StyleHaul’s offices sit in the tony Sunset Media Center in Hollywood, overlooking Sunset Boulevard amid movie studios and media companies.
It’s fitting company for the multichannel platform that serves up fashion and beauty video content through its network of some 6,500 creators. The start-up’s five years in existence have been marked with enough milestones to make one’s head spin. The company sold to Luxembourg-based entertainment network RTL Group in 2014 for $107 million in a deal that valued it at more than $150 million. Last year included partnerships with Amazon to create shopping-related content and one with Verizon’s mobile platform go90. In March it inked a multiyear deal with Time Inc. to create packaged content for brands aimed specifically at Millennials. And a new platform for the company’s content distribution arm StyleHaul Society is expected to launch next week.
It’s breakneck speed but very much mirrors the rapid rate of change defining digital.
In fact, as a recent meeting with a visitor in the StyleHaul offices wound down, founder and ceo Stephanie Horbaczewski read aloud a text confirming an Emmy nod for best digital drama for the company’s original series “Vanity.” A second original series, called “Relationship Status” and starring Milo Ventimiglia, is expected to launch in May on go90platform.
“When I look back, no wonder my parents thought I was insane,” Horbaczewski said of the company’s rapid growth. “Everything happened faster than I can even talk — I talk fast and I couldn’t even keep up with it.”
The business was the brainchild of Horbaczewski, a former marketing executive at Saks Fifth Avenue, who got the idea for it after reading an article in the December/January 2009/2010 issue of Fast Company. The issue included a story with Ashton Kutcher talking about making short-form videos and how brands were going to need to build social networks. Horbaczewski, after reading that, had her light-bulb moment. She still has the magazine — with all her notes and scribbles — sitting atop her dresser.
Horbaczewski met with Allen DeBevoise, cofounder of video network Machinima, who became a cofounder and StyleHaul was born in 2011.
Fast-forward to 2014 and deals were happening right and left in the industry. The sale was not Horbaczewski’s choice as she described it.
“I really didn’t want to sell actually…There was this tidal wave in the industry of a bunch of businesses selling,” she said. “I had wanted to keep going. I was like, I finally got it. I know what my vision is for the next few years and then we got an offer and the process started whether I wanted it to or not…This whole industry was shifting and there were all these things we were going to need: access to funding for content, human resources.”
A deal — in which RTL Group upped its stake in the company to 93.6 percent — to remain competitive in the marketplace just made sense.
“I didn’t want to be behind the 8 ball for reasons we didn’t need to be,” she said. “New media needed more foundation and more support. Old media needed more innovation. So it was a perfect moment for synergy.”
Since then, there have been partnerships with RTL’s digital division of which StyleHaul is now a part. There was an activation at the International Consumer Electronics Show. The company, for the last three years, has worked with the Elton John Foundation. This year was the first that Horbaczewski was a cochair and StyleHaul was a cosponsor.
And then there was the introduction to Time Inc., which was facilitated by RTL. It already made sense with the two companies’ different units simultaneously pitching some of the same clients, Horbaczewski pointed out.
“Clients were caught in-between the traditional publishing program they had done before, so print, editorial, advertorial etc. on a traditional publishing platform, and the new, more innovative digital programs,” she said. “In fact, at most times, they were buying something from both of us. We weren’t working together.”
The multiyear deal announced with Time Inc. brings StyleHaul’s content creators together with Time publications to sell packaged marketing options to brands, the first of which is Walgreens.
Next week, the new upgrades to the StyleHaul Society platform will be announced. The Society platform essentially acts as a distribution arm to disperse content across different social media channels, such as YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
Creators are surveyed so that StyleHaul, for example, is able to tell brands which of its content creators has curly hair or who may have a pet. Thus content around product geared specifically toward someone with curly hair or a dog would go out to a very targeted audience. A campaign’s efficacy gets tracked in StyleHaul Society and changes can be made in real-time.
The company, which doesn’t disclose revenue, is projecting growth roughly on par with how it fared last year. Revenue rose 87 percent in 2015, according to RTL, which doesn’t breakdown the size of its individual operations’ sales. The company saw 15.73 billion views in 2015, up 72.7 percent from the year-ago period.
It speaks to innovation and good advice on strategy and growth that came from cofounder DeBevoise at the company’s start.
“He said ‘This is the Wild West, Stephanie. If you don’t go out and stake your flag in the ground, you don’t have land and nothing else maters. So right now just focus on land.’ That’s what people called the land grab of aggregating these [online] communities,” Horbaczewski said. “He said as soon as you have land, you can start laying in infrastructure….When he said that to me I thought ‘OK, so it’s OK that I have no idea what I’m building in three years’ because I couldn’t, right? It would just depend on what land I had and what kind of things I did with it.”
What she did was invest in her creators, focused on them and focused on obtaining a large enough critical mass. And in doing so, she answered the question of how to “move century-old industries like advertising, media [and] entertainment.”