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How this man used Kylie Jenner to make Bondi famous

The New Investors video series brought to you by Yahoo Finance reveals the secrets of the most successful entrepreneurs and business people in Australia today. This is the seventh episode of the season.

Shaun Wilson is a man now inextricably associated with sunny Bondi Beach by millions of people around the world.

He is the successful co-founder of self-tan and suncare producer Bondi Sands – a brand that grew into a monster on social media, and now loved by many loyal fans around the world.

But he has a secret he wants to get off his chest.

"I'm not a Bondi boy. Neither is [co-founder] Blair – we were born and bred in Melbourne."

While he loves his hometown, Wilson readily admits the Victorian capital didn't hold the same je ne sais quoi that Sydney's famous seaside suburb did.

"We couldn't really call it Port Melbourne tan or St Kilda tan. It doesn't have the same marketing or brand visual identity as Bondi… a great tourism spot of Australia," he told Yahoo Finance's New Investors show.

"We stole the name and obviously a big part of our brand visual identity is Bondi beach and the Australian lifestyle."

Even in the early days, Wilson knew he had an amazing complementary partnership with his co-founder, tanning salon owner Blair James.

"Blair's definitely got a creative side of his work and I've probably got more business approach and brand commercial approach and working together. It was really a great relationship."

While Bondi Sands exploded through social media and now has more than 664,000 followers on Instagram, that didn't come through any magical formula from Wilson and James.

"When you start a company, you do everything. We were doing customer service and social media, and we quickly realised we weren't great at social media, so we have to get some other team in."

You'd never know it now. Bondi Sands has the likes of model Kylie Jenner spruiking its products on social, triggering mass interest from Ireland to the United States.

Kylie Jenner attends The 2019 Met Gala
Kylie Jenner attends The 2019 Met Gala Celebrating Camp: Notes on Fashion at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 06, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Tachman/MG19/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue)

"Kylie's actually loved tanning and she knew about our product, and we had a connection and she loved it," Wilson told Yahoo Finance editor-in-chief Sarah O'Carroll.

"She's the number one beauty blogger in the world... I think she's worth over a billion dollars and she's done an incredible job."

Jenner's post cost about $250,000 to send out to her 136 million Instagram followers – but Wilson reckons it was worth every cent.

"For us, it's about generating awareness and mass awareness at that time. It was really a selling story for us in the US,” he said.

“People understand who we are, and Kylie's a great voice and we thought it was a very good post and we got a great return from it."

According to Wilson, Instagram is hands-down the most effective social media for selling, describing it as “a very visual platform”.

"We definitely saw a great return on that platform, but most importantly, social media's your visual identity of who you are and what you stand for in terms of your values.

“And for us, we could showcase that through Instagram."

Instagram's recent decision to remove "like" counts has the entrepreneur's approval.

"I think it's a positive thing, and social media – from a community point of view – does have some issues with mental health. We're quite strong in that, and we believe that taking things away 'likes' can be an important step in the evolution of social media.

"Doesn't it affect our business? No, because ultimately if people believe in your content, they're still engaged in your content and therefore it's still visible."

As with any startup, there were some long days and dark nights involved in building Bondi Sands to where it is now.

There was the time when James lived in Wilson's study to make ends meet; a mass product recall after the self-tanning lotion looked green; coming home from a corporate job then working on the business until 3am in the morning; and cancelling a distributor deal in the US.

There were moments in that early period when Wilson considered shutting the whole thing down.

"The girlfriend at the time didn't want to have anything to do with me. But, it was one of those periods that I'm glad we persisted, but it was pretty close."

Seven years later, Wilson can now enjoy the fruits of his success.

"If you look at my Instagram page, you might see a Lamborghini," he said.

"I do believe I've got balance now. I think that grows with experience."

The New Investors video series brought to you by Yahoo Finance reveals the secrets of the most successful entrepreneurs and business people in Australia today. This is the seventh episode of the season.

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