Exclusive: Cult Beauty founder Jessica DeLuca on selling to THG and what happens next

In the 13 years since launching on-line cosmetics retailer Cult Beauty, Jessica DeLuca and Alexia Inge grew the enterprise from £72,000 to £275m – the quantity it offered to The Hut Group (THG) for this week.

Jessica DeLuca, a former IT analyst, labored within the spare bed room of her basement flat by 2007 constructing the model and web site that may develop into Cult Beauty.

After elevating funds from household and buddies, the pair launched the web site from the identical room a yr later in June 2008. Then three months in, the monetary crash occurred.

“It was an actual wrestle on the very starting, because it was an extremely troublesome time to persuade individuals to spend their cash with an organisation they’ve by no means heard of,” DeLuca says.

“But what wasn’t a wrestle was discovering individuals who actually believed within the ethos of the enterprise: telling the reality about what merchandise actually work and treating ladies like they’re clever beings.

“It was about making ladies really feel extra assured about what they have been spending their cash on, in addition to what they seem like.”

The website additionally supplied an area the place magnificence manufacturers who in any other case “noticed the Internet because the ‘Wild West’ of retail” would really feel assured selling their merchandise.

Two of Net-a-Porter’s founding companions invested in Cult Beauty within the early days, and there are numerous parallels to be drawn between the 2 British ecommerce manufacturers.

Namely, shoppers select the websites for his or her curation of merchandise and editorial facets – which in Cult Beauty’s case embody breakdowns and even a search operate for beauty substances for knowledgeable consumers.

It stands in distinction to on-line magnificence rival retailer Lookfantastic, owned by THG, who on Wednesday introduced it had purchased Cult Beauty and its portfolio of 300 magnificence manufacturers, 1.7m clients and 1.6m Instagram followers for a cool £275m.

So why promote to THG?

“I used to be simply so glad they wished us. Lookfantastic nonetheless exists in the identical kind that it was once they purchased it greater than a decade in the past,” says DeLuca.

“They’ve accomplished an important job with manufacturers that have been our rivals again then. And they’ve unimaginable ecommerce capabilities. I actually do really feel that I’m leaving Cult Beauty in probably the most succesful palms.”

The sale of the enterprise now frees up DeLuca to focus on her next purpose: “Helping the next technology of feminine founders to obtain the identical as me.”

Which, contemplating solely 2.3 per cent of worldwide VC funding went to women-led startups in 2020, isn’t any imply feat.

“What I realized by the method of beginning Cult Beauty – and didn’t recognize earlier than we first began – was how troublesome it’s for ladies to be taken severely within the startup world,” she says.

“From the stats you possibly can see what a problem it’s for ladies to get any type of funding consideration. Then if you do, there aren’t as many individuals vying to spend money on the corporate, so the valuations ladies get simply aren’t what male-founded firms get.

“The largest barrier feminine founders have to overcome is certainly entry to funding.”

DeLuca can’t but say what the plans she has “within the works” to assist ladies acquire equal entry to capital will seem like.

But they are going to be “in the identical vein” as two latest initiatives. She is at present a strategic advisor on the board of Sana Jardin, a “socially acutely aware luxurious perfume firm” that she was instrumental in launching and designing with founder Amy Christiansen in 2017.

And then she’s labored with the Cherie Blaire Foundation for Women on its enterprise growth programme, which helps feminine entrepreneurs in creating international locations by connecting them with mentors and serving to them with entry to capital.

Virtuous circle

But DeLuca prefers to have a look at the present dearth of feminine entry to funds as an “monumental alternative” fairly than an issue.

“Some buyers can perceive not simply the power of ladies to run an organization, but additionally the industries that ladies are primarily the goal demographic of,” she says.

As properly as extra funds geared toward investing in ladies, DeLuca believes a authorities grant programme designed and run by profitable ladies entrepreneurs would drastically speed up progress.

“It’s not about bashing males. It’s not about saying “we’re higher”, it’s nearly equal entry to alternative,” she says.

“Then every time a feminine founder is profitable, she has the power to mentor, advise and spend money on different feminine founders.

“So it’s a it’s a virtuous cycle the place finally our wealth will catch up to gender parity and then ladies may have the identical entry to capital that males do.

“That’s my purpose – hopefully we’ll see it in my lifetime.”


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