Wipes for your yoga mat, wipes for your wine-stained teeth, gourmet marshmallows, Quirky’s Grill Wrangler, and a gingham pocket square. These items can only be described as darling–yes, even the grill tool–and they’re all available on Birchbox, a site that offers well-designed packages of beauty product samples for $10 a month (or $20 a month, should you choose the men’s box).
The subscription service and online shop was co-founded by Harvard Business School classmates Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp. “The first-year entrepreneurship class introduced us to the stories of both failed and successful entrepreneurs,” Beauchamp says. “When we realized we weren’t scared by the failures, we both got really excited and thought, ‘That’s the life we want.’”
On the beauty front, Birchbox is a win-win for customers and brands. Customers get to see if that mascara really does make them look like they’re wearing false eyelashes, and brands get to reach new people. The proposition is somewhat similar to the one at Rent the Runway, a designer clothing rental site founded by another blonde-brunette Harvard duo. Both sites recognize that many customers prefer to dip their toes before they take a plunge.
“Business school provided an environment to test the idea of Birchbox,” Barna says. “We started talking to our friends as consumers, describing the idea, asking what they would pay for the service, talking to professors.”
Birchbox now has more than 400,000 subscribers. Nevertheless, further growth could pose some challenges. In August, Jason Del Rey of AllThingsD.com pointed out that brands will only produce so many samples, and companies that make items such as bags and ties generally won’t offer them at all. But so far, there’s no cause for alarm. Birchbox has been doing just fine–and as demonstrated by the wide variety of products in each box, Barna and Beauchamp don’t shy away from risks.