With over 20 years of experience as a modeling agent, Shelley Sullivan turned to makeup in 2002. Her line, ModelCo, now boasts more than 250 products and collaborations with Hailey Baldwin, Stella Maxwell, Elle Macpherson, and Karl Lagerfeld, to name a few. Considered one of Australia’s leading female entrepreneurs, ModelCo founder and CEO Sullivan has earned accolades including Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year and the American Express award for fastest growing small business.
“I always had a strong desire to create my own business,” says Sullivan “This feeling was innate in me from an early age. I have a relentless drive to succeed which is driven by personal ambition and determination. I love a challenge, being creative, and the thrill of building a business I can be proud of.”
It was her experience owning a modeling agency that surfaced Sullivan’s desire to create a line of products. She feels her current role at ModelCo is a manifestation of her life purpose, providing her with a sense of achievement and satisfaction. For example, through securing the worldwide beauty license deal with Karl Lagerfeld, she believes she has paved the way for other niche beauty brands to become serious contenders in the beauty world and contributed to “Australian Made” being perceived as a hot commodity.
As a leader, Sullivan feels she is constantly challenging herself creatively and from a business perspective. Her first trial came when she realized that the beauty industry was not what she expected. “ I thought I was launching a beauty business when in actual fact I was going into the world of retail, wholesale, marketing, logistics and finance ,” she says. “It was a real learning curve for me. It taught me that you have to understand the business you are going into and surround yourself with people who have more knowledge than you do who can guide you through the process.”
She also experienced several bumps along the road to success, Sullivan says. ModelCo’s first product, Lashwand, was less than a year old when global orders started coming in too fast for the company to fulfill them. Sullivan had to get on a plane to visit the factory in Korea in order to sort out the situation in person.
“My manufacturer had a contact in another factory next door who stepped in to help, but they needed to work 24 hours round the clock – and it cost me four times the price,” Sullivan explains. “I had to take a large financial loss on the product in order to deliver to my customers because that was my utmost priority. There was no plan B; we just had to do whatever it took to make it work. Ultimately, we got the product to stores, but it was a valuable lesson. In the future, I knew that when I launched a new product, I would always have a plan B. On the flip side, I learned that when the going gets tough, I can handle it.”
Sullivan enjoys inspiring the next generation of female entrepreneurs. “I started the ModelCo brand from a one-product dream and turned it into a multimillion-dollar global beauty brand. I have a motivational story to tell,” she proclaims. She achieves this through mentoring sessions, media interviews, public speaking engagements, and personal communication with thousands of fans via email.
Here are nine tips from Sullivan on launching a successful beauty startup:
- Prepare by learning as much as you can about your customer, market, competitors, technology and trends relevant to the beauty industry.
- Learn from others where you can. Surround yourself with people who have more knowledge than you do about your industry.
- Clearly define your target audience. This will give you direction in your marketing and allow you to connect with your consumers.
- Take your time hiring the right people, even though you probably need to hire fast. People are the core of your business and having the right minds behind you will accelerate your business.
- Follow your instincts. I strongly believe that trusting my intuition has been the key to ModelCo’s success.
- Ensure you have the best IT, logistics, finance and digital processes set up from the beginning
- Identify the funds you require to start up, then double what you think you need.
- Set out your business strategy, then ensure you and your team are on the same page.
- Finally, never give in, never give up, and never take no for an answer.