My Week: Jessica DeLuca of Cult Beauty

The 35 under 35 star on Customs problems, Henley and hanging out with her business partner.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

I’ve had a bit of a crazy week, generally fire-fighting disasters. Not only has my husband, Mike, been struck down with suspected malaria after our holiday to Gambia, but we’re also having a nightmare with HMRC, who are making importing sunscreen from Australia very difficult. That said, most weeks tend to be like that.
 
I’m terrible in the mornings. When I wake up I can’t handle breakfast until I’m at my desk, and I usually get into the office around 10am. Every day, I say I’ll get up early and do a workout, but I never do – and then I end up working far into the night, which isn’t good.
 
We’ve just bought our first house in Southfields in South-West London, so I get the train from there in the morning. Southfields station is all decorated for Wimbledon at the moment, which is very pretty. Our office is just above the Troubadour café on Old Brompton Road – so that’s always my first stop on the way in, for one of its amazing lattes.
 
After that, every day is different. We have various meetings with members of our expert panel: every product sold on Cult Beauty is either recommended or tested by our beauty experts, and we’ve recruited a few more members this week. They’ve already given us some great ideas for brands that we should be talking to. In fact, we’ve just signed a new brand that I’m really excited about. It’s so cutting-edge: I’ve been trialling it and I keep catching glimpses of myself looking younger. It’s going to be a huge brand: something like 75% of people that buy it come back and try it again. They get such great results.
 
Over the past three months or so, we’ve found a lot of brands have been coming to us, asking for help with their strategy on placing themselves in the UK market – whether it’s PR, which retailers they should be approaching or just general operations. As a result, we’ve just launched a new B2B section of the business. It’s really quite exciting – we’re now helping internationally well-known brands who are coming to us for advice on getting a foothold in the UK.
 
My big task this week has been to come up with a detailed strategy for Q3 and Q4 this year. We have a big five-year plan, then a yearly plan, and then more detailed quarterly plans which help us to stay on track. This year has been so thrilling – we’ve been hitting and exceeding targets. It seems women really do want to be talked to like they’re intelligent, and be given truthful and non-hyperbolic information.
 
Our rapid growth means I can up the ante for q3 and q4 and add new functionality for the site. Because we’re entirely self-funded, we need to make the money before we can spend it. But we’ve grown so much now, we can finally do some of the things we’ve been aching to do for the last two years. One of the things we’re planning is a really simple iPhone application – one that doesn’t take up huge amounts of your iPhone battery, but is just a way for customers to interact and see what’s the latest on the site. We’ve also partnered with Matches Fashion to do something for the site – but for now, that’s a secret.
 
This weekend, I’m going to Henley with Alexia, my business partner; her sister Olivia and [former MP Derek Conway’s son] Henry Conway. We’ll be in the Steward’s Enclosure – Olivia is a catwalk model and she’s Jasper Conran’s muse. Alexia also used to be a model – together, the two of them are just stunning, with these long legs. Olivia has paparazzi pictures taken of her quite often and whenever I’m in a picture with them, I’ll be wearing high heels with platforms and still have to stand on my tippy toes.
 
Meeting Alexia was really random – I was filling in for a journalist friend who was too ill to go to a meeting with a PR. This was right after I had left my job as a management consultant at IBM, and I was kind of looking around for what to do next. Alexia was the PR, she was working for Hospital, a members’ club in Covent Garden. It was the day before Christmas, so we had a boozy lunch and absolutely hit it off from the word go. She was kind of looking for her own thing too, and we have really complementary skills sets – I’m IT, marketing and strategy. Alexia’s very creative, very trend-spotting and very, very prudent about fashion and beauty, as well as having amazing writing and PR skills. So we thought I could be the nuts and bolts, and she could get the word out there and make sure what we’re creating is beautiful.
 
Since then, we’ve spent so much time together. When we were setting up the business, we’d routinely spend 12 or 15 hours working – we ended up finishing each others’ sentences. Her parents have even kind of adopted me. I’m an American – so they really look after me and invite me when I can’t get over there. I even spent Easter with them. So it’s been as rewarding personally it has been professionally to have this amazing business partner.
 
The other thing, of course, is the 35 under 35 party. I’m so excited – it’s just such a huge honour to be included. When I first started the business, I was a management consultant at IBM – I never dreamed I would be running a successful startup or winning awards or anything like that.
 
The funny thing is, it’s all so daunting when you go into it. You can have advisors, but if something hasn’t been done before, then there’s no road map for how to get there. You literally are making it up as you go along.

- Jessica DeLuca is the co-founder of beauty website CultBeauty.co.uk

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