The Entrepreneur Behind a $200 Million Company Explains Why Mentors Just Won't Cut It
In 2011, Stephanie Horbaczewski was working in the fashion industry as the director of marketing for brands like Hanley Mellon and Saks Fifth Avenue when she decided to launch StyleHaul, a hub for online creators, especially YouTube stars, who specialize in fashion and beauty.
Beginning with 750 channels, which she personally signed, the company is a content platform that allows influencers to make money by teaming up with likeminded brands. Some of the big name creators who work with Stylehaul are Zoella, Joey Graceffa, iJustine and Caspar Lee.
Six years later, the community is now home to content from more than 6,500 creators that garner about 1.3 billion views a month. In 2015, the network was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for its original web series Vanity, which tells the story of a young college student trying to solve the murder of a famous fashion designer. Stylehaul produced the show in partnership with Maybelline.
This year Stylehaul saw its revenue increase by 87 percent from the year before. And this spring, the network also launched its own book imprint. The company is reportedly valued as high as $200 million and has grown to five verticals that focus on topics like health and fitness, parenting and men's style. It also has a presence in 63 countries, 200 million network subscribers and 70 million monthly unique visitors.
We caught up with Horbaczewski to talk about the importance of building a culture dedicated to challenging the status quo and surrounding yourself with people who can help you achieve new heights.
Q: Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently when you were first starting out?
A: I would have trusted myself more. There were a lot of moments where I hesitated because the space was new. Looking back, because the space was new, I really couldn't get anything wrong. Every time I got it wrong, I was learning. I didn't fully appreciate that when I was in it.
There are times I look back and I wish I had taken a fresh approach from the very beginning, and not even really acknowledged how others were doing it. I think there is something to be said for sort of challenging [the status quo]. Now it's part of culture to challenge the status quo. I don't believe anything has a sure answer. We should always say 'why not?' But that culture came later. Looking back, I wish I had started that sooner.
Q: What do you think would have happened had you known this back then?
A: Some of the things we ended up doing later would have happened a lot sooner. Some of our global expansion I probably would have done sooner. The ecosystem and the pace was, and is, still moving at a pace faster than human beings can [move]. Some of the stuff I'm not sure we could have predicted any faster than it happened.
Q: How do you think entrepreneurs might benefit from this lesson?
A: It’s hard to tell entrepreneurs [to not compare yourself to others]. You have to surround yourself with the right people. I think that actually is the most important thing. If you do that, these lessons sort of solve themselves.
Q: What are you glad you didn’t know then that you know now?
A: I'm glad I didn't know where this would all go in five years. Perceived knowledge can be as damaging as real knowledge. The fact that it was unknown and there were so many paths is what forced us to be creative, innovative and pivot a lot. If had known where this was headed, what some of our peers would do, what the ecosystems would do in the space -- media, advertising, technology -- we would have made adjustments for all that. Instead we got a lot further and accomplished a lot more and built something very new, because we had no idea what was coming. We benefited from the fact that nobody really knew.
Q: What is your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
A: You've got to surround yourself with the right people. Everyone tells you to get a mentor. A mentor is super important and has a role, but you need more than that. You need a hitting partner [like in tennis]. This is somebody who is motivated by the same end results you are but not competing with you. In my case it was one of my very active board members.
Finding that hitting partner to challenge you and work with you every day makes you better at every turn. I think that's something we forget to tell young entrepreneurs. We tell them a lot to find a mentor; we don't tell them a lot that they need a hitting partner and a coach. And those are different things. People think all the time that mentors are coaches. It's not [the case].
Coaches are really sitting back and looking at what you're doing from a different perspective. The hitting partner is the one that is making you better.
If things go well, they go fast. So when you don't have those pieces, it's tough. Now I say to every entrepreneur, go find your hitting partner, that person is going to be the most valuable to you.
Nina Zipkin is a staff writer at Entrepreneur.com. She frequently covers leadership, media, tech, startups, culture and workplace trends.