A Q&A with Hayley and Katia of Birchbox
We hear you met at Harvard Business School. At what point did you decide to start a business together? Did you have other ideas in mind before coming up with Birchbox?
We came up with the idea for Birchbox during our last semester of business school. We had a few months until graduation and decided it was the perfect opportunity to write a business plan and put all our learning to good use. We came up with several ideas, many of which were jokes (meggings anyone? That’s leggings for men…why should women have all the fun?), but the concept of beauty and lifestyle discovery stuck and we committed to making it happen.
We recognized that there were no new concepts when it came to beauty e-commerce and that beauty online had unique pain points since touching, trying, smelling and experiencing products are essential to product discovery. Then came the real life inspiration—Hayley had a close friend who was a beauty editor and for years had gifted her the newest and best products along with advice on how to use them. We realized that all women would love to have a best friend who could cut through the clutter and deliver them great products along with the info on why and how to use them.
What’s the name about?
Birchbox was one of the first names we came up with… We wanted to bring in beautiful, but gender-neutral imagery. Birch trees are gorgeous in every season with their silvery bark. It’s easy to spell and the alliteration is fun.
Tell us a little bit about what Birchbox was like at the very beginning and what it is now.
Katia putting the 1st prototype together.
At the very beginning it was just the two of us waking up every morning with new ideas, fleshing out the value proposition, writing pitch decks, and building prototypes. Looking back, we’re still so amazed that we were able to secure meetings with the leadership at some of our favorite global beauty brands based on a single email and enthusiastic one pager. Once we had secured brand partners, it was off to the races… Katia and I packing boxes in my on-campus apartment, answering every email from customers, and working to update the basic version of our original website.
Our first hire, our beauty editor friend Mollie, was a content machine, writing everything herself from product pages to articles and tweeting up a storm. We had a lot of late nights, but it was such an amazing time, we were probably too excited to sleep. Back then we wore every hat, and over time we’ve recruited a fantastic team over 100 talented people to wear some of those hats for us. Our roles couldn’t be more different now on a day-to-day basis, but we still have the same drive and excitement.
For readers who want to start their own business, what are your top tips?
First the soft stuff: Trust yourself. If you are passionate about your idea you can do more than you ever imagined. There is no secret to success; you simply start with a vision and then it is about problem solving, breaking everything down into smaller pieces, getting it done, and remaining tenacious even when the uphill pursuit becomes steeper. Nothing is more rewarding!
Now for tactical: It might seem daunting to get started, but it doesn’t need to be perfect from the start. Test your idea in its minimum viable form. Our first site was super basic, we packed every box ourselves and walked them all to the post office. We were able to let it evolve over time instead of solving everything on day one.
Any mistakes while building the business and what have you learned from them?
Running a fast growing business means being comfortable with uncertainty and learning from mistakes. We make them every day. Our biggest regret in building Birchbox was not hiring fast enough. Hiring and building a great team is the most challenging aspect of our job and the most rewarding. Quickly we learned that there are a finite amount of things that can be accomplished by a single person in a day—you need to share learning and teach others. Now, working side by side with the incredible team at Birchbox inspires us to work harder and do justice not only to the idea but to the people behind it as well.
What’s next for Birchbox?
We launched Birchbox Man earlier this year and are so excited to see the enthusiasm for the grooming and lifestyle discovery value proposition. We also just expanded internationally via the acquisition of JolieBox!
What selection criteria do you use for the boxes?
We are about discovery—whether that’s a new lip-gloss launch or bringing a tried and true product from a niche, hard-to-find brand.
Over the years, having seen so many brands come through your doors, can you both give us a breakdown of what your current daily beauty routine is and what products you use?
Katia: Depends on the day when it comes to hair and makeup. My skincare though, is pretty consistent.
- When I have makeup on, I start with an oil cleanser. Then I use both a serum and moisturizer. Right now all of those products are Tatcha, a new skincare brand—I am obsessed!
- I always use eye cream: Caudalie’s Vinoperfect is fantastic.
- For hair, I use Shu Uemura’s Cleansing Oil Shampoo. I am addicted.
- For makeup on a normal day it’s Boscia BB cream, Anastasia brow pencils, Lancôme Hypnose mascara, and TheBalm Staniac on cheeks and lips.
Hayley: When we started Birchbox I was a total minimalist and had a lot to learn. I’ve picked up some new tricks and added to my routine since then!
- I wear SPF every day, either a sunscreen serum from Supergoop! or tinted moisturizer like Jouer’s Luminizing Moisture Tint.
- I’ve been hooked on Oribe haircare for shampoo and conditioner, both because of the heavenly smell and the great results. Lately I’ve been letting my curly hair air-dry with some curl cream from Miss Jessie’s.
- In terms of makeup I like simple application with big impact So colorful eyeliners from Stila and Eyeko or manicures in the latest Birchbox-approved shades help brighten my day. My favorite product discovery through Birchbox has been Blinc mascara, a tubing mascara that never flakes or runs.
I walk into a flea market with romantic dreams of unearthing a priceless Dunbar sofa (that just needs recovering) or a (discontinued white-white) Le Creuset dutch oven, only to feel lost and overwhelmed by what feels like, well, junk.
A couple of years ago, we undertook the task of renovating our home in London. I turned to super-talented architect Al Martin (he also happens to be my brother-in-law) who turned our dream for the space into a beautifully-livable reality.