Among its many events celebrating Global Entrepreneurship Week, HEC Paris had the pleasure of welcoming Tarek Müller, co-founder and general manager of About You, for an exclusive online presentation about his career trajectory and the future of online fashion.
Even among Germany’s wildly successful entrepreneurial ecosystem, Tarek Müller’s story stands out. After launching his first company at the age of 15, the co-founder of Hamburg’s first unicorn has never stopped trying new things and scaling up. As the founder of four different companies, Müller has gone from earning €20 a month at the age of 13 to €100 million a month with About You, the online fashion company. Co-founded in 2014 with Sebastian Betz and Hannes Wiese, About You is one of Europe’s largest and fastest-growing e-tailers, now active in 26 countries—with plans to expand.
Müller’s dynamic presentation on November 11 was organized by the HEC Paris Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center and the HEC Paris MBA’s Entrepreneurship and Retail and Luxury Clubs. MBA Club President’s Bernice Lee and Armin Rachwalik moderated the event. More than 60 students attended the online event, which was followed by a career session with About You’s recruiters.
A few of Müller’s insights about his life and his company:
How did you get started as an entrepreneur?
Basically, it started out as a hobby. When I was 13, I got my first computer, and I started to do online gaming. I founded a clan—that’s a group of people playing against each other—and I created a website for that clan. At some point, our clan needed €5 a month for a server to host games, and no one was willing to spend their pocket money to pay for it. I had read an article that said you could monetize your website by adding advertising to it. Soon I was earning €20 a month, four times what we needed for the server.
By the age of 15, I had a couple of websites running, and I had legally registered my company. After I optimized for Google, what started out as €20 a month had turned into an advertising revenue of a couple thousand euros per month.
How did you co-found About You?
Through my online consultancy, I was working with the Otto Group. I learned that they were interested in investing in e-commerce fashion. I worked on a business plan, pitched it to them, and they liked it and invested in it. That’s how I ended up being the managing director of About You. It was really luck and grabbing opportunities as I came across them. I always had a vision of doing something big, but online fashion wasn’t a strategic plan or a dream that I’ve had since childhood.
Often people think that entrepreneurs had instant success. That’s why I tell these stories, so that people realize that the story is actually 10 years long in the making. Entrepreneurial success doesn’t come overnight, and often doesn’t come on the first try.
What differentiates About You from other online companies?
First, we have the best smartphone app, which means we are able to offer our customers a seamless experience. We have more editorial content on our website—we work hard to inspire people. And we offer personalization. With every click we are optimizing for your next click, providing a tailored experience for every single person who uses our app. We are making the experience really “about you.” That is what sets us apart.
What is your best day at work?
I can’t remember one day that really stood out. We have successes and we reach milestones, but they don’t come as a surprise to me. It wasn’t even the day of our IPO—unless I count the number of congratulations messages that I received that day. Literally, I got about 5,000 congratulations messages. But I was also in bed at 11 pm on the day of our IPO.
I would say that the IPO was the most visible milestone of success that we’ve had. But on that day, nothing became better for our customers, nothing became better for our employees, and nothing became better for me personally. What the IPO did was make success visible, but I wouldn’t necessarily count that as the best day, because the best day is when you create success. And since it’s difficult to pinpoint one day where you created success, it’s hard for me to pinpoint one day that was the best day for me. I am super proud of what we’ve accomplished.