In 2011, the digital fashion world felt a shift. The brainchild of Amber Venz Box and her now husband, then boyfriend Baxter Box, rewardStyle engineered a revolutionary way to finally put a price on the work of (then named) bloggers with a significant following. RewardStyle monetised the digital fashion world by bringing together the influence of bloggers and the product of retailers: by tracing the online journey of a follower, retailers can see when a blogger helps sell a particular product. The influencer makes bank from directing the follower to the product and the retailer’s sales soar as a result. RewardStyle was (and continues to be) the company in the middle – helping to build the relationships and tracking the results.
The company employs over 150 staff members across Dallas, London, Shanghai and San Francisco. They also have a network of 9000 publishers around the world from Stockholm to Sao Paulo and 4000 listed retailers. In short, it’s big. An estimated 200,000,000 consumers have made a purchase through rewardStyle powered content since its launch just five short years ago.
During her talk at this year’s SXSW Festival, we heard about her own continuing entrepreneurial journey. Here’s what we learned from her trip to the top of the fashion food chain:
Amber’s entrepreneurial spirit was already well planted by year five when she knitted scarves in the back of maths class and sold them to fellow students. Some of us may be way past primary school age but the lesson here is: start now. It’s never too early or late to start.
Be open to learning at every opportunity.
While studying at college in her hometown of Dallas, Amber worked 40 hours a week in a retail store. This was no ordinary job for Amber: she soaked up as much information as she could, learning about the in’s and out’s or buying and merchandising. She also leveraged her small space in the company by getting the store to stock her own jewellery line, which she began during high school. Like Amber, it’s imperative that you look for opportunities in everything you do.
Listen to your peers (and your gut).
The real rewardStyle breakthrough came after her own struggles to make money of her blogging. She began venzedits.com in 2009 as a way of becoming more involved with her first love, styling. But it wasn’t bringing home the bacon. Attending a blogger meetup in New York, Amber discovered that her blogging peers were in the same boat – no real money was circulating for those who were doing the work. For Amber, blogging wasn’t just a fun hobby, it always had an inherent business purpose. So she decided to find – or in her case, create – a way of turning a creative outlet into a revenue stream. RewardStyle was born.
Find a complementary force in your business.
For Amber, her co-founder, business partner and husband Baxter are “ying and yang”. His engineering, funding and technology background complements her creativity and love for fashion.
It’s a great way to maintain balance in a business to have someone who will always come from the opposite end of the spectrum with ideas. It helps to level all the ideas, problems, obstacles and new ventures the business will face.
Ask the question.
Often we believe our idea plugs a hole in a way that’s unique but the best way to find out if that is in fact the case is to talk to people. Ask them if they’d consider buying your product, how much they’d be willing to pay and what they like or don’t like about your idea. Amber did the same when she was building rewardStyle – approaching major online fashion retailers, she was the able to ascertain if her idea had legs.
“The first step was to build our network,” Amber explains. They approached retailers with the question: ‘Would you pay publishers to feature your products?’ “The first brands to take them up on it were ShopBop and Net-A-Porter,” Amber says.
And it wasn’t just one end of the transaction that Amber made certain was benefiting. “The publishers’ (at this time ‘influencer’ wasn’t yet part of the vernacular) answer seemed like no-brainer,” Amber says. “If you could get paid for something you were going to do anyway – and we would do all the tracking and automated payment for you, would you do it?” The resounding reply was “Hell Yes!” RewardStyle had, at that point, established that their mutually beneficial strategy really did have legs.
Be ready (and willing) to grow.
When it came to growing the business, Amber began with vertical expansion. As her life evolved from clothes to homewares to wedding stationery to baby products so did rewardStyle’s offering.
“As I needed more breadth of product, we recruited that breath of retailers,” she explained. It’s fundamental that growth can be factored into your business – you never know when a new opportunity may crop up and it’s so important to be able to explore it when it arises.