Michelle Phan, YouTube beauty pioneer, is pivoting her career and focusing on projects other than the beauty tutorials that launched a zillion copycat vloggers. Phan, who has over eight million YouTube subscribers, posted this open letter on her channel last week with a video about turning into her "alter-ego." It asks her subscribers for advice on what kinds of videos they want to see "in the near future" because she no longer has as much time to maintain her channel because of her other endeavors. "It's been a challenge maintaining my YouTube channel along with my other work life ( I have four businesses I currently maintain ) on top of that, I just added my comic book project to the list... I have other things I'd like to do too ( outside of my YouTube channel )," she writes. "My videos cannot all be about makeup ( this is why I created Ipsy for all you beauty junkies ) but I'd love to post more things about life experiences, career advice, more trend reports, etc. Please reply to my comment with your suggestions!"
Phan received about 500 replies, mostly positive, and many asked her to do career advice tutorials. It's not a bad request, considering that, according to Forbes, she raised $100 million last month for Ipsy, turning the subscription beauty sampling service into a $500-million company. But, as with many serial entrepreneurs, every project hasn't proven as successful.
Em Michelle Phan, the makeup line Phan launched with L'Oreal Paris in 2013, is possibly one such project. In early October, at the Ipsy-sponsored Generation Beauty conference, she told Fashionista, "There's going to be a change, but a really good change." That change, announced the following week, was that L'Oreal is selling the line back to Phan via Ipsy. While Phan portrayed the sale in a positive light on the Ipsy blog ("We're excited to work closely with Michelle to bring Em home to her community under her creative vision. More news to come - stay tuned!"), WWD suggested that L'Oreal sloughed the brand because it was underperforming.
The theory makes sense. If social media engagement is any indication of success — and we all know it is these days, right? — it didn't paint a very rosy picture for Em. The brand's Instagram account has 277,000 followers. Compare this to other relatively new, niche, beauty-vlogger beloved brands like ColourPop (1 million) and Melt Cosmetics (1.5 million), and the picture definitely seems bleak. WWD noted, "One analyst suggested that the pricing was too high for Phan's youthful audience."
Ipsy, however, is growing. Just don't compare it to its predecessor in the beauty sample subscription business Birchbox (which also just announced its own in-house color cosmetics line), says Phan. "We couldn't be any more different," she said at Generation Beauty. "We're not interested in retail yet. We find value in developing relationships and partnerships with brands and helping them create better products." With 1.5 million subscribers, Phan says Ipsy pulls in one million candid product reviews, a veritable gold mine of data for brands.
In addition to partnering with beauty companies, an Ipsy brand representative says that Phan has been personally stepping out of the spotlight to focus on "growing the next wave of talent." For example, vloggers Desi Perkins and Chrisspy, who have been hired as Ipsy "stylists," have seen their YouTube subscriber bases grow exponentially as a result. "This is a way for us to give them something so that when they're done with their contract, if they don't want to continue working with us, they have an amazing, long-sustaining career after that," Phan said.
At the beginning of the summer, Ipsy announced that it was launching its Open Studio program, which currently boasts 10,000 members in 52 countries. The program is a not-for-profit arm of Ipsy that offers "creators" free studio space, help with mailings for site giveaways, invitations to industry events, access to a suite of apps, and tech tools and mentoring. "We want to give back to our community because our company was built by the community, so we want to maintain that relationship," said Phan.
Phan's other business is a venture with Endemol Beyond USA's Icon Network, on which a group of lifestyle creators with separate channels all live in one virtual place. It's unclear how well the network is faring, with less than 450,000 YouTube subscribers since it launched at the end of March this year. Unlike the subscriber growth seen by Ipsy stylists, many Icon network creators have less than 500,000 subscribers and in some cases less than 100,000.
Perhaps the network will get a shot in the arm via some spiffy new technology, though. VideoInk reported last week that Phan was teaming up with Littlstar, a virtual reality company. "This medium needs experimentation and iteration, and Michelle is incredibly fast and forward thinking when it comes to creative ideas in media," Littlstar's founder told the website. Imagine a Halloween beauty tutorial in 360-degree 3D.
Whatever happens, it seems clear that Michelle Phan, the personality, is moving over for Michelle Phan, the brand.