LinkedIn groups plant seeds for startup

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Catherine Baker, founder of the recently introduced b2b site Fashionista Café, doesn't have a media background. But after watching membership mount in the 10 LinkedIn groups she created, Baker decided to develop a site to serve professionals in six creative fields—beauty, fashion, graphics, interior design, luxury and photography—with content on trends, products and designers. The site also provides a forum for networking. The Fashionista Café group Baker launched on LinkedIn in July 2008 now has almost 10,000 members. Personally, she has amassed more than 20,000 contacts via the network. Baker, who is funding the venture herself, earned a B.S. in fashion merchandising management from New York's Fashion Institute of Technology and has built a career in fabric R&D, fashion editorial, merchandising, and retail and wholesale sales. Digital Directions: Why did you start Fashionista Café and why did you choose to serve six different interests? Catherine Baker: In 2008, I created a number of groups on LinkedIn and found a high demand among professionals to be part of a community, to exchange ideas, to talk about industry matters and to do business together. Without LinkedIn, I wouldn't be here right now; but, as a creative person, I felt that there was an opportunity for a more visually oriented site and a space where creative professionals could share ideas and gain inspiration from one another. What you see now is only phase one. It will become more education- and product-oriented in the future. Fashion is at the center of Fashionista Café, but it takes a team of professionals to make the fashion designer successful. For example, when a fashion designer organizes a fashion show, he or she needs makeup artists, graphic designers and photographers. DD: How are you monetizing Fashionista Café? Baker: An advertiser can place banner ads through our automated ad management system, where they can obtain real-time campaign performance information. Also, we sell “featured” positions for designers, artists, products and videos. We have job postings and a section where coaches or mentors can advertise. This month, the job postings will be redesigned and divided into three areas: permanent jobs, freelance and internships. DD: Who built the site? Baker: The site was coded and developed by a company called Galaxy Web Links using an open-source, PHP-based framework called CodeIgniter. We use the OpenX platform to run advertising campaigns. Galaxy Web Links has been working on since December 2010. A prior developer did not work out, delaying the launch by about six months. DD: How are you marketing the site? Baker: We did email campaigns in August and December. Starting with the launch Dec. 1, we are running prize giveaways for 10 weeks. I have a PR/social media manager who is using Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and contacting industry bloggers. A big part of our strategy in 2012 is to meet people face-to-face at industry trade shows, where we hope to get more members and recruit people to write articles and post photos and videos. (While the contributors will not be paid), we will prominently feature the most active contributors. DD: How is Fashionista Café different from competitor sites? Baker: When I researched the market, I did not find a model with all the same components as Fashionista Café. I read and respect (Women's Wear Daily), but the website and publication are paid. Another difference is that we will not be celebrity-oriented. There are a number of networking sites for this population; but, like LinkedIn, they don't have a strong visual component. Some are not very interactive. Others do not have our international perspective. I am very focused on metrics, so the interests and activities of the members will have a big impact on how the site develops.
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