Birchbox debuts VR for male subscribers

Jul 14, 2015

From the Fortune Brainstorm Tech stage in Aspen, Birchbox CEO Katia Beauchamp announced on Tuesday that Birchbox Man, the lifestyle company's male-focused division, will launch a virtual reality product for its subscribers.

The effort, made in partnership with AR/VR company River Studios, means that Birchbox—known for its mail-order boxes of trial grooming supplies—will in August issue Google Cardboard, the company's no-frills VR tool, to male customers alongside four 90-second video clips to watch.

Birchbox's boxes of trial producers were intended to help people buy goods online, Beauchamp said. But it turns out that “content is actually the momentum and driver of purchase.” Virtual reality "is something we have to understand in a very intimate way," she said. "We want Birchbox to always stand for discovery"—so to let someone see a product virtually is a major coup.

How will retail change when you can send people to experiences? Beauchamp asked from the Brainstorm Tech stage. “VR content and immersion we think could really change the game," she said. "Every consumer company that’s thinking about video has to think about this. This is showing your customer that you’re committed.”

The occasion for the announcement was a Brainstorm Tech panel focused on three graduates of Harvard Business School—Beauchamp, CloudFlare co-founder Michelle Zatlyn, and Stitch Fix CEO Katrina Lake, moderated by Fortune senior writer Michal Lev-Ram.

In the last six years, 434 Stanford MBA grads raised $2.5 billion in capital across 127 companies. During the same period, HBS classes produced 250 founders who raised $2.5 billion across 90 companies. Harvard tops the competitive list for female business graduates receiving funding.

So what's in the water in Cambridge?

“The case method is a unique experience that puts everyone on the same footing," Beauchamp said. "Every class at HBS taught through a case. Without perfect information, every single day—five times a day—you have to make a decision. You have to raise your hand and contribute to the conversation. Everybody has to do that. That’s how you’re perceived as successful.”

Lake agreed. During her undergraduate studies at Stanford, there were tons of smart engineers who looked and acted like Mark Zuckerberg. “For me it was intimidating,” she said. Seeing women at HBS helped.

It's a pressing issue. “There are more men than women in tech. Absolutely," Zatlyn said. "But I’m optimistic for the future.” We’re at least having a conversation, she added. “The tech industry is good at fixing a problem.”

Pattern recognition, at least over the long term, will help, Lake added. In the meantime we need more female financiers. "One of the problems when I was fundraising," she said. "I did talk to every single woman VC. It was not hard. There are not many of them."

But one of Harvard's great successes is its alumni network, Beauchamp said. Five years after graduation, each student has peers and classmates all over the country. These are people who can help you strategize, raise capital, and more—without an agenda. “It really is life-changing," she said.

“Building a fleet of alumni both men and women who see women as leaders is really important. We see that as a part of our legacy.”

For more coverage of this year's Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference, click here.

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