Trinny Woodall: ‘I was doing this fast – very weird thing. But my brain became clear’

In this podcast episode, Anna Jordan meets Trinny Woodall, TV presenter, author and founder of makeup brand, Trinny London

Welcome to Small Business Snippets, the podcast from Today’s guest is Trinny Woodall, TV presenter, author and founder of makeup brand, Trinny London.

We discuss influencer marketing and augmented reality within the beauty industry.

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Hello and welcome to Small Business Snippets, the podcast from I’m your host, Anna Jordan.

Today we have Trinny Woodall, fashion and beauty guru, TV presenter, author, entrepreneur and new entrant in the Telegraph’s Top 100 Tech Entrepreneurs 2020.

Formerly one half of Trinny and Susannah earlier in the 2000s, she now runs Trinny London, an online make-up company providing personalised stackable products. It includes the Match2Me service which matches Trinny London make-up to a person’s skin tone, hair and eye colour. The business is worth £46m.

We’ll be looking at influencer marketing and the changing habits of beauty consumers.

Anna: Hello Trinny.

Trinny: Hello, Anna. How are you?

Anna: Yeah, I’m doing all right. Thank you. How are you?

Trinny: Very well, thank you.

Anna: Great. First, I’d like to talk about your business background. Trinny London is pretty on the pulse when it comes to emerging business trends – personalisation, building social media communities, the founder being an extension of the brand. Of course, you will have a team behind you, but it looks like there is some knowhow there already. Is this your first foray into business particularly in the pre-Trinny-and-Susannah days?

Trinny: Even pre-Trinny-and-Susannah days, I had gone into finance. So, I started my career in commodities, selling commodity funds, which I detested. I would go down from Earls Court to Tower Hill and I would have the FT on the outside and inside, I’d be reading the Daily Mail. But there was an obligation in my mind, because my dad was a good businessman, an entrepreneur. I was the youngest of six kids and I think I didn’t feel smart enough for university.

I started as a secretary in a physical trading house. I was surrounded by business conversations at the dining room table because my father, brother and brother-in-law were involved in the same business. And then, when I was doing my foray into the City, I realised how much I disliked it and I wanted to do something else.

But there was a part of me that wanted to have a business. I think I always had that from a very young age. I fell into television and before I even did TV, Susannah and I had a column and the internet started emerging as a as a platform that econ was just starting in ‘98. I really thought it was so interesting that you could do some form of personalisation online.

And with all the traction we had with our followers on Trinny London, I remember I spent a weekend and I was doing a fast, I had very bad skin, so I was doing this fast, very weird thing. But my brain became very clear. I thought, ‘What can one do that could bring together what the internet’s beginning to offer and refine choice?’ I think the idea of refinement of choice was a really big one for me. And that came about in Ready 2, which was something that we started in 1998. By 2001, it had closed. The idea for it was a portal for women with fashion and clothing and beauty. We just couldn’t get to the profitability, because there wasn’t enough traction online of being able to do a transaction so you could take a commission, so it didn’t happen, but I loved it. Susannah didn’t love it, because for her, she loves more the creative side of things.

We then did television and spent ten years doing TV shows around the world. And during that time, we had an agent. I also was more of the kind of driver of the business side of what we would do next. I’ve got lots of beeps by the way going in this podcast because as much as I love tech, I cannot for the life of me get my notifications to turn off on this laptop. I will apologise for the beeps. I’m trying to get Slack to quieten down, but it’s not going to happen.

So, there was that moment, after about 10-15 years working with Susannah where we both felt a fatigue with what we were doing. I think I will never stop loving the concept of making over a woman. And by that I don’t mean make somebody who looks bad look good, but just moving their sense of how they see themselves.

Then I had this idea for Trinny London at the back of my mind, and I didn’t realise until I look back at certain things, and people remind me how early on I had that idea.

And in those last few years of making over women in every different country, I would be in Poland using Inglot makeup, and then I’d be in Israel using MAC and then somewhere else, I noticed the team of makeup girls would always do the same look on everyone and I felt that I kept saying to them, ‘Look, they have all have a different skin, hair, and you must look at colour palettes and look at how you can put them differently on women.’ And I felt that was something that really didn’t exist, that level of personalisation. And I also felt that it’s something that really didn’t happen in store.

I thought, okay, it’s going to be online. And by the time I made that decision, I’d started developing with an SEIS scheme, I’d gone and I thought, ‘How can I raise some money?’ I was really coming to the end of my royalties from the different shows I’d done. Probably I was the most broke I had been in 15 years. But sometimes that’s when you got to do stuff. With the SEIS scheme, you can raise up to £150,000 and it’s 50 per cent tax back. Two people who were kind of committed to me as a businesswoman, they knew I had a good work ethic, a friend of mine’s mother and well, one of my daughter’s friends. The mother who I didn’t know that well, but was in beauty. She runs beauty at Mintel research, and my daughter’s Godfather, both believed in my work ethic. So I asked them, and they put in £150,000 between them.

I then had the opportunity to explore. I think if you look at all different entrepreneurs, they either start tiny, and every time they get a tiny bit of revenue, they invest in something else. And I think the younger you are, the easier that is to do. But I was 50 when I started this, so I knew I needed to really accelerate to get that proposition out there. I raised that money – probably the most expensive money I raised in terms of the percentage of revenue I gave away, the percentage of the value of the business I gave away for that. But I wouldn’t have got it got off the ground. And one thing I’ve learned in life is you must never ever regret any decision you make.

I got to that point and I think then I knew from what I’d learnt in the past with Ready 2 is I had felt an inexperienced businesswoman so I had hired what I deemed to be really experienced people in their field. The CMO I paid at that time £100,000 to because I’d raised £7m for Ready 2. I hired a CEO who came from Barclays, because I thought she’d be a good – CFO, CEO background – and a lot of other women who were in quite high-powered tech. There was a huge amount going out in salaries and a really high burn rate per month.

I knew that with that £150,000 I’ve got to do a really good business plan, I’ve got to show a prototype, I’ve got to show where I’m going to get it made, I’ve got to show how I’m going to make the money. And I was building up a little social media following. I’d started on it – I realised I just wanted to do video because I come from television. And it was gaining traction. By this stage, I had a very nice guy called Mark who became my COO, and he had a CFO background.

When we were doing those spreadsheets, which any small business, you spend days doing those projections, months doing those projections. People can do crazy projections. And I kind of knew, I wanted projections that, when I went into an investor meeting, I could say, ‘This is really why I believe I’ll get to that revenue in 2020,2021 and 2022.’ We did it as a percentage of a conversion of my social media following. And as that social media following grew, we felt that between two and two and a half per cent of those people would buy from the brand.

And now, three years later, the valuations are actually probably double what you said, because we’ve had huge growth in the last six months. But it’s been based on that, there hasn’t been a huge amount that’s changed. I hired that middle management, that C-suite, a year and a half into the business. I hired a CMO. I hired a strategic CTO, I have a very nice CTO who started with us early, but he was more he’s now head of development. And I hired an MPD. And I was at the stage where I got enough revenue in and I thought I can sustain those salaries. Because otherwise all you’re doing is earning money to pay the salaries, and I wanted to earn the money for growth.

Absolutely. As you there are a few different things in there that I’d like to pick up on. First of all, women investors, especially when they’re pitching, they have a harder time because they’re often all-male panels or a majority male panels. What kind of unique challenges did you face, being a woman but also being a woman in her 50s?

Trinny: I think the challenges I face were those two plus somebody who was known, but known in a different industry. That might have got me the meeting, but it was oddly prejudicing in other ways. People put you in a box. And we think in the press, they make assumptions. They don’t know what you’re like as a businesswoman, they’ve just seen you on television, which might seem to investors a light-hearted industry.

There’s a sort of double importance to make them appreciate and understand that you will know how to run a business and get the right people at the right time to support you in running that business. I probably went to see 22 VCs before I had somebody say. ‘Actually, I get it.’

I always thought I want to be more than a makeup brand owner. I want this to be a community for women to feel good. It was about having every age represented, every skin tone represented, every type of woman could feel that she could identify with what we were offering. So convincing investors of that, instead of our target market is 18 to 34. Because many investors said to me, ‘Love it, but can you just skew the whole thing and do it for the Millennials?’ And I was like, ‘No, to me, the gap in the market is 35 to 55.’ It’s for everyone, but this is a huge gap. So I want to definitely have over 50 per cent of my customers from 30 to 60. So I just felt that there was this real untapped market in a very, very crowded area. Yeah. And you’ve got to stick to that vision

I think if I look at the difference between what Trinny London represents and what Trinny Woodall represents, they’re not all the same customer, but a lot of people from Trinny will convert to become a Trinny London customer. And there’s a lot of people on Trinny London who don’t even follow me, so I love that.

We have these Trinny tribes that have stopped around the world and about 70,000 women around the world who are part of our Facebook tribe, which is in their area. And that, to me, is that other part of the business when I say that Trinny London isn’t just a makeup brand.

I think that the word ‘community’ has been very overused in brand building, because it might have been started by some men in dark suits in a room of a very commercial business. I think community has to start organically. And then you have to feel how can you harness what is in fact, a sort of fan base, a passion? People are the most passionate about your brand, how can you harness them? It’s not going to become a multi-level marketing business. That’s not what we are. But how can we make them feel good about the fact that they, for free, love to chat about Trinny London?

Yeah, you were saying as well, one of the problems you had earlier on was of personalisation and reaching enough women and even on What Not to Wear, in a series you can only do maybe six people at a time. Whereas with social media that’s completely revolutionised that and you can have a much broader reach now.

That has brought about the Trinny Tribes on Facebook. I’d quite like to know, was that part of your plan originally? Or did that come about organically?

Trinny: I think that the very original Trinny Tribe were people who follow me on my Instagram. And some of those were like, ‘Are you the person who used to be Trinny of Trinny and Susannah? Yeah, I used to be that person. Now I just do my own thing. And they follow that.

There was a woman called Kelly in north west England and she just started a Facebook fan page. And she took a bit of our logo and called it Trinny Tribe and said if there’s anyone else who’d like to know what she’s doing at the moment and follow her. This is, as we launched the brand, I mean, literally, maybe a tiny bit before. These people started joining. And then somebody said, ‘Well, I’m in London, I might start a London one.’ And so we saw our logo on Facebook, or a picture of me or a bit of yellow, really random little things that you put on Facebook.

And so we thought, ‘Okay, well, what we can’t have this very fragmented interpretation of our brand, because it sort of dilutes what we are and, and in a way there is an association there with the word ‘Trinny’.

We approached the admins, and we said, ‘Look, we just love what you’re doing, would you like to be more connected to us, and we can give you a nice logo for your area and think of ways that we could… you could come in for a drink occasionally and it’d be lovely to meet some of you.’ They were very excited. And so that’s in a way how it began.

And then we assigned a woman who did a lot of stuff on social media called Paris, to be the contact for those people. We then said, ‘Look, we think admins a horrible word, let’s call you ambassadors, or ambassadresses.’ So they love that too. We have some of them in unit for a little brainstorm, what they liked about things and what they’d like more of, just so there was that feeling that they are a part of the growth of what Trinny London represents.

Yeah, exactly. I know I can imagine that over COVID the habits of beauty consumers has changed because Trinny London has quite a soft, radiant glow-y type of makeup which people are actually saying is quite good for Zoom calls rather than something that’s very heavy that you’d see more on a night out. How would you say that your customer base has changed over COVID? Is it more people who would be going to the makeup counter who are now looking online?

Trinny: For sure.

And as you were saying there is a certain advantage to having the social media videos because you bring in the people who are less seasoned when it comes to makeup, maybe want to try and explore it a bit. They have tutorials on how to layer different pots.

There are a couple of things I would like to talk about before we wrap up. First off, within the beauty industry, we see a lot of influencer marketing but with your Ambassadresses is there as much a need for that? What kind of role does [influencer marketing] play?

Trinny: it’s interesting, in a way, because I have across Instagram and Facebook, about 2m followers, I am to an extent an influencer. And because Trinny London is my revenue stream and my brand building, I’ve never done any deal with anyone. I talk about Zara a lot on my own channel, because I think it’s the most internationally available. And I talk about what I love.

I was very reticent [about influencer marketing]. When we tried very early on, we worked with rewardStyle. And we paid – what for us then – was a fortune to get them to select the people they thought were good influencers, and I found incredibly low conversion. I think our strategy has been far more that when we look at for Facebook advertising, for example. Facebook advertising has changed their algorithms, so that instead you can still designate an audit audience. But they can also say, ‘Okay, we’ll take control of that earlier stage.’ And we will find the algorithm of the people who are buying from you already and match it and do their weird magic, which… it’s a computer teaching another computer to teach another computer, it’s like a dark hole.

Any brand that’s going down that route, and deciding to do it, and I do think it’s a far more successful route for the influencer route and for our brand, is the importance that these shouldn’t really always look like ads. And because people are engaged by something that grabs them that they think is something they’re going to learn from. So sometimes you and I would look on our feed and would see an ad, it will grab us, because it’s a really clean ad, it’s like this will clean your teeth better than any other toothbrush. And you’re like, ‘Okay,’ but some other things need a story to be told. And sometimes you think you’ve got 30 seconds to tell that story, or you’ve got five minutes to tell that story.

But some of our most successful ads on Facebook are just actually women saying, ‘I’m trying this’ and they’re telling their story. We have a lot of content, we have at any one time about 200 ads running on Facebook. And that is a strategy that was implemented when our CMO joined us, Shira. Because she said, ‘Look, we really want to put in the marketplace a lot.’ And everyone is going to be attracted by a different bit of content. I think there are some good influencers. But generally, an influencer is a business. And we must respect and appreciate that as a business. But I think to be a really successful influencer, you have to have a proportion of your feed being, ‘This is what I really love, and there’s no ad or whatever involved.’ And when you see an influencer, where it’s basically ad or affiliation, ad or affiliation, that’s it, there’s no objective, ‘This is what I really think about the product.’

The other problem we’ve got as consumers is magazines are drying up and magazines are going online. The concept of the war between advertising and editorial, which used to be quite strict in a magazine, is very blurred online. Because magazines need to make a revenue, and the revenue is they write an article and the user clicks through and they have an affiliation to that product. And that happens whenever I’m on any magazine. That’s a revenue stream. We know that if we read an article in a magazine, and these are the top 10 there’ll be a click through to all of them and the magazine is making money because that’s the only way they can make money. They are an influencer on a grand scale, but they are still getting the cut like the small influencer is getting a cut, so I’m not sure.

But to answer your question in a very long-winded way, for our business, the influencer model is not the right model. There are beauty businesses in Germany, there’s a young beauty brand called Bananas or something I can’t remember, it’s quite often young brand, like a Glossier but younger. And their model is a purely influencers. They put all their revenue that I might put into Facebook into 200, 300, 400 key influencers and it’s very successful with them. Is that an age thing or an attitude thing? I’m not sure.

Anna: I guess knowing your business as well. I mean, it’s going to be different. You’re going to have different target audiences, you’ll find them in different places. So I definitely think that you do what’s right for you.

Okay, last thing I’d like to talk about is the the future of Trinny London, and where it’s going. Match2Me is a huge part of the overall brand. Do you see yourself moving it on a bit? Say, with augmented reality. We were seeing it with L’Oreal, having apps that you can put makeup on your face virtually, things like that. Do you ever see Trinny London going that way?

Trinny: I think that’s the fundamental difference between what a lot of brands did during COVID is they did virtual trial, because they knew all their customers wanted to try. Virtual try-on to me, to date, is still gamification. The majority of them come with filters. And it’s kind of, for some women, it’s like, ‘I know, I’m not going to look like that, because they’ve made my face perfect.’ Is it just a fun way to play? And would it make me buy the lipstick?

On some brands, the conversion is great, because it’s catering to an audience that already is building and doing filters on Instagram and Snapchat and TikTok and therefore, they love it. And it kind of makes sense.

I think Match2Me is unique, because there is no other beauty brand that is actually saying, ‘Let’s look at your skin, hair and eye. And let’s look at the refinement of choice of colour that suits you.’ I think that can’t be replicated. I mean, I haven’t seen anyone do it. And I’ve been working with four or five different augmented reality and virtual trial brands and have come to the conclusion that, in fact, we are going to develop something internally. Because what I see is very set out of the box plug-ins, and I want to do something which is a step ahead of what these people are currently offering.

There is a huge, very interesting opportunity for brands to really personalise and personalise to their customers. But I think there’s going to be cleverer ways than just what is still a little bit of gamification.

Anna: So, something that perhaps isn’t on the market yet?

Trinny: Not on the market yet.

Anna: Well, that sounds like a good place to wrap up. Thank you for coming on the podcast, Trinny. It was great to have you on.

Trinny: It was lovely to talk to you.

You can find out more about Trinny London at You can also visit for articles on starting a business of your own and building social media communities. Remember to like us on Facebook at SmallBusinessExperts and follow us on Twitter @smallbusinessuk, all lowercase. Until next time, thank you for listening.

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.

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