Five Korean Beauty Startups and their Founders’ Stories
K-beauty has become the symbol of cosmetics around the world thanks to the balance of its tech solutions, innovative packaging, and natural ingredients. As the Korean section in beauty stores is growing bigger, world-famous cosmetics companies are recognizing the big potential and influence of K-beauty. One of the most significant news include L’Oréal’s acquisition of Stylenanda, the Korean lifestyle brand, and Estée Lauder buying K-beauty brand Dr. Jart+. Moreover, Korean skincare is known for its unique concepts and instagrammable products which have lead to various trends on social media worldwide. (Remember “glass skin” or panda sheet masks?)
Korea has been at the forefront of innovation in beauty for the past few years. Thanks to the success of K-Beauty, Seoul is considered one of the top capitals in the world for beauty and cosmetics. Therefore, the NIVEA Beauty Accelerator — called NX — decided to launch its program in Seoul. The NX team started their startup scouting at the beginning of this year. After carefully reviewing 200 beauty startups, NIVEA was able to recruit the following 5 startups for the first batch of the NX program.
Meet the Five K-Beauty Startups of the NIVEA Beauty Accelerator
1. LYCL Inc. (unpa.Cosmetics) — A Beauty Startup for beauty maniacs
Number of Employees: 50
LYCL Inc. is a beauty and tech startup which runs three different business models:
- unpa.me, a review and content platform for K-Beauty products
- palett.me, an influencer network platform
- unpa.Cosmetics, the startups’ own skincare brand
What makes LYCL Inc. unique is its product development process which is based on consumer information and big data collected through their platforms. Up-to-date, their app “unpa.me” has been able to get over 2 million downloads. Users share their opinions on the app and write reviews about cosmetic products. Reviews are not only helpful for consumers to make their buying decisions, but also help the startup gather valuable information to create new products for their own brand “unpa.Cosmetics.”
JiHoon Jeon, CEO at unpa.Cosmetics, founded the company in 2013. The business was able to get some recognition and raised a series A investment in 2014. However, due to aggressive goals and rapidly upscaling its staff, the company quickly ran out of money after one and a half years. It was a devastating experience for Jeon as he had to cut almost half of his team, but it also helped him rethink and improve his business strategy. After that, the company launched its first product, the Bubi Bubi Lip, which became a million unit selling product.
“Our long-term goal is to establish a global distribution strategy with new brands to grow as a global leading K-beauty brand.”
— Ji-Hoon Jeon, CEO of unpa.Cosmetics
By joining the NX program Jeon believes that unpa can become a trend-leading K-Beauty brand in the global market.
Unpa’s bestsellers include:
- The exfoliating lip scrub Bubi Bubi Lip
- The charcoal based Cha cha Toothpaste
- Bye Bye Cica cream
2. Reziena — A Beauty Startup that brings Anti-Aging to your Home
Number of Employees: 11
IoT beauty startup Reziena is the creator of an anti-aging at-home beauty device that uses intense focused ultrasound (IFU). The average cost for IFU treatments can vary between $1,000 to $2,000. The ultrasound machines are usually bulky and hard to operate if you lack the knowledge. Therefore, when the Reziena team first came up with the idea of a palm-sized IFU device they received a lot of skepticism from dermatologists and experts. They were told that it is nearly impossible to turn such a big machine into a small-sized device for customers to use at home. It was a big obstacle for the team to turn a dream into reality. However, Reziena was able to achieve a break-through success and created the world’s first palm-sized IFU skincare device called “young&be Pro.” Now, consumers can get professional anti-aging treatments done at home. Furthermore, users can get a personalized skincare guide through an app to keep track of their skincare routine. Also, Reziena has its line of aftercare cosmetic products that enhance the at-home skincare experience.
Reziena’s Special Caring Technology
The older you get, the weaker your skin gets. As your skin ages, the collagen production starts to slow down, the moisture level drops, and the elasticity starts to decrease. Furthermore, your skin gets affected by gravity and facial movements which lead to sagging skin and wrinkles. The Reziena device delivers ultrasound energy to the dermal layer, which will immediately give a sense of tightening through micro-damage. Micro-damage will cause your skin to regenerate itself as it stimulates your collagen production. Furthermore, the increased collagen helps tighten your skin and will give a small face-lift as a result.
Reziena has a patented technology called “Dual Depth Caring”. It enhances wrinkle reduction efficiency without much effort from the user. The Dual Depth Caring technology has three main features which include a high IFU generator, a moisture sensor, and an LED indicator. Their focus for 2020 will be on developing an AI platform based on user data to offer them a more personalized at-home beauty care service.
“We thrive to deliver customized skincare treatment of professional, practical efficacy through at-home dermatological care.”
— Conner Shin, CEO of Reziena
3. Glowhill — A Beauty Startup for Viral Trends
Founded: July 2017
Number of Employees: 4
Beauty startup Glowhill is a viral indie beauty brand that creates fun and instagrammable cosmetics and combines makeup with skincare. As Instagram has emerged as a mainstream marketing channel where influencers, brands, and consumers interact and engage in real-time, Glowhill has capitalized on its popularity to bring their products to consumers. Do-Wan Kim, CEO of the beauty startup, shared that running a business brings vast obstacles to it. But solving one problem after another feels immensely rewarding to the businessman. Especially, when you have a supportive community that shares their opinion on the brand’s development. The CEO is always grateful for every feedback he gets from their loyal followers as it feels like he is growing the brand together with the community.
“Our ambition is to build a brand that is recognized for its uniqueness.”
— Do-Wan Kim, CEO of Glowhill
The company targets 25–35-year-old social media enthusiasts who are interested in trying new brands. Therefore, Glowhill creates unique and interesting new products to attract young women who enjoy posting trendy content daily. By growing their follower base Glowhill’s beauty products have the potential to go viral. Think of them as upcoming trendsetters in the beauty industry.
Kim, who used to struggle with bad skin in his 20s himself, puts a lot of emphasis on healthy products. By using world-leading K-Beauty R&D technology, Glowhill can make authentic products that are not only fun to use but also promote healthier skin. The products range from exfoliating mask packs to hydrating creams and whitening sheet masks.
Some of their featured products include:
- Total solution glow ampoule pad
- Glow peel-off mask
- Spot perfume brush
- Glam makeup facial mask
4. Limese — Bringing K-Beauty from South Korea to India
Number of Employees: 13 (5 in Korea/8 in India)
Beauty startup Limese aims to bring K-Beauty to India. As India’s spending on lifestyle is increasing over the years, the demand for good skincare products is getting higher as well. Limese combines the timeless Indian philosophies about skincare and wellness with the regimens and innovative trends coming out of Korea. The products Limese selects are handpicked to suit Indian beauty requirements. Now, consumers in India can pay Rupees to buy their favorite Korean beauty products on Limese.
Why the Indian Market?
There has been a huge surge in both demand and consumption of beauty and wellness in India. The Indian beauty market was valued at $6.5 billion in 2017 and it is estimated to surpass $20 billion by 2025. One of the main factors is the fact that more and more women in India are starting to embrace makeup. Korean beauty brands have not been able to break into the Indian market yet because every region in the country has its own set of sub-trends and product demands. The founder of Limese, Dale Han, has been to India and understands the countries’ diversity and their passions for K-beauty brands.
“We want to grow into a launch pad in India for global brands and into a de facto standard for a new lifestyle in India”
— Dale Han, Founder of Limese
The Limese team hunts for the latest K-beauty products and brands from online stores and physical shops. They consult with professionals in the beauty industry such as beauticians, dermatologists, and the brands themselves. Then Limese gets feedback from real users by researching reviews and comments from real consumers. Finally, the team does an ingredient check to make sure it is of top quality. Each product selected by Limese is given a test run by the teams themselves to get a real feel of the customer experience. It is then shipped to the Limese India team in Mumbai for distribution. All the products are approved by the Indian government’s healthcare regulatory body — CDSCO. Limese has become the gateway for Korean brands looking to expand into the Indian market.
5. PANDA — A handmade skincare brand
Number of employees: 4
Beauty startup PANDA is a hand-made cosmetics skincare brand that uses the freshest of ingredients. It focuses on natural ingredients like mud, egg, coffee and more to address every skin type. What’s special about PANDA is that they involve customers from testing to the sales phase to optimize their products. So far PANDA has focused mainly on viral marketing. In 6 months they have gotten over 2,500 followers, over 700 online reviews, and over 780 sponsors.
“Our vision is to run just one more store than Lush in Korea.”
— Minsuk Park, Founder & CEO
Since PANDA makes all their products by hand, they have a high margin rate (81.1%). The average price for PANDA products is $7. Compared to Lush, which has a similar concept as PANDA, the products have the same quality but are a lot cheaper. However, the company faced many obstacles like cultural and legal differences when trying to expand to the global market. Their first product, a soap pack based on rice, failed to enter the US market as American clients did not understand the benefits of the ingredients in the beginning. PANDA believes that with NX’ expertise, insights and guidance, the company can learn how to grow from a local to a global brand.