Q&A with Shark Tank presenter Fiona Co Chan ’13
Shark Tank presenter Fiona Co Chan ’13 discussed entrepreneurship, social media, Shark Tank and her time at Dartmouth.
On March 3, Fiona Co Chan ’13 appeared on the hit ABC show Shark Tank seeking investors for Youthforia, a plant-based makeup company she launched in 2021. After Co Chan’s pitch, billionaire investor Mark Cuban invested $400,000 in her business. Youthforia has also garnered notable social media attention, amassing four million likes on TikTok and more than 61,000 followers on Instagram. The Dartmouth sat down with Co Chan to discuss entrepreneurship, her appearance on Shark Tank and how her experiences at Dartmouth have impacted her career.
What is Youthforia, and what inspired you to start the company?
FCC: At Youthforia, we create makeup you can sleep in. I test all of our products by sleeping in them, and I have my husband sleep in all of our products as well. We’re best known for creating the world’s first color-changing blush oil. We launched the brand in 2021, but I was really inspired to start it in 2020. I realized my normal skincare and makeup just didn’t work — every time I slept in my makeup, my skin would react. I am someone who, if I’m out with my friends, will fall asleep in my makeup. I really just wanted makeup that could make my skin better and could act like skincare that I could wear at any time of the day. We launched in 2021 and quickly went viral on TikTok for our color-changing blush, and then we most recently launched Youthforia products at Ulta Beauty — we’re the first East Asian makeup brand in Ulta. And then very recently — a couple weeks ago — we were on Shark Tank and were Mark Cuban’s first makeup deal.
Could you walk me through the process of starting Youthforia?
FCC: Well, it was a very different time in the world. It was during the pandemic, so I really couldn’t go out and see people. I also had no industry experience, and I was stuck in Hong Kong, where I didn’t expect to be, due to travel restrictions at the time. So at that time, it was just a lot of researching manufacturers without really visiting many of them and figuring out what could work for Youthforia. It was really just about finding partners that could work with my crazy ideas. For many of our products, there’s no existing product, so a lot of the process was figuring out how to communicate with our manufacturers to discuss adjusting formulas, adjusting textures and getting the right ingredients. The big difference in some of our products is that we formulate in a bio-based way, which means we try to not use fossil fuels when possible –– a lot of makeup is made out of fossil fuels. We’ll look for plant-based ingredients instead, even if it’s a synthetic ingredient.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you have faced while launching and growing Youthforia?
FCC: There’s a lot. In the beginning, I was going into a couple of new industries, so it was just figuring out how to create products — how to manufacture products. And then by the time we launched and actually moved back to the US, the biggest challenge was figuring out how to market a green, color-changing blush oil. No one’s ever done it before, and there’s no concept of it. Trying to figure that out was challenging, and now it’s growing the brand. There’s always challenges. It’s a little bit different every single month.
You mentioned that growth is your current focus. How has social media factored into Youthforia’s growth?
FCC: TikTok is huge for our growth. I actually still solely manage our TikTok. In the beginning, it was just me creating videos, demonstrating, “this is a color changing blush versus a powder blush or a different blush type,” just to really introduce the product to customers. And very soon after, we just started going viral –– our customers would post and they would go viral. It’s a huge part of our strategy just being able to educate and talk about our products. Sometimes in our videos we go very deep into what it’s like to build a brand or deep into the science behind our products.
You mentioned that you used plant-based products for your company. What else makes Youthforia unique in the beauty industry?
FCC: For almost every product category that we create, I do try to create a lot of innovation or something different. We did that with our blush by making it a blush oil, which is really hard to do, and by making it color-changing. And then we did it again with our primer. Our primer is so different from any of the other primers out there. It has different textures, it interacts really differently with your skin and the same thing is true with our setting spray and our face wash. And then a thing that’s really different for us is that our makeup products are really meant to act like skincare. They have all these skincare ingredients at the functional level. It’s a very different experience than traditional makeup when you actually put it on.
I would love to hear about your time on Shark Tank.
FCC: Shark Tank was a really fun experience. We filmed last year, and the entire time I was very nervous because I changed my pitch a few times. In my pitch I actually put makeup on, and that was very nerve-wracking because you have about 15 seconds to really get it right. You can actually see this in the clip — I’m very nervous until I actually put the blush on, but I ended up having a really great time. I remember thinking that it was a very fun way to do a serious business meeting because I was super dressed up, but I had a really fun set.
Shifting gears, how did your time at Dartmouth influence your career path?
FCC: Dartmouth definitely influences a lot of our product names. We have a shade of lip gloss called ‘To Play with Fire’ that reminded me of the bonfire at Homecoming. I think Dartmouth is a really unique place because you meet so many people from all these different places around the world, and that’s been so important for me when I started working on the brand because I do work with a lot of international people. That was a huge appreciation that I developed after I left Dartmouth — it’s really easy to connect with basically anyone around the world. I don’t take that for granted.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.