BSB: Where did the idea for Birchbox come from?
Hayley and I came up with the idea for Birchbox when we were in business school, about six months away from graduation. Throughout our relationship in school, I always noticed how Hayley had the newest and best products. She always said that Mollie gave them to her. Mollie Chen was her best friend from her undergrad days, who had been a beauty editor and is now our director of content. That connection was definitely a huge part of the inspiration for the site.
We also began discussing the fact that it’s challenging for customers to discover beauty products because there’s so much product out there. Business school gave us a great foundation in thinking about industries where there was an opportunity to reimagine an existing status quo for customers and brands, and create a new value proposition. For the beauty industry, we were inspired by the opportunity to give customers the feeling of having a beauty-editor best friend, by selecting the product and merging content and commerce. For brands, we were inspired to build a service that created the best environment to connect with a qualified customer by merging editorial, marketing and retail sales.
Please tell us about what Birchbox is and how it works.
Birchbox is a place for customers to discover the newest and best in beauty. It is a 360-degree experience of discovery. In other words, they try samples, learn more about them and then can easily transact on full-size products.
It’s also a place where brands can find new customers and engage with them in an intimate environment—their home! Subscribers pay $10 per month, and they receive a box in the mail of four to five deluxe beauty samples. We editorialize everything that’s in the box on the website with articles about how to use the products, videos when necessary, blogs, etc. And as the customers are reading about the products, they can easily click through and buy.
Before anything, subscribers fill out a brief beauty profile and tell us a little about themselves, which allows us to choose the samples that are best suited for them. There’s a letter from the editor in the box, which Hayley, Mollie and I work on together. It provides a short description of the products and speaks about the theme of the month. We encourage subscribers to go to the site to find out more about each product.
What’s your mission?
[Everyone here is] very focused on being the best discovery service for beauty.
Who do you consider your competition?
We didn’t invent sending things in the mail and we didn’t invent sampling. But the way that we packaged Birchbox with sampling and content and commerce while creating a value proposition to our beauty partners is a different approach. And we are the only ones with that perspective.
[Photo caption: Subscribers in all 50 states receive their very own Birchbox each month. Photo credit: Courtesy of Birchbox, along with subsequent photos.]