Along with co-founder Hayley Barna, Katia Beauchamp has taken the beauty industry by storm, transforming the way millions of people select and purchase beauty products. Founded in 2010, her startup, Birchbox, brought beauty products into the subscription economy, and has since taken over a significant portion of the beauty industry. As of 2017, Birchbox was working with 300 brands in six countries.
As sole CEO since 2015, Beauchamp has also worked to mentor and support other female entrepreneurs, and to improve conditions for women in the workplace. She has gone further, stating that her goal is to change the relationship between employer and employee to one that is more reciprocal, and that does more to take the needs of employees into account.
Finding her entrepreneurial niche
As a student at Harvard, Beauchamp and her classmate and co-founder, Hayley Barna, wrote a business plan as part of an assignment. In doing so, they discovered that the beauty industry was remaining static even as most major industries were evolving, led by innovative startups. This lack of entrepreneurship was surprising, considering that beauty is a $500 billion dollar industry.
The problem was that entrepreneurship, and leadership of the beauty industry, was dominated by men. While half-hearted attempts had been made to modernise the beauty industry with e-commerce, established brands and merchants simply gave up and settled for traditional brick and mortar retail upon realising that women wanted to try out their products before buying. Since industry leaders weren’t regular consumers in their own markets, they didn’t personally feel the growing pain point. Seeing the massive opportunity for disruption, Beauchamp and Barna struck, creating Birchbox, a service that delivered monthly samples and developed customer profiles to help subscribers discover exactly the right products for them.
Birchbox grew rapidly in its first few years, expanding into six countries, and making an estimated $125 million in sales in 2014. Clear figures don’t exist for more recent years, because Birchbox has not gone public. More recently, Birchbox has hit a rough patch, losing some of its prestige after multiple rounds of layoffs and restructuring. According to Beauchamp, Birchbox turned a profit for the first time in 2016. In 2017, she began looking for potential buyers for the company, eventually selling a majority stake in the business to Viking Global Investors. While she’s received some criticism for this, she remains CEO of Birchbox, which is still a growing company with global appeal.
As an entrepreneur, Beauchamp has personally done very well for herself. With an estimated net worth of over $1 billion, she is one of the most successful women in the world. She successfully disrupted an industry that was ripe for a makeover, and found success for herself while building a new business.
Beauchamp’s business philosophy
In regard to how she runs her business, Beauchamp has, in a number of different interviews, credited some traditionally under-emphasised points with her success.
A bit of naivete can be helpful
In an interview with Billboard, Beauchamp extolled the virtues of launching a business as an uncynical, somewhat naive entrepreneur. Lacking some of the knowledge and experience she has now, she could pursue her business’ success more relentlessly, without the doubts and hesitation that would plague more experienced and cautious business owners. This boldness, in turn, was a key component in her success.
Entrepreneurs create their own reality
Beyond not being aware of potential difficulties, simple confidence and perseverance have played an important role for Beauchamp. According to her, “not quitting the game” is one of the most important and overlooked requirements for winning. Simply believing that you can handle whatever is thrown at you keeps you from throwing in the towel prematurely.
Supporting women’s careers
Beauchamp champions the rights of employees, particularly women. Birchbox trains its employees in how to negotiate their own salaries to promote equal pay, and has taken steps to address how to better manage maternity leave and reintegration after an absence. This helps Beauchamp to maintain a high level of gender diversity at Birchbox.
From Beauchamp’s example, we see confirmation that opportunities for major disruption still exist, even in very large industries. Moreover, traditional serial entrepreneurs aren’t always the best people to blaze these trails. Beauchamp addressed a pain point that irritated her personally, and built an empire on her solution. Lastly, entrepreneurs can be successful even while their businesses go through tough times. Beauchamp has amassed a fortune, and continues to lead Birchbox into the future with no signs of slowing down.