Wholesale ecommerce retailer Boxed is taking its position as team leader seriously.
The company pays for its employees’ kids to go to college. It looked at the industry-wide “pink tax” and started a campaign against the higher prices. It even started contributing $20,000 to pay for employees’ weddings after CEO Chieh Huang heard about a tough time one of his packing table workers was having. (Watch this video of the announcement and try to not cry.)
It’s all a testament to the genuine atmosphere at Boxed, where less than a year ago the culture attracted CMO Jackson Jeyanayagam, previously the head of digital marketing for Chipotle.
“I wanted a chance to make a bigger impact, to lead, to have the autonomy to build the brand,” Jeyanayagam said in an interview with Street Fight. “I thought, ‘Wow, what a great opportunity to lead change and lead brand building as we’re going into this huge ecommerce shift. And it’s a shift for retail also, not just grocery.”
Behzad Soltani, formerly with Keurig and before that Staples, joined Boxed this year, Jeyanayagam says, “for almost the exact same reasons.
“The things we all value are both professional and personal,” he says. “From interns to the C-suite. We hope everyone brings the same thing, the same vigor, the desire to do things right, do things fast. Those are all common themes of everyone on the team.”
Much of the impression that Boxed has on its employees is from CEO Huang. Jeyanayagam says he has never worked for a boss like Huang – in all good ways.
“He’s very charismatic, obviously very genuine,” Jeyanayagam says. “He’s younger than me, he has a law degree. He’s just a guy who doesn’t see any boundaries. He’s like, ‘Hey, we can do this.’ People said, ‘Oh, you can’t compete with Costco because you can’t scale to that size.’ What I love about him is his fearlessness about where we can go and what we can aspire to be. He truly believes in what he’s doing. It’s not about money or the ego; it’s about doing this thing together and everyone being a part of this journey.”
Boxed is dealing with struggles, and scaling up from the garage startup size is definitely one of them, Jeyanayagam says. The company doesn’t have the same capital that some of the bigger retailers have, and they might never have the $200 million marketing budget that some competitors are working with.
“It’s about empowering people to make decisions even if they don’t have the budget,” he says. “I think that’s also why people come to work for us. It’s why I came here.”
One challenge Boxed is dealing with right now is balance – something many companies are faced with when scaling quickly. What path should the company take, how to get there, when to do promotions or discounts, and when to invest in certain things are a few of the things Jeyanayagam is facing now.
Elyse Burack, Boxed’s head of integrative marketing and brand, says that when tackling challenges, it’s important for the team to keep it light.
“We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” she says. “Obviously, we work really, really hard, but we also have to have fun, have that perspective and take a step back, recognize that we’re not saving lives here, we’re selling toilet paper in bulk. I think having that perspective makes it a little easier going up against the challenges [Jeyanayagam] was talking about.”
That kind of attitude lends itself to innovation, another necessity when running a lean startup. Boxed’s “SMART Stockup” predictive technology began during a company hack-a-thon.
“That’s also a testament to how we try to push innovation,” Burack says. “Something that was just an idea a quarter ago could now be something that’s in the market. That’s exciting and very challenging, but not a whole lot of companies can move at that pace. And some of best innovations we’ve had have come from interns or junior tech employees who were just messing around.”
The four founders of Boxed are not the typical corporate folks, where going to work just feels like work, Jeyanayagam says. They’re all immigrants or children of immigrants, and built Boxed with an independent mindset.
“Two have law degrees, one came from Goldman Sachs, they could all go make tons of money if they wanted to, and they chose not to,” Jeyanayagam says. “People want leaders of a company to stand up, do the right thing, be values driven, to show consistency in what they say and in what they do.”
Early on, Boxed partnered with sticker company startup Paper Box Pilots. Marketing and brand employee Burack says the partnership quickly became a fun and easy way to add another layer to the Boxed experience, using the actual shipping box.
“It was a small one-time giveaway of the stickers in each order, and the user-generated content poured in, of parents and kids turning their boxes into boats and spaceships,” Burack says.
Jeyanayagam says that the initiative’s success has now gotten some other brand partners interested, and Boxed could start doing themed sponsorship boxes in the future from possibly NFL or Star Wars. Burack and Emily Kalen, digital media strategy, say the stickers are small, simple, and fun, something that everyone understands and helps create a sense of community between the customers and the Boxed team.
“I did one,” Kalen says. “I turned my box into a castle.”
April Nowicki is a staff writer at Street Fight.