Company founders love to tell stories about their early bootstrapping days. Robert Gentz, one of Zalando’s founders, likes to tell the story of how he once personally delivered a pair of boots to an anxious customer who happened to live near his home. That was Christmas 2008, the year Zalando was founded, long before it became Europe’s fastest-growing company ever. Before it achieved revenues of €4.5 billion ($5.5 billion). Before its market capitalization hit €11 billion.
Back then, new employees had to assemble their own Ikea desks. Today, the fashion empire employs 14,000 people in 15 countries; 5,000 of them work in its Berlin headquarters alone. Every season, Zalando offers up 300,000 new items for sale from 2,000 different brands, including 16 in-house labels, and it plans to enter the beauty market in March. And it plans to keep on growing: It’s on track to yet again double its revenues by 2020.