This Startup Is Making Entrepreneurs Wing-it With Its Ever-growing Beauty Community

Airblack found a way to create an immersive virtual beauty universe within its platform experience

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There's no denying the power of an active and engaged social network, and its impact has never been stronger than it is today. As we continue to rely on digital connections during this otherwise isolating time in our fight against COVID-19, our social communities—albeit via Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and others—have helped to foster the human connections we're so desperately missing while staying at home. While the success of all-encompassing social platforms has proven to be influential for users and brands alike, the emergence of niche social communities, such as Airblack, has proven to be a new type of social outlet for beauty lovers to unite.

Airblack

As a $532 billion a year industry, it's clear the beauty community is a vast and dedicated one. In recognizing the growing popularity of beauty across editorial, video, and influencer content, Perfect Corp. identified an opportunity to build a more targeted fan group and dedicated beauty-loving social community—one that recently amassed over 47 million registered users globally. In recognizing the synergies between a virtual try-on beauty experience and a supportive, empowering social community, online makeup and beauty learning platform Airblack found a way to merge the two in order to create an immersive virtual beauty universe within its platform experience. The result was an interactive world of virtual beauty try-on combined with a beauty-loving social community that united fanatics in a special beauty-centric digital world.

While social media presence is most certainly part of the branding process, finding targeting social communities with a common interest further segments the market for a more impactful message that reaches your target demographic. This niche social community serves as a new channel for customer acquisition and while Internet connections were previously dominated by younger generations, the social norms adopted during the pandemic have resulted in all generations—young and old—turning to digital connections as their lifeline.

COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on travel and hospitality businesses. While large ventures in the sector are waiting for the situation to improve, early-stage startups who do not have significant capital reserves have been either struggling to survive or taking drastic steps.

Influencer-led travel company Airblack has made its move: a pivot from travel to beauty.

Airblack used to be a social-travel commerce platform that pointed travelers to experts and influencers it identified via WhatsApp and Instagram.

With a new purpose, Airblack now provides virtual tutorials around makeup and skincare and lets users connect with experts in private groups. According to its website, it has a paid club that offers two subscriptions programs–VIP and Gold–for makeup artists and enthusiasts.

The online makeup and beauty learning platform Airblack has raised $5.2 million Series A funding co-led by Info Edge Ventures and Elevation Capital, recently.

The startup, which helps people upskill and become micro-entrepreneurs in the beauty skilling market through "do-it-together (DIT) courses, will use the funds to accelerate the expansion of its Beauty Club, launch new clubs, and invest in the product, engineering, and the brand.

The round also saw participation from Atelier Ventures, along with Better Capital; Ankur Nagpal, founder and chief executive officer, Teachable; Kunal Shah, founder, CRED; Vidit Aatrey, co-founder and chief executive officer, Meesho; Sanjeev Barnwal, co-founder and chief technology officer, Meesho; Sujeet Kumar, co-founder, Udaan; Utsav Somani, partner, AngelList India, and partner, iSeed; and Ashish Gupta, managing director, Helion Ventures.

The DIT courses are presented by curated experts in a workshop format and enable hundreds of participants to learn in an interactive manner.

Airblack pivoted towards this segment last year, and so far, over 25,000 learners have attended these courses across more than 500 cities. A majority of these are women who have since become freelancers, online creators, or home salon owners.

Prominent makeup artists such as Namrata Soni and Mehak Kawatra have taken guest classes on the platform. The in-house panel includes experts such as Sohni Juneja, a top Delhi-based freelancer; Amishi Sindhwani, an ex-Miss India regional finalist and a beauty creator; and Aarti Makker, a prominent beauty educator, the company said.

The startup currently clocks over 45,000 hours of live classes every month; these are supplemented by take-home assignments that help learners gain new skills. Real-time feedback and encouragement foster a sense of community and belonging.

The company at present has long-duration courses with a timeline ranging from 30 days to 120 days, while fees start from INR 10,000. Short-duration courses can range from one day to five days with fees as low as INR 150.

The success and popularity of this model are evident from the whopping 80 per cent course completion rate.

Airblack recently expanded to include senior operators from firms such as WhiteHatJr, Bain & Co, and OYO. Close to 75 per cent of Airblack's 100-member team comprises women, with 50 per cent in leadership roles.

Airblack founder and chief executive officer Videt Jaiswal in a conversation with Entrepreneur India said, "We are building Airblack for the rapidly growing Millennial and Gen-Z population in India, who will be pursuing internet-first work opportunities. We foresee over 100 million people becoming digital creators and freelancers in India, and Airblack will help them with the "how' of launching their passion."

"Airblack's expert-driven courses help people discover and develop their passion for Makeup and Beauty and help them start their own salons, launch their freelancing service, or just casually upgrade their makeup skills. Makeup professionals are not only learning foundational skills but also keeping up with all the latest products, techniques, and looks with Airblack. We are leading the charge in creating a community of Makeup and Beauty enthusiasts, and helping people co-learn and co-create innovative makeup looks and beauty industry opportunities. For example, our Digital Portfolio tool is now the preferred medium of sharing makeup creations and credentials for thousands of our past members and is helping them craft new opportunities in the industry," he further commented.

In March 2020, COVID-19 hit the travel industry adversely and we saw our revenues hitting zero. This led us to launch the Beauty category within a few months, all while being amidst a crisis.

Airblack's revenue now stands at twenty five-time of its pre-COVID level. The resilience of its team and commitment to the goal of empowering micro-entrepreneurs drove us through the crisis and towards new heights.

With its latest Series A raise, the company has been said to be focusing on investing further in its product and technology, and also launching new clubs focused on other key micro-entrepreneurship sectors in India.

"A key trigger for Airblack's growth is the fundamental shift in people's behavior and perspective with respect to careers. The internet-native millennials and Gen-Z populace have been influenced by digital role models - YouTubers, Instagram influencers, digital coaches. These people are comfortable with creating online and have high aspirations for self-entrepreneurship. In fact, with over 15 million freelancers, India already has the world's second-largest freelancing population in the world. There are now hundreds of readily available tools to both launch and grow businesses online. From social media tools like YouTube and Instagram to easy creation tools like Canva and even e-commerce platforms like Shopify, the options are endless. These triggers are aligned with the larger creator economy trend that has taken the entire world by storm. With a hyper-growing ecosystem, people are now pursuing careers and becoming podcasters, writers, chefs, and even makeup artists," Jaiswal further stated.