Kate Morris: Beating The Odds
“I started Adore Beauty in a garage with next to no money and no business experience. When I look back on those early days, it amazes me that I managed to get where I am today!”
And where Kate Morris is today is the CEO and founder of Australia’s leading online beauty site. A site that pioneered the Australian beauty industry’s move into the digital space in April 2000 with only $12,000 in its accounts and two little-known brands under its belt.
After 15 years of self-funding, Adore Beauty has tripled in size, boasts annual turnover of $10 million and stocks 8,000 products from 140 brands including Gorgeous Cosmetics, Laura Mercier and Marc Jacobs. Kate recently made company history by selling 25 per cent of the company to Woolworths as an alternative to traditional venture capital funding. Adore Beauty has also welcomed a new site with features that will make it easier for customers to navigate through its massive product range.
woman with drive spoke to Kate about all things tech, beauty and business.
What was the inspiration behind Adore Beauty?
Growing up in Launceston, so many of the brands I coveted were simply not available to me because you could only buy them overseas or in big city department stores. When I moved to Melbourne and worked part-time at a cosmetics counter, it gave me a lot of insight into women’s shopping habits.
There were constant tales of pushy saleswomen, bad service and intimidating environments. The feedback was so negative that I knew there was a better way of shopping for beauty products.
What were the challenges of setting up an online store in Australia in those earlier days?
First, was the technology. These were days before broadband where you had to choose between using the telephone or the Internet. You could not get an open-source or cheap shopping cart off the shelf back then so online stores had to be custom-built and there were very few digital agencies with that experience.
Second, was that nobody shopped online. Buying things off the Internet just was not done 15 years ago! People used to be very nervous about security, and did not understand how convenient online shopping could be.
Third, was getting brands on-board. Many beauty brands were sceptical about having their products stocked at an online store. In fact at the start, all but two said no. I frequently heard things like “nobody is ever going to buy beauty products online”.
How did you overcome these challenges to move forward and create success for Adore Beauty?
By gaining customers’ trust, providing impeccable customer service and offering safe payment methods and great prices. Even to this day, many people have had bad experiences online with fake products or expired stock so it is just about assuring them that we are official stockists and all our products are genuine. It has certainly gotten easier over the years as more people discover the benefits of shopping online.
With regards to getting new brands on-board, it is all about not taking rejection personally. Whether it is bad timing, worries about branding, nerves or perhaps a manager standing in their way, the key is taking time to understand why they are saying no. That way, you can address their concerns.
How has the online space changed since then? And how has Adore Beauty maintained its leadership position in this space?
There was no broadband, no smartphones and no such thing as social media 15 years ago. Nowadays we all have computers in our pockets and we are connected 24/7. I think the key skill with technology-based businesses is to be agile and adaptable. You cannot predict the changes but you can be ready to move quickly.
What are your top tips for budding entrepreneurs?
Have passion for what you are doing. The substance of your work needs to make you excited!
Accept failure as a natural outcome of innovation. Things will not go as planned all the time, especially if you are trying something innovative. Anticipate flops and find ways to make mistakes quickly and cheaply.
Do the right thing, and be honest.
What are your top 3 beauty products and why do you love them?
I have recommended this to dozens of people and it works for every skin type as it simultaneously hydrates and refines the skin. Can’t live without it!
Moroccan oil Original Oil Treatment
Believe the hype. Moroccanoil Original Oil Treatment is an absolute must if you heat style your hair and even more so if you also colour it!
Sodashi Brightening Mineral Marine Mask
After a busy week of travel and late nights, this mask is the next best thing to having a facial. It makes my skin look awake and bright again.
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