Now Profitable, Polyvore Strikes a Pose as Top Fashion SiteJune 09, 2011
by Colleen Taylor
Updated. Interactive fashion website Polyvore has officially entered into inflection point territory. The Mountain View, Calif.-based startup, which is backed by $8.2 million in venture capital, has achieved profitability and is currently seeing record web traffic, Co-Founder Jess Lee told me in an interview this week.
Polyvore’s website, which allows users to create fashion collages online with images clipped from any online store, now attracts 10 million unique visitors per month, making it the most-visited fashion website on the web today, Lee said. By comparison, Style.com, the popular fashion news and photo website run by Condé Nast’s Fairchild Fashion Group, reportedly receives some two million monthly unique visitors.
Polyvore was launched in February 2007 by Lee, a former product manager at Google, and two former Yahoo engineers, Guangwei Yuan, Jianing Hu and Pasha Sadri. Polyvore’s current status at the top of the fashion heap — and the fact that it’s been able to make a lot of money on the way there — may come as a surprise to some of the startup’s early naysayers. “When I left Google four years ago, everyone told me I was crazy,” Lee said. “Fashion and e-commerce was just not a hot space at the time.” Since then, companies like Gilt Groupe and Groupon have led the fashion industry and its fans to become more tech-savvy than ever, she said, and Polyvore has grown in kind.
The sector’s success has brought a number of similar sites, such as Courturious and Looklet, into Polyvore’s space. But Polyvore plans to retain its edge by staying true to its geeky roots. “The thing that differentiates us is that we’re a tech company that happens to be in fashion, not a fashion company that has technology. Our focus is really on building the product,” she said.
In that vein, fully 50 percent of the company’s 23 employees are in engineering, and it currently has just two full-time salespeople. Although the company is more focused on revenue than ever before, Lee says Polyvore has no plans to change its tech-centric company culture.
Polyvore’s product-first strategy seems to be paying off: An eighth of Polyvore’s audience comes back to the site more than 100 times per month. “From an engineering standpoint, it’s almost like building a game. Our community is very engaged, and very addicted,” Lee said.
And that engagement is making more and more advertisers take notice. One source of revenue for the company is running sponsored campaigns encouraging users to make collages with products from a specific brand or store. “A lot of advertisers are looking to work with us vs with media sites,” Lee said. “Our viewers are very focused on fashion, so there’s audience specificity. We also have a lot of incredible engagement, which advertisers love.”
When a startup becomes profitable, potential acquirers often take particular notice. When asked about Polyvore’s new position as a potential takeover target, Lee acknowledged that larger tech firms have shown a growing interest in the fashion space, with Amazon’s acquisition of Zappos and Google’s launch of Boutiques.com. But she said that while Polyvore does receive interest from potential bidders, the company plans to keep its head down and focus on continuing to grow independently for the time being.
“Social commerce is an interesting space, but I don’t think anyone’s doing it well online,” she said, noting that less than nine percent of clothing shopping is done online, compared to 50 percent of computer shopping. “There’s really an opportunity there to build the right kind of commerce platform for fashion.” Judging by its growth thus far, Polyvore may well be the company to do just that.