The article first appeared on the In Style.
Dallas-born entrepreneur Amber Venz Box is an influencer’s best friend. She, along with her husband Baxter Box, launched the website RewardStyle and its app offshoot LIKEtoKNOW.it, where fashion influencers can turn their social posts into dollar signs, not just 'likes.' “Our mission is really to empower influencers to be as economically successfully as possible,” Venz Box says. “We want to make monetizing influence as easy as turning a key.”
And it worked—to the tune of $1 billion. The business model? Influencers sign up for the app, retailers partner with it, and every time shoppers buy an item that they spotted in a registered influencer's images, everyone makes a buck.
The seeds of RewardStyle and the LIKEtoKNOW.it app were planted back before the age of Instagram, when Venz Box decided to compliment a fashion styling business she already ran in Dallas with a blog. When her clients started reading her content, and searching for and buying items she covered instead of booking appointments for in-person styling, Venz Box realized just how much money she was losing. “Instead of booking me for [styling] appointments, they would go to my blog, text me, and say, ‘I got that bag,’ or ‘You're right, those skinny jeans are amazing.’ And I'm sitting there looking at my phone, thinking, ‘Well that was a $100 commission, that was a $32 commission, that was $12,” she says. “As a 22-year-old living at home, that money really mattered.”
So Venz Box decided to change the game, innovating ahead of social media’s buy-in-app revolution. “That's really what propelled me to start RewardStyle with my then boyfriend, now husband, because I needed to charge retailers for the online sales I was driving.” Now, brands from Gucci to Duane Reade have put faith in Venz Box’s venture, based on her previous sales success—and the promise of more to come.
But first, some hurdles to jump over: For Venz Box’s idea to get off the ground, she needed to convince major retailers to get on board, which is about as difficult as it sounds. “It honestly took me throwing my body at cars in order for anybody in the building to talk to me,” Venz Box says. Once she got her foot in the door, the second obstacle was to convince marketers to actually funnel money into her business, all before the age of blogger stardom. “When I finally got into the marketing department and showed the woman there my blog, she said, ‘We don't really work with bloggers, we work with celebrities and magazines. I don't have a budget for this.’”
Oh, how times have changed. And with a little persistence, Venz Box finally convinced her first retail partner, Shopbop, to take a chance. “We started driving serious sales for Shopbop, and we were able to bring that back to Neiman [Marcus] and say, ‘Look at what we're doing.’” Fast forward to today and Venz Box is working with about 4,500 retailers from Gucci to Duane Reade that pay commissions on any of their products sold through RewardStyle. “Very much the same way that Airbnb has created a platform that monetizes bedrooms, and Uber has monetized the extra time people have in their cars, we have monetized content,” Venz Box explains. “We have created a whole generation of solo-preneurs who are now supporting themselves and their families through the content industry by leveraging that forum.”
The launch that got LIKEtoKNOW.it 1 million users faster than Facebook: In 2014, Venz Box, having cracked website monetization, set out to solve the mystery of social media monetization. “We created a system where you, as a consumer, could register your Instagram credentials and give us your email address and whenever you like photos that are created by our influencers, we send you an email with all the ready-to-shop information,” Venz Box explains. The now also includes a wish-making capability to store potential future purchases. “That service grew from driving $10 million in sales the first year to $50 million in sales the next year to $150 million.”
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