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Some dance, some pull pranks, some give career advice. But at the end of the day, influencers are called influencers for a reason: They hold a sway over their audience, particularly when it comes to purchasing goods and services.
While sponsored brand deals or short-term licensing agreements are popular for creators, few have managed to utilize their followings to create something bigger: a valuable, independent brand that can outlast their virality.
It’s not a surprise that most creators don’t start their own businesses. It can be expensive and risky. Meanwhile, slapping a name on products, from lipsticks to housewares, guarantees a paycheck with little legwork.
For those who do start their own businesses, lasting success is often elusive. Companies can be driven by fads or taken out by scandals.
“It’s all personality driven,” said Shannon Coyne, the founder of consumer products consulting firm Bluestock Advisor. “It is easy to fall out of favor.”
It’s also significantly more work. Influencers often have to raise money, build out a team, and balance their job as a creator with their job as a business owner.
“The biggest challenge was working all day on the actual business and still having to do my partnerships as an everyday lifestyle influencer,” Something Navy founder Arielle Charnas told Insider. “It’s still my number one challenge to this day.”
But those that build lasting companies can see a major payout. A select few influencers have managed to take advantage of the boom in ecommerce to build multimillion-dollar brands that rival industry giants. Insider has put together a list of the five most valuable brands founded by influencers.
These companies span many industries, from clothing to fitness to beauty. While they all got started thanks to their founder’s popularity on social media, they are now brands all their own.
Glossier, for example, was founded by online beauty blogger Emily Weiss in 2010. It is now a brand worth $1.8 billion, and many fans of the brand’s cult-favorite products don’t even know who Weiss is.
Other brands, like Something Navy, are newer, but show promise. The company, which is part-owned by Arielle Charnas, launched last year and said it made over $30 million in revenue in its first year in business. That’s expected to grow this year, as the company continues to expand to brick and mortar.
One commonality? All of the brands are founded by women, which, some say, only made the process of founding a business harder.
“One of the most challenging periods of my entire life, honestly, was trying to convince a male dominated industry that bloggers were going to be important and going to be the next thing,” Amber Venz Box, CEO and cofounder of LTK (formerly Reward Style) told Insider, referring to raising money from investors. “An investor told me years later, when I got there with Baxter [her husband] that the front desk said, ‘Oh, the guy you’re meeting with brought his wife.’ And it was true, I was his wife, but I was leading the company.”
To form this power list, Business Insider relied on a mix of our own reporting and data from sites like PitchBook, with industry experts narrowing down the finalists. For all brands on the list, numbers were available either from the companies themselves or various data sources. We chose the companies based on factors like revenue, funding, social reach, growth and longevity, and didn’t include merch brands or licensing deals.
Influencer: Arielle Charnas
Revenue (first 12 months of operation starting July 2020): $32 million, per the company
Funding: $17.5 million, per the company
Valuation: $100 million, per the company
In 2009, “Something Navy” was just the title of Arielle Charnas’ fashion blog. It took more than a decade before it became the name of her own company, a line of clothing, and accessories.
After a licensing partnership with Nordstrom in 2017, where Charnas developed an exclusive collection of clothing and accessories, Charnas launched Something Navy as an independent fashion line.
“After two years, we had the opportunity to continue on or go different ways,” Charnas told Insider. “And we decided to bring on a CEO and do everything in-house.”
Something Navy appointed Matt Scanlan, cofounder of cashmere apparel brand Nadaam, to the role, and with his help, Something Navy began fundraising and building relationships with investors.
But launching Something Navy on its own two feet wasn’t easy.
“It was very scary,” Charnas said. She had to trust putting the company in Scanlan’s hands as she continued to run her personal Instagram — she has 1.3 million followers — and focused on her role as chief creative officer of her brand.
In the year and a half since it launched, Something Navy has raised money from shaving company Harry’s and venture firms like Silas Capital and Third Kind Venture Capital, and expanded offline.
The company has opened three storefronts, two in New York City and one in Los Angeles. By the end of 2022, it plans to open at least 15 more.
Influencer: Amber Venz Box
Revenue (2020): more than $125 million, per PitchBook and verified by a source close to the company
Funding: $15 million, per the company
Valuation: $290 million as of LTK’s last funding round in 2015, per the company
Before Amber Venz Box founded the affiliate and platform LTK (formerly called RewardStyle), she ran a fashion blog to promote her personal shopping business in Dallas. But as she grew her blog and posted more content, Venz Box watched readers flock to her recommendations and links to products on sites like ShopBop and Net-a-Porter, she said. The problem? She wasn’t earning a commission.
So Venz Box and then-boyfriend-now-husband, Baxter Box, set out to build a startup that would help bloggers monetize their content by earning a commission on the sales they drove to ecommerce sites for retailers.
“I wanted to make it in the fashion industry and be able to provide for myself,” Venz Box told Insider. “That has always been our mission; our goal is to help creators be as economically successful as possible.”
After founding the company in 2011, Venz Box raised $15 million in a Series A round in 2015. Since then, the company has been self-funded — and for the last four years, profitable, according to Venz Box.
In 2017, the company launched an interactive shopping experience and affiliate marketing platform called LiketoKnow.it. Influencers can use the platform to showcase products in exchange for a commission. The company is now also expanding beyond affiliate marketing and starting to help creators nab brand partnerships.
To date, brands have invested over $1 billion into influencers using LTK, according to the company. The platform also has minted several “LTK Millionaires” — influencers who have generated more than a million dollars from their affiliate revenue, Venz Box said.
Influencer: Kayla Itsines
Revenue (2020): $75 million, per the company
Valuation: $300 million, per PitchBook and The Wall Street Journal
Fitness app Sweat was started by Australian personal trainer Kayla Itsines, who has 13.5 million followers on Instagram and rose to fame thanks to her popular “Bikini Body Guide (BBG)” workout programs.
Sweat, which Itsines cofounded with her ex-fiancé Tobi Pearce, follows a subscription-based model and charges a monthly fee for a mix of high-intensity, low-impact, and yoga workouts.
The app grew during the pandemic as the number of people working out at home increased substantially. It now offers classes in eight different languages led by 13 different trainers, and it brought in $75 million in revenue last year. In July, Itsines and Pearce sold the app to the health and fitness company iFit for a reported $300 million, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“Social media has always been a key driver of our business and has acted as a vehicle to share Sweat’s training philosophy with women around the world,” Pearce, who has stayed on as CEO, told Insider. “We were really fortunate with this timing and leveraged the power of social media to start building our community at a critical time and this laid the foundations for the launch of Sweat.”
Influencer: Huda Kattan
Funding: $200 million, per PitchBook
Valuation: $1.2 billion as of TSG’s 2017 investment, per Pitchbook and verified by a source close to the company
Another early beauty-influencer-founded brand, Huda Beauty launched following the success of blogger Huda Kattan, who now has 49 million followers on Instagram.
Her blog, under the same name, was launched in 2010 as a place for Kattan to share beauty tips like seasonal makeup trends and hair care advice with her followers.
Three years later, Kattan and her two sisters launched Huda Beauty with its first product, false eyelashes, at Sephora in Dubai. The brand, which is now global with 250 employees around the world, offers dozens of products like liquid lipstick and foundation. The company has also expanded into fragrances with brand Kayali and, earlier this year, launched skincare brand Wishful Skincare.
In 2017, private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners purchased a minority stake of the company for $200 million at a $1.2 billion valuation.
Influencer: Emily Weiss
Funding: $266 million, per PitchBook and verified by a source close to the company
Valuation: $1.8 billion, per PitchBook and verified by a source close to the company
This beauty brand was born from former Vogue assistant Emily Weiss’ Into The Gloss beauty blog. The brand — which adapted the millennial pink and minimalist branding popular in the early 2010s — launched online in 2014 with four products: a lip balm, facial mist, skin tint, and moisturizer. The company now offers dozens of items across makeup, skincare, fragrance, and body.
Always a digital-first brand, Glossier harnessed the popularity of Weiss and its Instagram-friendly aesthetic to grow a large following on social media. The company had 15,000 Instagram followers before it even launched its first product. Now, it has 2.7 million, which is more than the following of Weiss and her original Into the Gloss, combined.
Glossier has always been a favorite of the venture-capital set, raising money from blue-chip firms like Lerer Hippeau, Sequoia Capital, and Forerunner Ventures. The brand’s latest round, an $80 million Series E in July, will help it expand back into brick and mortar, after closing all three of its retail stores in March 2020.
As for the long-term future of the brand? Weiss has big plans.
“An IPO is a likely path at some point,” she told The New York Times over the summer.
Most Valuable Influencer Brands: Glossier, Sweat, Something Navy – Business Insider
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