The business of beauty

When Shant Oknayan and three friends started GlamBox they embarked on the exciting but perilous road that all start-ups have to take. He tells StartUp how they navigated the difficulties in front of them and turned an idea into success

Oknayan worked at Google, which he says helped encourage his entrepreneurship

Oknayan worked at Google, which he says helped encourage his entrepreneurship

The story of GlamBox not only serves as a symbol of a successful start-up, but also holds within it several lessons, hurdles and pleas familiar to entrepreneurs in the region.

Whether it’s logistics, staffing, finances, or anything in between, GlamBox has been through it and, so far, come out the other side. And with the challenges it still faces, the company’s journey is a telling one in terms of difficulties new businesses have to overcome.

GlamBox was born in 2011 when four friends attended an event and were inspired to step out into the world of start-ups.

One of this quartet, Shant Oknayan, explains that a thirst for entrepreneurship and a can-do attitude drove them to explore how they could go into business together.

He said: “We were listening to the talks, and we all looked at each other and said ‘we can do this – what’s stopping us from doing it?’ We’re all passionate about entrepreneurship, so why don’t we go for it? I still have the piece of paper where we noted down what we wanted to do.”

Deciding to be an entrepreneur and actually starting a business, however, are two very different things. So the group sat down to work out their plan.

“We took time to understand a couple of things,” continues Oknayan. “What’s working well in the US that’s shooting through the roof in terms of growth? What’s missing in the market here?

“We noticed that women were underrepresented online, and while doing our analysis on what’s hot, we came across Birch Box in the US and found a model for sample beauty boxes.”

The blueprint Oknayan and co had found was for an online company offering subscribers a monthly beauty box full of samples, which users can try before buying from the website.

Looking at beauty products was a shrewd idea. The beauty market in Saudi Arabia alone is worth about $3bn and growing, while the global beauty care industry is due to hit $265bn by 2017.

The quartet’s research led them a specific corner of the market.

“Lots of businesses doing mass market offerings in beauty, but not so many doing niche. They do ‘women and beauty’, or ‘mums and babies’ but these are very general. We wanted to do something much more niche than that.”

And so GlamBox was born. In 2011 one of the team took a sabbatical to help develop the business, and the company officially launched in June 2012. They funded the project themselves, about which Oknayan says: “It was a lot of money, but we wanted to at least try to be entrepreneurs.”

With designs on becoming a beauty hub for the Middle East, GlamBox also introduced an online magazine with expert contributors, and the business opened to a good response.

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