The Fateful Cab Ride: Christine Chang

  • Season 4, Episode 3
  • October 10, 2023
  • 34-minute listen

The Fateful Cab Ride: Christine Chang

We had to contemplate what the future of our curation business was. As a small team, it was challenging to do both. We knew also that our community would have a lot to say.

The Big Idea

A consumer brand builds a following and then, essentially, decides to change direction. How do leaders bring their customers along for the ride, manage that pivot and minimize the harm to the brand? Strong customer engagement is seemingly one of the Holy Grails of consumer marketing. But what does that mean? And what are its limits?

Episode Description

Christine Chang, BSBA 2004, recalls the moment in the back seat of a cab, heading across Manhattan to her next appointment. She and her cofounder, Sarah Lee, finally had to have a tough conversation about the future of their beauty business Glow Recipe.

The pair had originally built a successful business focused on curating Korean beauty products produced by other manufacturers. A business that had generated a significant customer following and an engaged fan base through savvy use of social media. A business that generated the majority of Glow Recipe's revenue, which was reported to be $1 million in their first year of business and growing triple digits year over year.

But the other 10% of their revenue was calling to them. That was the revenue that began to grow in 2017 after Glow Recipe started its own in-house brand of beauty products. And there Chang and Lee sat, in the back of a cab in early 2019.

“As a growing but small team, we were being pulled in multiple directions by having to manage a rapidly growing in-house brand and another business vertical together," Chang, BSBA 2004, recalled. “We talked seriously about whether this was sustainable. Five years from now, what will we wish we'd done? By the end of that cab ride, we had aligned.”

The curation business had to go. Glow Recipe would be all-in with its in-house brand of products. People would have to be let go. Inventory had to be shed. Their online community of fans and customers—invested in one version of Glow Recipe—would have to be invited along for a difficult transition.

Skincare brands are typically known to position their brands as either serious and clinically efficacious or whimsical and fun. Glow Recipe's mission was to combine both worlds into a line of products that delivered results but were also sensorial, joyful and approachable.

“It was a massive pivot to shut down the curated business,” Chang said. “As the brand grew, we realized we couldn't do both.” Two years later, the pivot paid off as Chang and Lee’s company continued an explosive growth trend.

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This podcast is a production of Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis. Contributors include:

  • Katie Wools, Cathy Myrick, Judy Milanovits and Lesley Liesman, creative assistance
  • Jill Young Miller, fact checking and creative assistance
  • Hayden Molinarolo, original music and sound design
  • Mike Martin Media, editing
  • Sophia Passantino, social media
  • Lexie O'Brien and Erik Buschardt, website support
  • Paula Crews, creative vision and strategic support

Special thanks to Ray Irving and his team at WashU Olin’s Center for Digital Education, including our audio engineer, Austin Alred.

Additional information

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Kurt Greenbaum, Communications Director

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