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Birchbox Co-CEO Katia Beauchamp Explains What Startups Can Learn From Social Media

Posted: 03/25/2012 9:10 am Updated: 03/26/2012 4:52 pm

Birchbox Co Ceo Katia Beauchamp
Katia Beauchamp

Sign #465 you’re meant to be an entrepreneur: You can’t get through bath time without a good idea.

Katia Beauchamp, the co-founder and co-CEO of Birchbox, which delivers designer beauty product samples on a monthly basis to subscribers, says her “life changing” gadget is a waterproof notepad she uses to record the tasks and ideas she dreams up in the shower.

“Birchbox is delightful, with efficiency as well,” Beauchamp said. “Nothing is more delightful than being efficient.”

Beauchamp and her business partner Hayley Barna are among a growing number of entrepreneurs pioneering ways to help consumers discover new products by combining the efficiency of the web with the intimacy of physical goods. Birchbox is also one of several standout startups powering the ascent of New York’s Silicon Alley.

Birchbox is part Allure, part Amazon.com, but with a more personal touch. Subscribers pay $10 a month to receive a pink box of designer beauty product samples in the mail. The customized selection of samples arrives carefully folded in tissue paper, tied in ribbon, and introduced with a detailed description of the cream, mascara, or hair balm products included.

The offline experience is complemented by Birchbox’s online encyclopedia of beauty tips and products, compiled by the startup’s editorial team, whose members interview noteworthy women about their favorite cosmetics and produce instructional videos on YouTube. The company’s co-founders have married e-commerce with editorial content, and the Birchbox site offers a resource for women and an online store, all in one.

“There are so many different parts of Birchbox -- Birchbox is a media company, it’s an editorial company, it’s an e-commerce company, and it’s definitely a tech company,” Beauchamp said.

Beauchamp and Barna co-founded the company in 2009 while they were students at Harvard Business School, and, in the past year, Birchbox has grown from around 10 people to just shy of 60 employees.

In an interview for The Huffington Post’s Women in Tech series, Beauchamp shared her take on how social media can help startups, why companies should embrace both content and e-commerce, and more.

What was it about starting a company that no one prepared you for?
I don’t think you can be prepared for this. I don’t think that’s in any way feasible. I think if you knew what was coming, it would feel daunting because it’s crazy.

Did social media play a significant role in Birchbox’s growth?
Huge. Social media has been huge for us in terms of getting subscribers, and also from day one it’s been really important in establishing what the Birchbox voice would be. We like to say that we’re at the intersection of where glossy meets grassroots. And being accessible is a very important part of that grassroots feel.

What do people generally fail to understand about the way women shop online?
As consumers, we read magazines or blogs and we get excited about a product, but then there are so many hurdles in the way of actually going to find the product. We think it doesn’t make sense to have those silos in between these things: E-commerce and editorial should live together and be equally important.

Consumers are going online to get their intel and get their information, and the school of thought has always been that that needs to be separate from where they are shopping. But you’re starting to see the lines blur and you’re starting to see media companies have e-commerce experiences.

But can people trust advice from a site that marries both? You must have an interest in writing about -- and writing positive things about -- your partners’ products.
Why can’t you authentically love products and tell consumers about them? I think the customer is ready for it. We place equal value on editorial as e-commerce, and I think the customer is willing to accept it because we didn’t start as one thing and then tack on something else.

It’s kind to the consumer to acknowledge the evolution of the consumer. I think moving forward, a media company that’s separate from an e-commerce company that’s separate from a marketing company will not exist. I think the lines are blurring and they will continue to blur. We have the advantage of starting with both [editorial and e-commerce].

What’s changed about the ways women shop online?
I think you go looking for inspiration instead of going to find one exact thing.

As people go and look for inspiration, they’re using social media as a big part of that. Especially Pinterest -- the more and more I talk to my friends about how they use Pinterest, the more I hear that a lot of shopping inspiration starts there.

What new trends in tech do you find most exciting?
We’re really excited about image-based community sharing because it really has been an inspiring -- but easy -- way for customers to engage with brands and start to show their behavior and personalities.

They’re able to show us what they’re interested in, and that affects the content we create and that affects the products we put in their box. In the inverse, we’re able to show them what we’re doing and that affects their perception of our brand and potentially their shopping behavior.

Is there something unique that a woman might bring to a startup, like Birchbox, targeted at female consumers, that a man might not?
Authenticity helps with anything you’re doing. When you talk with brands and investors, you need to be able to have authentic conversations about how discovery works for women, and it’s hard to talk about selling products [for women] that make up a $40 billion market without being her. It’s hard being authentic about the pain points and discovery and the products people love offline and online -- it’s hard for a man to do that with a product targeted at a female consumer.

Her indispensable gadget: Soda Stream

Her indispensable "low-tech" gadget: AquaNotes

Her favorite apps: Evernote, Epicurious, Pulse, Draw Something

Her favorite Twitter account to follow: @ShitMyDadSays ("Sporadic and worth it," Beauchamp says.)

Her "required reading" recommendation: Kenneth Blanchard's "The One Minute Manager," David Skok's ForEntrepreneurs.com.

Women in Tech, a series from HuffPostTech, showcases innovative female pioneers, from CEOs and scientists to entrepreneurs and engineers, who are changing the way we think about and engage with technology. Read more interviews and profiles from the series here

This post has been edited from its original published version for clarity.

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