I just got off a transatlantic flight and I am writing this on my iPhone so please excuse the rambling.
I met BirchBox’ Hayley and Katia in the summer of 2010. They had just graduated from HBS, had a few hundred monthly customers on their service and weren’t sure whether they would be able to raise a seed round.
They were two lovely ladies trying to make it as first time entrepreneurs.
Fast forward 2 years and the story is completely different. They are darlings of the NY startup scene. They are poster childs of the tech+fashion trend. They raised more money than I’ll ever see in my life. They are signing up paying and recurring users by the boatload. They are apparently very profitable.
And they are still two lovely ladies. They haven’t become too cool for school.
I went to an event where they spoke about the experience last year. After their talk, a couple of guys I knew went up to them and asked them for all kind of operational metrics. Hayley and Katia were gracious enough to indulge them with as much info as possible.
A week later, these guys wanted to have coffee with me to get my thoughts about a new startup they are launching. You want to guess what it was? Yup, a BirchBox for guys. “Imagine every month you get a tightly curated box of shaving cream, hair gel, condoms, etc”. I
don’t know about you, but I really don’t need a tightly curated selection of condoms every month. I am also quite satisfied with my Kiehl’s shaving cream I have been using for 10 years. Would I consider switching? Absolutely. Would I pay $10/month to two clueless frat boys to “curate” my grooming products? Absolutely not.
BirchBox is successful because the girls are passionate about their product. Katia worked for Estée Lauder and has an intimate knowledge of how the beauty industry works.
That first clone launch an folded a few month later. Nice lesson for the founders, no harm done. My problem is that people are still copying them every day. I received 5 BirchBox clone plans in the last 6 months. One of them is a legit twist on the subscription model by people who know something about their market. The other 4 are just plain rip offs with either a different geographic focus (“Europe is completely greenfield for this”) or a different gender focus (“curated condoms”).
Please stay classy and stop copying BirchBox. You will not succeed unless you somehow innovate on their model or know something extra special about the market you are entering.
Update: BirchBox Man launched a few weeks after I wrote this. I hope this taught everyone who ripped off the original BirchBox that you can’t just blatantly copy someone’s else idea without having a secret sauce or a unique differentiator.