Inspire

The major business challenge you rarely hear about

Old habits die hard, so when an entrepreneur sets out to disrupt the status quo, can the fight against inertia be won?

Persuading customers to adopt a new service or product, even if it's a better one, is an unspoken challenge start-up founders like Katia Beauchamp of Birchbox know all too well.

I recently spent 48 hours with the co-founder and CEO of the fast-growing beauty company on CNBC's "Follow the Leader," watching as she and her team focused on ways to reroute the way we normally discover, learn and shop for cosmetics — from over the counter at a department store or in a drugstore to online at Birchbox.com.

Birchbox CEO Katia Beauchamp
Heidi Gutman | CNBC
Birchbox CEO Katia Beauchamp

You can't blame us for sticking to our habits. We want to try, test and take our time before making a purchase. Skin care, cosmetics and perfume can be quite pricey, after all.

Birchbox partly addressed this first consumer habit — the desire to try — five years ago when it launched a $10 monthly subscription service that provides members with a box of beauty samples they can experiment with on their own time at home.

Even though skeptics didn't believe anyone would pay for samples, adoption spread. Today, the company boasts over 1 million subscribers, which puts sales estimates from the subscription service at more than $120 million.

There's more to Birchbox than custom-curated sample boxes, however. It is also an online beauty destination where you can purchase full-sized versions of those samples.

But, again, will people go online to buy eye cream or blush when for generations they were accustomed to buying those items in a store and having the instant gratification of wearing it the same day it is purchased as opposed to waiting three to five days for it arrive in the mail?

Birchbox believes this is a battle they can win over time. If it wants to become the "forever company" Beauchamp describes, Birchbox must find ways to make its subscribers more comfortable with purchasing full-size products online.

The $10 monthly subscription model might pay the bills, but converting those same members over to its e-commerce platform is where they'll make some serious bank, as the mark-up on premium cosmetics products is estimated to be around 80 percent.

To that end, Beauchamp and her staff are zeroing in on creating a more engaging online shopping experience for customers and incentivizing them to buy online with the occasional discount or freebie earned via membership reward points.

Last, the company's not resistant to the concept of a brick-and-mortar store. In fact, it recently opened a flagship retail location in downtown Manhattan to help build awareness around the brand both offline and on.

"The store was a question and a hypothesis, and the results have been really exciting," said Beauchamp.

Farnoosh Torabi is the host of CNBC's "Follow the Leader," which airs Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT. You can follow her on Twitter @Farnoosh.