Serial entrepreneur, Marc Worth, founder of the mega fashion trend-forecasting agency, WGSN is at it again. In 2010 Mr Worth founded a new venture with the idea of going bigger and better than his former brainchild. Two years down the line and with a 20% stake sale to mega media corporation Hearst, Stylus.com looks to be well on the way to being another groundbreaking industry success
Stylus.com was born out of a rib of WGSN, and is now turning into something much bigger very quickly. Stylus Media Group, tracks consumer behaviour and cultural shifts across consumer industries, including automotive, retail, fashion, media and hospitality. It covers 20 sectors across 50 countries and provides business intelligence to consumer companies. Today, 200 major corporations are subscribed to Stylus.com including, Mulberry, Sony and Saatchi &Saatchi.
As a further testament to Stylus’ importance in the trend analysis sector, Hearst Corporation has joined in the venture by acquiring a 20% stake in March 2012.
Marc Worth, CEO and founder of Stylus.com talks to Swide about his inspiration for the product and his future plans.
How did you first come up with the idea of a business-to-business trend forecasting website such as WGSN?
I went straight into the family business form school. We did printing, making labels, badges; all forms of apparel decorations. Our clients were the manufacturers which supplied the high street. In 1997 I came up with an idea for an online business. Maybe 1 in 10 of our designs got bought by the clients so I thought to start selling the surplus art we had and charged people to download it. Then we decided to improve upon the idea. We bought traditional trend forecasting books for the company, and we thought, “Why don’t we try to do this?” Over a period of 3-4 months the whole offer came together and we launched in 1998 with the first online trend site. The thing evolved over the next 6 months and the rest is history. Over 7 years we had 1500 corporate clients globally and sold to Emap for £150 million in 2005. We were fortunate in timing, we were the first and for the best part of 5 years we had no competition. It was a great great business.
How does Stylus differ from WGSN?
The original idea for Stylus was home furnishing and interiors like WGSN. I put together people from my old team and we started thinking about what it would look like and in a few months we came to the conclusion that the idea to have a single product, for a single vertical, fashion, media, interiors isn't relevant today. Today it’s only one industry- it’s design, it’s creativity, it’s creative design, everything is intrinsically linked. A smart designer or creative should be looking outside their own vertical. So we decided to create a much bigger and deeper product that is relevant to all consumer-facing industries that are design lead. Basically what Stylus has become is less of a product development tool but more a holistic inspirational resource for the consumer industry. What differentiates Stylus form other trend forecasting services is that it’s cross vertical, so looking at content from every sector and selling into every sector. Our clients of whom we have 250 now, are across different industries. Designers and product developers used WGSN, but of Stylus’ 8000 individual subscriptions, over 70% are from marketing, consumer insight and visual merchandising.
Is there a particular field which you believe is benefiting the most from the Stylus expertise?
It’s a real sweet spot for all the major car companies. They’re much more interested in the bigger picture: macro trends. They are such a long way ahead. Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, Aston Martin, General Motors Kia, Hundai, they’re all clients. Also hospitality, the Hilton, Four Seasons, Intercontinental. The content that we are serving up is very relevant to them. They also seem to get it more than some of the others; it’s a slightly more sophisticated industry.
Do you think that resources like Stylus are becoming increasingly important to the consumer industry due to the economic context and competition?
Absolutely, I think there is no doubt that the companies that innovate today and offer the consumer something different are the ones that are going to survive. I think the reason that we are successful is because the smart companies realize this that they are ready to innovate. The ones that stand still are going to suffer.
What is it about Stylus that sets it apart from its competitors?
The fact that we are cross vertical, covering different industries and disciplines. It’s a high level product and nobody else is doing that. For Hearst to have approached us only two years after we launched, means we’re doing something special. They came to the conclusion that there was nobody out there doing what we are doing. And we try to steer away from the label of trend forecasters. I’m not convinced that anybody can forecast a trend, you can influence or follow a trend. Stylus is more about tracking consumer behaviour, movements and shifts in cultural behaviour.
How will Hearst’s 20% acquisition of Stylus affect the company?
What is does, it enables us to expand the product, but short term to take it into other markets. This product should be used across Asia, Latin America, Russia and India. I was quite prepared to fund that myself, without outside partners. Hearst’s attraction was that they are the right strategic partner with presence in those markets. In the next 12 months, I expect Stylus to launch in China, Asia South America and possibly Japan. That’s the true value, and Hearst’s credibility.
Which geographical areas are the most important in terms of expansion for Stylus?
At the moment the split is 70% US and 30% Europe, and of the European market probably half is in the UK. Three years down the line I would hope it to be 1/3 US, 1/3 Europe and 1/3 emerging markets: Latin America and Asia combined.
Going forward, what are you planning for Stylus?
I think that the fact we’re tied up with a group like Hearst, who are in broadcast and media, makes it much easier to enter into those markets. The focus is to build up the global client list, once you have that there’s a lot you can do with it.
How do you think the trend forecasting sector will develop in the future?
They’ll try to follow what we’re doing!
Intreview by: Valentina Zannoni