Amber Venz of rewardStyle
Fashion retailers and designers around the country are talking about Amber Venz, and anyone with a style blog knows her website, rewardStyle. That's because the ingenious 24-year-old from Dallas is helping both large companies and small bloggers alike make more money off of online sales. After registering with rewardStyle, bloggers receive a commission when a reader purchases an item they post; similarly, companies that sign up with rewardStyle see higher traffic and online sales. Sounds like a win win. And Amber's burgeoning company continues to grow, expanding around the globe and offering lifestyle product later this year. The co-founder and president who isn't quite a quarter-century old gives Everygirl readers a peek into what drives her, how she went about starting a business straight out of college, and how she keeps up with it all.
Full name: Amber Elise Venz
Current title/company: President, rewardStyle
Educational background: Bachelor of Arts in Corporate Communications and Public Affairs from Southern Methodist University.
Throughout college I worked part-time at a local high-end boutique, and during the summers I took on various internships across the country. I remember sitting down at the kitchen table with my parents and saying, "Here is where I want to be, these are the steps that are going to get there... by the way, the first stop on this life map is Los Angeles. I am 19 years old and going to drive out to California to work as a stylist's assistant for a few months." Don't worry, I took my gun (socially acceptable in Texas).
The following summer (2008) I took an internship with Thakoon in New York. The week that I arrived, his fit model passed away unexpectedly so I got to be his stand-in fit model/intern for a few months. No, it did not pay, but I learned so much about the culture of fashion in New York.
What was your first job out of college, and how did you land that position?
My first job out of college was the buyer for the boutique I mentioned earlier. I had worked at the store part-time* all through college so after three and a half years of training, it was an easy transition.
*Part-time for me meant that if I was not in the classroom, I was at the store. I did not need to work, but I was addicted to the clothes.
Tell us how you went about starting rewardStyle.com?
I started my fashion blog, VENZedits.com, in April 2010 as an extension of my personal shopping business – I wanted it to be my fashion diary and styling portfolio. I started out posting three times a day, and I was telling all of my secrets to my readers. I quickly realized that I had cut myself out of my own business- my clients were now buying the products I suggested off of my blog and not booking appointments with me anymore.
The Idea: I decided to monetize my blog so I did what any blogger would do- I went to every blog I knew and snooped around to see how they were making money. I ended up becoming a member of about eight ad networks. I had a spreadsheet with the logins, passwords, which ads were where; it was an administrative nightmare and a total time-suck.
After about seven months of that, I teamed up with the technology company NastyGoat, and we developed rewardStyle.com.
This site was built around what I needed as a blogger: I wanted all my advertisers in one place, one login, one reporting system, one check. I wanted to get paid like I used to as a personal shopper, the ability to compare commissions between stores on a single product, a way to track my click-to-sale conversion so I could see what all of these links were worth to me.
How Tough: It is very hard. Tremendously hard. There are several pillars to the foundation of this company and each pillar has its tests; luckily, we have a team whose strengths lie in different places so we each take on our own set of tasks- there is no way that one person could run everything and do it all well. That said, finding the right people is difficult and more importantly time-consuming. For each position we want to work with the strongest possible person.
After building the right team, getting advertisers to pay attention was another task; (it’s almost exhausting thinking about it.) To sum it up, this is not a full-time job, it is a full-life job. If I am not eating, I am planning and when I am not planning, I am executing or sleeping.
Tell us about rewardStyle. Where are your offices? How large is the staff? How has it grown since the launch?
rewardStyle provides fashion, beauty, and lifestyle bloggers with relevant product links for whatever products they have decided to talk about, feature or wear. These links allow bloggers to get paid online the same way personal shoppers do offline. My background is in personal shopping and if I took a client into a boutique, I would get a commission on whatever that client purchased. This is the concept we have taken online. If you direct a reader to a retailers site, we allow you to get paid a commission on whatever that reader purchases at that site for a pre-determined number of days (generally 30 days, although this term varies by store).
Bloggers are working as personal shoppers by styling and suggesting products and we, as bloggers, are keeping the masses shopping by creating a desire for products. (You are welcome, retailers.) Everything about rewardStyle is performance-based; we allow bloggers to get paid exactly what they are worth to these brands and retailers.
rewardStyle is based in Dallas, TX in the heart of uptown. We office on the bottom floor of a two-level Georgian-style home- it has so much character. We officially launched on June 1, 2011 with just five of us in the office. Since then we have grown tremendously - more than doubled in six months. We now have employees in San Francisco, New York, London - all over the world.
What is your advice to young women looking to start their own company? How did you learn what to do in terms of forming LLCs, getting investors, building a website and brand, and all the other technical work that goes into starting a company?
Do NOT try to do it alone. If it takes a complete set of markers, don't try to be the red, the orange, the yellow...find a really brilliant orange, yellow... Make sure you have a clear, attainable roadmap.
Take us through your average work day/week?
As President, I work with the CEO to create strategic plans for both rewardStyle and CurrentlyObsessed.me. I spend the rest of my day negotiating with advertisers and working with our high potential bloggers.
I love to travel. Before we launched rewardStyle I was traveling to another state or country once a month; however, that has slowed down a bit. Any trip I take now is to work with an advertiser, blogger, or potential employee. The destinations have changed a bit but I find life much more fulfilling. I do work nonstop but I am so proud of the company we have built and know that without the hard work it could all fall apart. My longtime boyfriend, Baxter, is our CEO (we launched the company together) so we travel together for work and play.
As far as time allocated to brands, there is no science to it but the guidelines are the same for advertisers and bloggers: the more potential and reach, the more attention they get. Our top brands have my cell phone number and our top bloggers text it.
What are the biggest rewards from running your own company? And the biggest challenges?
The biggest reward of running my own company are pride, self-respect, and confidence. I think that any time someone succeeds in public like this it alters their social skills and I feel much more comfortable in my own skin.
There are two biggest challenges that I deal with personally: 1. managing employees and 2. reacting to the ever-changing landscape of technology. Culture is very important at rewardStyle and it is not uncommon for the team to crack a beer at 7PM (yes, we work late). That said, the friend/employee line is extremely thin. Secondly, disruptive technologies happen everyday and keeping up with it and anticipating technology can be overwhelming.
How are you hoping to see rewardStyle expand? Any chance of offering home goods?
rewardStyle is definitely expanding—we are moving into more countries and releasing new products and features. We will be launching lifestyle in 2012 and have so many tools that will change the work-flow for bloggers.
What has been the best moment of your career so far?
There are little victories every day. Two of the earliest and biggest victories I remember were getting Net-a-Porter as an advertiser and receiving an email from the COO of Who What Wear saying that they wanted to talk.
Not only do you run rewardStyle, but you are also the founder of Amber Venz jewelry. Two companies and you're only 24. Tell us about the jewelry line. And how do you do it all?
I started making jewelry because I found a pair of earrings that I wanted but could not afford. Once I learned to wire wrap, I started experimenting with more designs and materials and eventually my friends started asking to purchase my designs. Girls would drop off their homecoming dresses or party tops and ask me to build something to coordinate.
During college, while working at the small, high-end boutique (think mini-Barneys), I ended up selling my jewelry there for about four years. I used that time to slowly launch my own business. I created a logo, worked with a designer on my website, styled the jewelry shoots, and launched the line in the wholesale market. In 2011, I was named Best Jewelry Designer in Dallas by D Magazine, and Stanley Korshak was my biggest client.
In January of this year I had to put my jewelry line on hold to focus on rewardStyle. This decision was incredibly emotional as jewelry design is how I broke into the fashion industry; however, it was a stepping stone and I am now focusing on something that positively effects so many women (and men) in fashion. rewardStyle is much more important right now. But I'll pick up the jewelry again one day.
You’ve worked in Los Angeles, Dallas, and New York... what is your favorite city to live in? Work in? Build a career in? Why?
I will always say Dallas. Privately, I choose to live in Dallas because: I can have my own car, it takes at most 15 minutes to get anywhere I need to go, I can afford to live in a large apartment, almost every restaurant in town offers bottomless mimosas on the weekends, the weather is mild, the Mavs (I’m a huge basketball fan), southern boys, DFW has non-stop flights to anywhere I want to go, Dallas is right in the middle of the country (two hours to LA & two hours to NY), Neiman Marcus and 4510 bring in all the major designers you would ever want to meet, my family is here, I have invested my time in my Dallas relationships.