The day you commit to marriage is one of the biggest and most memorable in your life. Beth Gerstein’s engagement day carried extra weight: It planted the seeds of a new business, one that was totally outside of her area of expertise.
Gerstein, MBA ’03, was an electrical engineer who designed satellite communications systems before she enrolled at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Starting a diamond business was the last thing she imagined in her future. But, as an MBA student studying entrepreneurship with an emphasis on social enterprises, Gerstein had become increasingly aware of the violent conflicts in diamond-rich areas around the world, and it was important to her that her engagement ring would not unwittingly fuel those wars.
“I began looking for a diamond ring that was a symbol not only of our love, but also of our values,” she says.
Gerstein’s interest in ethical diamonds grew, and a few of her former Stanford GSB classmates recommended that she contact Eric Grossberg, MBA ’04. Grossberg had created a business plan for an ethical segment of the diamond industry while participating in an early incarnation of Startup Garage, a class that gives teams of students from across the university the opportunity to build startups over two academic quarters. While Grossberg did not launch a business during the class, he continued to harbor an interest in the area.
“I realized that Eric and I would be good partners because I appreciated how he approached the problem. He demonstrated a lot of passion for the subject that I thought matched my own,” Gerstein says.
When Gerstein and Grossberg started their online jewelry retailer, Brilliant Earth, in 2005, the two split their responsibilities based on their unique strengths. Gerstein, who brought an operations mindset to the business, manages the website and product areas of the company. Grossberg’s interest in strategy makes him the right fit for managing sales channels and negotiating deals. Most important, however, is their shared sense of commitment to the company’s mission to cultivate a more ethical, transparent, and sustainable jewelry industry. As co-CEOs, they continue to define and steward their vision of the company.
Stanford GSB Firepower Bolsters Growth
The two bootstrapped the business for many years before deciding they needed to bring in outside capital and different perspectives to drive marketing and build showrooms across the country. Naturally, they reached out to their Stanford GSB network. Mainsail Partners, led by Gavin Turner, MBA ’04, became their first institutional investor, and as the company grew, more alumni joined their management team.
Brilliant Earth, which has seven showrooms, is now among the top three online jewelers in the United States. Gerstein not only found an ethically sourced diamond ring for herself; she also made ethical diamonds the choice of thousands of other brides.
In keeping with its founders’ values, Brilliant Earth donates 5% of profits to help those who have been harmed by the conventional diamond industry and focuses its sourcing efforts on offering diamonds that are mined responsibly.
“I’m most proud of the mobile school we funded in a diamond-mining community in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” Gerstein says. “Education is critical to giving children alternatives and teaching them how to best take advantage of the natural resources around them.”
Through Stanford GSB’s entrepreneurship courses, experiential learning opportunities, and strong network of alumni, Gerstein and Grossberg were able to turn their vision into a thriving business that has remained true to its values and its culture of giving back.
Photos courtesy of Brilliant Earth