The most loyal Angeleno in the office, Chelsea was born and raised in Los Angeles and attended UCLA, where she met Jenni as a KAPPA pledge. While pursuing her degree, she worked in marketing at Brandy Melville and Ogilvy & Mather and fell in love with the power of branding and the importance of humanity at every aspect of business. After graduation, she and Jenni moved to Venice Beach where the idea for BOXFOX was born after spotting a gap in the lifestyle and service space for elevated and effortless gifting. A design nerd at heart (have you seen her office?), Chelsea is obsessed with airports (yes, seriously), travel, and what makes great design — in life and at BOXFOX. At 27, she is a recent addition to the Forbes 30 Under 30 2019 list and she is the driving force behind BOXFOX’s creative and aesthetic vision, ensuring they stay true to their customers’ needs and their belief in well-presented and purposeful gifting.
Shantel: Hey, Chelsea. Welcome to the show.
Chelsea: Hi. Thank you so much for having me.
Shantel: Of course. We are longtime fans of your company and so excited to learn more about the behind the scenes and how you got started. And I would love to kick things off. Do you mind sharing with our listeners what is BOXFOX?
Chelsea: Yeah. So, BOXFOX is the go-to for gifting. We are a gift box company that specializes in, an online direct-to-consumer website, ShopBOXFOX.com, where you can shop prepackaged gifts, or you can build your own from all the best brands in one place on our proprietary Build a BOXFOX platform. But on the other side of that, we also have a very large scale corporate gifting business called BOXFOX Concierge where we service clients with as little as 25 gifts and as many as 25,000. We've done all sorts of stuff over there. And we just ... We're turning five this year, and things are going great.
Shantel: Wow, well congratulations on five. I know we are just about to turn six, but it is a whirlwind the first few years and so much learning. I think there's some crazy stat, that only 10% of companies ... You may know this stat, I'm totally making up at this point, but it's like a staggering amount. Only a small amount make it past year one or two.
Chelsea: Oh no, they always say the majority fail. And so we've made it this far.
Shantel: That's awesome. How did this idea come about?
| CONSISTENT + PURPOSEFUL |
Chelsea: We were just out of college. We had all ... Three of us founders had started working primarily an advertising and marketing, and just were really bogged down by the day to day of like transitioning to a nine to five, but it was more like a nine to nine for us across the board. And it was just really hard to kind of keep up relationships. You leave college, college is filled with just such amazing community. You're with your people constantly and then you graduate, and then all of a sudden everybody moves all over the world. It's a little jarring. So we were all kind of feeling that a little bit, and different situations kept coming up where we weren't able to be there for others because we were either stuck at work, or we couldn't fly to different towns or whatnot. And it wasn't until a good friend of ours in Los Angeles was actually hospitalized. She's totally fine now. She actually works here. But we couldn't get to her. We couldn't be there for her physically. I couldn't leave work either to visit her or to drive around and put something together for her that was going to go the extra mile beyond flowers, or food delivery, or Amazon prime boxes showing up at the hospital. So we really thought, "Why isn't there a solution for something that's as simple and pared down as if you had put it together and shipped it yourself, but aesthetically pleasing and consistent and purposeful?" And so that's where the idea for Build a BOXFOX came from, which is our biggest platform within our site, and we kind of went from there.
Shantel: That's amazing. Well, I'm glad to hear your friend is okay, and it's neat that you guys are working together. Did you propose this idea to your other two cofounders in that exact kind of moment, or was it something you started to noodle on a little bit and think through? At what point did you mention it and kind of actually start brainstorming around it?
Chelsea: Yeah. It was part of emotions that all three of us had been feeling, but it was right after the Build a BOXFOX idea kind of came to me. Within hours, I was like, "Jenny," because we lived together, and it became our idea pretty much immediately, that we were noodling on. And then it was right when we were like, "Well, we shouldn't just be two people. We should be three." And I was like, "And I know the perfect person who's just going to be obsessed with this," and that was Sabina. And so it was within like three or four days that it was ... It was our idea.
Shantel: And during that time, were you looking to see if ... I guess you had experienced that nothing else existed, but were you kind of brainstorming, "Okay, how are we going to fund this?" I guess you realized there was nothing online, so then you started to think through how to make it happen. What were some of those first steps to actually bring it to life?
Chelsea: Definitely research, double checking that there wasn't in fact something online that existed like that. And obviously there's the heritage brands like Harry & David and 1-800-FLOWERS, but we were really looking for something that was so much more accessible and tangible to the real person. It didn't feel 3 million light years away. It felt like something that you could email the customer service and experience a personality and a real human being on the other end of it, which is something we're really proud of and still have to this day. But we did our research. We kind of wrote a loose business plan. We put together a schedule, "Okay, we're going to meet Monday, Wednesday, Fridays after work from now on." And we really stuck to that schedule, and it was kind of like our own version of business school. We were conducting research among different groups of people to kind of see what they gift, why they gift, how the gift, etc., working on the branding. And then we looped in a friend of ours to help start building the website. After a couple months, we really were like, "There's no reason that we shouldn't hit the ground running with this." And it was that summer, I quit my job and was able to kind of anchor BOXFOX full time from our apartment. And Jenny and Sabina were able to come home after work every day. And then we just kind of were like, "Okay, we need to put a date on the books." And we were like, "November, let's capture the end of the Christmas season and really get this going," and that's what we did. We put November 7th on the calendar, and that was it, and we worked towards it.
Shantel: That's amazing. And so do Jenny and Sabina still have corporate nine to fives or are they full time?
Chelsea: No, no. Everyone's full time. We've got 25 employees here in our warehouse in Los Angeles that we're really proud of. And Jenny was able to quit her job about a year and a half in. And Sabina was able to quit her job about six months after that, which was a little earlier than we had thought she'd be able to, which was really exciting.
Shantel: That's amazing. I chuckled earlier internally when you were like, "We were working those 9:00 to 9:00 PM jobs ... " You didn't say hated it, but I could sense…
Chelsea: I don't care what people think. You're not supposed to speak ill or whatever, but I truly did not understand why I was up at three in the morning to pass off a deck from a creative director to a runner regarding a mattress company. I just couldn't wrap my head around that being my life. And I was like, "No. Sorry, no."
Shantel: Well, are you finding that because it's something that you've poured into, do you unplug at five o'clock in the afternoon, or do you find still, you're still working the night to nine, but it's just a completely different feeling?
Chelsea: It's definitely more than 40 hours a week, but it's in a much more manageable and healthy way. I feel like we got to a point about a year ago where it felt like a real company, like real revenue, real employees, real health insurance, real partnerships. It just felt so much more sophisticated, which is amazing. And it was kind of at that transition point that ... We all live our weekends. I still obviously log in. I obviously still am always brainstorming. Jenny and Sabina are the same. We're always working on decks and talking to each other, but it's much more balanced. It's much more of a life than it was those first, I would say three years.
Shantel: Yeah, and I imagine with a team of 25 kind of owning those different roles has freed you guys have quite a bit?
Chelsea: Yeah. This was the first year that it was like we didn't feel like everything comes back on us, which obviously it does when you own something. It all is is down on you, but now I can go on vacation and so can my employees. There's people here to get the jobs done, and that feels really good.
Shantel: That's great. How did you guys, the three of you split responsibilities initially? Do you all just have similar personalities that you guys can mesh well, but just completely different skillsets?
| COMPATIBLE WORK ETHIC |
Chelsea: I always say that ... People always ask us, "How do you find cofounders?" And I feel like it's a lot like how you find a boyfriend or a husband. I feel like it just kind of happens based on chemistry and compatibility. I don't feel like you can really plan and prep for it. Jenny and I always had worked together on so many different things in college, leadership stuff, sorority stuff, so we kind of had a really compatible work ethic and similar creative vision. And Sabina was really complimentary, if not similar to us in in those capacities as well. In the beginning, everybody does everything. I think you just have to ... I look back with a little bit of PTSD about those first two years because it's a lot of sweat equity. It's a lot of not paying yourself to get this place to a place where you can pay everybody all the time, and it's a lot of physical labor, and everybody does everything. And then it was about two years ago when it ... When Sabina came on full time in 2016, that was kind of when it started to really feel like, "Okay Sabina's kind of running strategy and high level thought and partnerships and developing our corporate arm. I kind of handle a lot of the creative." I mean, I muddy myself with everything. We all do still, but I do a lot of the creative and the marketing, and that kind of end product research and product manufacturing, and Jenny is just an operational and financial mastermind. And we all believe that everybody should be aware and involved in all parts of the three of our kind of business, but letting each other kind of own different things has been really awesome.
Shantel: Yeah. I certainly have a similar experience with my business partner and cofounder. It was kind of serendipitous; we met, and she had all of these strengths that were my weaknesses, and it just jelled really well. But I can't imagine ... I'm so thankful. In any business we start in the future, I would love to have her as my cofounder and business partner, just because it's great. Because I can't imagine trying to find that same chemistry again in anyone else.
Chelsea: Oh absolutely. I mean Jenny and Sabina are my family and people. Sabina, she's so put together and so hardworking, and she makes me want to like get dressed every day. Jenny, even in our personal and friendship life has made me a much healthier person, a much more organized person. I like to think I've made them both chill. I don't know what they would say about me. But yeah, it's been a nice complimentary set of personality traits and work ethic traits as well.
Shantel: That's great. So what was the first role outside of the three of you that you guys hired for?
Chelsea: The first reason we hired was fulfillment help in the warehouse, and that was our good friend. Well, my really good friend from middle school. She is now the head of our B2C production, and she was the first person we hired. And then we hired a couple more fulfillment people. And then our other good friend, the one from the hospital, we hired as our first salesperson for corporate sales. And so she joined on, and then we've since expanded that team as well. And then I hired my first kind of marketing team member about a year ago, who happens to be my cofounder Sabina's younger sister, Sonika.
Shantel: That's great. So a lot of these, it sounds like a lot of the team has come from personal networks.
Shantel: Is anyone on the team, kind of come in blind through the website or has followed you on social?
Chelsea: We've hired a couple of strangers now. Claire, who's our business development manager, was just a cold email off of a hiring listing, and it could not have worked out better. So she's right under Sabina kind of steering that corporate strategy and the client relationships and all of that over there. And since then, there's been a couple more people. She was the first, quote unquote, 'stranger,' if you will, but is no longer a stranger, of course.
Shantel: Well, let's talk a little bit about culture because it sounds ... I mean, been in business five years, a lot of the team is still there and people that originally started with you guys. So what do you think contributes to the retention of your team?
| WELL-BALANCED PEOPLE |
Chelsea: I think that ... I mean this is just me speaking, you'd have to ask them too, but I think I had a really horrible boss before, wake up every day with pangs of anxiety and nausea level, kind of bad. And I think from the get go we just were like, "We never ever, ever, ever want to be a place that's like that. There's literally no reason that work ever needs to feel like a 52 week finals week of stress and anxiety. That's just not necessary. You can still be working hard and achieving all of your financial goals and numbers and still be happy, well-balanced people." So from the get go, we've always set out that that was going to be our existence and our truth. And we've remained committed to that. I mean the hardest part of the year is the five weeks leading up to Christmas. And even that isn't that bad because Jenny just prepares unbelievably well for it, for all of us. I think we really also believe in personal corporate development. I'm really interested and so are my cofounders in kind of steering everybody here to kind of where their professional goals lie, and really listening to where they want to go, and what they want to learn, and how they kind of want to build themselves up within their existing roles, and who they want to be in three years and five years. We take a really detailed interest in that, and I think that really resonates with everybody. And we've got a brand new, nice warehouse, which doesn't hurt, and a fun kitchen with lots of snacks. Yeah, we just ... It's just this idea that there's no reason for there to ever be fire drills. Experiencing fire drills in my past agency life, I'm like, "This is just a waste of hours on my life. This is dumb. Nobody needs to live that way."
Shantel: I certainly never had that 3:00 AM experience, but the one other job I had prior to starting this company right out of school, it was just so political. It was just such a corporate, stuffy environment where I felt like you had ... You had to like play this game, and you had to just sit at your desk even though you were done with the work. And I mean it was just toxic. So I share those feelings of just like... I knew exactly what I didn't want our company to feel like and become.
Shantel: I don't know if you feel this way, but it has been interesting. So still with those thoughts of what I want it to feel like and how everyone feels when they come into the office. As we kind of continued to grow and hit that 20 person mark and got health insurance, we had to have more procedures and policies and handbooks, which kind of took away from this fun, almost startup, flying by the seat of our pants feeling. Did you experience something similar of like, "Okay. Wow, this is real, so now we have to put a policy in place for this because now we have to protect Xyz in a different way"?
Chelsea: Well, we definitely ran into that moment for sure. I think we've been really building systems and procedures since the beginning. That's part of what made everything feel really legitimate. But we try to really cut out as much red tape is as absolutely necessary. Like if I'm presented with a scenario of benefits and commission and whatever, I'm like, "What's the simplest way we can achieve the same end result?" Which is definitely an approach we take to a lot of this different stuff. We try not to be reactive when things happen that are part of growth that would, "Oh, we're going to put a policy and put our foot down on this," because that just ... That doesn't work. It just makes people angry. We have unlimited vacation days, but obviously everybody has to respect that and respect what that means. Yeah, I mean it all comes with growing pains. There's things you encounter that you didn't ever think of, and you kind of have to address them. But I wouldn't say we have like books and books of handbooks and rules and systems like that, if that makes sense. I'm kind of going on and on here.
Shantel: No, no, I think that's great. I think the one experience that came to mind for us was, we added health insurance. We had unlimited PTO, and then we had our first teammate get pregnant, so then we had to figure out the short term disability, and how could we pour into them during maternity leave, and what was that structure? So it's just more of a logistical figuring out how we were going to do it because then that's how we were going to do it for everyone else, and what we could afford.
Chelsea: I would love to speak with you offline, how that works. We actually haven't ... It's something we're preparing for because everyone here ... We do have some older people who work in the warehouse that are like grandparent age, but everyone else is kind of under 31 and kind of on that cusp of motherhood in the next coming years. And I do really think that that is such an interesting challenge in the United States workforce. Because as a woman I'm like, "This needs to just be financially embedded into what we do. We figured it out for a lot of different things. We need to figure it out for this." And then as a business owner it's like, "Well, how do you do it?" It's so complicated.
Shantel: Well, I'm happy to chat anytime and share any experiences there. We also are a team, mostly full of women, also all under 30. So yeah, lots of learning there for sure. What has been kind of the biggest learning lesson, if you could pick one thing that you've learned so far?
Chelsea: That's hard.
Shantel: Or maybe one thing you weren't expecting.
| THE BEST PEOPLE STILL REQUIRE MANAGEMENT |
Chelsea: I definitely think the biggest shock for me was how hard managing people would be. I was always in student leadership and sorority leadership, and I kind of went into hiring people with a little bit of a cocky attitude that it would all be fine. And even the best people in the world still require management, so that was a huge learning curve for us. I'm only 27 this ... We're turning five this year. I'm younger than a lot of our employees, so that's a hard challenge. Other than that, everything else has been okay. There hasn't been anything horrendous.
Shantel: Yeah. That is one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle, and there's certainly lots of great books about it, but there's not like a, "You should do it this way," or, "This is how you talk to this type of person," out there, so it's constant learning.
Chelsea: A book that really helped me was Radical Candor by Kim Scott, where she speaks from the leader's perspective about the emotional labor that goes into being a leader and a manager, and how to kind of balance and handle that and how to speak to an array of different people. It was really helpful for me.
Shantel: I'm going to have to check that out. We have a quarterly book club with our leadership team, and I'm looking for a new book for this upcoming quarter, so that's ... Thanks for sharing.
Chelsea: Yeah. I think people that are a little, in our generational age range are looking for a way to kind of forge a new of professionalism that's still has high standards and high productivity, but is just a little bit more realistic with how it kind of fits into people's lives. And I really enjoyed that book. That was really helpful. And I also just read another one called Brave New Work, which was kind of looking at work in a different way. I would recommend both.
Shantel: Okay. Are there any podcasts you listen to?
Chelsea: I love Second Life Pod by Hillary Kerr, or I guess it's by Second Life. Actually, it's called Second Life. Hillary Kerr is the host, and she was part of the duo that started Who, What, Wear, and MyDomaine, and Byrdie and all of those websites. Really, really great, in depth podcasts. I also love How I Built This. I think everybody loves How I Built This.
Shantel: Yeah, I think that's a good one.
Chelsea: Those are my two go-tos.
Shantel: Speaking of press, you won the award for Forbes 30 Under 30.
Chelsea: Yeah, this last year.
Chelsea: Thank you.
Shantel: That is huge. Do you remember when you found out that you were on that list, and how did it feel?
Chelsea: Well, we actually didn't get on it the year before. We were finalists the year before, but we didn't get it, and we were really sad about it. So when we applied again, I had absolutely no emotional attachment to it anymore. And so we found out we were finalists again, and I was like, "I'm not going to think about this at all." But you can't help but know in your brain the morning they're supposed to announce it. And so the night before, I went to bed and I was just like, "Please," like, "Please, please, please, please, please." And woke up at five in the morning, because that's when they sent the emails to all the winners, and I think that's when they published the page. And we were on it, and I freaked out. I was so excited. It just feels ... When you have your head down for so many years, and a lot of people think that you are dismissive and about your, quote unquote, 'cute little gift box company' when really you're strategic and scaling and all these other things, it just feels good to be externally validated every once in a while.
Shantel: Yeah. Were you able to go back to sleep, or were you like, wake up again?
Chelsea: No, no. I was at my parents' house. I got up, and I drove back to Los Angeles. I'm like, "Well, It's time to go.
Shantel: Nice. Chelsea, I just have a few more quick questions to wrap things up. I saw that you are an avid traveler, love traveling. This is more of just a fun question, but what is currently on the list as your favorite place?
Chelsea: I feel like there's a three-way tie, but then that makes me sound pretentious because I'm going to say three places from all over the world.
Shantel: You can say them.
| IF YOU CAN’T GO ANYWHERE, JUST GO TO HAWAII |
Chelsea: I just got back from Australia, and I really, really love Australia. I think it's so cool. The population in the entire country is less than the state of California, so it just feels chill no matter where you go. And my boyfriend and I actually a year ago drove from the Gold Coast all the way around to Torquay, around near Melbourne. It was just so amazing. I loved it. And then I also, for fun, very different from home, I love Spain, all parts of Spain. There's so many different parts of Spain.
Shantel: What's that third place? Now I must know.
Chelsea: Oh, the third place is just Maui, Hawaii. If you can't go anywhere, just go to Hawaii. It's the best. It's just, it's America. It's beautiful. The colors never need to filter. It's just you get off the plane and immediately relax.
Shantel: Have you been to Florence?
Chelsea: No, I haven't been to Italy. I'm dying to go to Italy.
Shantel: That's my happy place.
Shantel: One day. Yeah.
Chelsea: Did you study abroad there?
Shantel: I did. Yeah.
Chelsea: I figured. Everyone who goes there is like obsessed. I'm saving Italy for something special because I've never been to any part of it.
Shantel: Well when you go, let me know. I'm actually spending the whole month of June there. I'm going to live there and just kind of unplug and think big picture and strategies.
Chelsea: That's amazing.
Shantel: If you want to come visit.
Chelsea: Actually Jenny, my cofounder, growing up, her family is from the ... I can't think of the town, but it's a border town like Switzerland, Italy or France, Italy, up on that side, and went for like five weeks a couple of times when she was a kid. I'm like, "That's so cool."
Shantel: Wow, that's awesome. Well, what's next for BOXFOX?
Chelsea: A lot of different things. We actually are expanding our sales team and bringing on a couple of new members this year, which is really exciting. We are manufacturing some product, so based on some data and research and our own creative pursuits, we are going to be bringing in some different products across a few different categories, so I'm excited about that. Our corporate business is just going to continue to have some tech evolution to it. Build a BOXFOX was designed by us and built by our good friend and developer, James. So we are going to kind of in that same vein, build a couple of new things for our Build a ... for our corporate business, BOXFOX Concierge. And yeah, and just continue to grow, hopefully, knock on wood.
Shantel: Well, that's very exciting. Well, how could we help support you guys grow and learn more about BOXFOX and show?
Chelsea: Yeah, everybody can head to ShopBOXFOX.com, or follow us on Instagram @ShopBOXFOX. I also wanted to mention we are launching our loyalty program in a month, which is very exciting because we took the best of the best of the best of Nordstrom and Starbucks and Madewell, and we made it better. So that'll be really fun for all of our loyal customers from the last couple of years to be a part of.
Shantel: Nice. Well, we can't wait to check it out. Thank you so much for being on the show and carving out some time to connect.
Chelsea: Yes. Thank you so much for having me. So nice chatting.