Female CEO Stephanie Horbaczewski Disrupts YouTube
Co-Authored by Britt Hysen
At a first glance, Stephanie Horbaczewski could be mistaken for the “girl next door” with her unassuming demeanor, but her fashionista sense of style screams she means business. From her all-black head to toe outfit with fur scarf, bright pink Loeffler Randall pumps, Lanvin LOVE ring and shark tooth lucky necklace charm, Stephanie is no doubt a high-profile CEO.
In just under four years, the 36-year-old powerhouse built the multi-channel network (MCN) StyleHaul to be YouTube’s No. 1 fashion and beauty channel. And now holds the record for the largest female exit in Hollywood. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the company sold to RTL Group, the largest entertainment firm in Europe, for $107 million. Coupled with performance incentives, StyleHaul is now being valued upwards of $200 million.
MiLLENNiAL spent a day with Stephanie at her Hollywood headquarters where it was evident that her strong leadership skills fostered a collaborative, creative and innovative A-team. “Our company is disruptive, innovative, and we have to be ambitious and supportive with one another to strive ahead of our competition. We feel very personally attached to our work here,” she tells us. “I couldn’t work this hard, nor could my team, without being inspired by what we are doing.”
The network currently manages a community of over 4,600 content creators across 5000 channels in 63 countries with more than 200 million subscribers. Designed for 18 to 34-year-old females, Stephanie created a destination for the next generation of fashion-forward influencers, who come to not only consume, but also create, engage and share content with their online communities.
THE CORPORATE ENTREPRENEUR
Stephanie’s ambition and leadership characteristics were evident as a child. She attributes her relentless attitude and passion to her parents. “We grew up with this belief we can do anything. Our parents always said why can’t you? I wanted so badly to be something, and change the world,” she says.
Since the early days of her career, the fashion industry was Stephanie’s passion. Her first style job was at a New York fashion start-up called Hanley, founded by Nicole Hanley and Matthew Mellon. This opportunity ignited her entrepreneurial spirit. “They gave me my first entrepreneurial experience, and my first real leadership and CEO experience,” she explains.
Although Stephanie became more involved with management and loved her role, she felt it was time to move on and find an opportunity that provided more structure. She soon moved to Boston, her hometown, to work as the director of marketing for Saks Fifth Avenue. “I had more learning to do. I always knew I wanted to go back to being an entrepreneur, but you have to build the skill set.” And that is exactly what she did with Saks.
Referencing her innate understanding the ever-changing world of online marketing, Stephanie says. “I wouldn’t have left that job [Saks Fifth Avenue] for anything, but this [StyleHaul]. My obsession with video came full-circle.”
While sharing one of her recent favorite Forbes reads, “What Keeps Entrepreneurs Up at Night” she joked, “I need more than 140 words to explain that one!” According to Stephanie, the necessary character traits for being a successful entrepreneur include passion, obsession, competition, execution, disruption and a solid team. Some of the leaders she’s looked up to have been Apple’s Steve Jobs, General Electric’s Jack Welch, Yahoo’sMarissa Meyer, Kathy Savitt and her father.
“When Marisa took over Yahoo that was a really big moment for females in this ecosystem. I think female leadership empowerment is extremely important.” Reflecting on her success, Stephanie says one of the biggest lessons she learned was having confidence and be okay whether it works or not. “Reality can’t be in your path all the time. Accepting that I had to just trust my gut and make a decision. Nothing beats executing. If we don’t execute, we’d have nothing to talk about.”
TRANSFORMING TRENDS INTO A BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY
As YouTube and Facebook took off, Stephanie identified an opportunity in the marketplace and a niche connecting influencers to brands on a social platform.
“Everyone was like ‘its only cat videos,’ but it was more than that. When I started connecting the dots, I saw that social play could have a commercial relationship and social networks were going to impact your life in a way it hadn’t before.”
At that stage, the MCN space was still the Wild West; Stephanie connected with Allen DeBevoise, founder and CEO of Machinima, to learn more about the space and how she might be able to participate in it. After a 15-minute conversation, she knew it was the right fit. Together they started StyleHaul, bootstrapping it with four people in a room – living, breathing, and sleeping the product. She spent the next few months obsessively watching videos and recruiting talent and creators, while building company infrastructure and brokering brand deals.
“Alan was really the visionary of this space and saw that by aggregating all of these users and investing money into this ecosystem, you could move serious dollars onto this emerging ecosystem.” Stephanie knew she was on to something after the talent pool she signed grew exponentially. She then received the first substantial capital raise, grew her staff and received media recognition.
“Investing my own money felt pretty real and realizing that we were going to need more capital and people, and move into to new offices — Those were big wins, and huge milestones that seem tiny now, but gives you the energy to keep the pace up.”
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF STEPHANIE HORBACZEWSKI
One thing about Stephanie is that she’s always on the move. When she’s not on the road, you can find her living the bicoastal life in New York and Los Angeles. Her day begins with checking out Twitter and going through all the key social platforms and news of the day, while taking calls from her home office. Some of her go-to’s includes Twitter, Fast Company, Tech Crunch, Variety, Hollywood Reporter, WWD and Vogue.
While most use the kitchen counter to cook, Stephanie uses it as her desk to spread out her work and files. It’s no surprise the walls are decorated with her art collection and post-it notes filled with ideas.“I’m a visual person and mapping it out allows me to connect the dots,” she explains about her working habits. “Every time I have a thought I post it on the wall with a Post It.”
When at her LA office, she joins her team and sits outside in the “pit” so that she can immerse herself and implement the ideas she gathers from her road trips. “You don’t learn anything when you’re isolated in your own office,” said Stephanie. “I want to be in the pit interacting and talking — It’s more fun.”
CRAFTING A COMMUNITY OF CREATORS
The recruitment process for creators and brands initially was challenging since it required education and convincing both parties this new model would work.
“This was such a new thing for advertisers, creators, and viewers. For brands it was about what this was, how it really worked, what was effective, and how you worked with creators. For creators, if you don’t monetize this they can’t grow so it was about finding a way to organically bring these people together because they both have a need.”
One of Stephanie’s first talent signings back in 2011 was with beauty and fashion vlogger Carly Cristman. “The fashion content and brands I was exposed to has been unparalleled. Steph is such a prominent force in all of our lives. She is one of the top business people that I aspire to be like with how she runs her business,” Carly tells MiLLENNiAL.
DEFINING HER LEGACY
At this point in her career, it’s about empowering other women and helping them build their businesses and tap into their true potential.
“I would love to leave a brand and a community that stands alone. I want to leave a business that was led by a woman to a certain point of success, and help other women. When you look at China and see that 50 percent of their executives are women, you don’t wonder how they’ve had so much domination in certain areas. Being a part of pressing that forward, I’d like that to be a part of my legacy.”
Michelle Edgar is a renowned entertainment executive who is recognized for orchestrating collaborations between music, entertainment and marketing. Edgar began her career as a journalist working for Vanity Fair, WWD, and then ran the beauty department for OK Magazine. She is now the Strategic Brand Development Director for the creative agency, FRUKT.