YouTube’s most successful makeup guru has launched a free program that she hopes will help other entrepreneurs to follow her path.
Eight years ago, Michelle Phan was an art student and waitress, using a webcam in her spare time to make videos showing how she uses makeup to transform herself into celebrities from Angelina Jolie to Barbie. Today, Phan, 28, boasts a YouTube following of more than 7.5 million, her own makeup line with L’Oreal and a growing lifestyle empire composed of a suite of websites and digital channels.
This is exactly the type of success story she and her co-founders at Ipsy, a monthly beauty product sample delivery service, say they want to help other men and women achieve. On Friday, Ipsy launched Open Studios in Santa Monica, Calif.—a sort of tricked-out coworking space for beauty entrepreneurs looking to build their personal brands. Members will get access to Ipsy’s studio space, audio and lighting equipment and editing suite in Santa Monica, as well as mobile apps and other digital tools. Participants also receive mentoring with Phan and Ipsy staff at the studio or via Google Hangouts, access to industry events, how-to tips, and more. And here’s the key: For applicants who make the cut, the whole thing is free.
The idea is that, by helping launch the next generation of beauty gurus, Phan’s profile will become even more prominent, says Ipsy CEO and founder Marcelo Camberos “Those are the people creating the next generation of beauty brands. If we can provide a platform for all these beauty creators as they’re growing up and getting more famous, it builds an affinity between us and them.”
“When I first started, there really was no beauty guru community,” Phan, drinking green juice in her airy, white-walled studio, told Fortune on Friday. “I didn’t have the right production resources. I had to learn how to edit. I didn’t even have beauty products. I had to go out and buy them myself because beauty brands didn’t even know what a beauty guru was.” She’s come a long way since her webcam days: last month she launched ICON, a lifestyle network and YouTube channel, with partner Endemol Shine Group. Meanwhile, Ipsy, which Phan founded four years ago to connect brands with beauty influencers, generates more than $150 million in annual revenue and boasts over a million subscribers.
“I’ve build the roadmap for the past eight years for any beauty creator,” Phan says. “It’s something I had to build out, and now I want to go into the next stage of my career and mentor other creators and pave a new road.” And there seem to be plenty of would-be beauty moguls out there, itching to take that road: Ipsy says the Open Studios program received more than 1,000 applications within hours of its launch. The Ipsy team will manually evaluate all submissions for consistency in style and voice, as well as posting frequency and social media clout, but “our goal is to let everyone in,” says Camberos.
Phan’s rise has clearly influenced the multi-billion beauty industry, which is doubling down on the importance of user-generated content to reach consumers. “Everyone’s realizing the beauty industry is changing,” says Jennifer Goldfarb, Ipsy co-founder and president. “The sphere of influence is shifting entirely to digital content creators. For years, the beauty brands have been creating their own beautifully produced content and putting it up on YouTube and Instagram, but the problem is no one was watching it. Now, they’re recognizing that Michelle and her peers have the influence and authority.”
It’s not clear whether Ipsy Open Studios’ resources can help aspiring entrepreneurs replicate Phan’s success. Considered a unicorn among content creators, Phan is a self-described nerd with a relentless work ethic. She’s also an early adopter who is currently experimenting shooting video with drones and virtual reality. “There is no question that viral marketing can work,” says Bob Dorf, who teaches entrepreneurship at Columbia Business School. “But can it work predictably, and does it provide a sustainable advantage?”