Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi guys, My name is Ima, I am the Founder of Mellow Cosmetics. We are an online beauty store based in Brisbane Australia, we do however have customers from Europe, the U.S, Canada, and the Middle East. We sell a range of Lipsticks, Lip Paints, Eyeshadow Palettes, Highlighters, and more, super cute packaging to go with high-quality formulations.
I started from making $0 in the first year to making over $400,000 per year just from online sales and we have a lot of distributors and retailers stocking my products too.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
In 2014, Mellow started as a small company in a tiny garage. I was on maternity leave after the birth of my first son. It was such a joyful time for me to take care of my son and being away from my full-time corporate job. As I was getting closer to the end of my leave, I felt the urge to stay home and take care of my son but I always had the dream of doing something great to help myself and other women around the globe. I wanted to work for myself and be my own boss but still wanted to create useful products to boost women's confidence by enhancing their natural features.
I have learned to be strong, consistent, and patient. Running a business really needs all three.
I was definitely hesitant to leave my tiny baby at a child care center to go back to work. I did not want to miss all the amazing milestones of my son, just like every other Mum, so I decided I wanted to be an entrepreneur and start my dream courier right in that minute, I did not want to leave it for any longer. I did just that! I quit my corporate job to follow my big dream… I put in all mine and my husband's savings and borrowed money from the bank to start Mellow and I have never regretted my decision. I had no experience in the e-commerce industry or the beauty industry but I loved makeup and that love and passion were enough for me to make a successful brand.
There was definitely an aha moment, I was watching a makeup tutorial on Youtube one day and I felt something in my head saying you can start your own makeup line! It was so loud that I couldn’t ignore it, it felt so right and I had to follow my inner calling.
I was on a 9-5 job before starting Mellow with a normal amount of money to get by every week, we had some savings which I used to start Mellow Cosmetics.
I definitely do a lot of research before launching a product, I didn’t do this to start with but over the past few years I have learned that it is very important to launch something that the customer really wants, keeping up with the trend is very important in this industry but there are also the staple products that sell better than anything else.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
After I do my research and I know exactly what product I want to work on next, I connect with my suppliers/manufacturers. We discuss details, formulas, and packaging ideas.
The lab starts working on a few different formulas and sends them to me a few times until I am 100% happy with the texture, colors, quality. Once approved we can go for full production and start filling the product in our compacts, tubes, or palettes but while I work on the formula I also work with my designer on packaging ideas and we go through a few different drafts and versions until we have a winner, I then send this to the packaging manufacturer to go for sampling and once samples are perfect and approved we order the packaging in bulk and send to our lab for filling.
The whole process can take from 6 months to a year. This has been delayed but almost double the time during pandemic though due to factory closures, etc.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I started the brand almost 7 years ago and that was when the e-commerce system was starting to really boom. I had a lot of fashion and retail experience and had my Business degree to back this up but I had no experience in the e-commerce industry and everything was very new to me. There was absolutely no strategy and business planning (which is never a good idea) but I just had this idea and I knew I had to start and I knew I would make it work.
The first year was not successful at all until I decided this needs to change and I put in a lot of time taking online short courses on how to start and run a successful online business. This definitely helped me a lot and I started putting some planning and strategies in place and started Facebook and influencer advertising and this really was a game-changer for us as a brand. The sales started to flood in and the only problem then was to keep up with them.
I went through a few different website platforms from Magento to Adobe to Shopify and Shopify was the easiest and best to use for me.
I had no loans and credit cards to pay off so it was easy and everything I earned through sales went straight back into the business to grow the product range and I am still doing that to this day, I take my wages and pay my team and expenses and the rest of the profit goes back into growing the business. I don’t go on massive shopping sprees or luxurious holidays, I invest back into the business. Although I try to celebrate my success by taking time away from work, going on small trips, or buy something small for myself.
The major issue for me was not knowing how to grow a business and how to have a plan or budgeting in place but over the years I have learned to do all of the three very well and this has led me to my success.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
There has been a huge shift in marketing from when I started 7 years ago to now, FB advertising was huge and it was a lot cheaper than it is now, Instagram was only in its early stages with no algorithm so it was super easy to grow a loyal following and Influencer advertising was huge, every influencer we worked with would give us a massive return on investment and that’s not the case anymore as customers are more conscious and they know a lot more than they did back then.
Facebook advertising is still working well for us, we are just paying more for each conversion.
We used to work with Macro-Influencers but have stopped since a couple of years ago and we mainly work with Micro-Influencers and we have staff members and myself doing Instagram content and takeovers for us which works so much better as the customer feels a connection to the brand. It is much more about making a connection and valuing your customers now.
We focus heavily on email marketing and growing our database as we can connect with our audience free of charge over and over again (without bombarding them with too many emails) and we send emails if they leave their cart/checkout without finishing their purchase with a discount code.
Do a lot of research, set goals, and put plans in place so you know what actions you need to take to achieve them and hold yourself accountable.
We also retarget existing customers or the ones that have abandoned their carts with our FB ads and a lot of them come back to repurchase or finish their purchase.
We worked with a PR company a few years ago and even though it was successful, it was hard to measure ROI and print was slowly going out of trend so we stopped and we now have an in house team focusing on creating a relationship with our customers and the influencers and affiliates we work with.
For anyone starting a new business, I would highly suggest FB advertising (do it yourself to start with if you can) and micro-influencer advertising to create content and Email marketing. Make sure your products are different and you will win if they are problem solvers.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are doing great, online sales went insanely high during the pandemic and the lockdown period as more people were at home and shopping online, our sales grew by 400% from April to July last year and this gave us a huge boost but there was also a downside to this, shipping costs went so high due to transit closures and lockdowns and surcharges and this really cut into our profit. We had to hang in there and get through 2020 and we are slowly going back to normal again in 2021.
The good thing is that makeup gives us a huge margin (around 90%) and with our current markups we have been able to get through the tough period and we are starting to recover and increase sales and profit again this year.
Our FB ads currently have a 3X ROAS which is great for the makeup industry and we are using free products at checkout to increase AOV and conversion rate. Our conversion rate right now is 2.5% and we would like to increase this to 3.5% this year.
With retailers opening up again, we are also receiving a huge boost in our retail sales which is great as last year all stores had to shut down due to lockdowns and this was not good for us.
We are also starting to work with new distributors in the U.S and Europe region and this is going to be hugely profitable for us in 2021.
We are still sending orders from our Brisbane, Australia warehouse but we are looking into sending products to 3PL’s in the U.S and Europe to reduce the cost of shipping as the pandemic surcharges are still high and it is now taking longer for our customers to receive their orders due to transit closures.
I am expanding the range even bigger this year and will be launching my skincare range (Stuf Skin) this April, all products will be Vegan, Cruelty-Free, Australian ingredients made right here in Australia and we are focusing on launching products that work really well with sensitive skin types and Acne-prone skin types. I am very excited about this launch.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I have learned a lot over the past 7 years, I have learned to be strong, consistent, and patient. Running a business really needs all three.
I have learned the power of planning and setting goals, I do regret not knowing this in the first year of my business but it’s never too late! and I now know when I set goals and plan, I am much more motivated to take action to achieve my goals.
I believe I started the business at the right time and the market wasn’t as competitive as it is now but I believe if you have the right products and brand values and passion then timing doesn’t matter. I am so passionate about what I do and I really love creating beautiful products that no obstacle is large enough to get in my way. Persistence and motivation are also a key to success. There have been times in the early stages that I was so ready to give up and call it quits but I kept going no matter how hard things were and I am so glad now that I did.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I have a few favorite apps that really help with the growth of the business. We use Judgeme reviews to receive customer reviews on our products and this works great, we also use Grow Wave for its rewards and social media features, and Grow Wave has been a wonderful addition to our website, we use it to share our social media images on our website with products tagged in each image and Fomo to have pop-ups on the site every time someone purchases from us.
These three apps work great together for social proofing and customers trust that our products are being used and reviewed and shown on social media by normal people and they are being loved.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I don’t read a lot of books related to business, I do however read spiritual and self-help books and over the years they have helped to keep me motivated with a positive mindset and I have learned to set an intention for milestones I would like to reach and goals I’d like to achieve. Having a positive mindset and drive and consistency is very important when running a business.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
I’d say do a lot of research, set goals, and put plans in place so you know what actions you need to take to achieve them and hold yourself accountable.
Learn how to budget from the start as this will save a lot of money for you and learn how to say No. In the beginning, I would say yes to all publications, agencies, and influencers without doing my research and this wasted a lot of my money at the start but I have learned to do my research and stick to the budget and say No to the things that we don’t actually need.
I also recommend to everyone that wants to start their own business to find something they are passionate about and something that solves a problem, a product or service that’s different from the rest of the market and this will set you apart and will guarantee your success. Don’t just start a business for the sake of making money without being passionate about what you are doing. If you love what you do, it is easier to stay motivated! And don’t lose focus… write your goals and go through them regularly, this will help you stay focused.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are going to start looking for another team member shortly, that role is mainly going to be focused on finding Tik Tok Trends and making videos and content for TikTok.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Discover the best strategies of successful business owners
Join our newsletter and receive our handcrafted recap with the best insights shared by founders in Starter Story each week.
Useful, convenient, and free:
Did you know that brands using Klaviyo average a 95x ROI?
Email, SMS, and more — Klaviyo brings your marketing all together, fueling growth without burning through time and resources.
Deliver more relevant email and text messages — powered by your data. Klaviyo helps you turn one-time buyers into repeat customers with all the power of an enterprise solution and none of the complexity.