The beauty industry is one of the most competitive there is, add to that the struggle many can have in trying to stand out in the crowded community of online retailers, and it’s downright rare to find an entrepreneur that has succeeded in both areas like Kate Morris.
CEO and Founder of Adore Beauty, Kate’s passion for all things beauty began at a young age.
“I’ve been a beauty junkie since my mum first let me crimp my hair and wear green eyeshadow to my year 6 formal in 1989, back in Tasmania,” Kate tells Dynamic Business.
“I hadn’t considered a career in either beauty or IT – I was studying Arts/Law at Uni. My part time job through university was working on the cosmetic counters in department stores, which I loved.”
It was at these cosmetic counters that Kate noticed a key issue customers were having with brick and mortar retailers: stores often didn’t have the products most in-demand.
“I could never access the products I wanted, so when I first became aware of online shopping I immediately thought of cosmetics,” Kate says.
“I had also realised, through my department store job, that many women found the cosmetic counters intimidating. I knew someone needed to do beauty online in Australia, and thought, why not me?”
Why not? It’s a question that many potential entrepreneurs ask themselves, and it often ends there. Kate acted.
At 21, without any experience or connections in the business sector, Kate decided to create Adore Beauty. Of course, funding was an issue. Kate’s age, lack of experience, and the fact she had almost no business partners to speak of inevitably made her unattractive to bank lenders.
“I was 21 years old, starting the first online beauty retailer in Australia, so that didn’t really fit the banks’ risk profile for lending!” Kate says. “I ended up borrowing the money from my boyfriend’s parents – I think they fully expected to lose it, but it all worked out okay.”
‘Okay’ may be a bit of an understatement. Although a lack of capital meant Kate couldn’t afford a marketing budget, which inevitably led to a slower take-up of online shopping than she would have wanted, the entrepreneur found the beginnings of business success with the help of a faithful clientele.
“We first hit the $1 million revenue mark in 2006. By then the business had started to build up a regular customer base and a good range of products, and was growing through word of mouth.”
After a steady rate of growth over the years, one of the company’s biggest moves came last year, when Adore Beauty became the only approved agent for Estée Lauder companies in Australia. The first and only online pure-play in Australia and one of the first in the world to sell products from Estée Lauder brands, which include Clinique and Bobby Brown, Adore Beauty become a leader in the world of online beauty retail.
2014 was a downright big year for both Adore Beaut and Kate, with the Estée Lauder deal following partnership deals with L’Oreal brands Yves Saint Laurent, La Roche-Posay and Kérastase. Kate was awarded the Business Innovation Award for Victoria at the Telstra Business Women’s Awards in 2014, while Adore Beauty made 2014 lists for the Deloitte Asia Pacific Tech Fast 500, Deloitte Tech Fast 50 Australia, and SmartCompany Smart 50.
Despite all the recent success and growth, Kate is keeping her goals on a national level before considering overseas expansion.
“I think we have a lot more to achieve in Australia first. We’ve tripled revenue in the last three years and would like to do the same again over the next three years,” Kate says.
When considering the fact women are often underrepresented in the world of business and – especially – IT, Kate points to the link between diversity and innovation as a reason for change.
“All the evidence suggests that businesses with gender diversity perform better and are more profitable. Innovation is essential to every industry – and the IT industry in particular – I don’t see how any business can consistently innovate if its people only represent half the population.”
Kate leaves Dynamic Business with two bits of advice to share with entrepreneurs taking those first steps:
1. “Accept failure as a natural part of the learning process – don’t be disheartened.”
2. “Demand that your partner does their share of parenting and housework – you can’t do everything yourself.”