Amber Venz Box is the epitome of girl boss. With a passion for fashion that started when she was young, Amber was always looking for ways to monetize her big ideas. From running a vintage denim business in middle school to selling dresses she designed in her twenties to interning with stylists and then starting a jewelry line, Amber finally took her years of fashion immersion and started a blog, Venzedits in 2010. Realizing that she had yet to monetize her latest project, her then boyfriend, now husband Baxter, encouraged her to start rewardStyle the following year. The rest, as they say, is history as rewardStyle and subsequent launch of LIKEtoKNOW.it has created an industry that has changed the way we shop forever. We caught up with this influential mama of two from her Dallas home, fresh off the rewardStyle convention, read on…
My blog, Venzedits, was initially developed as a marketing tool for my offline business, personal shopping. I would post three times per day- usually a trend story, a ‘get the look’ story and an outfit of the day, all with the hopes of attracting more offline customers. I quickly learned that my audience preferred to use my recommendations to shop online at their convenience, instead of booking and paying for time with me and I realized I needed to be compensated for the sales I drove online and that was the impetus for rewardStyle.
By early 2011, we had a working platform and I began to invite my blogger friends to use rewardStyle. Today, rewardStyle is the backbone of the global influencer industry and we are an invitation only platform that powers 25,000 influencers across 98 countries. In 2017, we drove more than $1 billion in retail sale to our 4,500 retail partners.
We launched LIKEtoKNOW.it in 2014 as a social shopping service that lived within the Instagram app. Today, LIKEtoKNOW.it is a new generation blogging platform, built to empower modern influencers to connect with the mobile consumer who expects convenience, accessibility and immediacy when consuming content from their mobile device.
That is truly amazing! What were the first steps you took to build a business out of “social shopping”?
A few months after the soft launch of the rewardStyle platform, Baxter and I opened our first office and hired two employees. I was scared to take on the financial commitment, but once we made rewardStyle our primary focus, we gained enormous traction. Within six months we had recruited retailers like Neiman Marcus, Shopbop and Net-a-Porter and were fully integrated into premium content fashion sites- the most popular and successful digital publishers/influencers to this day.
Today, 250 people work on the rewardStyle team, providing service to clients in more than one dozen languages. 25,000 global influencers use rewardStyle to power their businesses and hundreds of millions of consumers use rewardStyle tools to easily shop influencer content.
Looking back, we had no idea how impactful rewardStyle would be. We created a new industry and disrupted and redirected the traditional fashion and retail industries. rewardStyle has contributed to the professionalization and financial independence of tens of thousands of lifestyle influencers.
That’s incredible! You have grown your business extremely fast since you first launched in 2011. Did you have a mentor throughout this incredible growth spurt?
Baxter, my co-founder, was really my mentor through the first many years of our business. I did not have a fashion industry network to speak of, and he did not have a silicon valley network and so we just applied our business skills and passion for helping other entrepreneurs and went to work. Around 2015 I began to meet other women in leadership positions that have since provided a sounding board for me. I am constantly learning from my peers and also from the incredible leadership team that we have hired around us. rewardStyle has given me an on-the-job MBA.
You’ve mentioned that rewardStyle has generated over a billion dollars in online business (insanity!). What are 3 things that you feel have been integral to scaling your business?
- Having a co-founder who has a complementary skill-set is a critical pillar to our success.
- We moved fast. Timing can be everything and we fully committed to making rewardStyle a success back in 2011 and have not looked up since.
- Hiring people that are smarter than you. Just in the last year, we have really built out our executive team with 6 new VPs and a CRO to help us expand into the next chapter of growth.
You were named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 (congrats!). Did you ever think your business would be this successful? What surprised you the most about this designation?
Baxter and I have worked around the clock for more than six years building the business and what started as a project in our tiny apartment, is now a large, multinational business with more than 250 team members across seven offices around the world: London, New York, Dallas, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, Los Angeles and Berlin. We could not have told you then that today rewardStyle would have 25,000 content creators utilizing it to monetize the entirety of their influence and 4,500 global retailers using the rewardStyle channel to market directly to the socially-inspired shopper.
We started rewardStyle when I was in my early 20s and making the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 was always a milestone that I wanted to achieve, and I made it just in time for my 30th birthday!
That’s such an amazing milestone to achieve! How would you describe your company culture and why are these traits important to you?
rewardStyle is our home, and the people on our team are our family. Many years ago, team members started posting to social media with #rStheFamily and it stuck- it was a name that they created for themselves, which is a strong reflection of how they feel about each other and our clients. We have a fun, innovative and hungry team and we expect for each team member to have all three of those traits to be the ideal team player.
You say that you have been entrepreneurial since you were very young, creating skirts out of vintage jeans. What 3 things do you think make a successful entrepreneur?
- Solve a real problem that a lot of people share.
- Prioritize and focus — each morning I write out my three top priorities for that day and I only focus on those. If you spend your day emptying your inbox, you will never have the chance to spend time on the big ideas and future planning.
- Great companies put themselves out of business. Think about what would disrupt your business and build that thing. For rewardStyle, that new concept was LIKEtoKNOW.it.
How has your role as a mom influenced the way you run your business and mentor your team?
Motherhood has forced me to tighten the organization of the departments that I deal with the most and to relinquish more control to the leadership that we have put in place. With less availability to come into work early or stay extra late, I am forced to prioritize, delegate and let go, and I am confident that I am a better owner, manager and worker now that I have had children.
What has been the most challenging aspect of growing your business? What has brought you the most joy?
Successfully managing and developing people has always been a difficult skill for me. I am fiercely independent and that trait is often one of my best strengths but as a very young business owner, managing people became a “growth area.” I did two things to overcome it: hire experienced, emotionally intelligent managers and read, read, read.
The most rewarding part about what we do at rewardStyle is empowering thousands of content creators around the world to capitalize on their creative gifts by providing them with the technology, relationships and education to make money doing what they love. In 2017, we had 83% more women making 6 figures or more, compared to the year before!
You have a unique perspective given you are a woman in tech. What advice can you give to women that are getting ready to raise capital for their businesses?
I think that being a woman in tech is a blessing. We are in high demand and we deeply understand the consumer (in our field, the vast majority of online purchases are made by women). I know that I am given opportunities simply because I am a young woman in tech and I take advantage of being that token representative. It gets me into conference rooms, on television, on lists…we all have a unique set of assets, so it only make sense to use those strategically.
When it comes to raising capital, you need to clearly understand your audience (investors), what they need to see (financially) and what motivates them. On the flip side, understand that when you raise capital, you are no longer working for yourself and you have a new boss, even if the investment firm owns a minority share. Consider your goals for the business and for yourself and think seriously about where you might be able to partner to achieve what you need, instead of selling off part of the company. Lastly, know that most people who raise money, need to raise again, so raise more than you think you need the first time to stretch the time between needing to raise again (it is very distracting!).
Where do you see the influencer space going?
I believe consumers will spend even more time consuming content from their mobile device, they will continue to move into closed social platforms where content is convenient and aggregated, and they will continue to trust their peers more than corporations. All of this will force marketers to grow their influencer budgets, which will entice more content creators to professionalize to earn a living online. Brand budgets will become so large that they require complete rationalization and the industry will continue to grow. We are only in the first inning:)
Since social media is such a big part of your life, how do you juggle that with your family? Do you have any non-negotiables when it comes to you and your kids and technology and social media?
Baxter and I have set boundaries around our work time and family time and once we get home, we stop working (and talking about working) and we focus our energy and attention on the kids. They say you only really have the first 8 years of a child’s life to shape the person they are going to be, and that time is moving fast! Time matters, so we are intentional with our children and each other. We let our kids watch children’s movies and some educational TV programs, but we do that together as a family activity; we do not let the kids have handheld devices (unless we are on a flight, and then all rules are cancelled:)
3 pearls of wisdom
Be present. When I am with the kids, I leave my phone in the other room. Trying to email in one hand while playing with kids in the other just doesn’t work- for me or for them. Being present does not mean being in the room, it means engaging.
Create boundaries. This one covers a lot- you need boundaries set around nap time, meal time, date night and more. I have found that if you are not intentional with your time and your children’s time, all things tend to go off the tracks.
Leave the house. As a working mother of two, it is easy for me to want to stay home with the kids after work (it can be hard to get everyone ready and packed up!) but I find that memories are made when you are doing something new/unique. We make memories walking to the grocery store, or going to the lake and watching the ducks.