The Omni-Channel Beauty Guru

DAVID OLSEN, JD ’00, MBA ’00
CEO, COS BAR, LOS ANGELES

BY JENNIFER PELETT

When David Olsen decided to “grow up,” quit a gig as a roadie for a band and apply to graduate school at the University of Miami, he decided on law, a “degree you could always fall back on.” Fortunately for Olsen, who admits he “wasn’t sold on a being an attorney,” the school was in the midst of rolling out a dual JD and MBA program. He leaped at the chance to broaden his educational pursuits. By graduation, Olsen knew for certain what he had formerly suspected: “I loved advertising and marketing,” he says. “I didn’t want to be a lawyer; I wanted to get into e-commerce.”

Heading back home to California, he set up a website to market the skin-care products that his dermatologist mother was selling in her office, taking a job in a local law office to pay the bills. “For three years, I was litigating by day and packing boxes at night,” he recalls. As sales grew, Olsen realized that he could expand by offering similar services to other physicians. He quit his law job, teamed up with a partner and launched DermTeam, a company providing e-commerce management for doctors’ offices and spas. 

When the duo sold their company to competitor DermStore, Olsen stayed on as head of business development until online retailer Neta- Porter lured him away to head its beauty and grooming operations in 2012. Steeped in both internet commerce and luxury beauty brands, Olsen was a natural pick when, four years later, brick-and-mortar beauty retailer Cos Bar was looking for a new CEO to optimize its existing stores, expand its retail footprint and improve the e-commerce experience. 

For his part, Olsen was intrigued by the opportunity to work in brick-and-mortar retail. “My whole career has been about trying to re-create digitally the experience you used to get in the ’50s when shopkeepers knew your name,” he explains. “That’s something Cos Bar does really well. The idea of connecting the physical to the internet, what they call the omni-channel, is what attracted me to this role.” After all, that’s exactly what he was doing with retail for dermatologists.

Cos Bar charged Olsen with growing the company from 14 stores to 50 and increasing e-commerce from 2% of the company’s total sales to 20%. A year and a half into the role, he has already made inroads. E-commerce now accounts for 10% of total sales, and the company has opened four new locations, with three more openings planned in the coming months. While expanding the company’s physical stores at a time when so many stores are floundering might seem counterintuitive, Olsen believes that “until a computer can touch your face, brick and mortar isn’t going away in this business.” 

Olsen’s early entrepreneurial experience still influences his work. “Doing your own thing with your own ideas and on your own dime is a 100% commitment, 24 hours a day,” he says. “After you’ve had your own business, you really appreciate the need to maximize how every dollar is spent and hire the best people you can hire.”

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