By Karen Knapstein, contributor via the Underground Group
⏰ 7-minute read
Two beauty-industry veterans started Trestique with an idea for makeup to support busy women by offering simple routines, along with great products and packaging.
Since its launch season four years ago, the company’s revenue has grown 173%.
Founder and co-CEO Jenn Kapahi credits Trestique’s success to habits both tactical, like email marketing, and mental, like always keeping challenges in perspective.
Cosmetics company Trestique may have only been around for the past four years, but the company’s founders bring more than 20 years of experience in the beauty industry to the table.
That experience, combined with a bootstrap mentality and glowing reviews from beauty bloggers with large fan bases, led the cosmetics company to its best season ever in 2019, in terms of sales. It also inspired the brand’s plan to continue making over an industry by focusing on simplifying makeup and its application.
Laying a foundation
Many years before she created Trestique, a customized makeup line designed to simplify how consumers carry and apply makeup, Founder and Co-CEO Jenn Kapahi was moonlighting as a makeup artist in her teens. It was one of many odd jobs the daughter of a farmer in Peconic, N.Y. had throughout her childhood.
After she graduated in 2005 from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Kapahi enrolled in the executive retail program at the Bloomingdale's 59th Street location in New York City and soon became an assistant store manager in the cosmetics department.
“I really learned a lot about brands and customers, and just what people were really missing and looking for” at the cosmetics counter, said Kapahi, who had the idea for Trestique while she worked with customers in a retail setting.
Later, Kapahi parlayed that experience into developing and marketing products at Intercos, one of the top cosmetics manufacturers in the world. She worked on well-known beauty brands such as Anastasia, Estée Lauder, Lancôme, MAC and Shiseido before joining Revlon as a global product developer.
Jenn Kapahi launched Trestique after a career with big-name makeup brands.
Launching a brand
Trestique wasn't born until Kapahi decided to have a family.
“I felt it was impossible in the traditional sense, for me, in the corporate world to have a family,” she said. “I saw my boss and a lot of other older women who were having families struggling with childcare, affording things, getting home in time for bed and all of the things working parents struggle with.”
“I felt it was impossible in the traditional sense, for me, in the corporate world to have a family."
Kapahi quit her corporate job and began helping out a friend who started a clothing line. That was the day she “serendipitously” met her business partner, Jack Bensason, who just happened to work in his family business -- Israeli-based Danya cosmetics, now GA-DE Cosmetics.
Kapahi shared with Bensason her idea for a kit of travel-sized makeup essentials that women could easily take on the go.
“We basically started chitchatting and discovered that my idea of makeup simplicity and an idea Jack had for a magnetic-sealing crayon he had developed and patented were very much aligned,” she said.
The duo decided to join forces in 2015 and launched Trestique the next year with the goal of filling a gap in the market by creating a true solution for the real, busy, modern woman's makeup routine.
Building a base
Trestique -- stylized as TrèStiQue, a play on Très Chic! -- officially launched with eight products sold together in one package, which included foundation, concealer, blush, face highlighter and lipstick. Called the Essential 8, the makeup came in crayon-like sticks designed to be applied quickly (in about five minutes).
Consumers could go online to Trestique’s website and select the eight products in colors and shades that matched their skin tone. All eight products were packaged and delivered in a travel-friendly makeup case that uses the magnetic seals Bensason created. The process still works the same way, though Trestique has added more shades and colors as well as special features like eyelash curlers in the lid of its mascara tubes.
Kapahi’s know-how in cosmetics development came into major play while creating the actual makeup.
“I developed every formula, every shade, every package by myself on my living room floor,” said Kapahi. “I had product formula submissions messengered to my house [from manufacturers], and I evaluated them for texture.”
"I developed every formula, every shade, every package by myself on my living room floor.”
At the same time, she “developed the product shades, the primary packaging, the secondary packaging and the website digital colors. I had two to three rounds with each manufacturing partner and went back and forth using the floor of my apartment and dining room table as my work surface.
“I typically went outside into the garden in natural light to look at colors, and I used friends and my husband, who has a darker skin tone, to test shades.”
Trestique makes travel-friendly makeup sticks in a wide range of shades.
Ultimately, Kapahi chose to work with a makeup manufacturer in Italy and a packaging manufacturer in China. Whereas many cosmetics brands create, say, eyeshadow palettes with multiple shades, she leaned on a well-educated hunch that in the everyday, users wear just one.
“In terms of colors, shades and product format, I purposely didn’t follow the trends, because I don't believe real women who are our actual customers want to wear 17 shades of eyeshadow on their eye,” she said.
"I purposely didn’t follow the trends, because I don't believe real women who are our actual customers want to wear 17 shades of eyeshadow."
Trestique started selling the Essential 8, which comprises eight cosmetic sticks plus a bag with a mirrored lid, for a total of nine SKUs, in its first year. Customers can buy items individually, too. Trestique has since increased its count to 51 full-size products plus about 75 mini versions of those items.
The brand’s mission of simplicity continues to drive its products. In addition to the Essential 8, Trestique now offers The Mini 5 , which includes five mini-sized versions of its makeup in one package, and a Mix Any option, which gives users discounts when they bundle various individual products themselves.
Customers can mix and match Trestique's makeup sticks in the traditional bundles of five or eight.
Getting the word out
Kapahi noted that not following the trends can hinder a brand from getting press attention that leads to a new customer hitting their site after a hot new shade makes the rounds on beauty blogs, for instance.
Trestique has had to find customers through word of mouth or hook them with its website at first visit, she said. The company recently focused on building a sophisticated email marketing campaign, which required relaunching its website after heavily customizing some off-the-shelf e-commerce technology (Shopify, specifically) last year.
That email marketing campaign includes oodles of segmenting, or sending consumers specialized emails based on how they’ve interacted (or not interacted) with Trestique in the past. The website setup enables Trestique to sort customers based on their activity and send them on one of nearly 30 distinct email journeys, Kapahi explained.
For example, consumers receive one email message if they’ve started shopping and then abandoned their cart, another if they’ve purchased two items and yet another if they’ve used Trestique’s “selfie shade match” feature. The brand’s email journeys also include a four-message series teaching customers how to use the Essential 8 and a series about the “Try Before You Buy” program and one on loyalty program and reviews.
The segmented journeys are “something we're always working to improve,” Kapahi said. “But for us, we see great conversion, and we always see people actually really engaged.”
👉 Learn more about building a perfect email marketing campaign
Trestique uses highly personalized email messages to build rapport with its customers.
The new website, which launched this past summer, supported 140% growth in online sales volume over the 2019 holiday season compared to the one before, she said.
Another way Trestique is working to build its audience is through content marketing.
“We just recently launched a new content blog series called ‘Behind the Sticks.’ And every two weeks, we launch a new video and a blog [post] about one of our products, which focuses on what inspired it and how I created it,” Kapahi explained.
And it’s doing great.
“We see double the open rate on emails that we send with ‘Behind the Sticks’ content, and on our blog, we see on average, visitors are spending double the amount of time on the page,” she said. “It’s very interesting because it's not a promotion, it’s not about a sale. People want content.”
👉 Learn more about content marketing for your startup
👉 Learn more about boosting your open rate when sending marketing emails
Putting their best face forward
For Kapahi and Bensason, the products and the concept were never an issue. They were fortunate enough to use their professional connections to develop their products, “essentially for free,” said Kapahi.
Beyond that, the duo fought hard to grow the business with their own funding.
“We first formed the partnership, and then we very consciously decided not to go and raise money,” she said. “We actually just funded the company with our own savings.”
Kapahi founded Trestique mostly with her and her co-founder's own money.
Early on, the team spent their cash on inventory, building the website, paying a trademark lawyer and other tactical items.
Their scrappy, self-funded mentality means they “don't have the capital that a lot of VC-funded brands” might have, said Kapahi, who added that in 2017, Trestique did do one, and only one, round of funding with friends and family.
👉 Learn more about raising venture capital
👉 Learn more about funding your startup through friends and family
Trestique’s goal was always to become profitable -- an aim it has achieved -- and that means not spending on projects that don't make sense for the business. The company has had to be careful in terms of hiring and creating too many products. An average cosmetics brand has at least 200 individual products, or SKUs, vs. Trestique’s approximate 125.
Trestique employs a staff of 10, and it's been “very, very challenging getting good people,” said Kapahi. Roles she has had a hard time filling include performance marketers and e-commerce experts. It’s nearly impossible to find a candidate who is both digitally savvy and has a comparable level of product development experience to hers, she said.
The solution, so far, has been two-fold, she said. One has been to get support from recruiters. The other is that, “honestly, sometimes we just get lucky.”
Focusing on the positive
For Kapahi, building a business, even with all of the hurdles, makes sense for her and her family, which now includes her husband and two children. It’s what she’s passionate about. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. She recommends new founders hone both tenacity and resilience.
“I think the best advice is that if you're really passionate about something … you really have [to have the] tenacity to go through a day that's really hard,” she said, “[and] then be able to wake up and start fresh.”