How to start a beauty brand and grow your career: 6 tips from entrepreneurs

How do you start a business? And how do you know when you’ve really made it? These were the questions posed to five entrepreneurial women—Elle Ferguson, Zoë Foster Blake, Jo Horgan, Eleanor Pendleton and Michelle Battersby—who shared their advice, stories and wisdom at #MECCALAND 2019’s Beauty Bosses panel on the mainstage, moderated by MECCA’s creative director Marita Burke. The highs are good, from Elle Ferguson working closely with the Kardashians to Eleanor Pendleton having her mentor, Zoë Foster Blake, grace the cover of her digital magazine Gritty Pretty. And the lows? Well, let’s just say that they’ve had some laughs along the way, and learnt their lessons.

Find a gap in the market

Can’t find it? Make it. That’s the adage that spurred on more than a few of these panellists in their business endeavours. For Foster Blake and Pendleton, their time as beauty editors for magazine meant they were trying more product than they could write about in their pages; from there, they launched their own content platforms which led to even more business opportunities and new ideas. For Jo Horgan, starting MECCA came from wanting to purchase cult brands that weren’t available in Australia. “How do I want to buy my skin care and makeup?” she posited, recounting her mindset 22 years ago. “What do I want? I’ll bring them together in one spot!”

Draw on your past experience

For fashion-influencer-turned-entrepreneur Elle Ferguson, trialling other tanning products inspired her to create Elle Effect with its distinctive rose scent. Foster Blake and Pendleton spent time in the beauty industry too before launching their own companies, Go-To and Gritty Pretty respectively. “I wanted a beauty brand that had fun with the customer, and didn’t take skin care too seriously,” said Foster Blake.

But, also, don’t be scared to try something new

Battersby, associate marketing director of Bumble APAC [the social app], shared that she was working in human resources in the world of banking and finance with no experience in marketing when she was put in touch with Whitney Wolfe Herd, the founder of Bumble. “I sat in a room and she told me how she wanted Bumble to be the Facebook for people you didn’t know.” It was the sign of something much bigger to come. Battersby’s advice? Take that leap of faith and don’t look back.

Make hard decisions

Pendleton’s starting point as an entrepreneur coincided with one of the lower points in her career. “I left my perfect job,” she shared with the other attendees on the mainstage, speaking openly about how she was concerned about leaving her job as a beauty editor for a national women’s monthly magazine, but the dream of building her Gritty Pretty platform kept her going. The rest, as they say, is history.

Choose something that’s meaningful to you

Ferguson teased out her business slowly through Instagram, and was surprised to see that almost all of her followers assumed she was starting a fashion brand. “But, for me, beauty is so much more personal. You put it on your skin,” she said to the audience.

Making mistakes are part of the process

Ferguson also admitted that she has had to tweak the packaging of her product after customer feedback; instructions for the self-tanner originally appeared only on the cardboard packaging rather than the bottle itself. “I thought it looked sleek and cool, but then I realised, when you use the self-tanner, you don’t have time to look at the instructions on the box because you’ve thrown it out. You want it on the bottle!” When For Foster Blake explored creating clothing merchandise for her Break-Up Boss book she faced possible copyright infringement from an existing fashion brand. “My lesson was that clothing was not my area, it was experience, but I learnt a lesson,” she said. Asked by Burke if they still get anxious about brand building, Foster Blake admitted that she can be full of self-doubt. “I have this crippling fear right before a launch,” she said, candidly “Seth Godin calls it the tension, and it shows that you still care. And that’s important.”

Words by Zara Wong
May 2019


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