Louisa Kinoshi created BeautyRevNg to celebrate the diverse beauty of African women. The Nigeria-based company, which officially launched in April 2014, aims to revolutionize the beauty shopping experience in Africa.
It seeks to put brands that cater to the needs of African women in its clients’ hands at the click of a button. BeautyRevNg also provides an online space for African beauty enthusiasts to gather and learn from each other.
“It is more than just selling makeup,” said Louisa, who is also a fashion and beauty blogger, and has written for various online publications. Before relocating to Nigeria to work on BeautyRevNG full-time, she worked for Clean Line Energy in Houston.
Prior to that, she worked in corporate public relations and marketing for seven years. Her clients included Starbucks, Pepsico and Pfizer, among others. I caught up with her to talk about her entrepreneurial journey so far.
The idea to start a beauty business came about when Louisa was at Carnegie Mellon University. As a student, she often travelled to Nigeria for holidays. During one of her trips, she lost her makeup bag. “It was a surprise that there was nowhere I could go to replace its contents at an affordable price,” she said.
The few places that she did find sold the makeup that she wanted at exorbitant prices. She realized then that there was a need in the market for reasonably priced beauty products that compliment African women’s skin. “I also heard from family, friends and blog followers that this was something African women want to see,” she added.
As a blogger, Louisa spend time figuring out what was missing in Africa’s beauty and fashion industry. She talked to people on the ground who shared their beauty wants and needs with her. She also cultivated relationships with beauty influencers, who included celebrity makeup artists and bloggers, in Nigeria.
It is through this research that she was able to find out the type of products that her company would initially feature. The relationships she had built came in handy when the business started. It was easy to get people to join the beauty revolution because they had heard about it from these influencers.
Louisa wanted to start small. This approach would give her leeway to make mistakes as she worked out the kinks of her business and tested to see if it was something that people really wanted. Armed with personal savings and a little bit of investment from family and friends, she embarked on turning the idea into reality.
The first order of business was getting inventory. “We live in a society where there is scarcity of product so whoever has the most inventory is queen,”she said. “If you don’t have anything to sell then that’s a problem.”
She then had to develop a website for the company. “I didn’t have to spend too much money on this,” she said. “I have web and graphic design experience so I did a lot of the web development myself.” Louisa had also fostered relationships with photographers and designers who agreed to work with her at a reduced cost.
Growing the brand
Louisa and her team, which consists of herself, a creative director and logistics manager, identify beauty companies to partner with through research and crowdsourcing. They first find out the brands that African women like, want and respect. “Respect is a really big factor,” Louisa said. “Then we ask, ‘Do these brands have products that cater to us?’”
They then reach out to the brands to find out if they are willing to work with BeautyRevNG and have a foot in Africa. Louisa also travels to Los Angeles and attends trade shows where she can meet with the brand representatives in person. She lets them know about her company and her mission and vision. “Once we have an agreement with them, we bring the brands to our site and market them to our customers,” she said.
Fostering these business partnerships has not been without its challenges. Some of the brands that customers desire don’t understand the opportunity in Africa yet. Others aren’t quite ready to have a presence in the continent. As such, they are not willing to form a wholesale relationship with BeautyRevNG.
“There are also some popular indie brands that are owned by small businesses, but they are struggling to provide inventory for America so they can’t quite expand,” Louisa said. “It’s not their priority.” This doesn’t deter her because the beauty industry has so many options. “If one brand says no, it definitely doesn’t kill your business,” she said.“There are also new players coming in.” “If one doesn’t work there is always the next one,” she added.
The company has also dealt with logistics challenges. Initially, it was tough to get the product from the website to the customers hands. “It would take almost three days in the same city,” said Louisa. She worked closely with her delivery partners in order to tackle this. “Now we are at a point where it takes 24 hours for most deliveries within the city.” Her goal is to cut down the product delivery time to 3 to 4 hours. “That would be the sweet spot,” she said.
Powering the beauty revolution
The startup sets itself apart from its competition by actively engaging with its clients. “From day one we have focused on building a community,” said Louisa. “So our brand voice has always been very inclusive.” Customers participate in the company’s story. They share pictures of products they have purchased from the store as well as beauty finds they are interested in.
Through this online community, clients can also access tutorials and get beauty advice. “We are their friends,” said Louisa. “We are who they go to when they want to have conversations about beauty.” “Even if you aren’t purchasing at the time, we still want to engage you.” she added.
This online community keeps Louisa going in the face of challenges. “People are always encouraging me with their words and pictures,” she said. Her family and friends also constantly cheer her on. As a part of Tiffany Amber’s Women of Vision Mentorship Programme, she has been able to connect with other female entrepreneurs. This community of women business owners has been her sounding board and source of strength.
Louisa is excited and energized by the reception that BeautyRevNG has received so far. She is working on launching the first beauty shopping app for African women which will not only enable them to buy products, but also read their reviews and engage with beauty experts. She wants to build a beauty experience center.
Should she win the 2015 SLA Pitch Competition, Louisa plans to use the funds she gets to accomplish these two goals. “We are going to get there eventually, but winning will fast-track the process,” she said.
Her advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is: “Be OK with failure, that’s how you learn. Mistakes are lesson plans for the next phase.”