While most college freshmen are working for the weekend, Elina Hsueh is working on the weekend. Every two weeks, the 18-year-old Babson College student travels from Boston to her hometown of Holmdel to work on her growing e-commerce business, Beauteque.
Beauteque serves as an online marketplace for Asian-manufactured beauty products that are not well-known or marketed in the U.S. Customers can either purchase individual products or, for a $25 monthly subscription, have a box of products sent to them.
The idea for the company came to Hsueh when she was 16. A friend visiting from Korea introduced her to some beauty products from that country. Hsueh saw a business opportunity.
She took her idea to the first investors she could think of: her parents.
“I took my parents out to dinner at a local restaurant and presented them with my business plan,” she said. “I think they were surprised, but they ended up giving me my first investment to start the business.”
With $5,000 of seed money, Hsueh and her mother, Josephine Hsueh — who serves as the co-CEO — researched products online and took a trip to Taiwan and China to see how the Korean beauty trend had expanded its reach across Asia.
The company went online on March 7, 2014.
In the company’s first year, when Hsueh was just taking the SATs, the company did more than $10,000 in sales revenue.
In 2015, her revenue increased by more than 1,500 percent.
The company now has six full-time employees along with three part-time employees and three interns.
Hsueh attributes the growth to the introduction of the company’s subscription service, one that is similar to those provided by other e-commerce companies, such as Blue Apron and Dollar Shave Club.
Biz in brief
Founder: Elina Hsueh
One more thing: At age 18, Elina Hsueh fits right into the company’s target demographic of millennial females, ages 15 to 35, something the young CEO leverages in her business planning. “I really know what young people are thinking,” she said.
Beauteque currently has 3,000 subscribers.
“That’s what really helped our revenue increase a lot,” she said.
She said the company is currently looking for investors to help foster this momentum.
Hsueh feels another contributing factor to growth is the quality ingredients of the products — a result of stricter manufacturing laws in Asia.
“The ingredients are amazing,” she said. “They’re not all 100 percent natural and organic, but many are; they use a lot of ingredients from the ground like fruit, vegetables, rice and flowers.”
Hsueh and her mother learned this firsthand.
“Before starting the company, we did a lot of research and actually went back to Asia the summer before (we launched),” she said. “We saw how crazy of a fad it was. It was all over, and that’s really what confirmed our beliefs.”
Since that initial trip in 2013, the fad of Asian beauty products has started to make its way to the United States.
Like any e-commerce entrepreneur, Beauteque co-founder Elina Hsueh relies heavily on social media marketing and engagement to spread the word about her company.
And while there are possibilities on every social media outlet, there’s one in particular that is popular for her company’s industry.
“YouTube is huge. Everyone’s on it,” she said. “And a huge sector is beauty.”
A lot of this is driven by tutorial videos posted on the site.
“A lot of girls need to know and now have access to how to do a cat-eye or put on false lashes,” she said.
“It used to not be relevant on the market, but in the two years, we — and other companies — all started to push it at the same time and it just became a huge trend,” she said. “Now it’s featured in many chain stores; it’s in Forever 21, Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters, Walmart and all over the media.”
And the momentum has helped Hsueh grow her company.
“Just recently, last quarter, we began to work with chain stores to get the products in these stores,” she said.
The company has recently secured a deal with national chain Rue 21 and is in currently in talks with several other chains.
“We are the official U.S. distributors for many of the Korean beauty companies (and) we resell the item, with minor adjustments including English labeling, into these chain stores,” she said.
Which doesn’t leave much time for school. Or does it?
Hsueh said her mother plays a big part in running the company when she’s at school, but she feels the education she is getting (she is majoring in entrepreneurship) will only help her.
“I wanted to stay closer, but Babson had a great program for young entrepreneurs and is well-known for entrepreneurship,” she said. “But four to five hours is doable and I come back biweekly now.”
Despite all of this early success, Hsueh remains humble about her limited experience.
“I’ve really learned a lot. No one’s perfect, especially a young 16-year-old who’s trying to run a business,” she said. “I’m not there ordering this to be done or that to be done, but I’m just like everyone else; I value everyone’s opinions as much as I value my own.
“I always tell myself that I don’t know the world and that every day is a learning experience.”
E-mail to: email@example.com
On Twitter: @sheldonandrewj