America's Best Young Entrepreneurs - Joanna Van Vleck
What It Does: Online clothes shopping service for men
Founder: Joanna Van Vleck, 26
Web Site: www.trunkclub.com/
Based: Bend, Ore.
When Joanna Van Vleck graduated from the University of Oregon in 2005 with degrees in psychology and business, she worked as a style consultant, taking men and women clothes shopping. No surprise here—most men disliked shopping but enjoyed the new duds. So Van Vleck decided the shopping process should be turned on its head. Instead of accompanying men to the shops, she would take the shopping to them. In January 2008, she opened a location she describes as a "swanky man hang-out spot," where hesitant shoppers were sized up and regaled with advice and brand-name picks. Within a month of opening, an angel investor approached her and offered to commit $500,000 to expanding the concept to other locations. But after Bear Stearns failed that March, he changed his mind.
Convinced her idea had potential, Van Vleck searched for another source of funding. During a meeting via Webcam with a new would-be investor, Van Vleck decided to shift gears. Instead of opening physical locations, she would operate the business virtually, using Webcams to meet with clients, assess their needs, and then ship a box of clothing to them. Clients would only pay for items they liked. With zero retail experience, she launched the site in November 2008, buying marked brands wholesale from suppliers and selling them retail. Trunk Club now has six employees, 36 independent contractors who work as fashion consultants remotely, and around 2,000 members. Van Vleck says the company is close to breaking even and is on track for $2.3 million to $2.5 million in revenue in 2009. She expects to close her first venture capital round with a Bay Area firm within a month.
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