“I need to work with this woman. I don’t know what we’re going to build, but it’s going to be different and interesting.”
That’s what venture capitalist Kirsten Green thought after her first pitch meeting with Emily Weiss, CEO of the e-commerce beauty brand Glossier, Inc. If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, it’s hard to imagine a more glowing review. Then a beauty blogger with an art degree, Weiss bewitched the VC with her vision to create a brand that was more than a product: It was an experience, an identity, and a trustworthy friend. Green took the bet.
The 11 investors who’d previously rejected Weiss are likely kicking themselves now, as Glossier, which began selling beauty products online in 2014, is now worth over $34 million, employs over 300 people, and is shipping internationally to hoards of millennials who have a cult-like obsession with the brand. “Emily is my best case study in having a gut instinct on somebody,” Green told The Cut.
Weiss has this effect on many; her confidence, personal flare, and refusal to be too vulnerable have preconditioned her for business success. When Weiss was 15 years old, she convinced the neighbor whose children she babysat to bring her into Ralph Lauren’s Manhattan offices, where the neighbor worked, and convinced them to give her a job. Over the coming months she became invaluable, gaining adoration from the brand’s senior designers. In college, Weiss interned with MTV and was dubbed “Superintern” by network celebrities, and was offered reality-television fame. Yet she had her eyes set on bigger things—like starting the beauty blog, Into The Gloss, where she profiled the makeup cabinets of industry icons.
The blog, which premiered in 2010, saw viral success (as all Weiss’s ventures seem to). She realized that women were discovering beauty products through their friends, not “one person being the rule-maker tastemaker,” as she told The Cut. She decided to become the brand that would sell them those products online—no wholesale, no drug store. Despite having no beauty-industry experience, Weiss successfully launched Glossier with four products, each beautifully clad in minimalist design and millennial-pink packaging.
“It’s going to be about women and putting them and their narrative and their story at the forefront and giving them a voice and a platform and just really encouraging them,” Weiss told her parents when she decided to begin her blog. Glossier has become that and so much more, precisely because, as she told Quartz’s Jenni Avins, “that power of the individual person—just the girl—is infinite.”
In an interview with Quartz, Weiss talks about the business benefits of a gender-inclusive workplace, recognizing good ideas, and how practicing meditation helps her make decisions.
1. What’s your big idea that other people aren’t thinking about or wouldn’t agree with? Why is it so important?
You always hear the phrase “the customer is always right,” and I feel deeply that that has never been more true. But I don’t think enough companies are going the extra mile to leverage the expertise from the people they are trying to cater to. At Glossier, we think constantly about how we can make the customer a part of the company. We’re having conversations with her, exchanging content with her, asking her questions, and applying all of that to everything that we do, whether it be product development or our next campaign.
What behavior or personality trait do you most attribute to your success?
I think successful entrepreneurs question anything and everything. I don’t like using the word “disrupt,” but if you’re really going to change the way people think about beauty, mattresses, or eyeglasses, you have to reimagine the entire experience. Elon Musk isn’t thinking about what a car does or looks like when he’s designing a Tesla—he’s building it from scratch. It’s something I’ve tried to internalize.
3. If you could make one change to help women at work, what would it be?
Gender-inclusive workplaces don’t just benefit women: They benefit everyone. And on top of that, they’re actually great for business. Gender-balanced teams are more engaged, show increased customer satisfaction, and ultimately make more money. Men should think twice before joining a team with no female contributors, not because there’s a quota to meet, but because diversity in perspective helps everyone succeed.
4. At the start of your career, what do you wish you had known? What, if anything, do you wish you had not believed?
I wish I had started meditating earlier. It’s something I try to do every day now. I’m running a company that takes a mindful approach to products and to taking care of yourself, so it makes sense for me to apply that philosophy to my own life. It does more than relax me: It helps inform the kind of leader I am and the decisions that I make at Glossier.
5. When in your career did you feel most despondent, and what did you do to turn it around?
I think getting things off the ground can be challenging for a lot of entrepreneurs. When I started approaching venture-capital firms for funding, I heard the word “no” a lot. Eventually I figured out that as much as these seasoned investors were assessing whether I was the right fit for them, I was doing the same. I’m so grateful for my experience with Kirsten Green at Forerunner Ventures who gave me my first “yes.” I knew that meant she believed in what I wanted to accomplish, and I believed in her to help me do it.
6. A key part of success is building strong professional relationships. What practice do you use to cultivate them with your colleagues?
I was inspired to start Glossier because I saw a change in the way people were interacting with beauty. Today, a brand expert opinion is just as valid as that of YouTuber or a girl with 200 followers on Instagram. It’s important to me to always listen and never be too precious with my time. There’s no hierarchy when it comes to a good idea, whether it comes from an intern or an executive, so the same should be true when it comes to my attention.
7. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I always come back to the “Nobody Cares” chapter of Ben Horowitz’s book The Hard Thing About Hard Things. He talks about failure and excuses, mainly that the former never justifies the latter. There will always be reasons why something didn’t go well, but the bottom line is that energy is better spent being a solutions person. “Nobody cares, just do your job.”
8. If there’s one thing men can do to improve women’s life at work, it would be…
Trust women equally. Period.
The mountain I’m willing to die on is… that every emotion stems from either love or fear.
I wish people would stop telling me… that orchids will grow back after they die.
Everyone should own… a slow cooker.
This interview is part of How We’ll Win, a project exploring the fight for gender equality at work. Read more interviews with industry-leading women here.