Lina: Thank you for taking the time to sit and chat with me. I enjoy learning the backstory of how successful entrepreneurs like yourself manage to build such lucrative businesses. So tell me, what did you do before BoxyCharm?
Joe: I owned a company called Merchandize Liquidators. I was selling excess business inventory from department stores, from tools to clothing to general merchandise and makeup. In 2012 we had this purchase from a Canadian company called Glassy Box that was a subscription box. They basically asked brands for free stuff and when they were stuck at the last minute, they turned to us, liquidation companies. I liked the idea because I had like a million units of excess makeup inventory in my warehouse. So I thought, I could make a lot of money with all the stuff I already had. What was even better was that they advertised through social media, and internet marketing is my thing, so I researched it. I learned that they raised about $72 million, and then I also heard about Birch Box that raised $10 million. So I figured, let's go into it; there's money in the industry.
Lina: Is this when you decided to start BoxyCharm? How did it happen?
Joe: Six months later I found a smart intern who was into beauty and who understood the algorithms of Instagram. My wife thought of the name, we built the website and this side project took off. By 2016, I sold the liquidation business and focused solely on BoxyCharm. Then I quickly learned no one wants excess makeup inventory from last year from CVS. I had to learn to connect with new internet brands and we then had new boxes with all good products, no longer liquidation stuff and that’s how we started growing. Our first year, 2014, we made $1.8 million in sales. Then we ended up grossing 10 million, 20 million, 50, 100+, 200+, 400+.
Lina: That’s amazing. It seems you were pretty big from the start, that number seems high for just the first year.
Joe: Not when you already have a business that grossed 10 million. It’s all mindset. If you don’t think it’s big, then it’s nothing. I learned that it’s all in your head. If you don’t think millions, billions, you’re not going to get there. You have to have it in your mindset. Never be comfortable with small numbers.
Lina: What was it that made you sell that business and then go full throttle with BoxyCharm?
Joe: Imagine you’re going into the beauty industry and you now work with lucrative companies, at least at that time we were trying to, and they hear that you also have a liquidation business. It's not a good look.
Lina: That makes sense.
Joe: Now, the concept was, for BoxyCharm, the reason it actually changed the fundamental base of subscription box, was that we no longer wanted to do sample size. It’s a headache for the brand and no one is paying them for that. I was going to pay for full size products, whatever it costs to manufacture them, 5 of them, and I had figured out the economics on how I could make a profit and still sell it for $21. There’s nothing for them to develop, just give me the product without costing them anything, and I’ll put them in the hands of highly engaged customers. That was the concept and that’s what changed everything. To put more trust into the businesses I was working with and to dedicate my full attention and energy into something bigger, I decided to sell my liquidation business and just focus on BoxyCharm in 2016.
Lina: At what point did you start seeing it climb the ladder and grow bigger and bigger? Did it ever get out of your hands?
Joe: Absolutely not, it never got out of my hands. It took off fairly quickly. I knew it became big when I went to a restaurant, I paid with the company card and people said, omg you work for BoxyCharm! When you are able to create awareness and just like that people on the street recognize you. I didn’t care about numbers; numbers didn’t mean much to me.
Lina: When you grow so fast, how do you expand so quickly? Take me for example, I’m a small business owner. Yet something can happen overnight and my business has the potential to grow which can get scary because I don't feel I have the right team in place just yet. Did you have luck with hiring the right people from the start? How were you able to pull that off?
Joe: It was a challenge. The team was very flat at the beginning. My biggest question was, “How do you get everyone to understand your vision so you don’t have to look at everything they do and tell them, this one yes, this one no.” Because when you do that, not only are you going to run around like a chicken with its head cut off, you also demotivate them. So it’s like taking what’s in your head and giving it to them.
Joe: I had a friend, Claudia Poccia, who came in as an advisor, and she gave me a very instrumental mindset on how to get my team to follow my lead and be more autonomous. She told me, look, identify your goal, which is your destination, and then choose your strategies, which are your tactics, on how you’re going to achieve that goal. Write down those four pillars and everyone will understand where you’re headed and how you’re going to get there. It took me a while to think about my goal. Eventually I said, I’m looking to grow. I want to be profitable and grow, have more members. So my strategies were: get the best product in a box, get the best customer experience, get the best brand experience, the best marketing experience for free, and the best influencers’ experience. The idea is a tactic that is part of a strategy. A strategy is a common denominator of multiple ideas, multiple tactics. If you have a great idea but it doesn’t assist your strategy, it won’t help you reach your goal. That’s how you build a goal-oriented business with everyone understanding what you’re doing and how you’re going to do it. That’s how you build a small team that’s hyper productive with great content, and that’s how we grew.
Lina: Was there anyone else doing it like BoxyCharm, selling full-size products?
Joe: I think one or two that I noticed were doing full-size at different price points. I was able to make it because it’s more than just a price point and marketing; it’s resilience. It’s going after the big brands and never giving up, having the more creative strategies to blow it up, just diving deeper. You have to have a phenomenal product and you can’t just rely on one or two people on your team to do it, you have to really be involved yourself. If you look at Apple, it was a great example for me. Everyone was using it, the experience was amazing, there was nothing like it, and it changed the world. They really didn’t have to do a lot of marketing because they focused on the product. So I was building relationships with manufacturers to build me something that was going to sell the box. I was really heavy into the product and then really heavy in the marketing. I was really involved with every detail.
Lina: Obviously social media played a huge role in the success of BoxyCharm, were you social media savvy prior to this?
Joe: I was doing SEO around 2004 in my old business and I was pretty good at it. The main point for me throughout the years was that I was an internet marketer and understood that if you want to succeed you have to get nimble with the new thing. There’s always something new that's trending and if you don't get on it, you’ll be obsolete really soon. When I started BoxyCharm, it was all about YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. So I focused on YouTube and Instagram around 2013. I looked at influencers that have the potential to be huge and learned it’s all about the editing of their videos. So I built strong relationships with different influencers.
Lina: What advice do you have for someone that’s trying to make it now with so many platforms? Instagram, Tik Tok, Clubhouse --there are so many outlets to get your products out there, it can be overwhelming.
Joe: My biggest advice is don’t try to do it all at once. It can kill your motivation. Go on one of the big ones and if you get good at that one, you can continuously grow in other platforms. So focus on the ones that go viral in your space and analyze them. Always focus on the editing, it’s really important. Would you listen to this? Would you actually go and follow yourself? Would you follow the entire video? Would you share the video? So choose one and everything else will fall into place.
Lina: I am curious, what do you have to say about this new generation of trying to get rich quick? They think putting 10, 20, 30 videos on TikToks and going viral will make them rich, versus someone like you who’s worked so hard for your success. You went from being a waiter to owning this multi-million dollar company. What do you say about people like that who expect to become rich over night?
Joe: First of all, I hope that they do! It’s a dynamic time. There’s a lot of new money that’s coming in very quickly for some people. It’s about adapting. There have always been people who made money quickly, those people who are restless and just want to make it. So I think that as long as people are playing by the rules without hurting anyone, without lying to anybody, and everything is all good, then I say go for it. Try and don’t worry about failing. Most people would not even try, because they’re afraid of failure.
Lina: Speaking of failure, was there ever a time when you thought BoxyCharm was going to fail?
Joe: Yeah, hell yeah! I never thought to quit, but there were times I thought, this might be the end of BoxyCharm. I have stories, there’s one in particular where it was out of my control, and I thought I won’t have enough money to turn the lights on tomorrow. But I’m a very optimistic person and it turned out okay.
Lina: So, I am a single mother and I work very hard- almost every single day and it comes with many challenges. How did you balance your work with being a father, a husband?
Joe: There is a toll, I’m not going to lie to you. In many cases you go home, but you are not "home" in your mind. Especially at the beginning of building a business, you're dealing with issues that are new to you and so it's hard to clear your mind even when you're at home. But over time, with experience, these issues are no longer new and you're able to achieve that home-work balance.
Lina: So, I have to say congratulations because Ipsy bought Boxy! Obviously BoxyCharm is your baby, are you happy with where it’s at now that Ipsy owns it?
Joe: I couldn’t see a better scenario than merging with Ipsy. They’re smart people that I always wanted to work with. We each had our strategies, we sat down and it was fascinating to unveil tricks and ideas and work together.
Lina: I’ve had the pleasure of going to BoxyCharm a few times and really felt a youthful, creative environment, very different from when I worked in the corporate world. What’s one of your favorite memories of being at BoxyCharm?
Joe: It’s a lot. It’s kind of hard to choose just one memory. I can tell you it’s a very rewarding thing when you build something, you enjoy the progression. It makes your day when people around the world know and love your brand, when you're part of the reason brands sell out in Sephora, when you build great friendships with manufacturers and influencers. It was the ride of my life.
Lina: What’s next for you?
Joe: I’m still here. We’re taking the company public eventually. It’s very fun working with everyone together. I don’t have any thoughts of starting anything new right now. No one teaches you how to build a $500 million company. So I might engage in some public speaking engagements, coaching, not to make any money off of it, just to share my story and hopefully inspire and help others.