forerunner Ventures.
“I sat across the table from many men who might not have necessarily understood the difference between foundation and tinted moisturizer.” - Emily after her seed round
She then hired a chemist to create Glossier’s first four products. The Soothing Face Mist, Priming Moisturiser, Balm Dotcom lip gloss and Perfecting Skin Tint foundation went live on Glossier.com in October of 2014.
Launching with only 4 products, they quickly became a cult redefining luxury
On the first day itself, they received 953 orders and it only went upwards from there.
While the product pricing (ranging from $10 - $40) would put them in a mass-premium segment, they were being used by celebrities like Beyonce, Michelle Obama, and Timothee Chalamet due to all the buzz on social media. In the process, they built the notion of “affordable luxury”, redefining luxury from being exclusive (and expensive) to giving control of the product to the customer.
Contrary to traditional brands, Glossier operated with very high attention to detail and obsessed about its principles, design and packaging. The parcels came in a cute brown box with baby pink interiors with slogans like “skin first, makeup second, smile always”. The make-up in the box came in a plastic pink bag bubble wrap.
Their customers started to carry around this pink bag as a clutch, almost showing off to the world that they belong to the Glossier cult. It became so iconic that the company started selling it a-la-carte for $12 for 3. The box also had lots of cute stickers which became another way of showing off Glossier. The cult behaviour was so real that customers started posting “glossier pink” anywhere they saw it in the real world.
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79% of their sales in Year 1 came from organic sources
The cult following that Glossier built showed in their numbers too. They were growing primarily via word of mouth with 79% of their sales in the first year happening organically.
“Less is more” - very selective product launches led to strong hype around the brand
They created hype by releasing a limited number of SKUs and limited quantities in each SKU. Even after 4 years, they only had 40 SKUs. This entire strategy added to their appeal. At one point they had 60k people on the waitlist for their products. This waitlist behaviour translated offline as well where they had long queues of people outside their limited stores. Their flagship NYC store saw a whopping 50K visitors a month (pre-pandemic).
In 2018, Glossier sold a tube of Boy Brow (a brow gel in different colour options) every 32 seconds. They crossed ~$100 Mn in sales in 2019.
Rise of Instagram opened up the ability to closely interact with the customers first time ever, Glossier leveraged it well
“Listen to customers” - they said, Glossier did. From the genesis of the brand to the development of each product, their community was their sounding board.
If we can engage customers further up the [sales] funnel and earlier in product development and brand strategy, we will be in a position to create what people actually want.” - Henry Davis, CFO
A classic example of this is the journey of their “Milky jelly cleanser” It simply started with Emily asking the community
“What would your dream cleaner look like? Smell like? Feel like? Do for you? Not do for you? Who would play it in a movie?” - Emily
Lots of feedback started pouring in and they found that women hated having to use 2 products - makeup remover and face wash to cleanse their faces. Glossier decided to launch a Milky jelly cleanser with a simple value prop of combining the two. Its sales flew through the roof. No incumbent would think of doing this looking at potential sales of 2 vs 1 product.
This constant stream of feedback on social media from existing customers created solid social proof for new consumers in their circles to give Glossier a shot. Their approach is empowering their audience to speak about their discoveries and routines even if it involves other brands. This changes the game for the community when they don’t feel like they’re being sold to all the time.
Their community is a major pillar of their success so far.
However, all is not rosy at Glossier
After a good run of 7 years, Glossier was reported to lay off 80 employees in late Jan this year. They have been struggling to keep the momentum going. There is also a change in consumer needs and sentiment. As GenZs started moving towards maximalism, Glossier’s minimalist brand identity started to get outdated.
They also faced allegations of not being inclusive. The room for error is very low when the brand is built on principles. The COVID period was also not kind to the beauty category hurting them further.
However, they have raised a large round of $80 Mn in Jan to make a comeback. We are excited to see them bounce back in the post-pandemic world. The next stop for them is a kickass IPO.