This Founder Shares the Mindset That Helps Her Stay On Track
Generating $1 billion in sales for retailers, the founder of RewardStyle now realizes you can't please everyone. Instead, think about what you want for the long haul.
Editor’s Note: Entrepreneur’s “20 Questions” series features both established and up-and-coming entrepreneurs and asks them a number of questions about what makes them tick, their everyday success strategies and advice for aspiring founders.
Amber Venz has always only ever been an entrepreneur. Her first real business was a jewelry line that she began at 15 that she sold online and in department stores.
In 2010, when she was 22 years old, Venz started a lifestyle site called VENZEDITS, sharing her knowledge about the fashion world, as she had held jobs as varied as fit model, a shop girl, stylist and retail buyer.
As much as she loved the community she was building, she was having trouble figuring out how to make money. So in 2011, Venz and her husband Baxter Box started RewardStyle, a Dallas-based platform to help bloggers and influencers grow and monetize their brands.
Six years later, the project that began with only the two of them now employs 200 people in six offices around the globe. Venz now works with over 12,000 influencers across 87 countries and the company has gone from collaborating with a few stores in the Dallas area, where the company is based, to partnering with more than 4,000 retailers worldwide, from Amazon to Wal-Mart.
As Venz is offering up advice this week during Dallas Startup Week, we caught up with her for our 20 Questions series to see what makes her tick.
1. How do you start your day?
The first thing I do when I wake up is either listen to a podcast or read a devotional on one of my apps. I try and do that before I get into any sort of work, because once I start I will never remember to come back.
I usually go immediately to my email to make sure there's no urgent messages. And then check my Instagram account. I'm still an influencer myself, and so I would like to see how things performed over night.
When I get to work, I always block that first hour for myself. It's just for me to sit and think about my priorities for the day and the things I need to accomplish and get organized.
2. How do you end your day?
I travel quite a bit, but the nights when I’m home with my family I end my day by eating dinner with them at home and then just playing with my daughter.
We have a set time from when we get home until she goes to bed that we focus on her. Those are really quality hours with her and then it leaves me some time to catch up on the rest of the work stuff.
My husband and I block off nights at home as far as time we're going to spend with her. We also have a weekly date night and then we try and leave one night open for work events during the week.
For at least the first three years of our time of having RewardStyle, I was on the road more than half the time. We would pour ourselves into it 24 hours a day.
But we plan to be in this industry for a long time. So we started thinking about how we don't want to look back and say “wow we were never home,” or “we never spent time with our daughter or with each other.” So we calendar in that time that we spend with each other and with her so that we make it a priority.
3. What’s a book that changed your mind and why?
It’s not actually a book, but Netflix’s Culture deck on LinkedIn. In the last year we've doubled our team and will grow again this year. So culture and people have been a huge focus of ours. I found the deck timely, and it answered all of the questions I've had about the foundations we had built, everything from our value system to how we reward people.
4. What’s a book you always recommend and why?
Start With Why by Simon Sinek. His whole philosophy is about why you do something, not what you do. We started the company to solve my own problem. And that story is something that resonates with our our influencer clients, because I was in the same boat as them -- and I still am.
It made me think about our communication with our clients and making sure even with new ones, they understand why we do what we do and the values that we have.
5. What’s a strategy to keep focused?
It's a two-part strategy. The first part is taking about an hour to myself and really thinking about what my priorities are that day. And the second part is saying no. I've learned to say no a lot more lately, and it has freed up bandwidth for me to focus on the things that are important for the longevity of my business.
6. When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to do something in the fashion world. I used to say that I wanted to be a fashion designer or a stylist like Rachel Zoe. I told my dad that in order to do this, I have to go to L.A. this summer and New York the next summer. So he let me drive out to L.A. when I was 18 years old, and I tried to schlep around being a stylist.
7. What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
People are your most valuable resource, and you have to value them and treat them well. By being short sighted and not valuing really strong people this boss drove employees away -- and lost an important connection to both clients and innovation.
The happiness of your team is directly tied to the happiness of your clients. At this company, the management made it difficult to feel like you were being treated fairly on a regular basis. And I think that that impacted their client retention and growth.
8. Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
I would definitely say my husband, who is also my business partner. He’s a little older than I am and has his MBA. I think management and strategy comes naturally to him. I watch him very closely to learn from him and the expertise that he has.
9. What’s a trip that changed you?
I've now been to Russia and China for business. Just seeing two cultures that are so polar opposite from the U.S. and learning how those systems work was eye opening for me.
10. What inspires you?
People who understand how to connect. One of my good friends is Whitney Wolfe. She founded Bumble, and I'm always so in awe of how she's able to really connect with people. She just has this really great understanding of what is going to actually resonate with someone.
11. What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
In about fifth grade I decided I would give my friends pedicures and charge for them. The next thing was in middle school. I would take old pairs of jeans and then turn them into mini skirts and sell them.
My first real business was a jewelry line that I created. It was my sophomore year of high school and that actually was a true business. I really did sell online and through wholesale channels and department stores.
12. What was an early job that taught you something important or useful?
It was cleaning the house and doing chores for my mom and dad. That taught me to respect property, because my mom would go back and check our work and make us redo things if it wasn't done the right way.
My dad would always say it's not about what you have, but how you take care of it. My first job was being a shop girl and that was the first time I realized that people actually don't know what they want; you have to show them. I found it so interesting that people would come in, and I could really direct what they bought.
13. What’s the best advice you ever took?
It's about thinking long term and thinking like an infinite player. That's a concept I gleaned from Simon Sinek.
He talks about the theory of the finite player versus the infinite player, and how their decision making is going to be very different because one is looking to win a game with a finite number of competitors.
With RewardStyle we think about how we can be infinite player. Being infinite player means that you just stay in the game. It's really thinking long term and not thinking how do I please someone today or how do I make the company attractive to somebody today.
It's thinking about our survival, health and our foundation. It’s about making decisions based on where we want to be decades from now.
14. What's the worst piece of advice you ever got?
I think it's kind of that quote “it's all about the hustle.” It's that concept that the most important thing is how many hours you work. And it's absolutely not the most important. If anything, that just leads to burnout and focusing your time on things that aren't important. The flipside of “it’s all about the hustle” is working in a strategic and methodical way.
15. What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
Delegate. It has been something that has been so helpful to me lately. One of our investors actually told me that if there's something that someone can do even 80 percent better than you can, let them do that thing and you go focus on the thing that only you can do at 100 percent.
16. Is there an app or tool you use in a surprising way to get things done or stay on track?
One is I use my inbox as a to-do list. Whenever I'm out and I think of things that I need to do, I just send myself a quick email or just put in the subject line the thing I need to do, so that later I can just search by my own name to find it. I find I don't write them down it will get lost.
And the other thing is actually screenshots. If something makes me remember that I need to do something, or it gives me an idea. I'll just take a screenshot of it and email it to myself.
17. What does work-life balance mean to you?
It’s just living intentionally. It's just feeling I'm in control of my own time. I think it comes down to calendaring things and feeling at the end of the week I was actually in control of what happened and where my time was invested.
18. How do you prevent burnout?
Certainly it's that intentionality, blocking out time in both my work and my private life. The second thing is vacation time. I wasn't taking any of my vacation days at all, so that's something that I've actually planned out in my calendars as well -- that by this date I need to take this amount of time off.
The next thing comes back to delegation, and it's focusing on my strength. I'm doing things I love, that I'm really good at and I’m making an impact.
19. When you’re faced with a creativity block, what’s your strategy to get innovating?
To find creativity I go to other people’s work. Reading, Instagram, Pinterest, podcasts, TED talks, I’m always finding something that resonates with me.
20. What are you learning now?
The value of our foundation. A strong foundation is what allows you to scale, allows you continued success and that comes back to planning as well. We're six years into RewardStyle, and I look at it from a technical perspective and also from a cultural perspective. This is the time where if we hadn't put the right things in place we would start seeing the company fracturing or breaking down. It's understanding the value of doing things right.
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