With a passion for fashion and a thirst for innovation, these technology leaders are shaping the future.
All Systems Go
As the director of back-office systems at Zappos.com, Sarah Vlasic never has a typical day.
“My job always has surprises in it, which makes it both challenging and exciting,” said Vlasic, who has worked at the e-commerce giant for nine years.
“I oversee a team of developers, product managers and analysts who work together to develop and maintain an integrated data platform that is leveraged by various departments at Zappos,” she explained.
Vlasic’s team also focuses on “data governance,” and she encourages it to make decisions based on stats.
In the fast-changing digital landscape, it isn’t always easy to stay ahead of the pack. “It’s challenging because competitors are always trying to mirror what others are doing, as well as come up with the ‘next big thing,’” she admitted. “The biggest challenge I have faced is figuring out how to provide data in a usable and digestible way that allows Zappos to inform the right decisions to move the company forward.”
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Customer experience has always been Zappos’ No. 1 priority, and that is top-of-mind for Vlasic. “The evolution of Zappos is firmly anchored on our culture and service DNA,” she said.
Leadership, Vlasic said, is not about exercising authority. “Rather it is about empowering your team to make decisions and providing them with opportunities to grow and learn,” she said.
— Katie Abel
All eyes have been on internet pioneer Natalie Massenet since she left Net-a-Porter three years ago. In April, she finally confirmed her next gig: the launch of a venture capital firm, formed with Nick Brown, formerly a partner at VC firm 14W.
Dubbed Imaginary Ventures, the fund will focus on investing in “early-stage direct-to-consumer brands at the intersection of retail and technology.” The firm closed its first fund of $75 million, which included investments across the beauty, wellness, food and beverage, lifestyle and fashion sectors.
Partners in the project include Tom and Ruth Chapman, joint chairpersons and co-founders of Net-a-Porter competitor Matchesfashion.com, and Rick Caruso of the Caruso Real Estate Group.
“Natalie has disrupted and inspired an industry through innovation, and Nick has built a formidable reputation as an intuitive early-stage investor,” said Tom Chapman. “Ruth and I share many of their core values in building a consumer commerce business from the customer up — something that is vital in this competitive environment.”
Some of the brands in the Imaginary portfolio include the direct-to-consumer beauty brand Glossier, targeting millennial consumers; the sustainable L.A.-based brand Reformation; Heist, which is best known for its seamless tights; the size-inclusive denim label Good American by Khloe Kardashian and Emma Grede; the ethical label Everlane; and Farfetch, where Massenet was named non-executive chairman last March.
Massenet, who announced the news via Instagram, said that all the brands in the firm’s portfolio are connected by their commitment to having “an authentic understanding of their consumer,” a quality that will ensure longevity in an oversaturated market.
“Online discovery and distribution platforms have made it easier than ever to launch a business, but equally, it’s made it even more challenging for them to thrive for the long term,” she added.
Having been supported by numerous angel investors when she was launching and expanding Net-a-Porter, Massenet said she wants to give back and support all the brands and platforms she feels are going to disrupt the market.
“These are the businesses that are going to change our lives, how we shop, what we eat, how we feel, what we wear and how we disrupt the world of retail for a new generation of consumers. I was lucky enough to have extraordinary angel investors and mentors giving me much-needed funding and advice along my journey, and it is a privilege to be able to return the favor,” she wrote.
— Natalie Theodosi
It was around the time Maya Mikhailov co-founded GPShopper in 2007 that the first-generation iPhone made its debut. “All of a sudden, you had a device that could connect you to information on the go,” she said. “It was the internet on our phone, and it had mass consumer appeal.”
That became the genesis of GPShopper, a mobile e-commerce platform and native app developer that allows brands to create personalized omnichannel experiences for their customers.
Acquired by Synchrony Financial last spring, the company counts Foot Locker, Stadium Goods and Steve Madden among its diverse clientele, functioning as a middleman between retailers and mobile-savvy consumers.
“We’re always trying to look at it from the shopper’s point of view,” Mikhailov said. “With shoe launches exploding in popularity, we wanted to help sneaker retailers make the process more democratized and … enhance the brand and store operations.”
As a leader in the retail tech sphere, Mikhailov is quick to encourage women in all industries to become more fluent in technology. “It’s the new language of the future,” she said — and one that can help propel modern-day businesses to success. “How can we better service customers through data? It’s the driving force of retail innovation.”
— Samantha McDonald
Amber Venz Box grew up knowing she’d be an entrepreneur — and relishes the opportunity to play by her own rules.
“You get to set culture, and that is an irreplaceable feeling,” said the founder of the invitation-only content monetization platforms RewardStyle and Liketoknow.it, which connect influencers and bloggers with top retailers.
Venz Box launched RewardStyle in 2011 as a way to monetize her blog. Last year, it racked up $1.1 billion in retail sales to its 4,500 commerce partners — powered by 30,000 influencers across 99 countries.
“RewardStyle created a new industry — the influencer industry — and disrupted and redirected the traditional style of retail,” she noted. “It has contributed to the professionalization and financial independence of tens of thousands of lifestyle [trendsetters].”
Liketoknow.it, which debuted in 2014 as an Instagram venture [the standalone app came out in 2017], is catching up to its sister platform. When an Instagram user likes a photo (that has been tagged with the app), he or she is emailed shopping links to facilitate business.
The platform registered $300 million in retail sales in 2017.
Venz Box also touts the unique insights she’s able to provide brands. According to the founder, RewardStyle is the only company with six years of historical retail performance data of the top influencers in the world, cross-channel (Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, etc.). “We are uniquely positioned to help brands rationalize their influencer spend through data-based campaign casting,” said Venz Box.
With the shifts in shopping habits, she is poised to be one of the key players shaping the tech and fashion worlds. “Retail is in a transformational period, from bricks to clicks, as I like to say. It is also moving from desktop to mobile,” she said.
Venz Box said she’s fortunate to be a female tech power player in high demand during such a big moment for women. “[We are] the dominant source of online purchases — and having that first-person context and experience is invaluable,” she said.
— Eugenia Richman
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Rewardstyle was launched in 2010 and Liketoknow.it debuted in 2011. They were, in fact, launched in 2011 and 2014, respectively.