In Episode 5 of Earned—the show’s first remote interview, recorded last month—Conor (virtually) sits down with Sarah Lee and Christine Chang, co-founders of cult-favorite skincare brand Glow Recipe. Launched in 2014, the brand began as a Korean skincare curation business, before introducing its own line of highly Instagrammable fruit-powered products in 2017. Over the years, Glow Recipe has built a passionate and engaged community of brand fans that have driven impactful conversation online: from April 2019 to April 2020, the brand netted $55.7M in Earned Media Value (EMV) from 2.7k influencers, ranking among the U.S.’s top 10 skincare brands and enjoying a 117% year-over-year EMV surge.
In the episode, Sarah and Christine unpack what they learned growing up in different countries and cultures: Sarah grew up in Seoul and went to international school in Hong Kong, while Christine grew up in Louisiana and attended middle school in Korea, before high school in Australia. Christine notes that this mix of cultural influences is even reflected in Glow Recipe’s products: “That’s why all of our formulations are hybrids, too.”
We learn how the two met working at L'Oréal Korea, and what it was like to transition from the big corporation “bubble” into a two-man band at Glow Recipe. Christine and Sarah dive into their close-knit co-founder dynamic, and reveal why they decided to pivot Glow Recipe from a curation business to its own in-house skincare line, with the core mission of making skincare “accessible, effective, relevant, and fun.”
Sarah and Christine also cover their 360-degree approach to brand marketing, and share the ways they’ve built an engaged, loyal, and growing community of skincare—and specifically Glow Recipe—enthusiasts. Finally, the founders discuss the early investments they made in the influencer space, and how those investments helped them build genuine and supportive influencer friendships.
We’ve included a few discussion highlights from the episode below, but be sure to check out the full video above, listen to the podcast below, or tune in on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts!
The following interview has been lightly edited for concision.
Real Glow Gang: Building (and Listening to) an Engaged Instagram Community
Conor: Christine, you mentioned Glow Recipe’s Instagram has over 700k followers, which is a lot of followers. What were some of the investments that you guys think helped you get there?
Christine: Our Instagram, in the early days, it was me and Sarah in our office, photographing with our phones in a very dark room, these very raw visuals. And I think our visual territory has very much improved leaps and bounds, thanks to a very talented team that does this much, much better than we ever can. But that sense of raw authenticity is something that we still try to bring to our Instagram—no matter what the following is.
From the very beginning, when we were a DTC site focused on curations, we would take our community along with the journey, we would go online, go live on stories and say, “Hey guys, this is what I'm curating, what do you guys want to see?” And so even in those very early days, we were utilizing social media as a platform for true engagement and conversation. And because of that, I think our customers have always felt like they have been with us—and they very much have been—driving this together with us. When we launched our first two products, for example, it was a blueberry cleanser along with a watermelon mask, and customers had feedback about the tube format. We reformulated the packaging of that right away, and within a year, the new pump packaging was out. So as a brand, being nimble about that type of feedback and response cycle has really helped us to build up this community of fans that are very vocal, very passionate, and very involved.
Recently we actually spun off a community platform on Real Glow Gang [also the Instagram handle]. And there we post in a way where it's very different from Glow Recipe, which is more elevated, aesthetic visuals. Real Glow Gang is behind the scenes, it's questions, it’s memes, it's just everything you would want to talk about in skincare. If your skincare routine is a movie, for example, which movie would it be? And we engage directly, our team engages in there. So it's really a space of very safe and very active discussion. And it's been amazing to see that type of discussion flow there, and we also get a lot of inspiration and ideas there.
For our toner launch, the Watermelon Glow Pore-Tight Toner, we previewed it first on Real Glow Gang before we even showed it to anyone on Glow Recipe. So they really feel like insiders and members of this community that get that first access. And just seeing that preliminary response also helped us to gauge how the toner would do. I think it's been a tremendous new venture for us.
“It Doesn’t Happen Overnight”: How Glow Recipe Invests in Organic Influencer Relationships
Conor: So, obviously all the core building blocks that you guys are talking about contribute to overall community growth. Do you think about influencer marketing as being a separate thing? Is that something that you have a team dedicated to? What's your approach there? Or has most of this stuff just happened organically as part of your general customer management program?
Sarah: It's really interesting because I don't think there's always a right or wrong answer when it comes to approaching influencers. But what I can tell you is that these are people that are like the Glow Gang, which is what we call our community, who, if they really like the brand, if they like the philosophy and the brand story, they will talk about you. But, there are so many brands and it's a very saturated market, so how you get them to actually get excited about you, I think is the number one challenge.
If you were to split our organic versus paid influencer partnerships, the organic piece way outpaces the paid partnerships. We've done very few paid partnerships to date. From the very beginning of when we were trying to get the word out about Glow Recipe, we tried to reach out to all of these influencers that we were personally following, that we also knew had a lot of influence in the industry. We did a lot of research, and because we were following some of them, we understood what type of skin concerns they had, or what they were interested in, or what they were talking about recently. So we could actually customize our communication, and for example, our emails or the gifts that we seeded to these influencers were customized to each and every influencer that we reached out to. So that was the very beginning of our business.
It was a lot of manual work, but it actually set up a really amazing foundation for understanding all these people that were influential in the industry. And then from there I think we were able to build relationships because we take each and every sort of response with a lot of gratitude, so we wanted to continue to have this conversation with them. If some of the influencers lived in LA, we would take the time to grab coffee or breakfast with each and every person as a thank you, but also to keep them posted and updated with what we're up to, and share the products. A lot of them that we built relationships with from day one are now friends of the brand. They are genuinely passionate about our philosophy and the formulations that we create, and they really support us. We created this really nice network of friends who have similar interests and a similar passion, which is beauty and skincare.
And I think that's an organic approach, but it was built over time. It doesn't happen overnight. You really have to build and cherish and nurture these relationships and continue to follow up, and make sure that you have personal face time with a lot of these people. That was our strategy.
You can watch the entire interview here, or listen to the full episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts. Be sure to catch up on our first four episodes, with Ashton Wall (ColourPop), Jordynn Wynn (INH Hair), Evelyn Wang (Milani), and Mehdi Mehdi (Rare Beauty). And look out for Episode 6, featuring Divya Gugnani, co-founder and CEO of Wander Beauty.