"They now understand the power of online and what a tool that can be in terms of augmenting what they’re doing in store” ... Kate Morris.

"They now understand the power of online and what a tool that can be in terms of augmenting what they’re doing in store” ... Kate Morris.

Kate Morris has already conquered online make-up sales in Australia.

Now she has global ambitions.

Aged 34, Morris is a veteran of online retail. She founded cosmetics retailer adorebeauty.com.au in 1999, just ahead of the tech crash and still owns and runs the site, which has 12 staff, a 600 sq metre warehouse in Melbourne’s Brunswick and ships about 700 orders a week.

The site gave her the idea for her new business findation when customers said they were reluctant to buy a new brand of foundation online without knowing beforehand if the colour would match their skin.

“It was a big problem for anybody who wanted to buy foundation online – unless you’ve actually tried the colours first you can’t buy it,” says Morris. “Onscreen swatches are pretty much useless when you’re talking about 8000 shades of beige.”

Findation asks women to enter brands and shades of foundation they’ve been happy with in the past. It then compares their preferences to data collected from other uses to return more foundation brands and shades that will match their skin tone.

The site already has 251 brands, 1275 products and 10,176 shades in its database. Nearly 15,000 people have entered their preferred brands and colours, which Morris says is enough to produce good matches.

“We’re not at the stage where we can return every single user a match in every single of those 1275 products,” says Morris. “But if I put in my own foundation colours, even if I only put in two or three, I’ll get returns, probably about 50 different matches.”

The site has only been online for four weeks, but has already attracted a strong following, particularly in Brazil. “We’ve had a couple of big bloggers write it up there so it’s been quite huge,” says Morris, who won the Telstra Young Business Women's Award in 2010

The site earns its revenue by charging online retailers it redirects customers to after it’s found them a match, but Morris says it’s not earning much at the moment. She has other plans to earn revenue, but won’t reveal them, except to say: “It’s a tool that would be of significant value to online retailers and also the bigger cosmetics brand.”

Adore Beauty operates only in Australia because regional distribution agreements for cosmetics generally limit the reach of e-commerce sites. But because Findation doesn’t sell cosmetics directly, there are no limits on its reach and Morris aims to make it an international brand.

“Findation as an e-commerce tool and as a global e-commerce tool I think has a great deal of potential,” she says. “If you start up something that’s a good idea it’s something that you can potentially in a very short space of time get global traction for.”

Reliable figures for the global market in online cosmetics aren’t available, but annual sales of $US3 billion in the US alone give an indication of its potential, according to a study released last month.

Morris started adorebeauty.com.au with $12,000 she’d borrowed from family and friends and has funded the site ever since, without taking on an investor. So far she and her business partner James Height have done the same with Findation, but are open to a sympathetic investor.

Getting traction from cosmetics and companies for Findation is a lot easier than it was for Adore Beauty in the early days of e-commerce.

“As far as Adore Beauty goes, the biggest hurdle was getting the brands onboard with it and getting them to embrace e-commerce, because when you’re talking about cosmetic brands it’s all about image and there was very much a perception that online was something dodgy or that it had to be price oriented,” says Morris.

“It's changed spectacularly now. They now understand the power of online and what a tool that it can be in terms of augmenting what they’re doing in store.”

Morris describes founding a start-up as periods of elation interspersed with periods of crushing disappointment.

“Those sorts of times when you think this is actually going to work, that’s what keeps you going through all the other times when you hit a brick wall or someone tells you that they think it’s a stupid idea,” she says.

She has some simple advice for others wanting to found their own start-up: persistence.

“I like to think of it as when somebody says no to you that’s the first no, so when you go back the next time you get a second no, then eventually you get to a maybe or let’s give it a try or yes,” she says.