ayley Barna, founder and former co-CEO of beauty commerce service Birchbox, was announced as the first female partner at First Round Capital yesterday afternoon. Joining the team that first gave Birchbox seed funding back in October 2010, Barna will replace Wiley Cerilli, and will reportedly focus on new investments activity and operational issues of specific portfolio companies.
Despite her attempts to avoid publicity over her transition, Barna’s appointment is great news for both the progress and image of female investors. Having left Birchbox in 2011, she was recently accused of trying to downplay the significance of her ‘first female’ position at First Round. Barna said whilst her new job as an investor was a “human one”, her gender was only “part of my perspective”. This hasn’t deterred others from praising Barna’s new role, one particularly vocal supporter being First Round partner Phin Barns. “Hayley emerged as a deeply analytical thinker with horse power for days” Barnes said in a public statement welcoming Barna, praising her for valuing “data over personal conviction” and her “unshakeable belief that a solution is available to those who willingly apply the required focus and effort.”
Established in 2010, Barna founded Birchbox with fellow Harvard Business School graduate Katia Beauchamp. Subscribers are sent a monthly box of four to five selected beauty samples which can be curated by the customer through a personalised beauty profile. In joining the company that first invested in her own start-up, Barna has proved to investors that with hard work, a clear vision and an open mind, investing in supposedly ‘female markets’, made by women, for women is not only a profitable pursuit, but can lead to greater things outside the original agreement. Indeed, Birchbox started off with $1.4m in seed funding from investors, including First Round. Just six years later, it boasts over a million subscribers, 800 partner brands and 300 employees, including a stand-alone store in Soho, New York. The company is currently valued at $485m.
First Round has a front-row seat for the growth of Birchbox and in turn, worked closely with the woman who found a gap in the seemingly impenetrable beauty industry. In proving that female-orientated projects are worthy investments in an industry dominated by men, the tide may be turning for both female-led business and female-customer focused start-ups. Although investors have strict limitations on what is considered a worthy venture, Barna may have taken the first step in changing the perception of the female customer, highlighting just how much spending power they have and why their products are a wise long-term pursuit.