Beauty junkies used to avoid online shopping for cosmetic products because there was no way to test out items to find the best fit. But Katia Beauchamp and Hayley Barna set out to change that—as business students no less—when they launched Birchbox. Hayley and Katia created an online destination where members can receive beauty samples monthly, and even read up on the latest cosmetic news. These stylish entrepreneurs invited us into their offices and gave us a sneak peak at how they run such an exciting business.
Photography: Alice Gao
What is Birchbox? How did you come up with the idea?
Hayley: Birchbox is a discovery retail platform that helps women and men discover the best in beauty, grooming and lifestyle products. Each month, members receive deliveries of handpicked, deluxe samples that are tailored to their profile. Online, in the Birchbox Shop, members can purchase full-size versions of their favorite samples as well as other editor-approved products. There is also tons of editorial content designed to educate and inspire: how-to videos, expert interviews and beauty/grooming news roundups.
Katia: We came up with the idea for Birchbox when Hayley and I were in business school together. Hayley and I were intrigued by all of the incredible start-ups that recently started like Gilt Group and Rent the Runway. We recognized that the new retail concepts did not address the pain involved with shopping for beauty online. It is especially challenging to buy a beauty product for the first time online, because you need to experience the product—touch, try, smell, etc. Hayley also had a best friend who was a beauty editor, Mollie, who gave her the newest and best products to try. We realized that all women would love to have that feeling of a best friend editor who made it easy by providing everything you need to find your new favorite products.
“Co-founders Katia Beauchamp + Hayley Barna laughing together (very common to see them giggling together around the office!)”
What were your backgrounds before launching Birchbox?
Katia: I worked in commercial real estate banking before I went to business school. I also interned at Universal in their distribution department, including physical and digital.
Hayley: My first job out of college was as an Associate Consultant at Bain and Company. I then went on to work at Christie’s as a Strategy Associate and Amazon.com as a Product Management Intern.
What were your biggest challenges launching your own business?
Every day is a new challenge at Birchbox, which is what makes it so rewarding! Early on, we struggled with hiring. It was a big switch to go from wearing all the hats in the business ourselves to pulling up and finding talented people to take on responsibility for each function.
“The creative team’s “zen area,” the team made the pink pom poms to spruce up their area of the office.”
“A unicorn head tied above our customer operations area of the office, left over from a past office party.”
How do you pick the items featured in Birchbox?
Our brand partnership team and editorial team are constantly on the lookout for the newest and best products in beauty, grooming and lifestyle. It’s a mix of reaching out to new brands and brands reaching out to us. We research the products and then make sure to test them to make sure they work!
When did you have to grow your team and what were the steps you took to do that?
Our first hire was our friend Mollie Chen, Hayley’s former roommate and an editor at Conde Nast Traveler. She helped define the voice of Birchbox, writing everything on the site from product pages, to marketing messages, to every single tweet. Our other early employees actually proactively reached out to us. We were so busy at the time that we didn’t have time to write job descriptions, so they took the initiative and told us what they could do for Birchbox!
How large is your team?
With our recent acquisition of JolieBox in Europe, we now have about 140 employees and growing!
Tell us about your office design. What’s the inspiration? Have a favorite part?
Our office is an open plan, with a healthy amount of pink accents. We knew we’d only be in the space for about a year so we used our budget wisely on high impact areas like wrapping our columns in a birch tree design and adding large logo decals to the walls. A few favorite spaces include the “vanity” in the entryway, the exposed brick wall conference room and the “Where the Wild Things Are” decals one of our employees hid around the office to make people smile. This video gives you a good overview of the crazy fun Birchbox culture. We typically have fewer balloons, confetti and glitter but you get the idea…
“These are all products that Meredith has tested that she really likes and her anniversary sneakers (custom BB Nikes given to employees on their 1 year anniversary), also a small potted plant from another NYC startup, The Sill.”
What does an average day look like for you both?
Katia: It is definitely not a 9-5 day. It starts early, ends late, but the days are so exciting and action packed. It seems like the pace keeps picking up, but that invigorates me. The weekends are times when we want everyone to recharge; of course if we need to get all hands on deck we are there together, making magic happen.
Hayley: The work never ends! But that’s because we love it. Things have calmed down since the beginning, especially as we’ve grown our team. But we’re driven to work hard to make Birchbox a great place to work for our employees, a great service for our customers and brand partners as a growing force in e-commerce.
“The content team’s inspiration board.”
How do you sparkle?
Our sparkle comes from the energy we get from working every day with our best friends and the most talented team, on a product the delights our customers every month! When things feel less sparkly for one of us, we work to remind each other how much we have accomplished, and that helps to bring that sparkle and energy back. We feed off of each other’s energy. Oh, and dumplings, dumplings help us sparkle too.
From left to right: co-founders Katia + Hayley, events coordinator Jamie Garfinkel and senior editor Meredith Stebbins.