WHEN launched in Korea in 2011 and was part of the first wave of K-Beauty brands to hit the US market in November of 2012 with Sephora. In 2012, Korean beauty exports to the US totaled $59 million, according to the US Census Bureau, growing to $511 million last year.
WHEN was created by Jin Han Lee, a Korean healthcare specialist who wanted to make the high-quality skincare treatments from Korean dermatologists’ clinics and spas more accessible. Identifying an opportunity Mr. Lee brought together a group of skincare specialists, including a dermatologist who specializes in anti-aging, a biologist with patented biotechnology, and a botanist who specializes in therapeutic herbs and plant extracts. These experts combined intelligence with proven methods, such as the bio-cellulose sheet mask, and the result was products that instantly transform skin.
To date the business has raised $5 million in funding from angels, a Korean venture capital firm, and a US biotech research & development company. Having built a solid global distribution footprint including Duty-Free Korea, the US, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, the company is now raising capital to fund growth. WHEN will be pitching potential investors as one of the Beauty Spotlight winners at the 2019 Beauty and Money Summit in NYC.
BeautyMatter caught up with Jenny Jhung, Managing Director of J.C People – When Beauty to learn more about the origins and growth plans for the business.
WHEN was part of the initial wave of K-Beauty brands. How have you managed to break through the noise and establish the brand?
WHEN differentiates from other K-Beauty brands by using the best-proven materials and ingredients, and also by offering the products to consumers in beautiful, attractive packaging so they can understand and relate to the products more easily. WHEN aims to provide a “mini spa by skin intelligence” experience to consumers.
What is the unique value proposition your brand or product brings to the category?
Our CEO and founder, Mr. Jin Han Lee, created the WHEN brand with bio-cellulose sheet masks in July 2011. At the time, bio-cellulose sheet masks were only available in dermatologist clinics as they were used to treat burn patients and treat patients after laser treatments. Mr. Lee was a healthcare specialist working with numerous dermatologists and plastic surgeons and saw the great demand and need for beauty solutions. He was inspired by the highly effective skincare solutions available in the clinics, and wanted to bring them out to consumers WHEN they need it, wherever and whenever they want. So WHEN aims to provide Intelligent Skincare in a more consumer-friendly way in the retail and professional spas and salons markets.
In your opinion how has the perception of K-Beauty and the category changed in the past seven years?
We first launched our brand in the US through Sephora in November of 2012. At the time, there were only two other Korean brands available in the US, Amore Pacific and Dr. Jart. After about four years, the K-Beauty category was first made in Sephora, then adopted by Ulta. Department stores and other retailers began adding the category since 2018.
What challenges or opportunities has the evolution of K-Beauty brought to your business?
Challenges are that most of the K-Beauty brands are focused on face masks, so there has been some consolidation in this niche category. But, for skincare overall, K-Beauty is still revered for its innovative and high-quality products and solutions with unique textures and ingredients.
WHEN also began with face masks, then felt the space becoming crowded since 2017 (when Sephora removed the Sheet Mask gondola and replaced it with their own private-label sheet masks) and began developing new products such as neck & breast masks, cream masks, and full-fledged skincare lines for anti-aging and a men’s anti-pollution skincare line.
What is your growth strategy?
We hope that next year will be our leap year with our new skincare line launches, taking both the brand recognition and sales to a new level. We continue to develop new innovative products in collaboration with our biotech R&D and contract manufacturers. Utilizing our global sales network in the US, EU, Middle East, Southeast Asia, and China, we can see trends in multiple markets and apply them to product planning and help the manufacturers and R&D firms commercialize their research and expertise much more efficiently and effectively.
How has the business been funded to date?
About $5 million, mostly via angel investors, a Korean venture capital [firm] invested about $1.3 million in 2016, followed by a US biotech R&D firm that invested $1 million in 2017.
Why are you looking for funding at this stage of the business?
We are looking to raise capital to fund our marketing efforts of the new skincare lines and our new product developments in the pipeline.
What are the differentiators that make WHEN a business investors should consider?
We began to grow with the new funding from the VC & biotech firm. In 2017, our sales grew about 30% YoY and in 2018 jumped 3x. In the first half of 2019, our sales reached about 80% of 2018’s total annual sales.
After 8 years, we have a solid brand, WHEN, amazing products (every single product we have is so good!), beautiful package designs, and new exciting skincare product launches with many more innovative product developments in the pipeline.
The WHEN brand is currently positioned as a masstige brand due to the competitive nature and limitations of the sheet mask category. We aim to take the brand to the premium level with our new anti-aging skincare line, and subsequently ensuing skincare lines. Once our skincare launch has been fully activated, we can take the masks to wider distribution channels as the brand will remain sustainable with the new skincare products.
You are one of the Spotlight Finalists for the upcoming Beauty & Money Summit in NYC. Is there a reason you are looking for investment in the US?
The US is where we first received recognition of our brand’s potential (via Sephora) and is our largest market (about 60-70% of total sales). We are also in the process of setting up a US subsidiary in order to manage the US operations more closely after fundraising is completed.
What would your ideal investment partner look like?
Consumer or beauty specialist venture capital or strategic investor that has insights about the Cosmetics/Beauty/Consumer sectors.
What is your vision for the brand? Where do you see the business in 5 years?
In 5 years, we see WHEN to be a premium global skincare brand with presence in most major retail markets, hotels (travel retail amenities), and spas doing collaborations with other innovative brands.