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Orianna Rosa Royle

26-year-old MBA student launches Byroe and it’s now stocked in Sephora

(Credit: Image provided by PR)

Most university students can be found chasing internships or partying too hard. But not Amy Roe. Instead, she could be found concocting ideas for a beauty brand and doing market research (or rather, testing products out) on fellow MBA students at Columbia Business School.

Growing up in a family business environment, Roe enrolled in the university’s MBA program in 2017 at 26 and uprooted from South Korea to the U.S. specifically to gain the business acumen needed to kickstart her own venture—and follow her parents into entrepreneurship.

But it wasn't until moving Stateside that she set her focus on the beauty industry.

“Back then, it wasn't a really common thing to start a beauty business while doing your MBA,” she tells Fortune.

However, having witnessed the explosion of people clean eating and “grabbing salads” while she was studying, Roe knew that it was only a matter of time until people cared as much about what they put on their faces as in their bodies. 

“Back in Korea, my mom use all the remaining food ingredients to make a face mask,” she explained. “Moving to New York City I saw a lot of people craving all the superfood-infused ingredients for their diet.”

So she got work on bringing her Korean-heritage-inspired and superfood-infused skincare line to salad-loving New Yorkers.

Launch your business before it’s 100% ready

The first year of Roe’s MBA was mostly dedicated to market research.

"The first thing I was figuring out was, what is going to be the most consumer-likable product?,” she says, while adding that she conducted surveys on some 300 fellow MBA students to find out which products were popular.

Sheet masks which Roe says are popular in South Korea weren’t popular with those studying at Columbia Business School: “I was able to sort out what type of products I wanted to launch and then after that, of course, I started to develop the product lines.”

Similarly, she had students test out product samples and submit reviews, so that she could modify the formula accordingly. “The fellow students were a really helpful resource because those people are not in the beauty industry,” she says, adding that they were able to give a genuine consumer's perspective.

By 2019—while Roe was finishing up her second and final year of university—the company Byroe was born. Now, it’s stocked in Sephora and is bringing in $10 million a year. Revenues have been doubling year-on-year and the team has grown from a one-woman band to a team of 12.

Looking back, her top tip to fellow entrepreneurial students is to not wait for the business to be perfect to launch it. 

“Even if you’re 100% sure of the business, it doesn't mean that you're going to be 100% successful,” she says. “So I think starting the business is the most important thing, then making the right changes at the right timing is also important.”

Instead of waiting for perfection, Roe suggests launching the business when it’s 70% ready. “Once you start running the business, then make it better—that's how I started,” she adds.

Global expansion

Less than 5 years since its conception, Byroe has just launched in the U.K. “We are currently in Sephora and Alyaka [an online organic beauty store] but we are in the progress of distributing to a lot of the high-end department stores, beauty specialty spas and boutiques,” Roe says. 

She’s hoping to emulate the business’s Stateside success but it’s not been without difficulties. 

Before even launching, Byroe experienced a major setback: “Some of the ingredients that are allowed in U.S. regulations are not okay with the U.K. market,” Roe explains—and re-formulating, re-labeling and then registering products in accordance with British regulations took a year and a half.

“Entering the U.K. market is definitely tough—it's not an easy route,” Roe says. 

What’s more, even now that the products are safely in the hands of the British public, Roe has spotted some glaring consumer differences between her transcontinental target markets. 

She’s already noticed that British consumers are more results-driven, sustainability-focused and brand-loyal than their American counterparts. So Roe is taking her own advice and changing the brand’s strategy as she goes. Byroe has already pivoted its marketing to focus more on clinical trials and real results from people using its products, instead of relying on slick photos and videos to sell the product.

But Roe believes the brand has turned the corner in Britain. If all goes well, she predicts that revenue from the U.K. arm of the business will reach “similar levels to what the U.S. market sales are currently” in two to three years.

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