Aged 21 with no experience but big dreams, Kate Morris of Adore Beauty was a bank manager’s worst nightmare. There was no way she could secure a loan from the banks, so was forced into borrowing $12,000 from family and then bootstrapping her venture for years after that. Today she’s grown Adore Beauty into one of Australia’s biggest beauty brands.
We had a chat with Kate about how she grew Adore Beauty, the road to success and bootstrapping tips for big dreamers.
Kate: I always had a passion for beauty products, but growing up in Launceston (TAS) I couldn’t buy most of the products I saw in magazines. I moved to Melbourne for uni and got a casual job on the Clarins counter, where I realised that a lot of people found the cosmetics floor very intimidating. I started to think about this idea about an online beauty store, and realised I had to do it. I quit my job in 1999 and launched the Adore Beauty website in early 2000.
Findation came about a couple of years ago, as we had so many customers needing help to choose a foundation shade online. It’s a crowdsourced online database of matching foundation shades – all you have to do is put in the brands and shades that match your skin, and Findation can recommend your best match in other brands.
Kate: The $12 000 was mostly spent on getting the website built, and buying some stock to sell. I didn’t really have any money for marketing so had to work pretty hard to build up some word-of-mouth on newsgroups and forums.
There are a lot more funding options nowadays if you want to start a new business: angel investor groups, crowdfunding, incubators and so on. I think the biggest tip I could offer would be to put yourself out there and talk to as many people as you can about your new business. I see a lot of people who are very secretive as they are worried someone is going to steal their idea – I think this is the wrong approach, investors aren’t going to give you their time if you won’t tell them anything.
Kate: The discussions started a few years ago, and the approval had to come all the way from their global head office in New York, so it’s been a rigorous process. Being trusted with a premium brand is something that, as a retailer, you have to earn. With any prestige brand you have to demonstrate that you can offer the right customer experience and the right brand environment.
Adore Beauty has an unparalleled brand selection, and we’ve been refining our customer experience for the last 14 years. We’ve built a reputation for integrity and innovation, and I think this is what prestige brands like Estee Lauder are looking for in a retail partner.
Kate: Fortunately in cosmetics there are plenty of female entrepreneurs – Estee Lauder herself, for example! I actually found my youth was more of an obstacle than my gender, it was difficult to get people to take me seriously when I was starting out. I had a very hard time getting any of the cosmetic brands on board – all but two of them said no at first, so over the years it has been a constant cycle of going back to everyone and asking again.
Lack of capital was also a challenge, particularly in the early years. I just had to get very creative to make every dollar stretch as far as possible, so that I could continue to fund the business through cashflow.
Kate: Apart from the Estee Lauder deal, I think the biggest achievements were my two wins in the Telstra Business Women’s Awards (Young Businesswoman of the Year for VIC in 2010, Business Innovation Award for VIC in 2014). These awards represented a huge stamp of credibility for the business I’d built.
As far as tips for starting your own online business: be tenacious, be patient, and understand your customer. The online space is getting more and more crowded so you need to have a clear idea of how you’re going to offer value.
Kate: I’m planning for the strong growth to continue, through the great new brands that we’ll be adding (such as Shu Uemura Art of Hair, which is launching officially next week), and a gorgeous new site design that will be launching very soon. There are many more exciting new developments ahead but you’ll have to stay tuned!
Check them out at www.adorebeauty.com.au.