When Our Happy Box CEO and Founder, Sonia Whitfield, left her corporate job in 2013 to embark on the world of entrepreneurship, she was juggling work, a young baby and a husband. So what inspired the Czech native to take the entrepreneurial leap? A vision to give back.
Her first venture, MamaAid, was a non-profit dedicated to helping women – specifically single moms and children – with medical care, food, and financial aid. In 2015, she realized that she could reach a broader base of women with an e-commerce platform, and that’s when Our Happy Box was born.
The San Jose-based company was founded for the purpose of enhancing people’s lives through the delivery of hand-selected beauty products, giving back to the community and creating a harmonious working environment for our employees. In fact, they’ve taken the notion of giving back to new levels, donating 100% of proceeds from one product to a different charity each month. Currently, Our Happy Box is the exclusive distributor of Ryor Cosmetics, the largest natural skincare brand from the Czech Republic.
What was your career in the corporate world before you left to start MamaAid?
In my early twenties, I had the good fortune of managing an international language school here in Silicon Valley which is where I had my first go at management and truly where my passion for business began. My role included overseeing all aspects of the local center from financials to marketing, and one of my most memorable achievements was launching a public after school language enrichment program teaching Mandarin, French, Spanish, and Italian.
In my last corporate position as support manager, I was fortunate to join a startup team within the large company. My entrepreneurial spirit was present at a young age and throughout my early twenties, so this opportunity was right up my alley. As a mother of a young child in an all too common Silicon Valley corporation of twenty-somethings who often were single with no children, it was a challenge to compete with others.
What inspired you to make the leap from the corporate world to entrepreneurship?
I began believing in myself, trusting that the way I see things actually can lead to some good. That taking a risk, often enough, ultimately leads to positive results if you stay focused on your mission. Trusting my intuition was the greatest thing I learned and it gave me the strength to begin this journey. Once I set my mind to it, the wheels started churning. The various instances in my career where I thought to myself “this isn’t right” or “we have to do something about this” all came flooding in. I was reminded, and dumbfounded at how corporations put their interest in profits above anything else.
Many I encountered tried to emulate the late Steve Jobs by incorporating his abrasive leadership skills thinking that is how it must be done in order to achieve greatness, but it simply doesn’t work a majority of the time. While he was a brilliant man with a lasting impact on our society, it is possible to accomplish greatness by being considerate and kind. I side with Richard Branson’s philosophy of employees first which is a beautiful example of how making a positive impact is possible without the need for harsh treatment. Aside from leadership, it was mind boggling to me that corporations shied away from charitable work or thinking of others. Even at Capella U in one of my business simulation courses, the business contributions to charities barely moved the needle on the way the public viewed the brand—so why bother right?
As a business owner, I understand watching the bottom line but forgetting to think of others, or mistreating employees when it’s completely unnecessary was the source of my inspiration and push to entrepreneurship. Once I had the confidence, I began to believe I had the ability to change this. And even with MamaAid, where it was just my mom and I in the beginning, there was always an emphasis on respect.
What is the premise behind Our Happy Box?
Our hope is to make thinking of others a fabric of our society, or at least to influence others to do more. Not necessarily with handouts, but with compassion. The meaning of our name “Our Happy Box” defines our intention: a box delivering goods that make a positive impact on all involved from our employees to our customers and partners.
When searching for the right name for our business, I wanted the name to encompass everything that we were about. Our, as in belonging to all of us. Happy, delivering joy. Box, a means of delivering products or supplies.
It might sound silly and many mistake us for a subscription box, so maybe that’s why Birchbox declined our request over a year ago. (In case you are reading this Birchbox team, we are not a competitor—please consider Ryor for one of your boxes!) Clearly, the positive impact on our employees, our suppliers, partners and of course customers is real. All that encompasses and drives the mission of doing good for the community through business.
Tell us about the Ryor brand, and why you have chosen to work exclusively with them.
Ryor had an immense influence on Our Happy Box and is the reason we are in beauty. They exemplify our mission and exemplify integrity—true empathy combined with hard work. The founder, Eva Stepankova is a remarkable woman who maintained an all-women run business throughout various obstacles and political regimes. What she has accomplished is awe inspiring, and Ryor is now the largest producer of skincare in the Czech Republic. With over 40 years of experience in developing skincare products, she founded Ryor 25 years ago with a mission to bring quality, affordable skincare to all women. Ryor has something for everyone, and the quality and effectiveness of their products speak for themselves.
We have loyal Ryor fans here in the U.S. ordering from us who are so thankful to find Ryor finally available here with much faster shipping. Introducing Ryor to the American market has been a ton of fun as all it takes is one or two tries and they start reordering. Ryor also uses top notch science into various lines and products; their mission is to bring the best at the lowest price. Without virtually any marketing budgets, they can provide customers with luxury quality products at standard pricing. We are trying to replicate that here in the U.S. market, but it is challenging to get noticed without marketing in the biggest beauty market in the world.
Will you be adding new brands to your roster?
Yes, there are so many incredible women-run brands out there that wholeheartedly encompass our philosophy of giving back, producing sustainable and quality products. We are an all-women business (Ryor is as well) and we’d like to continue to empower and support women-run businesses. It has been challenging to match Ryor’s quality and philosophy, but slowly we are finding great brands with products that are unique. For example, we recently added Box Naturals, these luscious towelettes that are perfect for on-the-go, after the gym or for intimate hygiene. They are completely non-toxic, smell great and have beautiful packaging.
Can you tell us about philanthropic partnerships you work with now? Also, will you be working with new partners in the future?
We choose our charities carefully, searching for smaller organizations that need the added visibility, while also working with some mid-range charities. Some charities we have donated to in the past include the Children’s Health Fund, and all proceeds from this March will go to She Should Run. We look to partner with CharityWatch.org to ensure transparency to our customers. Even though it is our choice to donate the proceeds, we still want to uphold the highest standards across all facets of our work.
In October 2016, we launched our You Buy, We Give program which donates 100% of the proceeds of a select product that goes directly to a chosen charity. Each month, we choose a new product and a new charity and we are always looking for new organizations to work with.
What else is in store for Our Happy Box in the future?
There is so much for us to do! We are continuously on the lookout for new and inspiring brands—building out our brand, and product portfolio will allow us the means to support a larger portion of national charitable organizations, especially those struggling due to size or lack of donations. We have many exciting things in the works, including an appearance at Indie Beauty Dallas in May, so stay tuned and follow us to find out!
You are the epitome of a woman who has followed her dreams; can you offer some advice to our readers who are contemplating staying in a regular jobs versus following their passion?
That is so kind, thank you. I remember reading an article in the Atlantic titled Why Women Still Can’t Have It All’ and I thought it was true. I succumbed to the belief that I would not have it all. Working in a job that was unfulfilling while focusing on my husband and kids, I felt that my husband was achieving it all—successful law practice, good marriage, healthy happy kids, and that was okay. He was living his dream, and that took priority.
Over time, this belief changed. I couldn’t sit still, and started doubting the Atlantic article. Another woman’s experience does not have to be mine. So I decided to live it my way. The more I focused on my mission and the drive within, somehow we started making it work. With respectful conversation, or what my husband would call, negotiations, we overcame several obstacles and with one baby step at a time, I kept moving forward, believing in myself and my goal.
Continuing to pursue my passion—or as I call it, my duty, wasn’t easy, and proves challenging today. Yet it is all worth it. I am a better wife, and a better mother and I produce better work while making better decisions. There is no resentment on either side as long as we communicate. I suppose that is it, communicating well with your partner, or anyone for that matter, regardless of your circumstance, is key.
What kept me focused, and continues to keep me on track is positive thinking. It sounds so simple. At times, I’ll wake up in the middle of the night worried about something to do with my business and I talk myself down saying “everything is going to be fine, you are doing the right thing, go back to sleep” and it works.
As much as you need outside support and reassurance, the most important support must come from within. You must believe in yourself and be your biggest cheerleader. As I recently said in another interview, if your idea wakes you up at 4 AM, with your mind shouting “let’s go!” and “let’s do this!” then absolutely follow your gut and your intuition and do it.