blendSMART is one of those products that is brilliant in its simplicity, and that inspires—Why didn’t I think of that? By combining makeup application and a beauty device, blendSMART has created a global “spinning revolution.” Their first-of-a-kind patented, rotating technology has disrupted makeup application.
This may be founder Lori Machiorlette’s first beauty venture, but this seasoned entrepreneur is navigating one of the most competitive categories, color cosmetics, by listening to her consumers. Lori shares her insight and challenges being a self-funded indie beauty brand in today retail landscape.
What was the impetus for innovating the humble makeup brush? What trends informed the development?
The concept of a rotating makeup brush was brought to us by way of a former model. During rehab from a wrist injury, she discovered that there wasn’t a beauty tool that simulated the blending motion makeup artists use to apply makeup evenly. We conducted market research that shed light on the universal struggles women have applying makeup consistently and evenly, and there were no tools on the market that made applying makeup easier. Meanwhile, beauty brands were developing more and more layers of formulations, further complicating the makeup application process. That’s where we saw the opportunity to simplify beauty routines and make it attainable for every woman, regardless of her skill level.
How did you bring the product from concept to commercialization?
It was a three-year process of collaborating with engineers, makeup artists, and industry professionals. We also invested heavily in intellectual property worldwide. To validate our proof-of-concept, we soft-launched our product line by co-branding with an up-and-coming brand that sold exclusively on QVC, in both the US and Europe. That helped speed the transition from concept to commercialization.
Have you had an issue with copycat products? How do you protect the intellectual product in what you’ve created?
I would say the copycats are the most frustrating part of product innovation in America. While we expected our innovation to be imitated, we never anticipated that American companies would egregiously steal our copyrighted messaging, digital assets, not to mention infringe on utility and design patents. Thankfully, we have strong IP, as we recently settled one case with Michael Todd and are pursing legal action against the other bad actors. The only path to restitution is legal and more legal. Unfortunately, it’s expensive and distracting, and I wish it weren’t the reality in this day and age, but it is.
blendSMART is your first beauty venture. How did your outsider perspective inform the trajectory of the brand?
Being an outsider has both advantages and disadvantages. However, the world changed with Amazon, and thankfully for “outsiders” many “old school” rules no longer apply. Being new to the space made us more uninhibited in making distribution channel decisions. The traditional path of prestige to mass retailers can be complicated, time-consuming, and confining. So, speed-to-market helped drive our decisions. When we discovered that our tool helps lift formulation sales, we were also comfortable building alliances with other beauty brands—something we frequently do in our home décor company.
This is not your fist entrepreneurial venture. How have your previous ventures helped you navigate the beauty category?
We have been in consumer goods for close to 15 years and had strong overseas sourcing relationships. In addition, we have lots of experience with patented products, and had the legal, logistics, design, customer service, and fulfillment already in place. We never would have been able to launch as quickly without our established team, infrastructure, and experience.
What challenges have you had carving out your place in the crowded color category?
We created a new category of automated beauty application. Sonic technology had already launched to remove and dissolve makeup before us, but we were the first to introduce an automated rotating brush for applying makeup. So, not only did we need to build awareness for our brand, but we needed to educate, inform, and change consumer habits. Traditional brushes, sponges, and fingers have been the norm for a very long time. Connecting with the right customer and getting enough eyeballs to our innovation remains a big challenge.
What’s been the most surprising or unexpected thing you experienced about the beauty industry?
For us, influencer marketing was a new frontier. The majority of the contacts with influencers have been unbelievably rewarding and valuable. From influencers, we get instant feedback on quality control, performance, and even messaging. Being an indie brand can be lonely and exhausting, but the most unexpected experience has been the support from the influencer community. Their spirit continues to empower and inspire me to continue the cause of bringing an easier and improved solution to applying makeup. At times, I feel like I have a much bigger team and am so grateful for their dedication to the beauty industry and their followers.
I was immediately converted to blendSMART once I used the tool. Given this and the fact that the product is highly demonstrable, I would imagine demonstration drives sales. What’s your distribution strategy for the brand?
First, we are thrilled that you have joined our revolution in makeup application and love how it’s now a part of your beauty routine! However, being a new technology requires a platform to both demonstrate and education. So, of course, QVC was the perfect channel to launch our story. Additionally, the Internet with its dependency on video content has been a great outlet for conversions. Lastly, because we can easily create in-store activations and customer experiences, we see great turns in traditional brick-and-mortar retailers.
Would you share how you’ve funded the business to date? Have there been any challenges in raising capital?
We have been self-funded, which has its challenges, but the good part is that it has forced us to make prudent decisions with our use of capital. We are very efficient and look at ROI on everything we do. One challenge of not being a “beauty-insider,” is knowing where to go and who to ask for funding. However, we put our capital-raising efforts on hold while we went after the patent infringers, because a strong IP is important to potential investors. With that behind us, we are resuming our efforts to find strategic investors and partners who can augment our capabilities to expand. Since blendSMART improves makeup results with just about any type of makeup, we see the potential for a strong synergy with the right partner. As for other challenges, we have had to pass on near-term opportunities, such as turning down one of the largest global retailers, because we didn’t have the capital to support a successful launch. The good news is they still want us when we’re ready.
As you have navigated the beauty industry, what has been the best piece of advice you have received during your journey of building the blendSMART brand?
Made sure your message is simple and consistent and everything you do supports your DNA.
What lessons have you learned and what advice would you share with entrepreneurs contemplating the launch of a beauty brand?
Beauty is no different from any start-up, and if you are self-funded, you better have an infrastructure or plenty of capital to support the early lean months. Most of your investments will be in marketing, IP, and product development. A beauty launch is challenging on its own, but there are so many amazing people in the industry willing to help, so ask for support and advice, often. It takes a village, as they say.
What excites you about the future of the beauty industry?
The consumer. She has so much control over the beauty industry. She knows who cares and who doesn’t. Being authentic isn’t a marketing term or a mission. It’s how you live your life, and how you lead your brand. Brands need to be devoted to their core customers, and consumers can smell it if brands aren’t real. For example, one of the biggest “As Seen On TV” companies recently copied our product with a cheap toy-like imitation and the market rejected it. The consumer is an equalizer, and nobody, big or small, can fool today’s smart and discerning beauty seeker.
What is in store for the future of blendSMART?
More product extensions, features, and international growth. We launched in India and are about to expand into Asia and Mexico. We are so energized to bring the spinning revolution to every beauty seeker, regardless of their skills, skin type, or makeup preference.