Amber Venz Box always knew she wanted to run her own company. But when her marketing business got intensely popular, she was still in her early 20s — and she didn’t exactly know what to do.

When Box co-founded Dallas-based LTK in 2011, her goal was simple: Develop affiliate marketing tech to monetize her fashion blog. That effort turned into a full-blown company when she and her then-boyfriend — now husband — Baxter Box realized they could sell the technology they’d created to other bloggers.

Today, LTK is a $2 billion company that connects influencers and bloggers with retail brands and their advertising dollars, but it didn’t exactly go smoothly at first. “Being a young woman with little experience was like trying to run with boulders on my back, honestly,” Box, 36, tells CNBC Make It.

Box had worked in the fashion industry as a fit model, an intern at Thakoon, and an assistant buyer at a luxury boutique. She’d tried developing a jewelry line and offering her services as a personal shopper. But her background offered little in the way of hands-on experience running a business with employees.

“I wouldn’t say that I had great mentorship or leadership or [even] corporate experience of how to manage people,” she says.

Surround yourself with talent and experience

At times, Box’s lack of experience made her feel self-conscious. She particularly “struggled [to] articulate” her vision for the company “in a way investors were interested in,” she says. To learn, she relied on her partner, who had recently earned an MBA Southern Methodist University.

“I was almost getting his MBA through proxy, because he would always share what he learned and we talked through all of his case studies,” says Box.

As the business grew, she hired people with experience and knowledge in areas where she was lacking, like accounting and long-term business strategy.  “I was able to delegate to them and refocus [on] my expertise,” she says.

When one of her executives told her that founders don’t usually have much time to learn, she redoubled her efforts and dedicated all her free time to figuring out how to grow her business, she says.

“Those first, probably, five-plus years were a season of radical abandonment of everything but this business,” says Box, adding: “I was spending 24 hours a day [on the business]. I was silencing phone calls. I was not spending time with friends. I abandoned a lot of relationships, and very quickly.”

The tough period paid off. LTK’s platform hosts more than 250,000 influencers and bloggers, who have earned at least $2.7 billion in total payouts from retailers, according to the company. LTK’s growth helped the company land a $300 million investment from Japan’s SoftBank in 2021.

In retrospect, Box says she only wishes she’d hired those talented, experienced people earlier.

“We all wish we had a crystal ball,” she says. “If I would have known how big this opportunity was — I hate to say it would have [been] run harder, faster, because I was running as hard and as fast as I possibly could have been — but, it might have influenced how quickly and aggressively we raised money or how quickly and aggressively we got great leaders.”

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