Like many an aspiring creative, Emily Weiss was dead set on moving to New York when she turned 18. "I went to NYU and majored in studio art," Weiss recalled at our NYC meetup at Space 530 Wednesday evening. "NYU's very competitive and I was not a good student in high school, so the only way I thought I had a shot in hell of getting in was applying to the studio art program, because I heard that was easier."
Today, it's hard to believe the ambitious 30-year-old — who has raised more than $10 million in venture capital and now employs a team of 28 between her four-year-old beauty blog Into The Gloss and eight-month-old beauty brand Glossier — was once an unmotivated student. But coming to New York seemed to change all of that. "If you go to college in New York, you're kind of an adult right away — you're not in a school [setting], you're taking classes but also living in New York," Weiss told Fashionista Associate Editor Eliza Brooke, who moderated the conversation. Weiss took a three-day-a-week internship at Teen Vogue for three years, working across departments and finding a mentor in Jane Keltner de Valle, the magazine's fashion news director at the time. (She is now the fashion news director at Glamour.)
Weiss graduated in 2007 and quickly took a job as a fashion assistant at W, hoping the role would give her some experience on photo shoots because she wanted to become a stylist. What she actually ended up doing was calling in all the clothes for shoots and packing them off — never going herself. So she left to assist Elissa Santisi, the style director at Vogue, for three years, where she finally got to start working on set. "I was surrounded by so much magic… All these models and makeup [artists]," she recalled. "That was the inspiration for Into the Gloss, wanting to know more about these women who were so cool and interesting for all these different reasons." Weiss noted that her time at Vogue was useful for learning "how to behave" and how a well-organized workplace runs.
It was during Weiss's last year at Vogue that she started Into the Gloss, conducting interviews "at Karlie Kloss's house or Sally Singer's" on the weekends which she would transcribe and post to the site, hoping that others, like her, would want to peer into the bathroom cabinets of these glamorous women. Often, she worked in the mornings before work, rising as early as 5 a.m. to ensure she got three posts up per week. "It wouldn't [have been] possible without passion," Weiss observed. "Unless you are totally obsessed with what you're doing, it's hard to wake up at [5 o'clock] in the morning."
Deciding to pursue the blog full-time was not a sudden decision, said Weiss. She just knew it was the thing she loved doing the most, and that people wanted more of it. "[It] was making advertiser money, the commenters were saying, 'I wish you would post more often,'" she recalled. "I knew I had enough money to support myself and one other person."
For the first year on her own, Weiss said she was very "reactive," taking on projects as they came to her. "It wasn't until about two years in that we started getting really strategic." The company raised its first round of funding, to the tune of $2 million, in the fall of 2013. She noted that it was easy to grow the blog into a site with multiple contributors because it was "never about me."
This past October, Weiss launched her own beauty brand, Glossier, starting with four skincare-focused products priced between $12 and $26 and available for purchase on glossier.com. A month later, her company announced that it had raised another $8.4 million in financing to scale further. Since then, Glossier has rolled out glitter eyeliner (for the holiday season) and facial masks. Weiss said she and her team started with "hard-hitting universal products" designed to be "the backbone" of a woman's beauty routine. Like many brands, Glossier relies largely on word-of-mouth to attract new customers, especially on social media.
Brooke asked Weiss what kind of candidates she looked for to fill out her rapidly expanding team. First, excitement for the brand. "That's not to say our finance director is putting lipstick on every day and is really into beauty, but he's really into the mission [of the company]," Weiss said. Second, she looks for people who aren't risk averse. "Our business changes every minute of every hour of every day… there are highs, low, good days and bad days," she said. "I look for people who are interested in problem-solving, who aren't derailed by challenges." She also looks for candidates who are good at collaborating with others.
Once they're on board, she lets them do their thing. "Managing is not the right word [for what I do]," she said. "My job is to empower all these incredibly ambitious, powerful people to do what we brought them in to do. We're a sum of all parts — we win because of everyone there."