Beauty by the Geeks – Interview with Entrepreneur Brigitte West

Profile of an Entrepreneur

Brigitte West – aged 23 – Newcastle University Student (third year) and co-founder of Beauty by the Geeks.


1.       What is Beauty by the Geeks mission statement?

To demystify all the science behind the cosmetic industry so EVERYONE can understand it, regardless of from science back ground or not.

2.       What is your personal mission within that?

To get more women to feel engaged and empowered within business and to also encourage more women into STEM subjects.

3.       How would you define your product/service?

Current – We put cosmetic science into layman’s terms so that everyone can understand it. We explain the products on the market via our unbiased reviews and teach people how to make their own cosmetics and what’s behind them.

Our product and service is always evolving. Our long term aim is have our own cosmetic beauty products. However, our business has recently taken an unexpected turn with increased media interested, we are in talks to develop a programme with channel four and we’re also developing a few seminars, so we can go into schools and Universities.

4.       How did the idea for Beauty by the Geeks come about?

Me and my co-founder Rose Brown were walking into university and chatting about all our favourite products and the claimed science behind them. You know the adverts on television, when they quote all these science terms, percentages and ingredients!?  We soon realised that as scientists we didn’t understand our products, so how were people without a science background going to? That’s why we started the blog and it’s grown from there.

The branding came from networking within the north east business community. Firstly, it struck us that with the science side, there aren’t many girls doing what we do. Most science girls hide away in labs. Secondly, within business, there aren’t as many girls doing what we do. So we decided to exploit that. We are business women, we are self-confessed science geeks and we are women who love make up!

5.       How long did it take to realise?

Before we launched the blog we spent 6 months planning the content and making sure we had legalities covered. After we launched it snowballed so quickly, much more quickly than anticipated! A lot of our careful planning was out the window and it was weeks later we made it a Limited Company.

6.       Did it organically come into being or was there a structured process to get from A to B?

It did mostly organically happen – lots of people were interested from the start but we did work really hard to get the idea out there. Obviously there was planning before the launch and research to see if it could work. But once the idea got out, it grew like a monster.

7.       When was the moment you actually thought “hang on, there could be a business here!?”

After we had 10,000 hits in 10 days and lots of people asking to meet/ interview us. Our business plan was developed en route really. I know you’re not supposed to say that! It is only now that we have a firm idea of what we would like to do in the long term and have lots of plans. Before, we thought, we’d have time to develop the blog and market it over the course of University and then make a go of it, but it did it on its own really. Then we had the moment where we were like “oh…right….what on earth do we do now!? This could be huge!” It was scary, but we scrapped our plan and just thought, there is no point waiting until after University, let’s make it happen now!

8.       Why do you think Beauty by the Geek has been such a success so far?

When we did our research, we realised that there is nothing like it on the market. There are plenty of beauty blogs on the market but nothing that focuses just on science. Our courses are pretty unique as well. We are not just focused on selling you beauty products or promoting a particular product, we’ve been sent (even though we are sent lots of freebies!), and our commitment is to education.

We have been a little bit stuck over whether we should even launch our cosmetic range, because it might lessen our objectivity. It was a long term goal of ours and is still in the business plan but with the education side being the focus at the moment and developing that, we’ve put it on the back burner.

Do you do any market research before setting up the blog to suss out your audience?

Yes! We thought it would be a brilliant idea, but we are geeks and well…it might not appeal. We both read lots of blogs and magazines so we knew our audience well. We searched the market to see if there was anything else like it. We did lots of focus groups about the lay out. We also got out there at events and asked about.

But to be honest, when we started we didn’t have a clue about what you are “supposed” to do…we just did what we thought we needed to. I wouldn’t say we did brilliant market research because it worked for us.

9.       Who is your audience?

Beauty fans and science enthusiasts. We considered at the beginning it would actually appeal to our age up to mid-thirties and mostly women. But that was an assumption completely. We have a huge older audience; hence we do a lot about anti-aging products and the like. Also, we have quite a draw with men! Now that was a surprise.

10.   What are your expectations of the company within the next 18months?

To establish the foundations more so it’s ready to run with when I graduate. What I’ve learnt is that whilst somethings happen so quickly, others take a lot longer. So last April, when we got the channel four call, I thought…oh gosh, we’re going to be on TV, within a couple of months. But this programme is in development and we are still attending meetings. They are aware we are young, have commitments and when they contacted us, we had only been running a month! On their side, they wanted a programme with us, but they weren’t sure how exactly….if we’d front it, if we’d just be a part of a larger programme?

We’ve done lots of TV in general now though. Getting better at it.

11.   What would you do within Beauty by the Geek with unlimited resources?

Develop our own product range!!

12.   What are the short term plans? What are the long term plans?

Short term plans are to expand the beauty by the geeks team, we can no longer do it alone and to build up the brand. Long term develop a product and run the courses nationally. (We’ve had international interest too)

13.   Do you have an exit strategy?

Not really!!! This is my baby. But we’ve come to a funny point; we always wanted to do this but we had contingency plans in terms of, for us career wise. We both had placements set up over the summer and things like that. The intention was to pursue both, but now (whilst I will get my degree); I’m not focusing on a career doing anything else.

14.   If you were starting again, would you do anything differently? If so, what?

Yes but you always learn best from mistakes! I would do my accounts religiously from day 1. Doesn’t every business person say that?!

15.   How much time do you spend working on the business in an average week?

Every free hour I have! This summer I have been working 12 hr days pretty much 7 days a week but the flexibility with being your own boss really works well for me. I’m starting to work much less now I’m back at uni but still about 4/5 hrs a day.

16.   Have you sacrificed anything for its success?

My social life. I didn’t do much but work on the business this summer but now it’s much more founded, I’m getting it back….slowly. Even when I am trying to be social, I’m thinking about the business in my head. Labour of love.

17.   Have you acquired investment to expand or what is your funding strategy?

We’ve got a contract with Newcastle University to run the outreach programmes in schools in North East and we’ve won a few competitions for website development and legal costs. We get sponsorship to do our events.

We’ve got lots of things in the pipe line and we get paid for the courses/seminars we do.

We spent a lot of time in London with different organisations and people which they covered our costs for. Which was nice.

We try to go to lots of the big networking events and science events to get ourselves out there….our family have been good at contributing to helping us go and we’ve managed to get funding from our University too.

We’ve had a lot of cosmetic companies approach us with sponsorship with some hefty figures. But, that is not within the ethos of our business. We’d simply end up promoting their products which is NOT what we are about.

18.   Your business is in a start up phase online, were you ever dwarfed by the tech side?

Completely! We have a really good web/ graphic designer though.  That is my biggest piece of advice, make friends with a graphic designer. Make it work for you! He is looking for something special to put on his portfolio and you’re looking for his skill set!

19.   How do you feel about the power of the internet? What did you do to get noticed?

Social media is so powerful and it’s how we grew awareness of the blog. Before launch, we’d already developed our networks and done a lot of the research. We’d been to the science events, chatted to people about what we were doing and been in touch with local press and University press. So when it came out, some people were looking for us…..but we couldn’t have predicted how quickly it exploded.

20.   What is a typical day for you? Where does Beauty by the Geeks fit in?

It depends if I have uni or not! If I have University I usually fit in meeting and emails around my lectures, if not I ram as many different things in the day as possible! What is sleep again?

21.   What is an entrepreneur? How would you describe one?

An entrepreneur is someone that’s driven and can see an opportunity where a lot of other people can’t.

Actually no, an entrepreneur is someone who can see the opportunity and makes it happen. Where a lot of other people think it is a good idea and just don’t have the will and drive to make it happen.

22.   Would you define yourself as an entrepreneur? Or how would you define yourself?

I would define myself as very driven and dedicated. I like to work within a team to spot the opportunities and make the most of them though; different people see different things. I also like to bounce my ideas off other people as I don’t have the longest attention span.

Working in a duo is perfect for me. We are the perfect partnership. She is head down and planning and doing….I’m all over the place, representing and thinking of ideas. Rose keeps me grounded and focused.

No I wouldn’t describe myself as an entrepreneur, I’d say Rose and me combined are entrepreneurs. I had the idea and the dream…..Rose saw the long term business.

23.   Which entrepreneurs/business people do you most admire?

People like Bill Gates – fantastic business man but also does some really inspiring charity work. I also admire the likes of Tara Banks. Haha! She has built an empire, but she has tried lots of different business things along the way and had loads of failures. But some of the things she has done have been super successful. She realises that SHE is the product.

24.   Do you think anyone can start up a business?

No, not everyone is passionate and motivated enough.  I think anyone with the right drive can start up a business. You have to be focused because you learn quickly by doing and that it is not all fun making your idea materialise. I think being a successful business really depends on the team/ people around you. We have some fantastic mentors that guided us through the process and helped us get over any hurdles.

But millions of times, I was sat in my bedroom thinking, I’m sick of this. I think the difference is, some people just don’t give up.

The thing that annoys me the most is sometimes people think we just stumbled onto a good idea and it happened for us. Like “you’re so lucky” sort of thing. But every single business person will tell you, it takes blood, sweat and tears to make it happen.

25.   Do you think some people are just born natural business people? Or do you think it can be learnt from experience/education?

I think it’s a bit of both! The kids in the playground selling sweets for a profit at 7 are a good example of born business people but you learn a lot as you go along though and asking questions is always the best way I’ve found.

Before Beauty by the Geeks, I’d have never said I was a business person, but now I am in business I realise it plays to my strengths. But the areas I have been lacking in, I’ve gone out and learnt along the way.

26.   You’re from a science background, what extent was your knowledge of business and entrepreneurship before Beauty by the Geeks?

I didn’t really have that much knowledge of entrepreneurship but had worked in a variety of different businesses. I did a lot of work with corporate sponsorship of the social sector so learnt a lot about how businesses interact through that.

When I was about 17, I knew I liked science and I knew I liked business. I never thought I’d want to necessarily own or run a business, but outside of school, I always seeked out work experience within business sector and loved it.

27.   What area of business do you struggle with the most?

The bits I find boring like accounts and finance. Also, I hate the things you have to do! This is where Rose comes in! I know our ideas but putting them into a business plan was the absolute pits!

Also, initially I struggled with criticism. We’d work so hard on it and then someone would make a comment and I’d want to punch them! But now, I see it as they are only trying to help. If it wasn’t for all the feedback and criticism we had, we wouldn’t be where we are now.

28.   What inspires you? Motivates you?

The people around me – when they’re excited about something you’re doing it always rubs off. Also seeing through our mission, to educate and demystify and staying true to that.

29.   Describe yourself in three words?

Outgoing, bubbly and motivated.

30.   What is success? (Personal and Beauty by the Geeks?)

Achieving whatever you set out to achieve.

31.   What has your highlight of the past 12months been?

This summers events, especially the British Science Festival at the end. Brilliant to be a part of it all.

32.   Low point?

Rose decided to take a step back for 3rd year to concentrate on her studies as she’s looking to do a PhD. That was hard because we became a bit of a double act and it was nerve racking going alone. However, we’ve now recruited a big team of support around us and it’s working out really well. Rose can now balance her studies and do BBTG and doesn’t mean I’m just alone!

I’ve learnt so much from Rose in terms of planning and things. She is my voice of motivation and the person I call when I feel like throwing my accounts away.  A lot of people go it alone from the beginning; I was blessed to have a support step from the beginning from her.

But her passion is the science side and not the business. Which is sad but I know my passion is this business. Getting that out on the table made it easier. It isn’t a parting of ways or anything, it is just…….adjusting to different roles and having more control over things.

33.   What excites you?

New opportunities and the future! I’m doing what I want to do. Not many people can say that. Beauty by the geeks is evolutionary. I’m excited to see where it all goes…..with how much things changed and happened in a year, in two years, my service could be different. It is all about refining and redesigning; learning as I go.

34.   What are you most nervous about for the future?

Third year – I’m nervous about not getting the work/ life balance right and failing my degree. I speak to lots of entrepreneurs who have dropped out and failed in order to run the business. I promised my parents that I wouldn’t do that.

I’m a little sad, that my mentality is just about getting Uni over with and done, so I can do this full time. If it goes wrong, I’ll have shot myself in the foot. But it is a risk I’m going to take.

35.   You work with a business partner….Do you have different roles? Symbiotic relationship?

We have a very symbiotic relationship. I love going out and getting new opportunities and Rose loves to concentrate on the details to make sure it actually works. We work really well together and that’s probably because we’re very different with a shared passion.

When we go to events, I’m the voice of Beauty by the Geeks and working the room. She gives me pleading looks across the room to leave as soon as possible. Haha! But once you get her talking about the business and the science, she can chat away for hours.

36.   As a business person, what would you say your ideals are?

To achieve everything I set out to achieve but to do it fairly. Idealistic maybe?! I want to be a nice person, a nice business woman. Is that possible?

37.   Do you think there is a successful pattern to becoming an entrepreneur?

No, I think hard work always pays off. If you’ve got a good idea and the motivation to do it then hopefully you learn how to be a good entrepreneur as you go along.

Being an entrepreneur is like, when everything clicks and comes together at once. You’ve got all these skills, ideas, people around you, personality traits and suddenly they all come together!

Also, being an entrepreneur isn’t about being successful. We’ve learnt that many times. Being an entrepreneur is about all the meetings you were unprepared for, being asked that awkward question on stage at a pitch, not being able to justify something and making silly mistakes……it is about how you recover from them.

38.   Before Beauty by the Geeks, what were your career aspirations? In the long term, what are they now?

I used to think I would either study post grad medicine or get a PhD. Now I will definitely do something with business and science but I’m unsure what yet. I’ll run BBTG after I graduate and take it from there – who knows if it’ll be successful (hope it will be!). It is successful now in its infancy and there are lots of plans…..

So my aspiration is to give it a real go after University. If not, I’ll regroup and think of something else. Regardless, I know at the heart of BBTG there is the seeds for something fantastic… just might turn out to not be in the BBTG format.

39.   Whilst running Beauty by the Geeks, you’ve also done fantastically well academically and within working for others; where do you feel most comfortable?

I actually love a mixture. Now I’ve had a taste of working for myself I reckon it’ll be hard to go back to working for someone else fulltime but I’ve worked for some amazing people, learnt a lot. I really like my course too so don’t mind having days mixed between BBTG, working part time and studying. If I’m not busy I don’t do anything so it’s better for me to do all three atm!

I’m sure you’ll agree, that working for someone else successfully, means you need space to have ideas, responsibility and creativity. I HATE bring micro managed.

40.   What do attribute all your personal successes to?

Hard work and the supportive group of people around me.

41.   What is your background before Beauty by the Geeks?

I left to school and went and worked for a charity in Bolivia for a year and then took another year out after that to travel and work for Santander plc. I then came to university, where I have waitressed and doing lots of corporate fundraising for Disability North.

Through Santander and Disability North, I’ve been on a range of business courses and training. I feel it set me up nicely.

42.   What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses?

Strengths – My drive and determination to achieve what I set out to achieve

Weakness – Lack of focus sometimes (looking ahead too much instead of focusing on the now).