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Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

Connecting women and opportunity

Womanthology is a digital magazine and professional community powered by female energy and ingenuity.

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Genevieve Kunst – Managing Director Europe, ShopStyle by POPSUGAR on her career in e-commerce and mobile

Genevieve Kunst

Genevieve Kunst is Vice President and Managing Director of POPSUGAR Europe in which her main responsibility is overseeing the day-to-day operations and growth of the European business for its fashion affiliate, ShopStyle. Genevieve has spent nearly 15 years working across Europe in the e-commerce and mobile industries, with past roles at Thomas Cook Online, Amazon, T-Mobile, Bertelsmann and the start-up, Vitago. Genevieve started her career in her native U.S. working for her family’s textile business.

Genevieve Kunst
Genevieve Kunst

“…It is no longer strictly true that you have to be an industry insider to hear the latest news first, and brands are increasingly looking for ways to plug consumer voices into the experiences they create…”

You’ve got fantastic experience across e-commerce and mobile industries. Please can you tell us about your career to date and how you ended up where you are today?

I would say that my career has been driven (1) by my desire to be “international”, (2) by timing and a lot of restructuring and (3) by recruiters / HR departments who were not hiring to a specific spec, but were looking for bright, motivated people.

I knew when starting in e-commerce back in the day that I was taking a risk and that there might not be longevity in any particular role, but I knew that I had missed the first round of Internet 1.0 in San Francisco back in the late 90s and that I wanted to be a part of it in Europe.


I was given the chance at the beginning of 2000 to come to Germany to work as the Director of Business Development for Vitago, an online health and beauty store designed to be the of Europe. Great opportunity, new millennium, new country, new job!

What I did not take into consideration was the actual business plan sitting behind the company; I just saw it as an opportunity to get myself over to Europe. A big lesson learned and one that now always shapes my discussions when considering a new role.

Needless to say, within a year, it was clear that Vitago was not going to be one of the big Internet success stories and I was headhunted to go to and Bertelsmann Capital was Bertelsmann’s answer to I was brought into the HQ in business planning and controlling by the newly promoted CFO to take on his old role. Within a couple of months of joining, he could no longer look me in the eye. I knew something was up, as I had seen this behavior earlier at Vitago.

We were having drinks one evening and I said “Hey, I have noticed that you no longer look me in the eye. Something is up. Tell me.” He replied, “Don’t worry. You will be ok.” The next day I walked into the office and the team was sitting in a room in a circle. There had been an announcement in the FT that the HQ function of BOL was being dissolved.

I will never forget the company-wide meeting in which employees were able to ask questions of management. There was such a huge cultural divide between those sitting in Europe and those in the US.

We were being told that our jobs no longer existed and a German woman asked, “I have been working for Bertelsmann for years. What is my next role going to be?” I just sat there and thought, “You took on a role at a start-up (though at a large German company), did you really think that you were going to have job security?”

Since the announcement came less than three months after joining, I went back to Bertelsmann and said “I had other job opportunities on the table before joining and I took them because I wanted to work for specifically for you. There is no way that you did not know that this was going to happen when you gave me the role. What else do you have in the business?”

Fortunately for me, they found a role at Bertelsmann Capital working in their Strategic Alliances and Marketing team analyzing the financial and operational performance of Bertelsmann’s main Internet properties (I took over a McKinsey project). A year later we learned that this group too was going to be dissolved.

After taking some time off to learn Spanish in Guatemala and realising the economy in Germany was heading downhill, I decided to relocate to the UK. I was amazed at how quickly recruiters were responding to my CV in the UK.

With an education system more similar to the US and companies looking for MBAs and ex-management consultants, I found opportunities in the UK easier to come by. Within 45 minutes of meeting the EVP of Marketing Services at T-Mobile (ironically in Germany), he said, “We need to hire you. I don’t know for what role yet, but you will have a job at T-Mobile.”


It was then that I was hired as the Head of Database Marketing. For 18 months, I commuted weekly between London and Bonn, until…yep, you guessed it, the team was reorganised (my job was kept) and the offices were shut down in London. At this point, I was headhunted by Amazon.


I was Amazon’s first digital hire in Europe tasked with driving forward their Search Inside the Book (now Look Inside) product, which eventually transitioned into Kindle.

I remember our first pitches to book publishers back in the Fall of 2005 in respect to eBooks and an unnamed eReader. eBooks were an easier sell than Search Inside to publishers as it was easier for them to understand how they could monetise their digital content. I spent five years at Amazon negotiating content deals with book, newspaper and magazine publishers.

I cannot speak highly enough about Amazon in terms of career development. The quality bar is high at Amazon and its leadership team is incredibly smart. Everything is about being customer-centric and helping customers make informed purchasing decisions.

Still to this day, I find myself always asking, “What would a customer expect”. My time at Amazon was invaluable in terms of my career; however, after the international launch of Kindle in Europe, it was time to move on to a bigger, more commercial role.

I was hired by to be the Director of Supply and Merchandising. Although a well-known brand, Thomas Cook realised that it needed to build up its e-commerce capabilities and were looking to hire people from well-known Internet businesses to bring in expertise. My job was about the 4Ps – product, pricing, placement and promotion. Being an avid traveler, I thought it was a great opportunity to merge one of my passions with past experience.

My initial meetings were with Simon Breakwell, one of the founders of Expedia who was brought on to build the team. I was inspired by the vision of being a one-stop shop for travel. was a great learning experience in terms of the challenges facing multi-channel businesses and the internal struggles between old established businesses and the adoption of a new business model.

ShopStyle and POPSUGAR

In the fall of 2012, I was headhunted by ShopStyle and POPSUGAR to be its European Managing Director. Oddly enough, I had identified two businesses that I was interested in working for and ShopStyle was one of them. I wanted to go back into a start-up (and more specifically an American one) that was looking to grow its European business. I met with the CEO and CTO and knew it was a great fit.

Now, I run the day-to-day operations and P&L and manage a team of 17 across three markets – the UK, Germany and France.

I know most people would look at my last 15 years and say “Wow, she has moved around a lot.” However, I feel like my experience is a reflection of what it is like to work in the world of start-ups and new businesses within larger corporates.

You started your career in your family’s business. What was it like working in a family business? Are working relationships with family harder to manage?

As a child, my brother and I used to accompany my father to work on Saturdays. My father founded Fabri-Quilt (one of the largest commercial quilters in the US and a supplier of fabrics to fabric stores) after working for his own father. Fabri-Quilt always felt like a great big family to me.

Even today when I go back to the office, there are people who have been working there for more than 30 years and would never consider leaving because they feel indebted to my family. Many were immigrants fleeing very difficult situations and I have seen them work hard, start families and have their children live the American dream through education and hard work.

My father was a humanist. He believed in treating everyone fairly and in a manner in which he would want to be treated. He had great respect for the challenges faced by the common man. He lived modestly and always tried to do right by people. I learned a lot from him.

My father passed away 20 years ago this year. After his death, I moved back to Kansas City to be the “family” in the family business. It was important to show suppliers and customers that the business could transition without my father at the helm.

He had selected a great right-hand man with whom I worked closely to ensure continuity. After a few years, I decided that I should go to business school to hone my skills and to build my network.

During this time, my brother moved back to Kansas City from Japan and started working in this business. I see a lot of my father in my brother and the way he interacts with employees. He is doing an amazing job. I made a very conscious decision when my brother came into the business that only one family member should be at the helm.

I am always there for support and we often discuss strategies / issues, but I definitely stay out of the day-to-day. I love my family very much and value our time together (I just spent four months in Kansas City with my family after the birth of my little girl back in October).

I believe that the bond that my brother and I have has remained in tact because we are not working together. Often when we meet with business advisors, they comment on how rare it is to see a family with a family business who gets along as well as we do. My father definitely laid the groundwork by treating us equally and reminding us that there is no one on this planet closer to us than a sibling.

What made you decide to leave the US and come over to Europe?

My mother is actually Austrian, though you would never know by listening to her. I had a lot of exposure to her family both in Europe and in the U.S. and made it a point to learn German when I went to high school (my mom never spoke to us in German when we were growing up in Kansas City).

When I was looking at business schools, I looked for a program that would allow me to further develop my German and to be with others who were interested in international business. Fortunately, I found the MBA / MA programme at the Wharton School and the Lauder Institute of International Studies.

I actually graduated in 1998 and my classmates were the first wave of graduates who moved to San Francisco to take part in Internet 1.0. Because of my family business, I had committed myself to a stint in management consulting so decided to take a job in NYC.

A little more than a year later, a classmate of mine contacted me from Munich saying that he was working for a start-up, Vitago, and that they were looking for people. Was I interested? I thought to myself “My brother’s back at Fabri-Quilt, no boyfriend, no dog, no plants; what’s the risk?” I jumped at the opportunity to be involved in e-commerce in Europe during the first wave and after 15 years, am still here.

How are the business cultures different?

I think that Americans are more willing to take risk and are more willing to say what they like and don’t like, and more importantly, they are less likely to take it personally. They see it as just a part of doing business. I cannot tell you how many times in Europe where I have had to explain that I am asking a question not to place blame, but to figure out how to solve the problem.

When looking for my next opportunity after Thomas Cook, I knew that I wanted to work for another American company and that I wanted to work for a smaller, more nimble business. POPSUGAR and ShopStyle fit the bill perfectly. They were looking for someone who could run a European business, but at the same time could help translate its culture abroad.

Over the past 15 years, I feel like most people would say that while my demeanor is still very American, my thinking and approach has become much more European. I understand what is needed to work in and to champion a European business.

Please can you tell us a bit more about ShopStyle and POPSUGAR?

POPSUGAR is a global women’s lifestyle brand focused in media, commerce and technology. Our mission is to connect women with new entertainment, products, and experiences they are most passionate about.

POPSUGAR is the go-to destination for the biggest moments, the hottest trends, and the best tips in entertainment, celebrity, fashion, beauty, fitness, food and parenting.

ShopStyle, which is our main business in Europe, is a leading fashion search engine, community and source of inspiration that enables our customers to find just the item they need or never knew they wanted.

ShopStyleUK screenshot

Books like “Womenomics” are highlighting the growing purchasing power that women are commanding. Are women in a stronger position to understand what other women want to buy and how they want to buy it?

Most definitely. Although everyone is unique, we have common experiences. It is easier to relate to those that have similar experiences, wishes, feelings, emotions and desires. It is just a question of translating these experiences and emotions into a better shopping experience.

I often find myself saying to my partner, “This was clearly not designed by a woman. If so, it would have been done [please insert improved design / function / etc.]” I enjoy having shopping experiences that have taken my best interests to heart.

You’ve written in the press about consumers being hungry for brand-based social media. Please could you tell us a bit more about this?

We really meant that social media levels the playing field. It is no longer strictly true that you have to be an industry insider to hear the latest news first, and brands are increasingly looking for ways to plug consumer voices into the experiences they create.

And the upshot of all of that is that following the right brands and influencers means you can be ‘connected’ without actually being connected.

That’s powerful, that’s prestigious and, most importantly, it can create loyalty and advocacy on a scale that hasn’t been possible before. What an opportunity…

How is social media influencing consumer behavior?

In the world of fashion, there is a common misperception that the act of purchasing is inherently ‘social.’ Actually, the majority of shoppers don’t look for validation from their connections on social networks before they click the buy button.

What we do know is that social media plays a role in inspiring people to shop and to try new things. Pinterest is the best example – it’s an inspiration platform where consumers discover things they didn’t even know they wanted, largely from each other. And that peer-to-peer exchange drives traffic and sales for fashion e-commerce sites.

It is this exchange that forward-thinking brands and retailers simply cannot ignore, and their role isn’t simply to inform and market to, but to instigate and have conversations, by building social relationships through great and inspirational content. Branding is no longer a one way street – it’s a dialogue.

Women use social media more than men. Why do you think this is?

I think women are naturally better communicators. We like to share, we ask for feedback, and we’re more comfortable being open and more transparent in order to build closer relationships. Social media lets us do all of these things; sometimes better, easier (with fewer barriers) and more often. What’s not to like?

What purchasing trends do you see emerging over the next 10 years?

Mobile, mobile, mobile. I feel like I have been living the “Year of the Mobile” for the past 15 years, but I definitely think that it will finally be realised in the next 10 years (and more sooner, than later).

Beyond that, there will definitely be an uptick in online / mobile fashion retailing and I feel like we will see the move from multi-channel to omni-channel retailing making the customer experience much more seamless. 

What is next for ShopStyle and POPSUGAR?

A more personalised, inspirational shopping experience, be it through desktop or mobile.

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