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Makeoverly gives beauty consultation in the digital age a makeover

By some predictions the global beauty care products industry is set to grow to US$265-billion by 2017.

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VC firms are aware of the trend. Abroad, Andreessen Horowitz, Jay-Z’s VC company, poured US$10-million into cosmetics startup Julep, while Ipsy, the monthly beauty box subscription service of vlogging sensation slash entrepreneur, Michelle Phan, pocketed US$3.8 million from Crosscut Ventures and Amalfi Capital.

Closer to home, South African beauty box success story Rubybox, received funding from HPV Africa, and virtual beauty advisor startup, Kaboose, is showing traction, reporting over 22.5-million product views to date.

In fact, a large portion of the beauty industry’s expansion is expected to come via emerging markets. The Global Beauty Care Products Industry 2012-2017: Trend, Profit, and Forecast Analysis report notes that the Asia-Pacific region in terms of beauty ingredients, generated about US$21 billion of incremental retail value in 2011. The report also says that Western-based manufacturers, such as Procter & Gamble, L’Oréal and Unilever, are becoming increasingly dependent on emerging market consumers to pump up revenues.

Within this burgeoning digital beauty industry we’re seeing startups venturing into new spaces. For example, Makeoverly bills itself as the first independent platform where anyone can chat with makeup artists online, for free.

The Alaska-based startup with emerging market ambitions, also offers longer, paid consultation sessions, but the bulk of the startup’s revenue comes from product recommendations and referrals.

Makeoverly’s 23-year-old founder and CEO Hannah Wright, tells us that the product recommendations are unbiased as the startup’s link monetisation strategy encompasses over 18 000 approved merchants .

“We are able to recommend almost every beauty brand out there. If there are products or brands that are not included in this list of merchants, we provide the links regardless. What makes our platform unique is that unlike beauty stores, our virtual makeup artists are not contracted out by specific brands — so it is extremely important to us that our recommendations are authentic and from the heart,” notes Wright.

With online cosmetic sales soaring, the self-funded Makeoverly hopes to lure beauty product shoppers between the ages of 16 and 30 into the digital realm by combining cosmetic sales with personalised makeup advice. Instead of an automated system, Makeoverly offers live, text-based or Skype consultations between 9am and 5pm PST from its website or Android app.

Makeoverly’s beauty assistants are either certified cosmetologists, have had prior beauty counter experience, or are freelance makeup artists.

Online consultations have become commonplace. South Africa’s TherapyRoom offers remote counselling sessions, while Clarity provides access to successful entrepreneurs via paid sessions.

With the launch of Helpouts in November this year, Google arguably pushed online consulting into the mainstream. Finding experts willing to part with knowledge in exchange for payment became that much simpler. With that, online consulting services also face their stiffest competition to date.

Makeoverly’s two-pronged approached with consultation and additional referral scheme provides an extra leg to stand on, and there’s a lot to be said for the communities that inadvertently pop up around each niche.

Wright says that Makeoverly’s challenges revolve around expanding its hours of operation to serve international clients. It’s an important obstacle as Wright notes the importance of emerging markets.

“We have had a fair amount of visitors from India and the UK, and we do our best to accommodate these users with product recommendations based on their location. We are able to identify the location of users to better serve them by providing links to products on websites that ship to their area. In the future, we’d like to expand our hours so that we are available to engage with a greater percentage of users outside of the US,” sys Wright.

Since its launch in August of this year, Makeoverly has had over 4000 users. Wright tells us that about 50% of those visitors clicked on a product link on the website during their visit — and that is just outside of the actual chat sessions.

“We also provide links to products during the actual chat sessions, which users click on right as they are provided,” says Wright.

Makeoverly recently added a “Discover makeup artist favourites” feature where visitors are able to view the favourite items of makeup artists. The startup’s staff encourage other makeup artists outside of its staff to submit reviews of their favourite beauty products after completing a short verification process.

Within the next five years, Makeoverly hopes to be the leading online makeover solution based on its niche in offering live chat.

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