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Lessons from viral makeup brand Youthforia on growing a startup beyond founder’s fame


By Hannah Bowler, Senior Reporter

December 18, 2023 | 11 min read

Viral Gen Z TikTok makeup brand Youthforia hit the headlines after its charismatic founder Fiona Co Chan secured a $400,000 investment on the US reality show Shark Tank. Now the startup has hired its first marketer to scale the brand beyond Co Chan’s fame.

Fiona Co Chan presenting Youthforia on Shark Tank

Fiona Co Chan presenting Youthforia on Shark Tank

Youthforia is a two-year-old makeup and beauty brand that Fiona Co Chan set up in a bid to solve the age-old dilemma of sleeping with your makeup on.

The neon-colored products with a magnetic stacking function have been a break-out hit with TikTok users. Then in early 2023, Co Chan secured a $400,000 investment from Mark Cuban on the US reality show Shark Tank. Both the show’s investment and fame have helped take the brand to its next growth phase.

Aware she couldn’t scale the business on her own, Co Chan hired Tina Shim as Youthforia’s first-ever marketer, joining in October as vice-president of marketing. Along with Shim, Co Chan hired Kristen Giddings as Youthforia’s first vice-president of sales and appointed SolComms as its first PR agency. Shim is currently recruiting for a senior marketing manager and an influencer coordinator to beef up her marketing team.

“The marketing up until now has primarily just been Fiona talking about TikTok, which is fantastic in terms of transparency and people understanding the brand and feeling like they can relate to her, but it’s not scalable,” Shim says.

@youthforia Obsessed w the glass skin finish - it captures light so beautifully #youthforiafoundation #youthforiadatenight ♬ Im me again feels like its been years - strawberry_sockss

Spending quality time with Co Chan, Shim says she got to “understand what her vision for this brand is and what has she poured of herself in here that I can take and then scale.” She uncovered an emotional thread that Co Chan wanted Youthforia to be fun and recreate a “childhood feeling of just complete freedom and confidence in who you are, regardless of whatever anyone is going to think about you.”

This thread will feed into future charity partners, brand collaborations and creative living beyond Co Chan’s fame. “I want to make sure we still have Fiona touches throughout, but I want to pull out pieces of product benefit but also the fun emotional element,” Shim says. “That is the bit to scale.”

‘Makeup you can sleep in’

Before joining Youthforia, Shim was senior vice-president of brand marketing for the makeup subscription business IPSY. Shim’s background has been with legacy beauty businesses working to launch new brands or rebrand existing well-known names. At Neutrogena Shim took its suncare products into sports, beach and baby and at Bliss Skincare she took the older spa-based brand to the millennial and mass market.

“The things that I learned in the past was how to strip it down getting to the core of what the brand is and then blowing out awareness,” Shim says. “It may have been at slightly bigger brands or slightly more mature startup brands, but those lessons apply here.”

Early on in the startup phase, Shim says, you don’t know what’s going to stick so marketers end up throwing out lots of different benefits phrases. One of her first tasks was to comb the social media comments and reviews from people who had used the products to find out what messaging was cutting through. The standout USP being spoken about online and in the press was: ‘makeup you can sleep in’.

“There are a lot of other great things you can say about the brand but stripping it down knowing that what we have to build right now is awareness,” Shim says. “So, we just have to tell one story and tell it super consistently while we blow out our awareness.”

Still room to grow on TikTok

Youthforia found fame on TikTok but that doesn’t mean Shim has gleamed all she can from the platform. “There is still a lot of digital real estate on TikTok we haven’t explored yet,” Shim says.

Although aware that there is a risk of “resting laurels on one platform”, Shim will be developing a YouTube strategy with Co Chan’s long-form videos performing well on the platform. Her videos range from beauty tutorials to personal stories about life as an entrepreneur. Youthforia will also expand its Instagram presence to capture millennial beauty shoppers.

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Outside of digital marketing, Youthforia’s has in-store marketing with its retail partner Ultra Beauty but the plan for next year will be to expand the space and invest in improving the in-store creative.

On the influencer marketing side, Shim will be creating an ‘ambassador program’ that she says goes beyond gifting and PR. “I don’t want to be the marketer who gives a five-page brief to creators I want them to sincerely talk about the product,” she adds.

“We’re driving awareness, but we also must start cultivating a community. Whereas with larger legacy brands, you already have your awareness, and you already have your community. So, it’s maintenance work, you’re just trying to make sure you’re not doing anything off-brand, and you don’t piss off the community,” Shim says.

For a startup, you need to do mass awareness marketing, be consistent, and then, “treasure your community and build them so we can grow up to be a nice big legacy brand,” Shim says.

The growth plan for Youthforia is to sit alongside established brands like Tower 28 and Saie. But Shim’s ultimate goal is to make Youthforia one of the top Gen Z makeup brands.

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