If anyone knows how to brand and monetize digital content, it’s Moj Mahdara. She has created an empire on the foundation of subscribers, likes, emoji, and influencers, giving millennials and Generation Z a real-life connection to their faves. A subscription box, interactive posts to indulge in, and major festivals that sell out religiously are all encapsulated in Beautycon’s global reach — Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, and Dubai are all past stops, with London on the way.
But Mahdara first set her sights on the music industry, securing an internship with Lollapalooza while paying close attention to the movements of brands like Napster that were completely disrupting and shaking up the digital space and music as a whole. And at just 24, while most of her peers were moving out and finding their first jobs on their career paths, Mahdara was persuading a high-level executive at Quiksilver to hire her as a consultant to land partnerships with up-and-coming musical artists. She had her own technology company, Exopolis, within five years, and by 2010, she was helping stars like Gwen Stefani launch their celebrity-backed brands.
But her biggest challenge was yet to come with Beautycon, which she became CEO of in 2013. As a longtime advocate of disruption in the digital space, she had an inkling that these influencers could achieve celebrity status because of how teenagers were rapidly consuming all kinds of online content. They not only ran the gamut of race, ethnicity, and gender but were also real and unfiltered in a way that much of traditional media was afraid to be. Mahdara thus had the idea to bridge that gap between content creator and those who loved them. She knew that in-real-life connection with lots of dialogue, how-tos, and opportunities for fan-generated content would be a major win. Thus, the Beautycon festival came to life and success shortly followed.
At the 3rd Annual Beautycon Festival in New York City, Yahoo Beauty caught up with Mahdara to talk about what’s next for the brand, why video content creators are the future, and why everyone needs to take the upcoming election seriously.
Yahoo Beauty: So this is quite the amazing event!
Mahdara: Well, we like to refer to it as a festival. A community. A gathering even. A definite celebration.
And it definitely feels that way. The energy here is contagious, and it’s clear that products are just one piece of the puzzle: Education, information, and advice are also a part of the chemistry. What’s the ideation process like for your team? How do you decide which creators, influencers, and panels to include?
We just think, What would Disney do? Or, What would Cirque du Soleil do? We’re not here to put on a conference or a trade show but an actual entertaining show. We’re here to delight you, take care of you, feed you, have you experience new products, and to have you meet your favorite content creators and icons. We’re here to create a place for you and your expression of beauty.
New York, L.A., Dallas, a pop-up shop in Dubai, London is coming up: How do you figure out where you want to have your festivals?
We go where the fans are. It’s that simple. When they vote, we get data back from that. We’re a very data-driven company, and we always lean back on the data, as well as the talent: our creators. That’s how we know where to go.
And Beautycon is not just a festival but a media company as well.
That’s right. And a product company and consumer-facing brand. We have our subscription business that ships product four to five times a year, so we really look at the things brands like ESPN and Disney are doing and serving up to their fans. Companies that have commerce, product, prizes, experiences, and content. We’re really focused on Beautycon as an integrated brand. That’s how we think of ourselves.
The Digital Town Creators discussion you had with Hillary Clinton was pretty fantastic.
Wasn’t that awesome? It was one of the more stellar moments in my career.
Where did that idea stem from?
I was on a panel, speaking at a conference with Marie Claire in April. And someone from Hillary’s team was in the audience and asked, “If you had a really big idea for us, what would it be?” I said, “Let’s get her to sit down with 100 content creators and talk about the real issues they have with the election.” They took a few months to think about it, but ultimately they said yes. It was wild. They gave us eight days to plan it, and we were able to get 103 content creators, which totaled 321 million subscribers between everyone in the room. It was a very powerful event for Hillary and for everyone involved.
And immigration is a huge part of the election and each candidate’s platform. As a first-generation American, what do you think about each candidate’s stance right now? What are you pulling from it?
I’m not just driven by economic issues right now. There are some real social issues that need to be addressed. I’m super concerned about mass incarceration and the families and communities that have been ripped apart because of it. I’m very concerned about college debt and what that is doing to young adults who are being hit with massive interest rates. I’m focused on how we treat people who we label as “other” in this country and our intolerance. It’s really disappointing to see 47 percent of the population show up for a candidate who is unsavory. I hope that people dig deep into their conscience and think about what is really for the greater good of our country. As someone who is first-generation, I take my citizenship very seriously. If I was born in the country my parents are from, I couldn’t do what I’m doing. I’m very lucky to have the opportunities I have, and so much of that is because of how awesome America is. I want people to take this election very seriously and to realize that we all have to take some accountability for what happens if they don’t show up.
Are you doing anything else with the election?
We’re flying out creators to a lot of the rallies and events that Hillary is hosting, as well as Barack Obama and other surrogates. We’re also announcing a big project in the next four weeks that is going to be very cool.
And, of course, diversity and inclusivity are a big part of beauty and Beautycon. You all do an amazing job of that, but a lot of other brands either have a hesitation or difficulty achieving that goal. Do you have any advice for brands that are still missing the mark?
Last year was the final year that people were born into a majority-Caucasian world. So statistically, all the babies that were born weren’t one race: They were ethnically diverse. The digitally savvy brands have created a global point of view that reflects the people who are living in this time. We’re all global citizens now, and we’re hearing about what’s happening in other countries. Content has made us all very empathetic and for brands struggling when it comes to how to get into this, look at the young indie brands that are doing a great job. Walk around. Look outside. Get outside of your neighborhood.
And there’s been a lot of talk surrounding bloggers and influencers in the fashion industry. The commentary has definitely thrown many for a loop.
Beautycon is a no-hater zone. All ships rise with the tide. Bloggers are very one-dimensional content creators. They’re great and amazing and we like some of them a lot. They’re fantastic at what they do. I’m much more interested in the video-content-creator space. I don’t see a blogger and vlogger as one in the same. I think of them as totally different entities. I think publishing is going through a renaissance, and brands like Facebook have really disrupted the chemistry of the business. A lot of people are frustrated right now. Maybe they don’t realize that it’s not just one thing that’s making their jobs more difficult, but the fact that there are a few fractures in their system currently. Condé Nast, Hearst, and Time Inc. are all going through reinvention. I mean when I have someone wanting to come to a Beautycon festival who has 10 million subscribers, I’m grateful and thankful that they’re happy to be a part of what we do. I can’t really speak to why traditional editors on the fashion side think that isn’t great. I think they’re feeling frustrated because they view bloggers as wearing clothes because they’re paid, but those instances have to be treated singularly. I can think of dozens of creators in the video space who don’t care what you pay: if they don’t like the brand, they won’t feature it. I don’t like pitting content creators against one another, but video content is the model that appeals more to me.
What do you think the future of influencer marketing is?
I don’t know. What’s the future of Kim Kardashian? She’s a socialite turned reality star turned social star. The time you put in, you get back. Someone who makes great content and compelling products will have a great future. It’s all about consistency and your work ethic. You’ll find within the digital community, Beautycon festival, and Beautycon media community that there are dozens of creators with massive commitment to work. They’re going to be around for a long time.