Yuli Ziv, Style Coalition, Woman Entrepreneur

Images-1Yuli is the reason that people want to come here.  America is still a land of opportunity.  I see it every day and Yuli's story is an inspiring one. 

Yuli grew up in the Southern region of Russia.  When she was 15, the borders opened and the family had an opportunity to get out, and they did.  They emigrated to Israel, near Tel Aviv, where they had family already in the area.  It wasn't an easy transition work-wise for her parents.  In Russia her father was an engineer and her mother was a meteorologist.  In Israel her mother cleaned homes and her father cleaned factory floors.  They knew one thing that the key to Yuli and her brothers life was through education.  They put everything they made into their education. 

At 15 Yuli had to get a job to help out.  She had been in art school for the past five years so she took a job renovating and painting homes, basically working in construction.  She went from artistic painting to painting walls.  True immigrant tale.  After high school she spent two years in the Israeli army.  She then went on to Tel Aviv University.  It was the mid-90s and the Internet was just beginning to cause a stir.  She studied visual communications taking classes in graphic design including flash for visual design. 

After graduating Yuli landed a job at an Internet start-up company that was working on advertising such as pop-up ads.  Oh those were the days.  It gave her the opportunity to see the ad space on the Internet very early on.  The good news is they had an office in NYC too.   She was yearning to go to NYC, she wanted something bigger than where she was.  Perhaps it was her infatuation with Sex and the City but she admits that gave her a serious desire to go to NYC.  Yuli convinced the CEO to send her to NYC to open up a creative department to serve the clients better.  It was 2003 and she landed in the city of her dreams.

At the same time Yuli had actually applied to get a masters at SVA and had been accepted.  For two years she went to school at night getting her masters while working during the day.  Full immersion.  After finishing her masters it was time to move on.  She wanted to work for an American company. 

Yuli landed a job at 360i.  When she joined it was a medium sized digital agency and by the time she left it was huge.  They worked with large retail clients and Yuli convinced them to start selling creative services to their clients.  Over time this grew into an interesting channel inside the company.  It was 2006 and we were witnessing the advent of the social revolution.  They designed a widget for Saks that was going to be distributed across blogs.  Yuli realized this was the beginning of something big and decided right then it was time for her to go and be an entrepreneur.  She had the corner office, a great salary and they did not want her to leave but in her heart she knew it was time to start something on her own. It was 2007. 

It wasn't the best time to start a business but she knew she was early to the game.  She chose the fashion space because at that time nobody was really in it.  Trying to fund-raise for a start-up in a space that was not on anybodies radar was tough.  Today of course it is a vertical that everyone has jumped into.  They managed to raise some angel money to create the first user generated fashion magazine.  Way too early.  The idea of crowd sourced user based content made no sense to any funders so when she tried to get another round of financing she got nowhere.  She had made tons of mistakes and it was a great learning experience. In 2010, they ran out of money and closed. 

During this time, in 2008, she was finding it very lonely being a fashion entrepreneur so she started a group on Meet-up.  This first meeting there were 20 people who showed up.  Yuli realized that there was an interesting community out there to connect with.  Fast forward, the group meets every month and there was over 2000 members. 

In 2009, she also launched founders therapy.  The concept is 10 entrepreneurs get together and speak the truth and challenges that they are facing.  The group is small and off the record.  It is an incredible support system.  Every group of entrepreneurs should create one. 

When her company ran out of money in 2010, her partner, who was a technical designer wanted to go back to a job with a weekly paycheck.  Yuli was getting divorced and literally only had what was left in her 401K.  She decided she was either going to make it or break it.  She had this idea for Style Coalition.  She did not have time or energy to raise money so she went out and got clients instead.  She had this idea of creating a network among publishers figuring that together they had more power with advertisers than alone.  It has always been a struggle for independent publishers. 

She sold their first social media program to JCPenney.  That was big.  She became her own angel investor with the proceeds of that deal.  It was challenging for bloggers to gain status particularly in the fashion world.  She got introduced to Elle.com and pitched them on the idea to partner with a blogger network and sell opportunities across it.  They were offering advertisers something that was unique and edgy.  They got more scale and traffic.  it was a win win for everyone. 

They partnered exclusively with Elle as their media partner in 2010.  Style Coaliation has 4 million page views and Elle has 4 mililon so they are selling 8 million eyeballs to advertisers.  Then Elle was bought by Hearst.  Heart liked that they were doing.  There is a separation between advertising and editorial.  They shared the revenues.  They also have direct clients such as Microsoft.  In essence, Style Coaliation is a hybrid between an agency and a publshing network.  A new model.

Yuli will tell you it was a tough time in 2010.  She boot-strapped everything.  It was all worth it.  It taught her how to be responsible, be scrappy and be disciplined.  She knows where every penny is going and she can't afford to make mistakes.  She moved countries, she worked in several companies, she pivoted, she evolved…and in the end she trusted her instincts to be her own entrepreneur.