Don’t be boring, be interesting: How to pitch (and land) Sephora with Tower 28’s Amy Liu

Today we’re learning from Amy Liu of Tower 28.

We’re covering how to make your pitch count when it comes to getting stocked into retailers like Sephora + how to be a best seller at Sephora, and how she stands out in a saturated market.

Tower 28 is an Insta-favorite clean beauty brand designed for sensitive skin and made for all. Created with a hint of nostalgia (hello Juicy Tubes!), Tower 28’s products are bold, playful, and accessible (with all price points under $28!).

With the message that #ItsOkayToBeSensitive, Tower 28 is the first and only beauty brand to follow the National Eczema Association’s Ingredient Guidelines. That means 0% irritating ingredients and 100% safe for sensitive skin. It's also clean, vegan, rigorously dermatologist-tested, and made in the USA.

Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!


So my name is Amy Lou, I'm the founder and Ceo of Tower 28 Beauty, but I have worked in the beauty industry for a really long time, so, um it's been, gosh, I want to say 18 years at this point. So I've worked at Loreal smash box kate somerville, josie maran And consulted at a bunch of small, kind of digitally native brands here in Los Angeles, all before starting tower 28.

00:04:40 And really the impetus to that is even longer than I worked in the beauty industry. I've basically had eczema my entire adult life. So around the time I was in college I started getting eczema and have really never quite kicked it. And I think the hard part of the combination of those two experiences is really when you work in the beauty industry and I think you're I mean, I think for people in general, but when you are in the industry and I think you're so aware of the way that you look and that you present, especially as somebody who is selling. You know, I was always the in marketing and so I was the person who was selling in the new line of products into Sephora and into Nordstrom and Bendel's and all these retailers and saying, look at this amazing new foundation or skincare products. But yet my own skin was so troubled. And so I really wanted to wear makeup, right? I think there's an expectation that you do wear makeup when you work in the beauty industry, But that I was concerned, I was worried that I was making my own skin worse by doing so. So, what I was really looking for were products that were not only safer, my sensitive skin, but also nontoxic and clean, right?

00:05:49 So not necessarily 100% natural, but just products that weren't going to make my skin worse. And also I could feel good about putting on. So that was part of my journey. And when I was at specifically when I was working at josie maran was around the time where so Josie was really early in the clean beauty space and that in combination with the fact that I was pregnant and I was starting to have kids, was really when I started thinking a lot about eating healthier switching, you know, just trying to live a more clean lifestyle, I would say. And truthfully, the last thing I did was switch over my makeup and my beauty routine. And a lot of that is probably a result of the fact that like, you know, I could get my, because I had been in the industry a long time, I had a lot of makeup, I had a lot of these things, so it was easy for me just to default to the thing that was like free or whatever. But then I started worrying that it was potentially, I don't think it's the cause of many of my eczema, but I do think it can exacerbate things if you're using the wrong thing on your skin.

00:06:54 And so for me, that became really important and I was already following the National Eczema Association to help understand what kind of soap I should use, like detergent, what kind of um daily care I should be using. And since I have been so deep into like the forums and all of that, to try to understand what I could do about my eczema, I really came to appreciate the National Eczema Association for how specific they were about what they weren't including and how dedicated I felt like they were because there are some seals out there, which you may or may not know, but you can just pay a fee to and they um, you know, they're not as strict about the usage of their seal. And I really felt like that as I started researching at the National Eczema Association is not only strict in terms of like don't use these ingredients, but they actually require you to third party test to make on humans to make sure that there is no irritation. Have a dermatologist, third party review it like then they have their own team of doctors, review your testing.

00:07:58 I liked the fact that I thought it was really thorough. And so then when I went to go start my own brand because it was something I've always wanted to do. The main things I was really trying to solve for as I wanted the products to be safe for sensitive skin, nontoxic, but also a brand where the price point was a little more accessible. Like if you look at the average price point right now of a clean beauty lip gloss or in general, any lip gloss actually at Sephora. It's I think in the neighborhood of like 22-26 us dollars, something like that. Um ours is 14. And so one of the things I was really trying to do is make it more accessible to all kinds of people. So that was really the hope is I was trying to solve it not only for me but also um frankly I have kids and so my my two young girls as they've gotten older and probably because of the type of work I've always done, they really love lip gloss, I really love makeup and I thought like what happens for these kids as they grow up?

00:09:02 What is their option? Um not that I'm only making products for young people that I just wanted there to be more access around it and have it not be for just a certain demographic, right? So whether that meant socioeconomic or ethnic diversity by showing people in the different images that we're putting out there, all of those things was important to me. So that's kind of the Genesis of Tower 28. I'm also just on a personal level, a mom of three kids. My parents immigrated from Taiwan for grad school, so I was born actually in Minnesota, um so not on the west coast but we we came to California really early in my childhood and I've been here since I was six. Um and I've lived on the west side of L. A. Which is why um and near the beach, which is why um all of our imagery. Um if you ever look at our imagery or kind of the brand vibe is very L. A. And very beachy. Um because it's very much a representation of, it's kind of my my love letter to L. A. X. I just I'm a big, I'm a big fan in long long la.

00:10:06 I love that. And yeah, I definitely get that feeling. It's it's a really, I also love the the, I don't know what we say, the W or the wave or the flow. I I feel that in that as well. I'm so glad that you saw w this is just, I actually don't think, I think I've ever said this publicly in the beginning, we were working with the amazing art director who put together the branding for us that I worked with and like, I was like, all I see are boobs, like, that's good. I mean it's all good too, but like, I'm like, is it a waiver boobs? Doesn't matter. I guess, definitely screamed W to me first and then I liked the flow, which I was like, this is this feels coastal for me. Well, I'm so glad. Okay, so you were working at these brands, you said you already had the entrepreneurial spirit, You already knew that one day you wanted to start your own thing, But what was the actual catalyst to get you to be like, well today's the day, I'm gonna start my own business now.

00:11:12 And did you quit your job and go all in or did you do the whole side hustle thing first? Um that's such a good question, so I have always wanted to do this. My, my dad, I think I just mentioned my parents immigrated from Taiwan. My dad was an entrepreneur and I think he would tell you that he was an entrepreneur because he wanted to be, but because um by default, right? So I think when he immigrated to America, I don't think he had, it wasn't that easy for him to go and get a job. So I think he felt like it was easier for him to kind of go out on his own, but watching him, I really felt like he loved what he did, he had, he felt all of it, the highs and the lows of it where my mom on the other hand, had a salaried everyday job and she never talked about it. She left at the same time every day. She came home at the same time every day and it was clearly something she did, but not something she, I don't know, she didn't, I could tell, she just didn't feel it as much right. And I think that's what I wanted, I wanted to really be in it, I wanted to really love what I was doing.

00:12:16 And so I think my dad said that early role model that said, I've always been a pretty risk averse person. So I'm not really someone who um like you hear these stories about people who are like I risked it all. I, you know, hawked my engagement ring and I lived out of the garage and I, you know what I mean? Or like I put it all my credit card, I'm I'm kind of not that person by nature and I think it would make me really nervous to do that. And so I think I took a different path. I really um I went to business school, I went to go work on a lot of other companies and I think my intention was always that I was going to learn on someone else's dying, which I think is true. I'm actually really glad that I did because I think it really prepared me for where I am today, but in terms of how did I get the gumption, did I take the leap? Um I wish I could tell you it was because I was so brave and I finally knew it was time, but the truth is, but actually took some time off. I took time off after I was working at josie, and then I had my third kid.

00:13:21 It's hard frankly to have three kids and work a really big job. I was the head of marketing at josie at a time when it was like, it was such a big right hand at the time, and it was a lot. And so I decided I wanted to take a little bit of time and start and I consulted, so I took time off, but I worked part time. And then when she got into preschool, I was like, wait a minute. So I took about four years and I really wanted to go back to work. And I actually met with a friend of mine from business school and I was like, look, this is what I want, I want something early stage, I want blah blah. And I was telling him, and he said, uh I thought you always wanted to do something on your own. He's like you've been saying this for as long as I've known you and I was like, I do, but I don't have like the money to do it and I don't have a partner and those are two things I really feel like I need. And he basically gave me like a swift kick in the butt and he was like, you're not getting any younger, if you take a job right now, you will probably never do this. And I thought tough love and it was tough love and it was really just like, yeah you're and I am 43 this year, I started this when I was 40 and I think there's a lot of like that folklore, of You know, I think we kind of have this romantic idea of what it looks like to be a founder and entrepreneur and sometimes you think it needs to be like a 20 year old.

00:14:44 you know, 25 year old in a hoodie, like raising tons of money or whatever it is um and that's really not the version of it that I was, you know, I'm, I'm 40 years old, I have three kids um I just bought my first house, I'm risk averse, it's not my situation. So I did, I didn't raising money, I raised money from friends and family, which was also really scary for me and not something I was uh I knew very much about to be honest with you and gratefully that friend that I mentioned that gave me some tough love, he was the first check in because I was like uh nice of you to say, but uh put your money where your mouth is um and so gratefully he did invest and then um you know I think it always kind of, it just takes one almost, right? Because I think that was like the first domino and then because I had spent so much time throughout my career throughout my life telling people this is something I really wanted to do. I was so lucky because so many people I had told when they heard I was doing this, they were like you've been talking about for so long I want to invest.

00:15:52 And by the way, not all, it wasn't like it's not like I'm just friends with all these crazy wealthy people, it was a lot of small checks to be honest with you. What's a small check? Like $10,000? Right? Right. So it's not like I had, You know everyone was like $100,000 or whatever it was um and people would be like Okay, well can I come in with another friend? And the two of us looks like I had gotten the advice that you should Take a minimum check of 25 just so you don't end up with like a massive cap table or you don't end up having like a jillion conversations. So I tried to do that initially, but I think in the end, what's made the most sense for me was not so much the size of the check, but like the, the people involved, not for any other reason than because I've found it really motivating to be honest with you too. Take money from people that I actually do. Like, I know when I care about and I want to do right by not that I would, I think I would be different necessarily if I had taken institutional money, but I think because it's so personal.

00:16:56 Yeah, of course you have such personal relationships with these people. I mean, the lead investor of my second, I've raised twice and lead investor in my second round was my best friend. Now. Love that for you. Yeah, that's so cool. What is it like in terms of these relationships? Because I have conversations with people who have, um, VC backed brands and that kind of thing. And it can be very stressful. These conversations are, you know, not the nicest all the time, dada dada, but obviously when you're going into a friends and family around and it's people that you already know and it's a totally different bowl game. What are the relationships like? Do you still have to give them updates all the time or is it quite casual? Is what did you set any boundaries like when you got into it? What does it, how does it look? I mean, I think the toughest one, so there's, there's two parts of that one in terms of pitching, don't get me wrong, I did pitch institutional investors. So it's not like I ended up with his friends and family around only because that's what I wanted.

00:18:00 I went out to, I got introduced to and I kind of followed the cookie trail and I did all the things that they say you're supposed to, um, to get connected and, and, and meet people, but nobody bit people didn't, um, did not say yes. And so it ended up being that it became a friends and family thing. And I think the, to your point about boundaries, which is a really important question. I think the toughest one honestly was my, my best friend. I didn't even know they had the money. No, I didn't know that they could or would invest. Um and when I told her that I got this other lead investor, she was like, I think we would love to be part of it. So she spoke to her husband they offered a certain amount to invest and I actually cut them in half because I was like, I don't want the responsibility. This is too much to me, it's too much of a burden. I cannot except that on our relationship and our friendship. And then when basically I raised the second time because we were going into Sephora and we had secured a deal to go into all U.

00:19:05 S. And Canada. So flores and it was clear that we had a path forward from a distribution standpoint, so the business was more secure and that's and then when they invested again, I was more willing to take more of their money. They felt more like I knew it was going to go well, but I think a lot of those conversations are are hard, right? I mean, I'll be honest with you, I offer. I mean I went to my dad and my dad passed, right? So you know, and there's a part of that that's really difficult because you feel like you're this person who in theory really believes in me. I He has I mean, some money, I'm not saying whatever he could have put in like 10,000 or whatever, but he didn't want to and that's hard on that's hard on your ego, right? So but then you have to kind of calibrate these things because maybe he said no, but then like your best friend says yes and you're you know, and I think a lot of that is in the beginning, you just need to have these proof points, these moments that give you a feeling of momentum so that you can keep moving forward and it's so easy to focus on the negatives because there's so many, there's so many no's but to try to switch your headset to focus on the positive things and how almost like lucky and grateful you should be.

00:20:31 I think that's part of it. Mm and that's surely a journey, but not too muddy it because I definitely got a lot of nose. Oh yeah, I I hear it's quite the it's quite the exercise to learn how to deal with rejection, all this kind of thing. For sure. How did the launch go? And how did you start getting that early traction? Pre getting the Sephora distribution plan where you felt like the momentum really kicked in? So I think, like I mentioned, I've worked in the industry for a long time and I think that has been really lucky for me because over that period of time, yes, I gained experience and I think I have a sense of maybe what to do and what not to do, but the world has changed so much, to be honest with you, that I think a lot of it, the experience is helpful, but what's the most important has been the relationships. And so, because I've worked with Sephora, because I've worked with um, even my old buyer from Nordstrom just called me the other day, right? Like, I think its beauty is a very small industry and I'm lucky to have at this point friends really in all the different categories.

00:21:43 So whether you're talking about retailers, suppliers, um, on the brand side, like product developer, like all the different, my friend, you know, I've worked on at brands, so in terms of how the launch went, um I was very lucky that I was able to access a lot of those people so that I could find, I mean right now to find like a a chemist or if it's so competitive now because there's so many brands that it's actually a lot of the chemists, a lot of the labs that make the products, you have to send them a business plan just to get them to work with you sometimes. But I was lucky enough that I didn't have to do that. I could go to the chemist that I wanted to go to and I could work with him. So it took me about a year to line up all of the products, the branding, everything around packaging, all of that stuff. Um And then, to be honest with you, when we launched, it was quite frankly, not much more than a, like an instagram mood board, and I didn't even send an email out to my friends because I was like, I don't know, I hope this is, you know, you kind of work on something, um it's a little bit in isolation, right?

00:22:51 Like you show people, but I got pretty early on, I became very wary of showing people too, because you don't want to get so many opinions and then get off track right? Like, I remember showing my brother is an architect and in theory is a great great I for aesthetic and design, and I showed him my my logo today, and he was like, I think it's terrible, you need to start over, and I was like, you know, and then you get that voice in your head and and it's hard for you to figure out what your own perspective is, what you should let in and what you should filter Out. right, like you have to start filtering. So I became really careful about that too, about whose voice I let in and who I was showing, it to so then it is kind of scary to like it's almost like you know, raising you know like you let it out into the world and it's this thing you care so much about, you spent so much effort on and so initially when we launched, I would say it was with very little fanfare, This is April of 2019 and it was an Instagram Mood Board.

00:23:57 We literally had an intern at the time, go through and put together a list for me of like influencers and just randomly, we didn't know anyone, I don't have, I don't come from a background of influence in that way. And so we just literally wrote to people and we were like with our little instagram mood board up, no verified, check, nothing, you know, little sign and just wrote to people and said like, hey, we're a new brand, would love to send you some products, here's a little bit about us and people said yes and these are not like, we didn't necessarily go to huge influencers, right? And then we just started sending out pretty, I mean honestly wasn't that impressive as a box with like some shred and three pieces of product inside and so it wasn't that momentous or anything. But I think again, you just look for those little moments of positivity and a feeling of momentum that it's working and people loved the product. We had reached out to Nicole Guerrero who is, I don't know if you follow beauty that much, but she's like an old school really one of a huge Youtuber and we send products to her and I remember this is one of the huge moments in the beginning where she, um, and we didn't know if she would actually even open the box, right, because she probably gets so much product, but she not only opened the box, tried it, but then she hosted herself using it and then bought more products and screenshot the transaction Of her buying more herself because she said she loved it so much.

00:25:35 And it was like, I think it was like three or 6 stories and me and the team, we were all dying because we were, and I was like at the time was two young girls and me because we were like, wait a minute, we're like a real company, somebody is talking about us who has. And it was like watching a game because she, after she posted, we saw our followers like literally just start going up. Oh my gosh, that's so cool. And then we saw people start purchasing, right? So I think we sold like, Like 1000 pieces within the first after she posted over the next few days. And that was huge for us, right? Because again, like, I don't have, I'm not Rihanna, like I have no platform, but those were the moments. And then after that, it was um you know, we went to Credo and they said yes almost immediately. And I'm lucky again because I did know the founder, but I think that just gets you in the door. I don't think that means you for sure get a yes based on that.

00:26:40 And then we went to, so that was april we launched july, we were in Credo. Um and by september we were in Sephora. And so my gosh that's a really quick turnaround to get from there to Sephora. And so for a when they took us to their credit, they were like great we'll take you and we'll put you in all so far as U. S. And Canada. And I was like no you're not, that's not really happening is it? That's amazing. And I kept thinking they were going to change their mind. I was like we're going to launch because we launched first in September. And then we didn't launch in the stores until January of 2020. So the end of January 2020, which if you remember is right before pandemic it. So when we launched in Sephora, like on dot com, I kept thinking if we don't succeed they're gonna change their mind, they won't put us in stores. And however long story short they worked out okay. It worked out pretty well. I I read that you guys are like ranked number seven in Sephora's Were actually six right now.

00:27:47 six, that's amazing. And that's something like 1% of all Sephora customers in the world are buying your product, which is just so cool. And I want to talk more about this because I want to understand firstly what actually goes into that, like how do you actually become a best seller? I'm sure it's you know, a lot of hard work in the back end that people don't see, but how does someone become a bestseller at Sephora? Um I think one misnomer that people have when they work with retailers is um that once you get into Sephora, once you get into old to whoever your dream retailer is, is that that door opens and then all of a sudden the product starts flying off the shelves. I think that's um maybe that's true for some people, if you have like a built in brand of influence, like, I'm not sure, I'm sure Fenty and rare, and these brands did a lot of work in addition to that, to be honest with you. But even if Rihanna did nothing but put product on the shelves, could she have sold some products probably right for a brand like ours?

00:28:55 And I think for honestly, all brands, now that the competition has really never been again. I've worked in the industry a long time, the competition has never been more fierce than it is today. There's just so the barriers to entry are so low to get into the business, the margins are very attractive. So in terms of an industry beauty is really hot. So I think the biggest misnomer is like once that product gets in you have you have to sell it whatever that means. Like what whether you're and to be honest nowadays it's not just one tactic. It can't just be okay then. I think I'm going to be big on instagram. It's like you have to have multiple, like everything is on me. Like people talk about distribution and they say, you know, you have to now it's not just about being like big on D. D. C. It's like you have to be on your website, you have to be in retail, you have to be everywhere at the same time. It's the same. I think when it comes to marketing tactics you can't just focus on one.

00:29:59 You have to kind of try everything a little bit, but you at the same time have to focus, right? So it sounds crazy, right? But you you almost have to do both. Like, and I guess the example of it is like social media, I would say for us we started instagram is kind of the main place that we've tried to build our community but we can't ignore Tiktok, right? That's a huge part of it for us. But like we had a conversation the other day as a team and we were like, do we do Pinterest? Do we do twitter? Well, those are less of a priority. And I mostly have a really small team. Right? So if you can only do so many things and do them well, pick a few. But you can't do those. You can't do social only. We still have to pay attention to what is our visual merchandising look like, what a sampling look like. We have to think about everything. You have to prioritize almost the top ones in every bucket. Mm hmm.

00:31:01 Yeah, that's definitely care. It can get overwhelming when you have to think about all the platforms. And then you look at brands who have huge budgets and you're trying to compete with them and you're like, but I can't do everything good. I need to you do need to focus and and keep it to the channels that you think you can do well at and where you'll get the most impact. I think before you start thinking about others. For sure. And I think what you said about comparison is such a good point dune because it's so and I've done it before too. It's so easy to be like, well, if I only had a little more money, you know? But I think for anyone who's listening, I hope that we can be a good um inspiration for the fact that I think you still can do it on a with a little hustle. Or actually I would say a lot of hustles. I think it's all about having a great team, having a lot of authenticity and hard around it do, but we don't have big budgets. I mean all that is on a relative basis. I think somebody who raised, You know, 5000 to start might think that, you know, we had a lot of money, but we certainly didn't have millions, right?

00:32:07 So it's like, it's all relative totally. Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. Mhm. Hey, it's doing here, I'm just popping in to bring you a quick message in every episode of the FSC show. You'll hear women who were just like, you trying to figure it all out and hustled to grow their business and I would know a lot of you might be sitting there asking yourself, but how do I actually scale my revenue and get to that next level from where I am now? You also know that so many of the entrepreneurs I speak to have mentioned facebook and instagram ads as a crucial part of their marketing mix from today onwards. I'm really excited to be able to offer our FsC small business owners and entrepreneurs and no strings attached. Our long chat with leading performance marketing agency amplifier, who you might also remember from our course, Full disclosure amplifier is my husband's business. And what's really important to know is that I've been able to witness first hand the transformation of so many businesses going from as low as $10,000 a month, all the way to $300,000 a month.

00:33:26 And in some cases upwards to seven figures. So if you're listening in and you feel like you're ready to take your business to the next level, jump on a no strings attached call with amplifier where you can ask all the questions you have about performance marketing and whether it's the right time for you and your business to get started, go to female startup club dot com forward slash ads. That's female startup club dot com forward slash A. D. S. And booking a call today. Yeah, I want to ask you about your memorable pitch to Sephora. It's something that I read about. I think it's really cool. I love things that are memorable and worth talking about and interesting. So can you tell us how you actually got into Sephora? Yeah, s