Sephora earlier this year identified eight brands with BIPOC founders that were chosen to participate in the 2021 Accelerate Incubator program. Sephora is committed to running a program that not only educates but also builds a pipeline of support that promotes the long-term success of these brands at Sephora and improves the industry at large. Accelerate provides the BIPOC participants with introductions and access to industry experts while working closely with merchant sponsors. The 2021 brands include 54 Thrones, Eadem, Glory, Hyper Skin, lmania Beauty, Kulfi Beauty, Ries, and Topicals.
The brands recently participated in the second phase of the program called Sephora Accelerate Bootcamp which is a rigorous week of indoctrination training designed to help brand owners with many facets of their businesses including marketing, omni strategy, product development, investment strategy, and inventory management.
Priya Venkatesh, Senior Vice President of Merchandising, Skincare and Hair, said in the opening keynote, “Magic products are key in a world of constant distraction, more is less for Sephora’s successful brands.” Admittedly, keeping over 30 million customers in the world of Sephora interested and engaged can be challenging for smaller brands. However, understanding that time is a scarce commodity is key as brands that are successful within Sephora maintain a hyper-focus on a narrow assortment of hero products.
After the opening keynote, the first day at boot camp featured a founder panel that was chock-full of advice from former brands that had a similar journey to those in the incubator program this year. Hearing advice from Sephora is one thing but hearing from the brands that actually found success is priceless. Brand reps talked about having a deep passion for the products they bring to market and all discussed wanting to push the industry forward on issues such as sustainability, DEI or promoting BIPOC owned brands. The day ended with a wrap-up on best practices for dot-com businesses.
Day two highlights included a social media influencer panel that discussed how to grow marketing efforts along with advice on how to market a new brand on a shoestring budget. Professional influencers can positively impact brand performance and the session included a discussion of how to use influencers to build a brand. One of the best elements of the training included an important tip about trusting influencers in their expert space. Nya Jones, Marketing Manager of Influencers at Sephora, stated, “Using influencer marketing is key for beauty brands and by using the influencer’s input on marketing, campaign brands can achieve greater success.” The panel also helped to distinguish the differences between various social media platforms and emphasized the importance of the content resonating on every platform.
Day three began with a straight talk about venture capital. The young brands received a mountain of invaluable advice, including a warning about sharing too much information about the “secret sauce” for the product as some brands have become victims of copy cats. There were also lessons on how to articulate the value-add of products. Sephora has had a history of providing tremendous support to brands and nurturing them throughout the business process, but founders should have a plan on how to sell the product and a clear understanding of the need in the market that the product will meet. A big tip for founders was to learn to delegate, a consistent challenge for young brands.
Day four focussed on product assortment strategy and marketing 101 followed by day five lessons on how to build retail operations and scale the business.
The brand advisors for the Accelerator Incubator program included two entrepreneurs who discussed the key elements of their own participation in the program: Nancy Twine, founder and CEO, Briogeo, and Vicky Tsai, founder and CEO, Tatcha.
Briogeo’s focus is hair care for all using products free of any potentially harmful ingredients. Twine talked about bonding with the young founders by relating to her own memories of making beauty products in the kitchen with her mother who was a chemist.
Twine said, “Being part of the Accelerator program is great and the level of engagement is so high.” Twine is proud to be a leader in education for these young brands that are, as she says, “So passionate, engaged and rooted.” Sephora tapped her for finance and operations and the lesson to new founders according to Twine is, “You have to have the back of the house in shape to drive a brand forward.”
Vicky Tsai, Founder & CEO of Tatcha, a brand rooted in timeless Japanese wisdom and modern science, encompasses classical Japanese rituals of well-being. Tatcha began at Sephora as an incubator brand and Tsai reflects on the experience firsthand with the incredible resources and mentoring that the program is able to provide.
The most valuable thing one entrepreneur can offer to another is their time and wisdom. Tsai said, “During our time as an incubator brand it was never lost on me that my own mentors were incredibly generous with their time to take meetings, field calls, answer emails, and respond to text messages.” Tsai believes it’s her duty to pay it forward and feels the social justice movements of 2020 shed a light on a very important issue within the industry, which is a lack of understanding, appreciation, and support for brands and founders of other cultures.
The next phase of the Accelerator Incubator program will be the presentation and planning which culminates in pitch day. Upon completion of the program, all participating brands will launch at Sephora, putting the prestige omni-retailer on track to double its assortment of Black-owned brands by the end of 2021.