By Peggy Chapman
Northwest Asian Weekly
Friends and former Microsoft employees Ke Chen, 27, and Neima Shahidy, 28, founded Beauty Beyond Borders (3B) in early 2015 while they were doing work unrelated to beauty.
Both were working for the Surface tablet division at Microsoft. Chen was working with product management and marketing, and Shahidy was doing business planning. It was nothing related to what they were also doing on the side.
Neither woman ever pictured being surrounded by boxes in their house, stuffing serum, silk fingerballs, and packets of sea cucumber face masks into purple pouches, fulfilling orders that exceeded demand for a wait list of clients eager to get their boxes of Asian beauty product samples.
Chen, who originally wanted to be a doctor (she was specializing in “medical sociology”) didn’t imagine she would eventually be taking on her own company and curating subscription Asian beauty boxes.
For those unfamiliar with the subscription box service model, it is a variation of the traditional magazine service. The subscriber signs up for a regular box service shipment (usually monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly) and the customer gets the opportunity to sample the products and gets more information on how to purchase the product.
The box services tend to be popular with markets with trends that fluctuate constantly. For example, there’s Cravebox for healthy snacks, Club W for wine, and Birchbox, which could be considered the most famous and popular of the increasingly crowded subscription beauty box market.
The sample boxes allow for potential customers to test before investing in the full product.
The subscription beauty boxes available as of spring 2016 range from Sephora’s newly launched $10 “Play” box to $225 for a limited-edition high-end Glossybox.
Chen’s concept was the 3B box containing four to five deluxe samples (sometimes full-size when possible). The boxes would include all Asian products, usually at least 80 percent skincare, and would cost $12 per box, delivered once a month.
So what did Chen decide would make 3B stand out in the highly competitive subscription box market — especially the popular beauty market?
Chen was counting on the passion her customers have for the Asian beauty market, which reflects her own passion, experience, and excitement. She recalled getting her first Shiseido set when she was 12 years old from her mother, and from that point on, how beauty and the ritual, smell, packaging, all added to the appeal.
Chen created her own YouTube videos and blogged reviews of beauty products as a teenager.
She recounted trips back from Asia where she would return with her luggage full of skincare products. Family, friends, and colleagues reinforced her obsession with keeping up with the products, and she realized she was not alone in the fascination with beauty and skincare, trendy or not. She wanted to keep up with it. She realized there were “plenty of other Asian beauty fans.”
According to Chen, the Asian beauty market is approximately 10 to 12 years ahead of the rest of the market here in the United States. She believes the Korean beauty market is an especially “hyper-market,” one which is hard to keep up with — a market where many of the true fans bring home suitcases stuffed with products whenever they make a trip to Asia, just like she did.
3B’s growing customer base supported Chen’s belief that there was a demand to stay up-to-date with the Asian skincare and beauty market. She felt it made sense to have a sample service to fulfill the need to test the newest trends, without making costly trips to fill those suitcases.
The new 3B office is now situated in an office in Westlake Tower. Chen and Shahidy quit their full-time jobs to focus on 3B. The days of battling boxes and stuffing pouches during late-night hours in the house are over.
Well, not quite over. Chen is realistic when it comes to the business and doesn’t want to discount the learning process.
“[It’s not] from nothing to Facebook overnight. …That’s a misconception and it is an isolating process. … You’re on to the next challenge. …It is not instant success overnight.”
Chen said Shahidy’s help has been crucial.
“A co-founder is so important. The single best decision I ever made. … You need someone there who gets it.”
When asked if she still stresses out, “Stress out? Yes! Every phone call!”
Even with all the stress, was it worth quitting the six-figure job?
Chen was also happy to share information about new trends in the beauty market.
Look out for cushion foundations and carbonated face masks.
For more information, visit the3bbox.com.
Peggy Chapman can be reached at email@example.com.