An interview with Polyvore CEO

The Business of Fashion interviewed with Jess Lee, the CEO of Polyvore, a community-driven fashion discovery site that aims to create “an army of Anna Wintours.” After reading the interview, I chose the most inspiring and influential things she says, to see how I can relate it to my idea.

Jess Lee, Polyvore CEO

Jess Lee has been instrumental in helping Polyvore attract over 20 million unique visitors a month and build out a profitable business model based on affiliate marketing fees and native advertising. The company declined to disclose financial results, saying only that Polyvore crossed over into profitability in 2011 and has been cash flow positive since 2012.

“BoF: What did you find so compelling?

JL: The self-expression. When I was little I would just draw all the time. I told my parents I wanted to write manga as my career and they were like “No!” You know Asian parents, they were like “Doctor, lawyer or judge!” But one of the reasons I was attracted to Polyvore in the first place was because it’s artistic — that, and the community aspect. I would make sets and instantly get feedback from other people, who I started to meet on the site.”

“JL:…the first year on the job at Google the learning curve was crazy. I had no idea what I was doing half the time. But then, the learning sort of plateaued and I knew if I went to Polyvore I would have to learn all kinds of things because there was nothing there. We would have to figure out how to get an office space. We would have to figure out how to make money — do all these things I had never done before.”

“JL: The first stage of any product-driven company is building the product, attracting users and getting product-market fit. That’s what we were trying to do in the beginning, which is why it made sense for everyone there to write code and get the product working. ”

“JL: Remember, one of the key reasons why Anna Wintour is influential is because she has distribution. She has millions of readers through Vogue, who are essentially her followers. But with Polyvore, you as an individual who live in a tiny town somewhere can also build a million followers and actually influence what products those people wear and what purchases they make.

You can’t easily print your own magazine and get it into every newsstand everywhere — but with the Internet you kind of can. The Internet democratises the trend setting hierarchy and gives more people a voice. But of course, you have to prove yourself. You have to have a distinct point of view that resonates with people. On Polyvore, there are people who have really good taste and there are enough people who follow them so that they are able to build authority.”

“JL: Polyvore is also about discovery. There are so many designers and so much clothing to choose from. I think one of the unsolved problems in online shopping for fashion is how do I find the thing I want to wear in the first place. ”

“JL: When I flip through a magazine like InStyle, there are a lot of top trends, but there are only a small number of things that I would actually wear. That’s because there are a finite number of pages, so you have to pick things that appeal to a wider audience, whereas there are people on Polyvore whose taste is much closer to mine. Polyvore offers personalised discovery.”

“JL: Luckily, at the end of the day people come to the site to look at products, so it’s a much easier starting point compared to, say, Facebook where people are there to look at personal photos and it’s very unlikely they’re going to want to buy something. ”

“Always take the more challenging path. Even if you don’t succeed, you’ll have learned a lot. “

Founder Stories | Jess Lee’s Journey From Polyvore Superuser to CEO – BoF – The Business of Fashion. 2013. Founder Stories | Jess Lee’s Journey From Polyvore Superuser to CEO – BoF – The Business of Fashion. [ONLINE] Available at:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s