The INKEY List was born from a need to cut through the beauty marketing jargon, decipher, and deliver the knowledge and tools for consumers to understand ingredients, what they do, and how to use them in your skincare routine. We wanted to create highly efficacious formulas at prices that don't break the bank; today, our products range from $5 to $25. In 2020, we expanded our offerings to include hair/scalp treatments—targeted solutions using the same principles that hold true to our mission. At our core, we are essentially a service-led brand. We have evolved to ensure that we meet our consumer with knowledge and information at every touchpoint, be it inside our packs, as part of our visual mechandising displays at Sephora, on social media, and through our askINKEY service—a 24/7/365 offering that enables the curious and confused to have their skin/hair/scalp questions answered by human experts in real time. To date, the service has yielded over 1 million consumer interactions. We have also built over 4 million recipes with our Recipe Builder, which generates personalized routines in under two minutes, giving consumers not just a recommendation for what products are right for them, but why.
Brand Founder: Colette Laxton and Mark Curry
2023 Full Year Expected Revenue Range: $50 to $75MM (estimated by industry experts)
Categories: Skincare, Haircare
Distribution Channels: Prestige
Funding Rounds: Venture Capital
Total Funds Raised:
Notable Investors: Aria Growth Partners, Unilever Ventures
What are some of your key business initiatives for 2023?
At just four years old, we have taken the masstige skincare market by storm and we are now scaling faster than we could have imagined as we look beyond the $100 million mark. This means driving more awareness and supporting even more people with the beauty of knowledge. 2023 is going to be a tough year economically and supporting our consumers is our #1 priority. Whether that's through evolving our service or educating them on how to get smarter with their current routines, we want to ensure they get the best results for the budget they have in these testing times in a way that is tailored to them. We will be evolving our tech to support and also launching an exciting, important new product development (NPD)! Our global footprint continues to grow with over 32 countries, and our global partnership with Sephora is key as we really establish ourselves in new markets versus just being available. Our community expansion is a huge part of this, and we need to maintain our foothold as best in class socially—connecting with consumers and adding value to them—no matter the channel, platform, or store they enter. Reaching 1 billion views on TikTok was a real moment for us in December 2022—so in 2023, it is "game on" to reach even more consumers with knowledge-led content.
What are you most proud of having accomplished?
We are so proud of our relationship with the Sephora team, which began in 2018, shortly after our initial launch in the UK. We were able to partner with them at such an early stage in our brand journey that we have been able to grow, plan, and strategize together. We have grown from a new, unknown indie brand on a small shelf, to having a much larger brand footprint in brick-and-mortar with askINKEY access points—the first consumer support service from a brand in Sephora. Today, The INKEY List is available exclusively in Sephora/on Sephora.com in over 32 countries worldwide, and our goal is to continue to disrupt with them as the go-to masstige skincare brand in 2023, with a strong field team, meaningful NPD, and strong digital presence. The sky is the limit!
What has been the biggest surprise since the brand was founded?
Being a young brand entering the pandemic! Going into 2020, we were still a relatively new brand that hadn’t invested in our own website (it didn’t exist) and had created larger visual merchandising displays to install in Sephora that March of 2020. Obviously, with the pandemic we needed to pivot majorly and quickly. We built theinkeylist.com in just eight weeks with our education-led recipe builder and askINKEY service at the heart and began to really lean in digitally to our service and edutainment via weekly Instagram Lives. As we’ve now seen, the skincare category saw major growth during lockdown, and we realized just how many people were curious or confused about their skincare routine. It was a major moment for us for brand growth (the brand quadrupled in size by 2021), but also really bolstered our mission and that we were answering a consumer need by creating The INKEY List.
What aspect of your brand DNA fuels your competitive advantage?
Knowledge is a key pillar of our brand, and as founders, we are constantly hungry for knowledge and information that will help us better understand our consumers. In 2021, our in-house insight team-built INK-IQ, our proprietary tech insight platform on our direct-to-consumer (DTC) site to allow us to hyperpersonalize the consumer experience via all of our touchpoints and ultimately make The INKEY List a data-led company. By bringing together over 40 data sources, we are now able to continuously monitor and utilize data to drive the front-end consumer experience. It has been a growth engine for the brand, giving us clear first-party consumer insight and the knowledge to activate aspects such as innovation, performance marketing strategies, and messaging relevancy. This quantitative data, dovetailed with our askINKEY service, gives us a 360 view of consumer behavior, wants, and needs, which as a fast, agile brand, we can activate on quicker than most.
Please share your insight on the future of the beauty industry.
Transparency is the future. Any brands that are propagating confusion, or not being black and white to the consumers' concerns, questions, wants, and needs about who you are, and how you are as a business, can expect a tough future.
Consumer trust and the role of experts continue to fluctuate—influencer and celebrity brands built only on "trust me" messaging are no longer going to fly, and dermatologists as the truth is at its peak. Our consumers are telling us they trust each other versus trusting brands, so the next generation peer-to-peer brand strategies and channels that support communities will be an interesting next step.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Our mentor who has had 50+ years in beauty told us early on to “stay in the game.” At the time this had little meaning to us, but after nearly five years of running a business we get this more than anything else we have been told. In any business there will be constant challenges and at least a handful of times where shutting up shop feels like the only option. It is not, and with creativity and grit, you can get through most things. The pandemic is the perfect example of brands that pivoted quickly and creatively, going on to win, and we refused to give up; we hunkered down and quickly came back fighting with a consumer-first strategy, an engaged team, and a cash runway to support us through the tough times.
Paying it forward, what advice would you give to someone contemplating launching a beauty brand?
Be dead clear on your mission and the “why” behind your brand. A book that we give to all of our staff when they start at INKEY is Simon Sinek’s Start with Why, because everything you do needs to ladder up to the brand mission—especially in the early years when human and financial resources are extra tight.
You also need to really know who your consumer is and be driven by what they need, how they want to be communicated to, and how your brand is adding value to their lives. Nobody needs another brand or product. So, how is what you deliver to them going to be that "Aha!" moment for someone to enter a category or change their behavior to benefit them and their beauty needs?
If you could change one thing in the beauty industry, what would it be?
As entrepreneurs who have focused on disrupting the front end for consumers, we often get frustrated at the pace of the back end. Innovation in sustainability is still inaccessible to brands and isn't moving at the pace in which consumers are. We want to make the best choices we can on the back end to support people and the planet (as per our B Corp responsibility), and right now we don’t feel equipped to set ourselves up for a responsible future.
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