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Backing entrepreneurship | since 1999 | MyTheresa

The MyTheresa Story — When Luxury Meets Tech

How a Power Couple from Munich Built the World’s Largest Online Retailer of High-End Fashion

Fashion Forward — When Susanne and Christoph Botschen founded MyTheresa in 2006, it was little more than the online version of their luxury womenswear store Theresa. That very brick-and-mortar shop is now called MyTheresa Store and is little more than the offline version of the online luxury boutique that MyTheresa is today. With customers in 140 countries and expected annual sales of US$500 million the online pioneer in the luxury industry is forcast to achieve double-digit growth in 2020.

MyTheresa founders Susanne & Christoph Botschen (Photo by/source MyTheresa)

“You have to be truly obsessed with fashion”

What’s better than one fashion power player? Two! There is something extremely fascinating about fashion couples: Stella McCartney and Hunter’s creative director Alasdhair Williams; designer Tom Ford and husband Richard Buckley, former editor-in-chief of Vogue Hommes; model Natalia Vodianova and Berluti CEO and LVMH heir Antoine Arnault. The list goes on, but it would be grossly incomplete without Susanne and Christoph Botschen.

The couple met during their studies at fashion school. In 1987, they opened their brick-and-mortar store for luxury womenswear Theresa in Munich. The two shared responsibilities: he took care of finances, she oversaw buying. Susanne’s ability to identify trend-setting styles — along with consistent and personal customer service — soon made Theresa stand out among the many high-end designer boutiques in one of Germany’s wealthiest cities.

Though the pair’s individual approaches and opinions often differed, they complemented each other: on one side, the rational, level-headed Christoph; on the other, the impulsive and intuitive Susanne. “You have to be truly obsessed with fashion,” she once said in an interview with German ELLE. “I think it was my mother who planted the seed. Even as a child I could run free in that respect. But back in my teens, it was rather the plastic snake leather coat that made me the star of my school,” Susanne Botschen laughs.

Her gut instincts, his strategic mind — “it was only a natural succession”

Susanne Botschen has always had a keen sense for fashion trends. And if her gut instincts told her a designer was relevant, there was no backing down. Expensive flannel shirts and ripped designer jeans might have challenged Munich’s exclusive but often snobbish clientele, but Susanne’s stylistic command and understanding of trends such as Grunge gave Theresa a fashion-forward reputation that traditional luxury brands eventually found intriguing. Slowly but surely, prestigious and desired high-end designer labels such as Gucci, Prada, and Saint Laurent began offering their clothing and accessories at the store — and sales numbers increased

“You have to be obsessed with fashion.” (Photo by Dom Hill on Unsplash)

It was the strategic mind of Christoph Botschen that came up with an idea his wife later called “the best he ever had besides marrying me.” Two years ahead of online fashion giant Zalando, the Botschen couple went from retailer to e-tailer and founded MyTheresa, initially a mere online version of their Munich store and based in Aschheim, a small town northeast of the Bavarian capital.

“We always targeted an international and very trend-oriented audience,” Susanne remembers today. “It was only a natural succession to make our unique selection of high-end designer labels available to a broader public.” But they weren’t alone. British luxury retailer Net-a-porter.com had gone online six years earlier; German competitor Stylebop.com, two. The question was: did people need another e-commerce platform for luxury womenswear? Or rather: was the market going to be big enough for everyone?

From retailer to e-tailer & ahead of the market

“We were convinced from the beginning,” Susanne recalls. “Net-a-Porter had done an extremely good job already. Still, our project wasn’t going to be a copycat or a follow-up model.”

A clear positioning and differentiating point from their №1 competitor was MyTheresa’s exclusive focus on womenswear. “Our well-tuned range, which satisfies the continental European taste, is what sets us apart from others. We sell great labels such as Balenciaga and Tod’s online exclusively,” MyTheresa’s founder explains.

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Additionally, they approached their customers differently. Whereas former Vogue editor and Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet saw e-commerce as “content play” and suggested “must-haves” to her customers, as experienced retailers the Botschens considered it a “shopping play”. To them, it was obvious that every play begins with anticipation and at best ends with satisfaction. Every woman who has ever shopped at MyTheresa will testify to the feeling of anticipation when the beautiful box arrives — formerly in a delicate rose-pink, today in a more politically correct sunny yellow — and the satisfaction and poise she feels when she wears the exquisite garments. Especially if they can’t be bought elsewhere. By offering their customers site-exclusive designer collaborations, MyTheresa more than once made noise in the fashion world while setting out to become a global luxury fashion boutique.

The circumstances for MyTheresa to fulfill their vision couldn’t have been better: fashion had started to gain online traction, yet the competition was friendly. Marketing costs were relatively low, but the average order value was extremely high. The combination led to immense growth rates, 50 to 60% each year and no end in sight, providing the “working capital” that was required to finance the buying of exciting new designers’ garments.

”She is the powerhouse, he balances her energy” — investing in a married founder team

Investors knew the numbers and saw the potential, nevertheless some still had reservations. Although the two founders had 20 years of luxury retail experience and an excellent reputation in the global fashion scene, they were newcomers to the online business. And they were married. Some funds avoid investing in married couples as a matter of principle.

Jan-Gisbert Schultze, who met with the pair for the first time in 2008, admittedly debated the issue as well. Acton Capital’s managing partner has always been drawn to entrepreneurial challenges, but also has a high personal affinity to the luxury market. While working for @mckinseydigital, Jan advised The Oberoi Hotels & Resorts in India, and acted as managing director for fashion magazine ELLE in Germany.

“We saw MyTheresa’s potential to become a global boutique,“ Jan-Gisbert Schultze (photo by Richard Tobis)

However, the crucial question for Acton as potential investors was: were the founders willing to eventually sell the company when the time was ripe? After long and open discussions, the Botschens agreed and Acton Capital made its initial investment in 2010. “We saw MyTheresa’s potential to become a global boutique,“ Jan remembers. “By the time we got on board, the company had already made €10 million in revenue and almost broken even.”

In order to fulfill their vision of a global luxury fashion boutique, Jan worked closely with the Botschens, ”a congenial power couple of excellent standing with top global fashion brands,” as he describes them. ”She is the powerhouse, he balances her energy; they are like yin and yang.“ The Acton Partner is still friends with the couple, and he recalls working with them as an intense experience. “They are intense people,” he adds laughing. “Susi and I often yelled at each other.” The backend online system was not scalable and as digital newcomers, it didn’t make sense to her that it was going to take at least six months to restructure. “Conciliating the two sides, online and offline, was extremely difficult at times.” But worth the effort.

As soon as word got out, potential buyers began lining up

By 2014, revenues reportedly passed the €100 million mark with more than two-thirds coming from outside of Germany. From its base in the small town of Aschheim, MyTheresa shipped to over 120 countries globally with a highly localized approach. “It’s time to sell now,” Susanne and Christoph announced in a meeting with Jan. As soon as word got out, potential buyers began lining up, among them the world’s biggest luxury retailer The Neiman Marcus Group. “We traveled to New York and had a meeting with the group’s CEO Karen Katz, on the top floor of the luxury Bergdorf Goodman department store on Fifth Avenue,” Jan remembers. “We assumed they were strategically planning on using MyTheresa to digitalize Bergdorf Goodman.” However, they opted for a three-brand strategy and bought the MyTheresa trademark, including the Munich store.

The rest is history. Today, MyTheresa employs over 500 people and carries more than 200 luxury brands ranging from Balmain and Off-White to Versace. In 2019, the company closed the fiscal year with $419 million in revenues and a rise in EBITDA of 50% and is expecting a Corona-boost in profitability and sales. While the e-commerce business continues to grow on a global level, its giant owner is facing a strategic restructuring in the US. Neiman Marcus announced that it is considering a possible sale of its “billion-dollar crown-jewel asset” as the group restructures. It has yet to be determined who is going to purchase the online luxury fashion platform. The same goes for whatever entrepreneurial ventures the fashion power couple Susanne and Christoph Botschen will tackle next.

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