Founder of Beautytap, James Sun Shares The Secret To His Success

As part of our ongoing ‘CEO Secrets’ series, founders in the fashion and beauty industries share with us some rare insights into how they made their entrepreneurial dreams happen.

For this story we chatted with James Sun, founder and CEO of Beautytap, the beauty industry’s top destination for the latest in Korean Beauty.

From the start of his entrepreneurial career at the age of 11, to opening the first ever U.S. retail location solely dedicated to Korean beauty products, James continues to challenge and innovate the retail and beauty industry.

While most companies continue to move away from brick and mortar and head full-force into an online-only market, James has perfected his business by doing the exact opposite!

1. What inspired you to start Beautytap?

I’ve been a fan of good skincare since I was a little kid. My mother was probably a big influence on that. I would rub my face with the inside of orange peels, thinking that the acid would neutralise the oil on my face.

Later, as I pursued a career in consumer tech, it was a natural progression to start an omni-channel online/offline business within the beauty sector.

Originally, the inspiration for the business was to allow anyone around the world to discover and purchase cross-border beauty products. This is still the vision, but we are realising the importance of omni-channel since touch and feel are a huge part of beauty discovery.

Now, after launching our first brick-and-mortar store, our vision is to maintain a physical presence where people can try samples from all types of products in person before making a final purchase online.

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"Most people would probably say their favorite part of the store is the Beautytap flower covered photo wall or the mask wall, however my favorite was the touch screen display! It allows you to look at the products prices, reviews, and suggestions on their website. Yea you could look at it on your phone at the store but why not look at it on a HUGE screen?! 😂 I definitely look forward to going back to the Beautytap store and actually testing out some of their testers (Blanc&Eclare, Earth’s Recipe, Dr. Frog) and picking up some of my favorite Banana Milk Apieu masks!" —@peachkao 💕⠀ ⠀ ⠀ What's your favorite part of #BeautytapIRL? 😘⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ #kbeauty #beautytap #koreanbeauty #cosme #cosmetics #kbeautyshop #innisfree #innisfreeoriginal #southcoastplaza #orangecounty #koreancosmetics #abcommunity #asianbeauty #abbeatthealgorithm

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2. What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received was to test and iterate before building for scale. The key advantage of startups is the nimbleness and agility to quickly move in and out of wins and mistakes. So many entrepreneurs try to build for scale too quickly and spend enormous resources and time without getting the right data points and signals.

I’ve worked in Fortune 500 companies like Intel and Deloitte Consulting; so I appreciate systems and the right strategy, but what separates successful entrepreneurs is that they know how to quickly adjust.

3. What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as the founder of Beautytap?

I think Amazon, Alibaba, and JD.com are all creating a big challenge for many beauty brands. Beauty is one of those industries where the experience and branding still matters. It’s not as simple as purchasing a phone cover or commoditised gadget.

Purchasing beauty products has an artform to it. However, with so many grey market resellers, counterfeits and close expiration products out there, the consumer needs to be careful who they purchase from. After all, it’s going on their face and skin.

Many beauty brands are starting to opt out of selling on Amazon due to customers lacking the luxury shopping experience, and also because Amazon usually favours the lowest priced products and oftentimes by resellers who aren’t even  certified to sell the product.

This, however, provides an opportunity for retailers like us. At Beautytap.com,we work directly with brands and only sell products that our team has verified the authenticity and expiration dates of, same goes for in-store.

beautytap website

4. What are some of your career highlights so far?

I’ve had the unique opportunity to experience what most people never get exposure to. In my career, I’ve worked at Fortune 500 companies and many startups, but becoming a finalist on NBC’s The Apprentice and being on national television taught me so much about how to leverage both traditional and social media to drive consumer behaviour.

In today’s digital media craze, it’s important to know how to navigate the message to the audience. The experience has also taught me the importance of differentiated messaging; to really stand out as a brand and product, your story needs to be unique and viral in nature.

5. What has been some of the most effective ways you raised awareness for Beautytap in the beginning?

The most effective way of raising awareness has been writing the best content that we can. We’ve all heard the phrase, “content is king.” We definitely subscribe to that philosophy. We have written over 600 articles on K-beauty alone which surpasses anyone online in our sector.

Through our content, we’ve quickly become thought leaders and a place to go when our audience and customers are looking for knowledge on products, beauty trends and so much more.

This separates us from all the commerce-only sites because, while we want so share our knowledge, so many other retailers are only trying to make a quick buck. We are in it for the long term with great educational resources and great products.

6. What do you see as being the most important ingredient(s) in the success of your business?

Investment in digital content and Instagram have contributed to the digital increase of our business. As mentioned, we have written over 600 articles just on beauty and it’s led to a 65 percent increase in the organic growth of our total traffic from Google.

Additionally, opening up a flagship physical store at the South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa has really invigorated sales and our brand presence. The initiative to open up physical stores has been a game changer for an online digital company like ours.

7. What is next for Beautytap?

In the next 18 months, we plan on opening up five more flagship, premium stores and more than 20 automated pop-ups so customers can touch and feel the products before making a purchase. We are also planning to launch some new product lines as we have found some gaps in the market through our data points.

Our newest product line is called AZN Labs, and it will truly change the landscape for K-beauty. In the product line, we combine the ingredients of J-Beauty (Japanese Beauty) with the technology and innovation of K-beauty. The first product in the line will be a product that everyone will love!

Lastly, we are launching an online television show called BeautytapTV that will feature top beauty experts and celebs sharing the latest on their beauty and skincare secrets. This show will launch soon!

8. Do you have any tips for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Learn quickly by testing, testing, testing. Don’t be afraid to make decisions in the chaos. Review the data points, but most importantly, listen to your customers…you will find gems!

 

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