What motivates an entrepreneur to get into the eyelash industry? For Jason Wong, it was just watching his girlfriend put on makeup. Wong is only 23 years old and lives as a serial entrepreneur and consultant in Los Angeles. His newest company, Doe Lashes, started two years ago as a direct seller of comfortable, lightweight eyelashes.
“I noticed my friend was struggling with her eyelashes,” he told me. “She did her makeup. It took a long time. Then I started watching. For my friend, attaching the eyelashes was difficult and uncomfortable. I said to myself, ‘Maybe I can fix this.’ “
Fast forward to 2021, and Doe Lashes is a thriving e-commerce company with seven employees that saw sales grow 1,000% in 2020. He and I recently talked about the company’s launch, growth issues, sourcing strategies, and more.
Our entire audio conversation is below. The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Eric Bandholz: Tell us about Doe Lashes.
Wong: Doe is our beauty brand focused on comfortable eye products. Eyelashes are the first offer. So far it has been our hero product.
I launched Doe Lashes about two years ago. I noticed that my friend was struggling with her eyelashes. She did her makeup. It took a long time. I’ve been waiting for you. Then I started watching. Eyelashes are usually the final step in applying makeup. You put everything on your face and then you put on eyelashes. For my friend, attaching the eyelashes was difficult and uncomfortable.
I was looking for another brand to start with. I said to myself, “Maybe I can fix this.” Curiosity has the best of me. I flew to China for another company that I was sourcing for. I looked for eyelashes in factories there. I discovered the good and the bad about the eyelash industry. That’s how I got in.
Band wood: How are eyelashes made? Why are they uncomfortable?
Wong: Eyelashes are usually mass-produced with machines from the same material in nylon ropes, only thinner. They usually come in a standard eye shape. You are not very flexible. The tips are made of plastic. They stab you in the eye when you blink. The hair in the eyelashes also puts a strain on your eyes. Human eyelids don’t have a lot of muscle to hold the extra weight.
Taken together, it all makes for a very uncomfortable experience.
At the beginning we changed the supply chain. Many whip companies unwittingly bought from North Korea. Elf Cosmetics, a US-based company, fined the US government $ 1 million in 2017 for violating trade sanctions with that country. Many other brands did the same by buying from China-based manufacturers who had sourced raw materials from North Korea.
We found a factory in China that controlled the whole process. We paid three times as much as other providers, but knowing the materials were ethically sourced was the priority.
Second, the eyelashes have been redesigned from scratch. I broke my eyelashes apart thinking about what I could change, such as the glue from the hair to the tape, a tape with different types of cotton and different hairs. We are known for our soft silk hair. It’s rayon. When you run your finger over the silk, it feels like real eyelashes. Since we are synthetic, we are not tested on animals.
That is the experience that we ultimately created.
Band wood: Has the pandemic affected Doe Lashes? With a mask, the eyes appear more prominent.
Wong: The pandemic helped a lot. Sales of mascara, eyeliner and false eyelashes rose 225% across the industry in 2020 due to the mask requirement. There is also the zoom effect where the focus is on the face. Our sales have exploded, increasing by 1,000% in 2020. That’s good and scary. Without outside funding, we had to balance operating costs, hiring, inventory, and research and development.
It was hard to scale because we didn’t have enough money. There are many headaches with scaling. That is seldom discussed. Everyone is talking about growth and marketing, but not the impact of scaling.
We had three stock shortages last year that hurt us. Also the logistical nightmare of anyone trying to transport personal protective equipment. Freight and even container assignments were often not available. I had to be very creative to negotiate payment terms with suppliers to save costs.
It was a process of keeping your head above water at all times.
Band wood: Is it better now?
Wong: I can’t say, “Everything looks great and chic.” When we first launched two years ago, Doe Lashes was just an eyelash brand. But there’s a bigger game going from an eyelash brand to an eye product brand. We can make eye cream, lightening pencils, contact lenses, mascara. These are areas that we can expand into. Doe has bigger ambitions. We need more money to finance it.
We have been bootstrapping since our inception – no outside financing. We have been creative working with lenders, credit cards, and finance companies.
Band wood: How big is your team?
Wong: We are based in California. We recently scaled down to seven people. We had a few more, but then we consolidated the roles and implemented automation. We did everything that we could automate. We have brought in consultants to help us optimize internal communication and set up systems and processes to generate orders and forecast inventory levels. All of this enabled us to reduce human hours.
We have two people on social media, one for operations and one for customer support. We have a general manager, a graphic designer and an outside marketing agency. We also employ video design and computer-generated rendering freelancers. Occasionally we bring in consultants to refine our processes.
Band wood: Is Doe Lashes addressed directly to the consumer through your website?
Wong: We’re also on Amazon and have a retail presence on Urban Outfitters. That’s pretty much it. We sell wholesale outside of the US For example, we have a distributor in the Philippines. But DTC on our website accounts for 95% of total sales. Amazon is around 4%. Not much for wholesalers.
Band wood: How do you get people to your website?
Wong: Our eyelashes are much cheaper than many of our competitors. We don’t have enough gross profit margin to compete with larger companies on advertising. Hence, we focus on organic efforts and our social media channels. Social, organic and influencers generate 60%, 70% of our sales.
Band wood: How is your process with influencers?
Wong: We have an inexpensive approach to influencer marketing. Instead of dealing with macro influencers, with more than 100,000 followers, we opted for smaller ones who don’t have as many brand opportunities. We try to understand why influencers want to work with us. Is it an exchange for products? Is it money
Smaller influencer accounts often want to build a portfolio to attract more brands as customers. These accounts might say, “I worked with Doe. This is the content I created for you. Can I work with you? “
Most micro-influencers between 10,000 and 100,000 followers exchange promotions for products. We created an in-house bot to get an influencer’s bio and other info and automatically create Shopify orders to send our products to her.
If we contact you and you agree, all you have to do is click on the link we have created and you will place an order. It’s automatically added to Shopify. In fact, we’ve cut the time it takes to interact with an influencer to almost two or three minutes. By putting that together, we can scale our influencer marketing.
Then, after we had a large library of influencers working with us, we started figuring out which ones were best involved.
Band wood: What is the long term plan for Doe Lashes?
Wong: I would like to be acquired in a few years and move on to the next project. My personality is to jump around and do different things. I have to be everywhere. I have to teach. I need to do eyelashes. I have a supply chain company in China. I have to do something all the time. I have to work on different projects to keep my head fresh across multiple industries.
Band wood: How can listeners reach you and support your company?
Wong: I’m on Instagram – @pug. I’m on Twitter @eggroli. I always reply to my direct messages. Our website is DoeLashes.com.