‘I dreamed of being the Net-A-Porter of beauty’

Zu Rafalat, 30, founded online beauty retailer zuneta.com in 2008

Inspire and Mentor
Inspire and Mentor
(Image credit: Ginny Jory)

Zu Rafalat, 30, founded online beauty retailer zuneta.com in 2008

‘When you’re used to working for a big multinational company, one of the toughest parts about starting your own business is suddenly having to do everything yourself.

'When I launched my beauty website in 2008, I’d been working at Maybelline, where there were HR departments, PAs and marketing staff.

'Suddenly, I found myself doing everything from answering the phone to unpacking delivery lorries. You don’t appreciate the value of an IT department until a printer breaks down.

‘I was living in New York when I came up with the concept for Zuneta. There were plenty of beauty websites in the US, but no British equivalent.

'Fashion had Net-A-Porter, but I felt there was a gap in the market. The prospect of leaving my job was scary.

'But I was still in my twenties and if there was ever going to be a good time to take a risk it was then. I was also lucky to have £50,000 of savings.

‘Back in London, I rented an office space, registered a URL and put together a wish list of the brands I wanted to approach. Then I started cold-calling.

'It was daunting approaching such big brands, but after a few weeks, make up brand Becca called me in for a meeting. It went really well and I realised that I had a flair for pitching ideas.

'Even better, the MD confirmed that she wanted to come on board. Walking away from that meeting felt amazing. For the first time, I knew the website would work. After that it was easier to secure the smaller, indie brands.

‘Three years on, we have more than 50 brands, from Trilogy to KMS. Persuading big companies to sell with us is still a challenge; there’s a real sense that beauty products must be bought in store, so they can be touched and tried. But we’re on track to turn over £1.5m this year.’

ALWAYS UPDATE: ‘As your virtual “storefront”, your home page must sell your business. I hold weekly meetings about appearance and content.’

ADVERTISE ONLINE: ‘ “Affiliate advertising” helps drive people to your site. It involves placing an ad on other companies’ sites. If anyone clicks through and buys something, the host site takes a cut.’

Zu (Zuneta.com) won the Iris Award for successfully using IT and communications at the NatWest everywoman Awards.