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Originally published February 28, 2013 at 6:01 AM | Page modified February 28, 2013 at 6:31 PM

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Julep raises $10 million for beauty-brand expansion

Seattle-based Julep, a fast-growing beauty brand created by former Starbucks executive Jane Park, has used social media to introduce dozens of new products in the past 18 months.

Seattle Times business reporter

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A nail-polish startup doesn’t seem like an obvious investment choice for Silicon Valley heavy hitter Andreessen Horowitz — until you consider the startup’s social-media prowess.

Seattle-based Julep, a fast-growing beauty brand created by former Starbucks executive Jane Park, has a knack for getting more than 100,000 Facebook fans, 26,000 Twitter followers and 12,000 Pinterest users to spread the word about its products.

This week, Julep said it has raised $10.3 million in a Series B financing round led by Andreessen Horowitz, bringing its total funding to $20.3 million.

Andreessen Horowitz, whose investments include Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, is the venture-capital operation of Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen. It recently led an $85 million round for another Seattle e-commerce company, Zulily, which sells children’s apparel.

Park said she’ll use the money to develop a full line of core cosmetics over the next year. Julep’s social-media savvy already has enabled it to introduce 52 new products and 186 nail colors in the past 18 months, she said.

Julep sells online through its own website, as well as on QVC and at Sephora stores. The company would not disclose sales figures or the size of its customer base.

“When we developed our mascara, we crowd-sourced ideas for the best ingredients,” Park said. “What’s unique about us is our two-way conversation. We can take consumer input and leverage it within a relevant period of time.”

Maveron, a VC firm co-founded by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, also participated in the Series B round. Other investors include Troy Carter, the manager of pop icon Lady Gaga, and Precedent Investments, a joint venture partly financed by Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, as well as Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s Roc Nation.

Maveron partner Jason Stoffer said Julep is poised to build a billion-dollar beauty brand. Maveron, which began investing in Julep a year and a half ago, led the Series A round last spring.

“Jane has created a brand that emotionally resonates with consumers. Just read its Facebook comments,” Stoffer said. “People don’t just like this brand, they love it.”

Park, 42, left a key executive role at Starbucks to create Julep as a chain of nail parlors catering to groups of busy women. The first Julep parlor opened near University Village in 2007 and soon was followed by locations in downtown Seattle, Bellevue and Gig Harbor.

Park said she now views the parlors as a test ground for new products, reflecting her broader ambitions to capture a significant chunk of the $160 billion beauty market.

The company has 180 employees and fills Internet orders at a 13,000-square-foot warehouse in the Georgetown area.

Park said one of the best pieces of advice she ever received was from Zulily CEO Darrell Cavens, who told her, “Retail is detail.”

At Julep’s warehouse Wednesday, employees packed toxin-free nail polish with names like “Simone” (lilac) and “Adrianna” (chartreuse) into black boxes decorated with teal tissue.

The company promotes a $20-a-month subscription service to stay top of mind with customers. At the beginning of each month, subscribers receive a different set of trendy new nail colors based on their style profile, such as “Boho Glam” or “Classic with a Twist.”

“We want to be the next MAC, Lancôme or Estée Lauder, but we want to build our brand in a very different way,” Park said. “We’re about beauty as connection, not competition.”

Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or amartinez@seattletimes.com

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