Seattle's Julep gives beauty industry a tech-friendly makeover

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by RENAY SAN MIGUEL / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on April 29, 2014 at 7:20 AM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 29 at 9:31 AM

For Seattle-based online beauty company Julep, there's nothing cosmetic about its use of social media.

It's a key part of a business strategy that has resulted in both rapid revenue growth and support from key venture capital firms in both Seattle and Silicon Valley.

A Julep YouTube video says the company's mission is to "connect girlfriends through beauty." The company does that by using Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and YouTube to involve its customers in all phases of product development.

That means getting feedback on ideas for new beauty products, as well as input on how to fix or improve existing ones.

"It takes a lot of vulnerability and courage to go out and ask people about different ideas," said Julep founder/CEO Jane Park, "because a lot of times they won't like you've proposed, so you have to go out and be truly open to hearing the good, the bad and the ugly."

That process has been mostly good for Julep. The company said it grew its e-commerce revenue threefold in 2013. That was the same year it launched more than 300 new products.

A product coming out in June, the Plie' Wand, is a perfect example of the Julep business model. It's an ergonomically-designed nail polish applicator that can bend and twist in ways similar products can't, with the promised results being an easier, more accurate way of putting on nail polish.

Julep asked its customers to crowdfund this product so it could gauge consumer demand. The company hit its crowdfunding goal within 24 hours.

That kind of customer enthusiasm was recently rewarded with $30 million in Series C financing from VC firms, including A-list groups such as Seattle's Madrona Venture and Andreessen Horowitz in Menlo Park, Ca.

"We have so much more flexibility and ability to create a business model that's merged the best of what's possible with technology - and communicating directly with the consumer online - with the best of beauty ingredients and innovation that we can bring to the market much more rapidly today than the traditional beauty company," said Park.

Julep offers its Maven monthly online subscription service; members receive a box of products customized according to their user profiles. It also sells products a la carte at Julep.com, and has four Julep Parlors in Seattle. The company's brick-and-mortar retail partners are Sephora, Nordstrom and QVC.

Park says the company will use its new funding to add to its existing 200 Seattle employees, as well as explore new product development.

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