The start-up thinking inside the box

Twin sisters Sarah and Emily Hamilton proved that two heads are indeed better than one when they joined forces to launch an innovative online beauty business.

Bellabox is a beauty sampling service that sends subscribers a different box of relevant potions and lotions to try each month. If a member finds something they love – they can simply buy the full-size product from the site’s eCommerce store.

Sarah Hamilton tells us how she and her sister turned a shared passion for luxury into a rapidly growing start-up.

“The concept is based on an American company called Birchbox, which sends a range of relevant beauty samples to members to trial in their own home and in their own time,” she explains.

“The bellabox eCommerce store complements the experience in that it makes the full size item available.”

“Emily has a strong background in digital marketing, so the business model suited us perfectly and we were excited to adapt this US-based concept to the Australian and Singaporean markets,” Hamilton says.

While Emily has a background in eCommerce, Sarah oversaw the transition of Spin Magazine to the digital world as General Manager in New York. These skills combined with a mutual love of discovering the undiscovered convinced the sisters that they were the right women to bring the bellabox concept to life.

And they funded the business with their own money to prove it.

“We believed – right or wrong – that we were the best people to bring this concept to our individual markets,” Hamilton says.

“We took that assertion further and began our business by backing ourselves financially before looking for outside investors. We are motivated and stubborn individuals so we’re not going to give up – success is the only outcome we think about and plan for.”

However, outside investors came to the sisters – resulting in a recent $1.3 million cash injection.

“While we were looking to eventually bring on investors, a pitch to the head of global organic skincare range Yes To Carrots, Lance Kalish, for inclusion in our monthly boxes made the proposition of potential investors come around unexpectedly,” Hamilton tells us.

“After our initial discussions, Lance was able to gather a consortium of interested investors over the next 12 months, who are equally as excited about the beauty sampling concept and the growth of bellabox in the Asia Pacific region.”

Not that it’s all been smooth sailing for the start-up.

“I don’t think we really thought about challenges when we started. We naively thought that we would never fail!” The ambitious entrepreneur admits.

“New challenges and exciting new ideas on how to grow the business came with each new day so that wasn’t difficult to deal with but in the beginning the relentless workload was tough – both Emily and I had to take on the roles of 10 different staff members at once, while also trying to stay focused on the strategy and being clear on our priorities,” she continues.

“We were told that breaking even in two years was indicative of success in the start-up world but that wasn’t our definition of success. While we didn’t get there as fast as we had planned, we adjusted expectations and took each result as another way to learn more about our markets.”

Her advice to budding entrepreneurs?

“It is important to carefully research where you believe there is a gap in the market for your product or service, play to your strengths and understand all of the aspects required of your potential business. And overall, believe in yourself and what you have to give the business world,” Hamilton says.

After a phase of largely organic growth, Sarah and Emily are ready to take a more targeted approach – focusing on building their subscriber base and increasing purchases.

“In three to five years we hope to have an attractive and valuable business. Bellabox has started in beauty subscription commerce but there are other equally valuable elements should have come to the fore.”

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