Brendan McDowell: I turned down £80k Dragons' Den investment as I didn't need the money, but it was great exposure
Co Down man Brendan McDowell set up his beauty business after his dad died tragically young and now sells from 2,000 global outlets, as Stephanie Bell discovers
He is the man with the Midas touch who started out with just £500 and now runs a global beauty brand. Brendan McDowell's BPerfect Cosmetics is currently sweeping the world at a pace he can barely keep up with.
After a glamorous party in Belfast for the unveiling of his latest product, Brendan was on a plane around the world to launch his brand in Australia.
When he's finished Down Under, he'll fly to Europe to see his cosmetics range go on sale in Milan, Paris and Amsterdam, before being rolled out in 21 countries across the continent.
The US - a massive market Brendan hopes to conquer next year - has also come calling, with a department store chain in line to stock his beauty range.
His rags-to-riches story is all the more inspiring because he has kept his feet firmly on the ground - no easy feat in an industry renowned for glamour and excess.
Not only does he take time to give out career advice - it's his way of giving something back - but when he is not consumed by work he likes nothing better than a quiet night at home in Belfast, where he lives with his long-term partner, Tony Benson (33), a researcher at Queen's University.
Brendan grew up in Annalong in Co Down and, after failing his GCSEs, studied for an NVQ in construction.
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He then went onto university, only to decide a short time later that it wasn't for him.
Aged 20, he embarked on a decade-long career as a salesman. It was a job he took to naturally, becoming the top performer at a number of companies he worked for.
When he turned 30, he decided he wanted to run his own business. It was a dream inspired by his father, who died when Brendan was 21.
"I come from a long line of hard workers," the BPerfect Cosmetics founder explains.
"I was 11 when I got my first job in a fish factory. I wanted a horse, so I got a job to save up.
"My dad, who was also Brendan McDowell, was a digger driver and had always wanted to have his own business.
"He only started his own business with his own digger when he was 40 and then he passed away at 43. That pushed me to want to start earlier.
"Dad had always worked for other people but he thought that he could be doing the same for himself.
"It was the same for me. I felt I could be selling for myself."
Brendan started with just £500 and a steely determination. He flew to a trade show in London and bought a number of gadgets that he brought home and tested on friends.
"I read The Secret (a self-help book) on the way home and it changed my mindset and made me really positive," he says.
"Out of all the gadgets and crazy things I picked up, my friends really liked an eyebrow kit, so I decided to go with that.
"I bought 50 of them, went to the Kennedy Centre and set up a stall. I sold them all on the first day.
"A week later, I bought 100, went to the Abbey Centre for a week and sold them.
"I then thought there was no point selling someone else's brand, so I did some research on manufacturing.
"I ordered some samples that went back and forward from different factories and then I finally developed my own eyebrow kit - we added oil to it to make it waterproof."
BPerfect Cosmetics was born and, armed with own beauty product, Brendan wasted no time selling it at large shows such as Balmoral, bridal fairs and any public event taking place across the country.
Two years into his business, he decided to make the move into selling in shops.
"I was going to a show in Ballymena and decided to try some beauty salons," he says.
"I knocked the door of eight and five of them took the product straight away.
"I then approached Gordon's Chemists and Medicare and they took it into their shops."
Brendan constantly added to his range and now has 20 best-selling products in 2,000 retail outlets worldwide.
His mum, Ann (59), a retired civil servant, and sister Leeann (35) both love to test out his products and he values their opinions.
At the same time as he was trying to get his brand into shops, he applied to take part in Dragon's Den on RTE and famously turned down the offer of an £80,000 investment.
"They handed me an 80-page contract with language I didn't understand. It just felt like I would be losing creative control," Brendan says.
"To be honest, I didn't need the money and I just realised I could do it on my own.
"It was great exposure, though, and if I had to go back I would still do it again."
Brendan's TV appearance coincided with an online explosion of beauty bloggers who became influential in the industry.
His slot on Dragon's Den brought his range to the attention of people on Instagram,YouTube and more.
The BPerfect LMD Master Palette was the first of his products to be mentioned by an influencer, and as a result he couldn't keep up with demand for it.
"The online beauty community is what has driven my success globally," Brendan admits.
"It has happened organically. I haven't paid anyone to promote the products.
"The palettes just kept selling out and selling out. I thought, 'How can I do this four times over?'."
UK make-up artist Stacey Murray, who has a huge international following and is regarded as a trendsetter in the beauty industry, was the next to promote the products online.
US blogger MMM Mitchell followed and, within a short space of times, sales soared.
BPerfect products are now so sought after that when the latest one was launched in Belfast, influencers flew in from all over the world for the chance to be one of the first to try it.
Brendan then went a step further and collaborated with YouTube make-up tutor Jah Make-up Artist on a new idea.
Jah flew into Belfast for the launch of the Clientele Collection at the Europa Hotel.
The make-up blogger, who was born in New Zealand but now lives in Australia, built a huge following online through using beautiful colour combinations that can be easily mixed and matched to suit most skintones and occasions.
"As a full-time working make-up artist, I wanted to create a palette I would use every day," she explains.
"So, I selected the colours most popular with my clients, hence the name Clientele Collection.
"I took detailed feedback from my fans and followers across the world and used my knowledge from working with celebrities and models to create a sizzling palette that no make-up bag should be without.
"I wanted to work with BPerfect Cosmetics because of the company's reputation as an innovative brand focused on quality.
"We share the same values, morals and expectations."
Among the guests at the Belfast launch was BPerfect Cosmetics fan and Love Island star Belle Hassan, who was one of the first to try the new palette.
"I was blown away by the quality of the Clientele Collection, the pigmentation of the colours and the range of tones," she says.
As has become the norm for BPerfect, there is already a waiting list for the product.
Brendan now employs a team of around 30 people, but it's set to grow in the coming months as he oversees the roll-out of the range in Europe before heading to the US.
The business has its headquarters at Twin Spires in Belfast. The size of the office has trebled in the past 12 months to accommodate the company's rapid expansion.
As if he wasn't busy enough, Brendan has set up his own Instagram account, @bperfectbrendan, with the aim of giving career advice to anyone wanting to establish their own business or apply for a promotion. "I just wanted to encourage people to go for it, so I set up my own Instagram account," he says.
"It has gone crazy and I have accumulated 50,000 followers in just a few months.
"It's non-stop and 24-7 answering people's messages, but I feel it is important to give back to people and inspire others."
Brendan doesn't live the life of a millionaire and most of the money he makes is put back into the business.
He does, however, enjoy a nice lifestyle. "Yes, I like nice clothes and a nice car and a nice house, but I am not a person who needs a lot of money. Most of it goes back into the company," he says.
"I suppose I do live and breathe the brand, but I do also like a night out and a good party and drinks with friends.
"Tony and I have been together 12 years, so he was like everyone else when I launched the business.
"He thought it was just a mad notion, but he supported me all the way."
For anyone looking to follow in his footsteps and set up their own company, Brendan has this advice: "If you are thinking about setting up your own business but have no money, I would say go for it.
"You might not have much money, but you can put your time into it.
"Also, don't take big risks and don't throw all your money into one thing. Spread the risk and trust your gut."
BPerfect Cosmetics' latest product, The Clientele Palette, can be purchased from www.bperfectcosmetics.com