Vaughan Tebbe

Back to Contents of Issue: April 2000

Vaughan Tebbe
CEO of

Vaughan Tebbe is the CEO of, an online magazine focusing on fashion trends, lifestyle, and e-commerce that's partially funded by Mitsui Venture Capital. The former publisher of Time Out New York, Tebbe took the magazine from zero to $14 million and from two to 70 staffers in just three years. She relocated from New York to Los Angeles in 1998, and, prior to joining in 1998, worked in such new media companies as DVDMAGS and William Tyree caught up with her at the Seiyo Ginza hotel during her recent business trip to Tokyo.

How is different?
Much of what's available for sale on the Web, both in Japan and in the US, appeals to how a man shops -- I want a shirt, I buy a shirt, and I leave. We're trying to create a more intuitive shopping experience for women. Women browse when they shop. Maybe they have lunch, they try different things on, they might go back, they might put something on hold and come back the next day or they might buy a lot of things.

The experience is about seeing, touching feeling, learning, discovering, and exploring. We're trying to create that experience on the site by making it extremely visually gratifying. Shopping provides a short reading experience, but we are really about more of a visual experience, using lots of art and photography.

Can you describe your business model?
We're 60 to 85 percent reliant on advertising and sponsorship revenue. The remaining portion is e-commerce, and the rents we charge fashion designers to sell and be featured on the site.

How have you been received by the Tokyo business community?
So far, the Japanese designers we've met here are very interested in reaching the US market via e-commerce. Of course, a lot of the large companies are going slow because they're trying to develop this big corporate strategy, and so they don't want to take a baby step without knowing what the big steps are going to be. In the meantime, the younger, smaller designers like Kaos and Hoa Hoa will probably move more quickly to establish a presence they couldn't afford otherwise.

What's your business strategy toward the Japanese market?
The first phase is to bring Japanese products to the US market, because 85 percent of our users are there, and because the market is really hungry for ethnicity and tradition mixed with something modern. The women we're going after on our site are interested in creating their own style. Putting together things from different countries, including Japan, is part of that. Tokyo offers an incredible variety and selection that the US market doesn't get enough of.

And the second phase?
The second phase involves translating the site for the Japanese women's market. We're not just trying to shove an English [language] site down people's throats. We'll be working with a company, Koi International, that does actual Web translation. It's not just the language they'll be translating, but the actual page. If something's on the right but needs to be on the left they'll move it around, and come up with a meaningful cultural translation. The second phase would also include partnering with Japanese sites to create more traffic. The third phase would be to sell international items to the Japanese market.

Many foreign businesses say they feel Japan is the hardest place to break into, but potentially the most lucrative. What do you think?

I think it could be the most lucrative because the Japanese aesthetic is so in vogue right now in America. And going the other way, there's such a hunger for fashion and products that it could be received very well here in Japan.

As far as being harder to break into, I'd say it's hard to tell right now because each locale has its own set of issues regarding Internet business. London is a little further along with Internet development, so there are already other sites we're competing with there. Paris is behind all of these markets in terms of being online, and it's been the most difficult to get into.

Tokyo is much more advanced than that, but still behind the United States, so we actually have a little edge here. I think bringing the content to the Japanese women is the most important thing. We're about empowering women through the Internet, helping them create their own image. Put in the right context, it could be very well received.

How successful are you in terms of traffic?
The numbers are really great considering that generating traffic hasn't been a priority so far, and also considering that we're not a mass appeal site. We get about 300 to 500 unique visitors per day, meaning they're not repeat visitors.

So far we've only grown traffic in an organic way -- word of mouth and limited print advertising, though the primary goal of that advertising was to generate brand awareness within the designer community and among fashionistas. Our first-stage goals were beefing up our content and the selection of designers so that when we start to drive the traffic, the people find what they want when they get there.

How do you plan to generate more traffic?
You can buy traffic. It's like buying circulation for a print magazine. You know the formula, you know how much direct mail you have to do, you know how much online advertising you have to do.

We just started an online campaign to generate traffic. When the traffic starts coming in higher quantities, we will work on further developing our advertising base.

Note: The function "email this page" is currently not supported for this page.