56 - Jeff Lee, DIBS Beauty
Conor Begley: Jeff is a fascinating individual and one of those people that you just know is going to continue being successful. If you look across DIBS and the success that they've seen, A- Rod Corp, Stanford MBA, Yale law degree, it is truly impressive. I think you're going to enjoy today's show. And one of the things I've been told by my team is we need you to start leaving reviews. So don't like, and subscribe, leave a review, Apple Podcast, Spotify, et cetera at all helps. Thanks guys. Enjoy the show.
Speaker 2: Explore the minds and marketing strategies behind today's winning brands and businesses. Tap into the power of the creator economy with Earned by CreatorIQ. Here's Conor Begley.
Conor Begley: Hi everybody. And welcome to Earned. Today we have Jeffrey Lee, the co- founder of DIBS beauty, as well as a litany of other impressive things. Welcome to the show, Jeff.
Jeff Lee: It's great to be on. Thanks for having me Conor and you're legend yourself, so litany applies to you equally.
Conor Begley: And actually, I should have asked this before we started, but do you prefer Jeff or Jeffrey? What's your preference?
Jeff Lee: You know, Jeff is easy. People call me everything, Jeff, Jeffrey, which is more of my parents and sometimes just Jeff Lee, because that's my last name. And in grade school, I was one of, I think, very few Asians where I grew up in Newport Beach in Southern California, and I think people thought my entire name was Jeff Lee. And it just kind of rolled off the tongue. Gone by everything. Inaudible.
Conor Begley: There you go. Well, I love the, I love the flexibility. Well, I'm going to brag about you for a minute, just because, I was really impressed when I looked into your background. Maybe we'll start with got your undergrad and MBA at Stanford at a very young age, went on to get your law degree at Yale, then worked at the SEC. You were a political science teaching fellow while you were at Yale, then went into corporate M& A practice at the top law firm in the country for that. Then COO at A- Rod Corp where you did a bunch of really impressive things, including, we were talking about it earlier, the podcast. Watching A- Rod's rise over the last five years has been both surprising and, wow, just impressive. And obviously you've co- founded DIBS as well, and you're the CEO there, which we've been looking at our rankings. I talked to Dan, who we just had our last podcast and is one of your co- founders. If you look at the numbers there, you guys went from Q4 2021, you were number 236 in our cosmetics ranking, next quarter 202, next quarter 182, so you're passing 20 or 30 brands a quarter, which is rapid, rapid pace. That's super impressive. So excited to have you on, There's not nearly enough time to cover all the questions I have for you, but we're going to give it a shot.
Jeff Lee: I love it. And by the way, I'm going to brag about DIBS because it is our baby and the focus of my life right now. We were just named WWD's number one up and coming makeup brand. And this was based off of monthly searches for us. It was by an order of, I think, maybe 10x to the next competitor, or maybe 5x, the next competitor. We love to see it. And it's a great validation for the team as well, where people have really put their blood, sweat and tears for years into this project.
Conor Begley: That's awesome. Yeah, it's funny. We just did an episode with Doug Jensen, who's the SVP of analytics at Estee Lauder and what they connect all the influencer content to, all the EMV to is Google search. They call it desirability. They see direct correlations between one leading to the other. In addition to the fact that you've got great products and everything else going on, so that's pretty cool. Well, let's actually, let's take a couple steps back. I think that that journey in and of itself is just incredibly impressive. And spans a lot of different fields, as well as we didn't talk about your nonprofit work or we didn't talk about your work with the beauty Queens or with-
Jeff Lee: That inaudible a lot.
Conor Begley: I don't know how you do it all. What's the stat from, every Equinox in the world, right, over 100. Talk to me a little bit about that journey. How did you get from MBA or undergrad at Stanford to running a beauty company? What's that path like?
Jeff Lee: You can always look backwards I think, as Steve Jobs said at my sister's graduation, and connect the dots. There's a very easy way for me to look back at my life and say, oh, I was a beauty pageant coach at a very high level. I actually still do that every now and then for girls I do believe in. I've produced numerous winners and finalists at all the top international contests, like Miss Universe and Miss World and say, okay, well you were always going to go into beauty. Or say, look, I actually worked on Alex Rodriguez's male makeup line. And that was what I was doing immediately before DIBS. But the way I would put it more is, I'm a person of a lot of different interests, but very committed to excelling at what I choose to commit myself to. And those interests change over time for sure, but once I commit to something, I don't let go of it until, I feel truly that it is on its way. From a young age, I was captivated, honestly, by Miss Universe and by Miss World and the idea that countries can actually compete against each other on this basis versus sports. And I think that was the first time I kind of understood, okay, there is an objective ranking of excellence. It's very subjective within the world. That coupled with the fact that I had the quintessential tiger mom, someone who really, really believes in the American story, the idea of working hard and the rest will fall in place, that really shaped my journey all the way to when I started at Stanford. Another big part of it, too is, and you and I have probably some connection here is, my struggle with personal fitness as well, which is, I was an extremely overweight kid all the way until my freshman year of college. That was when I decided to really make the switch. And so on top of all that, I'm actually a certified personal trainer and I do train a fair number of private clients from time to time and helps keep me in the biz. And it was an natural extension from that to look at Equinox, which I think is one of the greatest gyms on earth and say, I want to be the first member to work out every single one and literally have to fly to London or Long Island, which is tougher than London, it's a complete lie. That's really been the longstanding thread, which is, when I find something I commit to it and frequently that then opens another door. And so I couldn't have told you 10, 15 years ago when I was committed to being a corporate lawyer and really excelling at that craft that I would end up here. But I don't think it's also surprised any of my peers who I still keep in touch with.
Conor Begley: Yeah, no, that's awesome. On the finding something and committing to it, how do you think about time management. You've got all these different interests, you got all these different things going on, and I remember at one point my co- founder and I kind of like, oh, we're going to be... Oh my God, I'm blanking on the name. Virgin guy. What's his name?
Jeff Lee: Oh, Richard Branson.
Conor Begley: Richard Branson. We're like, oh, let's run a bunch of different businesses. And then tried to spin up a second business and it was like, mm, no. We can't. I can only do one thing at a time. How do you think about time management and having all these different kind of interests? How do you prioritize? What does a day in the life look like?
Jeff Lee: Well, not only time management, but fidelity. Because you want your team to, whatever you're doing, whether it's your after school handball club or your knitting club or your bingo club or your life's enterprise, you want your team to know that you're fully invested in whatever you're doing. So I think there's also... it's not just time management, but also loyalty. Management of your fidelity, your fiduciary duties to what you've committed yourself to do. I always tell my team, try to distinguish between what's important and urgent. Especially nowadays, because we're a fully remote company and we were founded in the pandemic. I didn't meet Courtney, Dan, Ken, the original quartet of us for months, I think eight or nine months until I finally met them in person. The entire team has actually never met each other in person in our rapidly growing team. Although I'm trying to change that, at least they're meeting each other in chunks at a time. I think that in this environment, it's really easy. You have a lot of stuff firing at you from Slack to text, to obviously whatever you've got going on the big screen, people would leave their TVs running. So whenever I go through the day, first of all, I know what's important, what I have to get through. It doesn't matter if it's 2: 00 AM, it must be done that day. It's just absolutely important. And that list is frequently different from urgent. In that sense, that helps me keep tabs on, okay, am I knocking out a lot of these rapid fire tasks at the right cadence and am I forgetting something that truly needs to be done? Usually I have a multiple check- ins. So around 2: 00 or 3:00 PM, I have a nice cadence where I can say, okay, all of the really urgent stuff, the really fire drilly type stuff has either been handled or will be taken care of in such a way that the house doesn't burn down. But then, am I in a place where around 2:00 or 3: 00 at night, which is when I go to bed, I can say, oh, I didn't drop the ball on something truly critical. I didn't take the time to think through a truly critical issue. That definitely probably leaves you and your listeners with the impression that I work all the time. And part of the reason it's easier for me, I'll be honest, is, look, I don't believe that work life balance is achievable in the way of the equal partitioning of your personal life and your work. I think that you can achieve balance when you do a broader look back. We all know as startup founders, the three months where you're only just thinking about the survival or the flourishing of your own startup, and that's all that really is consuming you. And then you go and you take the vacation after that and that's the cadence. And I think that's balance for a lot of people. Versus what we would traditionally think of as work life balance, which is you have your 9: 00 to 5:00 and then from 5:00 to 7: 00 you have your dinner with your family, 7:00 to 9: 00, you get your fitness done or whatever.
Conor Begley: Yeah.
Jeff Lee: I'll also say, it's probably something that people don't acknowledge a lot, it helps to not have that many personal responsibilities. I know this is really blunt of me, but I don't even have pets. For my perspective, the thing that I really have to take care of is my extensive orchid collection. So I am really able to flex my time around what's truly important. And so I don't have those pressures. I do think that also divides us in many ways as a team, from a lot of our peers. We're a younger team. The day- to- day management of this company is, we're all in our 30s or so, if not younger, and we're people that can really be invested at any hour and the it's part of the reason why we're so agile. And I think that's what distinguishes DIBS from a lot of our peers I see. We just move really fast. We're always on it. And there are plenty of people who just don't have that freedom. And frankly, I'm not making a judgment call because I'm not in a position to you. We're doing us.
Conor Begley: Yeah. That makes sense. When you talk about personal priorities, what are the things that you've decided to kind of deprioritize or not focus on from a personal perspective?
Jeff Lee: Well, to a certain degree, things are only fun when you're good at them, so there are times when you have to focus. I'm stealing that from Amy Chua, the tiger mom who was my personal mentor and a great dear friend, one of my best friends in the world. And it's so true. So when I wanted to get good at fitness, it's all I really thought about. It was that and school for months at a time. And when I was studying to become a certified personal trainer, that's all I was doing. In fact, it was at times harder than the bar exam having to memorize all of the stuff. But now, for me, to maintain my steady state, I know exactly what my BMI is at any given time. I know exactly what I need to do to raise or lower it. It doesn't require any mental energy. It's kind of like the time you allot to brushing your teeth. I also converted to Judaism, so I pray every day. And the time I allot to pray, or the time I allot to personal hygiene, you don't think about those things. And so it's become like that. And so I will say the same thing goes for a lot of the business, too. Setting up. The priority in the beginning for setting up DIBS was how do we make sure that we're launching with spectacular product that really stands on its own and that we're avoiding all the pitfalls of many other beauty brands who launch with faulty product, a poor advertising campaign or just, or poor fulfillment customer experience. But now, as things have started to shake out, I'm able to deprioritize like sweating. I know who's in charge of our product every day. I still talk about it day and night. Courtney called me at 8:00 AM this morning with an idea truly, and we spent an hour talking about it, but then I know who's handling a lot of that formulation, the manufacturing, and I don't have to be zeroed in. So it's not necessarily deprioritization in terms of the importance of it, but the amount of micromanaging and energy I put into it has definitely lessened. That's where I kind of try to choose. I say, is this an important goal for myself or the business? Lock in and then let it level out. And then if I have to go back in then usually something's wrong, or it's just not as good as I want it to be.
Conor Begley: How many priorities are you setting at a time and how frequently are you adjusting them? You know what I mean? How many priorities are there currently for the business right now? How do you think about that number?
Jeff Lee: Well, for the business right now, there's only one overarching priority, which is to continue to spread the word about how good we are, about how good the product is.
Conor Begley: Yep, yep.
Jeff Lee: And obviously, and anything we release and develop has to be in line with it. So everything else flows from that. Now you asked about personal priorities too, which I ducked in my very long winded answer. And for me personally, I'm a single track guy in a lot of ways. And so I really have chosen, DIBS is what I live and breathe right now. It doesn't mean I can't work out or take a vacation or do other things that teach on the side. I have a lot of different hobbies, but those are all secondary priorities. It's analogous in my mind, I teach first year, I co- teach a class first year ethics for MBAs. That's a lot of fun for me, but it's not something I spend all day doing unlike the professor who's full- time job it is to teach this course. I can just kind of parachute in, do my thing and go. And that's really how a lot of the other pieces of my life have been. It's not like I spend my time right now worrying about my personal orchid collection. I know, I'm weirdest guest you're going to get for months.
Conor Begley: No, absolutely not. This is fascinating. I love it. And there are other people that I think are similarly... have a similar volume of interests. But it's always interesting to see of how they approach the problem, how they think about it, how they prioritize their time. Because there's a lot of people that listen to this that want to know, how do I found my own successful brand? How do I get to where you are today? So let's talk, I want to take a couple steps back in terms of your professional career. I want to talk a little bit about this transition from an attorney to kind of operator, so that leap from to A- Rod being the first operational kind of role, it seems like. What made you decide to get more out of the, the sidelines is the wrong term, but out of the attorney side and into actually running a brand?
Jeff Lee: Well, I wanted to be a lawyer since I was a kid. I went to Yale Law School, which is not only a great place study law, but also one that where people go there with very big dreams. You look around and half the Supreme Court graduated there, Bill and Hillary Clinton met each other there, all of it. And so in a way practicing law there was actually seen as lowest, the path of least resistance and almost looked down. And I remembered everyone raising their hand the first day. And it was Ronan Farrow was in my class and he was talking about the Sudan and wanting to resolve the Darfur conflict, and then someone else is talking about wanting to make a difference in electoral politics. And it comes to me and I said, I just want you make market salary in a large New York law firm. And people just, I think, lost it. But, inaudible, to me, it's what I wanted to do as a kid. I didn't have a role model for that. And, quite frankly, we didn't grow up with a lot of money and the amount that I saw that a corporate lawyer makes on the first year, I was like, whoa. And now they make way more. I really, really believed in the craft and perfecting it. And I also wanted to practice it at the highest level. And so I had the chance to lateral, which has almost never happened before, into the corporate department at Wachtell, which was my final firm, currently very famous for being on the front lines of the Elon Musk versus Twitter battle. And there you're working with the smartest people, and I do think that they are the smartest people I've ever met or possibly will ever work with. And it's really like doing surgery in a lot of ways. You have to have this intellectual wonder at seeing how the body, the body of the deal or the physical body works and wanting to perfect every little thing. Because this is an industry where the famous cautionary tale is, a associate missed a, I believe it was a semicolon or a comma on a Caesar's debt financing document and caused... The difference was something in the order of a half billion dollars.
Conor Begley: Whoa.
Jeff Lee: All on one punctuation mark. That kind of precision on top of being able to look at it from the top level and say, oh, is this even the right surgery or performing for the patient, is intellectually fascinating and it's wonderful. But for me, I also looked at it and said, I don't want commit to this forever, because I'm reaching the point where I have to commit to aiming for partnership and having that be the rest of my career, or doing the other things that I still feel that I want to do. I think a lot of lawyers go and say, I want to go into the business, but they don't really know what that entails, and they're not willing to make the sacrifices. People in business don't care that you're a lawyer. From my perspective, I don't really care that I was a lawyer. It's great in the sense of, I read things really carefully, and I think my team would say I'm a pretty harsh negotiator, but what really matters is having a great sense of urgency, oh, of not urgency, but being able to process a lot of information quickly and make great decisions and also to really care about the working culture, if you're in a position like I was. That stuff I learned from working with Alex Rodriguez. I didn't know who A- Rod was when I met him. I mean, of course that's how it happens, right? The guy who doesn't know anything about baseball is the one who gets every baseball fan's dream job. Because not only was I his COO, I also produced two seasons of his Sunday Night Baseball program. So I traveled with him and the ESPN crew to 30 baseball games a year around the country. The way I define it is, sum up that job was, midway through the first season, if you're into baseball you know. The phrase inside baseball applies for a reason. They know if you're into baseball, if you're into baseball. And if you're someone like me where I could name Derek Jeter, Darryl Scott, very Mickey Mantle. I'm that kind of person. They know it. Alex gets asked midway through, and they're just like, A- Rod, we just got to ask you," What's this dude doing? Why are you having him here, in your ear? What's the deal?" He goes," Do you think I need someone who knows as much or more about baseball than I do? I need someone like him, who I'm trying to speak to, who can help me communicate to that fan base and expand what has been a sport desperately in need of more viewers?" To me, that always summed up the visionary nature of having someone like that look at you and say," You're actually the right fit for me. Not because we have these immediate commonalities and interests or passions, but because your skillset is something I need." In turn, he trained me to be the CEO that I am. Basically, with him, we started as kind of a startup in a lot of ways, although he has had a great real estate business for a very long time. He didn't just pivot, retiring out of the Yankees, he was building this as a player. What we did there at A- Rod Corp was really take him into a lot of the broader basis that you see him now. As an investor, he just started Shark Tank. When I joined as somebody who is known as a great partner, now, obviously he's an MBA owner as well on his way to majority ownership of a team. I always say that there are two things I learned from him. One was obviously the value of team building and actually really looking out for your team. And as a lawyer, you work with large teams so it's not the same. Alex truly operates A- Rod Corp, and I learned from him by extension, with the idea of building up junior people, with the idea of making sure that your senior people are empowered to lead and that the middle management also has a path to advancement, those are all things that he cares about deeply that I learned from him. But then at the same time, I also learned the ability to just stay calm, that not everything is gigantic emergency the way it is in corporate law. In corporate law at 9: 30 PM on a Friday, that's typically when the deal comes in and it's a fire drill. Get back in the office, start reviewing the agreement. These are the 20 things we have to negotiate out before the deal closes on Monday. Markets open, you can't leave this. Boom, boom, boom, boom. All I can say is, it's partly personality, but the guy has stared at 100 mile per hour fastballs all his life, nothing phases him. And every time I think that there's going to be something that's catastrophic and I'm gripping myself, I just kind of take that mental cue from him.
Conor Begley: Yeah, for sure. I think a couple things that were really interesting about what you said. I think the first one was your comment, which it wasn't really kind of the point of what you were talking about, but was the kind of this is a sport in desperate need of growth and new viewers. I think the reason that's interesting is, most people that take the job of being the ESPN commentator are not thinking about how do I grow this sport as a whole? Much more ambitious vision than is traditional for somebody in that role. And then the second one is consistent in terms of what you were talking about earlier and also what you're saying he talks about, in the important over the urgent. I think that's something that's, it's very difficult to do in practice. There's another quote. I can't remember. It was one of the presidents. Can't remember which president it was, but it was the key to being successful is writing down the important things you need to do that day and doing them. It's not any more complicated than that. So it's fascinating. I think the other thing that's interesting for me... Well, actually this is not necessarily what you talked about, but I'd love to get your commentary on it, is obviously, the business that we're in and the space that we're in, is individuals becoming publishers, individuals becoming creators, individuals becoming... A- Rod now probably as a larger audience than the vast majority of sports networks, as an individual. How did you think about his role or the role of social media and him as a publisher within his broader career? Because it wasn't just about him being on TV. He is his own channel as well.
Jeff Lee: He's the most followed baseball player by far and I believe that still stands. He certainly was when I was with him. He has explosive growth on TikTok. I think he might be the number one still there as well. And that even is, I think, a great example. The fact that one of the greatest athletes by any measurement in American history, the highest pay, he had for decades the biggest sports contract period, but also what he achieved on the field, the world championship and also off. And yet, this guy could really just retire and yet he chooses to be on TikTok and really speak to younger fans. And it's a great way to communicate one of his best qualities that I don't think people know, which is he's also a spectacular father and has raised two incredible girls that would make anyone proud and they've been instrumental to helping him be on TikTok. That's pushing yourself out of your comfort zone in that way. And the adaptability there. And I even look at my business partner, Courtney Shields, who has been incredible on Instagram. One of the most successful by really any metric really, in terms of the brand she's partnered with and the messaging she's conveyed and obviously the joy she brings to a lot of her followers lives. And really has made a concerted effort to be strong on TikTok and it's shown. Her persistence has paid off. So when you think about the individual as a publisher, the individual as a publisher has to be enormously adaptable, because I'm quite sure that we'll have a new platform we're all talking about in the next two years. It's just the cycle is just that much faster. But at the same time, not everyone can do it. And that's part of the reason, too, and it goes back to this overarching theme of having lots of interest and lots... And I always say, if you followed your passions, that's the worst advice you can get. If I had followed my passion, I would be an Egyptologist and a bad one. I'd be broke. Because I don't inaudible. Ancient Egypt was my passion as a kid. I mean, following your passion on its own is the worst thing ever, because also people get bored with their passions, let's be real, right? What you should do is figure out what your superpower is and how that aligns you with your passions and basically enables you, whether directly in the line of your work or by being really good at a superpower and then having the economic and time, space to do your other passions. But everyone has a superpower. Something that they are better at, right. Dan Reich likes to call it the unfair advantage. Alex Rodriguez has several superpowers on top of just being able to hit a ball really well. He is an extraordinary communicator. He is one of the smartest people I know, and he is intellectually curious. And so that's going to lend itself to... And he's also humble and willing to make fun of himself, which is why it's so appealing to look at his Instagram from time to time. He's very unabashed about, he's like, here I am. And that's very different from the highly polished personas that a lot of celebrities have when they're trying to adapt to the increasing demand for authenticity, the increasing demand for this soundbite. The fact of the matter is a lot of people that were really good at one thing at one format, whether it was on the field or being a TV star or commentator, can't produce a variety that it takes to be a successful publisher on say Instagram and now TikTok. And you shouldn't focus your energies there. You should just partner with people that do.
Conor Begley: For sure.
Jeff Lee: I do think that's one lesson for people too, because everyone grows up now wanting to be a TikToker. Everyone grows up now wanting to be an Instagram star, and it's not that easy and also not everyone is meant to be. Like you mentioned, I trained the most beautiful, competitive women on earth for these titles. There is a physical requirement to some degree. It's not all about beauty. In fact, beauty is never actually dispositive to becoming a Miss World or a Miss Universe, but some people are meant to do that or have the unfair advantage to do that, just like I'll never be an Olympian and I'm okay with that.
Conor Begley: Yeah, absolutely. I know I'm a huge believer in the... I don't really like to play games that I'm probably not going to win. I don't have a good chance of winning. I like to compete and I like to do things where you have a chance of being the best. And where you have that, you said, unfair advantage, where it's like, hey... And also, I remember getting advice at one point earlier in my career. I'm running the company, helping to run the company. And I was like, I really need to get better at, I can't remember what it was specifically, but it was kind of like running team meetings, being a bit more organized, et cetera. And then my co- founder was like," Why? Why do you need to get better at that?" He's like," Why do you need to be the one that does that?" And I'm like," You're right. I'm really good over here." I'm like," I have a chance to be in the top whatever, 0. 1% in the world in this particular field, why am I trying to do something else?? Right. Anyways, big, big believer there. Let's start talking about DIBS a little bit. You mentioned Dan. And I think that the co- founders that you've put together, the partners that you've put together are really impressive. And I'd say you've got Dan Reich who is the founder, co- founder of TULA. You've got Ken Landis who also helped co- founder TULA and was a co- founder of Bobby Brown. You've obviously got Courtney Shields, who's a world renowned content creator and, publisher in the space. I'd like to talk through two elements there. So the first one is, one, how did you get to know these people? So when you're thinking about partners to work with, whether it's A- Rod or people you partnered with there, or people that you're partnering with on the DIBS side, how did you get to know them? What was that process like? Was it serendipity? Was it intentional? And then secondarily, how do you think about working with partners? Because you got a lot of powerhouses there, between you, Dan, Ken, Courtney. How do you think about dividing duties, who makes decisions, all that kind of stuff?
Jeff Lee: I mean, it was an intentional, a meeting in the sense that I wanted to focus on beauty full time, and I know that they had this idea percolating amongst themselves. And so I was introduced through a mutual friend to Dan, and obviously word of mouth is really how you get a lot of the great things in life. And to be real about it, and to your viewers, the importance of cultivating, call them strong and weak links, people that are in your immediate network, but a broader network, but where your reputation is strong enough to have those people serve as referrals for you, or at least make an intro. That's a skill that everyone should have. Even if it's not, for example, your superpower to be extroverted in that way. I think it's important to cultivate your personal reputation in such a way that other people will go to bat for you, including people who don't really know you very well. And that's how I was able to first meet with these people. And also second, because I don't go into any job or any relationship without doing extraordinary amounts of diligence on them, get a sense that they were the right partners because you can have a Zoom with someone and really hit it off. And we really did. I do think all of us individually met each other... I met everyone individually by Zoom and Courtney also had a preexisting relationship with the Dan and Ken through being one of TULA's top partners. But she was not very close to them when we started and she and I were meeting each other for first time. We have an instant chemistry. I think there was an instant alignment of, okay, everyone kind of gets it. But you still want to do the diligence and have a sense of are these trustworthy people? Are they the people you want to really commit your life to? I always, I tell them this, too. I thank God. They are truly some of the greatest partners I could have ever asked for, just in the way that they do business, in the way that they think, but also in the fact that there's no redundancy in this team. Each person brings something very different to the table. So you have people in this quartet, and in the broader team, who have become just as important to the success of DIBS, who have the experience of taking startups from zero to a billion and over. You have people who have seen the ups and downs, and that's one area where, especially Ken, has been very important for me, because this is not my first beauty brand, but it's my first time going through this whole process. And Ken has been through multiple successes in this way and has the broader eagle eye look. Whereas as the CEO, I'm frequently, still mired in the day to day. It's just helpful to just have someone up there who's paying a lot of attention to the team, but also saying," This is something really serious." Or," This is something you can just let wash over. Don't let it like change the course you're on." And that's where, going to the question about decision making, I'm someone who works by consensus and we are a team that works by consensus. And I don't just mean that in the sense of decisions are made by the founders, which is really Courtney and me on a day to day basis. We're making a lot of those active decisions and then handed down. You want to get buy- in from your team as well. So I'm very deeply invested in a lot of the minutiae of what we do, even down to sometimes what we're posting on Instagram or who we are partnering with. But frequently it's a dialogue. I can really very rarely point to a case where a decision comes down by fiat, for example. Right? Because it's a small company still, and you want people to feel invested even in the decision making process, even if it was something that you didn't agree with. And so that's how the style works. But I think the importance is, there's a huge amount of trust. There's an enormous amount of trust in the competence of everyone to do what they need to do. And the fact is, people respect each other's superpowers. I like to say I don't like to be at a table where I look around and someone isn't better at their job than I am. I want to know that everyone who's doing what they're doing is better at what they do than I am. Sydney who runs our TikTok and is also instrumental to our partnerships, works closely with Tribe, she's just better at that platform than I ever will be. I'm just an observer. Courtney is obviously better at what she does, communicating to the customer, understanding what their needs and wants and having that relationship with our community than any of us ever will be. Monica on our team is just better at the aesthetics at the branding of things than I will be. And that's how we work. Dan Reich is better at, frankly, half of the tech stuff, but also startup dynamics, too. Because, yes, A- Rod Corp also grew rapidly, but it's very different from what we have constructed here. So understanding everyone's lanes too, but that said, I do think one of our great strengths too, is yes, people have superpowers, but people have complimentary strengths also in where everyone else is interlocking. I am a product first CEO. I have a deep understanding of the product and I'm not ashamed to say, I probably understand product better than most of my peers in this space. I know every ingredient. I'm the one sitting in the lab. And that can't be said for a lot of this typical beauty brand combination where you have the onscreen talent and you have the business guy in the background. Conversely, Courtney is a very business minded partner here. She might have control in many ways over the creative, and certainly she is the face of the brand, but Courtney is a deeply invested person and has a deep understanding of the economics of the business and also for where we are at, and I think that's part of the success. Just as she trusts my opinion on what color combinations work, I am constantly talking to her about, this is the cogs that go into this product. This is how this launch performed. This is why we need you market X, Y here. What do you think? And that's really rare. I always kind of kick myself finding it. It's very rare to find that interlock among all the key players.
Conor Begley: Yeah. I know when we founded Tribe, John, my co- founder's, background was as an engineer, mine was on the sales side, and so I focused on sales and marketing and he focused on product and engineering. But I think both of us, I thought product was more important than sales and he thought sales was more important than product, and so it was a mutual appreciation for the other half, which I think is important. Talk to me a little bit about, obviously, I think Dan and I imagine Courtney are really driving a lot of the marketing, the EMV growth, the influencer side of things. But again, I'm sure you're very deeply involved in that. What have you observed about the approach that's been taken so far that's worked really well? Because again, I think you guys came out of the gates, the numbers were really strong, and has gotten better and better every single quarter over the last three quarters, so what do you think's driving that consistent, upward trajectory that we just don't see very often?
Jeff Lee: The underlying playbook is pretty simple for a lot of new beauty brands. Let me get the person that can drive eyeballs and then let me just get the product and fuse them together and go, go, go, go, go, go. And I think from early on we always viewed Courtney as understanding the enormous value that they have, that her community has attachment. Obviously there's a great deal of ability on her end then to convert that into sales. But I think we always approached it from the perspective of let's respect what she's built up over a decade, that community that's grown up with her. Let's watch her go through all the realities of life and build products that she can truly believe in, that we can believe in, and that her community community would buy even if she weren't in front of them. And that's where I'm very proud of our repeat order rate, which is very, very high. It can exceed 60% on some products.
Conor Begley: Wow.
Jeff Lee: That's early. We're 10 months in. We're not a full year in. I think the product and the mission are critical. You can market all the great strategies that you want around that, but if you don't have exceptional product that delivers joy and value to your customer, you're not going to win. And the mission has been very simple. We are, I think inaudible is some on the new generation makeup brands. DIBS stands for desert island beauty status. This is the makeup you would bring with you to a desert island. Doesn't matter your level of makeup knowledge. Exactly. I mean, you and I might... It might not be essentials for you and me, but, although I am an end user of a lot of the product.
Conor Begley: No, no, no. I just love that, I love that perspective. That's crazy. Inaudible.
Jeff Lee: But that's the underlying principle. We don't release anything unless it matches that philosophy and unless we feel that our partners, whether it's Courtney or many of our extraordinary partners out there, can believe in the brand. I truly think that those are things that have really set us apart. That, and also the extremely strong visual identity. You know our product right away when you see it. And that's very different from the phenomenon of blanding that we've seen in the CBG space in general. Now, in terms of the actual social strategy, I think we have a couple strengths going for us. One is that Courtney has proved to be enormously versatile. So whereas her TikTok grew by an order of 50% in the last month alone. She drives explosive traffic now through that channel on top of traditional Instagram, Facebook platform. And that's great to have a rocket ship like that, who's always thinking of how can I reach more people with different messages, but the same values underneath. Can't discount that value. But at the same time, what we've really, really been keying on isn't just let's go out and find lots of influencers that convert. It's really doing the legwork with who is the DIBS person? Who is the person that represents this brand, at a macro and at a micro level? And having that right mix. Yes, there are a lot of brands that will go out and tell you, okay, well, we try to strive to create a pyramid where we have this many mega influencers, this many micro and it's great. And we try to find people that are outside of the traditional streams of beauty, which is what we try to do as well for sure. I know that's been a great strategy for TULA, but that alone doesn't account for our success. The reason why we have been growing at this clip and we have these is because we have deep relationships with these people. We are a 50 state brand. I'm committed to having an event of some kind in all 50 states. We open... We're Austin headquartered. And our biggest events have been in Nashville, Indiana, Cleveland. We are going to parts of the country-
Conor Begley: Interesting.
Jeff Lee: that aren't where beauty is fighting and we're meeting people on the ground. In Indiana, people were telling us, no one has ever come to Indianapolis. I'm like, why not? You're an amazing market and amazing community. On top of it, again, I do think it's a commitment of the team to building this community. And it starts from the very top to every level. I would say every single member of this team has actually a direct relationship of some kind with multiple influencer partners, and that includes people who have no nexus with the influencer side of the business. Everyone here has some direct relationship. And again, we are 24/7, so we're very agile. Courtney knows at any given time what's going on on social media. I know at any given time what's going on in our Shopify. I'm in our Shopify every 15 minutes and we're constantly updating each other. And I'm sorry, but all of our peers just don't work that way. So that we can tell our entire team, drop everything, go, go, go. We'll go if we see something really working. Flex a new bundle in this way. Activate these partners. Let them know there's new messaging right now because this thing is really picking up steam. Our products are so multiuse, we discover new uses from them, from our partners. So we'll see that happen and go, go, go, go, go, go. But it's also I'm community service. I mean, customers support half of the time on Courtney's TikTok. I don't TikTok myself. Everyone knows it's Jeff Lee, the CEO of DIBS. And I'm like," Oh, well, we'll check on your order. Email our customer support line here in her comments." And just members of the team, no matter the seniority, play that role across the board. They're in the DMS. They're talking to our great partners. People need to feel important because they are important. And we do invest in that and we go to them. That's a case where I don't think a lot of brands are operating on that perspective. They're saying," Let me pay an influencer x amount of money. She can push the product and I don't need you anymore." No, we know who your birthdays are. We know where you live.
Conor Begley: Totally. 100%.
Jeff Lee: And we're the ones asking you, what can we do better? And we're the ones coming to your, because we're spending the time planning out how we can get to Nashville and have something that brings a lot of joy to your community. That takes a lot of work that a lot of people aren't willing to do.
Conor Begley: Totally. And it's very consistent with, I think, what we've seen be successful. That comment you made about the whole team being involved reminds me a lot of Glow Recipe, which is now in the top two or three brands we track in skincare. I think they're north of a hundred million in revenue. I asked them," Hey, what percent of your team is involved in social?" He goes," 100%. Everybody. Every single person at the company contributes in some way." And it was like,"oh wow." Never heard that answer before. Right. Okay. I want to ask you one more question, and again, as expected, I've got 10 more questions in three more minutes. In terms of your career, you've had a lot of success, externally, what was the hardest part of your career? What was the period in your career where you're like," Man, like I really need to," again, some of these can be not necessarily dark, but just pivots, but what was the hardest part? And then we'll do one more kind of fun end of show question, too, that should be a surprise.
Jeff Lee: I think the hardest part is whenever I felt I've lost direction, whether or not that's direction in terms of actually where the career was going. I mean, during the pandemic, I mean, I sat on the couch and just ate junk food and gained a lot of weight and didn't work out and was just like, what am I doing with my life? Am I going the right place? But I think loss of direction is harder when it's even more than that, because everyone experiences the part where your career isn't going in the" right direction," so that you can update your LinkedIn and look even better to people. That's not what I think is really, really tough. I think like the really tough part is saying you're doing something and you don't feel like you're representing the values that you want to represent or that your day to day isn't filled with the right purpose. No amount of money, no title, no amount of social media likes can, I think, compensate for that. I've felt that, certainly, at many times in my life that frequently triggers a pivot from my experience. I always look at the people who do feel trapped in their jobs or feel that they've lost a direction. And I always have to say, look, sometimes it requires a full reboot or sometimes it just requires you to say, what are the things that I can change and have other people help me change that will give me that direction again? I do really truly believe in business ethics. It's ironic, because I barely passed that portion of the bar by two questions. And now I talk about it all the time. That's one of the great things I think about working with my team. We have a fundamental level of honesty, of directness, but also honesty. I've worked in many industries where the theft element is so prevalent or the bluffery, the puffery element is so prevalent. When you deal with us, what you see is what you get. There's a real honesty in how we do business. One of my business mentors always told me, she's like," I've never made a cent off of someone else's misery." And so that's always been my kind of guiding principle. It's not really about the money, but how you make it.
Conor Begley: Yeah, yeah. No, absolutely. Okay. Well, let's do one kind of fun, end of show question. So you've been to a little over 100 equinoxes. I can't remember 116, I think, or 106?
Jeff Lee: 106. But there's more, because there's a secret one and then there's the popup ones.
Conor Begley: A secret one.
Jeff Lee: There's multiple secret ones. I had to break into one, I think. They hate it when I talk about that one, but I actually broke into it.
Conor Begley: I don't know if you've ever ranked them, but what would you say was the best one you've been to and what would you say is the worst one you've been to?
Jeff Lee: The worst one, yes. The worst Equinox I think I've ever been to, gosh, they're going to kill me. It's really a tie between one on Long Island and one in Aventura, Florida, just because each space has a character and these spaces don't have character. It doesn't have to be the fanciest gym or whatever, but there's just some places that [inaudible. 00:48:11]. The best one for me, because it's tied to the memories, would be Huntington Beach in Southern California. It opened when I was in business school. It was a time in my life when I felt very grounded, very excited. And I associate it with that, which is logical. And it's also physically stunning. You're on the water. And so, yes, the London ones are probably even more highly ranked by members, but to go to a place, to your own personal desert island, that's a magical thing I wish for everybody in the world. For me, it's that place because, also everyone's happy. They don't work in Huntington Beach. Everyone's a surfer or we're just chilling out, so everyone's happy in that location. It is just beautiful, magical. But to me, it's all about the memories that you make in each place, as corny as that sounds about a gym. For a lot of people, this is their temple, the way that going to actual temple for me is, or going to your church or going to your place of wherever you get that inaudible. I certainly wish that for everyone, to find something like that.
Conor Begley: Yeah, absolutely. I think finding something where you can truly be focused and centered, and step away from everything else. I know for my father- in- law it's fishing. Well, it's not fishing for me. Right? But there are certain areas where that just becomes true. Well, I had an awesome time today, Jeff. It was so great to get to know you. Congratulations on all your success. Obviously, not that surprising. I think we'll have to do another one of these, too. Maybe a revamp in a couple of years, see where you're at and where DIBS is at. Because I know it's going to be a rocket ship.
Jeff Lee: I appreciate it, Conor. Thanks for letting me talking your and your viewer's years off. It's fantastic.
Conor Begley: Yeah, no, this is great. I think we were going to love it. I learned a ton.
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In Ep. 56 of Earned, we sit down with Jeff Lee, co-founder and CEO of DIBS (“Desert Island Beauty Status”), the beauty brand created in partnership with star influencer Courtney Shields. We start by unpacking Jeff’s many noteworthy accomplishments, including earning his MBA at Stanford and his law degree at Yale, coaching several successful Miss Universe pageant contestants, visiting every Equinox gym across the world, and serving as COO for former MLB shortstop Alex Rodriguez’s A-Rod Corp investment firm—all before launching DIBS Beauty. Jeff reveals how he manages and prioritizes his time to allow him to invest in his varied pursuits, before explaining why he decided to transition from attorney to brand operator. We dive into his time at A-Rod Corp, and hear how he got the job (despite not knowing who A-Rod was), as well as the team-building learnings he took away with him. Jeff then shares why he thinks following your passion is the “worst career advice,” and why you should instead pursue your “superpower.” Next, we discuss how DIBS Beauty came to be, and the key factors contributing to the brand’s rapid growth, before closing the show by learning Jeff’s guiding principles that help him navigate challenging times.