In conversation Tarek Müller
Exclusive interview with Tarek Müller Co-founder and Co-CEO of ABOUT YOU.
What is the key message ABOUT YOU wants to deliver?
When we launched ABOUT YOU in Germany five years ago, fashion discovery happened offline: while taking a stroll through the streets for classic window-shopping. Most online shops were just clickable warehouses. We started with our vision: create the first online destination, where you can discover fashion, get inspired and find relevant products that really fit your style – no matter, how small the screen is. Online shopping should be fun and inspiring, and more than just clicking an item into a shopping bag. ABOUT YOU is the first fashion online shop that knows exactly what the customer wants and transfers the inspirational window-shopping experience to ecommerce. The user-friendly shopping app offers a complete webshop experience for the 18–49 olds, therefore, 75 per cent of the purchases are made via the mobile app.
What is the best part of your role within ABOUT YOU?
Being surrounded by great people – that is what makes me happy at ABOUT YOU. We have many great people in our team and doing business is always more fun if you’re surrounded by great and smart people while working on something you really believe in. I always feel like I’m living my dream. I’m very blessed to do what I do and sometimes I feel like it’s a hobby which became a job for me.
How does ABOUT YOU distinguish itself from other big online retailers?
ABOUT YOU is a fashion online shop with an award-winning app that offers customers an assortment of more than 300.000 products from more than 1.500 international brands. We also offer free shipping and 100 days for return, which we know always thrills customers. Moreover, an important feature of our website and app is the personalization. The more you use ABOUT YOU, the more personalized your feed will be, in terms of brands, colors, materials or price range. Additionally, ABOUT YOU inspires our customers with a lot of inspirational content and outfits from international celebrities and influencers.
How old were you when you first started a company and what inspired you to start a business at such young age?
It wasn’t really planned. With 13, I started with creating websites and earning money with putting up ads. When I was 16 years old, I started my first online shop selling poker suitcases and this was pretty easy actually, I did it in my childhood room. I used to buy goods and pack them on my own. I was also doing the delivery – by going to the post office on my bike – so it was pretty small in the beginning.
If you look back at your career, what are you most proud of so far?
I think the main challenge was finding the right people to work with, especially in the beginning. You never do anything alone, you need to have a good team by your side for having success. Recruiting the best people without being well-known as start-up in the very beginning is a very hard challenge.
Tell us something about you that is not on your resume (secret skill, a hobby, fun fact)
My secret super power is, that I can instantly fall asleep in basically every situation at any time.
How do you spend your time in quarantine and how do you stay motivated?
Most of my day, I work as usual and that takes most of my time. Due to many virtual meetings, it isn’t hard for me to stay motivated. Despite that I eat healthier and even cook at home.
What was your first reaction when you became aware of Covid-19 and how did ABOUT YOU adapt to the impact of this virus?
At the beginning in February, I thought that the Corona crisis would not hit Europe as hard as China, however, I was proven wrong. We reacted very quickly however and changed to home office with the whole company already in the beginning of March, before the official governmental restrictions. That worked very well and the team performs great at home. Of course, we had to cancel all our events this year and focus even more on digital marketing and content as we did already before.
How do you think Covid-19 will affect the fashion industry both long-term and short-term?
I believe that it results in a faster and bigger increase of the share of online vs. stationary fashion retail.
What was the main reason for ABOUT YOU to distribute facemasks and what are the first reactions of consumers?
The trigger was that my colleague Sebastian Betz, co-founder and co-CEO of About You, had seen about four weeks ago that face masks are sold at Ebay and Amazon for sometimes 50 euros each. We then asked our manufacturer what a face mask would cost in production and found out that the production costs are between one and five euros – depending on the quality and printing. The offers on Ebay and Amazon seemed to us like abnormal surcharges and crisis usury. There was no mandatory masking in Germany, but it was already clear that the demand for face masks would be relatively high. We thought it wasn’t right that people try to take advantage of the crisis and people's fear and to make a profit with that what goes far beyond normal margins. That is why we decided to change our own production to face masks. We asked our suppliers and brand partners so that we can offer the masks at cost-price. In doing so, we wanted to counteract usury in the crisis and ensure that such people were deprived of their business basis. Regarding the customers, we can say that we are not doing any marketing at all, because we are actually already seeing massive sales through word-of-mouth propaganda. There were times when we sold more than 100.000 masks per hour without spending an euro on marketing. I would claim that we are probably Europe's largest face mask retailer and probably Europe's cheapest online mask retailer, only by selling it at cost-price.
Which steps does ABOUT YOU plan to make in the future?
We are leading the growing market of online fashion discovery. Until 2020/1 we will reach the following goals: become one of the top 3 fashion players in Europe, generate more than 2.5 billion € GMV per annum and to be present in more than ten European countries. Furthermore sustainability in e-commerce and the fashion industry is a very serious topic and we want to be part of the solution, not a part of the problem. We take a lot of measures in this field. To mention just three: We try to optimize our whole value chain towards more sustainability and fewer emissions, and we also recently changed our packaging to material that can be fully recycled. Secondly, we want to push the circular economy by starting to sell second-hand products. In the long-term we also plan to make it easier for our customers to return old clothes they’re not interested in anymore, to basically complete the circle. The third aspect is promoting products that have been sustainably produced. So if customers are looking for new items we want to push products that they can wear with a clean conscience, and we’ll be doing that by giving these products a much higher visibility.