Boxed Co-Founder Chieh Huang’s Keys to Thriving in the Pandemic

In 2013, launching an online store selling household items wholesale would not have seemed like a multimillion-dollar business idea. But that didn’t stop Boxed co-founder Chieh Huang from doing just that. Seven years later, Boxed has earned a reputation as the “Costco for Millennials,” having been valued most recently at around $600 million in 2018.

“I never thought that being a toilet paper salesman would be one of the most popular jobs in the early months of 2020, but here we are,” Huang said during a Real Talk webinar hosted by Inc. on Wednesday. He added that many of the business principles that have led to Boxed’s success hold true today for companies struggling to survive in the Covid-19 era. Here are three of Huang’s tips for thriving in the pandemic.

Spread joy to beat the competition.

Though consumers have plenty of options for where to buy toilet paper, Huang says that Boxed’s personal touches like handwritten notes and pictures that allow customers to verify a box’s contents are reasons why customers chose it over competitors. 

“We’re more joyful than simply a transactional experience, and that’s what we’re aiming for,” Huang says.

Pro tip: In a pandemic, adding even a small source of joy to the shopping experience can go a long way. 

Accept that some challenges are outside of your control.

When the pandemic wreaked havoc on business everywhere, many companies experienced a rise in demand simply by virtue of the industries in which they operated, rather than how well they stacked up compared to competitors, Huang noted.

“You can have the best restaurant ever, but in April, you were probably hurting,” he says. “Covid truly showed me personally that there are situations your company will get into that are out of your control.”

Pro tip: Instead of worrying about issues you have no ability to change, focus on what you can control and accept that even the best businesses have struggled in the pandemic.

Aim high with new ventures.

If you’re looking to launch a new business during the pandemic, Huang advises aiming high rather than making a safe bet. He recalls an investor who questioned the decision to start Boxed. “Why would you do this? Have you ever heard of a company that rhymes with ‘Ramazon’ that operates in this space?” the investor asked. From Huang’s perspective, while he picked one of the most hyper-competitive industries, it was also one of the biggest, which meant there was still room for an upstart company.

Pro tip: “Before you pick your next venture, you have the ability to pick something small where it’s easy to operate and be successful, and that could grow to something big,” Huang says. “Or you could really go for it. And we went for it.”

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