The Pussyhat Project, the Women’s March, all the women who found the strength to speak out against high-profile men for sexual harassment — at a time when the climate is rife with political turmoil, when divisiveness and biases have plagued the nation, this year, incredibly, has seen women band together, reclaim their space, and redefine what it means to be a feminist. And that’s why, after honoring Selena Gomez as Billboard’s Woman of the Year, we set out to highlight (and celebrate) a woman who uses her own platform to influence and do good: Katia Beauchamp, the co-founder and CEO of Birchbox.
Seven years ago, Beauchamp and co-founder Hayley Barna embarked on a seemingly impossible mission to improve the way women shop for beauty, an undertaking made even more challenging by the fact that the entrepreneurial landscape was dominated by men. Now, as the OG subscription box service, Birchbox works with about 300 beauty brands, has opened brick-and-mortar locations, and caters to millions of subscribers across six countries (U.S., France, Belgium, United Kingdom, Ireland, and Spain).
Beauchamp took time out of her busy schedule to chat with us about how she created her empire, why is it more important now than ever to support women in business, and her number-one advice fore aspiring entrepreneurs.
Why is it more important now than ever to support women in business?
I think it’s an incredible time because it feels like there is really a tipping point for change that’s critical in how women are represented in a more equal way and in every aspect of society. In my mind, the way to really make a change, to do something that’s palpable and noticeable, is it to think about attacking this opportunity: What can we all do individually? What can we do in our lives, and in my case, in the sense of building a community that will touch more people’s lives? It’s an exciting time. It really does feel like we’re getting to a point where we are having more open conversations and I think it’s an important step forward.
How would launching Birchbox today be different from when you launched it seven years ago?
I think in some ways, we would have different tailwinds. There’s been some movement I would say on this concept of women starting businesses and the ability to get early stage capital. I also say there’s more competition. There are more people interested in entrepreneurship, so I don’t know if that would have made it easier or harder, but it was really hard in the early days to raise funding in the initial round—and subsequent rounds. Just pitching to investors who are male and having the conversation around doing something that is truly different and where there wasn’t a precedent. We were changing the path to purchase for beauty. Having to explain that the majority of women don’t like buying beauty—and how that’s a pain point—and trying to convey that as an opportunity was a challenge. There was a lot of skepticism and even more so when the audience you’re pitching to can’t really resonate with the pain point or the opportunity.
What’s your advice for women looking to start a business now?
My advice, if you’re really interested in starting a business, is to start because the idea that it’s risky is in your head. I know there are certain situations where you can’t make that decision, but if it’s possible for you to put some income at risk for the next several months or year, the reality is, the biggest risk is you fail, and if you fail, you will forever be better for it. It’s a fact. I truly and firmly believe that so many people are capable of doing it—it’s just a matter of recognizing that fear is holding you back and failure is not something to be afraid of. Failure is how you develop and how you succeed, and it’s on the back of millions of failures that you’ll find success.
Is there something someone had told you when you were launching Birchbox?
There are bits of advice here and there that I try to give new entrepreneurs today, but I do think there’s something extremely valuable about not knowing things, about being naïve. I think observing that naïveté is a critical aspect of continuing to go, pursue thing relentlessly, and not be cynical or skeptical. But I do talk to people about the fundraising process and how to educate yourself about different types of capital, and what and when is appropriate in the stage of your business. It’s also really important to build a board of independence and operator. That can be extremely powerful if it’s a true board—a board that you’re reporting to, that sees opportunities to guide and develop a CEO, and helps that leader avoid pitfalls.
What do you think makes for a strong female entrepreneur?
The ability to recognize the strengths inside of you. Self-awareness. Having awareness of what your strengths are and what your development opportunities are, and embracing both of those things as fearlessly as you can, but recognizing that everybody has both. Ironically, most often your biggest strength has an Achilles heel and that’s also your biggest development area—they usually go very tightly hand in hand.
Let’s talk about Selena Gomez who is Billboard’s Woman of the Year. How does she inspire you?
She’s definitely inspiring, especially over the course of the past two years, where she’s been so open and authentic. As such an influential person, she’s showing the power and strength of being vulnerable. She’s somebody with such a huge audience, with such an important platform, with so much talent, and she can still be vulnerable about her realities and challenges. And she approaches that with so much humility, gratitude, and real heart — when anybody on that scale is that real, it’s such a gift.
How are you using your platform to influence others?
I think about this so, so much. What a privilege to make even a small impact on the lives of the employees at Birchbox or the customers of Birchbox. My goal is to change the relationship between employees and the employer, so that it’s truly reciprocal and optimized to support women at all stages in their career. I work with my internal team to talk about the most important and challenging aspects of being a woman, so for example, we’ve trained our employees around negotiating for their salaries. We’re also focused on what I think is the most important aspect of being a mother on leave, which is coming back to work, and how we can help you come back in a way that really supports you during a time that definitely has some challenges. We’re trying to take that conversation to more companies. Every opportunity I have, I’m talking about it with other leaders because it means a lot to me that we move past this idea that the only thing left to tackle is paid leave for primary caregivers. I truly believe the most important thing is how you can make it worth it for women to come back to work. And I’m very passionate about that.
What’s next for Birchbox?
What we’re focused on being the place the majority of women want to discover, learn, and buy beauty. Most beauty companies have historically focused on the woman who is obsessed with beauty, but for the rest of us, beauty is not our passion. That’s not to say we don’t like it, or that it doesn’t bring joy, but it’s certainly not something we dedicate time studying or always learning, and because of that, we might not love the experience of using it or buying it. And our view at Birchbox is that everyone should love the experience, even if she doesn’t want to put the time in. We want to do the hard work and make it delightful to discover and shop for beauty, and this intersection of delight and efficacy—putting you in front of products that actually work for you—is the result of personalization. We’re continuing to invest in personalization, finding new ways of ingesting data and using data to personalize the experience to make it continuously relevant.
What Birchbox products are you loving right now?
I’ve learned so much about beauty in the past seven years. If I had to choose, I’m really excited about what’s happening in naturals. Herbivore has been there for awhile, but they’ve started to expand their offerings in skincare and it’s a really wonderful product that has ingredient awareness that some customers are starting to look for and everything about it is delightful in every aspect, so I’m really excited about that brand.