JinWook Lee

Chin Wook Lee, the founder of South Korean skin-care brand Dr. Jart, likes a challenge.

On a quest to find a product “that would amaze consumers worldwide” the trained architect decided the beauty space was the place to be, he said. As he was looking for products that hadn’t been seen before, he came across blemish balm in a South Korean skin-care clinic.

It was 2004, and the concept of a skin-care-makeup hybrid was new, developed for South Korean women looking to shorten their beauty routine as they entered the workforce, Lee said.

Lee decided BB Cream was a good jumping off point and started selling it online. While many beauty brands started expanding by jumping to other Asian markets, Lee decided to enter the U.S., introducing BB cream to the region. “No other South Korean beauty companies were entering the U.S. at the time,” Lee said.

In 2011, Dr. Jart entered Sephora in the U.S. with two products at 10 stores — now, the brand has about 50 products in about 1,000 Sephora stores, Lee said. Following success in the U.S. market, the brand expanded to Russia, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Central America. Now, Dr. Jart is sold in 36 countries and 5,500 stores.

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“We like to think of ourselves as musicians,” Lee said. The goal, he noted, is making a “classic” — a product that will be loved throughout time. BB Cream was the “first album,” he noted — but many more have followed, including the brand’s Ceramidin, Cicapair and Peptidin lines.

To communicate, the brand opts for animation. “Instead of using famous models or celebrity endorsements we wanted to use our own witty communication to show how funny we are,” Lee said.

It seems to be working — Dr. Jart reached almost $340 million in sales for 2017, Lee said.

Digital is a big part of that equation. Real time communication via social media is something Millennial consumers expect, Lee said. “Thinking, acting and sharing happen all simultaneously,” Lee said. “In this landscape if we study the way they live and act…we’re already one step behind.”

In order to keep pace, the company has built a work environment where employees are encouraged to be enthusiastic and move fast. The business also pushes employees to look beyond cosmetics for inspiration.

“It’s not study and then act that is important anymore,” Lee said. “It is the speed of action that has become more important than anything. That’s why an environment where we can be excited to act is important to be in line with the fast-changing digital environment.”

At Dr. Jart, the team has something Lee refers to as “crazy meeting” — an open meeting — unstructured, not in a conference room, frequently with alcohol — where employees are encouraged to present any and all ideas. The idea is that “you shine when you talk about something you’re really crazy about,” Lee said.

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