Dorm Room Entrepreneurs is a column that interviews and profiles different young people doing big things. No matter the field, there is always something big happening.
It seems as though we oftentimes find ourselves intrigued by people who we see ourselves in a bit. This is especially likely if they’re doing something we’re interested in doing in the future, or if they seem to be the best version of ourselves. Emily Weiss is the current person for me.
From a young age, Emily was primarily known as extraordinary. Her debut public appearance was on the reality show, The Hills, in which her supervisors nicknamed her, “super intern.” She was completing every task she was given in record time and doing them all exceptionally well. It was almost as if the two-day-a-week internship was her entire life. In reality, it was just a piece of the larger puzzle.
In college, Emily took the path that I like to call, ‘education is an asset, but experience is education’s best-kept secret.” Emily was able to schedule her 18 credit hours for only two days of the week at NYU, then spend two days at Teen Vogue, and the last day of the week at Chanel. In my opinion, this is the way college should be done. Students are spending four years sitting in a classroom, and then told to be a young professional in the workplace with no prior experience. We can learn a vast amount of knowledge from our classes and professors, but there are some things only hands-on work will teach us.
Upon graduating college, Emily worked at W Magazine and Vogue. While surrounded by so many experts in the beauty field, she had an idea for a blog. In 2010, Into the Gloss was made to democratize beauty. To feel as though you’re sitting in the bathroom next to the likes of Kim Kardashian while she spills all her favorite skincare secrets. It creates community, and it pushes the idea that women should be lifting each other up instead of always trying to get the upper hand. So, Emily reinstated her excellent compartmentation skills and worked on Into the Gloss between the hours of 5am – 8am before heading off to Vogue.
I find myself doing a lot of reflecting while learning more about Emily Weiss. I oftentimes try to work on writing during class, only to pay attention again to realize I missed integral parts of the lecture. If I pay attention in class, I will be able to do school extraordinarily well and efficiently so I can carve out allotted time for writing and applications. It’s a concept that we all know in the back of our minds, but don’t always want to admit as it would mean waking up at 5am to work and fighting against our ever-shortening attention span.
With the same work ethic that earned her the title of Super Intern, Emily posted to Into the Gloss 3x a week. She had an advantage while working at Vogue as she was always surrounded by models, leaders in the fashion world, or coworkers who simply have their own favorite products. All people who were proved legitimate to the masses because of their affiliation with Vogue. Once she had a few interviews done and published, it was easier to get people to agree to be interviewed.
Even though she had the Vogue credentials on her side, it wasn’t always easy to get a ‘yes’, even after numerous interviews. Emily estimated that 80% of the people she asked when first starting out refused to be interviewed. Being rejected is hard, and even harder when you’re being rejected more than accepted. A lot of people would have stopped or shied away from getting interviews, but Emily continued to try. When the website began to be recognized by the masses, she had quite a few people come back to her who had refused in the past.
When this began to happen, it was obvious that all Into the Gloss needed in order to be great was more rigorous attention. A small staff was hired that began posting 3x a day instead of 3x a week, and Emily eventually quit her job at Vogue to focus fully on the blog, which was hoping to become a business. Before it could become a business though, it needed funding.
Venture Capital, as I know quite well, is a boy’s playground. There are plenty of women who want to get into VC, but it’s not always that simple. Even with diversity efforts in place now, the environment oftentimes still mimics one of a locker room and makes it uncomfortable for many women. I once had a male HR officer ask me, while interviewing for his Venture Capital firm, if I was an advocate for diversity as it was an important part of the company. I sat stunned for a few seconds, unsure of how to answer the question in the way I wanted to, while still being polite. I finally responded, “I’m the only female economics major at my school. My classes are solely men. When I wear a dress to class, nobody talks to me. When I come in talking about football, I’m the class favorite. At one of my internships, I asked what the dress code was and they responded that they didn’t know the dress code for a woman, as they had never hired one before. Yes, diversity is important to me.”
So when a beauty brand, whose CEO was a woman with a fine arts degree and Vogue on her resume, acquired seed funding it was a big deal. There are few women in venture capital, and there are even fewer who get funding from venture capitalists. It seems as though Emily knew this as she began looking for funding, as it was a female VC who finally gave her the funding she needed, Kirsten Green.
Glossier was the offspring of Into the Gloss with a similar goal to democratize beauty. Instead of companies telling their customer what they should want, Glossier is asking their customers what they want. Glossier has, what I can only describe as, the ultimate 21st-century business model. Since it started off as a blog, the readers traveled with Emily to social media, and onto Glossier. So when Glossier had acquired funding and a chemist, her first action was to turn to social media and ask the ones buying the products what they wanted. The questions are about the specific kinds of products they want, the colors of makeup, or what kind of packaging is liked overall. When a product is made to your exact specifications, and it’s half the price of other mainstream beauty brands, why wouldn’t you buy it?
If you read the “About” page on Glossier’s website, they kept it very simple. “[the] modern beauty brand focused on making products inspired by the people who use them.” Glossier successfully became one of the first companies to put ‘caring’ into their marketing and business strategy, and it entirely paid off in their favor.
While Emily might have attended school studying fine arts, it’s obvious that her interests span far wider. She educated herself on venture capital enough to land seed funding, she helped put together the business model and fought for a more amicable company, and she worked tirelessly with the chemist in charge of creating her products.
In Dorm Room Entrepreneurs I like to cover young people doing big things.
Emily Weiss was 29 years old when she founded a company now valued at $1.8 billion. A company whose catalyst was a blog where she wrote about one of her passions, on a laptop in her living room, in the early mornings of her workdays.
Photo courtesy of @cashmeretote on Twitter
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