Mathilde Lacombe, Wonder Boss of Birchbox and full-fledged mother

But how does she manage it all? At barely 30 years-old, the founder of Birchbox (ex Joliebox) is already the mother of three children, born in only three years.

Amazing. The young woman with a pretty doll face and a slim silhouette juggles between her busy family life in Reims, her dream job in Paris and her presence on the blogosphere as well as the social networks.

Her secrets ? She unveils them in her first book: Une question d’équilibre (First Editions). Encounter with an instinctive go-getter who does not hide her ambition and keeps cool and collected in all circumstances.

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Before Birchbox, you had a set idea : becoming editor in chief of Elle. Where did this ambition come from?

I discovered an incroyable collection of Elle magazines while staying with a friend of my parents when I was 10-11 years old. My decision was made: I would be editor in chief of Elle later. My orientation counselor was quite taken aback, and yet my mind was set, including during my studies. Finally I was able to get an internship at Elle, then to work as freelance on the Vie Privée pages.

I felt a conviction inside me. I always had a very determined personality. Some people rely on their luck factor, I am more a believer that one must work hard to give ourselves the means of succeeding. So yes, I have ambition, but I don’t want to run over people along the way.

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Once at Elle, you dropped everything to launch Joliebox. Disillusion or a sudden new whim?

One morning, I happened to fall on an American YouTuber who unveiled a new amazing concept: a monthly box filled with beauty product samples at rock bottom prices. Bingo, it had to be quickly launched in France. The hitch? I did not dare talk about it to my editor in chief, Anne-Cécile Sarfati. She had trusted me and I did not want to disappoint her. She made the first step and asked me into her office. I cried. I had to admit to myself that Elle was not going to be my job for life. It was tough on the spot, but I felt relieved. So I decided to leave Elle and venture out in the world.

You were not afraid of losing everything?

It was quite a wager, because in fact we were the first ones to launch the box business in France. We did not have the benefit of hindsight, but Anne-Cécile reassured me: “if it does not work out with your associates, you can come back”. And then I was not alone. My cousin Martin was by my side right from the beginning. He’s the one who introduced me to those who were to become our three partners. Only guys ! The team was formed in15 days, we were super complementary. And mostly, we realized that there was a real interest for the project. Once the idea was presented on my blog, 3,000 persons signed up on the waiting list in 24h.

Joliebox is the French translation of an American concept. All you needed was to copy it ?

No, that’s not how it happened ! We immediately offered to the founders of Birchbox to launch the French market together, but they prefered to concentrate on the US at the outset. So we decided to take the idea and adapt it to French expectations. In the United States, the box was very girly and filled with small samples. We wanted to aim for the high-end: a black box, real travel formats, upscale brands...

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How did you handle the fusion between Joliebox and Birchbox ?

The fusion was obvious. It was smarter to team up with the n°1 worldwide than to have a new competitor on the market! It did not change anything on a day to day basis.

The real evolutions took place before. As founder, I had my hands on everything. Then, I Iearned how to delegate. It was a real challenge. Today, I am Brand Director. I am no longer in charge of operational issues—I just supervise. I no longer have to answer emails at 2am, but sometimes I miss the adrenaline of the beginning. When I returned from maternity leave, I realized that the company functioned very well without me, so I asked myself what was my purpose? When you create your own company, it’s important to constantly question yourself.

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You claim not being at ease in terms of management, which is surprising for an entrepreneur.

In people’s minds, starting your own company obviously entails wanting to be a girlboss who barks orders at everyone. This is not my case. At 23 years old, I had no experience—I learned on the job and made lots of mistakes. Some people love to drive their teams, for my part, I prefer sharing my ideas.

You had 3 children in 3 years. What do you say to moms who feel guilty about their jobs?

That I feel guilty also ! In order to manage everything, you need to make concessions. I always wanted to have kids young and to work, so I do my best to make both of these wishes work out. But you have to be lucid: if you want to create your company and succeed, you cannot spend your days with the kids at the playground. It’s one of the reasons that I wrote my book : Une question d'équilibre (Published by First Editions).

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Some people criticize your image as a perfect woman, how do you react to this?

I take a big step back when it comes to criticism. I know that I am happy, that I take care of my kids and that I have a wonderful husband. But everything is not perfect.

When our third child was born, my husband started his own company in order to work at home and watch over the kids, which meant one less salary because for the time being he has no income. And yes, three children under 4 years old, is totally exhausting. These are life choices. I don’t like complaining on the social networks, I prefer sending out positive messages. And on the whole, I have a caring community.

You seem very inspired by what you read. A book to recommend?

Chère Ijeawele, is a small manifesto for a feminist education by African author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s a wonderful book that you can read very quickly. It opens your eyes on the place of women and their future. It’s a vision of feminism which, for once, is not perceived in terms of men.

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At 30-years-old, you are married, mother, girlboss, blogger. What’s next ?

I have just launched my new blog MathildeLacombe.com to replace La Vie en Blonde which disappeared following a huge technical bug this summer. Beauty, maternity, entrepreneurship, here one finds all my subjects of predilection, including an English version. For the rest, to be followed...

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Une question d’équilibre, Mathilde Lacombe, Published by First Editions, €19.95.

Follow Mathilde Lacombe on her blog.

Julie Zwingelstein

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