Céline Orjubin talks about launching My Little Box, a subscription beauty and lifestyle box, around the world.

Céline Orjubin is co-founder of the My Little Paris group. Graduating with an MBA from Parisian business school, HEC, Céline started her career in finance, working for the likes of Morgan Stanley and the strategic departments of numerous French fashion brands. She currently heads the group’s business development team, helping to launch My Little Box, a subscription beauty and lifestyle box, around the world.

My Little Paris started life as a woman-centric weekly newsletter in 2008 with only €5,000 in the bank, before growing exponentially to a loyal readership of 2 million subscribers. The group now also includes several sister titles, as well as My Little Box which launched in the UK in September. In 2013, the group was acquired by digital publisher, Axel Springer, for an estimated $90 million.

How we took our business from €5,000 to a multi-million dollar revenue business

If you’d told me eight years ago that my co-founders and I would sell our business in a multi-million dollar deal, I would have said you were living in a fantasy world. But here we are, from very humble beginnings where we were sharing our newsletter with just a group of fifty friends to a readership of two million and a plethora of apps, publications and services under our umbrella.

Let me tell you a secret – we’ve never advertised ourselves. You won’t have seen us in the local paper, or tube station or walking past a billboard, and we had no budget to acquire email databases. Everything we’ve achieved has been done through word-of-mouth and our community recommending us to their friends, families and colleagues – believe me, they’re a force to be reckoned with.

So how do you create that kind of virality and loyalty? Personally, I think there are three pillars that should form the foundations of any entrepreneurial venture.

1. Think about the experience, not the product

Especially at the beginning, it’s easy to associate success with sales figures, downloads, or in our case, open and click-through rates. To a certain extent, that’s not wrong either – but be wary of making your relationship with consumers too transactional.

When we started, our real obsession was with story-telling. What are the nuggets that people can’t resist talking about at the water cooler, or over a cup of coffee? What would make a reader feel like we were really listening?

For example, if we were reviewing a restaurant, we wouldn’t say such and such Italian restaurant serves this, that and the other - we’d tell the story of a man born in Tuscany who uses only three types of oil in his cooking, which he’s named after three ex-lovers who inspired his style of cuisine.

Even our My Little Box has been created with this in mind – it’s not so much what’s in the box that’s important, but the anticipation you feel when you’re about to get something that’s not bills in the post, and the way those items have been curated around a relatable theme.

2. Never stop acting small

If you’ve never read Zilch: The power of zero in business by Nancy Lublin, then I cannot recommend it strongly enough. The general premise behind the book is that the fewer resources you have to play with, the more creative and ingenious you’re likely to be when coming up with solutions to problems you encounter.

At the beginning, of course, we didn’t have the option! But that message does ring just as true for us today now that we’re 100 employees as when we were just four. Everyone is encouraged to be an entrepreneur and come up with ways to make just a little difference in our subscribers’ lives.

A couple of years ago, for example, our in-house illustrator Kanako, who incidentally does all our artwork by hand with love and care, helped us with a Valentine’s Day project on Twitter called #MyLittleLovesYou, where she drew individual pictures for some of our most socially-engaged readers. That small gesture went a very long way and the engagement was astronomical.

3. There is no strategy, only action

In the famous words of Herb Kelleher, “We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.” In our 24/7, constantly connected, digital world, it’s virtually impossible to predict the ‘next big thing’ and where you’re going to be in two, three or five years’ time. So instead of trying your hand at fortune telling, why don’t you just try your ideas out?

I’m not going to lie – there will be times, and likely many times at that, when you fail. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. After all, if you never fail, you can never learn from the experience, push boundaries or become a leader. In fact, at My Little Paris, we believe that if our employees have never come short, they haven’t grown enough as a professional.

Of course, on the flip side, it also means that you could come up with some gems – after all, that’s how My Little Box was born, which now has over 100,000 subscribers and is launching internationally.

It’s never easy to launch and grow a business, and there are always trials and tribulations you need to overcome to succeed. But don’t lose sight of that fantasy world – if anything, go out of your way to create it. Take your users to somewhere magical, experiment so that your business transcends challenges and becomes greater than you ever imagined it could be. Ultimately, it’s that little extra bit of sparkle that makes you outshine the rest.

January 2016