How Two Friends Built Revolve Into A Fashion Empire With Instagram Influencers(Los Angeles Times)

Revolve Group co-CEOs Mike Karanikolas, left, and Michael Mente, right, ring the opening bell at the NYSE on June 7. At far right is Chief Brand Officer Raissa Gerona.

(Courtney Crow/NYSE)

Two young tech co-workers named Michael, who knew absolutely nothing about fashion, unexpectedly found themselves in the rag bin of the dot-com bust at the beginning of the century.

Now they’re running one of the fastest-growing e-commerce clothing companies in the nation: Revolve Group. It was valued at nearly $1.5 billion when it recently went public and, despite a snag here and there, is headed to more than $600 million in sales this year.

Michael Mente, 38, and Mike Karanikolas, 41, are co-chief executives of Revolve, whose initial public offering in June was one of the year’s most successful. Shares opened on the New York Stock Exchange at $25.16, almost 40% higher than the $18 asking price. The Cerritos company raised $211.7 million.

Revolve is only one of the fashion e-tailers harnessing the social media marketing juggernaut to sell to young and urban customers, but it’s the first to pull back the dressing room curtain to give the world a look at its financial underpinnings.

In lieu of traditional advertising, Revolve uses much of its marketing budget to pamper a revolving group of about 3,500 Instagram influencers — including Kendall Jenner, for a time — for wearing its brands as well as the designer names it carries. Revolve, which has 3.3 million Instagram followers on its primary account alone, focuses on selling apparel, shoes and accessories to millennial and Generation Z women and men, adding beauty products nearly three years ago.

None of that seemed likely in 2003, when the company was founded.

E-commerce was in its infancy. Facebook, Instagram and the iPhone hadn’t made an appearance yet. The term influencer didn’t come into widespread use until 2015.

“It was a new world and a new opportunity with the internet and online commerce starting to change things,” Karanikolas recalled of those early days.

“There was a large and growing interest in apparel online. But there weren’t really that many players doing it or doing it well. We felt like we could come out of the gates with a better approach and then continue to build on that.”

Karanikolas and Mente had planned to ride the tech industry dot-com boom that had begun in 1995.

Mente was in an entrepreneurship program at USC when he dropped out to join software company NextStrat in Los Angeles. Karanikolas was hired by the same company in 2000, after earning a degree in computer engineering at Virginia Tech.

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