"I like to track StyleCaster's success based on where we sit during Fashion Week," said Ari Goldberg, the CEO of StyleCaster, a three-year-old fashion media start-up, as he took his front row seat at the Tibi runway show at Lincoln Center.
"In the beginning, we were in the top row," he said, referring to the row farthest from the runway. "The next year, we were in the fourth row. Now I'm in the first. It's ridiculous. The front row has always been reserved for celebrities and fashion editors."
Not anymore. StyleCaster launched in 2009 with the editorial mission of bringing "style to the people." In turn, the media start-up has built a site where users, predominantly women ages 18 to 34, can find fashion advice, build personal profiles, share style tips, and discover new "looks." It produces in-house editorial fashion shoots in its studio space, which resides at the back of its 5,000 square foot Manhattan offices, near the Fashion Institute of Technology. And during Fashion Week, its staff of nearly a dozen editorial writers scramble from show to show to report on everything from celebrity sightings to runway trends.
To help people try to understand what StyleCaster is, Goldberg likes to describe it as "Facebook meets Conde Nast." Its site already boasts 2 million unique visitors a month.
Starting a media company in the the throes of an economic recession that hit magazines, newspapers, and media websites hard was a bold move. But in chaos lies opportunity, Goldberg believes. "As the saying goes, when there's blood in the streets, buy real estate."
And beyond the satisfaction of seeing (and being seen) in the front row, Goldberg believes the migration to the first row symbolizes something much larger: Namely, that young media start-ups and tech savvy entrepreneurs are giving old-school fashion magazines a run for their money, lulling away advertisers that are starting to look for digital platforms that just don't exist within brands like Vogue and Cosmo. And if anything, Fashion Week in New York serves to highlight this trend. A complex ecosystem of small companies have emerged in center stage, from blogs to social media start-ups. Even companies like Tumblr and Instagram are cashing in on the action.
"We’ve built a better mouse trap," says Goldberg, 29, who got his start in the media world as the VP for LeBron James's marketing agency. "We create content like The Huffington Post, but we have the caliber of brand that Conde Nast has built. There was a huge desire for both the reader and the advertiser to move from print to digital, but that experience didn't really exist. At the end of the day, this is a better, faster, cheaper, business."
Although the company does not disclose revenue, StyleCaster has raised $4.25 million in Series A funding from Dan Gilbert (founder of Quicken Loans and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers), and plans to be profitable by the end of 2011. Among the site's advertisers are Dove, Starbucks, and Diet Coke, which recently launched a new campaign on a Times Square billboard featuring StyleCaster employees.
"We’re closing campaigns that historically never would have gone to a start-up," says David Goldberg, 27, who is Ari's brother and the president of the company.
And unlike a typical fashion magazine, which conjures images derived from movies like The Devil Wears Prada, StyleCaster is arranged more like a typical tech start-up than, say, is Vogue. There are communal tables, an open floor plan, and graffiti on the walls. It's irreverent, too; Last Thursday, the brothers arranged for a crossdresser to pose as Anna Wintour on Fashion's Night Out. And David's pug, Frankie, is one of the first in the office to greet visitors.
"What rules?" Ari says. "There are no rules."
To be sure, Ari and David are consumate entrepreneurs—not necessarily fashion experts. The brothers grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, where their family owned a steel business and a chain of dry cleaners—not exactly glamour industries.
But after moving to New York (and dating one of the founders of Porter Grey, a fashion line) Ari says he began to see the potential within the fashion industry for a new type of digital media company that is both accessible—and glamorous—for women who want to be stylish.
"We’re advertisers, we're marketers, we're sales guys, and we're brand guys," says Goldberg. "'Style to the people' is not only what we believe, but it's a better business model. It's about creating a brand that's inclusive of the reader, rather than exclusive."
He adds, "We're ambitious, and sometimes it bites us in the ass. People get to StyleCaster, and they go, 'Woah, there's a big idea here.' Have we fully capitalized on that? By no means. I think we're just scratching the surface."