For Glow Recipe It’s All About Health and Heritage
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Speaker 3: Time, weather and...(singing).
Alexis Gay: You're listening to The Shake Up where we explore the business decisions that dare to be different and the leaders who are shaking up their industries. My name is Alexis Gay.
Brianne Kimmel: I'm Brianne Kimmel. And on each episode, we'll bring in research and data- backed insights to dig into the minds of business leaders and learn how they make the decisions that challenge the status quo.
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Alexis Gay: I am so ready to dive in. Let's get started. Okay. Honestly, if it were socially acceptable for me to be doing this interview wearing a Watermelon Glow Hyaluronic Clay Pore- tight Facial mask, you know that I would be right now. We're here with Sarah Lee and Christine Chang, the co- founders of Glow Recipe. Welcome to the show.
Sarah Lee: Hi, my name is Sarah Lee and I'm the co- founder and co- CEO of Glow Recipe.
Christine Chang: My name is Christine Chang and I'm the co- founder and co- CEO of Glow Recipe.
Sarah Lee: Thanks for having us here.
Brianne Kimmel: Yeah, we're so excited to talk with you today. So we've been talking about the incredible growth of Glow Recipe and just K- Beauty in general.
Alexis Gay: Absolutely. It seems to me like through the work of several companies, but particularly Glow Recipe, Americans are increasingly aware of K- Beauty and the philosophy behind K- Beauty. I think in the past, maybe there have been more associations as this only being a 10- step regimen, but I'm wondering if you could just tell us a little more, what are the actual key markers of K- Beauty?
Christine Chang: Yeah, of course. So the whole catalyst for us starting this was actually the realization that there was a burgeoning interest in Korean beauty at the time. This was all the way back in 2014. We were also seeing not only customers, but also global companies looking to Korean manufacturers and Korean labs for the latest innovations in skincare and ingredients and in technologies, and that was fascinating to us. And we were also seeing that Korean beauty articles, to your point, at the time, were very focused on, this is a 10 to 15- step regimen, how to use this type of ingredient. And it would be almost a little bit, in terms of content, a little bit too, click- baity versus really getting at the heart of the matter, which is, Korean beauty is about a philosophy and it's something that we ourselves learned at our mother's and grandmother's knees growing up. We both have these amazing memories of our grandmothers using watermelon rind and rubbing that on the skin to soothe heat rash, or our mothers just marching over to the pantry. And I know Sarah's mother, one of her favorite ingredients was cucumber slices, or my mom would like to use grated potato. And just that holistic, very easy, accessible approach to natural ingredients, incorporating that into your self- care routine. We would very often mask together with our moms while watching TV, and it wasn't a chore. It wasn't an arduous 15- step thing you had to get through. It was fun, and skin car, over the years, we felt had, in general, lost that sense of fun and sense of reality as well, so that was really the mission that sparked this.
Brianne Kimmel: It does feel like the US, in a lot of ways, has been very behind in educating everyone on the fact that skincare is actually part of this broader move into health and wellness, and it's not really about just cosmetics and looking great anymore, but it's actually a part of your overall health and wellbeing. What were some of your feelings, as far as the US being a little bit behind and maybe our definition of skincare, and then directionally, where you wanted to take it long term?
Sarah Lee: In Korea, prevention is such a key word when it comes to skincare. You have to have layers of hydration in every step of your routine in order to prevent your skin from signs of aging. You have to wear SPF every day. We've learned this from a young age, but I think we're learning that more now in the US versus maybe 10 years ago, right? SPF is an everyday essential. We all know this now, and it's become a movement in the skincare world here, but it wasn't the case many years ago. Double cleansing is absolutely critical if you're wearing makeup or SPF because only an oil can remove another oil, and typically, makeup products are made with oils, but there wasn't education around these types of intricate nuances.
Brianne Kimmel: It's great to hear the fact that this education created the first version of Glow Recipe, which actually started out as more of a curation platform. Can you tell us a little bit more about that evolution from becoming the trusted source in your friend group for K- Beauty products to then curating this amazing new experience that turned into an amazing community and a very big audience?
Christine Chang: Absolutely. So we flew over in 2014 to Korea without so much as a site to get some brands on board, and we pounded the pavement to find these brands that, many of which we're still very close to today. The commonality was that they were all helmed by really passionate brand founders, had unique products, had really clear product formulation philosophies. And we felt like these were the brands that needed a voice here, that needed to be introduced to the US and other global markets because of the sheer, just astounding innovation and beautiful textures and ingredient stories we were seeing. And so, after a lot of convincing, and I think it really helped that even though we didn't have a site, we had a very clear vision as to where we wanted to take this, we were able to get, I think it was eight or nine brands on board. And-
Alexis Gay: On that one trip?
Christine Chang: ...we kicked off our site right away after returning home. On that one trip, and we Googled furiously to figure out how to build a site from scratch. There were a lot of mishaps along the way. I still cringe a little bit when I see the early iterations of our site because at the time, we were like," It looks great," but now, looking back on it, there were some clear optimization opportunities. But it was so fun. Every day, we were making emails ourselves, we were cold- calling journalists ourselves, we were figuring out the social media content and figuring out natural ingredients. I had a half- cut avocado, inaudible for future things. It was a lot of scrappiness, but also, we really enjoyed it because, once again, we knew each and every step we were taking was getting us closer to our goal of bringing K- Beauty, green beauty philosophy to the wider audience in the way that we thought was right. We knew that eventually, we would have to take that step ourselves because we, ourselves, had that formulation philosophy internally that we wanted to really materialize and manifest through our own brand. And the right timing for that eventually became 2017, so couple years after launching Glow Recipe as a curation site, we launched our own in- house food- for- skincare brand that you see today on the shelves of Sephora, in mid- 2017, and exclusively with Sephora at the time. And that was, once again, a very close partnership with the retailer to make sure that we were successfully launching the brand. But after launching it, just seeing, once again, that response, the multi- thousand- person wait list, selling out multiple times, that, to us, was so, so rewarding. And I think it was an accumulation of many years of creating a community, creating educational content, and really thinking about what we stood for as a brand, and that really crystallized with the creation of Glow Recipe Skincare. And so, we had both for a while, and then eventually, in 2019, we actually decided to phase out of our curation brands because we were seeing increasingly from our community, that they were so passionate about Glow Recipe Skincare, they wanted more products, more innovation, and we're a very small team.
Alexis Gay: From that point, when you started growing your successful curation business, you mentioned that you ultimately made the decision, I think you said in 2016-
Sarah Lee: 2017.
Alexis Gay: In 2017. What was that like? What were the things that were coming up in the market that gave you the idea at first to move away from curation? What were you thinking about at the time?
Sarah Lee: I'll take this one. So there were a lot of variables, but I think the first reason why we started as a curation business model was because we wanted to give the platform and the opportunity to these brilliant founders and brands to go global by providing the content and education and marketing that we were able to provide. And once we were able to gain that credibility in the market, I think that's when we needed to really think about what we wanted to do as founders. When we were able to identify the wide space of the combination of the Korean- inspired core tenets, plus the things that American consumers really resonate with, which are real results, clear ingredient stories, right, and then the Korean tenants were the sensorial experience and the skintertainment factor, right, because the experience is as important as a result is the Korean approach. This is that little moment for yourself behind shut doors in front of your vanity to just put a smile on your face, and so we wanted to provide that. And I think what we wanted to do was combine those tenets and create our own brand because we didn't really think that all of the influx of amazing Korean beauty innovations were fully understood by the American consumer. We felt the urge to break down that barrier and create our own brands that are actually much simplified by creating them as multitasking products, but having these amazing Korean- inspired elements, which is why we created Glow Recipe Skincare in 2017.
Christine Chang: With Glow Recipe Skincare, it just felt right. Our community could not get enough. People were DMing us, the brand, our personal Instagrams, nonstop asking about the next drop, product suggestions, ideas. There was just so much passion and buzz around this brand, and we knew that we had struck a chord with it because it was this balance of, yes, Korean beauty philosophy, but also results first. It was a balance between familiar fruit antioxidants used in really innovative ways they never happened before, but then paired with proven actives, like the retinols and the AHAs and all of the acids and different actives that we have come to know and love in the skincare industry, and also, the fact that we were speaking about fun in skincare, because for the longest time, I think skincare had been really dominated by a lot of very clinical brands. And of course, so many brands that are in that space are also really amazing, but I think that sense of sensoriality, that extra moment, that touch that made your self- care routine that much more special, all of this was really, really appreciated, and we felt like it was our, almost, duty to the community to make sure that we were giving them what they wanted. And so, it was a balance of different emotions, a balancing act of different things we were doing on a day- to- day basis. Looking back, I don't know that we would've changed anything because we really tried to do it in the most thoughtful way possible.
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Brianne Kimmel: I love that you keep mentioning community. This is a word that keeps coming up, and I think that is something that's fairly new in skincare. With the early community that you had built around curation, were there specific ways that you were able to learn from those founders or continue to build a relationship with them once you made the transition from curation over to Glow Recipe where it is today?
Sarah Lee: Some of the founders from the curation brands are still our friends to this date, so there's a lot of synergy, actually, that comes from that because we can always pick up the phone, call them, ask them for opinions about certain things. We're both brand builders and creators, right, so we share so much in common. We terminated our curation business model, but the relationships and the friendships continued to this day. We still touch base with them once in a while, make sure that if they have any questions around navigating the US market, we're there for them, because we want every to succeed at the same time, right? I think that when we were transitioning to a creation business, we were not only giving them connections to the networks that we had with the retailers, but also, we were asking our customers to not forget about these products or brands and we were giving them site links to those products, to continue to shop for them because we curated them for a reason. We love them for a reason, so we wanted everyone to win- win out of that situation, and I think it's the best outcome that we could have asked for.
Alexis Gay: Something that strikes me is that when I hear you talk about making that shift, that big business pivot from curation to creation, it sounds like even at the time, you felt very confident that this was the next move, this was the correct evolution for your company. And I'm wondering, did you ever have any doubts at that time that this was the right move, or were you 100% confident, we got this, it's time to make our own stuff? I love that.
Christine Chang: I don't think we had doubts, per se, but then it's really hard to gauge the level of success a brand will have, right? There are so many brands in the industry. We've had many conversations with many people in the industry about how saturated the market is, so each and every brand that comes into existence needs to have a real point of difference and a real reason to be. And I think with Glow Recipe Skincare, we were able to really distill some of those personal experiences as personal passion points into the brand. I think for us, what served us a north star throughout this process is really just going back to the customer. We started with the customer, we're ending there. What do they want? How do we best serve their needs? How do we create moments for them that really disrupt their self- care experience? How do we provide products that are different and really add value to their routine when they buy it and make it part of their skincare wardrobe? So that perspective, I think, has continued to serve us. And it goes back to those early days where we, ourselves, were answering every single customer email, handwriting notes to every single person who purchased from our site, DMing and manning those DMS on a day- to- day basis. And even to this day, we check our DMS a lot when a customer DMs with feedback and things like that. We might not be able to write those handwritten notes anymore because we wouldn't have any time other than writing notes at this point, but-
Alexis Gay: Yes, that would be your whole day.
Christine Chang: ...not losing that contact, I think, has been instrumental in making sure that we're navigating this the right way.
Alexis Gay: Well, that's a very clear guiding mission, I can tell, on how you make a lot of the decisions for the business, but I'm wondering how you balance keeping that customer- first, community- first mentality with some of the less glamorous aspects of creating a product.
Sarah Lee: Yeah. We are first- time entrepreneurs, so a lot of things that we've learned and are still learning is, how do we balance everything when we have to oversee everything as founders and co- CEOs? I think that the great benefit that we have today is that we have such an incredible, talented team, and I don't mean to say that because they're my team. I think some individuals that are working under the Glow Recipe umbrella are truly passionate individuals. Today, I can say that with confidence, that they just understand the social space. A lot of our team members are actually relatively young and very plugged into TikTok and... so they just have their ears and eyes on the current social media landscape, real time. And because of that, we're able to not only react quickly, but proactively share what we have going on transparently with our community. So really, just intertwining that communication aspect, but also the decision making internally for the business has been really instrumental, so the team really thinks that way. We think of every team member as a content creator. When we hire people, we always ask about their storytelling aspect, their photograph skills. I mean, it's a very modern approach to, I think, hiring, but also thinking about how each team member can really think in a similar way and be on the same page, right? And we often have brainstorm sessions with our team members, just tasking people to think about a challenge that we're facing, whether it's a marketing initiative or a new campaign idea where we're stuck on and we want everyone to contribute. It's all intertwined and it's one circular wheel, if you think about it, and that's our approach. And that actually keeps it healthier, in a way, because you're always just thinking of it as a lifestyle, almost, for everybody, right, not a segmented department's role or a perspective that's different.
Alexis Gay: Something that really stood out from the conversation earlier is how intentional you both have been in curating products to then, ultimately, create your own product. Where do you see the future for Glow Recipe? And how do you think about goal setting as well, because I think you've done such an amazing job of seamlessly... or from our perspective, seamlessly evolving from curation to creation. What's next for new products or what's next, from a community standpoint, for the company?
Christine Chang: I think we're doing a much better job now of really communicating, okay, so this is our stance on sustainability. Not only are the jars glass whenever possible, we're also using cartons that are now FSC certified totally and are free of acids and metals, and we're printing with soy ink, and by 2022, we're committing to be carbon neutral. We've already partnered with Climate Neutral, which is an amazing organization that will help us measure and quantify and then think about plans around reduction. And all of these concrete steps, we've been able to increasingly share with our community so that they know exactly where we're trying to go. There are a lot of plans in the future to continue to really think about those values of the company, whether it's sustainability, whether it's formulation philosophy, whether it's charity causes under our Glow For Good umbrella that are really important to us as a brand. And then one exciting update that we're elated to share with you, it just went live, I think today, is that as a company, we're committing to donate a million dollars until the end of 2022 in monetary and product contributions to our charities.
Alexis Gay: Wow, that's amazing.
Christine Chang: Thank you. We're really, really excited to be able to do this. And it evolves around our three pillars of female empowerment, diversity inclusion, and the environment.
Alexis Gay: You said," We have too many ideas," or," There's a lot that we want to do," or something like that, and I'm wondering, what do you think about... What keeps you up at night? What's hard right now? What challenges you, as co- CEOs?
Sarah Lee: Actually, it's a really timely question because there are some key challenges that we're facing today where, as a company, we're very rapidly growing, so we're very grateful for that. But that comes with a challenge around how we can make sure that everyone stays motivated and our culture is maintained. And I think any entrepreneur can relate with something like this because at any point of your entrepreneurial journey, your team pretty much makes up most of what makes a success or not, and-
Alexis Gay: Totally.
Sarah Lee: Right, and I think people is everything. And so, we're trying to figure out how to hire because we do need have at least 10 people more on our team in the next few months.
Christine Chang: We do have a lot of brainstorm sessions because the team is full of ideas, and we love having those creative conversations and just really giving everyone an opportunity to voice their thoughts and opinions. And going forward, it's really up in the air, right, because is that day in the life going to take place at an office, is it going to continue to be work from home? And these are questions I think every founder, every company owner is grappling with as we move toward increasingly getting out of the hundred percent work from home time that we all had to be in. So what does the future of work look like there, is something that's definitely on our minds.
Alexis Gay: Amazing. And it sounds like you're building on a strong foundation that you two touched on at the beginning, as friends, as co- founders, and modeling a ton of that behavior, both that you want to see from your team, and then also, in terms of how you showcase the products yourself online. And so, it sounds like you're setting a really good example for everyone that you work with across the board. And it's been such a pleasure to talk with you both today. If people want to find Glow Recipe products and learn more about K- beauty, where can they find you?
Sarah Lee: You can find us at Glow Recipe on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and glowrecipe. com. You can also reach out to us directly on Instagram at sarah_glow, christine_glow.
Alexis Gay: Thank you both so much for coming on the show today. It's been such a pleasure to have you.
Brianne Kimmel: Yeah, thanks so much for joining.
Alexis Gay: Hey, Brianne, are you ready to do that thing we practiced?
Brianne Kimmel: Oh my gosh. Is it time? I'm ready.
Alexis Gay: Okay. Three, two, one. Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review.
Brianne Kimmel: Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review. Pretty good.
Alexis Gay: Today's episode was written and produced by Matthew Brown. Production support comes from Lauren Shield. Our engineer is William Lowe. With research from Corey Braccialini, and special thanks to Kyle Denhoff and Lisa Toner.
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Watermelon Masks. Shark Tank. A brand color palette that, if used for that new interior design project you’ve been keen on, would have all your neighbors seething with jealousy.
But it’s the pivot from K-beauty curation to creation that sets apart Glow Recipe. Co-founders Sarah Lee & Christine Chang talk about how they used their industry expertise and Glow Gang community to develop their own original line of products.