/Lady Gagas Haus Labs didnt work on Amazon, relaunching at Sephora

Lady Gagas Haus Labs didnt work on Amazon, relaunching at Sephora

  • Lady Gaga’s beauty brand launched on Amazon in July 2019, a first for a high-end makeup line.
  • Former employees say the brand was rushed to market, disappointing customers.
  • Haus is preparing to compete with the likes of Fenty and Rare Beauty with a relaunch at Sephora.

In March 2021, Ben Jones, the CEO of Lady Gaga’s beauty brand, Haus Laboratories, made an emotional appeal to staff in a companywide



At the time, Haus was losing top talent at an alarming rate after a disappointing launch. And its planned relaunch was taking longer than expected.

“Believe it or not, I’ve never been in this position before,” a former employee who was at the meeting recalled Jones saying. “This is a learning experience for all of us.”

Jones had never been a CEO, nor had he worked in the beauty industry, but the uniqueness of the situation extended beyond his new role.

When Haus launched exclusively on Amazon in July 2019, it was a deviation from the industry playbook of launching at one of the major beauty retailers like Sephora and Ulta Beauty. Lady Gaga told Business of Fashion that Amazon was the only retailer that would give her free rein to build her brand around self-acceptance and confidence.

The deal with Amazon “was so wonderful because this was like, ‘Let’s make a deal, let’s make a deal to change the world with their beauty,'” she said.

Jones’ founding executive team and the brand’s backer Lightspeed Venture Partners also touted the accessibility and reach that selling on Amazon would give the brand.

“I think all beauty brands at the time were watching to see how this was going to unfold for them,” said Paula Floyd, the founder of Headkount, a beauty retail consultancy that helps brands grow their retail distribution.

But former employees described how Haus’ Amazon-first strategy didn’t go as planned. Even a global pop star known for her flamboyant makeup looks wasn’t enough to launch a successful beauty brand outside traditional retailers.

Now the brand is shifting strategy as it tries to get a second chance with customers. In May the company announced it would relaunch at Sephora on June 9 as Haus Labs by Lady Gaga.

Insider spoke with six people who were employed at Haus at various times from 2019 to 2022. Insider granted anonymity to the former employees to protect their professional reputations. Their identities are known to Insider.

Representatives for Lady Gaga did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.

‘When you step into beauty, you’ve got to be ready to bring it’

A celebrity-backed, high-end beauty brand seemed like a guaranteed success five years ago when Lightspeed, the venture-capital firm, and CAA, Lady Gaga’s agency, first discussed a deal. Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty, which debuted in September 2017, had reportedly garnered $100 million in sales in its first 40 days for its corporate owner, LVMH.

Nicole Quinn, who has invested in Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop and the


app Calm, led Lightspeed’s $10.4 million seed round for Haus. The VC firm installed Jones as CEO.

Gaga in a dramatic tulle and embellished black look in front of a counter of test tubes with colorful liquid.

Lady Gaga celebrates the launch of Haus Laboratories on September 16, 2019, in Santa Monica, California.

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Jones was the former chief digital officer for The Honest Company, another celebrity-founded company Lightspeed had backed, started by the actor Jessica Alba in 2012. Jones had previously held executive roles at video-game developers like Zynga.

Several former employees noted that Jones had the VC connections but no beauty-industry experience. He joined The Honest Company in 2015, just as the brand ventured into the segment, and left two years later.

“From day-one, Haus Labs was envisioned as a disruptor in the space — a new kind of beauty company — that was incredibly tech-savvy,” Jones said in a statement to Insider. “That is why I, someone with a tech and CPG background, was brought in to lead it.”

When Jones started at Haus in 2018, he built out the operations, e-commerce, and product-development side of the business. The marketing and creative hires came later, several former employees said.

“Ben comes from the DTC and technology world,” a former employee said. “He tends to gravitate towards that language, that behavior, and understanding of those operations a lot more than he would on the beauty side.”

When the marketing and creative teams were eventually staffed up — primarily with beauty-industry veterans — they wanted the brand to develop more innovative products in line with Lady Gaga’s vision. But by this time, products were in development, and the company was pushing to go to market as fast as possible to generate much-needed revenue, former employees said.

“This isn’t supposed to be your standard beauty stuff,” another former employee said. “The leadership clashes definitely went back to the products not lining up with what Lady Gaga wanted to create, which was pushing boundaries and being inclusive, and arguably the more important piece, which was, ‘Did these products work?'”

Several former employees said the rush to market and the lack of beauty expertise led to a frustrating launch.

“People were disappointed when it launched — they were thinking crazy colors, and it was so plain, really nothing special,” a former employee said.

The former employee added: “The main complaint was lack of innovation. When you have a founder like Gaga, you have to cater to what people expect. They’re not expecting neutral colors. She’s very iconic.”

Some beauty influencers echoed this sentiment.

“When you step into beauty, you’ve got to be ready to bring it,” Jackie Aina said in her YouTube review of the brand, which has garnered 1.3 million views. “Because there’s so many different beauty brands, and everybody is constantly churning out launches and coming up with new, revolutionary things, and girl, I’m not getting revolutionary the way that this was kind of, like, hyped up to be.”

Haus Laboratories beauty products

Haus Laboratories beauty products at a launch party.

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Haus Laboratories

‘It’s the playbook for a reason’

A relaunch was planned almost immediately after the products launched in 2019. But inside the company, things were fracturing.

Many were frustrated by how long the relaunch was taking. Executives couldn’t decide on a clear vision — ideas from a skincare line to NFTs were kicked around, former employees said. Sales were unimpressive.

Sources with knowledge of the company’s financials told Insider the brand generated “around $20 million” in revenue in 2021, a decline from the prior year.

Prestige-makeup sales for most brands plummeted during the pandemic. According to The NPD Group, in 2020 sales in the category dropped by 34% from $7.6 billion in 2019. The group said sales improved by 23% in 2021 but did not reach prepandemic levels.

Still, some brands — including at least one celebrity-backed line — successfully launched during the pandemic. Selena Gomez’s beauty brand, Rare Beauty, which launched in September 2020, had sales of over $50 million, according to WWD.

Jones did not directly respond to Insider’s request for sales figures, though he said that sales on the brand’s website last year were up 30%.

From August 2020 to February 2022, a total of 37 employees left Haus Laboratories, which employs roughly 50 people at a given time, a review of LinkedIn profiles by Insider found.

“Doing things differently isn’t for everyone,” Jones said in his statement to Insider. “Consequently, some employees stayed and thrived and others, at various levels, just weren’t the right fit. Our scrappy, founder-led, entrepreneurial, fast-moving and direct culture is characteristic of a disruptive startup that demands excellence, not an environment that isn’t kind. That is a very important distinction.”

Former employees referred to periods of especially high turnover in the spring and fall of 2021 as the “mass exoduses.”

Meanwhile, Jones was trying to secure more funding and get Haus into Sephora as part of the brand relaunch.

In March, Haus announced its “Chapter 2” and touted new vice presidents hired over the past year and a half from the retail and beauty worlds.

By April, Haus had secured a Series B funding round led by Lightspeed. It announced the deal with Sephora a few weeks later.

“Haus Labs’ business is better than ever,” Jones wrote in a statement to Insider.

Sephora did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.

“Lightspeed is a proud partner and backer of Haus Laboratories,” the VC firm said in a statement. “We are strong advocates of female-founded start-ups, and from day one, we were impressed with Lady Gaga’s vision for a differentiated global beauty brand. Lady Gaga has built her extraordinary career by repeatedly seeking new and unique directions and collaborators with an independent spirit; Haus is no exception.”

Lightspeed and Haus did not comment when asked whether additional investors participated in the Series B. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

A post shared by Haus Labs by Lady Gaga (@hauslabs)

Haus Labs by Lady Gaga is set to relaunch at Sephora in June. Haus’ new brand positioning is “clean artistry” — high-performance, highly pigmented makeup products formulated with better-for-you ingredients. The relaunched brand will not be sold on Amazon.

“As far as I could see, as a diehard makeup lover, being clean in makeup meant sacrificing bold colors and long-wear performance,” Lady Gaga told WWD. “I wanted to not only challenge that but push far beyond it.”

Floyd, the beauty retail consultant, said the brand’s new look “feels more current,” adding, “I can see the attraction and why Sephora would be more interested now versus then.”

She said Haus’ move from Amazon to a traditional beauty retailer makes sense.

“It’s the playbook for a reason,” she said. “The reason is the credibility you’re going to gain from the retailer who has already spent years gaining respect from their consumer and is laser-focused on beauty. It’s not just, ‘Oh, I’m going on to Amazon because I need to get some new drapes and then I see Lady Gaga pop up.’ How does that translate?”

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