How Glow Recipe Passed Up a Shark Tank Deal and Still Won Skincare

Meet two friends who quit their boring corporate jobs, passed up a Shark Tank deal, and started $100M skincare brand Glow Recipe.

Glow Recipe co-founders pose Chang and Lee pose in front of a pink product display.

Nearly a decade ago, best friends Christine Chang and Sarah Lee braved the Shark Tank with Glow Recipe, a brand simplifying Korean Beauty for everyday Americans. Robert Herjavec offered the duo a deal, but they opted to pass.

Today, Glow Recipe is thriving. By 2021, the company had surpassed $100 Million in sales and their products have gained a cult-like social media following. The Glow Recipe team continues to drive change in sustainability and inclusivity; 2022 saw Glow Recipe achieve carbon neutrality and the brand has not retouched skin since 2019. 

It’s a fundamental shift in how cosmetics companies operate. Just two decades ago, cosmetics ads were largely housed in fashion magazines and featured celebrities and supermodels. Photos were heavily retouched. Parsing out what the products were doing and what was just post-production was nearly impossible.  

Today, Glow Recipe’s Instagram is brimming with unretouched images and realistic before and after snapshots. The company is changing the way beauty brands think about transparency. Their followers are loving it.

The Glow Recipe Shark Tank Deal

When Lee and Chang brought Glow Recipe on Shark Tank in 2015, they had about 550K in sales. A year later, they had a million dollars in sales. 

The duo went in asking for $425,000 for 10% of the company. The offer they got was $425,000 for 25% of their company, lowering the valuation from 4.2 million to around 1 million. They decided to pass.

When we talk about money and venture, Shark Tank stands apart as an outlier. The show’s investors take a significant amount of ownership without fulfilling roles we often see in venture. When someone buys 10 to 25% of your company, founders expect them to be an extension of the early team or even a quiet co-founder. 

In the tech ecosystem, founders who are actively raising capital for a startup will spend multiple hours with an investor:

  • Talking about product 
  • Talking go-to-market
  • Getting introductions to future hires

There's a lot of courting that happens ahead of singing any sort of term sheet. Once an investor signs the paper and owns 15 to 20% of a company, it's very hard to get rid of them. So on the front end founders want to ensure they're working with a truly helpful, value add investor.

@glowrecipe And that’s on starting a business with your bestie 💕 #SpotlightAPI #GlowRecipe #KBeautySkincare ♬ original sound - Glow Recipe

Shark Tank Deals and Women: The Stats

In 2019, The Hustle revealed that 56% of shark tank contestants had successfully made deals. The average deal was $286,000, with an average of 27% of equity given up.

The Hustle stats around women and money found that, while women were more likely than men to secure deals (60% versus 53%), they were still underrepresented as contestants (24% versus 60%). Women were also offered smaller deals on average. 

Glow Beauty on Shark Tank: A Case Study in Self-Made Success

As members of the Great Resignation cohort, it was on brand for Lee and Chang to pass up Herjavec’s offer. 

The pair left marketing executive positions at L’Oreal to strike out on their own and build a K-Beauty curation brand. By 2015, their scrappiness and DIY-mentality had already won them consumer support and fostered a burgeoning community. Why start giving away ownership now? If Lee and Chang were going to launch their brand, they were going to do it on their own terms.

Glow Recipe is a great case study in how founders can pass up a deal and still find success in the market. Sometimes visibility goes farther than a check. 

As master marketers, Lee and Chang knew this. Shark Tank is instrumental in generating brand awareness. With or without a deal, Glow Recipe’s Shark Tank appearance was perfect for getting their products in front of a mainstream audience across America.

Where is Glow Recipe After Shark Tank?

Glow Recipe owes much of their success to the following. They grew in their brand’s original iteration as a site curating high-quality Korean cosmetics.

Today, the brand has fully traded in their curatorial roots for a creation model.

Comedian Alexis Gay and I got to talk about K-Beauty, curation vs. creation, and thoughtfully building company culture with Glow Recipe founders Christine Chang and Sarah Lee on The Shake Up, a show examining decisions of leaders who broke the status quo. 

You can check out an abridged version of our conversation below, or listen to the full episode here.

Glow Recipe’s K-Beauty Roots

Gay: Through the work of several companies, Glow Recipe in particular, K-Beauty is cosmetics’ next big thing. Americans are increasingly aware of the philosophy behind K-Beauty.

Could you tell us more about the key markers of K-Beauty?

Chang: The catalyst for us starting Glow Recipe was the realization that there was a burgeoning interest in Korean beauty. This was all the way back in 2014. We were seeing customers and global companies looking to Korean manufacturers and Korean labs for the latest innovations in:

  • Skincare 
  • Ingredients 
  • Technologies 

That was fascinating to us. 

We also saw that Korean beauty articles focused on 15 step regimens or how to use a specific ingredient. It was a little click bait-y. Content wasn’t getting to the heart of the matter: Korean beauty is a philosophy.

It's something that we learned at our mothers and grandmother's knees growing up. We both have amazing memories of our grandmothers rubbing watermelon rind on the skin to soothe heat rash, or our mother's marching over to the pantry for cucumber slices or grated potato. We grew up with an accessible approach to incorporating natural ingredients in your self-care routine. It wasn't a chore. It wasn't an arduous 15-step thing. It was fun.

We felt that skincare lost that sense of fun and sensoriality over the years. Reigniting that was the mission that sparked this.

Worklife: I feel like the U.S., in many ways, has been very behind on the fact that skincare is part of your overall health and wellbeing.

Lee: Yes. In Korea, prevention is such a key word when it comes to skin. 

You have to have layers of hydration on every step of your routine, in order to prevent your skin from signs of aging. You have to wear SPF every day. Double cleansing is absolutely critical if you're wearing makeup or SPF, because only an oil can remove another oil. And typically makeup products are made with oils. 

But there wasn't education around these types of intricate nuances here. 

Worklife: It's great to hear that this education created the first version of Glow Recipe in its original form as a curation platform.

Can you tell us more about that evolution from being the trusted source in your friend group for K-Beauty products to then curating such an amazing community and huge audience? 

Chang: Absolutely. So in 2014, without so much as a website, we flew over to Korea to get some brands on board. We pounded the pavement to find these brands—many of which were still very close to today. The commonalities were that they were all:

  • Helmed by passionate brand founders 
  • Selling unique products, 
  • Operating with clear product formulation philosophies 

We felt like these were the brands that needed a voice in the U.S. and in other global markets, because of their astounding innovation, beautiful textures, and impressive ingredients stories.

Even though we didn't have a site, we had a clear vision of where we wanted to go. We were able to get eight or nine brands on board. That one trip kicked us off. 

After returning home, we Googled furiously to figure out how to create a site from scratch. I still cringe a little bit when I see the early iterations of our site, which we thought looked great at the time. Looking back on it, there were clear optimization opportunities. 

But it was all so fun. Every day we were: 

  • Making emails ourselves
  • Cold calling journalists ourselves
  • Creating social media content 
  • Figuring out natural ingredients 

It was a lot of scrappiness. 

We knew that eventually we would have to take the step into creation ourselves. The right timing eventually came in 2017.

A couple of years after launching Glow Recipe as a curation site, we launched our own in-house food-for-skincare brand that you see today on the shelves of Sephora. In 2017, we were working exclusively with Sephora, and it was a very close partnership with the retailer to make sure that we were successfully launching the brand.

When we launched, the response was so rewarding; we had a multi thousand person waitlist and sold out multiple times

The success was an accumulation of many years of:

  • Creating a community 
  • Creating educational content 
  • Being intentional about what we stood for as a brand

We maintained both curation and creation for a while, but in 2019, we decided to phase out our curation brands. Increasingly, we were seeing that our community was passionate about Glow Recipe Skincare. They wanted more products and more innovation. We're a very small team, so we had to focus on our own brand. 

Maintaining Relationships with Curated Brand

Lee: Some of the founders from the curation brands are still our friends to this date. There's a lot of synergy that comes from that. We can always pick up the phone, call them, and ask for opinions about certain things. We still touch base to make sure we're there for them if they have any questions about navigating the U.S. market. 

We're all brand builders and creators, right? We share so much in common. We want everyone to succeed at the same time.

When we were transitioning to a creation business, we were not only giving curated brands connections to the networks we had with the retailers, but also asking our customers to remember these products and brands. We were giving them site links to products to continue to shop them, because we curated them for a reason. We love them for a reason. We wanted the situation to be a win-win. And I think we had the best possible outcome.

Glow Recipe Shark Tank Update: Curation to Creation

Gay: What was it like to make the move from curation to creation?

What were things coming up in the market that gave you the idea to make this move?

Lee: The reason why we started as a curation business model was because we wanted to give brilliant founders and brands a platform and opportunity. The content, education, and marketing that we were able to provide was meant to help them go global.

Once we gained that credibility in the market, we then identified the white space where K-Beauty and American consumers intersected. We wanted to combine the Korean-inspired core tenets (sensorial and skin-tertainment factors) with the things American consumers resonate with (real results and clear ingredient stories).

We didn’t see the influx of Chinese and Korean beauty innovations being fully understood by the American consumer. So we felt the urge to break down that barrier and create our own brand. Glow Recipe is simplified with multitasking products, but retains amazing Korean-inspired elements.

The Glow Recipe Community

Chang: With Glow Recipe Skincare, it just felt right. Our community could not get enough. People were nonstop DM-ing us on the brand Instagram and our personal Instagrams, asking about the next drop, giving us product suggestions and ideas. 

There was so much passion and buzz around this brand. We knew that we had struck a chord. We were using familiar fruit antioxidants in innovative ways, and pairing them with proven actives, like retinols, AHAs, and acids. 

We were also speaking about fun and skincare. For the longest time, I think skincare has been dominated by a lot of very clinical brands. And of course, so many brands in that space are amazing. But that sense of sensoreality, that extra moment that makes a self care routine special, wasn’t there. All of this was really, really appreciated by our community. We felt like it was our duty to the community to ensure that we gave them what they wanted.

We started with the customer. We're ending there: 

  • What do they want? 
  • How do we best serve their needs? 
  • How do we create moments that really disrupt their self care experience? 
  • How do we provide products that are different and added value to their routine?

That perspective has continued to serve us. 

@mikaylanogueira I WILL BE DOING THIS FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. #makeup #beauty #glowyskin #glow @glamzillaxo ♬ original sound - Mikayla Nogueira

Glow’s Recipe for a Top Notch Team

Gay: That's a very clear guiding mission.

How do you balance that customer-first community-first mentality with some of the less glamorous aspects of creating a product?

Lee: We're first-time creative entrepreneurs, so we're always learning how to balance everything else with the work of overseeing the company as founders and co-CEOs.

I think the great benefit we have today is our incredible, talented team.

Many of our team members are relatively young and very plugged into TikTok. They have their ears and eyes on Gen Z’s social media landscape. Because of that, we're able to not only react quickly, but also proactively share what we have going on transparently with our community. 

At any point of your entrepreneurial journey, your team is a huge factor in what makes a success or not. As a company, we're rapidly growing. We're very grateful for that, but that comes with a challenge around how we can make sure our company culture is maintained and everyone stays motivated.

We think of every team member as a content creator. When we hire people, we ask about their storytelling and photography skills. It's a very modern approach to hiring. We often have brainstorming sessions with our team members. We’ll task people to think about a challenge that we're facing, whether it's a marketing initiative or a new campaign idea where we're stuck. We want everyone to contribute. 

People are everything. 

Glow Recipe Shark Tank Episode

Curious to see Glow Recipe’s Shark Tank origins? We’re dropping info on where to watch below:

Was Glow Recipe on Shark Tank? 

  • Yes

Which episode is Glow Recipe on Shark Tank?

  • Season 7, Episode 10

Where can I find the Glow Recipe Shark Tank video?

  • Hulu

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