The 30-year-old co-founder of rewardStyle speaks about her impressive career, why Dallas is the perfect hub for her business, and how she enables girl bosses to establish businesses of their own
Amber Venz Box is the co-founder of rewardStyle, virtually the company’s face to the outside world and the creative mind behind the tech venture (which generated $1 Billion in retail sales in 2017). The platform offers internet influencers the opportunity to earn a commission through the products they present or recommend – the digital continuation of the concept of a personal stylist, since that’s how their careers began back when the world was primarily analog.
Globally rewardStyle has over 200 employees and 7 offices with its headquarter in Dallas. The youngest addition is their branch in Berlin, located in our office building at Checkpoint Charlie. So, when Amber made a short stop in Berlin, she visited us on the sixth floor and was kind enough to patiently answer a few questions. What an inspiring woman! What a career! Shortly after her departure, a strong wind of pure action blew through our office. But, read for yourself:
How would you describe rewardStyle in a nutshell?
AVB: rewardStyle is really the backbone of the global influencer industry. They create incredible content and then we do everything else: We bring brand relationships, the technology, and the growth consulting. In order to have bit of control in everything we invest, it is by invitation only. We work on behalf of brands, and they are looking for a specific group of people. We understand ourselves as a kind of incubator for great talents. Over the last few years we have been able to – on average – increase every single influencer’s earnings by four.
Was has changed since you launched in 2011?
AVB: It is interesting how it evolved over time. When we started, it was all about blogs and using Facebook and Twitter to drive traffic to blogs, and that’s where we focused. And then in 2012 Pinterest became really important – especially in the US – so we started working closely with them. Facebook bought Instagram the following year, and then this year Snapchat IPOed. In the beginning, you needed a proper website to be accepted to RewardStyle. That’s obviously changed now since we see more than half of our applications are mobile-only influencers, and primarily Instagram influencers.
Do you remember the moment when you quit your day job to pursue rewardStyle full time?
AVB: Yes. I had always worked in the fashion industry, on different sides. And I knew I wanted be an entrepreneur at some point, so I always had these little businesses. When I wanted these earrings I couldn’t afford, I started my jewelry line – which turned into my full time job. On the side, people would pay me to do their (personal and Christmas) shopping for them. This turned into a blog in April 2010 where I shared my recommendations and realized: If all the insights are available without any paid fees for me, I am cutting myself out of the business. The idea for rewardStyle was born. By spring 2011, we had a basic product built that was being used by me and ManRepeller as well as some other Influencers that were early to the game. And that was the first time I realized you can actually make money with an online business. I could not with jewelry. So that was kind of a transitional moment, I guess.
We moved in our first office, raised a mini seed investment with the help of family and friends, and ambitiously turned this into a full time job. I was 22, living with my dad at the time, and cereal was my main source of nutrition (laughs).
How big is the company now?
AVB: In Dallas we have 140 people and in New York right now it’s 15 – but that team is our fastest growing one, so it’s really just getting going.
Influencers are sometimes criticized for their shallowness, but economically it is a successful business case. I think it is really impressive that you are a essential enabler to creating upcoming girl bosses. You empower them to stop being somebody who takes a job at Condé Nast (or something similar) in order to free themselves and to become an independently run business, one centered around their own online identity that adequately addresses their audience, and to make a living out of it.
AVB: That is honestly the coolest part. I have been there myself: Jewelry line, shopping advisor, no MBA, no tech team, no support system – but I was working around the clock and had a big passion for all things fashion. You can only do so much on your own. As an influencer, it would be ridiculous to think about what technology will be relevant for the customer in two years. And so that is absolutely my favorite part of what we do. I consider all people that I am working with artists – and in that case, they manage to have truly sustainable businesses.
How does your typical day look like?
AVB: It is hard to say “typical day” because I travel quite a bit (30% to 50% of my time), so those days look different than days at home. Things have changed: We focussed on growing the business. The team has doubled since 2015, as well as the revenue. Back in the day, we were convincing brands that influencers were relevant and a promising way to sell products. Now I can focus on our product, think about driving it further and invent new features (like LIKEtoKNOW.it). When I am in Dallas, I sit down in meetings to implement my vision and pass it on to my teams. When I am on the road, I try to get a feel for their work abroad. Like today here in Berlin with Alba who is heading up the German market, and I just came back from Brazil and Shanghai where we have offices as well. It is mainly about sharing visions and experiences. Even though we’ve had this global company for six-and-a-half years with rewardStyle, every market is so unique and it’s almost like they are startups within these countries.
What is Dallas like? My impression is that it is quite a special place to establish a business that works with the fashion industry, since New York and Los Angeles also seem to be relevant locations.
AVB: Texas is a very unique place in the US. It is not the South. It’s not the Midwest, and it’s not the East or West Coast. It’s a very specific culture. It’s super business friendly. There is no state income tax. Basically, businesses are able to invest so much more in growing their teams and their people rather than paying taxes and we have a ton of Fortune 500 companies that are based in Dallas. It is very “bling” there in comparison to cool and casual Austin, which you could compare to Berlin in a sense. In Dallas, we are lucky to have a lot of space. People live in houses. Everyone has a yard and a car. It is comfortable and a little bit slower paced than New York. Our airport is very well connected to the rest of the world, so we get where we need to be for business – and pleasure – quickly.
Julia co-founded one of the first fashion blogs in Germany in 2007 and became a freelance consultant for digital strategies after publishing her first book in 2010. After an eventful four years with Condé Nast working mainly in the digital department of Vogue Germany, she decided to launch her own online magazine with her dream partner, Veronika Heilbrunner. She is based in Berlin and loves to read books.