Let’s Talk About Birchbox

July 22, 2020


Roughly eight years ago, I was chatting with a young lady in her twenties when she started raving about something called “Birchbox.” I stopped her at once and said, “What on earth is Birchbox?” Well, she looked at me as if I had two heads and said with dismay, “You don’t know about Birchbox!”

Photo by Diana Ruseva on Unsplash

Based on her reaction I very quickly learned all I could about this elusive Birchbox – that made me look like an idiot.

In one simple sentence Birchbox is this: (#1) A monthly service that sends its subscribers a box of five to six sample-sized items of makeup or other beauty-related products such as skincare items or perfumes (#2) The cost is $15 per month or $156 per year (#3) Each month is different – products are never repeated.

WHO FOUNDED THE BIRCHBOX COMPANY? It was started in New York City in 2010 by two female Harvard Business School grads named Katia Beauchamp and Haley Barna. It had initial funding of $1.4 million from investors. Birchbox earns its money this way: (#4) From the monthly subscriber fees (#5) From companies to promote their products (#6) From a website with a store section plus tips and articles about the products.

WHAT IS ITS CURRENT STATUS? As of 2017 it had over one million subscribers and four million total customers in spite of hitting a bump in 2016 when there was a shift in the marketplace. The company coped by making layoffs and cutting their monthly expenses.

BUT NOW THERE’S A WHOLE NEW TWIST to this story: In the March 2020 issue of Marie Claire magazine I came across an article with the eye-stopping title “The Birchbox Mafia.” That headline would make any reader stop in their tracks. In this piece, the writer Sheila Markiar explores a fascinating angle to this whole saga: the incredible number of East Coast executives at Birchbox who are now using the “lessons learned” at the company in order to build their own brands. Talk about making lemonade out of lemons!

Nidhi Kapur, founder and CEO of Maiden House, oversaw business development at Birchbox

The author does an excellent job of writing about six executives, aka “The Birchbox Mafia,” a tight-knit set of New York-based founders who worked at the company during its early days (2010 to 2015). Birchbox shook the beauty industry to its core with sleek marketing, an ambitious business model and, at one point, a $500 million evaluation.

Jess Williams, the creative director at Birchbox is now the founder and CEO of Communal Creative

Headquartered in Manhattan and dominated by women, Birchbox seemed, on paper, like a different breed of animal. Their company culture can be summarized as follows:

  • ONE: Break down barriers. The cofounders never had corner offices: they sat in the same space as the entire team. “We made it easy for people to talk to us,” says one executive.
  • TWO: Be transparent about the highs and lows. The number of Birchbox subscribers was prominently displayed and discussed weekly with the whole team. “There would be celebrations on the hour. Crossing a sales milestone was one,” reports another employee.
  • THREE: Try new things and see what works. The result of all this is that the atmosphere at Birchbox felt like a never-ending adrenaline rush with high-fiving going on all day.    

This is a very pared-down version of the article: I haven’t gone into all the recent successes of the entrepreneurs who cut their teeth at Birchbox (please read the entire article) – this blog is just a taste.

However, I would like to mention one fun thing they have in common: all still have their hot-pink Air Jordan sneakers emblazoned with “Birch” on the left heel + “Box” on the right, and their name – a gift from Birchbox to mark their one-year anniversary. I think that says it all.

UPDATE: A report in Adweek noted that in February 2020, Birchbox fired 25% of its global workforce. This subscription beauty service was once valued at $500 million.

Shaun Nelson-Henrick

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