We sat down to chat with Benjamin Guenther, CEO of the hugely popular STYLIGHT. In this interview Benjamin gives a broader insight into what challenges him and his partners, who all participated in The Summit 2013, faced during the founding process and development of their fashion-tech company.
The story of STYLIGHT is typical of a start-up: it begins in a garage with a few friends having an idea, starting to implement it in real life, and boom – suddenly the company succeeds, and the group of buddies become a real business. What was your way of dealing with such a fast expansion?
Well, first we started to employ our friends, with who we have worked together for previous projects already and therefore had a lot of trust in. But with having the first 10 employees we realized that we needed to develop our work processes and shift our own working behavior to the next level. We all had to start giving away tasks and going from operative working to more managing processes. Sharing experiences with other entrepreneurs and start-ups that have already gone through this phase, as well as the profit of already having great investors in the early stages, definitely helped us a lot with this.
What challenges occur when the team suddenly triples? And how do you solve such problems?
I think it’s very important to find the perfect balance between structured processes and knowledge transfer, and at the same time focus on the overall company culture. It’s not only essential to define them, but also indispensable to ensure the equilibrium of them altogether.
That’s why we invest a lot into the our general company culture, our office and work environment, human resources, motivation of our employees etc.
You and your co-founders were friends at the time you founded STYLIGHT. Did you ever regret having built a business on friendship? And how do you ensure that everyone is happy with a certain decision.
A lot of people tend to strictly separate their work from their personal life. For us four that was never really a problem or an option. However, we knew at the beginning that everyone would need to have their own branch, which they would be responsible for. Our advantage was, and still is, that we all have the same understanding of a company; the management and the team all have the same goals and targets. But we all have different areas of expertise and professional know-how, whether that’s more IT-specific or business development orientated, so everyone has their own department that they’re responsible for.
Additionally I believe that we also have a good way of dealing with each other; we never hold back with our opinions and always give each other direct feedback. I truly think that this is one of the best ways to be business partners and remain friends at the same time.
What problems did STYLIGHT face in the beginning?
We established STYLIGHT in 2008, when buying fashion online was at its very beginning. There were only a few fashion brands and retailers available online, but we were convinced that it would increase. The financial situation in general wasn’t the best either – in fact we were really lucky, because we had just signed the term sheet a week before the Lehman crisis. Having all those factors in mind, it was quite challenging for us to convince possible investors of the STYLIGHT concept.
Advice, help, support, experience sharing – who, which and what helped you most over the past six years?
Definitely the constant exchange of experience with fellow founders and CEOs.
Concluding – what is the biggest challenge for you?
We have a very open and motivating working environment. We are a very international team and some of our closest friends work with us, so our trust in each other is strong. We are very proud of the atmosphere at STYLIGHT because it is something you can never plan, that just evolves and develops into an extraordinary company culture.
For me, the hardest challenge is to expand and grow STYLIGHT to a bigger extent and keep this special atmosphere at the same time. To ensure a positive climate and a high spirit outside of our work processes we organize many team events
Benjamin Guenther is CEO of Stylight. Stylight began as a small start-up, founded by four friends and college buddies in Munich, Germany, has over the past six years become a successful e-commerce company, available in 14 countries around the globe. When the idea of STYLIGHT arose, the founders Anselm Bauer, Benjamin Guenther, Max-Josef Meier and Sebastian Schuon were all in their mid-twenties, studying a semester abroad in the US. All coming from different backgrounds, they combined their four professional areas and started to develop STYLIGHT – an online platform to discover and shop fashion.
To date they have managed to spread their business concept into 14 countries globally and to engage the most famous international fashion bloggers. By offering their users a daily hand-picked selection of the hottest fashion products, from the best online stores, combined with the coolest looks of top fashion bloggers, STYLIGHT is the first place for fashion online.