The blueprint from $1M to $5M+ with Etoile Collective’s founder, Michelle Hu
Today on the show we’re chatting with Michelle Hu, the founder of Etoile Collective.
ETOILE collective is a beauty accessories brand making one's interaction with beauty products a more enjoyable and chaos-free experience. She started the biz in Australia in 2016, and now the product range has expanded to include thoughtfully designed organizers, purposefully-built travel cases, and vanity mirrors/furniture.
We talk through building the brand through social media, how it works with high ticket items and her key tips for building a business.
I also want to quickly say a big thank you to everyone that’s bought the book, Your Hype Girl, and been shouting about it on social media. I can’t believe the response we’ve had and the love you’ve been sharing so a huge thank you. I'm so grateful for each and every one of you for being MY hype girl.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
Michelle. Hey, welcome to the show. Hey, doing thanks so much for having me on. I'm so excited. I love your podcast. Oh my God, that never gets old. Do you listen to the podcast? Yeah, I do. It's like so many good gems and so many founders that I look up to as well. That is so cool. How did you find the show? I cannot remember the first episode that I would have listened to. Um, but I feel like you've had some like huge founders that just, um, like I, I honestly cannot remember the first person that I listened to. That's so cool. Oh my gosh, well, you know, a little bit about me then and how the show goes. So that's great. Tell me a little bit about actual collective for those of our listeners who might not know yet and tell us about the ethos behind the brand.
00:03:27Edit Yeah, absolutely. So I started 12 back in 2016. Very, very casually, not thinking that this could ever eventuate to something that I do full time. We're all about building a destination that will make one's interaction with beauty more enjoyable. So, our product range includes Softly designed travel cases, makeup organizers, vanity mirrors, lighting, and also some furniture. Um, and I went full time in the business two years after it started and have been going full time ever since, kind of early 2019. I love it. I was deep in your Tiktok content and was like, oh my God, all these things I never knew that I needed, but I need, and you know those videos you do where it's like a messy makeup bag and then transformed into like the neat thing. I was like, I'm that girl, but that messy, like everything just jammed in and then I pull everything out to try and find something and I'm like, I hate this, but like, I don't know that this is great solutions. I love it. Those videos do so well, yeah, they do, they do, let's take a bit of a rewind to pre 2016 to how you got to start with this idea, like what was leading you towards starting your own side hustle because you're working full time at the time and why beauty kind of containers and what are they like?
00:04:41Edit How do you categorize organizer, organizer? So we call the whole thing, like beauty accessories, beauty accessories. Got it. But yeah, I have always been someone who kind of fell into the beauty game really early. Like I remember in year eight, I was the first amongst all my friends to get started and like try experimenting with different makeup and I think it was because as a child, I was always someone who is very self conscious about my ethnicity and having different like facial features and so I remember turning to Youtube and discovering Michelle phan who was kind of like an O. G. Beauty Youtuber and she would kind of morph herself into like all these different looks and I was like that is incredible, I want to give that a go. And so I started experimenting with like mascara eyeliner, all of that. And just started creating my collection a couple of years on this collection grew to like so much product and I just remember feeling very stressed about the whole thing and just have like bits and pieces kind of everywhere.
00:05:44Edit And I've always thought that you know, the beauty process is meant to be a super uplifting process, meant to make you feel good look good, all of that. And I mean I wasn't feeling any of that when I was actually getting ready. So I really just wanted some products to keep myself organized, have a little like beauty nook in my room where I could go to and just have the process feel really good. I couldn't find any of these products in Australia. So I had my dad's help who kind of worked um offshore to kind of source some products and I really just used it for myself for a couple of weeks. And then I guess on the flip side of all of this is that I've always been someone who's very into like consumer goods, branding and marketing. And so I thought this was a great opportunity just to kind of have fun with it and like just to see where I could take it. Um, I didn't really have any business plan in place or any kind of idea of like turning this into a full time thing. I, yeah, I just thought it would be an outlet where I could creatively, you know, um, test all these different things that I enjoy doing.
00:06:48Edit That's amazing. And what were those kind of like early steps to actually, you know, getting ready to launch this business online. It was so, such a casual process. So first and foremost was getting the stock in and I did have my dad's helping kind of finding our initial manufacturers and um, personally, I just designed products that I needed for myself. So, you know, we started with four acrylic organizers, a lipstick holder, a pallet holder, a brush holder and a compact holder. So very kind of basic designs but at the time I honestly couldn't find it in Australia. Um And then from there it was a lot of admin work so like starting the instagram, starting our website, getting all the um you know business registrations and everything up and running and then we essentially you know as soon as the website was functioning we were like everyone you can now shop us but we had like no marketing plan, no launch plan um Everything just kind of grew organically from there and to getting like to that point you know getting the inventory, getting that kind of like early batch of products, what was the investment that you needed to put in of your own money and how are you funding the business in the beginning?
00:08:04Edit So it was all from my savings from my full time job and fortunately like we these products didn't really have a super high M. O. Q. The minimum order quantity. So I think it only we kind of finally invested maybe a few $1000 in our first batch. Um And then from there we kind of you know use the revenue from that to kind of invest more and expand the product range. Um And yeah group just organically um and kind of from day one we were profitable so that was um certainly really helpful and when you say you grew organically, is that like you just literally on social media or is it you going to markets or you know, just telling friends or what were the specific things you were doing to kind of get the word out there in the beginning, purely on social media. I mean this is a complete different Backdrop in 2016, literally and people just loved seeing vanity inspiration. So I remember we would post um just like a corner of my own bedroom where we had these organizers set up and people loved seeing that they would tag their friends like word of mouth was super powerful for us.
00:09:13Edit We didn't really switch on paid marketing until I went full time in the business two years after. So everything was just, yeah, via word of mouth. People talking friends being like, oh my God, take a look at this, I need this. And I don't think it was like, you didn't really see that content on instagram at the time. So he did really well for us. Um I mean vanity inspiration still does really well for us now. We just have kind of adopted the content creation process too. You know what social media has now turned into. Um and is that how you would say that your instagram grew in the beginning or did you have like a kind of strategy because you obviously have hundreds of thousands of followers on instagram. You've got 100 and something, 1000 followers on Tiktok now, has it just been purely through content through content creation? Yeah, so we have always wanted to be a place where we could inspire others to do something with their own space, you know, get rid of the chaos and just declutter. And um yeah, we've always wanted to inspire people through our own personal content and also um content that we kind of repost from our customers.
00:10:21Edit And I think people really like to turn to our page when they need ideas of how to organize or or you know, how they can kind of reinvigorate their space. Yeah, and I think it's like really shareable content to it's easy to like send it to a girlfriend and be like, I need this, like, this is me, I'm that cluttered person. Yeah. And it's also kind of the content that you can scroll for hours because there's always like something new or um yeah, like a new idea that you can add to your space? Easy to watch, let's go back to this time when it's like circa two years in what is the prompt for you to quit your job, Firstly? I hated my job. So I was in banking um doing finance and I really didn't enjoy that. And in those two years, a 12 group, completely organically. Like I was not putting in very many hours at all um to kind of get this thing to grow? And I did have a financial milestone in my mind. This came from absolutely nowhere. Can you share what it is? Yeah, I said if it could organically reach $20,000 in sales a month, I'll go full time.
00:11:26Edit And yeah, we did that in October 2018. And yeah, I was like, alright, I'm so done with banking, let's go full time on this. I know like specifically is that we can pull to grow. So that was like a complete rebrand, a redo of our website, um expanding the skew range, turning on paid marketing, like facebook ads, google ads, all of that. And I thought, you know, I think there's a lot of room for growth if I go full time and spend all my time on it. Oh my gosh! And so when you're thinking about like that time 2018 to you know, like last year, if you had to break down those kind of like key milestones, key major moments that were leaping you forward, what would they be paid ads has definitely been a huge one. So on like facebook and instagram and then more recently, Tiktok as well, that drives a lot of growth organically. Like I think we've doubled down on content creation and we've always adapted to different trends. Um you know, go from instagram too Tiktok going from post two reels and just keeping up with the times and how people want to see content.
00:12:37Edit That is definitely our bread and butter content creation. And the best thing is, it's completely free. It's organic. That is definitely like the biggest thing that has driven growth in the past two years. I feel like once the IOS 14 changes happened, like everyone needed to really triple down on just like content and storytelling, which obviously you lend yourself really well as a brand to be able to do that. How long do you actually spend creating content? Like you either back in the day or whether you still do now, what's the kind of like posting schedule and how much time do you invest into that on a daily basis? It's so funny because we've always found that the content that performs the best is the content that takes like the least amount of time to produce and which is amazing. I know better video a couple of weeks ago that went viral on our Tiktok that got three million views and it literally took me about two minutes to video. There was no editing. It was just the actual content with a song in the background and like that was it?
00:13:43Edit Oh my God. And what's the impact of like that three million views? Like did you see like crazy spike in sales immediately or was it just more like tons of followers or what was that like direct impact? Crazy volume. So we had another video, it wasn't this one, there was one last year and we saw traffic to the website increased by literally about 8,000% overnight. It was wild. But the flip side of that is you can never control like where the video goes viral. So back then we were just in Australia and I think that the Tiktok went viral in the U. S. And we don't like really push international shipping because our products are kind of heavy and bulky so it's really hard to convert international customers. So we really didn't see much of a sales uplift but we just in terms of brand awareness and traffic we saw a huge huge uplift Um with this video three weeks ago actually we we're just in the middle of um Like we were about to launch our us door and we weren't quite ready.
00:14:49Edit I think we're about 90% of the way there. And then this video went viral. We kind of saw 15,000 visitors onto the US site but it was a password protected page. So that moment we were like alright scrap this like we just have to launch now we've got so many visitors to the website and it kind of provided the perfect backdrop to our US launch, wow that's so cool, so cool, so exciting. And so you're based in the US now kind of growing that side of the business. You've moved from Australia to the US. Yeah that's correct. So fun. My gosh I wanted to ask you about the high ticket items because obviously that's like such a cool way to, you know, increase the lifetime value of a customer, increase the average order value. What's it like though? In terms of the logistics and you know, mirrors, I know that you have like products with lights on them. Like I just feel like all this stuff becomes like harder operationally. Oh my God, it is a nightmare. Yeah, it's really, really difficult. I would tell anyone who's thinking about getting into like furniture or like really heavy bulky, fragile stuff.
00:15:54Edit Life. It is logistically really difficult firstly. It's expensive to warehouse. So um yes, expensive to ship. It's expensive to warehouse things. Break couriers aren't fantastic. And I mean that's probably the thing that I dislike most about 12 and I wish like my former self new how difficult I was making my life by expanding into like mirrors and furniture with that though. Like obviously being so difficult. Is that something that you then think, hey, it's worthwhile pursuing? Like or is it something that you're thinking we should scrap that complicated side of the business and just kind of like, you know, it's a good revenue driver but also it's not worth the headache. I mean I think like the magic with the trial is being able to come for one thing and then also discovering other pieces that you might want in your beauty space. So we really think it's in having that entire kind of product portfolio. So the furniture range in the mirror ranges there too because like people want that for their beauty room and yeah, it's just something that we have to deal with.
00:17:01Edit I think we're getting better at it. I mean one thing that we've implemented over the past few years, the same day delivery in Metro Melbourne and Sydney, which is a lot easier than when things have to go into a depot and then onto like the final driver. Um, so that has worked amazingly for the business and yeah, so it's really great for these big bulky products if you're on the lookout for ways to make your business sail smoothly from one quarter to the next look. No further, hubspot helps your business get shipshape with an easy to use crm platform that aligns your business and delivers a seamless experience for your customers. Other serums can be cobbled together, but hubspot is carefully crafted in house for businesses like yours, Its purpose built suite of ops sales and marketing tools work together seamlessly. So you and your team can focus on what really matters your customers plus with helpful educational content, a supportive community and access to hundreds of app integrations, hubspot, all in one platform is built to grow with, you learn how to grow better by connecting your people, your customers and your business at hubspot dot com, Are you a founder that's been trying to relocate, meet with investors or participate in accelerator programs in the US.
00:18:20Edit Traditionally the work visa application process has been time consuming, complicated and quite frankly, frustrating legal pad is changing that. Legal pads specializes in the sought after founder friendly 01 Visa for individuals of extraordinary ability. Now this may sound intimidating, but it's just a fancy way to describe someone at the top of their field. Many founders qualify, entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists, graphic designers and researchers can all qualify with the right accomplishments, curious how legal pad can help you Get in touch for a free consultation and get a $500 credit for female startup club listeners. When you tell them I sent you find more info in our show notes, what is your best piece of advice for entrepreneurs who are early on in the journey and just kind of getting started. Um, firstly I think start creating content for your business before you actually have like an, an official business. So when you're creating your mood board or sampling products or designing products, like just start documenting it and taking photos of it.
00:19:25Edit And I mean I always encourage everyone to start posting as soon as possible. But even if you don't want to like these are the videos that you're going to want to have access to five years down the track when you start talking about your story. So yes, start just take videos like as soon as possible. Um secondly, I think start with a small group of really passionate consumers that you're really trying to appeal to and work towards getting these people to be your brand evangelists? I think it's really hard to be everything to everyone. Um and word of mouth is so powerful. So yeah, start small and get these people to really buy into what you're doing. And then the last thing that I I would recommend is to not be afraid to kind of shout about your small business. I think women especially like we're so we tend to be really self conscious and worry about scrutiny. But I think the more you speak about what you're doing, the more people buy into like what you're doing and that the more kind of the high chance of success you're setting yourself up for. Mm hmm mm hmm. You know, something I wanted to touch on really quickly that I thought you did a really good job at is obviously there's a lot of people out there in the market who create beauty organizers and that kind of stuff.
00:20:35Edit And I love how you're able to kind of lean into when people ask you the question like how, why are you different and like, you know, why is this so expensive and all this kind of thing? And you create content specifically, like really showing people the difference. And then people are like, oh okay. Yeah. I totally get it. Like that makes sense. And specifically what I'm referencing is I saw a video on one of your accounts where it was like, you know, why is your product so expensive or what makes you different was the question. And it was like you or someone, whoever was doing the content throwing like a competitive product and it kind of like smashing and then you throwing one of yours and it basically like, sure, it has a little crack in it, but like it still functions, it still looks perfect and it still spins. And I was like, that's a really great way of like leaning into the, you know, those kind of questions and creating content that shows people why you're different. Yeah, exactly. I mean, that's one of the biggest challenges that we've had in the business because I understand like, you know, we don't have, it's not like a skin care product, you're not putting it on, these are quite homogeneous products where there are competitors like everywhere.
00:21:38Edit And like one of the most difficult things that we've kind of having, we've kind of had to do over the past couple of years is build the mode for the business. Like tell people why we're different and show people, you know, this is why we cost this much and this other person costs this much. Um, but yeah, again, we know we're not for everyone and if price is the thing that you're trying to prioritize, like we're probably not the person to go to, but if you do want some of that will last and that's really functional and something that has been really well, you know, well thought out by someone who loves beauty and uses it then you know, we're here, we're here, we love that. Where's the business today? In terms of like how big's the team? Obviously you've expanded into the US, you've you've done the international thing, but how big is the team? Are there any like rev figures you can share for the year? Anything, anything you want to shout about upcoming? We are actually still really lean. So we have to warehouse managers in Melbourne, we have someone in customer service and then it's just myself but we tend to work a lot with freelancers and agencies who do you know our facebook ads?
00:22:48Edit Rse Oh um who else do we have? That's crazy. I read like an article where you're doing like five million a year or something nuts and I just expected that you'd be, you know bigger than like in terms of team members, like building that that's amazing. Yeah, I know we're very, very lean. Um I think this was a personal decision, like I think when you hire people kind of managing the team becomes a full time job and I, we we did have a team but then since I moved to the US, we kind of hit reset on the business a little bit, but I just remember like I would spend so much of my time worrying about whether they were really enjoying their job, whether they could see like job growth and job satisfaction. Um So for now we're, we've decided just to go with um just to outsource a lot of that, but maybe in the future, like I I did really, really love having a team, so hopefully down the track, we were able to kind of build and health team again, I also feel like the world has changed so much because of the pandemic and I we're seeing more of like, you can just hire someone remotely to do the one thing that they do really well just to do that at scale and having like lots of people who do and you know, that's how I run my business too, and rather than trying to have all sorts of different things done by someone, if that makes sense, like just kind of getting the good bits done by delegating I guess to people who know how to do it best.
00:24:13Edit Yeah, I totally agree. I mean I think there's pros and cons but for my skill set, I, we've just decided to um yeah, outsource a lot of that for now, Thanks for listening to this amazing episode. We are testing out something new here for the next while and we're splitting up each episode into two parts, the main interview part and then the six quick questions part to make them easier to listen to. So that's part one done, tune into part two to hear the six quick questions.
So in one week, um, you know, I've always been a huge Diane Keaton fan. I've loved her movies and she commented on our social media and I went and checked to make sure it was really her. Um, and then in that same week Lizzo posted about us And I called my 21 year old daughter and I think that's the moment she decided I was cool. I said, oh my gosh, look at this Lizzo posted about us. So I think it's just this groundswell of passion coming from these incredible places that has just been very unexpected and very exciting and has really made a huge difference for our business, which is wonderful. That is so freaking cool. Gosh! Hillary, thank you so much for taking the time to come on and share your journey so far with true botanicals and all the cool stuff that's going on for you guys. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for having me. Really enjoyed the conversation. Hey, it's Doom here. Thanks for listening to this episode of the female startup Club podcast.
00:08:01Edit If you're a fan of the show, I'd recommend checking out female startup club dot com where you can subscribe to our newsletter and learn more about our D. I. Y. Course. The ads, N. B. A. I also truly appreciate each and every review that comes our way. It might seem like such a small thing, but reviews help other heirs find us. So please do jump on and subscribe, rate and review the show. And finally, if you know someone who would benefit from hearing these inspiring stories, please do share it with them and empower the women in your network. See you soon. Okay. Mm hmm, mm hmm.