December 8, 2021

Cl Youth Theatre

Fashion, The needs of women

LTK Cofounder Amber Venz Box Now One Of America’s Richest Self-Made Women After Softbank Fundraising

In a sign that the retail model is being radically disrupted, the SoftBank Vision Fund is taking a $300 million stake in LTK, a Dallas-based technology platform that enables more than 150,000 social media influencers to make their posts shoppable. Announced Monday, the stake values LTK at $2 billion, giving cofounder and president Amber Venz Box, 34, a net worth of $315 million by Forbes’ estimate. (Her husband, cofounder and CEO Baxter Box is estimated to be worth the same.)

Venz Box says the investment is further proof that consumers increasingly want to shop directly through the posts of people whose tastes and values they admire. LTK lets influencers—or “creators,” as Venz Box prefers to call them—earn affiliate revenue by tagging their content with links that followers can click on to buy. Along with taking a cut of commissions collected through the content posted in virtual storefronts on its platform, the 350-person company helps more than 5,000 retailers and 1 million brands connect with the influencers creating those posts. “We are the inventor of the creator-commerce platform,” says Venz Box. “We think that a creator should be able to offer someone a shopping experience that is competitive with every retail experience in the world.”

LTK launched as a brand in September after the company decided to combine its rewardStyle and LIKEtoKNOW.it platforms under one name. It now generates more than $3 billion  in annual sales for brands, according to Venz Box, about 10-25% of which goes to the influencers who spur those sales through the products they promote. Almost all of LTK’s content creators are women, ranging from Midwestern moms to hijab-wearing city slickers who typically post about fashion, beauty, fitness, home and other lifestyle topics that lend themselves to product promotions. More than 130 of those influencers have become self-made millionaires through the platform, according to Venz Box. For her part, Venz Box says LTK made $130 million in revenue last year and has already generated more than $200 million in sales so far this year. 

LTK is not the only way for influencers to encourage followers to buy products through their posts. Instagram has its own shopping feature, which allows users to check prices and purchase right within the app. For Lydia Jett, the SoftBank managing partner who led the $300 million investment, what differentiates LTK from such behemoth rivals is its service and focus on creators as the core customer in driving sales. Along with making it easy for creators to set up virtual storefronts and promote their content across the web, LTK provides analytics, marketing support and connections to brands that want to reach their audience.

“If you look at other social platforms, they’re really there to amass an audience and drive advertising for the benefit of the platform,” says Jett. “They’ve provided an inconsistent partnership to creators.”  LTK, in contrast, has built its business model around enabling others to benefit financially through its platform. That may explain why it’s the Japanese fund’s largest investment to date in a female-founded U.S. company.

“People who want to go shopping can always open up LTK and go shopping.” 

Amber Venz Box, LTK cofounder and president

Venz Box, a mother of four and unabashed Texan, has long understood the value of style. She grew up buying People at the grocery store, cutting out looks she loved and having her seamstress grandmother recreate them for her. She launched her own denim and jewelry lines in high school and later paid her way through Southern Methodist University by working as a clerk in a high-end Dallas boutique. Venz Box had a knack for helping customers learn how to cuff their jeans like Kate Beckinsale or rock flats like Nicole Richie.  She gained an even larger following when she launched the VenzEdits fashion blog in 2010 but didn’t make money because fans preferred to shop her recommendations online instead of coming into the boutique where she could earn a commission on what they bought. 

Her then-boyfriend Baxter, an engineer and MBA grad student, helped her solve that problem. He created a system to embed clickable links in her blog, connecting readers to the ecommerce sites of brands mentioned in her posts. That enabled her to track purchases made through those links and generate an affiliate commission. The duo launched rewardStyle to bring that system to other bloggers that they invited on the platform. They later tackled the even tougher challenge of creating shoppable tags on images with LIKEtoKNOW.it. Creators post pictures of their beach vacations, living room décor and family outings as they would on Instagram or Pinterest, but on LTK, the tags link to retailers such as Levi’s and Nordstrom that pay a commission if it results in a purchase.  By 2017, creators were generating more than $150 million in sales for brands through the technology, which landed her a place on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. 

With a $300 million infusion of capital from SoftBank, the question is where LTK goes next. Jett believes that the platform’s greatest growth opportunities will come from continuing to focus on serving the content creator as its core customer. “The scale of the revenue that it’s generating for creators is unparalleled outside of China,” says Jett, ”The consistency of authenticity of what this company stands for creates a very different relationship” than creators experience elsewhere.

Venz Box is certainly focused on creators as the future of shopping. She wants to give them more tools to create engaging and seamless shopping experiences for their followers—and make money from the effort. She knows from personal experience that building a loyal following is not the same as building a lucrative business.  While sharing images of her kids being silly can be engaging for her 95,000 followers on Instagram, for example, posting an image of a perfect Christmas tree or baby onesie on LTK is what prompts them to buy. “The LTK store is always open,” she says. “People who want to go shopping can always open up LTK and go shopping.”  

Now, she wants to help creators deliver shopping experiences to consumers that outstrip what shoppers can get from being in a physical store. The app-based experience could even complement the in-store experience. She also wants to make it easier for consumers to discover and shop through creators whose mission they want to support and help retailers connect to increase their impact, too.

Though Venz Box has headquarters in Dallas, teams in eight countries and impacts 8 million users monthly via LTK, she still sees herself as an evolved blogger who manages the business with a creator’s lens (while her husband oversees operations, finance and engineering). “A lot of my days are spent information sharing. Whether it’s with our team or our clients, it’s making sure people understand the vision, understanding where we’re going, and then being essentially the ultimate editor,” she says.