Michelle Phan: From YouTube Star to $84 Million Startup Founder

By : Nellie Bowles   on October 28, 2014

Do not underestimate the YouTube makeup-tutorial starlet.

Do not dismiss her “Barbie Transformation Tutorial;” her “Sailor Moon Transformation,” which includes anime contact lenses; nor her alarming “Zombie Barbie.”

Because Michelle Phan — with more than a billion views on YouTube and seven million followers; her own L’Oreal line and lifestyle media network; booming e-commerce beauty startup called Ipsy; and a new book — is teaching more people how to decorate their faces than perhaps anyone else in the world.

The ferocious 27-year-old mogul had a modest start with her family — living on food stamps at one point — and now has a company with an $84 million annual sales run-rate. She has 700,000 subscribers who receive her Glam Bags — little sacks of makeup samples — for $10 a month. The makeup business is famous for its high margins.

Today, Phan took the stage at Code/Mobile in Half Moon Bay, Calif., to talk about transforming YouTube stardom into a real-world empire, a now well-trodden path.

Phan came onstage dancing, in a sleeveless blue top and a white skirt with decorative orcas.

Her interviewer, Re/code’s Dawn Chmielewski, said the conference planners chose electric dance music for Phan’s entrance because it seemed appropriate. Pham, shimmying, agreed (she is an EDM fan, and is starting her own label after an earlier label partnership soured).

Chmielewski asked how it all began.

“The first videos I uploaded on my own personal channel were videos of dogs,” Phan said.

In 2007, Phan was a waitress, and couldn’t even get a job at a beauty counter because she didn’t have sales experience. She was undeterred.

“YouTube was the biggest thing in the college community, and it just made so much sense for me to have a platform,” she said. “Instead of feeling down about it, I opened another door, and that door happened to be a laptop.”
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