Buying beauty products online is never an easy process. Without the ability to try products with our own hands, picking a perfect coral lip stain or a new BB cream to try is essentially hit or miss – or it was, until Birchbox came along. Co-founders Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp, who met at Harvard Business School, came up with the the perfect beauty business model: a subscription based platform that allows women to try samples of a curated selection of only the best products every month. Birchbox helps consumers cut through the clutter of the retail world to find products that really work for them.
We sat down with Katia to learn the ins and outs of young entrepreneurship; and, of course, to find out a little more about how Birchbox came to be!
Tell us how you and your co-founder Hayley conceived of the idea for Birchbox.
We came up with the idea of Birchbox while we are in business school. We had two core inspirations; first, we were inspired by the innovation we saw happening around us when entrepreneurs visited campus- so many directly in the fashion space, and we noted that there were no new concepts directly relevant to beauty online. We recognized shopping for beauty online had unique pain points—consumers weren’t going to buy a product for the first time, before touching trying and experiencing that product. Second was the real life inspiration; Hayley’s best friend was a beauty editor who for years gifted her the newest and best products for her, along with advice on how to use them. We realized that every woman would love to have a best friend beauty editor. That inspiration remains key to our idea of discovery retail.
What were the biggest challenges in the early stages?
Every day is a new challenge at Birchbox, which is what makes it so rewarding! Early on, we struggled with finding time to hire. It was a chicken and the egg problem- we needed help as our customer base grew, but we couldn’t find time to hire that help. Fortunately our first few hires really hired themselves (wrote their own job descriptions which were undeniably valuable) and then we finally took the advice that we HAD to make time- nothing matters more that having a talented team to help when you are scaling.
What advantages does the Birchbox model have over traditional beauty product shopping?
Birchbox is the best way for consumers to discover beauty products. Our service is a 360 degree discovery- Try. Learn. Buy. Simply put, we personalize a selection of samples for you to try monthly, provide you with the editorial content to get the most from those products and make it seamless to purchase what you love. Birchbox members join a community of like-minded, savvy and discovery oriented consumers. What’s not to love?? Exactly, hope to see you soon
Does your busy schedule dictate your beauty routine?
Definitely! I normally keep the amount of products I use to a minimum to cut down the time it takes me to get ready. I’m also a huge fan of products that multitask – think BB creams, lip and cheek stains, etc. I carry samples with me in my purse so I can reapply, and I also make sure to carry a darker eye liner to create more of a “look” at any notice. Dark eyeliner plus a little smudging can go a long way!
What’s your best piece of advice for young entrepreneurial women?
1. Test your idea to get some proof of concept- the technical term is called creating a minimum viable product. For us, we created a 2-month trial by building a simple site, attracting 8 brands and 200 initial subscribers. Based on those results, we had enough proof of concept to believe that we could launch this concept.
2. Work hard, ask questions, learn from every opportunity and remember to enjoy building your career. This is supposed to be fun!
3. I don’t think there is any piece of advice that can fully prepare you for this crazy ride. I think if anything, I would have wanted to know that I had to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Stepping out of your comfort zone is important to achieving success.
4. Trust yourself- you can do more than you ever imagined. There is no secret to doing this; you start with a vision and then it is about problem solving, getting things done, and remaining tenacious even when the uphill pursuit becomes steeper.
How do you maintain work-life balance?
I don’t really believe in work-life balance, in the traditional sense. I embrace working hard and a lot because I love what I do and I love the people I do it with. When you are having fun, learning and growing (all with amazing people), it is easier to find “balance” without being out of the office. That said, work hard to make sure that I have time to have experiences with my husband and friends where we do “turn off” from work and focus on creating other memories. In the practical sense this looks like at least one weekly date night with my husband, plus long weekends with him and friends where we can have extended periods of quality time. Still trying to get into a workout routine, but for now it’s the 7-minute workout and the occasional Barry’s Bootcamp or Soul Cycle
What’s your “power piece” – the one item in your closet you can’t live without?
I am accessory and shoe-centric! I love how a necklace or bracelets can change the look of an outfit. LBD with a bright pop of heels also makes me very happy! Currently obsessed with a shiny statement necklace, but I really can’t be forced to choose favorites