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Talking Shop: 2023 Year-End Reflections With Kiyoko Beauty

2023 is coming to a close, and what better time to reflect? December is when we check in with our goals—both personal and professional. That’s why we’re focusing on entrepreneurial lessons learned in this issue of Talking Shop. And we’re doing it with a brand that has a thing or two to celebrate this year—Kiyoko Beauty

This Canadian beauty brand is on a mission to “Make Asian Beauty for Everyone”. Kiyoko exists to eliminate the apprehension Western consumers have with ordering Korean and Japanese beauty products. And based on its thousands of social media followers and millions of likes, we think they’re doing a pretty good job.

A branded image showing several Korean and Japanese beauty products on a gradient pink background with the Kiyoko Beauty logo in the middle. 
Kiyoko Beauty sells a wide range of Korean and Japanese beauty products. 

We sat down with Gillian Liu, Co-Founder and Marketing and Growth Lead at Kiyoko Beauty, to reflect on the last 2 years of growth for the Asian beauty brand. 

A look back with Kiyoko Beauty Co-Founder, Gillian Liu

Rewinding to 2021, we’re at the first chapter in Kiyoko’s brand story. Co-founders Gillian, Kevin, and Susan decided to start Kiyoko with one mission in mind—making Asian beauty accessible to all. 

“There’s so much good Asian beauty out there, but it’s just not accessible. People either don’t know where to buy it or don’t trust the overseas supplier. So that’s the mission of Kiyoko. We provide the best, authentic products from Korea and Japan, and the other important piece is that we are educators,” Gillian shares.

As any small business owner, the 3 co-founders met their fair share of challenges, obstacles, and learning opportunities. We sat down with Gillian to reflect on the past 2 years of Kiyoko’s path to success and some of the important lessons she’s learned along the way. 

Don’t be afraid to outsource to free up your capacity

As with many entrepreneurs, Kiyoko’s 3 founders did everything from marketing to inventory to fulfilling orders in their homes in the early days. It wasn’t until they decided to hire additional team members that Kiyoko saw significant results. 

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“We realized we would never grow if we didn’t free up our brain space to think about what’s next.”
– Gillian Liu, Co-Founder and Marketing and Growth Lead, Kiyoko Beauty

Gillian shares that hiring content creators to work on building the brand’s organic community on TikTok and Instagram was a real tipping point. Through the brand’s authentic storytelling online, they’ve increased brand awareness, driving traffic to their website. 

Overcome your mental barriers

While hiring additional team members was a valuable decision, it wasn’t an easy one. Gillian shares the two biggest fears her team had with this. 

“One fear was that small business owners feel protective of their work. They think, ‘It’s my baby. I need to do it because I need to do it right.’ They don’t want to delegate work. The second fear is having to start paying people. It becomes a cost, whereas our time was free,” Gillian tells us. 

While these fears are valid and a normal part of the entrepreneurial journey, overcoming them can deliver a significant return on investment. After investing in content creators last year, Kiyoko celebrated their first viral video, reaching 3M views on TikTok. This was an early signal that organic social media was worth investing in, and they were on the right track. 

Ship quickly, experiment, and learn as you go

Half of creating a successful brand is learning from your mistakes. Kiyoko was all 3 co-founders’ first business. The first year involved figuring out how to run the website, marketing, operations, and everything else. 

One of Kiyoko’s experiments was installing Smile.io to offer a loyalty program. And we think it paid off big time. We’re talking nearly $40K in Smile.io-influenced revenue big.

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“Candidly, when we first set up Smile.io, it wasn’t a priority. It was more of a test and learn experience to see if people were even using it,” Gillian explains. “It’s gaining traction. Our return rate is healthy, and part of that is due to our loyalty program. Customers can redeem rewards for free shipping or dollars off, and we see people using and redeeming them.”

From Kiyoko’s authentic social media content that feels like Facetiming a friend to their Kiyoko Besties loyalty program that makes you feel like a friend, Kiyoko does an exceptional job at building customer connections. 

Fake it til you make it (a classic for a reason)

We asked Gillian what the best advice she had ever received was, and this timeless quote came to mind. 

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“This quote has single-handedly changed my perspectives on self-confidence, imposter syndrome, and courage.” 

When you start, it’s easy to feel like everybody else has it all figured out. As you repeat the habits you think you should be doing, you’ll gain confidence and realize you’re no longer “faking it.” 

If you’re not on board with community over competition in 2023, what are you doing? 

“When I first started, I was kind of shy about starting a business. I didn’t tell other people, and I feel like that was a missed opportunity.”

Today, Gillian has found a community of women entrepreneurs to connect, learn, and grow with. They discuss their successes and struggles and bounce ideas and recommendations off one another. 

“It’s so nice just hearing and learning from others and realizing that you don’t have to do it alone. There’s such a great community around you.” 

Kiyoko Beauty’s Besties loyalty program

As we mentioned, one of the key drivers in Kiyoko’s community-building success is its loyalty program, Kiyoko Besties Program

A screenshot from Kiyoko Beauty’s Besties loyalty program explainer page showing 5 ways to earn points. 
Kiyoko Beauty’s Besties program explainer page.

The program allows various ways to earn points, including making purchases, celebrating a birthday, writing product reviews, and engaging on social media. In fact, just by signing up, customers earn 500 points that they can immediately redeem for $5 off their first purchase. 

“About a year ago we realized that we started acquiring a lot of first-time customers, and our focus shifted to how do we incentivize them to come back,” Gillian tells us. “In the past couple of months, we’ve seen such an uptick in member sign-ups because of increased site traffic, and we keep making sure that sign-up bonus is very attractive.”  

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To date, Kiyoko has been able to generate $40K in revenue with a Smile.io discount code over 470K orders.

Kiyoko also strategically mentions its brand story and loyalty program in all of its post-purchase email communications to keep it top of mind. “There’s a lot of psychology there. When you know you have points or “money” on an account, you want to go and use that, and that’s always really impactful,” Gillian shares. 

A screenshot of a post-purchase email from Kiyoko Beauty. It thanks the customer for their purchase and encourages them to sign up for the Besties Club to save on future purchases. 
Kiyoko Beauty mentions its brand story and loyalty program in its emails.

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“Smile.io runs on autopilot. It takes 2 seconds to set up, and the customers just run with it. That’s my favorite part—it’s so hands-off. There are no issues with it. It’s just a very smooth program that runs as intended, and I don’t think that that’s common enough.”
– Gillian Liu

2 years of glow-ups for Kiyoko Beauty

With all of these lessons in mind, Kiyoko Beauty has made waves in the Asian beauty industry in just 2 years, acquiring its first warehouse and seeing sales increase month over month. 

“I’m excited about where Kiyoko is going to go. This new warehouse unlocks a lot of capacity to fulfill orders. The future is bright; every month, we’ve gone up in sales, and I want to keep that momentum going and keep talking to our audiences.” 

Kiyoko’s future looks as bright and glowy as its customers’ skin! 

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This originally appeared on Smile.io and is made available here to cast a wider net of discovery.
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