DIBS Beauty Co-founder & CEO Jeff Lee on Prioritizing Your Community and Finding Your Superpower

Beauty Podcast
Jeff Lee DIBS Beauty A-Rod Corp

In our latest episode of Earned, we sit down with Jeff Lee, co-founder and CEO of DIBS—short for “Desert Island Beauty Status”—a beauty brand created in partnership with star influencer Courtney Shields. With Lee at the helm, the brand has gained impressive momentum since its launch in September of 2021, accruing $4.8M EMV in the first half of 2022. 

We start the episode by unpacking Jeff’s many noteworthy accomplishments, including earning his MBA at Stanford and his law degree at Yale, coaching several successful Miss Universe pageant contestants, visiting every Equinox gym across the world, and serving as COO for former MLB shortstop Alex Rodriguez’s A-Rod Corp investment firm—all before launching DIBS Beauty. Jeff shares how he manages and prioritizes his time to allow him to invest in his varied pursuits, before explaining why he decided to transition from attorney to brand operator. We dive into his time at A-Rod Corp, and hear how he got the job (despite not knowing who A-Rod was), as well as the team-building learnings he took with him from that experience. Jeff then reveals why he thinks following your passions is the “worst career advice,” and why you should instead pursue your “superpower.” Next, we discuss how DIBS Beauty came to be, and the key factors contributing to the brand’s rapid growth, before closing the show by learning Jeff’s guiding principles that help him navigate challenging times. 

We’ve included a highlight from the episode below, but be sure to check out the full video above, or tune into the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts!

The following interview has been lightly edited for concision.

“People need to feel important because they are important”: How Jeff Lee and the DIBS Beauty Team Prioritizes Community Building 

Conor Begley: DIBS Beauty came out of the gates, the numbers were really strong and have gotten better and better every single quarter over the last three quarters, so what do you think's driving that consistent, upward trajectory?

Jeff Lee: The underlying playbook is pretty simple for a lot of new beauty brands. Let me get the person that can drive eyeballs and then let me just get the product and fuse them together and go, go, go. From early on, we always understood the enormous value that Courtney’s community has. Obviously, there's a great deal of ability on her end to then convert that into sales. But I think we always approached it from the perspective of, let's respect what she's built up over a decade, that community that's grown up with her. Let's watch her go through all the realities of life and build products that she can truly believe in, that we can believe in, and that her community would buy even if she weren't in front of them. I'm very proud of our repeat order rate, which is very, very high. It can exceed 60% on some products. And we're only 10 months in. We're not a full year in. 

I think the product and the mission are critical. You can market all the great strategies that you want around that, but if you don't have exceptional product that delivers joy and value to your customer, you're not going to win. And our mission has been very simple. DIBS stands for “Desert Island Beauty Status.” This is the makeup you would bring with you to a desert island. That's the underlying principle. We don't release anything unless it matches that philosophy, and unless we feel that our partners, whether it's Courtney or many of our extraordinary partners out there, can believe in the brand. 

I truly think that those are things that have really set us apart, as well as the extremely strong visual identity. You know our product right away when you see it. And that's very different from the phenomenon of “blanding” that we've seen in the CBG space in general. In terms of the actual social strategy, I think we have a couple strengths going for us. One is that Courtney has proved to be enormously versatile. Her TikTok grew by an order of 50% in the last month alone. She drives explosive traffic now through that channel, on top of traditional Instagram and Facebook. And that's great to have a rocket ship like that, someone who's always thinking, “how can I reach more people with different messages, but the same values underneath?” You can't discount that value. 

But at the same time, what we've really, really been focusing on isn't just, “let's go out and find lots of influencers that convert.” It's really doing the legwork with, who is the DIBS person? Who is the person that represents this brand, at a macro and at a micro level? And having that right mix. There are a lot of brands that will go out and tell you, we strive to create a pyramid where we have this many mega influencers, this many micro, and we try to find people that are outside of the traditional streams of beauty, which is what we try to do as well for sure. I know that's been a great strategy for TULA, but that alone doesn't account for our success. 

The reason why we have been growing at this [rate] is because we have deep relationships with these people. We are a 50-state brand. I'm committed to having an event of some kind in all 50 states. We're Austin-headquartered, and our biggest events have been in Nashville, Indiana, Cleveland. We are going to parts of the country that [have typically been ignored by beauty brands,] and we're meeting people on the ground. In Indiana, people were telling us, no one has ever come to Indianapolis. I'm like, why not? You're an amazing market and amazing community. 

On top of it, I do think it's a commitment from the team to build this community. And it starts from the very top [and trickles down] to every level. I would say that every single member of this team has a direct relationship of some kind with multiple influencer partners, and that includes people who have no nexus with the influencer side of the business. Everyone here has some direct relationship. 

And again, we are a 24/7 brand, so we're very agile. Courtney knows at any given time what's going on on social media. I know at any given time what's going on in our Shopify. I'm in our Shopify every 15 minutes and we're constantly updating each other, so that we can tell our entire team, drop everything, go, go, go, if we see something really working. Flex a new bundle in this way. Activate these partners. Let them know there's new messaging right now, because this thing is really picking up steam. Our products are so multi-use, we discover new uses from our partners. So we'll see that happen and go, go, go. But I'm also customer support half of the time on Courtney's TikTok. I don't TikTok myself. Everyone knows it's Jeff Lee, the CEO of DIBS. And I'm like, “we'll check on your order. Email our customer support line here in her comments." And members of the team, no matter their seniority, play that role across the board. They're in the DMs. They're talking to our great partners. 

People need to feel important because they are important. And we do invest in that. I don't think a lot of brands are operating from that perspective. They're saying, “Let me pay an influencer x amount of money. She can push the product and I don't need you anymore." But for us, we know when your birthdays are, we know where you live, and we're the ones asking you, what can we do better? And we're the ones coming to you, because we're spending the time planning out how we can get to Nashville and have something that brings a lot of joy to your community. That takes a lot of work that a lot of people aren't willing to do.

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 55 episodes, featuring leaders from brands like Milk Makeup, Gymshark, Gucci, and Summer Fridays, visit our Earned Podcast page.

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