KNOW YOUR PRODUCT: a Q + A session with Hayley and Katia of Birchbox

For anyone starting out their own business for the first time, it can be a scary, crazy ride. From concept through to business planning, marketing, finance, budgeting, down to knowing regulatory frameworks, your tax obligations and how to correctly report your earnings, it can be a minefield. But it’s also a journey full of positive rewards, and one where the many hours of hard work can result in great benefits as you see your passions and dreams come to life.

For many people, myself included, the dream of being your own boss one day is one that gives a great sense of joy.  There is much to learn, many lessons to be had, and many failures ahead, as you stumble down the path of discovery whilst launching and growing ‘your baby’. It’s all part of the wonderful adventure, and its this journey that leads to a great spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship as struggles and challenges are overcome and you find bigger and better ways of doing business.

Thankfully in this day and age we have so many wonderful, savvy female entrepreneurs who are lighting the way on how to start and run a successful, smart business online. There’s a plethora of knowledge on the net and many people, such as the founders of Birchbox, are only too happy to share with you some of the tips to their success and some strategies you can implement when starting up your own projects. Yay for us to have such wonderful inspiring role models to show us how its done!

Birchbox is the brainchild of Katia and Hayley, and is an online beauty and lifestyle store that helps you find products that you’ll love.  It offers consumers a unique and personalized way to discover, learn about, and shop the best beauty, grooming, and lifestyle products on the market. Headquartered in New York City, Birchbox launched in September 2010 and has since extended into men’s grooming products with Birchbox man.  Through their monthly subscription service, customers receive a gift box in the post full of the latest and most gorgeous hair, makeup and beauty samples to try and fall in love with. They also have a personalized shop with a generous loyalty program that rewards you every time you shop, refer friends, and give feedback on your monthly samples. You can redeem Birchbox Points and save on any full-size or gift purchase. With an online magazine full of insightful content to help you get the most out of your products, Birchbox has taken the discovery commerce space by storm and is going from strength to strength.


The below is a Q & A with Katia and Hayley, originally published at

Q: 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?

A: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 ecommerce 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.

Q:What’s the name about?

A: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.

Q:Tell us a little bit about what Birchbox was like at the beginning and what it is now.

A: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 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.

Katia putting the 1st prototype together

Q:For readers who want to start their own business, what are your top tips?

A: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.



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