“Hire People That Are Smarter Than You” 5 Startup Strategies With Amber Venz Box, Co-Founder Of LIKEtoKNOW.it
“If everyone hires someone who is slightly less smart than them, you will end up with a team of trolls. If everyone hires someone that is smarter than them, you will end up with a team of giants. The rule of the Russian nesting doll.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Amber Venz Box, Co-Founder and President of rewardStyle and LIKEtoKNOW.it. A digital-style influencer herself, Amber Venz Box conceptualized and launched rewardStyle at the age of 23 as a solution to monetize her fashion blog, venzedits.com. Amber has worked on all sides of the fashion industry — as a shop girl, an editorial stylist, a fit model, a retail buyer, and a jewelry designer generating $100,000 a year by the age of 18. Her intimate understanding of the fashion industry, along with first-hand experience as an influencer, has helped to fuel rewardStyle’s global success, generating $2.3B in retail sales since launch. Amber has been named Forbes’ 30 Under 30, Fast Co.’s Most Innovative, Glamour’s “Woman of the Year” for Technology, Fashion Group International’s Innovator of the Year, a Business of Fashion 500, Entrepreneur magazine’s “15 Female Entrepreneurs to Watch,” and she spoke at SXSW in 2017 as a featured session speaker for the second time. She is slated to speak again at SXSW this year as well.”
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I have always loved personal style. My earliest memories of elementary school are of my mom buying me outfits with coordinating hair bows and shoes and me calling my best friend each night so that we could coordinate our outfits for school the next day.
Growing up, my parents focused our spare time on creative projects and my dad, a business owner, encouraged entrepreneurship. By middle school I had created a vintage denim business, reconstructing old jeans into denim skirts and selling them to my classmates. Throughout my teens and early twenties, I designed, created and wore my own dresses.
Professionally, I started my career as a shop girl at a luxury women’s boutique, invested my summers in fashion internships in LA with stylists and in NY with designer Thakoon. I launched a jewelry line that was sold in major department stores across the southeast United States, and in early 2010, at the age of 22, I launched my blog, VENZEDITS.
Venzedits.com 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. I needed to be compensated for the sales I drove online and that was the momentum behind rewardStyle.
We began to think about a solution to monetize my blog in the fall of 2010, just months after I launched my blog. By early 2011 we had a working platform and I began to invite my blogger friends to use rewardStyle.
Back then, it was me and a handful of my blogger friends, and a couple of retailers who were willing to honor the traditional model of commission on sales in a digital capacity. Today, rewardStyle is the backbone of the global influencer industry. We are an invitation-only platform that empowers 25,000 influencers across 97 countries, and last year, we drove more than $1 billion in retail sales for our 4,000 retail partners.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
In 2014, we were focused on making it known that influencers were a highly-desirable marketing partner and we were having to work quite hard to get brands interested in working with rewardStyle. It can be hard to believe that scenario today, but remember, “blogger” was still a pejorative term back then. That was also the year that the traditional fashion media industry tried to say that “bloggers” were banned from fashion week. We were not a well-liked group of people among the traditional hierarchies of fashion.
In 2015, SXSW invited me to give a featured keynote at Interactive, and they specifically asked me to share the history of rewardStyle and to explain what was happening in the industry that we were building: the industry of influence. I went on stage after the President of the United States, Barack Obama, and that was a turning point in rewardStyle’s history. 2015 was the year that I no longer had to convince brands that they should work with influencers; everything changed and the flood gates opened.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
There are so many unique elements to our DNA: we were started by a 23-year-old; the founder is a girl; we are a technology company that is based in Dallas, Texas; we didn’t raise money for the first four years of our business; the list goes on…
As a company, we are laser-focused on our mission: making lifestyle influencers as economically successful as possible. We are most proud of creating a global platform that has empowered an entire generation of creatives. In 2017, we had 83% more influencers earnings more than $100,000 per year. That is incredible! We are doing exactly what we set out to do.
In summary, we are a female-run business that empowers other (primarily female) entrepreneurs around the world to make a career out of doing what they love.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My husband and Co-Founder, Baxter, and I are yin and yang when it comes to our skills. He oversees the technical side of the business, while I oversee the marketing side. We sit next to each other in meetings and really balance each other’s ideas.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
At work, we have created #rSgives, which is a program that empowers our team to participate in the community around various causes and catastrophes. We also have a volunteerism program, where team members are given two extra PTO days per year to invest their time at the 501c3 of their choice.
At home, Baxter and I give of our finances and time. We focus our family giving around children, from the pre-born to the young adult.
This year, I am giving “one day,” or 24 hours of my time, to mentor new and young entrepreneurs in our area and I am encouraging our team to do the same. Setting aside two hours per month to help someone who wants to “one day” be in your shoes is an easy, yet very meaningful way to give.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my Start-Up” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Know what motivates people — Educating yourself doesn’t stop once you leave the classroom. You need to seek out experiences and positions within an industry of interest, work on all sides of it and work for the very best. Take the time to learn every aspect of the business, so you understand the roles and positions of your teams. Knowing where they are, from personal experience, will give you the knowledge to motivate the most effectively.
2. Delegate — As a mother I’m more conscious than ever of the power and art of delegation. As the founder of rewardStyle, I’m responsible for an endless “”to-do”” list, and burning the midnight oil comes with the territory. With a family, it’s just not possible, nor is it productive long term, and I now realize that no single person can pursue and accomplish every task. You must trust the team you’ve built and motivate them to do their best.
3. Timing is everything! — When my now husband and I started working on the idea around rewardStyle, we were heads down and hyper focused to be first to the market with our idea. Once launched, we continued to revise and fine-tune, but having the platform up and running was the starting point and proof of concept our customers needed to take action and join, followed by the growth of our retail partners and influencer database.
4. 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.
5. Hire people that are smarter than you — If everyone hires someone who is slightly less smart than them, you will end up with a team of trolls. If everyone hires someone that is smarter than them, you will end up with a team of giants. The rule of the Russian nesting doll.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Amazon was one of our very first partners back in 2011 and we continue to have great respect for what they do and how they do it. I would want to have private time with fellow Texan, Jeff Bezos, to better understand his framework for decision-making and risk-taking.