Founder Profile: Nina Liu (WG20)
MEET NINA LIU, BEAUTY INNOVATOR
Nina Liu is the Founder and CEO of Kite Beauty, an innovative cosmetics start-up that focuses on convenient beauty products.
Kite Beauty is launching a clean makeup line specifically designed for busy, on-the-go consumers, with the underlying mission of taking the hassle out of beauty. The brand’s first product — the On the Glow concealer — can fit in a small purse and be carried around for quick “touch ups.” Kite Beauty is female & minority founded and develops vegan, cruelty-free formulas that are made in the USA.
Nina is responsible for the vision behind Kite Beauty and for bringing it to life. She dreamed of an easier way to look and feel good during her busy days as a working professional in New York City, running directly from the gym to the office to dinner. She started working on Kite in 2019 while attending Wharton, with the goal of going-to-market before graduating in 2020. But the shutdowns associated with COVID delayed those plans — disrupting the original manufacturing partnership and causing Nina to question the need for an on-the-go product. After pivoting manufacturers and spending two more years on product development, all while continuing to work full time, Nina officially launched Kite this past Spring.
Tell us a bit about your company
Kite is a disruptive new beauty startup focused on clean, convenient, on-the-go beauty — designed specifically for busy lifestyles and tiny purses. We are vegan, cruelty-free, minority & female founded, and made in the USA.
What inspired you to start your business — what opportunity in the market are you seeking to address?
As a busy professional in New York City, I’m always in a hurry. No matter how much time I allot, I always find myself running to the train, makeup half-done, sweaty and out of breath. This was a huge issue when I worked in a high-pressure corporate job, as I was expected to look “put-together” all the time. But looking “put-together” was EFFORT– if I wanted to touch up my makeup before a big meeting or a night out, I had to bring my messy, bulky, heavy makeup bag with me allllllllll day.
Kite sprung from my own acute need for a more convenient solution, and the firm belief that we should all be able to look and feel our best, 100% of the time, with 0% of the hassle. What started as an idea has evolved over 3 years of development, involving 100s of prototypes, tests, and decisions that have culminated in my first baby: Kite On the Glow Concealer.
Kite On the Glow concealer is your go anywhere glow-up for all those moments on-the-go when you need a touch-up, but don’t want the messiness and clunkiness of bringing your entire makeup bag. Kite’s entire mission is to take the hassle out of beauty — so you can travel lighter, feel better, and look hotter — what’s not to love?
What is it about your personal background, experience, or perspective that fuels your passion for this venture?
Makeup has always been a huge personal passion of mine — as long as I can remember, I was sitting in my bedroom, watching YouTube makeup videos on repeat. As I grew up and moved to a city though, my busy lifestyle made putting on makeup more and more difficult. I found myself constantly on the move, carrying my entire life in my one-shoulder work tote, from the gym to the office, to dinner, to going out, all without stopping home. Carrying that 5-pound makeup bag everywhere eventually gave me back issues (which the chiropractor is still trying to sort out), not to mention, some serious stress from those “oh $#!t” moments when I really needed a touch-up, but forgot to bring my makeup bag.
From my own experiences, I realized that looking and feeling your best was often sacrificed, due to the effort, time, and hassle of putting on makeup throughout the day. Kite was borne out of my own personal need for an easier solution to on-the-go beauty, as well as a desire to help others like me feel more confident and empowered in their day to day lives.
What are one or two of the biggest wins or most encouraging experiences you’ve had so far?
I just launched 2 months ago in April 2022, after 3 years of product development. We had a really successful launch party in NYC attended by 150+ friends, family, beauty execs, media, and influencers, and it really felt like a celebration and the culmination of many years of hard work and determination to bring this idea to fruition.
Since then, we’ve had tons of positive user feedback, partnership and collaboration requests, and media and retailer interest — and all of it has centered around one vital theme of encouraging feedback — that Kite is solving a real user need in an innovative way. While we’re still quite early, these signs of positive reception in the market and product-market fit are incredibly encouraging to us continuing on in our growth journey!
What has been one or two of your biggest learnings so far?
Things always take longer and cost more than you think they will!
What is an obstacle that you are grappling with as you continue to build this venture?
Brand awareness and customer acquisition are definitely the greatest obstacles for any new, self-funded D2C venture. Especially in beauty, where I am competing against much larger marketing budgets by established brands, and a relatively high barrier in most customers to trialing new products, reaching customers is a large obstacle. However, once we get customers to purchase and trial, our feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, which gives me confidence that with a little bit more time and growth, our customer acquisition flywheel will start to take effect.
What surprises have you encountered as an entrepreneur? Something out of left field?
When I first started working on Kite in the middle of 2019 during Wharton MBA, I was sure that I was going to launch by my graduation in May 2020. Right as I was about to pay my contract manufacturer to begin production on the product in March 2020, COVID-19 hit, completely wiping out the demand for Kite, as people stopped wearing makeup or even leaving their houses for years.
This led to an incredible amount of uncertainty on when or if people would need on-the-go makeup ever again, a huge personal loss of morale and momentum, and my chosen contract manufacturer permanently closing down in 2021, forcing me to restart my search for a manufacturer all over again after a year of sunk time and knowledge, and in the midst of massive global supply chain delays.
Through all of this, I was able to not only survive, but persevere, as all of the extra time and diligence I had to undergo as a result of COVID ultimately produced a better final product, one that I am incredibly proud to have (finally) launched 3 years later in April 2022!
How can the WAFFA community help you?
At this early stage in my business, any brand exposure is hugely impactful — the more brand awareness I can build through PR and marketing, and the more collaborations I can do to get Kite in the hands of consumers, the better. Specifically, any Wharton connections to potential angels / early-stage consumer investors, retailers (Sephora, Ulta, Target, CVS), physical clubs with high-end amenities (Barry’s, Equinox, WeWork, Soulcycle), or media outlets (Vogue, Allure, Oprah) would be greatly appreciated to getting Kite out there!