Hustle and Glam: How Mented’s Co-Founders Raised $4M in Seed Funding For Their Inclusive Beauty Line
“Beauty is really hot right now. It’s one of the only consumer product categories consistently growing, and growing incredibly rapidly online,” says K.J. Miller of Mented Cosmetics, an upscale beauty brand for women of color.
She and her co-founder Amanda Johnson met at Harvard Business School and became fast friends. Their idea for Mented came out of their mutual search for the perfect nude lipstick. It’s a tricky thing for deeper skin tones, they say.
“We launched with the idea that every woman should be able to find herself in the world of beauty. We so often felt neglected when shopping for beauty products,” Amanda explains. “We felt like an afterthought.”
“People wanted to put us in bold purples and reds and oranges. But the reality is, most women aren’t wearing purple lipstick to go to work. They are wearing an everyday lip shade and we couldn’t make that happen for us. So we said, if we couldn’t find it, we would build it.”
They launched Mented (short for “pigmented”) in 2017 with a line of versatile nude lip colors. Before long, they added neutral nail polishes, eyeshadow, highlighter and a selection of red lipsticks by popular demand.
So how did they raise $4 million for their niche beauty product company? Here are some of the fundraising lessons they shared when I spoke with them for the How I Raised It podcast.
The Pre-Seed Round: ‘Grind and Hustle’ With a Little Help From the (HBS) Network
Their fundraising journey was ”truly a grind and hustle” as they set out to raise their seed round, says K.J.
At first, the women focused on angel investors and friends and family. It was a lot of “throwing stuff against the wall to see what would stick,” K.J. recalls. At one point, she set her sights on her Harvard Business School connections.
“I reached out to every single woman from our business school who listed herself as an angel investor and emailed every single one of them, no matter what she’d funded in the past. I was like, ‘You’re a woman. You’ve probably worn makeup, and you might understand.’”
Over eight months, Amanda and K.J. estimate that they pitched 100+ investors before finding their match. iSeed Ventures, which primarily invests in healthcare, led their $1 million seed round. “They have a percent of their firm that’s dedicated to other investments, and we were connected to them by our first angel investor,” says Amanda.
That happened to be one of K.J.’s cold-pitch Harvard alumni connections. “She took the meeting, we pitched, she loved it. And she said, ‘Hey, let me introduce you to these guys who never invested in beauty but who I think might be interested.’”
That connection was huge because investors certainly weren’t fighting over the fledgling company. “At that early stage, we didn’t have any sales yet, so we did not have VCs knocking down our door,” K.J. says. “iSeed was willing to take a chance on us, which was amazing. But it really was the hustle that got us to them.”
The Harvard association didn’t hurt either. Being an HBS alum “certainly helped, but I will say lots and lots of HBS students pitch to VCs and never raise funding,” K.J. says. “So it might get you in the door, and I appreciate it for that, but it’s not going to get the check.”
The Seed Round: 6 Weeks to $3M
Mented completed another successful seed round just a couple months after their million dollar raise. This time they secured $3 million in funding. “We like to be pretty forward-thinking about fundraising,” says K.J. “We knew when we closed our first $1 million that we’d be back out in the spring.”
As the months rolled by, they business surpassed forecasted benchmarks. That’s when the co-founders knew it was time to raise again.
K.J. says they ran a “much more formal process” in this round. First, they “divided and conquered,” with K.J. on the road meeting investors and Amanda running the business. Then, they “time boxed” their raise. “I went out at the beginning of February and said, I want to be done pitching by the end of March. And I was. It took about six weeks. Now closing took longer than that,” she says. It took about another month to seal the deal and that was the part K.J. found most stressful.
“I like pitching — it’s like a conversation,” she says. But once all the interested investors are around the table, “that’s when everyone starts making demands and that’s when you feel like, oh no, this could fall through.”
But it worked out for K.J. and Amanda. They successfully paired up with the venture fund of San Francisco-based CircleUp. “They were actually one of the first investors we pitched in this round,” says K.J. “They know a ton about consumer products and are very familiar with investing in female founders.”
Down the road, they foresee a fundraising goal of $5 to $10 million. With two rounds under their belt, the co-founders say they also understand which metrics will paint a compelling picture for investors.
“We’re not a small lifestyle brand. We’re trying to build a billion-dollar global business. That’s the story that they wanted to hear,” Amanda says.
“The metrics that we have today are incredibly important, what investors really want to know is: what’s the vision, and why are you two the ones to get there?”
Nathan Beckord is the CEO of Foundersuite.com, a software platform that has helped users raise over $1 billion in seed and venture capital since 2016. This article is based on episode of Foundersuite’s How I Raised It podcast, a behind-the-scenes look at how startup founders have raised capital.