Tarek Müller opened his first online shop for poker suitcases at the tender age of 15. Telephone lines were open from 2 pm to 8 pm daily – after his school lessons. A second online shop opened quickly followed by several others later. At the age of 18, the Hamburg native had already earned a couple of million euros and was bent on producing in China. However, the factory was never completed and nearly bankrupted him. A year later, free of debt – his company was thriving. Now 29, Müller counts among Germany’s most successful founders. The U.S. Forbes magazine recently ranked him among Europe’s most promising e-commerce founders (30 Under 30).
In 2014, Müller, Hannes Wiese and Sebastian Betz founded the About You online fashion store. Launched and owned by Otto’s start-up, Collins GmbH & Co. KG in Hamburg, the company employs some 450 staff in over 30 countries. The store now operates in six countries and has around 150,000 products. About You is forecast to earn between EUR 250 million to EUR 280 million in turnover during the 2017/2018 business year. Hamburg News talked to Müller about setting up a company, corporate culture and plans for the future at About You’s headquarters in downtown Hamburg.
Hamburg News: Do you have an ideology that guides you when making decisions?
Tarek: I always try to come together with really clever people – employees, business partners or sparring partners. So I like looking for people who are smarter and more ambitious than me in order to work on things that we all enjoy. I also do my best not to be highbrow. I am fully convinced that something good and great comes from working with smart people.
Hamburg News: How do you rate Hamburg as a city for founders?
Tarek: Hamburg is a very good place for digital companies. The city is big and of interest to foreign workers. Companies that build up a profile as an attractive employer are of keen interest to new, talented people. We at “About You” really like Hamburg – not only for recruiting, but also as a business location. We find investors here and other start-ups as well. Hamburg has a good measure of everything. In addition, Hamburg is, of course, a really livable city….obviously spoken as a local patriot. But what I really like about Hamburg is that most people who move here also want to stay. Unlike Berlin, Hamburg is not a transit city.
Hamburg News: Can you describe About You’s target group?
Tarek: Our offer is geared towards men and women aged between 20 and 49 who like going on online shopping sprees and want to buy fashion.
Hamburg News: How does About You stand out from other online fashion stores?
Tarek: We want to turn the classic Saturday afternoon shopping spree digital. Just imagine, you would like to brighten your wardrobe a bit. You have a new job, or you have just ditched your partner and want a change. About You is the right address for ideas. That’s reflected mainly by the mobile phone app used by most of our users. That’s like an online shopping spree. We show the latest trends, suitable brands and co-operate with influencers like André Schürrle or Caro Daur who present their favourite outfits in our online store. That’s how we work with many celebrities who stand for certain styles that guide and inspire our users who then buy that look.
Hamburg News: To users, About You is a shopping site. But you call yourselves a tech company. How come?
Tarek: Exactly. To our users, we are a shopping platform, but our DNA is technology. We have to be swift and flexible and be able to turn things around and react to customers’ demands at any time. Of course, we have to be good in all aspects of online trade including purchasing. But we have to excel in the tech part as well. One third of our company consists of developers, one third of marketing experts and one third of fashion specialists. And we recently began making the IT infrastructure behind About You cloud available to other companies as well.
Hamburg News: How is About You’s corporate culture best described?
Tarek: Young, pragmatic and geared towards solutions. But also fun, international and relatively free of hierarchies. Everyone here wants the firm to be as successful as possible and we work hard. Employee surveys point to a strong team feeling again and again. However, we are not a cuddly club especially in terms of decisions. Yet, we find that the hierarchy does not have to leave it’s mark on our behaviour.
Hamburg News: What are your future plans for About You?
Tarek: We want to count among Europe’s five biggest online fashion stores in the medium term. We are also targeting EUR 1 billion in turnover over the next four to five years. In the long term, we want to expand our fashion platform. Our ambition is to become well known and big in other countries – at least as fast as we did in Germany. That’s how we launched About You in the Netherlands and Belgium in October 2017 and we are thrilled with the great response.
Interview by Sarah Bischoff