James Sun is an entrepreneur, managing partner, and angel investor of several companies. He is currently the chairman and CEO of Beautytap, which aims to be the largest online beauty community focused initially around Asian/international beauty products. He is also the owner of Dramabeans, which is the largest Korean drama online recap and community site focused on the English speaking market. Previously, he was the founder & CEO of Pirq, a loyalty application for small and medium sized businesses which was successfully acquired by one of the largest payment processing companies in the U.S. He was the first Asian American contestant on Donald Trump’s The Apprentice where he placed runner up, and then had his own show with BBC called Sun Tzu War on Business. James graduated Cum Laude from the University of Washington with a Business and Computer Informations Systems Degree.
How did you get into the industry?
I’ve been a fan of good skincare since I was a little kid. My mom was probably a big influence on that. I would rub my face with the inside of orange peels thinking that the acid will neutralize the oil on my face. Then, as I progressed my career in consumer tech, it was a natural progression to start an omnichannel online/offline business within the hot beauty sector.
Any emerging industry trends?
Technology is disrupting the beauty industry in a big way. The internet and social media are changing the way people discover and shop for beauty products. Instagram is a BIG piece to this. However, beauty is still mostly purchased in person due to the touch and feel nature about it. In the future, I see nanotech having a big impact on actual beauty products, whereas, now, we are seeing the disruption in the distribution and marketing of beauty today.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
I think Amazon, Alibaba, and JD.com are all creating a big challenge for many beauty brands. Beauty is one of those industries where the experience and branding still matters. It’s not as simple as purchasing a phone cover or commoditized gadget. Purchasing beauty still has an artform to it. However, with so many grey market resellers, counterfeits and close expiration products out there, the consumer needs to be careful who they purchase their beauty products from. After all, it’s going on their actual face and skin. Many beauty brands are starting to opt out of selling on Amazon due to the lack of luxury shopping experience and due to Amazon favoring the lowest price by a reseller who may not even be certified to sell the product. This is also an opportunity for someone like us, Beautytap.com, where we work directly with the brands and only sell products that our team has verified the authenticity and expiration dates of.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
Originally, the inspiration for the business was to allow anyone around the world to discover and purchase cross border beauty products. This is still the vision, but we are realizing the importance of omnichannel since touch and feel are a huge part of beauty discovery. Now, after launching our first brick-and-mortar store, our vision is to maintain a physical presence where people can try samples from all types of products in person before making a final purchase online.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
In the next 18 months, we plan on opening up 5 more flagship premium stores and more than 50 automated popups so customers can touch and feel the products before making a purchase. We are also planning to launch some new product lines as we have found some gaps in the market through our data points. Lastly, we are launching an online television show called BeautytapTV that will feature top beauty experts and celebs sharing the latest on their beauty and skincare secrets. This show will launch in December 2018.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
Investment in digital content and Instagram have contributed to the digital increase of our business. We have written over 600 articles just on beauty and it’s led to a 65% in the organic growth of total traffic from Google. Opening up a flagship physical store at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa has really invigorated sales and our brand presence. The initiative to open up physical stores has been a game changer for an online digital company like ours.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
Making decisions without all the data points has been the most difficult. We have to take qualitative and limited quantitative data and make real time decisions. Our greatest strength as a startup is the ability to quickly adjust, but doing so also presents many difficulties if we are constantly changing each week.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
Our ideal customer is someone who appreciates the knowledge and quality combined with a fair price. We do not want the customer who only cares about the lowest price at the sacrifice of quality. We seek the long-term customer who can appreciate a company who wants to give a great omnichannel experience when purchasing their beauty products.
How do you motivate others?
The best way to motivate a team is to lead by example and be engaged in the business. Show that you care about the results by giving feedback and real tangible solutions. Help your team come up with the solutions also.
Career advice to those in your industry?
Understand the combination of online and offline strategies for beauty. 91% of beauty is still bought in person so it’s important to understand this consumer mindset.