When you see a void, fill it. That’s exactly what Brittney Marshall did. She’s the founder of beauty subscription service, My BrownBox which specializes in beauty products for black women. After signing up for a beauty subscription service herself, Brittney noticed that none of the product samples she received matched her skin tone or had women of color in mind. That realization motivated her to create My BrownBox.
The Michigan State University alumna who earned a degree in advertising, is getting a great response with requests for subscriptions for My BrownBox. The company’s first subscriptions sold out in less than 30 minutes when it launched in January of this year. The product samples are mainly from minority-owned businesses.
Brittney spoke with HerAgenda.com about how she became an entrepreneur, who her support system is, and how she balances My BrownBox with her day job.
Her Agenda: How did you get the idea for My BrownBox?
Brittney: It started when I was a subscriber to Birchbox. I had subscribed to Birchbox I want to say a couple months before April 2012. I received my Birchbox and I just wasn’t feeling it. I received something that did not match my skin tone at all and it was something I knew that I couldn’t wear. I started thinking to myself, ‘Something like this needs to be created for women of color.’ So, when I had that thought come to mind, I immediately started working on My BrownBox. I started working on it the same day, actually.
“I started thinking to myself, ‘Something like this needs to be created for women of color.’”
Her Agenda: Why do you think that beauty subscriptions are so popular?
Brittney: Beauty subscriptions are so popular now because of a variety of reasons. One, it’s really popular for companies to get the word out about their brand. It’s good for smaller companies and it’s also good for the big companies. It’s good for small companies who want to introduce their actual brand to the consumer and it’s good for the companies who are already established because they have to market new products that they’re coming out with, or to continue to keep their name in front of the consumers’ faces.
I think that it’s popular for the actual consumer because I find that women enjoy getting something every month delivered to their door. People like mail and they like to be able to play with new beauty products especially when they don’t have to pay the full price for something that may not work for them. It gives them the opportunity to try it before they buy it without spending tons of money.
Her Agenda: What made you want to be an entrepreneur?
Brittney: It’s funny because I never thought ‘Oh, I just want to be an entrepreneur.’ I went to Michigan State and studied advertising there, and while I was at Michigan State, I started working on my own business. It was kind of a complicated concept, but it was going to be a resale shop, like a thrift store type of thing. It was kind of off. I had so many different ideas, that I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I stopped working on that after I graduated, and I kind of just took a break so I could refocus my ideas. When I stopped working on that, My BrownBox came to my head. When I [thought of] My BrownBox, it was like, ‘OK, this is it. This is what I should be doing.’ I never had the thought, ‘Oh, I just want to be an entrepreneur. I want to work for myself,’ although I did grow up in a family that’s very business-oriented.
My dad, he’s an entrepreneur and so is my brother. I think that me being around my brother and my dad has probably instilled something in me that I didn’t really know was being instilled in me the whole time.
“My dad, he’s an entrepreneur and so is my brother. I think that me being around my brother and my dad has probably instilled something in me that I didn’t really know was being instilled in me the whole time.”
Her Agenda: How do you choose what samples make it into My BrownBox?
Brittney: We choose what samples make it into My BrownBox by taking requests. We see what the hottest product is out there. A lot of times, girls will email us and tell us that they would like to see a certain product in the box. We try our hardest to get in touch with the brand and see if it’s something they’re interested in doing. A lot of times, girls on the team will recommend a product that they really love. I love to adhere to what the girls on the My BrownBox team have to say. I definitely take that into consideration and we try to contact those brands. A lot of times, I’ll find brands or our brand relations [person], she’ll find brands. She’ll say, ‘This looks pretty awesome. I think that it’ll be great to feature in My BrownBox.’ That’s pretty much the way that it goes. As you probably know, a lot of the time we work with minority-owned businesses or independent companies. I’m very passionate about smaller businesses and minority-owned businesses and I definitely really want to get those companies’ names out there because there are so many products that people don’t know about. These products aren’t in stores. You can’t go into a drugstore or Macy’s or somewhere and buy these products. We work around the clock to find some of the best products out there that people don’t know about.
Her Agenda: How has your background in advertising helped you?
Brittney: My background in advertising has helped me because it makes me look at things more from a business perspective and it helps me know what brand partners are looking for, and what kind of information they want to collect from the consumer who is trying their product. It also has helped me with more of the creative side when you think about packaging, the way a logo should look, things of that nature. So, it’s helped me a lot.
Her Agenda: What’s a typical day like as the My BrownBox founder?
Brittney: Typical day, I wake up about 9 [AM]. I do a little bit of work. I respond to emails. Then I hop in the shower because I actually have a day job at a home health care company. I work as the marketing coordinator. So, that’s where I’m actually at right now. I come into work. I leave work. I may go to the gym. I go home. I’ll eat something, change clothes and really get back to work. Throughout the day, I’m corresponding with the My BrownBox team members through text messages pretty much all day, actually. That’s pretty much how the day goes, just emails and text messages; more emails and text messages.
Her Agenda: Has it been hard to balance My BrownBox with your day job?
Brittney: Oh yeah, definitely. It definitely has. Luckily enough, I have been blessed with the opportunity to work at a family business. The business that I work in is actually my dad’s company and he has a business partner. Sometimes I’ll get caught up doing some BrownBox stuff while I’m actually at work. It’s been hard because sometimes I’ll get an email that I want to respond to right away, but I have to wait until I get home. By the time that I get home a lot of times, I’m tired. I may go to sleep and have to wait until the next day to get back to people. It’s definitely been difficult balancing a day job with My BrownBox. I’m still trying to find balance.
“I was so nervous when I first had to press the button. My hands were trembling. I was sitting there with my dad and I was like, ‘Should I press it? Should I press it? What time should I press it?’”
Her Agenda: Do you have any mentors that have helped you with MyBrownBox?
Brittney: Outside of family, I haven’t had any mentors. My dad and my brother and my mom have been my main mentors really. They’re my support system and they have a lot of business knowledge, so when I have a question, I’ll oftentimes go to my dad. Especially when it comes to financial stuff. When it comes to creative things, I’ll go to my brother because that is what his life is based off of typically. He has a creative branding company so I go to him. They’re pretty much my mentors. My mom, she used to do makeup. She’s a makeup artist. When it comes to different things related to beauty, I’ll ask her.
Her Agenda: Who are your inspirations?
Brittney: As far as business, I would say that my brother is my inspiration. My inspiration for the company is definitely my brother.
Her Agenda: In January, subscriptions sold out in a half-hour. The month after, it sold out in 4 minutes. Did you anticipate that type of response?
Brittney: No. In January, I anticipated that it would sell out fast but I definitely didn’t think that it would sell out in less than 30 minutes. I don’t know what I thought, I just knew that we would have a good response. The moment that I pressed the button for subscriptions to open, I had my email open as well. As soon as I pressed that button, I started getting a whole bunch of emails saying that somebody had purchased a subscription. I was so nervous when I first had to press the button. My hands were trembling. I was sitting there with my dad and I was like, ‘Should I press it? Should I press it? What time should I press it?’ He was like, ‘Press it now! Press it now!’ I was over here shaking so much that I thought I wouldn’t be able to press the button [laughs]. I didn’t anticipate it to go so fast and the second time, I definitely didn’t anticipate it to go so fast. People were actually a bit upset that it happened so fast and that’s one of the reasons why we stress ‘first come, first serve’ because it truly is ‘first come, first serve.’
Her Agenda: What challenges have you faced being an entrepreneur?
Brittney: I would say that one, managing a team is not the easiest thing in the world. You have to be there whenever somebody contacts you. You have to be accessible. They have to be able to get in touch with you. A lot of times, people expect you to know all of the answers. I’m human, I don’t know everything. That’s why I thank God I have a support system to ask questions because other people look at me as knowing everything and being the go-to person. That’s one of the challenges that I’ve faced and just the challenge of having to manage such a large team with these very tight time restraints I have.
Another challenge I would say is probably money. You have to have money to start a company and that’s definitely one of the difficult things if you don’t have investors. Right now, all the money that goes into the business is money that I have personally or money that I’ve had to borrow from my parents. Money and time, those are the two major things.
Her Agenda: How big is the staff for My BrownBox?
Brittney: We currently have 13 people on our staff and right now the girls are all over the United States. That’s another thing that makes it difficult. We’re not all in one location, so we have to communicate through different mediums. I think it would be easier if we were all in one location and just turn around and say, ‘I need help with this,’ but right now it’s not like that.
Her Agenda: What are your goals for 2013 with My BrownBox?
Brittney: For 2013, we’re redeveloping our website. I’m super excited about that. We’re going to [have] a launch party this year. I think we’re going to [have] two launch parties. One is going to be in New York and I think one is going to be in Detroit, Michigan. We also have plans to host meet-ups for women of color. That’s something I’m looking forward to.
Her Agenda: What advice would you give to someone wanting to start their own business?
Brittney: The advice that I would give someone wanting to start their own business is think about what you want to do. Make sure that it’s a viable business. Really break down the pros and cons of the business. If you come to find out that it’s a viable business, then just go forth with it. Work on it. Do it. That’s what I always say, just do it.