Ever wonder how your favorite bloggers are able to afford the latest “it” bag or can make a business out of blogging? Well, it likely is thanks to Amber Venz. This blogger turned entrepreneur wanted a way to simulate the personal shopping revenue model online. She and her business partner (and now fiancé!) worked tirelessly to make monetization of digital style content more fluid and simple. And so rewardStyle was born and continues to be the leader in this space.
Amber embodies the entrepreneur spirit. She has the brains, passion and endless drive it takes to not only make it, but thrive and succeed as an entrepreneur. We caught up with Amber as she discussed the growth and expansion of rewardStyle as well as what the future holds for her brand.
CollegeFashionista: rewardStyle is such a cool concept. Tell us how it got its start.
Amber Venz: I started my personal blog, VENZEDITS.com, in April of 2010. It was initially developed as a marketing tool and portfolio for my offline businesses: my jewelry company and personal shopping/styling services. I launched the blog with a clear business plan and was posting three times daily, had a professional photographer and was investing significant resources into the development and production of the site.
I quickly realized that the site was more than a marketing tool and therefore needed a revenue stream of its own. After several months of trialing various solutions, my business partner (now fiancé) and I started brainstorming about the perfect monetization solution for my site. I wanted to be able to earn money online in the same manner that I had offline with my personal shopping business: if I drive a sale for a retailer, I get paid a commission on the sale. We decided to take that offline model online, providing a performance-based monetization solution for me and my peers, other premier style bloggers.
Baxter, my partner, and I walked to our local coffee shop and to brainstorm and we came up with the very literal name, rewardStyle, and purchased the domain.
CF: Was it hard to get the first few brands on board?
AV: I had a brief but successful history with a handful of retailers and brands prior to rewardStyle and they were all happy to try rewardStyle in our early days. After all, rewardStyle is an excellent tool for brands as performance-based marketing is basically no-risk. Retailers only pay when a sale is converted so they are ‘playing with house money,’ as we like to say.
However, back in 2011, blogging had not professionalized in the way that we see today and most brands did not have dedicated resources for blogger outreach. Cold calling retailers is not an easy task and when I did get ahold of a marketer, I was passed around the team because no one knew if my proposition fit into their department.
Today, word about rewardStyle has spread and our advertiser services team is going rapidly. Advertiser applications enter a long queue and the services that we offer to existing retail clients has expanded. Last April we announced the launch of rStheAgency, rewardStyle’s own influencer agency, and our retail clients now have a much larger scope of marketing tools.
CF: When did you feel that rewardStyle really took off? Was there a brand in particular to make you feel like you were going to “make it”?
AV: rewardStyle took off before we opened our first office. We are one of the only new propositions where the goals of all parties are aligned: retailers only pay when publishers drive sales; publishers are compensated at scale for their influence and rewardStyle only generates revenue when our publishers drive sales to our retailers. It is a win, win, win. Our company is built on monetization so we were earning revenue from day one. Also, we were first to market and our enthusiasm and soul was apparent to our clients. Our growth is due largely to referral business as we have only started pursuing press and launched a consumer-facing product (www.LIKEtoKNOW.IT) in the last few months.
That said, there have certainly been notable moments:
- I was thrilled when Net-A-Porter joined rewardStyle in the fall of 2011
- We hired our 10th employee in 2012
- On Thanksgiving day 2012 we moved into a new office that we designed and built
- April 2013 we hosted our first conference with 100 publishers from six countries and 31 retailers
- January 2014 we released a consumer-facing product that allows our publishers to monetize their instagram audience
- February 2014 we hired our 60th employee
CF: Not only does rewardStyle have fashion brands but also home product and beauty brands. How do you ensure cohesiveness in rewardStyle with such diverse products?
AV: We are vertical specific, serving premium digital publishers in the style space. Many of our personal style bloggers also show images of their homes or feature lifestyle accessories in their product roundups. Fashion bloggers get married or become moms and suddenly we find mens and baby products entering the mix. Fashion, beauty, home, mom and male publishers share a similar set of needs and most of the time, their publications are not specific to just one category. I see our offerings expanding in a strategic way alongside the needs of our publisher base.
CF: In which way has rewardStyle changed the most since its birth in 2011?
AV: When we launched in 2011, we only served the female American fashion blogger. Today, we serve a diverse group of bloggers, traditional print publishers, pinners, instagrammers, celebrity brands and more- all across more than 60 countries. Not only has our publisher base broadened, but so have our tools and technological capabilities. Our product team is large and incredibly sophisticated and we push new code daily. In 2011, we launched with one engineer.
CF: Is there a particular mentality or motto that the rewardStyle team members try to live by?
AV: At rewardStyle, our goal is to enable our publishers to earn the most money possible on their content regardless of where they chose to publish it. Every tech product that we build and every strategy that we offer is designed to serve that goal. Beyond that overarching goal, rewardStyle team members are strategic and that singular trait is one of our biggest differentiators and advantages.
CF: What is it like for rewardStyle to be based out of Dallas rather than New York or L.A., where a lot of today’s retail companies are located? Are there any specific pros and cons?
AV: rewardStyle is at a major advantage for being headquartered in Dallas, Texas. Beyond our state’s business-friendly laws that allow us to reinvest revenue in our human resources, our team is incredibly focused and we are not influenced by the status quo in fashion or tech that can sometimes influence a copy-cat culture that we see from companies in the major cities that you mentioned above. We are laser focused on our goal and there are not many social or professional distractions here, which allows us to innovate quickly and ship new code daily. Keeping mum about our products and roadmap has served us well and in Dallas, there are far fewer opportunities for information leakage. Baxter, my co-founder (and new fiancé) and I were born and raised in Dallas, so it is truly home.
Our London office allows the international publisher, advertiser and agency teams to operate in the heart of the action so we benefit from that hub-like city exposure.
CF: Can you give our readers a little insight on what an average day may look like for the president and co-founder of rewardStyle?
AV: My days are all quite unique. When we were a newborn start-up, I did everything- created newsletters, recruited publishers and advertisers, designed wireframes and wrote strategy. Once we were able to hire specialized team members, I created training manuals, conducted interviews and built ikea desks. Now, we are an international company with more than 60 team members so I spend nearly half of the year traveling. I spend some time working from our London office.
When I am in Dallas, I spend a lot of time in meetings with our various teams and departments and when I am on the road I spend time in the field, face-to-face with our current and potential clients. Being a part of the industry that we serve is critical to our success.
CF: Besides the need for an entrepreneurial mindset, in your opinion, are there any other skills or characteristics that one needs to have in order to start their own brand?
AV: The best preparation for owning your own company is working for someone else’s. My work history in the fashion industry is unique from my peers and it has put me at a major advantage. Once you decide what industry to pursue, work on every side of that industry. Knowing that I wanted to work in fashion, I worked in retail as a shop girl then store manager and buyer; I worked alongside a stylist in Los Angeles; I spent time at Thakoon as a global wholesale intern and then fit model in New York; I started my own jewelry company and then my own blog. Experience and relationships are two of the most important things in your career. My last piece of advise: spend your 20s working your ass off, building your career. Your other needs will take care of themselves.
CF: Ideally, where would you like to see rewardStyle in five years time?
AV: rewardStyle will be the defacto monetization solution among premium digital style publishers.
rS is my dream job. I get to travel the world and get to know new cities with distinguished local influencers. We now have a product team that can create and launch new products within one month so there is little time from idea generation to execution to mass user adoption. We power thousands of small businesses around the world and I am blessed to work in a company that is changing the lives of individuals and affecting the direction of an entire new industry. In 5 years I hope to be working at rewardStyle alongside a global network of passionate and enthusiastic team members.
Photo credit: Jing Chen