Digital space entrepreneurs are using different tools to build online brands that also facilitate e-commerce sales.

This story first appeared in the June 15, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Brand-building issues were the topic of a roundtable discussion on “Born Digital.” The participants were: Katia Beauchamp, co-founder and chief executive officer of Birchbox; Dave Gilboa, co-founder of Warby Parker; Daniella Yacobovsky, co-founder of BaubleBar Inc., and Andy Dunn, ceo of Bonobos Inc., who was also the moderator.

Dunn introduced the discussion with an anecdote about his experience starting Bonobos.

“Folks said ‘you can’t create a brand online. You can sell one, but you can’t build one,’” Dunn said.

Beauchamp said Birchbox was formed to streamline how women shop for beauty products. Now 25 employees strong, the founders initially did cold e-mailing to brands describing their idea and asking whether they wanted to participate.

Members each month receive a curated box of four to five sample products and get points redeemable toward purchases of the full-size versions at The content team curates via a monthly theme.

She said word-of-mouth and having a social media community contributed to the increase of its subscriber base, particularly as customers were telling others about the firm on YouTube.

Gilboa, who started Warby Parker with three friends from business school, said he was told “no way would people buy prescription eyewear online.”

The site ships five pairs of eyeglasses for consumers to try on at home and then return the ones they don’t want.

“We love glasses, but we hated spending hundreds for them,” Gilboa said. Prescription eyewear from Warby Parker retails for $95.

Recalling how one partner once had 9,000 frames stored at his apartment, Gilboa said his own Philadelphia apartment served as a showroom and had “random people coming in.”

Warby Parker hired a fashion public relations firm to help with its launch. One early start-up glitch was making the site live before it had functional capability or inventory, which led them to set up a wait list for the orders received.

Yacobovsky said she and her co-founding partner met in banking and became shopping buddies.

The two founded BaubleBar after realizing that women didn’t want to pay high market prices for costume jewelry, a category in which branding isn’t as important as in apparel and shoes, Yacobovsky said.

Sourcing directly with the same designers that sell to upscale retailers allows for accessible price points. A loyalty program enables customers to earn credits for every purchase, which are then redeemable for free product.

Yacobovsky described the premise for getting repeat customers: “For us, we felt that once we get a product in her hands, where she can feel and touch it, a woman will know what value is.”

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