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Steps to Success: Alexia Inge
March 12th 2015
Beauty junkie with business aspirations? You may want to take a leaf out of Alexia Inge’s book...
As co-founder of online cosmetics haven Cult Beauty, Alexia Inge is as clued up on what makes a good business as what constitutes an exceptional beauty product. With an enquiring scientific mind, no-nonsense attitude and commitment to demystifying the beauty industry, Alexia has knack for identifying beauty’s big hitters and bringing formerly unknown but brilliant brands to the attention of her ever-growing customer base. She’s been hands on from the very beginning; find out how she grew the business and juggled office chores with creative direction and customer service...
Get The Gloss: What attracted you to the beauty industry?
Alexia Inge: Working in the industry was the perfect way of legitimising my rather obsessive beauty habit. My business partner Jessica and I were both frustrated beauty consumers with pseudo-science fatigue. Our dream was to create a ‘beauty hall of fame’ in which one could shop with the confidence that you weren’t being oversold, where every product is ‘sell-your-granny’ good! That’s what Cult Beauty is all about.
GTG: What has been the toughest part of your career to date?
AI: Raising capital has been hell, especially early on as two female rookies in such a male dominated sector as equity. We were patronised, lied to and manipulated and nearly lost control of the business to one unmentionable cad with weasel wording.
Luckily we trusted our gut and pulled out of the deal at the last minute. It was all useful experience, the tough knocks sometimes more so than the shining achievements.
But then we met our current investors who have not only funded Cult Beauty, but guided us through the growing pains that come with the rapid expansion we’ve experienced over the last three years.
GTG: Do you have a mentor, and if so, how have they helped you?
AI: I don’t have one mentor as such but I’ve had great advice from superstars along the way, not least from our buying director Stacia Prince who joined us early on.
Meg Haynes, the president of Free People, was incredibly inspirational. She was an early customer of ours and fan of Cult Beauty who flew over to meet us when the business was only 6 months old.
We had prided ourselves on the big company façade we’d created, but Meg asked us why we had this’ Wizard of Oz approach’ - when big corporates like hers were doing everything in their power to appear more like us. She taught us to play to our strengths to celebrate the fact that we were small and more personal, to be authentic.
GTG: What was the worst job you ever did?
AI: I was a club bouncer in Bristol, it taught me a lot about aggression and how to diffuse explosive situations (I can also do a mean wrist lock).
GTG: What has been the biggest learning curve of your career?
AI: Starting Cult Beauty has been like doing an MBA on-the-fly, and this curve is showing no signs of levelling off. That’s the best bit, I can safely say I’ve never has a second of boredom while doing this.
GTG: What was the best advice you were given along the way, and why?
AI: Don’t be intimidated by people because they hold a lofty position, every decision they are making is half chance too and you might come up with a fresh idea that people too close to the issue never thought of.
GTG: What advice would you give to someone starting out in this industry?
AI: Trust your gut. No matter how green you are in the industry if you feel strongly about an idea, put your conviction behind it. Then work your arse off to make it happen. That is how to gain respect and get yourself noticed; put the hours in. There is nothing more attractive to an employer or investor than gumption.
Always be really pleasant and useful to have around, it’s human nature to promote people you like.
GTG: What is your team management strategy and how do you organise your time?
AI: When we were building Cult Beauty in the first few years it was all hands on deck, I was doing everything from ordering the stock, writing all of the website copy, dealing with customer service to emptying the bins. Now, as we grow, I’m extracting myself more from the day-to-day and learning to delegate.
GTG: What’s the one piece of wisdom that you’d give to your 17-year-old self?
AI: When you are feeling desolate and upset with the world, sit back and ask yourself the question, “Will this matter in 5 year’s time?”. It puts everything into perspective when you feel like the sky is going to fall on your head.
GTG: What does the future hold? What are you most excited about?
AI: Cult Beauty is growing like wildfire, I’m really excited about some of the new brands we have in the pipeline from South Korea, the US and India, they are so cool I can’t wait to tell everyone about them. As the business grows one of my key focuses is making sure our customers are receiving the same personal service they did when I was answering the phones.
Image credit- Lorraine Goddard