Michelle Phan skyrocketed to international fame in 2009 with a viral Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” make up tutorial. Since then Phan has become a member of Youtube royalty, one of the most recognizable beauty gurus with almost 9 million subscribers and over billion views of her videos.

In 2016 Phan reached a new milestone and co-founded Ipsy, beauty sampling company, which is reportedly worth $500 million. With all of that many would think she’d be happy with herself. Yet, that was not how she felt.

 I peaced out because I think I was going through depression. You would think, This achievement is great. You should be happy. But I wasn’t. I was waking up feeling so broken.

Being broken had a lot to do with Em, the make up line that she started in partnership with L’Oreal back in 2013. The line didn’t sell well and was blasted with critical reviews from her fans, who labeled her as a “sold out”. The harsh criticism was targeted at the high price point and quality of the products that didn’t live up to expectations. Phan was deeply involved in the development of Em and its failure took a toll on her. “At that time, when the brand did fail, I was really sad. Because it was three years of my life that I gave and could never take back. I traveled a lot, I was never at home, I never saw my family. And then it failed just like that.”

She fell into a deep depression, which prompted her to unplug for months and travel around the world. “But people literally thought I had died. “Where are you Michelle? Are you ok?” They thought something was wrong with me. But I just needed a break. It was a way to show my followers that even someone like me needs a break; the pressure of being “on” all the time is not realistic.” Seven months gave her peace and clarity on where to refocus her attention. She realized that her previous goals and aspirations were, in a way, determined by people in her life. And recognizing that gave her the power to take control back and decide, what does she really want for herself.


Humble beginnings

But this was not her first time dealing with depression. Born to Vietnamese refugees parents, Phan had to deal with the pain of growing up on food stamps and bullies in middle school. That’s exactly when she turned to the Internet. Phan was preparing to be a doctor all her high school but made a last minute choice to apply for art school to a huge dismay of her mother. At art school she was given a Macbook, a pivotal turn in her life. She posted her very first make up video in 2007 and got 70,000 views within the first two weeks, which was a huge deal in those early days of Youtube.

So it’s not surprising to see her turning negativity into creativity. At first, when Em cosmetics flopped, Phan didn’t take it well, but know she views it as a second chance. “I was really hurt when the brand didn’t take off,” she says. “It just sucked. But I learned a lot from that and I think it was really important for me to fail. It was through that failure that I started to get more interested in the business aspect of everything.” She bought Em cosmetics back from L’Oreal via her beauty sampling company and re-launched it on April 17th.


New aesthetic, new vision

It took her a year to develop a new stripped-down aesthetic, starting with a logo, which features a geometric shape inspired by sacred geometry and the platonic solids. The new product line has only two categories – liquid eyeliners and liquid lipsticks. This time around she turned to her followers for inspiration and asked fans to comment with their requests.

While Phan herself doesn’t create content on Youtube that much anymore she nurtured more than 10, 000 up-and-coming creators through her Ipsy OS program. Re-launched Em cosmetics’ marketing strategy is crafted around digital influencers. Phan already chose five “muses” to represent the brand, including her sister-in-law and fellow Youtuber Promise Phan, who is famous in her own right for viral celebrity and character transformations videos. The remaining muses – Jessica StanleyRoxette ArisaMariah Leonard, and Jade Simmone have subscribers ranging from 1,500 to over a million.

Time will show whether or not Phan will make the most of her second chance but autonomy and total strategic control definitely boosts her confidence.

My soul is in it and it’s something I’m truly invested in it. It’s a company that’s really mine. And, this time around, failure doesn’t scare me anymore. I’m like Jon Snow: I’m not afraid of dying again.

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