The People's Gloss
Entrepreneur|September 2017

How did a blogger named Emily Weiss build Glossier, a beauty brand so instantly beloved that its waiting list grew 10,000 people deep? By doing what her competitors wouldn’t: She listened. To everyone.

Alyssa Giacobbe

ON A THURSDAY AFTERNOON in late spring, 32-yearold Glossier founder and CEO Emily Weiss rides the elevator to the penthouse level of her company’s downtown Manhattan headquarters. She’s a thoroughly millennial girlboss in jeans, sneakers, and a royal blue sweatshirt with weiss embroidered in small white script. Her hair is pulled back in a ponytail, and for the founder of a beauty products company, she wears notably little makeup— just some mascara and possibly a swipe of Glossier Lip Gloss,a recent product release touted online as having a “fuzzy doefoot applicator.”

A former teen model, Weiss is beautiful but not intimidating, either by nature or by design (probably a little of both). After all, her company’s popularity is directly related to her ability to cultivate a feeling of friendship with and among her customers. Just enough relatability is key. 

In the elevator, a short woman in her 50s turns to chat her up. 

“Do you work here?” she asks.

“I do!” exclaims Weiss. 

“People really love it, I hear,” says the woman. “It’s my first visit.

I work around the corner. I’m Elizabeth.”

On 6, the doors open to reveal Elizabeth’s destination. It’s the Glossier showroom, the brand’s only existing retail space, at least for now. It opened full-time in December of last year—a floorthrough, gut-renovated homage to millennial pink: pink-andwhite packaged products arranged on pink lacquered displays, pale-pink-subway-tiled walls, staff dressed in pink mechanics’ jumpsuits, fresh-cut pink and white flowers, and flattering lighting. It’s 5 p.m., and the space is buzzing with a few dozen devoted Glossier fans of varying ages, ethnicities, and genders. We’re told that Hilary Duff, the actress, has just left. “People really do come here to hang out,” says Brittney Ricca, Glossier’s manager of communications. She means it. Last summer, someone had a pizza delivered here.

If it weren’t already obvious, Glossier inspires a kind of devotion and intrigue unmatched in the traditionally fickle beauty space. In less than three years, and with just 24 products that range in price from $12 to $35, the startup has become one of the industry’s biggest disruptors. Weiss won’t share figures but says that revenues are up 600 percent year over year and the brand has tripled its active customer count over the past 12 months. Its flagship now does more sales per square foot than the average Apple Store, with lines out the door and a very impressive 65 percent conversion rate. And last November, Weiss announced on Glossier’s blog that the company had raised $24 million in Series B funding, representing a total $34.4 million in venture capital to date, which will go toward opening additional retail locations, shipping internationally, and expanding productcategories. In July, the company announced it would begin shipping to France, the U.K., and Canada, with more countries to come. And soon it will move its headquarters to a new, 26,000-square-foot space at the flashy One SoHo Square in New York (where MAC Cosmetics, an Estée Lauder company, also has an office) and add 282 new jobs to its current team of 85, funded in part by a $3 million tax credit from the state of New York.

The day before, Glossier had released its latest hotly anticipated product: Invisible Shield, introduced to the Glossier community as “a sunscreen that doesn’t suck.” It was inspired by persistent customer calls for a sunblock that wasn’t sticky, greasy, white, or tinted, and didn’t smell like sunblock. It took two years to create. And it’s selling fast. In the past 24 hours, Weiss says, she’s gotten “so many DMs from people on Instagram writing to say, ‘Thank you so much for listening; we’ve been waiting for this moment.’”

Weiss writes every one of them back. Because she, too, has been waiting for this moment, ever since she had an insight years ago that has since bloomed into a corporate philosophy, and a runaway success. The beauty product industry has thrivedon making women feel bad and selling them overpriced products that don’t deliver, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Weiss had a different idea, one as simple as it is revolutionary: Make them feel good.

WEISS GREW UP in Wilton, Conn., the older of two children. Her mother stayed home to raise her and her brother; her father worked in sales for Pitney Bowes. “He was very much the American dream—didn’t graduate college, printed his own business cards, worked his way up from door-to-door salesman,” she says. “I learned the value of hard work from them.”

As a teenager, she dabbled in local modeling, did her friends’ makeup for prom, and studied fashion and magazines. At 15, she began babysitting for a neighbor who worked for Ralph Lauren, then tested out her budding hustling skills. “I said, ‘I love your kids,’” she recalls, “‘but is it too bold for me to say I’d really like to intern where you work?’” It was not. After spending two summers interning at Ralph Lauren, she enrolled at NYU in 2003. Someone at Ralph Lauren introduced her to Amy Astley, then the editor in chief of Teen Vogue, and Weiss spent her sophomore through senior years cramming her classes into two days so she could spend the other three interning at the magazine.

Teen Vogue became her first taste of fame. Fans of the MTV reality show The Hills might recall the time when “costars” Lauren Conrad and Whitney Port, ostensibly interns in the magazine’s West Coast office, were pitted against “intern Emily.” While reality shows aren’t the best representation of reality, Weiss’ scripted persona had plenty of truth. She was cast as a type-A New Yorker foil to Conrad and Port’s laid-back Valley girls, a preternaturally poised undergrad who knew how to use the word chinoiserie. And famously (at least among Hills fans), she triumphed: In one episode, Weiss was invited to stay for a fancy dinner that all three interns had helped set up, while Conrad and Port were banished to go eat in their cars.

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