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5 Tips For Running A Self-Funded Startup

Business

We launched BOXFOX in 2014 in order to bring gifting into the 21st century with the mission to create stronger relationships through personal and purposeful gifts. Our idea was powered by simple user experiences, driven by premier service, and grounded by a commitment to authenticity. We launched with a clear vision of both the services we wanted to offer—expertly pre-curated gifts and the ability to build your own custom gifts—and the type of principles we wanted to guide our company with—thoughtfulness and an excellent commitment to our customer. All three of us co-founders came to the table having experienced good and bad bosses, as well as good and bad company cultures. There was no way we were going to sit around for 10+ years working on someone else’s dream and seeing if it was going to get better. We had a good idea, we had co-founders, and we had a common belief that it would be a much more fulfilling life working out-of-our-minds hard for ourselves versus for someone else. We also knew we wanted to do it on our own and build a functioning business out of pocket to prove that it was profitable and scalable. In three and a half short years, we’ve grown from our small apartment in Venice, CA to a self-funded, female-led enterprise and have had a few behind-the-scenes honest looks at what it takes to use our philosophy to both run and grow a business.


"We knew exactly what our company was and how it was going to be. There are always shiny opportunities or disappointing setbacks, but that doesn’t take away from the path we set out in 2014."

BOXFOX Co-Founders: Chelsea, Jenni, and Sabena (Photo courtesy of shopboxfox.com)

1. Conviction / A firmly held belief or opinion

Starting a business is the most vulnerable thing I’ve ever done. Most people can’t handle the lack of validation, but it’s important to be self-motivated day in and day out. I’ll never forget telling a former boss my idea, only to have him quickly say, “Gifts? Well, 90 percent of business fail so why even try.”

But I knew in my heart that this was going to be a successful company. That conviction is what kept me sane through the countless dismissals from acquaintances and colleagues (spoiler alert, most are jealous you decided to jump out of the rat race and start your own), and through every time someone told me, with much condescension, “You know what you should do?”, and in every instance, a client, brand, or influencer has told us “no.” We’re building a family business, expanding our offerings, and evolving as owners, so I wear that conviction and prepare for the long haul.

2. Vision / Knowing where you're going, even when you haven't gotten there yet

We knew exactly what our company was and how it was going to be. There are always shiny opportunities or disappointing setbacks, but that doesn’t take away from the path we set out in 2014. We have a solid foundation that helps us strategically evaluate expansion and partnerships because we’re here to do what we do and do it best. A prime example of this comes into play in the real world is celebrity gifting suites. You’d think gift box company plus gifting suite equals a prime opportunity. However, our (maybe) unpopular opinion is that we’re not in this for that. We know we’re here to offer an aesthetically elevated and accessible service to aid in the maintenance of real relationships, both personal and professional. It’s easy to get distracted by big names and seemingly big opportunities, but maintaining a connection to our vision helps us not get distracted by opportunities that won’t benefit our business goals.

"Starting a business is the most vulnerable thing I’ve ever done. Most people can’t handle the lack of validation, but it’s important to be self-motivated day in and day out."

3. Re-vision / *Ross voice* PIVOT, PIVOT!

As much as we’re planners and we know who we are, complacency is not key. While we aren’t fans of getting distracted at every opportunity, we are proponents of evolving in verticals that make sense for us. It’s important to incorporate methodic reviews of what’s working, what isn’t, and how it can be made better. The best example of this is Corporate Gifting. It wasn’t always in our plan, but with the many customers inquiring about gifts for their businesses, we knew we could take the authenticity, personalization, and purposeful gifting to scale. It’s almost like our vision draws the roadmap that guides us, but the revision is necessary to meet consumer needs.

4. Resilience / Elasticity, bouncing back from adversity

Something both beautiful and challenging about having a self-funded startup is that everything is on our shoulders. The good, the bad, the laborit is all our responsibility to move the brand forward every single day. That being said, we’ve adopted the mentality here at BOXFOX that with the right attitude, we’re in control of a lot more than others may think. It is the attitude we approach problems with that make them easier to get through. We face all challenges head-on. Whether it is cleaning up our own mistakes, de-palletizing 70 palettes before it rains, or needing to ship out 1,750 boxes when our tissue supplier is back ordered. As founders, we encourage our team to bring a can-do attitude to the hardest days because then they end up not being so bad.

"We launched with a clear vision of both the services we wanted to offer—expertly pre-curated gifts and the ability to build your own custom gifts—and the type of principles we wanted to guide our company with—thoughtfulness and an excellent commitment to our customer" (Photo courtesy of shopboxfox.com)

5. Resourcefulness / A little goes a long way

When you are purposefully being scrappy, it’s important to be lean and resourceful. We’re able to keep our investments, expenses, and big moves both clear and organized. When it comes to the fun stuff, there’s no waste or unnecessary spending. Not only does it help against physical clutter, it keeps mental clutter light as well. That being said, we are very resourceful, and keep that approach as we grow. We are a bit too big to be relying on favors of friends and family like we did when we first got off the ground, but it is important to still leverage your network and their connections as you grow. We also get creative with airline miles, credit card rewards, and reusing materials, because you’re never too big to be mindful of how you are spending.

Culture

Why Whiskey Should No Longer Be Categorized As “A Man’s Drink”

I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"


I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.

In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.

Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.

For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.

Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.

The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.

It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.

While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.

What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.

While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.