Profitable Polyvore enters its first new vertical with home products

By Erin Griffith , written on September 17, 2013

From The News Desk

Long before there was Pinterest, there was Polyvore. Launched in 2007, the company's simple collage tool made it easy for bloggers, tumblr-ers, and various other social media users to make and share outfits and looks with each other. Today the site has 20 million monthly active users.

Where Pinterest shows products in a sea of recipes, DIY projects, and dream house photos, Polyvore has made ensured all products in its collages are shop-able. Each item is clearly labeled with its brand, name, price, and a link to where to buy it.

That's always been the big flaw of Pinterest, and which sites like Polyvore, Wanelo, Keep, Loverly, Tapiture, and even with its feed, aim to exploit. These sites' shop-ability is not just attractive to users, it's an obvious boon to retailers and advertisers.

Polyvore's users, which are actually older than the tween blogger demographic I'd assumed (half are over 35; average household income is $70,000), are shopping. A lot. The company has an average basket size with retail partners of $200, topping even Pinterest's average basket size of $160.

That makes Polyvore's community an apparel company's dream. They're engaged, they have money, they're shopping. Polyvore has thousands of retail partners who purchase native ad units and sponsored products on the site. The company raised $22.1 million in venture funding from Benchmark, Harrison Metal Capital, Matrix Partners, DAG Ventures, Goldman Sachs and Vivi Nevo.

With 70 employees, Polyvore been profitable since 2011, despite only recently hiring a Chief Revenue Officer. So things appear to be going pretty well.

The funny thing is that Polyvore was not conceived as a fashion company. It is based in deeply unfashionable Mountain View, after all. ("We're not the arbiters of taste, [the users] are," says co-founder and CEO Jess Lee.)

In fact, Polyvore was originally built as a way to build mood boards for co-founder Pasha Sadri's home as he renovated it. "He was overwhelmed with huge array of choices, so he built it as a prototype to mix and match home products out there," Lee says. "That went from a side product to a passion project and a company."

But like any good early stage startup, Polyvore adapted to what its users liked most about the site. And early users gravitated to fashion. So for the last six years, Polyvore has been all about fashion. "It's better to be known for one thing first," Lee says.

Today that changes, as the company introduces its first new category, home.

The site has had to make a lot of tweaks in its machine learning algorithms to ensure its robots correctly identify an image of, say, a chair, versus, a shoe. And it has purposely chosen to avoid the home remodeling market that Houzz is currently dominating. Polyvore's home vertical will emphasize decor and knick knacks -- the kind of stuff you're more likely to buy online -- over DIY and renovation projects.

Someday, maybe in another six years, Polyvore will explore other verticals. The focus will always be on taste, trends and things that are visually-driven. Menswear is an idea. Weddings and baby, too, Lee says.