Sarah Hamilton (left) with twin sister Emily.Thinking outside the box has always got Geelong twins Sarah and Emily Hamilton a long way in the corporate arena. But their entrepreneurial juices really got flowing when they started to think about what to put into the box.
The pair launched online beauty subscription service bellabox in October 2011 after six months of business preparation.
The Hamilton twins, 35, adapted bellabox – a box of high-end cosmetic and beauty samples – from the hugely popular New York-based service Birchbox.
Sarah Hamilton, then working in New York at renowned rock magazine Spin, watched the rise of Birchbox with interest.
“It just blew up straight away,” she says.
“It’s such a fun, tangible concept. And I loved the attraction of e-commerce and marketing.”
Emily, who lives in Singapore, suggested they make a go of it and soon the twins were throwing everything they had into their start-up.
The pair juggled their full-time jobs – Emily in marketing and Sarah as Spin’s general manager – with the early development of bellabox.
“The business plan was a lot of work and so was hiring people,” Sarah says.
“We hired two brand managers in Australia, sight unseen, when I was still in New York so we could hit the ground running.”
Sarah, along with her boyfriend and her English bulldog, left the Big Apple to set up shop in Melbourne, while Emily went to work opening an office Singapore.
Bellabox now sells in Australia and Singapore with its main market in Australia.
The pair developed the bellabox model to be more than just a monthly subscription service.
As with other successful “sub-com” services, it offers customers a review page so bellabox and its suppliers can gauge what’s hot and what’s not. It also allows consumers to purchase their favourite products directly from the bellabox site.
“We saw this as something the whole female population would enjoy,” Sarah says.
“Trialling before you buy is important for the customer and also for the brands, because often they have no way of knowing what the customer thought of the product.”
In the early days, Sarah recalls almost begging beauty houses to be part of bellabox.
“Then things began to turn and the brands realised they were onto something good,” she says.
“Now we have brands on board that we never dreamed of having.”
In just 15 months, bellabox’s revenue and subscriptions have grown tenfold.
With a healthy $1.3 million in the bank thanks to international investors and more than 10,000 subscribers, the Hamiltons are positive about bellabox’s future.
“We saw success quickly and we’ve never looked back,” Sarah said. “There’s no failure on our horizon and that’s why we’ve worked so hard.”
The company secured the $1.3 million cash injection from a group of private investors led by Lance Kalish, co-founder of global skincare company Yes To Inc.
The twins met Kalish when they approached him to come on board as a brand partner. Instead, the conversation switched to investment and so began the Hamilton’s first foray into fund-raising.
Until securing the investment in January 2013, the twins were self-funding bellabox.
“We’ve had to learn everything from scratch,” Sarah says. “We wanted to grow quickly and expand beyond our current reach.”
The investment will allow them to do just that. Currently bellabox is well known among beauty enthusiasts and has received much publicity via beauty bloggers.
Now the Hamiltons can appeal to a broader demographic.
“We’re planning to update and improve the website and put more into marketing and PR,” Sarah says.
The twins have worked together on many a project, but bellabox is their first business venture.
A shared competitive streak and symbiotic motivation keeps the dynamic duo working well – even while living in different countries.
“Being twins has never been unique for us,” Sarah says. “We communicate on Skype all the time and it’s good fun, we get to talk about personal stuff as well … We do fight – I’m not going to say we get along perfectly. As twins we’re both extremely competitive, but with maturity we’re more respectful of each other.”
The Hamiltons plan to expand bellabox to a bigger international market and have already launched men’s and baby subscription services.
“There’s huge potential for growth – we’ve only just touched the surface,” Sarah says.
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