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How I went from a career in finance to launching a $1.7m beauty start-up

Founder Michelle Hu takes us through the how and why she dropped her successful career in finance to launch her beauty startup, Etoile Collective, which became a huge success from 100% organic growth.


In late 2016, months before I was to start as a graduate at an investment bank, I launched Etoile Collective: a beauty accessories e-commerce startup with the aim to enhance the lifestyle of beauty enthusiasts. Never thinking this could grow to something that could support me full-time, Etoile was born out of my love for makeup products and an interest in starting and scaling a business.

We launched with 4 acrylic makeup organisers, a very scrappy website and began our social profile on Instagram with an aim to inspire beauty enthusiasts about ways they could enhance their beauty experience through organisation.

In the 2 years that followed, I became privy to the work that was involved in growing an e-commerce business and it became very apparent to me very quickly that I enjoyed this much more than my full-time job. Rather than speaking to executives and analysing the financial profile of ASX-listed companies, I was able to think about my own growth strategies, implement and analyse the effectiveness of them. Instead of spending the majority of my time in the financial weeds of companies, I could be as explorative in every other part of a business: supply chain, product development, marketing, content creation, analytics etc. Safe to say, I was very ready to make the transition as soon as Etoile could prove that it required me full-time and had the potential to grow rapidly if I did.

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Slowly but steadily, and without any paid marketing, Etoile grew from taking up 1 room in our house to 3 and I went from spending a couple of hours a week to 2 hours a day at my desk working on the business. Orders started flowing in regularly and my mindset around Etoile’s potential really shifted. The key drivers of our growth can be attributed to:

1.) Consistent and value-add content creation: As we didn’t have a budget for paid marketing, the entirety of our traffic and thus sales, were driven organically through our social platforms. We were laser focused on uploading high-quality content; consistently (done through an iPhone and a tonne of great editing apps!). We noticed that our audience liked to be inspired, so we tried to repurpose our organisers in as many ways as we could, and also changed the scenery so that customers could envisage what this could look like in their space.

2.) Advice by Paul Graham from Y Combinator – Do things that don’t scale: Which is exactly what we did when it came to offering an exceptional customer service experience. As an e-commerce brand, the lifeline of our business are our customers and we wanted to make sure that the beauty brand was never jeopardised by bad word of mouth stories. In fact, we wanted as many people to talk about their shopping experience. So, we replied to all customer service enquiries within an hour (email, live chat, social media), even at 8pm on a Friday night. If we ever saw a local order, my mum (who was equally obsessed with our customers) would drop these off immediately and it was always a delight seeing how incredibly surprised and grateful customers were.

3.) Expanding our product range: As we refined our customer profile and learnt how they consumed all things beauty, we were able to expand into other adjacencies e.g. organisation on the go: travel cases and professional makeup trolleys, poorly-lit routine: lighting equipment and vanity mirrors.


Michelle Hu is the founder of Etoile Collective.

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