Hayley Barna stepped down last year from her role as co-CEO of Birchbox, the beauty subscription company she co-founded with Katia Beauchamp. That doesn't signal the end of her startup life, though, because she still plans to start another company in the future.
"I have a few more businesses in me," Barna said in an interview with Inc., backstage at the Collision Conference in New Orleans last month. "I'm very interested in the idea that we might all live until we're 130. I hope to be working for decades."
In the interim, Barna has donned the mantle of investor. In February, she announced the she'd be joining First Round Capital, an early-stage VC firm based in New York City, as its first female partner. Though just weeks into the job, she says she's already learned a lot from being on the other end of the pitch room.
"I really enjoy investing, and I'll be a better entrepreneur having spent some time on the other side of the table," she said.
Of course, it's worth pointing out that Birchbox has seen better days. The company, which sends out beauty samples for $10 as part of a monthly subscription, and retails full-priced products through an e-commerce store, was forced to cut 15 percent of its staff earlier this year. At the time, Birchbox chief executive Katia Beauchamp cited a "hostile" funding climate and high shipping prices to Canada.
Previously, in April of 2014, Birchbox had landed $60 million in VC funding from such notable investors as Viking Global Investors and Accel Partners, for a nearly $500 million valuation.
"The decision to do the layoffs was the right decision for the business," Barna said. "It was something that was discussed with the board. It's really about matching our costs to the current opportunities for the business."
After exiting the top job at her company (she remains a Birchbox board member), Barna took an extended vacation. She went fly-fishing in Colorado, drove up the Pacific Northwest coast, and spent time in foreign countries including Norway, Iceland and Italy. "I just said yes to everything, because you can't do that when you're running a business," she recalls.
Upon her return to New York, Barna wanted to get back involved in the entrepreneurial community, so she began angel investing, focusing on women-led startups. "I was investing in women who were doing businesses that were focused on women, and then none of their investors were women, besides me, and I was like, that's crazy," she said. "That really is a wild dynamic."
Her advice to entrepreneurs pitching VCs, however, isn't gender specific; she urges all founders to think long and hard about whether or not venture capital is really the right way to go.
"There's a lot of different sources of capital out there, and there are a lot of different kinds of businesses," Barna said. "When we were starting Birchbox, we really had to ask ourselves, is this a venture company, or is this something we should bootstrap, or raise [money] from friends and family or angels?"
Not all companies are right for venture capital, though she ultimately deemed Birchbox to be: "The right fit for venture is typically going after a huge market, where there are dynamics where you could reach scale very quickly," Barna explained.
She argues that entrepreneurs can make it easier on themselves by researching potential investors ahead of time, and only pitching to the right ones. After all, you don't want to waste your time and energy on a firm that has never invested in your sector. That'san issue that Birchbox ran into in the early days (and before the market had grown saturated with subscription-style players, including Rent the Runway, Ipsy and Le Tote).
"In the early days when we were pitching Birchbox, for sure, a lot of the people didn't know how big the market was, and couldn't relate to what, for us, was a very personal pain point," Barna recalled. "That was a big mistake that we made. We talked to people that had never even invested in e-commerce before, and it was night and day when we talked to investors who were interested in e-commerce, had a thesis about content and commerce, or, in one case, an investor who'd been looking for a beauty concept because she knew how big the market was."
Still, in spite of the fact that Birchbox is now up against significant competition in that market -- Michelle Phan's Ipsy, for one, raised $100 million in VC funding last September, pulling in more than $150 million in 2015 sales -- Barna says she isn't worried, because she sees the company as a retailer first, and a subscription service second.
"We view our competition as being the wallet-share of where women think about buying beauty products," she said. "For us it's more women who are opting out of high-end beauty today because they don't feel comfortable in the traditional retail environment -- which is who I was before I started Birchbox."
Moving forward, Barna is entertaining several business ideas, though she declined to discuss anything specific. Citing Tim Ferriss, the famed serial entrepreneur, investor and public speaker, she said she was excited to take a series of "mini-breaks" over the course of her career, because it allows her to be more thoughtful in what she'll approach next.
"Birchbox was amazing, I continue to be so proud of what we're building, and I think that just means the bar for what I do next is really high, in terms of the passion that I have for it, the impact that it's going to have on the world, the size and scope of the idea," she said.