Sarah Hamilton is the co-founder of bellabox, an online beauty destination and subscription service, launched in 2011. Together with her twin sister Emily and inspired by the beauty box subscription model booming in the US, they decided to open businesses simultaneously in Australia and Singapore. One year later, Sarah is sharing her experience and lessons from launching a brand based on a hot new business model for the beauty consumer of today.
“In 2005, I moved to New York. I had just hit 30, was preparedly unemployed and had just sold my car to fund the trip – hardly what anyone, including my parents, thought was a sound move. Living in NY was a dream of mine, so steely determination and a promise to not look back or consider the possibility of failure meant a few weeks later I found myself employed, where I was to become the General Manager of Spin Media for four years.
bellabox started much the same way. Entrepreneurism is a dream, part ingrained and a huge amount of hard work. Emily, my twin sister, approached me about working together on a business model that was blowing up in the US at that time – beauty box subscriptions, that had started with Birchbox. This model would take advantage of both of our skill sets, and while neither of us had a background in beauty we knew that we could make this work in both Australia and Singapore (where Emily resides).
Where Kasia approached me about the “secrets” of launching a new brand, one resounding thought that kept coming through in my mind is that there is no RIGHT time, no magic potion, but I can say what worked for us;
- Accept your weaknesses and hire appropriately. As Emily and I have never worked in the beauty industry we hired key staff in Australia and Singapore with years of experience and they started on bellabox before I had returned from NY. We turned our lack of knowledge into a positive – bellabox is all about beauty discovery so Emily and I take that journey with our members (rather on fast-forward given the sheer volume of products we try), and we enjoy sharing our experiences with our members, our staff and our brand partners.
- Create a solid yet flexible business plan. After 6 months of planning we launched bellabox with the Australian and Singapore websites going live within one week of each other. With every misstep we reassessed our plan and reacted appropriately, never looking back and never accepting failure as a possibility.
- Be a little naïve. Be overly ambitious but don’t let negative thoughts and results get you down. We were told that to breakeven in 2 years was indicative of success but that wasn’t our definition of success. While we didn’t get there as fast as we had planned (tick, overly ambitious!) we adjusted expectations and took each result as another way to learn more about our markets.
- Launching a business based on a pre-existing business model isn’t as simple as it sounds. We spent a large part of our planning period understanding and appreciating the sensibilities of the markets in which we were launching. We took the Birchbox model as a “base” model and we continue to build and adapt this model to suit. We launched in each country surrounded by competitors but our analysis gave us the confidence to continue. We knew that our planning had prepared us to face each market – bellabox never relied on the fingers crossed approach that by simply launching a beauty box subscription service that we would follow the growth and success of Birchbox.
- Don’t let satisfaction get the better of you. We have a number of stakeholders in bellabox; our members, our brand partners, our staff and the wider bellabox community. We have a culture where there are no bad ideas. We look to improve our offerings to these stakeholders each and every day in a bid to further improve our business. Innovation is key and bellabox should never represent mere satisfaction to anyone.”