Kate Morris is the founder and director of Australian online beauty retailer, Adore Beauty. Having made the Technology Fast 50 list every year since 2013, Adore Beauty are aiming to make the list again in 2019 and ultimately to break the record for most appearances. As we begin the search for the 2019 Technology Fast 50 winners, we chat to Kate about the longevity of Adore Beauty, being a female founder and the beauty sector.
Kate describes Adore Beauty as a technology enabled retailer. The company is 100% focused on the beauty category, including fragrance, wellness, and a few other adjacent areas. She started the business about 19 years ago. “My intention was to set up a more empowering way of retailing beauty products than was available at the time, and that still remains the goal and the mission. For a long time, the beauty industry was about big companies driving sales by trying to make women feel insecure about themselves. Adore was about taking back ‘our’ industry for women, making it fun and educational. Most of all, we try and help our customers prevent that ‘beauty graveyard’ under the bathroom sink where you have all your products that don’t work, or don’t suit you.”
The growth of Adore beauty for the first 12 years was reasonably steady and organic. After that the company reached a point when growth accelerated – partly because of steps the company took and partly because of timing. The company in 2013 employed around 25 people and had a turnover of $7 million. The team now numbers 150 and the company are forecasting revenue of $100 million for next year.
“At that time six years ago, we would have seen other companies that we looked up to getting onto the Technology Fast 50 program, and I remember being keen to give it a go. There definitely was an impact on the business after the first year we made the list. Awards tend to make people sit up and take notice – the perception is that if you can make a list like that, then you’re having an impact on your industry. A technology award like the Technology Fast 50 doesn’t directly help us reach more customers. But it does benefit them, because these successes mean that we attract investors, allowing us to improve our business. After we made the list in 2013, we got our first equity investment in 2014.
Being part of the Technology Fast 50 program and similar awards also means that you can show that you have the numbers behind you, and therefore you are taken more seriously. All the data shows that female-led businesses don’t attract as much investment capital as male-led businesses, so the prestige that comes with awards really helps in that regard.”
Kate’s view is that any growth stage companies considering entering the Technology Fast 50 program should absolutely give it a go. “My experience in growing the company and seeking advice and investment that it’s not what you know but who you know, or more so who knows you. Awards like this can be a great way to get your company on the map. I consider it a PR activity so it forms part of our overall marketing strategy.”
In beauty there is a proud tradition and history of female founders, and this is also true for online retailers. While Kate is seeing more women on the technology side of things, her experience is that the sector is still pretty men heavy.
“I work with and mentor a lot of female founders at earlier stages than me, and I find that getting funding and getting help is so dependent on getting help from your networks. And where these networks usually consist of mainly men, it can be much harder for female founders to break into them. It’s still a bit of a secret club at the moment – there are a lot of female founders out there thinking they are doing it alone. If there were are a few more structured programs (rather than relying on networks of contacts) in place to help female founders get to those next stages, to scale up, that would help to address the disparity.”
In the beauty sector, Kate is excited about what lies ahead. “One hurdle that online beauty has not overcome yet is ‘show me how this product will look on me’. I think that advances in technology are about to solve that. In our warehouse, we’ve cut out tonnes and tonnes of cardboard and packaging a year by being able to use technology to volumetrically calculate box size for our shipments. This is incredibly exciting for us. Artificial intelligence is obviously the big development we’re watching. We’re looking at machine learning and artificial intelligence to enable us to use our 19 years of experience in the industry and our customer data to really personalise the online experience for our customers.”
For more information on the 2019 Tech Fast 50 program and how to enter, visit www.tech50.com.au.