Paul Wahlgren

Co-Founder & Chief Marketing Officer
BeautyStat Cosmetics
“Authenticity is very important and very rare in this industry.”
Paul Wahlgren, Chief Marketing Officer at BeautyStat, talks about building a grassroots company and brand in the tricky beauty industry. He shares insights and dos and don’ts, and discusses building a business and community on social media.
BeautyStat was founded by Ron Robinson, originally as a beauty blog. How did you and Ron meet?
‘One of Ron's colleagues, Jules Zecchino, introduced me almost 10 years ago. He was the former Head of Research and Development at Estée Lauder. Ron and Jules are like the Steve Jobs of skincare. I had a good feeling about Ron, he's just a really down to earth guy. Ron and Jules took me under their wing, so I was able to come into this industry and learn a lot.’
Hailey Bieber, Justin Bieber's wife, advocates BeautyStat products. What's the story?
‘She met Ron a couple of years ago and he consulted her on the skincare line that she just launched. She talked about our products because she just genuinely likes them, not because we were paying her. Authenticity is very important and very rare in this industry. Consumers are fatigued by celebrities and influencers being paid shillings for goods that they may not really like. We can't pay them to write good things about us, the products speak for themselves. Ron has connections with a lot of beauty editors and we were able to send products to people. Then, suddenly we're in the top 10 Vitamin C product and we won these awards. We don't advertise in magazines. All I do is show people what the press says about us, and all the awards we've won, and then I'll let you judge if we're good or not. It's a little more self-effacing. I always say my job is easy, we make good shit.’

That's a marketing technique in itself; being humble and not doing the hard-sell.
‘Why should you, when you make good products? We send it to the editors at Vogue and Elle, as well as GQ and Men's Health. We're getting accolades on both sides because the products are made for everybody.’
Is BeautyStat successful? Can you share some numbers?
‘We formed the product part of the company in 2018, because BeautyStat was a blog. In 2019 we turned on a website, six months later there was a pandemic. Consumers were at home, they started focusing on their skin, on their health. Furthermore, Ron is of African American descent. We had a lot of civil unrest around George Floyd (the African-American man who was killed by a police officer, ed.) and the retail companies wanted to support minority-led companies. We already had some pretty good press about Ron, but then the retailers started bringing us in. Suddenly the tide turned, and we've been just pushing on that momentum ever since. We did a little bit of business in 2019, multiplied it times five in 2020, kept building at it in 2021, and we're now on a pretty good trajectory. Because of my international experience I started dipping my toes into the UK.’

Are your products available in stores or just online?
‘Both. We've formed great relationships with Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Saks, Blue Mercury, some of the larger retailers. The big one we've been chasing for a couple years was Ulta Beauty. It’s one of the largest retailers in the United States with about 1,300 stores. They gave us the opportunity to do a 250-store test in March of this year. Literally within weeks, they said: Guys, time for the next step, we're gonna take you to all 1,300 stores. That's the next big step for us. It's a significant jump in business. We will easily break to around 10 million in sales. Considering we didn't exist as a brand three years ago, it's pretty good.’

What are the main drivers for that success?
‘The product is good. We did spend some money on sampling. We've gotten into a couple of the subscription boxes, such as IPSY and FabFitFun in the United States. And we did do some aggressive Facebook marketing. We had to do anything to get peoples to try it. Because once they tried it, we knew that they liked it. This delivered results. We backed the product up with safety testing and a consumer study. Ron had built about 30,000 people in a database of beauty enthusiasts. Those could range from makeup artists, estheticians, some derms, some influencers, maybe even a few celebrities. We operate our product development team just like those guys who are in billion-dollar companies but we're doing it in a startup. We have qualitative and quantitative evidence. Before we put something out on a shelf, we already know we have a winner. And we price the product pretty reasonably for what you get.’
On your blog and on YouTube there's so much user-generated content. Is the authenticity part of the success?
‘Again, we're not paying these people to say things about us. Two years ago, one of the TikTok people, a well-followed dermatologist, suddenly posted. And then other people. And now we've become a TikTok famous brand with some seven million views. It's a little crazy. Then People magazine picked up that story and linked directly to our Amazon page. All of a sudden, I see the spike in our Amazon sales in a 24-to-48-hour period. It's a direct link from an editorial article to sales. So, we have the direct-to-consumer model, our website, our Amazon page, our wholesale. This is how you diversify your risk, build up your sales.’

With his blog Ron wanted to cut through all the bullshit of cosmetic products and their claims. Isn't there a conflict of interest now that the blog is still running, but you also sell your own product?
‘BeautyStat is really a product company now. Ron became that sort of go-to cosmetic chemist that was quoted in a lot of articles. He's an authority. He had the credibility from a lot of beauty editors. So, when he’s launching a line, they'll take him seriously and they know he knows what he's talking about. I think that helped. And we really bring our top retail partners in the kitchen. We send them the lab samples early; we want their feedback.’

You call your product a serum, not a cream. Is that how you can charge $80 for it?
‘We're in a category called serums, which are treatments. If that $80 bottle is giving you the effects in a week or two, and you're seeing those results, that is actually good value for money compared to what is being sold out there. Products go for well over 100 euros a bottle. Most women know that.’

A lot of beauty brands use influencers. You rely more on consumer-generated content. Is the role of influencers in brand-building overrated?
‘Yes, consumers probably question influencers more than they did a few years ago. Then, it was all the rage to get an influencer to talk about you. Now people take things a little more seriously. Also, influencers now have to disclose if it's a paid endorsement.’
It takes ages to build a brand only on social media and consumer-generated content. How did you pull off that kind of growth?
‘It’s the ripple effect. Back in 2015 Ron had 30,000 followers on Instagram and maybe 20,000 on Facebook. We knew there was at least a small platform for some people to test it and get them talking about it. And then you get it to the beauty editors. If one of them likes it and talks about it, suddenly that just amplifies it. Back in 2019, Ron got on Good Morning America. Millions of people across the US watch that show. We had a nice spike in sales. Then, within it three months, Ron was on QVC (a flagship home shopping channel, ed.) and we sold over $100,000 in eight minutes.’

You're a small, grassroots company, taking on massive giants like L'Oréal. How do you do that?
‘Let’s be honest, the world does not need more frickin skincare products. But we knew we had something better. Consumers are pretty fickle, and they see through the bullshit really fast. But if a product does work, they’re gonna buy it again. And they may even tell their friends about it.’

You even have a subscription model.
‘Of course. That's something you don't start until you have enough customers. Subscribe and save 10 or 15 per cent. We also made a bigger bottle. When customers get that larger bottle, it drives up your average order value. It's all of the above that really helps you build a company. First make a great product, then tell the world about it, and use all the tools you can to get the message out.’
How do you convince people who are used to L'Oréal products, to change that habit?
‘How many times do you have to touch a customer to get in their psyche? They see BeautyStat in the top 10 Vitamin C's in Vogue or Elle a few times. They see BeautyStat win an award. And it's gonna start to sink in. Then suddenly they get served up an ad with Save 10 or 20 per cent on BeautyStat - today only! - and they're going to try it. You just have to hit that customer from different angles.’
Which age group are you aiming for?
‘I was surprised when I first got into this. I thought: anti-aging, we must be aiming for late 30's or 40+. But we realized this product has more attributes for a much wider range of people. Our team is men, women, black, white, and all shades of colors in between. We really make products for everybody. That's why we use the word 'universal’ on our products. And our packaging is deliberately unisex, it doesn't look feminine or masculine because it's a product for all people.’

What’s more important for BeautyStat, retail or social commerce?
‘Both. People are more comfortable buying online now than they were years ago. My mom and dad can do it, everybody can. At the same time, people actually want to see somebody in person, they want get that different experience of going into a store. I love going into stores and training the salespeople. I give them a product, and I tell them: ‘Don't bullshit customers, try it yourself.’ If you can talk about it from your heart, that's going to come across.’
What inspires you?
‘I love this building phase of the business, the part at the beginning where you don't have all the answers. I check my ego at the door, and if I don't know how it works, I’ll call the person who does. In my 40-year career I've worked in Europe, Middle East, Asia, I've traveled all over the world. I speak some languages. All these experiences have helped me.'
Which previous job taught you the most about marketing and yourself?
‘Probably my first job in the audio-video store. Me and my brother worked there, we were late teenagers and our parents had split up. It was a family business and they were very supportive. The owner taught us the business fundamentals because he was such a strong entrepreneur, and he built a multimillion-dollar company. To this day, he's still somebody I admire.’

Is that what you like about a startup? That family feeling, everybody being close?
‘Yeah, and everybody is sharing in that. I wouldn't recommend anybody to do a startup, especially in this industry. It is super difficult. You wonder if you're going to make it sometimes. But what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, as they say.’

What's the biggest lesson you've learned?  
‘It's the persistence to change and stay the course. When you look at those perfect Instagram lives out there, they’re often not real. Real is getting up every day, fighting the good fight. Keep pushing. And then you look back and you think: three months ago we were there, now I'm here. Persistence and focus, target something, and just run that course. People give up too easy, I think.’
About Paul Wahlgren
Paul Wahlgren is the Chief Marketing Officer at BeautyStat. Hailing from the states, he built an impressive career in both retail and wholesale. Earlier, he worked at Philips Consumer Electronics as Nordic Marketing Manager, based in Amsterdam and Stockholm. In 2018 Paul started working as an entrepreneur, a marketer, and co-founder at BeautyStat Cosmetics.

About BeautyStat
BeautyStat is a cosmetic chemist-founded company with a patented technology. Founded by the African-American chemist and researcher Ron Robinson, the firm has its own lab and develops its own products, most notably its vitamin C-based skincare
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