Musely Merges Beauty Content And Commerce To Combat Amazon
Jack Jia, a venture capital investor and computer software entrepreneur, created the app Trusper to be a destination for home improvement tips, not a source of skincare information. Its users, however, had their own ideas. They weren’t as interested as Jia in backyard putting greens, and close to 90% of tips included beauty products. Jia listened to Trusper’s audience and morphed the app into Musely, an online healthy living and natural beauty products marketplace. Fueled by micro-influencers dubbed Muses with an assist from well-known Muse and incoming Elle editor Nina Garcia, who has a stake in Musely, the marketplace reaches roughly 30 million people monthly. As digital distribution grows for beauty, Musely offers an avenue outside of Amazon to tickle the fancy of Internet shoppers. Beauty Independent talked with Jia about coping with Amazon, the sales impact of influencers and Musely’s future.
How did Trusper evolve into Musely?
After we launched the app, we were deciding whether the content should be a typical media play or if it is something else. We have about a million tips. Whether it is a hair or makeup tip, there’s almost always a product involved. It became pretty obvious to us that we needed to bring products into the mix in order to tell the full story, for example, of using coffee or coconuts for skincare, and we’ve also seen the natural and organic trend. We made a decision that, instead of sharing content or serving ads, we’d become a natural, organic product marketplace with both the content to educate consumers and emerging products that are beneficial for them. In the process, we discovered there are literally tens of thousands of brands.
What’s Musely’s take on the marketplace concept?
We curate the brands, so not everyone can put up a store. It’s different that way from Amazon or eBay. It’s only the most promising brands and, generally, they have revenue already from $1 million to $20 million. The customers buy directly from the brand through Musely. If you are buying a product from Alaska Glacial Mud, for example, the company is fulfilling the order and drop-shipping it directly to the consumer. We also have a set of influencers. We have built something called Musely Press with 120 influencers specialized in healthy lifestyle products. They will look at the products and write tips about them. We have a few in-house editors looking at the products from a different perspective, too.
Elaborate on the influencer program.
We have a Muses community that we are soft launching now. Muses are women who aren’t just members of Musely Press. They promote products if they like them. We are going to grow the Muses community to probably tens of thousands of people. They can’t promote a product without using it. It’s not free, but they get a special discount. We have found them to be genuine, and they also generate their own followings. They might have 2,000, 5,000 or 10,000 followers. Someone who has 1 million to 10 million followers, their message is going to be more generic. That’s not what these healthy living and organic lifestyle influencers are about. They have niche interests and different takes on things.
What’s being sold on Musely?
Initially, we didn’t have enough brands. Over the last two to three quarters, we have added a lot of products. We now have over 2,000 products from hundreds of brands. These products range from skincare to wellness to home and baby products. We even have some pet products. Beauty is the biggest category, especially skincare. Some of our bestselling brands are Juara, Waxelene and Alaska Glacial Mud.
“We are going to grow the Muses community to probably tens of thousands of people. They can’t promote a product without using it. It’s not free, but they get a special discount. We have found them to be genuine, and they also generate their own followings. They might have 2,000, 5,000 or 10,000 followers. Someone who has 1 million to 10 million followers, their message is going to be more generic.”
How do brands participate?
They can sign up online and there is an approval process. We have a business development team that looks at the brands to see if they are truly great. Then, we will request samples of the products and, once we have enough information, we will approach or disapprove the brand. When the brand goes live, we have editors write about it. If it is a well-known brand, it can take less than a day to go live. If it’s a brand that’s brand new, it might take a couple of weeks before we approve it.
Musely launched its own hydrogel masks. Why?
I bumped into an old investment friend, a fund manager who’s invested in green tech. He got me into the hydrogel technology he was investing in for medical usages. It’s a nanotechnology that’s literally used for space shuttles and aircrafts. You can create the hole size so that it will trap liquid. It feels wet, but liquid won’t come out. It will slowly release ingredients when you put it on your skin. I thought, “Why don’t we put in the best natural ingredients?” It’s the world’s first overnight hydrogel mask. When you put it on your skin, the ingredients are slowly released over 10 hours. That makes the mask effective. You can use it overnight or when you take a nap or do something in the yard. It will stick on your skin and be there for as long as you want it.
Will you expand Musely’s line of products?
We aren’t going to. We aren’t an R&D lab. We might introduce one or two products each year. Generally speaking, we’re a marketplace. We are a place to foster innovation in healthy living and natural, organic products. There are a lot of people doing products, and we don’t need to compete. We only come out with unique products that no one else is doing.
Who is buying products on Musely?
Our audience is 98% women. Most of the skincare customers are probably between 25 and 50. There are lots of moms. We found that millennials are more into healthy and organic products. It’s something like 70% to 75% of them want natural and organic products. The older generations aren’t as into natural and organic products because they didn’t grow up with them, but natural products are more expensive, so there’s an affordability issue. There are more older women than young millennials buying them because they are simply more expensive.
How do you contend with Amazon?
As a marketplace, we have a love/hate relationship with Amazon. Our own product is on Amazon. Typically, we see two kinds of brands selling on Amazon. There are brands selling directly and there are gray market sellers. The gray market operators are the ones creating issues. If brands are selling directly, there’s generally never an issue because the price is set, and we don’t have a pricing disadvantage. The problem comes up when someone has a batch of their products at a 50% discount on Amazon. They might have had a wholesaler distorting the pricing. To solve that problem, brands can tell Amazon that there someone operating illegally. In fact, Waxelene flushed out all these bad actors. They changed the entire look and feel of the product to help get rid of those sellers.
“I don’t believe this is a niche play. This can be a very big play. In terms of an IPO, these days in Silicon Valley people are delaying IPOs because the scrutiny is not fun at a public company. Certainly, at some point, we might consider that, but we can be a very big company without being public.”
Have you discovered that influencers propel sales?
The influencers do really move products for the brands we carry as well as for our own product. Our product was introduced in March, and we were able to move a lot of it just because of the influencers. Based off of zero, it grew tremendously and is now on the map. It was all done within our community until recently when we gave out our masks to influencers beyond our platform.
Where do you have a presence beyond your own platform?
Pinterest and Facebook are our biggest channels outside of our own app community. We are just starting on Instagram. Instagram is very big among millennials. When you get into moms, they are reading blogs and sharing their experiences with other moms on Facebook. Time and time again, we’ve found that older women are on the web, and they’re still reading Yahoo. That’s why the web is very important to us in addition to the app.
How are you evolving the content on Musely?
We are going to be going much heavier into video content, much like everyone else. We have spent months building special video capabilities so Muses can record tips within the app. It will be similar to what people have created on YouTube, but we want the videos to be under 10 minutes. We are testing that to allow people to watch Muses using the products rather than just reading about the products.
In the past, you led the software company Interwoven to an initial public offering valued at $7 billion. Do you envision an IPO for Musely?
I don’t believe this is a niche play. This can be a very big play. In terms of an IPO, these days in Silicon Valley people are delaying IPOs because the scrutiny is not fun at a public company. Certainly, at some point, we might consider that, but we can be a very big company without being public.