BoxFox is all about the love.
Co-founders Jenni Olivero, Chelsea Moore and Sabena Suri got the idea for their Los Angeles company, which crafts and ships personalized gift boxes, after struggling for weeks to deliver a care package to a sick friend. Frustrated, they knew they could make gift-giving easier for people looking to show affection with the perfect present.
Their idea was a hit — since starting up in 2014, BoxFox has shipped more than 60,000 boxes to gift recipients in over 20 countries. Both individual and corporate clients, including Visa, Southwest Airlines and Airbnb, have turned to the company for sleek, stylized boxes packed full of goodies made by brands like DryBar, Kate Spade, The Honest Company and Sugarfina. Its growing client list has been goosed by an easy online ordering system and press coverage by publications like Martha Stewart Weddings, BuzzFeed, Inc. Magazine and Cosmopolitan.
But BoxFox didn’t reach that point overnight — and getting there required some serious sacrifices. In the company’s early days, Olivero, Moore and Suri turned their apartments into makeshift order fulfillment sites and inventory warehouses. The trio regularly skipped on sleep to communicate directly with Chinese box manufacturers at 3 a.m. — while still working full-time day jobs. Keeping up with the growth that followed came with its own challenges.
What kept the founders going was the drive to celebrate the loving spirit with which each gift is given. Every gift comes with a hand-written note that, for Olivero, serves as “a grounding reminder of why we do what we do.” Customers “say such beautiful things to each other,” she says. “The relationships make it all worthwhile.”
A Bumpy Rocket Ride
When inspiration for BoxFox first hit, the founders hit the ground running, Olivero says. The three began with weekly brainstorming sessions, but soon found themselves meeting every night to plan and execute their ideas.
The venture was self-funded from the start, with the women pooling what resources they had to launch the company, starting with six pre-made boxes containing products from four partners. It debuted in November 2014, just ahead of the holiday season, and the friends were churning out boxes as fast as they could through Valentine’s Day 2015. The months-long rush for gifts gave them additional funding to implement their customizable box portal.
To save money, the founders used their homes as headquarters and worked with partners to modify shipments so boxes of inventory were small enough to be carried into their second-story bedrooms. It was cramped, and did little to foster work/life balance. But the situation was manageable — until the holiday season of 2015 hit.
That’s when BoxFox received its first large corporate order, courtesy of a digital video agency that wanted 400 boxes containing small succulents that needed to breathe before being shipped. Olivero recalls the chaotic environment that order created — floor-to-ceiling stacks of spare boxes surrounded by pre-packed boxes laying opened and occupying every free inch of floor space. “We were tip-toeing around boxes while having Christmas,” she says.
A decision was made: “We can never live where we work again.” By February 2016, BoxFox had moved into a small warehouse. That August, it moved again into a larger space.
That experience also showed them how important the corporate side of the business could be to its success, if it became a primary focus. “We can do orders of hundreds or thousands of boxes. But they still want it to feel like it’s coming from one person to another person.” BoxFox, she says, can provide companies with something “really human.”
In addition to shifting strategies, the trio also held a small friends-and-family fundraising round in 2016 to facilitate growth. By October 2016, all three founders were able to commit full-time to BoxFox.
Today, the founders have more sure, uncluttered footing — they and their 14 employees raked in $2.2 million in sales in 2017. BoxFox now has deals inked with more than a dozen home goods, wellness and fashion brands. And for the boxes — which now come in both the original, signature blush color and a new matte black — they work with a middlemen based in the U.S. who negotiate deals with three Chinese manufacturers on their behalf.
As they consider the future, the trio has started attending seminars hosted by the Women Founders Network to learn about pitching investors. They aren’t sure it’s the path they want to travel, but they figured it would be good to be armed with information. “Right now, we’re very happy with the growth we’ve had,” Olivero says. “It’s hard to imagine how much faster we could grow than this.”
Fueled by Love
Before taking on the gifting industry, Olivero and Moore met as freshmen at the University of California at Los Angeles and instantly bonded. Throughout college, “we would always be daydreaming about future companies, our weddings — we were always so creatively ‘right there’ with each other.”
The two graduated in 2013 and entered the working world — Olivero at a boutique sports marketing agency and Moore at Ogilvy Mather, where she met Suri. The three women immediately clicked. “It was one of those things where you know that you’re going to be friends with them forever,” Olivero says.
Meanwhile, Olivero and Moore were watching college buddies disperse all over the United States. Because of the distance, “it was clear we needed to put more energy” into maintaining those friendships, Olivero says. Stepping it up became an even bigger priority when a friend was hospitalized with pneumonia mere months after graduation.
To help her recover, the friends decided to put together a care package full of soup cans, crackers and other snacks. Creating it was the fun part — getting her the package was a different matter. “We were in entry-level jobs — how could we get to her during hospital visiting hours?” Finding time to wait in line at the post office to send it over was also difficult.
“That’s where we got the idea,” Olivero says. “We asked: ‘Why hasn’t anyone made gifting easier?’”
In addition to being startup inspiration, relationships and personal connections have been the core principle of BoxFox as it has grown. “We have wonderful family and friends, so we try to put energy into our relationships,” and customers share that passion.
[Related: This woman entrepreneur sells bridal subscription boxes.]
A family feel is also an integral part of the corporate culture that the women are building — in fact, some of their first hires were actual friends and family members, some of whom remain with the company today. “We do have a very family-style business,” Olivero says, adding that weekly salad swaps — where each employee prepares a large salad to share with colleagues — and other group activities are common.
The trio has big plans going forward. Next month, BoxFox will move into an even larger warehouse — a necessity, Olivero says, with the company again “bursting at the seams.”
Longer term, the founders want to further scale up their services for corporations. “We have really seen tremendous success on the corporate side of the business,” which now accounts for more than 50 percent of its business. The company also aims to manufacture some products of its own that it will offer in addition to items from popular brands.
While change is on the horizon, Olivero says one constant remains: a shared desire to help “more and more people strengthen their relationships, share gratitude and spread love with our boxes.”
[Related: Check out these eco-friendly gifts featured on The Story Exchange.]