RewardStyle, which helps bloggers make money by connecting their audiences with e-commerce options, raised $15 million from some high-profile backers to expand its reach globally.
Maverick Capital Ventures led the Series A funding round, with participation from Russian media entrepreneurs Miroslava Duma and Nasiba Adilova and investor Veronica Chou, the daughter of Silas Chou and a former Iconix China executive. This gives the company a valuation of $290 million, according to RewardStyle cofounder and president Amber Venz Box.
The Dallas-based company started working with online influencers and bloggers in 2011, realizing there was opportunity in building personal businesses through the affiliate model online. RewardStyle has become a gatekeeper of sorts that not only fuels e-commerce sales, but rewards the people or brands responsible for driving the purchase. To date, 9,000 individuals and 4,000 retailers work with the platform.
The focus is on the retail sales these content creators drive, which by year’s end will surpass $1 billion in lifetime retail sales, according to Venz Box. This is double the $500 million in sales that RewardStyle drove as of last year. RewardStyle makes money by taking a cut of the sales it generates.
She contended that “top earners” are generating more revenues than ever.
“The new generation is earning more,” Venz Box said. “The top earners continue to grow their earnings, but we’re recruiting new publishers that have made it very competitive.”
Noting that there was no “playbook” to the business when she founded RewardStyle with husband Baxter Box, about half of the 200 invitees that will attend this year’s RewardStyle conference are new to the top earning group.
The company, founded in 2011, was “bootstrapped” until now, said Box, acknowledging that in order to scale – and especially build a global business – strategic partnerships were a necessity.
Global expansion is a priority, and Venz Box plans to leverage Duma’s Buro 24/7 fashion and lifestyle Web site — there are 10 franchised versions of the site in Russia, Ukraine, Central Eastern Europe, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Middle East, Australia, Singapore and Malaysia. RewardStyle entered Duma’s native Russia about a year ago.
“We have publishers in 80 countries and we quickly realized that the political and cultural landscape was unlike any other and it would take true localization,” Venz Box said. “They [Duma and Adilova] have localized business units established so we are going to be monetizing their properties and they will help us localize our products so they are relevant for publishers and retailers in the regions.”
Venz Box also wants to expand the breadth of luxury retailers RewardStyle works with. She wants consumers to have more access to luxury products online, which can range from providing tools for retailers to better amplify their online marketing campaigns to simply increasing the amount of brands working with the network. Already, RewardStyle works with Chanel, Gucci, Burberry, Calvin Klein, Alexander Wang, Barneys New York, Ralph Lauren, Stuart Weitzman, Rag & Bone, Diane von Furstenberg, Moda Operandi and Neiman Marcus.
In January of last year, the company rolled out Like to Know It, which helps bridge Instagram and commerce. Influencers using the service put a link in their post, which when “liked” by a follower sends them an e-mail with direct links to purchase the product featured in that post. The service has about 5,000 influencers, bloggers and now retailers that have driven more than $35 million in sales since it launched. One million “socially inspired shoppers” have received upward of 50 million e-mails telling them where they can purchase items from posts they’ve “liked.”
In May it expanded its Like to Know It service to retailers including ASOS, Neiman Marcus, Moda Operandi, Tibi, Urban Outfitters, Selfridges, Matchesfashion.com, The Outnet and Luisa via Roma.
Although vague about specific products, Box said a series of new products and updates to existing one will begin to roll out next month.