Happy New Year! In our first episode of 2022, Conor sits down with Liah Yoo. A powerhouse YouTuber, Liah is the founder and CEO of KraveBeauty, the sustainable beauty brand dedicated to demystifying skincare. We start the episode by hearing where Liah’s interest in beauty came from, and learn why she decided to launch her own YouTube channel in 2011. Liah shares her “trial and error” strategies for expanding her YouTube audience to over one million subscribers, before discussing how she built KraveBeauty’s community by prioritizing stakeholders over shareholders. We then dive into why Liah initially set out to create KraveBeauty, and explore the brand’s mission-driven ethos. To close the show, Liah opens up about some difficult lessons she learned personally and professionally in 2021, and outlines her goals for the new year.
The following interview has been lightly edited for concision.
“It was really about humanizing the brand”: Liah Yoo on Building KraveBeauty’s Community
Conor Begley: So I want to talk to you about community building, both in the context of your own channel, as well as in the context of the brand. It’s something that I've really come around to as I've seen the value that our community delivers to us. Because we've been working on Tribe for almost 10 years, we've built up this community of relationships and allies, and it’s just incredibly powerful. So what did it look like for you in terms of building out your community as an individual content creator, and also as a brand?
Liah Yoo: For me, it was pretty similar to be honest in terms of how I built my community on YouTube and how KraveBeauty has nurtured and cultivated its own community online. I think there are definitely a lot of brands out there where you create a whole culture around it and you sell that kind of aspiration or you sell that kind of specific lifestyle that gathers the like-minded people. I think a good example is Glossier, Lululemon, or Tesla, or even Apple. Like they have that kind of certain coolness to it or aspirational aspect to the business and to the brand where they attract their own tribe. And I think those are good, but it also can sometimes feel very exclusive because if you're not a part of the gang, you're not part of the gang.
When building my own business with KraveBeauty, that's what I thought I wanted, like that aspirational something that people so aspire to be, that they feel like coming into that club or sitting at that lunch table is cool. But the more I think about it, KraveBeauty is not really an exclusive company; we're here to really include and hand-hold everyone. So for us, it was really about humanizing the brand. People want very, very simple things. As long as [customers] feel included, as long as they feel like they have a stake in the brand, as long as they feel like they have a voice in the brand, I think that's when you can really quietly gather people one at a time.
I think a lot of founder-led brands are really amazing at this, where it's as easy as involving the customers in how you make decisions for the company. Once you break down that wall or give up the authority of “I'm a brand and you're a customer,” you break that wall and really humanize the brand and just communicate as a person to another person. You're not only breaking down the barrier, but you're also inviting [customers] to have a voice in how you make decisions. And also sharing the same value sets too, because we don't want community’s output for the sake of community’s output. We want a very constructive dialogue and conversation.
So I think that's how KraveBeauty has built its own community, and I think that's how I built my own community on my personal channel too. It was really special because, first of all, we don't have a shareholder or any boards in our company at KraveBeauty, which is a huge privilege. But we also use that to our advantage of really prioritizing our stakeholders, which are our customers and our internal employees. So at the end of 2020, we held a virtual stakeholder meeting, inviting every customer who purchased at least one [product] to join us on the last day of December on the last day of 2020, and, little did I know, people actually showed up. I think the turnout was over 500 people logged in from all different countries and all different cities across the nation on the last day of 2020. That's how they wanted to spend their last day of 2020.
So I think it kind of goes to show that it's really important to have that human aspect of the business if you want to build a community.
“I came into the industry to [steer] my own ship in the way that I think is most ethical”: Liah Yoo on KraveBeauty’s Mission-Driven Origins
Liah Yoo: The thing that really disillusioned me about the industry is deeply rooted in the way that capitalism works, to be honest. This is not really unique to one specific company or one specific corporation, but it's really just a lot of how corporate America has built their wealth by growing at all costs. And “at all costs” meaning by exploiting labor, and leaving a really significant environmental impact.
And when that approach is carried onto the beauty industry, what I saw inside a big beauty conglomerate was that the product launch is never dictated by the consumer. The product launch is always mainly dictated by the shareholder's interest rather than, “How do we solve a customer's pain point? How do we make the user's life better?”. It's always about, “We need to hit $5 million this year, we're at $2 million. We need to capitalize on the best seller, and make it into a million different categories all of a sudden.”
Now that the entire market is so saturated, the customer acquisition cost is higher than ever. It's so hard to recruit or gain a new customer. So for growth, a lot of companies are spending their dollars on creating more products so that they can sell 10 products to one person that they already have. And it's a kind of ripple effect where that kind of mindset or that growth formula really impacts the language used in beauty advertising, because now that your goal is to sell, you need to somewhat manipulate the customer in order to sell products, and in order to manipulate them, you need to somewhat make them feel really bad about themselves and make them feel like their skin is sh*t without your product and therefore they need your product.
It's all a chain of events I saw happening, from where the capital is flowing into how the decisions are made in the business and how that gets translated into the product launch cycle and how that cascades down to how the marketing and advertising is done. So that's really why I came into the industry, to [steer] my own ship in the way that I think is the most ethical, which is not to manipulate your customers, but really just empower people and trust that they can make the best decision for themselves. And if our product is something that they are looking for, we are going to be there for them, but we don't need to distort the truth by saying these are dirty, these are toxic, you need to do this and that.
I feel like the skincare industry has become a little bit too complicated when it should be really straightforward. I think people have the intuition naturally, but then it's all masked and confused by so much advertising and marketing. And that's what I wanted to change, really trying to simplify and uncomplicate the beauty industry, and really give the power back to the customers. Your skin is naturally really smart, so respect your moisture barriers that you're already born with. That's the best thing that you can gift yourself, because no products can really outsmart natural, human biology to be honest. And skincare is not a drug either, it can only do so much in terms of changing someone's skin. So it really comes down to measuring the expectation and just making sure for us that we’re just really focusing on the stakeholders over shareholders.
You can watch the entire interview here, or listen to the full episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts. To catch up on our other 40 episodes, featuring leaders from brands like Milk Makeup, Gymshark, Gucci, and Summer Fridays, visit our Earned Podcast page.