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Sean Bisceglia: “Beauty is tied to culture”

Perhaps more than any other industry, beauty is tied to culture. Knowing your consumer is the most salient factor to success in the beauty industry. Not only “who are they?” but what type of music do they listen to, what type of lifestyle do they want to live, where do they like to spend time? […]

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Perhaps more than any other industry, beauty is tied to culture. Knowing your consumer is the most salient factor to success in the beauty industry. Not only “who are they?” but what type of music do they listen to, what type of lifestyle do they want to live, where do they like to spend time? The more you understand them, the more you can develop products that will fit them like a glove. Success in the beauty industry is highly linked to intuitively adapting to your consumer.

This really plays into the shift away from fast beauty and fast fashion, which are being recognized these days as having contributed to over purchasing, clutter, and waste. These days, consumers are switching a more minimal approach and are making investments in brands they really care about. Brands who want to succeed in the modern beauty industry have to first recognize that and then act accordingly. That also goes for using more natural ingredients. As I mentioned earlier, people are gravitating towards simple and safe. In order for beauty brands to stay relevant, they’re going to have to adapt to that.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Sean Bisceglia of Curion.

Sean has specialized in accelerating growth and establishing leadership positions for companies in the HCM industry, with a focus on launching disruptive technologies. He has founded and led four companies that achieved rapid market acceptance and global distribution of its products and services. Bisceglia’s business success began 25 years ago when he founded TFA, a technology-focused ad agency that achieved significant success. TFA was sold to Leo Burnett in 1998. After TFA, Mr. Bisceglia partnered with William Blair Ventures to acquire Corporate Project Resources, Inc (“CPRi”) where he doubled revenues in less than 2 years. In 2007, Mr. Bisceglia founded TalentDrive where he formed one of the first technology-enabled staffing businesses in the industry. In 2013, Mr. Bisceglia founded and became CEO of Scout Exchange, a platform for marketplace recruiting that serves Fortune 500 companies.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

From selling seashells on the New Jersey shoreline as a 10-year-old to selling companies a few years out of college, I’ve always gravitated towards business. I started my first company, TFA, with a loan from my father. After a few years of growth and momentum, I sold TFA to Leo Burnett Worldwide, making me the youngest executive vice president in the company’s history. Ever since, I’ve been leading and building value within companies across many verticals, from marketing, staffing and HR software, to now, a global product insights firm. Along the way, I have developed a playbook that has come to do me very well.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

The biggest lesson I have learned, (unfortunately the hard way) was learning when to pull the plug. Whether small or large, on an entire company or simply an initiative, there is a time you must chalk it up and call it a day. The idea of quitting was foreign to me, as it is to most entrepreneurs. There’s your own ego and pride, not to mention the guilt that is shellacked to you like glue when you think of letting down your investors, family and employees. What I can tell you from personal experience is, when you lose all your money and your investors’ cash, you learn that it’s more important to fail fast, than to hold on when everything, and everyone on around you is telling you to let go.

Since then, I have three barometers that keep me honest, which in hindsight would have given me the clue to exit my third company sooner.

  1. Failure to meet basic metrics: When I first noticed that growth was stagnant and cash flow wasn’t, well, flowing, I told myself: “Give it one more year… just invest a little more money.” That should have been my alarm going off.
  2. Listen to your advisers and friends: When those around you are not as emotionally invested, it’s easy to shrug them off, but that’s exactly why you should listen to them.
  3. You can only control what you can control: In the rush and excitement to get to market,if there is no need, there is no business. But take it one step further, and same goes if you have the wrong technology, or the wrong team, or pricing of your product is too low or high and lack of marketing.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

I’d have to say selling my first company. It’s one thing to look at the company you’ve created and feel proud of it, and another when someone else recognizes how much work you’ve put into your company and values it enough to buy it from you — it’s a truly fantastic feeling. Since selling TFA to Leo Burnett, I’ve always tried to hire people who are smarter than me. The people you surround yourself with is the difference between success and failure.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There really is something to be said about a personal and professional relationship that thrives off of a deep mutual respect, aligned values, and similar interests. Someone who can give you the hard truth with a lighthearted smile. It also doesn’t hurt if you’d willingly spend a day out sailing together too. Since I sold CPRi to Aquent in 2005, John Chaung, CEO and Chairman, has been a partner, a confident, a loyal ally, and a reliable friend. Since then, we started Talent Drive and Scout Exchange together, and remain very close. I’ve learned a lot from John — namely how foundational a solid culture is in building success. My career absolutely would not have been the same without him in it.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. The global beauty industry today has grown to more than a half a trillion-dollar business. Can you tell us about the innovations that you are bringing to the industry? How do you think that will help people?

With consumers evolving, we’ve been doing everything in our power to arm our clients with the insights they need to successfully pivot in this market. At the beginning of the pandemic, we launched a study capitalizing on our database of over 80,000 consumers from across the country. We carefully tracked every facet of their experience — from their day to day decisions, emotional states, and routines, each detail crystalizing into the larger story needed to fuel our clients’ innovation.

Considering every single consumer’s life was suddenly turned upside down, revolving around totally new sets of needs and desires (i.e. hand sanitizer > Chanel Number 5), and evolving at such a rapid pace that consumers themselves had no idea how to behave. Attempting to innovate at this rate almost requires a literal consumer decision making play-by-play. We’re trying to give our clients the closest thing to that as possible — from in-context insights in the lab, sensory insights, market insights, and digital insights — to empower them to live in a constant state of innovation. Being quick and nimble is no longer a great asset; it’s a necessity. In a recent client survey we launched, 86% of clients admit to an increased focus on innovation for the second half of the year into 2021. For the beauty industry in particular, companies have been completely restructuring their business models. Their consumers are swapping salon appointments for DIY subscription boxes, and traditional makeup for a revamped skin care routine. The only way to stay afloat is to survive.

We began 2020 with the launch of our LifeLabs solution to research done in real life. We have not steered away from this, but have come to understand that since home is the new “in-context,” it’s critical for us to gain these insights now more than ever. We’ve been using both in-person and digital testing to extract insights. In doing so, we are partnering with subscription-based monthly box services to circulate our clients’ products to consumers at home. In May, we reopened all our facilities and have been using a 70/30 ratio of in-person and digital, empowering clients with the well-rounded insight they need to successfully evolve.

Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the modern beauty industry?

The growing emphasis on self-care.

Though the idea that skin care is health care has been around for a while now, we’ve seen a substantial uptick in time spent on self-care and skin care routines since the pandemic. In March, 66% of people reported they were using skin and body care as a way to destress. In May, 88% of people reported using skin and body care as a way to destress. As a lot of people are focusing on their skin care more heavily than ever right now, I think that’s really going to have a permanent effect on people’s routines long term.

Researching Online, Buying in Person

One of our leading beauty clients shared that they were seeing an increase in clients doing their research online, then, doing their shopping in person. Because of this increase in online traffic, they are using this opportunity to reposition their products online. People want to spend less time inside retail stores, and therefore, seeing this trend of increased list making so they can get in and out quicker. They are conducting their research ahead of time, looking at the competition, and understanding what it is they are looking for, and therefore, we are seeing an increase in clients wanting to conduct more packaging and claims testing.

Clean Beauty on the Rise

I’m really encouraged by the trend towards transparency and minimal ingredients. By 2030, I think clean beauty will be the only beauty. Top beauty companies will earn consumers’ trust through an eco-ethical mission rather than fear marketing. With the post-pandemic emphasis on products being “safe” and “healthy,” I think this trend will continue to spread.

Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to improve the industry, what would you suggest?

I’m most concerned about the beauty industry’s ability to adapt their offerings as quickly as consumers’ needs are changing. For instance, foundations that don’t rub off underneath a mask. Post-COVID trends such as simple and safe should also inform product development. Product development quick wins will be key — if a product is introduced to market successfully, companies should be prepared to relate this same formula to other new products. The ability to think outside the box and capitalize on technology is also necessary for success. Beauty magazine Allure developed a makeup app that allows consumers to virtually try on different make-up looks from hundreds of different brands. Brands are getting creative which is really fun to see.

You are an expert about beauty. Can you share a few ideas that anyone can use “to feel beautiful”?

Beauty is something deeply personal and can mean completely different things to different people. So when beauty products are customized to reflect the consumers’ unique hair type, skin tone, and distinctive taste, the sensation of “feeling beautiful” is much more attainable. Beauty companies are more and more focusing on creating products that fit consumers’ individual needs and bodies. For example, many companies that have developed subscription-based packages are curated from consumer’s responses to a questionnaire, such as a shampoo developed for a certain hair consistency, or foundation matches based on the color and brand you’ve been using at home.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, Can you please share “Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry”. Please share a story or an example, for each.

Perhaps more than any other industry, beauty is tied to culture. Knowing your consumer is the most salient factor to success in the beauty industry. Not only “who are they?” but what type of music do they listen to, what type of lifestyle do they want to live, where do they like to spend time? The more you understand them, the more you can develop products that will fit them like a glove. Success in the beauty industry is highly linked to intuitively adapting to your consumer.

This really plays into the shift away from fast beauty and fast fashion, which are being recognized these days as having contributed to over purchasing, clutter, and waste. These days, consumers are switching a more minimal approach and are making investments in brands they really care about. Brands who want to succeed in the modern beauty industry have to first recognize that and then act accordingly. That also goes for using more natural ingredients. As I mentioned earlier, people are gravitating towards simple and safe. In order for beauty brands to stay relevant, they’re going to have to adapt to that.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I have always had a lifelong admiration for the understated beauty of the ocean, and since growing up on the New Jersey shoreline, I have felt a tug of protectiveness for what felt was “my beach”.

To this day, the massive amounts of trash polluting our oceans sickens me. Garbage patches have formed and are growing in mass size across the World. These massive collections of plastic, floating trash that are hundreds of thousands square miles large is truly appalling. To think that we as humans are capable of such destruction is a monstrosity.

My movement would be sparking true action for ocean cleanup — so hopefully together we can reverse at least some of the damage.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

When I was around 15 years old, my father told me, “You won’t make any money working for someone else.” I’d always had a desire to carve out my own path, but these words solidified my entrepreneurial spirit. When things get hard, I always think back to these words. Working for yourself can be grueling, but it’s worth it.


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