Before launching Birchbox seven years ago, CEO and co-founder Katia Beauchamp had to convince some of the world's biggest beauty brands to get behind the $10-a-month subscription service that ships sample-sized mascaras, moisturizers and other cosmetics to customers.
So how did Beauchamp get the attention of top executives? With cold emails that were short and to the point, says Beauchamp, who founded Birchbox with Harvard Business School friend Hayley Barna.
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The messages led to meetings and partnerships with major brands, she says. Today, Birchbox has more than 1 million subscribers and also sells full-size products on its website. A men's version of the subscription box, costing $20 a month, was launched in 2012. It now works with powerful companies such as Burt's Bees, Kiehl's and The Body Shop. Beauchamp spoke to The Associated Press about those emails, the meaning of the Birchbox name and the best advice she has received. Below are highlights from the interview, edited for length and clarity.
Q: What's the story behind the name Birchbox?
A: We wanted a name that really spoke to us as consumers. We weren't beauty obsessed, so a name that had beauty, or glam, or blush in it really didn't appeal to us. We really focused on a name that had beautiful imagery and could be gender neutral. We thought that a tree was pretty gender neutral and gave us a lot of room to have either a fairly modern design or a kind of classic design. We found birch pretty quickly and we loved everything about birches. Gorgeous from an image perspective. It grows better together. It sheds its skin every season. So we loved all the attributes and we loved the way it sounded. And then we made a list of about 50 other names that were horrible and came back to Birchbox.
Q: Talk about some of the emails you sent as you were getting Birchbox started. Who were you emailing and what did your emails say?
A: So I like to cold email. I've received some positive reinforcement from cold emailing since I was in college and I recognize that it's a way to get access to somebody that you might not be able to get access to. So I used that technique when we started Birchbox because I didn't come from the beauty industry and neither did my co-founder. And though we could access some people on different teams in beauty, we knew we wanted to get access to the very top decision makers because that would really help us understand whether we were going to build partnerships that could last decades. So we cold emailed the CEOs and the presidents of companies that we knew of in beauty, like NARS, Kiehl's and Frederic Fekkai. We asked them basically for five minutes of their time and the subject line was reimagining beauty retail. A very short email where we said we are going to completely reinvent the beauty industry, this is why we think that we are like-minded and we could do something together. Do you have five minutes to give us feedback? So very short.
Q: What helpful tips did you get as you were launching?
A: One of the best pieces of advice we received early on was from a professor when we were just getting the idea off the ground at business school. He really encouraged us to launch it, and to test it, and do it while we were in business school, and do it right away. So, within two months from having the initial idea, we were basically out testing a beta version of the product.
Q: Give us a sense of your own upbringing. Your mother had instilled this lesson in you about being in charge of your own emotions as a child. How did that prepare you for the challenges of running your own company?
A: When I was growing up, I had great encouragement from everybody around me that I could do anything I wanted. The first thing I ever remember saying I wanted to be when I grew up was the president of the United States. My family seemed to think that was very reasonable and completely encouraged me. They didn't laugh at me. My mom has always been extremely supportive, but also given me an incredible perspective on being able to control my own destiny and controlling my own reality. Basically, she always told me that I'm in control of how I see the world. So my mom really taught me that I could control the outcome just by controlling how I saw what information was coming at me, and it's been really powerful.
Q: What comes next?
A: Our goal at Birchbox is always global domination, not because the goal in and of itself is important, but because we are fighting to build the home for the beauty majority that meets her needs and inspires her wants. So, by definition, that means that we should be the largest beauty company that exists. And I absolutely believe that there's space to do that, that this is the time to do that and that brands that meet at the intersection of function and delight, like Birchbox, have a huge competitive advantage today. It's a time when the customer can have their cake and eat it too.
This interview was conducted by The Associated Press in collaboration with the mobile video storytellers at VERITE . To view video highlights on the discussion, click here: https://twitter.com/APBusiness/status/854670907301908480