Nicole Quinn is a Silicon Valley-based partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, a venture capital firm that provides funding for some of the top companies in business today, from Jessica Alba's The Honest Company to Epic Games' Fortnite. Quinn is responsible for investing in brands like Goop, Girlboss, Daily Harvest (alongside Serena Williams), and most recently, Lady Gaga's new makeup line, Haus Laboratories. The following was told to Lexy Lebsack and edited for length and clarity.
From Math To Makeup
I grew up in England with a very entrepreneurial father who started online pharmacies in the early ‘90s, so helping out was my first Saturday job. I studied math in undergrad and started working at Morgan Stanley in 2005 covering retail and e-commerce companies, but I was angel investing to many female founders on the side.
I wanted to help women realise their vision, so I thought, How do I do this all the time? I went to business school at Stanford in California, thought I'd be there for two years, but started a pre-Apple Watch wearable tech company and pitched it to Lightspeed, where I eventually started working four years ago.
Getting into beauty was a very conscious decision. It's a category that has high margins, a high repeat rate, and people love it. Beauty is more recession-proof than other categories, but it depends on the price points. The interesting thing is that the cheap dollar store and drugstore beauty products, as well as the very high-end products, do alright, but the [companies] in-between really struggle because consumers trade down to the lower end during a recession or just use less.
"The first time I sat down with Gaga she said, 'I have three passions in this world: music, movies, and beauty'."
- Nicole quinn, investor and board member of Haus Labs
I met Gaga two years ago. Her agent at CAA came to us and said, “Gaga has a beauty idea,” so we listened, but it was nothing more than an idea and we didn't know how committed she was — then we sat down with her.
A lot of companies focus on fitting in, then I met Lady Gaga and heard her vision for a company that's all about standing out. It's big, bold makeup for everyone, whether you are a man or woman. The Honest Company versus Goop versus Haus are all so different, but they're all true to the founders. We love authenticity and Gaga has that.
The first time I sat down with Gaga she said, "I have three passions in this world: music, movies, and beauty." She told us stories about seeing her mom become empowered putting on makeup and about mixing her own concoctions backstage with her makeup artist Sarah Tanno.
I invested 18 months ago. We brought on a CEO from The Honest Company, a CMO from Milk Makeup, and many more talented beauty executives. The Haus board is me, Lady Gaga, and our CEO. Gaga’s very involved. She would come up with the products and names, be on shoots, and then be up until 4 a.m. making mood boards. The other day she said, “I have my fingerprints all over every part of this business so much so that it looks like a crime scene!”
Art & Science
We are very involved in the strategy behind the products. For example, the price point we decide determines who the customer is. Are we targeting more of a NARS customer or more of a M.A.C. one? We made the decision to bring our prices down, so the margins are smaller, but it's important to do that because it means we can appeal to a much greater percentage of Gaga's audience. That was a decision made by the board to do the right thing by the fans.
Inclusivity is also something we think about a lot; there's been so much talk about having 40 different shades of foundation — that was a focus last year. This year, the focus is on questioning why it's only women who wear makeup. This could be something for men, for women, for everybody. There have been very few brands that have been created around the LGBTQ community. But equally important is inclusivity in how it’s distributed, so a partnership with Amazon makes sense so someone in Japan can get it at the same time as someone in Arkansas.
1 in a 1,000
On an average day, I meet with 10 companies; that's 50 in a week and 2,500 in a year. I make two investments in a year, so it's about one in a thousand. There's no formula, every one is different. We look for someone with sheer determination to build their brand, someone who doesn't take no for an answer, and someone who is a great storyteller.
People think of investors as investing money, but that is such a small part of what we do. We are true partners for the next 10 years. We help with hiring, PR and marketing; we have a growth-hacking expert, a talent infrastructure team, and someone who helps with leadership. I’m a qualified coach and think of my role on a board as helping a CEO be the very best they can possibly be.
The Future Is Female
My advice for women starting companies is to think big! Think about what your vision is today and what the biggest, boldest version of your business could be. If you could do it with anyone, who would that be? If you could take that vision anywhere, what would that look like? Create that vision! I want to see amazing, strong female founders not just tell me what they're going to do over the next year, but what they are going to do over the next 10 years and how are they going to change the world by doing it.