Venn Launches At Net-A-Porter As The Luxury E-Tailer Expands Its K-Beauty Offering
Brian Oh, founder of Korean skincare brand Venn, wants to broaden the conversation around K-Beauty.
“Unfortunately, K-Beauty in the U.S. has been defined by facial masks. Many people got introduced to K-Beauty through masks, but there is so much more than sheet masks and ‘cute’ products,” says Oh, whose brand is gaining distribution traction. Venn was recently picked up by Net-a-porter in a six-month exclusive as the e-tailer expands its skincare assortment.
Oh emphasizes the technological side of Korean-made products, noting that more than 40% of all skincare products sold globally are produced in ODM (original design manufacturer) facilities in Korea. He says, “I’m trying to redefine K-beauty.”
Oh believes the retailers Venn’s aligned with will help educate consumers about the heritage of Korean skincare. That’s part of the plan at Net-a-porter, which just stocked five premium beauty brands from Korea. In addition to Venn, the prestige digital retailer now sells Neogen, Cremolab, The Oozoo and Femmue. In October, Net-a-port will feature a special collection of the beauty brands as well as fashion lines from South Korea.
Venn also recently launched online with Neiman Marcus as well as its San Francisco and New York locations, at Shen Beauty and on Urban Outfitters’ website. Globally, Venn is sold in the United Kingdom at Koibird, in Italy at Beautyaholic, in Hungary at Neroli and in South Korea via its own site, Ananti Cove, Shinsegae, Hyuandai, Lotte Department Stores, Shinsegae Duty Free and WConcept.
Oh didn’t set out to be a beauty entrepreneur. He was working as a corporate lawyer, first in New York City and later in Silicon Valley, and dealt with startup companies and venture capital firms. The proximity to entrepreneurs piqued his fascination with creating a business. Oh fused his knowledge of assisting embryonic companies with a desire to simplify his skincare routine.
“It bothered me how complicated skincare routines have become. When I was practicing law, I was working crazy hours, and my lifestyle didn’t lend itself to going through multiple skincare routines. I purchased all these products I didn’t have time to figure out,” he says. “I was always interested in skincare, especially coming from South Korea, where skincare is part of the culture, but I wasn’t a chemist or scientist.”
While visiting South Korea on business, he met Kevin Mun, a former nuclear physicist turned chemist with more than 20 years of skincare research experience. The two joined forces to launch Venn. Mun serves as the brand’s chief scientific officer. At that time, demand for K-Beauty was soaring, and Oh approximates at least 40% of K-beauty companies where eyeing U.S. expansion.
“Unfortunately, K-Beauty in the U.S. has been defined by facial masks. Many people got introduced to K-Beauty through masks, but there is so much more than sheet masks and ‘cute’ products.”
Harnessing the scientific expertise of Mun, Venn’s lineup is ingredient-driven with patented formulas rather than off-the-shelf options. The current product selection consists of five items: Age Reversing All-in-One Concentrate ($84), Vitamin B Activated All-in-One Concentrate ($185), Advanced Multi-Perfecting Red Oil Serum ($115), Concentrated Revitalizing Lifting Mask ($85) and Moisture Balance All-in-One Face Cleanser. A body cream is in pipeline as are boosters targeting specific skin concerns that can be mixed into Venn’s existing skincare products.
Although he has an eye on accelerating sales, Ho isn’t bombarding the market with products. “We are not trying to be a company that disappears in a few years. We’re not trendy, we want to be around in the next 100 years,” he says. “And we’ll never grow to 800 items.”
Venn is investing heavily in clinical research, and has established a research and development facility. The brand also has an R&D partnership with Asia Seed, a public company in South Korea listed on the tech-heavy index KOSDAQ that researches, develops and produces functional hybrid vegetables and vegetable seeds via natural breeding.
In February 2018, Asia Seed and Venn entered into an agreement on cosmetics ingredients using Asia Seed’s functional vegetables containing high concentrations of antioxidants and nutrients backed with clinically-proven health and skin benefits. Kyoung Oh Ryu, president and founder of Asia Seed, is on Venn’s scientific advisory board.
The debut collaboration involves Asia Seed’s functional green pepper with high concentrations of vitamin C, proanthocyanidins and polyphenols with strong brightening effects. The partnership with Asia Seed is meaningful on the American front because Venn can act as an ingredient supplier. Venn expect to introduce new products with teeming concentrations of natural compounds in tandem with Asia Seed in the United States.
Oh admits Venn’s growth has been slower than he anticipated, which he attributes to its luxury positioning. “I thought I’d sell like 10,000 products in three months,” he laughs. “But it takes time to build credibility. We’ve been growing with word of mouth.” Awareness will get a major lift from a brand ambassador that will be announced in the next few months. Plus, the establishment of additional points of distribution should help Venn’s revenues at least double, according to Oh. Although he didn’t disclose financials, it’s estimated current sales are under $5 million.
Venn’s been self-financed, but Oh doesn’t rule out securing external capital in the future. However, he’s extremely careful about taking on partners. Ho says, “I’ve seen too many companies take on investors too early and get diluted.”
Not being in the beauty industry originally has been fortuitous for Oh. “Ignorance gave me a competitive edge because it gave me courage,” he says. “People told me I’d never get big branding agencies to respond to requests, but I cold contacted them and got a deal with [large design consultancy] Pentagram. Don’t let people discourage you.”