Jess Lee remembers reading Seventeen magazine as a teenager with dismay.
“It made me feel a little bad because I didn’t see a lot of models that looked like me and I felt kind of crappy in comparison,” the CEO and co-founder of Polyvore told The Huffington Post Australia.
It makes sense then that Lee’s mission for Polyvore, a shopping discovery site with a community of more than 20 million users is to empower people through style and therefore make people feel good about themselves.
“Diversity of all styles, body types, races and ages is so important at Polyvore. Anybody should be able to shop for clothes they like, that they feel comfortable in and most importantly feel like themselves in,” Lee said.
Lee is in Sydney this week for the Australian launch of Polyvore in collaboration with Yahoo7, following Yahoo’s acquisition of the fashion site for $US230 million last year.
The site is best known for fusing tech and style together by allowing its community of users to create shoppable catalogs of outfit ideas from some of the world’s top fashion brands and retailers.
The concept: a place to shop online driven by content and community whereby outfit inspiration is curated by not just one editor or influencer, but by millions of users around the world.
With a Stanford degree in computer science and four years at Google where Lee worked on Google Maps under the guidance of Marissa Mayer, Lee’s foray into the fashion world was a natural one.
An avid user of Polyvore herself, Lee decided to email the founder with a list of complaints and suggestions. Within hours she had a job offer. A few years after that she was made CEO and honorary co-founder.
Polyvore's Jess Lee judging the Startup Battlefield during TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco, 2015.
Lee spoke to HuffPost Australia during her visit to Sydney to talk style, influencers and climbing the career ladder.
Tell us how you jumped from employee to CEO and co-founder of Polyvore?
"Even though it wasn’t necessarily part of my job at the time, I would volunteer to do things outside my role. Obviously at a startup you have too many things to do, but not enough people, resources or time. It’s really appreciated when someone goes above and beyond or tries to get that thing done that’s important or annoying, hard or no one else has time for. The constant volunteering saw me push outwards from my defining role and that made my responsibility grow and grow. Sometimes I’d be good at that thing, and sometimes I wouldn’t. But along the way I was definitely learning."
Polyvore’s platform is shaped by its users. How important is authenticity among your social influencers?
"Very important. I look for original voices. There are some users who have a very unique, clear and consistent voice. It may be visually, how their sets look or the kinds of products they curate. They need to have a very strong aesthetic sense. There are plenty of users who are approached on Polyvore either directly or in partnership with us to promote certain brands and that’s great. If a member can make a living off Polyvore and we love that, it’s empowering our community and it validates that their voices are important.”
What's one piece of advice that’s stuck with you?
"I remember reading a quote a long time ago from John Lilly who was CEO of Mozilla before it became Firefox. He was talking about the best advice he’d received. It went something like, “Look around at all the people that you work with. Find the people you love being around, who get shit done, who you want to help win, and then treat them right, always.” He was making the point that relationships last and you may be working with those people in 20 years’ time. Getting that chemistry right is so rare and so critical. Do right by those people."
What's something you learnt early on in your career?
"Saying no is super important, otherwise you burn out. By saying yes to everything you spread yourself too thin and end up not doing the important things really, really well. At the end of the day, most people, most companies, most brands are known for a couple of things that they are amazing at."
Tell us about your morning routine.
"Wake up. Immediately check my Snapchats and messages in bed. Wash my face and brush my teeth while I catch up on my youtube subscriptions. These are a variety of bloggers who do TV recaps as well as a lot of style and beauty bloggers including a bunch of Australians -- Wengie and Lauren Curtis. I’ll drive to work, have breakfast at the Yahoo cafe -- usually a bowl of fruit and coffee -- and then it’s straight to work."