A few months back, we introduced you to Birchbox, the 100% Renegade Recommended company that delivers high-end beauty samples to your door for just $10 a month. You have also read our rave reviews of products we have tested through Birchbox such as Color Club’s Foil Collection Nail Polish. Now we would like to introduce you to the Birchbox founders and our Renegade Chicks of the Week, Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp. Featured on Inc.com’s 30 most intriguing business owners in America under thirty, these two Harvard graduates are using their innovative idea to revamp beauty retail online.
Barna and Beauchamp launched Birchbox in September 2010 with 660 members that they recruited through word of mouth. Today, less than three years after its inception, Birchbox has over 100,000 paying subscribers and offers Birchbox Man. According to Inc.com, Barna and Beauchamp have been able to garner the support of the beauty industry’s most prominent companies who provide them with free samples to share with their customers in exchange for data about customer’s purchasing behavior. The first company to sign on with Birchbox was Benefit Cosmetics and now they have partnerships with exclusive brands that include Bvlgari, CO Bigelow, Dior, Kate Spade, Kiehl’s, NARS, and Shu Uemura among many others. In addition to linking customers to luxury beauty companies, the Birchbox website provides crucial information in the form of videos, how-to tutorials, articles and trend reports that customers are able to interact with in order to learn how to use products effectively. We love Birchbox and are in awe of all Barna and Beauchamp have been able to accomplish in such a short period of time. We couldn’t wait to learn more about their stories and are thrilled that the power duo shared with us some of the secrets to their success and some tips for aspiring entrepreneurs. Here is what they had to say:
Renegade Chicks: What were some of the initial steps you took when you first put the business plan together for Birchbox?
- Katia: Once we decided that we wanted to test our idea, we reached out to the presidents and CEOs of beauty brands that we personally loved. We explained our idea and asked them if they would contribute samples for our Beta launch. They saw the potential in our idea and their willingness to participate was critical in encouraging us to keep going.
- Hayley: We sent our first boxes to about 200 women who were part of our Beta test. We emailed our friends asking them to email their friends; we wanted to get the perspective of women that weren’t necessarily close to us.
RC: How do you think Birchbox grew so quickly?
- Katia: Before we launched, there really wasn’t a great way to discover beauty online – you want to touch, try and smell these products. From the beginning, our customers loved that we gave them the ability to try newly launched products from brands that they weren’t familiar with. They also immediately began engaging with the content that we created for those products. In a nutshell, they enjoyed the service and they started telling their friends online and offline.
- Hayley: I also largely attribute Birchbox’s growth to the incredible PR coverage we were able to attract. From the beginning there were many angles of the story to share and we worked hard to understand the best way to surface our idea, learning and progress.
RC: What do you attribute to the success of Birchbox?
- Katia: Our success comes from a talented and dedicated team. Our employees believe in the big vision and work hard to ensure that we accomplish the necessary milestones along the way. It takes an incredibly strong and determined team to take on the challenge of striving to improve our offer each month.
- Hayley: In addition to the hard work of the entire team, I also attribute Birchbox’s success to the fact that Katia and I have always made sure to incorporate the bigger picture into everything that we do. We started dreaming big and continue to do so. We don’t settle for less than our stretch goals and have never lost sight of our larger vision for Birchbox.
RC: What recommendations do you have for young women entrepreneurs that want to start their own business?
- Katia: Determine what few questions are crucial to answer in order to decide that you are ready to take the leap. You are going to have endless questions, insurmountable uncertainty and that you have to get used to; but, you can pick a few things that you need to check off, relentlessly pursue those answers and then potentially move forward with a plan for the next step…not all the next steps.
- Hayley: Make sure you truly love the business or product. Entrepreneurship is a wild roller coaster ride and being passionate about the category or business model helps you through. If you can’t stop thinking about it before you go to bed at night and are thinking about it during your morning shower that’s a good sign. And don’t be afraid to get started. Like Katia said, break down the problem into smaller steps and then go for it! Chances are that even if it doesn’t work out you’ll learn a lot along the way.
RC: Tell us what it’s like to live the life of Hayley and Katia. What does a typical day look like for the two of you?
- Katia: Rise early! Start emailing…trying to get the gym lately, but I would be lying if I called it “regular” yet (wish me luck!). Head in to the office at 8/8:30. Meetings! Some internal meetings, external meetings with beauty brands, meetings with other potential partners and interviews for new employees. Catch up with Hayley! Head home around 9, cook something easy or order Thai food in with my amazing husband. Catch up with each other about our days. Mad Men break…and, back to work. Then some sleep.
- Hayley: Very similar to Katia’s day with fewer meetings outside of the office. My internal meetings focus on analyzing business performance, looking for opportunities for improvement and troubleshooting. We say that every day at Birchbox is an opportunity to learn and improve our service for our consumers and brand partners.
RC: As customers that are big fans of Birchbox, we look forward to our delivery each month and compare notes on what little gems we’ve received and our thoughts on each new product we try. Many times, we do not receive the same products. How many different boxes do you send out each month? Can you explain the process that you go through to choose the products for the individual boxes and assemble them to ship?
- Katia & Hayley: So happy to hear you love your Birchboxes! Our box development process starts with the theme for the month. For example, our June box is themed “Jet Set” and the products we’re sampling are great to travel with or are globally inspired brands. Once we have chosen a set of samples that match the month’s theme we take a look at the customer’s profile, what she’s received in the past and her full-size purchase history to match her with the best subset of samples. We have an incredibly diverse group of customers that vary in age and interests, so while every box fits the month’s theme and has a mix of beauty categories they can include very different products. We’ve heard from customers that comparing selections with friends and family members is a big part of the fun of Birchbox.
RC: What is your favorite product(s) that you have featured in a Birchbox?
- Hayley: Blinc mascara. It’s truly a wonder product. It works very differently than regular mascara. It creates tubes around your lashes, guaranteed not to budge throughout the day no matter how much fidgeting it’s subjected to! It’s an example of something innovative that I never would have tried or known about had I not experienced it through Birchbox.
Sign up for your own Birchbox subscription in time to receive June’s “Jet Set” box here and stay tuned for more beauty product reviews from us Renegade Chicks!