Julep is challenging the traditional consumer-goods industry, one beauty product at a time.
Today, this Andreessen Horowitz-backed cosmetics startup launched a community forum called Idea Lab that turns the product-development process on its head.
“Idea Lab is trying to do two things — speed up product development and time-to-market, and get a preliminary sense of customer interest to manufacture from the get-go,” Julep CEO Jane Park said in an interview. “We want to involve our customers more deeply and transparently in the product development process. This is one way a small startup company can compete at the scale of a large beauty company.”
Idea Lab essentially enables Julep to crowdsource feedback for its product ideas before the manufacturing stage, gauge enthusiasm, and generate preorders.
The site resembles crowdfunding campaign pages you might find on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or Crowdtilt. Each product comes with a video, descriptive information,and a financial goal. It has various contribution tiers, and you can track a campaign’s progress.
The first Idea Lab campaign is for a “plie wand” for polishing nails. This 30 day campaign seeks to raise $75,000. Mavens, or members of Julep’s subscription community, can reserve one for $20. Other tiers range from $40 for a wand and two of Julep’s nail colors, all the way up to a $10,000 option where you can create your own custom nail color.
Traditionally, consumer goods companies rely on customer surveys, market reports, and intuition to roll out new products. They manufacture a set amount of inventory, release it to retail, advertise, and hope it sells. This is not only an expensive approach, but it can also lead to excess inventory and waste.
“When a beauty company launches a new product, it is a high-risk proposition,” Park said. “They are launching into physical shelf space and advertising against that product launch. There is a big expense required to fuel this huge marketing machine. Today’s beauty industry is only set up for blockbuster success. Our products can grow more organically.”
Julep sells nail polishes, bath and skin products, and makeup. It does all its business online and from the beginning has asked its customers to participate in the product-development process.
Since it doesn’t have to worry about physical shelf space, Julep is able to churn out new products at an unbelievable rate. The company released 311 new products in 2013, which it claims is 10 times faster than traditional beauty companies.
Park said Julep is able to maintain this rate of production because it cuts out many of the inefficiencies in how its products get made.
“When you have extra inventory and waste, you have to spend a lot of time and money trying to convince people that they want it through price promotion, advertising, marketing, drama — a lot of energy goes into that,” Park said. “When you don’t have all that money tied up in inventory, you can innovate a lot faster. But you can only innovate this quickly if you are guessing right every time, and the only way to guess right every time is to communicate with the customer.”
Idea Lab will present new products to women once a month. The plie wand was designed with famed design firm IDEO.
Julep is based in Seattle and has raised $27 million from Andreessen Horowitz, Maveron and celebrity backers including Will Smith and Jay-Z.