How Makeup Geek CEO Marlena Stell Built a $10M Business on YouTube and Honesty
Marlena Stell, 35, was a high school music teacher who loved makeup. About seven years ago she started a YouTube channel called Makeup Geek where she taught cosmetics application. The videos quickly took over Stell’s time and passion, she quit teaching and today grosses $1 million monthly from her makeup enterprise, and was last year named to the Inc. 5000 fastest-growing companies list and is on track to hit Inc. 500 for 2015.
How do you go from being a music teacher to a makeup entrepreneur?
Ever since I was a little girl I was interested in makeup. While studying music education at Pensacola Christian College, I minored in stage makeup, doing makeup for special events as a side gig. I married soon after college, moved to Michigan and got a teaching job — but I was still passionate about educating women about makeup. Immediately after launching my YouTube channel in 2008, it took off. In addition to doing application tutorials, I have always reviewed products very candidly. I was frustrated because I mentioned cosmetic brands all the time and drove product sales, but I didn’t make any money from it. Today there are commission affiliate programs, but those didn’t exist back then.
I started to research launching my own cosmetics line, and in 2009 quit my teaching job and launched my website, MakeupGeek.com. Between the blog and YouTube channels I billed between $10,000 and $15,000 in advertising revenue for a few years. Then I partnered with other cosmetics brands, and did a revenue share for any products I sold from my site, and sales rose to $200,000 monthly.
Explain how you finally launched your own product line.
I get approached by girls all the time who ask me how to start their own makeup line, and I’m like, “It would take me two weeks to explain everything to you. There is so much to know behind the scenes.” I spent years researching labs, understanding what it took to make and market a product that I really believed in — high-pigment, custom colors that retails at an affordable price. I also spent years interacting with customers, understanding buyers and what products were missing from the market. I was shocked to learn that the same dinky tin of eyeshadow Mac sells for $14 costs them $1. Also, a lot of brands are really white-labeled products. That means that the lab creates the products, then the brand just puts their name and packaging on it. I wanted something that I created entirely.