What Happened To Polyvore? Why Was It Shut Down?

Executive Summary:

Polyvore was a social commerce platform that allowed users to browse and curate fashion, beauty, and interior design items.

Polyvore was shut down because its user base, as well as profits, likely declined over time. When it closed down, its parent company Verizon was focusing on salvaging losses than investing in a declining business.

What Is Polyvore?

Polyvore was a social commerce platform that allowed users to browse and curate fashion, beauty, and interior design items.

Apart from being able to view and save products, users were also able to follow other users on the platform and check out their curations.

Users were, furthermore, able to create collections of their own and share them with anyone that followed their account.

To that extent, Polyvore actively promoted users via its ‘Community Spotlight’ section and even hosted various contests that rewarded users who came up with great designs.

Additionally, through integrations with platforms like Facebook and Pinterest, looks could also be shared with connections outside of Polyvore.

The majority of the items could then also be purchased. Polyvore worked together with dozens of brands and marketplaces including Farfetch, Net-A-Porter, and Yoox.

And because Polyvore collected dozens of data points about its users, it was also able to provide tailored recommendations based on style preferences.

Users could access Polyvore via the company’s websites or by downloading any of its mobile and tablet apps (available on Android and iOS devices).

The company was unfortunately shut down in April 2018. How it came to be and the reasons for its failure will be covered in the upcoming chapter.

What Happened To Polyvore?

Polyvore, formerly headquartered in Mountain View, California, was founded in 2007 Jess Lee, Guangwei Yuan, Jianing Hu, and Pasha Sadri.

It was Pasha Sadri who first came up with the idea for Polyvore. In 2006, he and his wife were remodelling their house and were looking for inspiration, which left him wondering why there wasn’t a service that provided people with those very same ideas.

At the time, Sadri was still employed at Yahoo where he not only met his fellow co-founders Yuan and Hu but was responsible for the creation of Pipes, a web-based visual programming environment.

He then moved on to work for Google where he was responsible for developing the Google Maps API, which was used by millions of sites to embed the ubiquitous Google Maps Widget.

While at Google, he began working on Polyvore together with Hu and Yuan. He eventually left Google to focus on Polyvore full-time, which the team revealed in October 2007.

In the beginning, Polyvore simply enabled users to create collages of their favorite fashion items and save them in so-called ‘sets’. Not long after launch, in December, the team managed to raise the first round of funding, netting them $2.5 million in Series A funding from the likes of Benchmark and Harrison Metal.

Despite the funding and superstar engineering team, Polyvore’s website and user experience were occasionally riddled with bugs and other problems. However, users still loved the product. One of those users was Jess Lee, who at the time was working as a Product Manager for Google.

Lee, who grew up in Hong Kong, joined the search giant after graduating from Stanford in 2004 with a degree in Computer Science. She became one of the first hires for Google’s newly established APM program, which had been co-created by Marissa Mayer (just keep that name in mind).

At Google, Lee was also working on the Google Maps product but never actually crossed paths with Sadri. By 2008, she began spending a lot of her evenings creating sets on Polyvore.

Around the same time, Bret Taylor, her former boss at Google, had left the company to launch his own startup FriendFeed. She eventually ended up meeting him and his co-founder, Jim Norris, for a coffee.

However, joining FriendFeed seemed like a risky proposition since she feared that Facebook could just outright copy its features. Facebook acquired FriendFeed a year later, primarily to convince Taylor’s to become its CTO.

While Lee declined the offer, the encounter itself still got her excited about startup life. As she left the meeting, Lee happened to walk across a corner store named Pasha’s Market, which immediately got her thinking about Pasha Sadri and Polyvore, which she obviously loved to use (ironically enough, Polyvore and FriendFeed were actually sharing an office at that time).

That same day, Lee went home and sent Sadri a lengthy email with extensive and pretty blunt feedback about Polyvore. For instance, she suggested speeding up the search results or enabling image rotation.

Not long after, the two met over coffee and immediately hit it off. In March 2008, Lee joined Polyvore as its first employee. Eventually, in 2010, Sadri, Hu, and Yuan, the three initial co-founders, approached Lee and told her that they wanted to recognize her as the fourth official co-founder.

By that point, Polyvore was well on its way to becoming an established fashion powerhouse. In August 2009, the team had managed to raise a second round of funding, netting them another $5.6 million in cash.

When the funding was announced, Polyvore had already managed to attract more than four million users every month. The startup, furthermore, had secured partnerships with the likes of Gap to challenge users to create outfits using the firm’s own jeans.

Polyvore’s growth was largely based on word-of-mouth as well s continuous product improvements. For instance, an integration with Facebook Connect allowed users to post styles to their Facebook profiles, which in turn expanded its reach.

To enter the next stage of its growth phase, Polyvore announced that it would Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, Google’s former Asia-Pacific and Latin America president, as the firm’s newest CEO in February 2010. She effectively replaced Sadri who held the role before. 

Unfortunately, despite helping to grow the company, Sing Cassidy ultimately stepped down from her role seven months later. She and Sadri had disagreed on scaling as well as the startup’s strategic direction, with the latter reclaiming his position as CEO.

Luckily, the internal turmoil did not affect Polyvore’s growth trajectory. The biggest sign of its staying power came on display in January 2011 when designer Rebecca Minkoff, who staged her first show at New York Fashion Week, announced that she would use Polyvore to find a stylist for the show.

Furthermore, many brands began to directly partner with the platform, allowing users to purchase the products that they found on the platform. By mid-2011, the company had attracted over 10 million users per month and was already profitable.

Its relentless focus on product improvement and innovation also led to an extremely engaged audience. Allegedly, an eighth of the company’s user base came back to its site more than 100 times per month.

The continuous growth was rewarded with yet another round of funding in January 2012. This time, investors including DAG Ventures, Goldman Sachs, and Benchmark poured in another $14 million into the company, which now had 13 million monthly users.

As part of the funding announcement, the company also made it known that Jess Lee became its newest CEO while Sadri moved on to the role of CTO. The transition was extremely natural as both had already taken on similar roles at the company (and simply wanted to formalize the change in responsibility).

Polyvore also continued to embrace partnerships with other platforms as a way to boost growth. In March 2012, it released an integration with Pinterest which allowed Polyvore users to pin their sets directly onto the platform. The integration alone added another two million users to its audience.

In order to further embroil itself with the world’s most sophisticated fashion scene, Polyvore announced that it would open a second office in New York. It capped the year off by launching its first-ever mobile app for iOS in November.

By June 2013, that app had already been downloaded over a million times. Polyvore now boasted 20 million monthly users, which made it the world’s most frequented fashion platform by a landslide. The app itself also borrowed concepts from competing products like Poshmark by adding the ability to follow others or mark posts with hashtags.

Three months later, the platform finally expanded into home decor, it’s second vertical. The move put it in direct competition with the likes of Houzz, which had made an absolute killing in the months and years prior. Ironically enough, when Polyvore initially started, it actually had a home decor section but removed it in favor of the growing fashion space.

In May 2014, the company also unveiled its Android app. The move followed the introduction of an iPad version, which arrived earlier in October 2013. At that point, its 20 million users were starting to access the platform via their mobile devices instead of a desktop PC.

Throughout the year, Polyvore’s team continued to refine the mobile experience, for instance by adding personalized recommendations in October. It then introduced a second app called Polyvore Remix, which generated outfits based on a single item of clothing.

Despite its continuous innovations, its numbers basically stagnated. The founding team hadn’t provided the public with any updated user metrics in over two years (which meant that its user numbers likely remained around the 20 million monthly visitor threshold).

It, therefore, was somewhat of a surprise when in July 2015 Yahoo announced that it would acquire Polyvore. Subsequent reporting later revealed that Yahoo had paid a whopping $230 million to acquire Polyvore.

The move itself led to vast amounts of criticism against Yahoo’s then-CEO Marissa Mayer who knew Lee from her days at Google. And it was actually Mayer who had hired Lee and convinced her to join Google instead of taking the safer route (she also had an offer from Intel).

Co-founder Sadri left Polyvore right after the acquisition to work at WhatsApp while Lee stayed on to become a VP of Product at Yahoo’s Lifestyle department of which Polyvore became a part.

Unfortunately, Polyvore, just like many of the other failed acquisitions that took place under Mayer’s helm, would essentially be mismanaged into extinction. Over the next almost three years, the only noteworthy news that surfaced about the company was about Jess Lee’s departure in November 2016. She went on to become Sequoia Capital’s first female partner in the United States.

Meanwhile, not much happened over at Polyvore until April 2018. By that point, Yahoo had already sold to Verizon (June 2017) and, together with AOL, formed an umbrella called Oath. On April 5th, 2018, Montreal-based fashion site Ssense announced that it had acquired Polyvore from Verizon’s Oath.

Unfortunately, Ssense had only acquired Polyvore’s assets but not the business entity itself, which meant that it was forced to shut down Polyvore (and redirect all traffic to Ssense website), which it ultimately did on May 15th, 2018.

The announcement itself led to tons of public backlash against anyone that seemed remotely involved, from Verizon all the way to Ssense. It also sparked the creation of multiple alternatives, such as Urstyle or TrendMe, which luckily enabled existing users to transfer all their sets and creation over.

The closure of Polyvore was a culmination of a multitude of factors, which we’ll explore in the next and final chapter.

Why Was Polyvore Shut Down?

Polyvore was shut down because the platform, in all likeliness, wasn’t generating any profits for Verizon.

Over the course of her five-year tenure, Mayer oversaw the acquisition of more than 50 businesses. Her most notable one probably was Tumblr in May 2013 for which Yahoo spent over a billion dollars.

As one would expect, all of these businesses simply became impossible to manage under one company. Even Verizon, which acquired Yahoo in July 2016 for $4.83 billion, couldn’t solve that mess.

As a result, Yahoo was probably lagging the required resources to invest into continuous product improvements and alike.

On top of that, co-founder Lee, who was seen as one of the key drivers behind Polyvore’s innovative platform, eventually departed in November, which probably left an even bigger hole.

When Verizon finally decided to unload Polyvore to Ssense in April 2018, the latter could’ve decided to keep it going. However, the user data that it obtained in the acquisition was likely more useful to Ssense than investing money into a declining platform.

Hi folks, my name is Viktor! By day, I lead a tech team of 10 for an e-commerce startup. At night, I work on expressing my weird thoughts through this blog. And if there's time, I cuddle my cat..