Dylan Mullan would be lying if he said he thought his business would grow as quickly as it has.
“I always thought it could be big, and I thought it would resonate with the market, but I had no idea it would happen this quickly,” he laughs.
The founder’s bewilderment is understandable. Starting from a $20,000 investment, his business has blasted through $12 million in revenue in just 12 months, fuelled by a hot product — and gratuitous influencer marketing.
Mullan himself is a one-time law student (“I lasted six months before dropping out”), turned actor, turned small-business sales and marketing advisor.
“I was meeting so many people who had e-commerce-related side businesses, and it made me realise anyone could do it. At that moment, I decided that’s what I was going to do, which led me here,” he tells SmartCompany.
Mullan’s business is Happy Skin Co, an online retailer which offers a solution for laser hair removal in the home via a piece of tech he sells for $299.
“I knew I wanted to hit the beauty and cosmetics space, but I wanted to come up with something that hadn’t been done before. So we did a bit of market research and found out that 90% of girls I spoke to were doing laser hair removal, but were paying $100 for it every few months at a clinic,” he says.
With the idea in mind, it took Mullan around one year to source the technology and make the concept a reality, launching the business in April last year.
“On our first day, we had one sale. On our second, we had zero sales. On our third day, an influencer posted about us at 7.30pm, and between then and midnight we did $5,000 in sales,” he says.
“Then it just spiralled on and snowballed from there.”
Influencer marketing no joke
Influencer marketing is a massive part of Happy Skin Co’s success, and the business isn’t shy about it. The company’s homepage features a carousel of perfectly toned (and hair-free) men and women touting the product on Instagram, some with follower counts reaching into the tens of millions.
For many businesses, influencer marketing might seem like a pseudo-science, and there’s significant scepticism associated with the practice. However, businesses have told SmartCompany in the past about the successes they’ve had with the marketing method, and Mullan is no different.
“I think you have to think about where your target market is. We have a lot of shoppers in the 18-24-year-old range, so social media marketing is always going to be a big part of our marketing spend,” he says.
The company engages with on average one influencer each day, but fields more than 30 requests to collaborate per day from smaller influencers. How the business engages with each depends on their follower count, with some receiving the product for free, and others also being paid tens of thousands for their endorsement.
While much of the scepticism around influencer marketing is linked to the perceived inauthenticity of people being paid to spruik products online, Mullan says most influencers will only work with brands they actually use and like themselves.
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“We also only work with people with similar values to us. We’re looking for a good fit for the brand, not just for the short term,” he says.
The company hasn’t hit Kylie Jenner levels of endorsement yet, but says influencers with follow counts of more than one million are the most successful, but the real “sweet spot” is between 200,000 and 500,000.
“Followers can be a bit of a vanity metric sometimes, engagement is usually more important,” he says.
But despite the business’ significant outlay on influencer marketing, there’s often no direct way to know if a post has successfully boosted sales or not.
While some influencers are given discount codes to pass on to their follows, many aren’t, leaving Mullan to judge their success using a Dennis Denuto-inspired metric: “Feel”.
“You don’t exactly track it, sometimes it’s just feel. You see the time the post went live, and you look at if traffic spiked,” he says.
“It can get a bit tricky, a bit feel-y.”
Growing faster than you can hire
Right now the company has 11 full-time employees and has recently taken on a commercial finance manager from the corporate world to help the budding business mature.
Experiencing such hair-raising growth hasn’t been easy for the business at times, with Mullan reflecting a time late last year where Happy Skin Co was growing faster than he could hire.
“We had two people in the warehouse, they were fine, but there was only three of us upstairs managing everything else. We were doing $650,000 in sales a week, getting UberEats to the office, staying until 10pm,” he says.
“It was intense, and we needed to sleep, but it was a lot of fun.”