How I Did It: Katia Beauchamp and Hayley Barna, Founders of Birchbox
We met the first day of class at Harvard Business School.
Our assigned seats put us close enough together so that we could comment on each other's nail polish color. A friendship was born.
During our second year, after many study sessions, international trips and networking events (a.k.a dance parties), we decided that in order to make the most of our business school experience we should write a business plan.
Why just read and talk about running businesses? Let's do! Let's create!
We tossed around a few ideas, most were sillier than they were practical, but one of them stuck.
Through on-campus conferences, plus our own personal shopping habits, we were familiar with many of the innovative commerce companies out there.
But we hadn't come across anything that addressed ecommerce for beauty.
It's tricky to sell beauty online because it's a touch, try and feel category where consumers want to learn before they commit.
We recognized that buying a beauty product online for the first time (not something you already have) was a huge hurdle, but that more and more shopping was shifting to online and someone would have to find a way!
Our idea was to create an ecommerce experience focused on new product discovery.
Using personalized sampling, editorial content and a curated shop we could create a platform that connected consumers and brands and bridged the physical and digital gap for prestige beauty brands.
We tested the Birchbox concept with a beta trial while we were still in school.
We cold emailed the best beauty brands in the country and signed on eight of them for a two-month test period.
Then we built a basic website and starting acquiring customers, capping the beta at 200 customers and then starting a waitlist.
This was a small start but we were able prove that the concept was valid. We collected great data and learned a lot in the process.
Brands appreciated that we could send samples to a targeted group of engaged customers and track the Return on Investment of their sampling investment.
Consumers loved discovering new products and brands that they wouldn't have otherwise, learning about how to use them and being able to buy full-size right on our site.
We won 2nd place in the Harvard Business School Business Plan competition and graduated without jobs to move to New York City and launch Birchbox.
After a summer of rebranding, rebuilding and preparation, we officially launched Birchbox to the world in September 2010.
The past two years have been an amazing ride. Our growth has exceeded our wildest expectations. We threw out the original forecast, revised the numbers up, and then threw that new one out too.
We now work with over 300 prestige beauty brands and have hundreds of thousands of customers across two continents.
We've launched a second vertical that focuses on grooming and lifestyle product discovery for men.
Our team has grown from just the two of us to over 100 talented individuals. We have raised over $11M of venture capital money to help fund our growth.
Taking a step back, we can't believe so much has happened so quickly.
Our dedication to the vision for Birchbox has helped keep us focused and motivated on growing the business and changing the way people discover products online.
Of course, we've learned a lot along the way. Some of our hardest learned lessons include:
- Creating and growing something you are passionate about is incredibly rewarding. Even if you fail spectacularly you will learn a lot along the way.
- Dream big, but start small. Not everything has to be perfect upfront. Break down big problems into baby steps and it won't be as daunting.
- Don't be afraid to ask questions, especially of your customers. Feedback and the willingness to improve are extremely valuable.
- There are only so many hours in a day for one person to get things done. Hire talented people who can help you and your business scale.
- Test and learn. Be brave enough to try something different but know how you're going to measure the results.
After meeting at Harvard Business School and graduating in 2010, Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp co-founded Birchbox, the discovery commerce company changing the way women and men shop for beauty, grooming and lifestyle products. Through its multi-channel platform, the Birchbox experience features personalized sampling, informative editorial content and a hand-picked online store.