There is a Glamnetic tagline that totally captures what founder and CEO Ann McFerran have built with her brand: “Be Magnetic, Be Glamnetic.” It’s clever because Glamnetic is known for its functional magnetic lashes that aren’t like its competitors, false eyelashes that might stick together or clump. But magnetism, too, is such a divine component of confidence. Over the decades, the beauty industry has hinged back and forth through what beautiful actually is or means to a buyer. Products can enhance "natural” beauty, create dynamic and dramatic effects, and even help create an entirely different persona. In recent years, as many current brands have recently positioned themselves this way, make-up and beauty products are not what makes a person “beautiful,” but through which one can express self-esteem and inner confidence.
McFerran felt this when she began experimenting with makeup. “The first time I put makeup on, I felt truly beautiful inside and out for the very first time,” she says. “I became really addicted to lashes. When I was very young, I literally did not go outside without wearing them. I wore them every single day.”
Born in Bangkok, Thailand, McFerran immigrated to the U.S. as a young girl with her mother and sister, settling in Manteca, California. The adjustment to the sometimes cold and dismissive way people are toward new immigrants took a toll on the young McFerran. “I felt very alienated because I looked so different from everybody else.”
In part because of the move, but also along with the natural cycles of growing up, McFerran felt a transformation occurring. She had changed her name and began to shape the sort of identity she wanted to have in a new place with new people. “My whole identity started shifting,” she says, “Makeup began helping me with this evolution and transformation within myself.”
When she had arrived on the West Coast, she felt an intuitive connection to something bigger than herself. America, this land of opportunity, she says, was a blessing, and a place where her as-yet-realized dreams could come true. “I still remember the day where we went over the Golden Gate Bridge and I thought, wow, my life was made. It was literally the American dream for me to come here.”
In less than two years, because of McFerran’s unparalleled hustle and hard work, Glamnetic has turned into a $50 million dollar business.
The beauty and personal care market is set to bring in over $511 million worldwide in 2021, according to Statista, with $82 million of that in the U.S. alone. This year, it is likely that 22% of beauty and personal care sales will be exclusively online. The false eyelash market will reach nearly $1.6 billion dollars globally by 2025, according to a report from Grand View Research. McFerran’s success, for a brand that launched just before a global pandemic, is a prime example of both the future of beauty and ecommerce. In this part of the market, with an updated product fix for false eyelashes, McFerran could strike relative gold.
The success of Glamnetic is a testament to McFerran’s hard work and vision, and a calling tethered to how a person feels in their body and the environment in which they are raised. Glamnetic is an especially magnetic brand—these lush, swooping lashes—because of what the brand emphasized early on: that magnetism that comes from within.
From med school to the art world
Before McFerran founded Glamnetic when she was 26 years old, she had graduated from the University of California Los Angeles with a bachelor of science in psychobiology. She was on the pre-med path when she realized it was no longer for her. “I wasn't happy doing medicine because I was much more of a creative person. I’m a true creative: I'm left-handed, my mom was a painter, and so I always had this natural inclination towards painting.”
In what appears to be a fairly seamless career transition, McFerran pursued the life of a professional fine artist for four years, selling her first $10,000 painting straight out of college. She moved to L.A. proper permanently, seeing far more opportunity there to be successful in the art world than in the small town where she grew up.
Here, in this creative community, McFerran became interested in entrepreneurship. She mingled with other entrepreneurs she met at art events and soaked up their knowledge. While she loved seeing people get excited and emotional when they received her paintings, McFerran knew her business wasn’t scalable. The work, too, began to wear on her mental health. Painting began to have its limits.
“I found it really difficult emotionally going from one project to another, then having to stay in all day and literally paint by myself for eight hours straight,” she says. “It was back-breaking work. Sure, I was making good money, but I just knew it wasn't scalable and I was really lonely doing it.”
McFerran, putting visual art on the backburner, looked to take her creative instincts elsewhere, landing on building a small business of her own, one that would be fulfilling and scalable. Here, she thought: lashes.
How to build a brand in a 300-sq ft studio
A beauty brand was McFerran’s true professional calling. It hit all the things she sought in her work: science, especially how the product is developed and improved; artistry and how the brand is visually represented; and, on a personal note, reaffirming confidence in the customers who sought makeup as a way to feel empowered the same she did as a young girl.
McFerren researched different types of lashes, such as magnetic lashes, which had just started to become popular. But she felt that they weren’t exactly what she was looking for.
“They were very difficult to put on,” she says, “They were the type of magnetic lash that sandwiched your lashes together with a top and a bottom magnet. They just didn't work the way you thought they would, and were really thin and plasticky.” McFerran figured there had to be a better way to use this newer technology, actually making magnetic lashes functional, something she was extremely—and correctly—confident that she could do successfully.
McFerran noticed a significant gap in the market for full glam magnetic lashes. She began to thoroughly research her product options, tapping into her own experience as a lash-fanatic, as well as looking to influencers and make-up artists on YouTube. A year-and-a-half later, after nearly 500 conversations with manufacturers and 300 product samples, the Glamnetic magnetic eyeliner and lashes prototype launched in August 2019. McFerran told Forbes that she had landed on a formula for the magnetic lashes so that it took a few seconds to put on and could be worn up to 40 times.
She admits the functionality of the first product was not perfect, but entrepreneurship is too often stymied by this pursuit of perfection. She wanted to get her product out there and make changes from reviews by her most important users: customers.
“We launched [our product] and that first day we had over $1,000 in sales. I didn’t expect it at all!”
Throughout, McFerran was still working out of her tiny studio in L.A., doing everything by herself. She invested $5,000 of her own money into the inventory but then had nothing left over for photography or advertising. After teaching herself product photography, she invited models she met on Bumble BFF—an app to meet new people in her area—into her tiny studio to shoot product shots for free.
“I have this video of me using ten paint cans and stacking them up, putting a lash on top of a couple of white pieces of paper, and then putting a ring light over it so I could take a close-up shot for the product detail page on the website,” she says.
Mcferran wasn’t just taking on the role of founder and inventor, but also a growth hacker and a marketer extraordinaire with proficiency in email marketing and social media management. Wearing every single hat possible was McFerran’s reality in the early days of the brand’s start-up.
Her resourcefulness and nimbleness moving through roles and worlds would again prove to be fortuitous. As a micro-influencer herself, McFerran was invited to a photo shoot for another brand. Despite the photoshoot being unpaid, she thought it would be a good opportunity to expand her photography skills by seeing how more established brands photographed models and products. There, she met her now co-founder and business partner, Kevin Gould, the founder and CEO of Kombo Ventures, and an investor and operator in direct-to-consumer brands. Gould manages the daily operations of the brand, and says the pair work very closely: “our minds meet in the middle on all things marketing.”
But, at that time, Glamnetic was still small and had no money to spend on influencers or ads. Instead, McFerran, putting into practice that influencer muscle she already had, used herself as a sponsor of the brand, recording videos explaining how the product worked and why it was different from competitors in the market. This proved to be an excellent hook for her audience.
“The videos blew up and became really popular on social media,” she says.
Still doing this on her own, the work, much like her visual art career, began to take a toll. She had to seek out employees, despite her own stubborn barrier with delegation, preferring that scrappy start-up mentality, but it absolutely had to be done. “I had to or I was going to die,” she explains. “I reached a breaking point. I was working 14 hours a day, every day, for a year. I had a moment of clarity where I realized I was going to have to hire someone.”
The first three people McFerran hired quit, not too comfortable with the demands of a tiny beauty start-up company. Then, a friend of a friend was recommended to her. Straight out of college, Glamnetic’s first employee, Mia Slaughter, understood what was necessary to grow a startup, and didn’t even have a title, just a belief in the business. “She just kept showing up every single day and she's still here with us to this day, so I’m really grateful for her because she got me out of the belief it was impossible to hire people and trust them.”
Scaling from $1 million to $50 million in a single year
Glamnetic sold out more than 50 times in its first year. The stock sold the second it came in. This is unsurprising, as Glamnetic took what used to be a cumbersome process of applying fake lashes and made it easy. No more glues, no more ripping out your own eyelashes taking them off, and no more expensive extensions. Buyers loved the social content, too, wanting to be part of the budding Glamnetic community.
The buzz around Glamnetic, McFerran says, was this combination of the social advertising push and influencers who legitimately loved the product. “We needed to work out how to keep up the pace we were selling at. It was too crazy. We were air shipping everything just to try to keep up with the demand.”
There is now a budget for influencers, among other marketing options now that the brand is bringing such a profit. Last year, McFerran and Gould invested a stunning $20 million in marketing and became a top, prestigious lash brand almost overnight as a result.
In 2020, the business grew from $1 million to $50 million in revenue, went from one to 60 employees, and dropped 52 new SKUs. It grew its private Facebook community to 20,000 and Instagram to more than 350,000. Today, the brand has over 70 employees and the business is set to keep such steady growth in 2021.
While this might be enough for some, such a startling amount of growth during a pandemic year where the majority of us spent our time inside, McFerran wants more and to top her goals. The brand recently launched press on nails, which have sales at 50% month-over-month so far, a new line of lashes featuring Sanrio’s Hello Kitty and Friends, and soon it will offer a subscription service to loyal customers.
With even more new product plans coming later this year, the brand’s goal is still firmly set on making beauty accessible, easy, and fun for buyers. “The whole ethos of the brand is providing innovative solutions within beauty, to make women's lives easier in terms of application and how long it takes to do something, so ease of use is what we want to emphasize.”
Recently, McFerran was selected as an honoree for Forbes’ hotly tapped 30 Under 30 for retail and ecommerce. The fast growth and success of the business are important to McFerran, with high praise coming from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, but still, her work comes back to what beauty products can do for the average person to bolster a person’s self-confidence. There are so many ways a person can choose to come into their authentic selves and false eyelashes were that for McFerran, along with countless other people who buy Glamnetic’s products. It’s not a solution in the pursuit of becoming whole but it’s a path; one where the choice to do something this positive is a radical act of care.
“The meaning of the brand to a lot of people is that they feel confident for the first time,” she says. “In our communities, [customers] post about how much more confident they've felt and they never thought they would feel as amazing as they do. They’re being uplifted by all these positive women around them complimenting them all the time and giving them motivation every day.”