Le Figaro and The Financial Times have called Tagwalk the Google of fashion. But when she started out, Ms. Van Houtte, who initially tagged every single image by hand (now it is mostly done via artificial intelligence algorithms, though still given a human once-over before going live), encountered considerable skepticism, particularly from potential investors.
“A lot of them were very dismissive,” she said. “They said it was too niche, that it only catered to bloggers and assistants and lower rungs of the fashion industry, that it couldn’t scale. Even my parents started having their doubts about where the business could go.”
Critically, one person did not. Carmen Busquets, the Venezuelan businesswoman and angel investor who found fame as a founding investor in Net-a-Porter, quickly understood Tagwalk’s potential. She put seed funding into the business when it was just two months old.
“Investing early on in disruptive ideas is always a big risk, but it’s one I’ve taken many times because you become a co-founder and partner as well as an investor,” said Ms. Busquets, who later introduced Ms. Van Houtte to a secondary major investor, Adrian Cheng of C Ventures.
“Alexandra’s business plan immediately made sense to me,” Ms. Busquets said.
The business does not have a subscription fee, nor does it have advertising. It generates cash from its roughly 25,000 users (who use the site roughly three times a week) in four ways. There is a consulting arm for brands on digital and social media growth, and a fast-growing shopping component that allows for purchase of featured looks via affiliated links.
More meaningful, however, is that smaller labels or those without runway shows can pay a monthly rate to be featured on the database alongside bigger houses, thus thrown into the sightlines of busy editors and stylists. Emerging labels pay around 150 euros (about $175), while more established brands pay 450 euros ($520).