Recently, Birchbox’s co-founders Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp popped over to the office to talk how the two became friends in business school and the business’s growth since their early days in 2010.
If the beauty company’s origin story sounds a little familiar, it should. Our co-founders also met in business school, we just toasted our four-year anniversary, and now, Birchbox is complementing their successful e-commerce operations with a physical store in SoHo later this summer, a couple blocks from our Greene Street space. So yeah, we have a lot common and were doubly excited to hear from them. Thank you, Hayley and Katia!
Here are five encouraging pieces of business savvy from Hayley and Katia:
1. Neither of them are what you’d call beauty fiends.
“We met over nail polish even though neither of us loved beauty. My nail color attracted Hayley on the first day of school. I really don’t like washing my hair. I love dry shampoo and I know way too much about it.” Katia
“It was pathetic what makeup I had before Birchbox. I was a tomboy growing up; walking into Sephora was overwhelming. Fortunately, I had lived with my friend who was a beauty editor at Condé Nast and she’d give me those products with information on how to use them.” Hayley
2. Sometimes, a quick and polite email works.
“When we were still students I cold-emailed CEOs of companies like NARS, BeneFit, and Kiehl’s, and strangely enough we had a huge hit rate. We were very strategic about these emails: they had a snappy subject line and a straightforward message, just ‘five minutes of your time please.’ We received 200 samples at first, but they were super skeptical about what we inherently believed: that consumers would pay for samples.” Katia
3. Your network probably goes farther than you think.
“We used a grassroots approach and got friends of friends to sign up. (If our friends signed up, the data would be crap.) When it came time to launch, we had a wait list of about 1000 people. In our five-year plan we thought we’d be at 50,000 subscribers. We got there in six months.” Hayley
4. Confidence, though, goes really far.
“You’d heard stories about eBay and Zappos getting copied in seven years, and we got copied in like five months by a well-known, well-funded international company. They raised $70 million against our idea. Initially we were nervous but very quickly we realized it’s challenging to copy a vision. Our long-term game is to be the largest beauty commerce company in the world.” Katia
5. Shopping for beauty products doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Promise.
“If you want to go into our store after work and get your makeup done, you can go there for free. We don’t mind.” Hayley
“We call our model ‘try, learn, buy.’ We really tried to replicate that in the store. You’ll be able to try the beauty products, you can also get services and learn from experts—nothing over 30 minutes. We’ll be teaching classes and of course you can buy the full-size product. We’ll have a few thousand products on the floor while a traditional beauty store has 10,000. That’s terrifying! How do I choose from 1000 mascaras what I want? Our store is our little laboratory to learn how normal women shop.” Katia