Shelley Sullivan: The model entrepreneur


Shelley Sullivan, Founder and CEO, ModelCo, is Australia’s tan and makeup queen.

Sullivan is nominated for two awards in this year’s CEO Magazine’s Executive of the Year Awards. The winner’s event will be held on 21 November 2018 at ICC Sydney with new hosts Kylie Gillies and Larry Edmur.

Dynamic Business speaks to Sullivan about being nominated for the award, ModelCo and her entrepreneurial journey.


How do you feel being nominated for this big award?

I feel incredibly honoured to have taken out the major award and will use this opportunity to inspire Australia’s up-and-coming female entrepreneurs. As a successful business woman, I believe it’s my responsibility to pave the way and help to inspire the next generation of female CEOs.

How did you start ModelCo?

Eight years into being a model agent I was continually listening to what my models wished they’d had in their beauty regime that all the luxury brands weren’t providing. I was also looking at the way they applied make up and tanning products and I was inspired to launch a heated eyelash curler. At the time I launched the heated eyelash curler it was a pet project, I had no idea it was going to become the phenomenon that it is or evolve into being the global ModelCo beauty brand we know today!

How do you keep relevant/ ahead in a highly competitive market?

Beauty consumers have created their own community and their own language and communicate and consume via social media and mobile phones. ModelCo & Mo Beauty now taps into this community by continuously asking “how does this translate into Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter?” Direct interaction [with consumers through social media] spurs the ModelCo company ethos of speed to market by creating products woman want and need at the speed of request. From a brand perspective, this helps to create an invested audience – consumers that are likely to actually buy the product they’ve seen come to fruition. From a consumer perspective, it means even greater personalisation, with our target audience feeling like our products hold greater value and appeal.

In 2017, ecommerce accounted for 21% of ModelCo beauty sales. Digital isn’t a strategy or a channel, it’s where ModelCo and MC Beauty lives. In the new, digital-first age, the ModelCo website underwent a significant upgrade in 2018 to ensure its e-commerce facility was at optimal functioning level to service 80% of ModelCo customers who shop online globally.

How important are social media influencers to beauty companies?

Hugely important and the most dominant form of advertising for a beauty brand today. At ModelCo we love to engage with social media influencers whose creative vision aligns with our own.

How do you know when to cancel a project?

I will not accept no for an answer! I will keep working until I find a solution rather than cancel a project!

How do you shut out the negative voices?

I believe in the power of meditation and healing crystals, this keeps my mind positive and my energy flowing.

How do you know when to delegate and when to take the lead?

I am a very hands on CEO. It is hard for me to delegate! However I have a very strong team who I trust implicitly.

Biggest hurdle and how did you conquer it?

The beauty industry was certainly was not what I expected! I thought that I was launching a beauty business when in actual fact I was going into the world of retailing, wholesaling, marketing, logistics and finance. It was a real learning curve for me. It taught me that you really have to understand the business you are going into and surround yourself with people who have more knowledge than you do who can guide you through the process.

Biggest achievement in your business so far?

Iconic fashion designer Karl Lagerfeldapproached ModelCo in 2017 to pitch for and design a cosmetics range for global distribution. ModelCo won against 22 major cosmetics brands and created Karl Lagerfeld + ModelCo – a 52 piece colour collection sold in 27 countries. The collaboration more than doubled forecasted sales.  Dubbed the “largest global beauty collaboration in recent times”, the publicity garnered over $30 million worth of press and social media at launch, resulting in ModelCo signing distribution in 27 countries (Douglas, Nordstrom, Sephora, Bloomingdales, Harvey Nichols and Galeries Lafayette.)

Through securing the worldwide beauty license deal with Karl Lagerfeld, I believe I elevated the Australian Beauty Industry on a global stage and paved the way for other niche beauty brands to be considered as serious contenders in the beauty world.

Best advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?

Trust your intuition and believe in yourself.

How do you define success?

Managing to juggle my work commitments, my children and spending quality time with my husband… all in the same week!

What makes a good leader?

I think it is understanding and respecting that you are only as good as the team behind you and giving your employees the respect, guidance and inspiration to perform.

Who inspires you and why? 

I am constantly inspired by other female entrepreneurs and the hard work, dedication, commitment and passion that emanates from them.

What’s the best decision you’ve ever made?

To launch my first self-tanning product! When Tan Airbrush in Can – the world’s first airbrush ‘tan in a can’ self-tanning product hit the market it truly changed the way that woman self – tanned, delivering professional results with the convenience of an at-home application. When the product first launched we literally could not keep up with the demand for orders and to this day one Tan Airbrush in a Can is sold every 36 seconds worldwide.

The best financial advice you’ve ever received? 

Estimate the funds you need to start up your business and double that!

Latest news?

Now in its 16thyear, ModelCo continues to evolve as a multi-faceted beauty brand with global appeal. Always at the forefront of beauty innovation I will be officially dividing the company into two sectors in early 2019. The move was designed to better reflect and cater to global consumer beauty shopping habits.

In 2019, there will officially be ModelCo, the premium brandsold internationally at high-end beauty retailers. At the other end of the spectrum, there will be MCo Beauty dubbed “luxe for less,”.

Launching MCo Beauty into mass retail outlets means ModelCo products reach a wider customer base, by having both the premium and mass offerings. The thinking behind the clear split between ModelCo and MCo Beauty is that we feel it is time for a conscious uncoupling and for MCo Beauty to stand apart from ModelCo. We are going to embark on strong, clear communications to ensure that each brand is talking to the right audience.

MCo Beauty will be housed in the masstige grocery space with prices under $25. ModelCo premium brand will continue to partner with the interesting and the influential on limited-edition collaborations like it did this year with Karl Lagerfeld and be sold at department stores and high-end beauty retailers.