For turning cheeky, risky clothing into a serious online fashion empire.
Sophia Amoruso, the 28-year-old fashion virtuoso behind Nasty Gal, sums up her irreverent and sexy e-boutique's ethos simply as "This is what I think is cool." That mind-set, plus an authentic rapport with a young and trendy customer base, has propelled wild growth, from $28 million in 2011 to more than $120 million last year. Last fall, Amoruso turned her curatorial eye toward creating her first exclusive Nasty Gal line. Dubbed Weird Science, its popularity kicked the company's total sales up 10%.
For letting its community help fill the racks.
The virtual thrift shop for indie girls took a big leap forward when ModCloth added Be the Buyer, a program that lets its millions-strong community pick from trade-show samples to decide what it should produce. "There have been more than 17 million votes for products since it started," says Susan Gregg Koger, who founded ModCloth with her husband, Eric, the CEO. ModCloth is growing at more than 50% annually, and the Kogers raised $25 million last year to fund a significant expansion.
For bringing tech savviness to stylists.
It's hard to find a good hairstylist, and it's hard for stylists to find new clients. Sounds like a market, but surprise, surprise: "None of the nerdy men in Silicon Valley had been thinking about this," says StyleSeat CEO Melody McCloskey. The $78 billion beauty biz—about 3 million spa and salon pros—consists of mostly free agents who run their businesses out of a notebook, so StyleSeat's app helps them promote their services and schedule appointments. Consumers use styleseat.com to search for a pro, using such variables as specialty and immediate availability. In the 18 months after StyleSeat's May 2011 debut, 75,000 stylists in 10,000 U.S. cities processed more than $100 million in bookings. StyleSeat takes a tidy 30% cut.
For creating an e-commerce startup factory
The name is not an accident. For CEO Michael Jones and his partners, launching disruptive e-commerce companies means deep analysis of big bets. Fashion and beauty is a particularly ripe market, and many of Science's companies have carved off slices to challenge the likes of P&G (Dollar Shave Club), Babies "R" Us (Wittlebee kids clothing), and Lululemon (Ellie workout gear). Each of the seven partners lend their expertise—design, fundraising, and so forth. They also specialize in identifying the best social tools to create fans and turn them into customers and brand advocates. "We're too hands-on just to invest," says Jones, "and too hungry and schizophrenic to focus on one company."
1. Heather Lipner's Uncovet harnesses social data to make a virtual, personalized boutique for each of her 200,000-plus subscribers.
2. Cult Cosmetics' Ryan Eberhard chose Science to help him launch a designer nail brand. He wanted its expertise in challenging industry bigwigs that haven't yet embraced e-commerce (in this case, nail baron Sally Hansen).
3. Allan Jones launched Fourth and Grand with Science's help last November. It sells monthly shirt-and-tie subscriptions, selected with the help of a stylist.
4. Marcus Greinke's Ellie creates Lululemon-quality athletic apparel at half the price by skipping brick-and-mortar stores.
5. Dollar Shave Club's Michael Dubin created the viral marketing video of the year for his subscription shaving gear. He capped off 2012 by raising almost $10 million to broaden his fun-loving brand into a lifestyle e-commerce business.
6. Hello Insights helps companies use a data-driven approach to turn Pinterest users into shoppers. CEO Kyla Brennan's first Pinterest marketing plan was for Uncovet; as a result, it acquired tens of thousands of members.
For appifying shoe and bag lust.
"It was crazy there wasn't an app to tell me the best stores around and what they have," says Snapette cofounder Sarah Paiji. That's what she and her cofounder, Jinhee Anh Kim, built: a slick, addictive local fashion shopping app that lets friends share what they love while connecting brands and boutiques to potential customers. Snapette has expanded into 12 cities around the world (and eight languages), and Nine West, Uniqlo, and Rebecca Minkoff stores have used the app to share deals and drive foot traffic. The next step: letting its customers buy directly through the app.
For discovering the next lipstick or face cream you'll love.
More than 300,000 women and men pay Birchbox $10 to $20 a month to receive a passel of beauty samples, whose makers pay Birchbox to get into their surprise packages. "Brands spend money to connect with consumers, and consumers want the best product," says Katia Beauchamp, who cofounded the startup with Hayley Barna. "We were asking both sides to change their behavior and it has really amazed us how willing they were." Their brilliant insight: Samples sell cosmetics. Indeed, 50% of Birchbox devotees will go on to buy at least one full-size product in Birchbox's online store.
For bringing luxury brands online—and to life.
"Ninety-nine percent of the overall luxury industry is offline," says Ahalife founder Shauna Mei. Why? "To avoid [their goods landing on] flash-sale sites." Mei, 30, an MIT grad who's an expert in artificial intelligence, created an e-commerce hub for the $300 billion global high-end-goods business, curated by tastemakers such as Tim Gunn and Daniel Boulud. Last year, she worked with Dwell and augmented-reality experts Layar so that Ahalife users could look at the magazine through their phone's camera and shop.
[Photos by Samantha Casolari]