The tattoo business is booming and the market size is estimated to be in excess of $3B per annum with tattoo removal alone accounting for $800M+. While this market continues to grow, getting a tattoo means that one is committing to a permanent piece of body art, which limits the market. Ephemeral Tattoo is the maker of tattoo ink that has been formulated to fade within 9-15 months, making the decision to get a tattoo significantly less consequential. The ink can be applied by any tattoo artist using conventional techniques and equipment. Right now, Ephemeral offers only black ink but plans to expand into colors shortly. The company opened its first studio in Brooklyn this spring and is quickly expanding to other cities with an LA studio opening in the fall.
AlleyWatch caught up with CEO Jeff Liu to learn more about how the company’s ink works, strategic plans, and latest round of funding, which brings the total funding raised to $26.8M, and much, much more.
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
Ephemeral Tattoo raised $20 million in Series A funding led by Anthos Capital, Primary Venture Partners, Canaan Partners, Techstars Ventures, Gaingels, Lauren Maillian, and The Syndicate Angels. We’re excited to use this funding to fuel Ephemeral’s evolution, both in technology as we start to develop color inks, and physical expansion as we look ahead to the opening of our second studio in LA this September.
Tell us about the product or service that Ephemeral Tattoo offers.
Ephemeral is the first and only real tattoo that is applied made-to-fade in 9-15 months, bridging the gap between conventional ink and temporary tattoos.
Ephemeral’s ink was developed by two of our cofounders, Dr. Vandan Shah and Dr. Brennal Pierre, over six years of research and testing and more than 50 formulations. Ephemeral tattoos are applied by tattoo artists the same way as a traditional tattoo ink but without a lifetime commitment.
In March, we opened the first Ephemeral studio in Brooklyn and immediately saw the incredible demand for made-to-fade ink. Just four months after opening, Ephemeral appointments have grown 100% month-over-month with a waitlist that’s the equivalent of 7-8 months.
What inspired the start of Ephemeral Tattoo?
The Ephemeral team is made up of people who grew up in households where tattoos were taboo. When one member had to go through the painful ordeal of tattoo removal, it sparked an epiphany: What if tattoo ink — applied in the same way as traditional tattoos, presenting in the same way as traditional tattoos — was made to fade? The full tattoo experience, minus the permanence?
We saw an opportunity to address this question and redirect the future of the tattoo industry by creating a new category for tattoos; expanding the industry to make it more inclusive and approachable to those who were previously deterred by permanence. The entire Ephemeral experience is centered around giving an authentic tattoo experience without any of the intimidation or pressure.
How is Ephemeral Tattoo different?
To understand how Ephemeral’s tattoo ink is different, it’s helpful to distinguish why permanent tattoos are permanent. A permanent tattoo uses ink that goes into the dermis—the layer just below the outer skin— administered via needle by a trained tattoo artist. The thing that makes permanent tattoos permanent is your body’s inability to break down the dye. Traditional tattoo ink clumps together; too large to be removed, your body “walls off” the area, and the ink stays.
In contrast, Ephemeral’s ink particles break down over time and become small enough to be removed by the body. The rate at which this happens varies from person to person. Ephemeral tattoos are applied by real tattoo artists with real tattoo machinery.
What market does Ephemeral Tattoo target and how big is it?
Sixty million American adults have considered a permanent tattoo but are ultimately held back by the idea of permanence, myself included. Many of the people who choose to get an Ephemeral tattoo are those who are, for many reasons (including religious reasons, general tattoo stigma, or hesitancy around putting anything on their body for life, among others), not ready or willing to get a permanent tattoo.
This is just one segment of the market that Ephemeral targets. But beyond that, Ephemeral appeals to anyone who is interested in the idea of being able to change the way they express themselves through tattooing at any time, without being wed to one design for life. With genuinely one-of-a-kind options like Ephemeral, people can and want to experiment with their self-expression through tattooing, or can experiment with tattoo design, placement and style before committing to a permanent tattoo. The possibilities are literally endless, and that appeals to a lot of people.
What’s your business model?
Ephemeral Tattoo distributes through owned and operated studios. We chose to start with our own studios to maintain a direct relationship with our customers and to reimagine the tattoo studio experience.
How has COVID-19 impacted the business?
We have been very fortunate to have made great progress despite opening our first studio during the pandemic in March of 2021. Our team has worked together both virtually and in-person, kept up health and safety protocols in the studio, and provided an in-studio experience for customers that is both safe and has only made interest in our offering grow. Our appointments have doubled every month since opening, and there is now a seven- to eight-month waitlist.
What was the funding process like?
We were humbled by how competitive the process became. We were ultimately oversubscribed thanks to the high conviction investors had in our vision and technology.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
Tattoos are not an “obvious” category for most investors, so for a number, there was a high degree of education required.
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
Our technology, team, and vision were all compelling reasons to invest in Ephemeral.
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
With this funding, we plan to begin working on the development of our first colored inks (currently, Ephemeral ink only comes in black) and open our second studio in Los Angeles this September. We also intend to open additional studios in other cities where there has been demand for Ephemeral.
What advice can you offer companies in New York that do not have a fresh
injection of capital in the bank?
First, have a clear north star that can be easily articulated externally. Stay focused on validating that vision by creating customer love and the rest will take care of itself.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
We’re excited to continue to expand our studio footprint to other cities across the U.S. Our goal is to be able to enter 10-20 new markets with this funding.
What’s your favorite outdoor dining restaurant in NYC?
LaLou in Prospect Heights!