Adore Beauty’s CEO On The 5 Career Mistakes She Turned Into Success

Here’s how Kate Morris, CEO and Founder of online beauty store Adore Beauty turned misguided mistakes into a multi-million dollar business success.

Kate Morris was 21 when she had the idea to start an online beauty boutique. It was 1999 and she was living in Launceston, Tasmania, which meant that many of the beauty products she saw in magazines weren’t readily available to people who lived outside of big cities. So as a self-respecting “beauty junkie”, what did she do? Kate opened an online marketplace that allowed people access to some of the world’s best products – anytime, anywhere. Genius.

To put the idea of launching a store online 16 years ago into perspective, April 2000 was a time when N*SYNC were ‘Bye Bye Bye’-ing into a new millennium. Despite the doubters, Adore Beauty launched online and 16 years later, the company has gone from strength to strength – just this year they expanded to China to become a dominant force in online beauty across the Asia Pacific region.

But success doesn’t come without a few hiccups along the way.

Here’s Kate on five of the key learnings every budding entrepreneur or business owner might find useful in their own startup ventures.

#1 If you can’t finance, you have no business

I started Adore Beauty out of my garage with a $12,000 loan from my boyfriend’s parents at the age of 21. The basic foundations and motivations to succeed were there, but my knowledge in setting up a financial forecast and budget was limited. I was making mistakes that were putting my business in jeopardy. Putting myself through a finance course not only enabled me to run my business more effectively, but also empowered me to make informed decisions to help grow it to where it is now.

#2 Values are more important than skills

When it’s time to start building a team, it of course makes sense to hire someone equipped with the skills needed to get the job done. However one thing I’ve learnt through my 16 years of hiring and firing is that employing someone who has the right skills, but is not a good fit with your business’ values, can be extremely destructive to your company culture. Skills can be taught, but values are more innate and much harder to change, so I will always choose to employ someone based on cultural fit over skill.

#3 Listen to your customers and respond accordingly

In 2003 we attempted to diversify the Adore Beauty brand to incorporate fashion accessories, assuming that the fit between customer bases would be the same. But it turned out that our customers who were passionate about beauty and cosmetics didn’t have the same passion about handbags. It was an uphill battle and eventually we scrapped the accessories section. This was pivotal in my learning to listen to my customers, to find out what they want and need before expanding the business in a particular direction. Bad decisions come from not listening to your customers.

Some of our favourite Adore Beauty desk essentials from Nuxe, Aesop & Bobbi Brown ✨💖 #adorebeauty

A photo posted by Adore Beauty (@adorebeautyofficial) on

#4 Ensure you have KPIs in place when working with external parties

When working with an external agency (such as IT), it’s vital to the success of the collaboration to ensure you outline and agree upon key deliverables before starting down the project’s path. There’s nothing more stressful than being stuck in a relationship with a major supplier when things aren’t working out, and not having a leg to stand on when they don’t perform. Be clear and honest about your expectations and on what you hope to achieve, and make sure you understand what they expect to come from the collaboration, too. There’s no such thing as too many questions or too much detail, it will only put you in a better position to ensure the partnership is successful.

#5 Failure is a likely outcome

Starting any new venture poses all kinds of risks, uncertainties and unknowns, which is partially what makes it not only really exciting, but also incredibly rewarding when you finally get it right! Having had my share of failures (some of them quite expensive or time consuming) I now try and approach all new ideas and ventures as experiments – assuming that failure is a likely outcome, and aiming to find faster and cheaper ways to find out. If you think of it that way, then any ‘mistake” is actually a learning experience, which is essentially what helps us to grow and better ourselves, which inevitably betters our business, too.

Rebecca Russo is a freelance writer, editor, community radio dabbler, occasional hiker and celebrity autobiography enthusiast. She has written for online publications including Junkee, AWOL, Fashion Journal and Tone Deaf. Find her online here.

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