By Jordan Beckoff
The women at gloss48 know a lot about beauty! All of these business-savvy women started out working for or starting their own beauty companies. The Boston-based Miniluxe founder, Jill Kravetz and Laura Bronner, her former Miniluxe vice president, have teamed up with technology and software guru, Jodi Slater, to embark on a new beauty frontier–the Internet with the new beauty product website, Gloss48.
“I learned a lot from Miniluxe, which has enabled us to start Gloss48, which really was all about understanding the niche brand owner,” Kravetz said. “So really, what are these tiny brands looking for? what do they need? And taking that from a bricks and mortar setting with Miniluxe and translating that online was really a natural thing to do,” she added.
The startup was an idea that Kravetz had when she was running Miniluxe, and in 2012 she and her team set out to make it happen. The site, which aims to connect women with carefully curated niche beauty products at a discounted price for a limited time, recently launched out of beta testing on October 19th.
“What we are trying to do on the consumer side is provide an outlet that is totally different from Sephora and department stores,” said Laura Bronner. “From the second you get on the site, it feels different. The copy we use is very irreverent, its authentic, its straight forward. We don’t use fluffy pink beauty speech. And the products are really unique and innovative and different. So the goal is for us to pick up where Sephora and the department stores are leaving off, and create an experience that’s different and fun and exciting for a beauty junkie,” Bronner explained.
The company has raised $800,000 in “angel” funds from private investors to get the website going, but the women of Gloss48 say that their concept was not always the easiest to get Boston-based venture capital firms excited about.
“We were told over and over again to go to New York and San Francisco,” said Bronner.
She said that because Boston venture capital firms rarely encounter beauty startups, they were unique.
“When we went into pitch, they hadn’t seen 50 other beauty and fashion concepts that day. We were pitching to people who were used to hearing about bioscience and apps and technology and so I think from that perspective it was a little bit tougher for us. We were the odd fish in the small pond,” said Bronner.
Even though gloss48 was unique in genre, Kravetz said it also had its downside.
“Some of the things that have been more problematic for us are sort of the female-focused aspect of our business and being in beauty and fashion. It’s not that VC firms don’t see the opportunity, it’s just hard generally for men to get excited about beauty. It’s a little bit of a tougher fundraising environment for a company like ours,” she said.
The fact that the women of gloss48 had some difficulty fundraising venture capital for their business is no surprise, but not because of their fashion and beauty-based product. The New England Venture Capital Association (NEVCA) conducted a survey of 100 Boston area entrepreneurs this past summer that showed that “70 percent of Boston area entrepreneurs think that the Boston startup community is either sometimes or not at all inclusive to female entrepreneurs.”
Kitt George, the executive director at The New England Venture Capital Association (NEVCA) was disappointed by these results, but is still hopeful.
“The good news is that it gives us a good place to start, so that from here we can figure out ways to tackle that problem and to make Boston the best place for women in tech, so that this city and this community has a reputation of being extremely supportive. I think that is already happening in the grassroots, but I think that that it’s hard to make sure that it’s widespread so that every woman who wants to start a business here or get into VC here feels like she has the support she needs,” she said.
The survey found that “only 8 percent of female entrepreneurs said that being a woman had a positive impact on their fundraising.” But this doesn’t necessarily mean that being a woman had a negative impact.
“It’s anecdotal,” said George. “You’ll probably hear someone say, ‘I shopped my idea around and because I was a woman I wasn’t being taken seriously.’ I think you will also hear people say, ‘I never had a problem, I had a really good product and people were able to recognize that.’ I think by and large VCs (venture capitalists) really care more about the product, team and potential success than they do about the gender of a particular person.”
Aaron Goldstein is a consumer analyst with ten years of experience at JPMorgan and Scopus Asset Management. He said experience and market knowledge are the key attributes in his investment recommendations. “I look for strength, tenure and knowledge and experience of the management team,” he said. “Then I look for if their market is sprawling or underserved, if they have a proprietary unique product that has competitive advantage or interesting barrier of entry that can lead to success in that industry. And then I look for a good business plan that has a blueprint to see how that company is set up to grow over multiple years and if it’s feasible. I am indifferent to the gender of a management team.”
Kravetz said her fundraising experience mirrored both George’s and Goldstein’s assessment. “Where we have had success is really focusing on the business fundamentals. This is the data, this is the market, this is the opportunity and this is why you should invest. This is the team. Whether it’s beauty products or whether it’s car parts, it’s a fantastic opportunity,” she said.
Jodi Slater, gloss48’s co-founder and chief technology officer, was a math and computer science major in college and is used to male-dominated workplaces.
“Last summer we put together a pilot, and we built the website ourselves and ran the sales ourselves and proved the concept to ourselves and the investor community that this was a good idea, “ she said.
The investors and mentors at the PayPal Start Tank liked what gloss48 was pitching and the the company has since set up office at the start tank’s location in downtown Boston, which they say has been very helpful with starting their new business.
“I think it’s a fantastic place both personally and from a business perspective,” Kravetz said. “It’s a very supportive environment for companies like ours.”
Like PayPal, NEVCA serves as a resource to multiple startup companies and realizes the importance of supporting women in leadership roles. Its survey found that 33 percent of survey respondents reported that there were no women on their management teams; 37 percent had only one woman on their management teams; 17 percent had two women on their management team and only nine percent had three women on their management team. NEVCA wants to help change this.
“That is a really big priority for us,” George said. “We want to find ways to make sure that women feel part of and feel that they are being celebrated here. We want more women to see Boston as inclusive and a great place to build their businesses because they know they can count on great mentorship, which is something that is hard to quantify, but is so crucial to the success of a business.”