Geri Brin is an Internet entrepreneur who's confident and chic, with a loyal fan base, an inner circle of hip friends and big plans for her growing digital empire. Not bad for a 64-year-old baby boomer.
After a lengthy career in magazine publishing at Fairchild Publications, Brin set out on her own at 50 and started a custom print and publishing business, luring clients like American Express, Citigroup and Liz Claiborne. A go-getter, she says she "loved wearing all the hats: editor, marketing person and publisher." As she took more control of her life, she realized that she wanted to do something special for her "vibrant" generation. In less than two years, Brin has created a lively, unique online community at FabOverFifty.com, where she inspires boomer women to not only use what they've got, but love it, too.
At 50 years old, you did something most adults fear -- you started over. What motivated you to create your own business?
I wanted to do something for women in my demographic, because it's such an incredible group of women. The women in my generation have done fabulous things and now the world is waking up and realizing we are what we've always been. Marketing people, companies are starting to realize how vibrant we are. I spoke to people in the publishing industry and realized that a book or magazine about women in my generation was not the way to go -- they said, "Why not do a website?" Here I was, 61 years old, and I was going to start a website. But in fact, if you do anything creative and learn how to research, you can do almost anything in communications, so starting a website was based on the same principles as starting a magazine.
I wanted FabOverFifty to have more depth than just a fashion and beauty site. The idea is to celebrate women of my generation, not by patting us on the back but by showing to each other and to the rest of the world what we've accomplished and what we've yet to accomplish. We find that it's resonating with women. We cover beauty, fashion and health, but not from the angle of "senior." When anyone uses the word "senior," it makes me nauseous.
Who are the "founders" of FabOverFifty? There seems to be quite a group of successful women with that title.
We call them "founders," which is a slight misnomer. When I founded the site, I connected with the owners of 25 really cool apparel stores and specialty shops across the country in major cities like Miami, Chicago, L.A., because I knew that the women who shopped in those stores would be unique. I wanted to find women who didn't necessarily have a lot of money, but who had a lot of taste and accomplishments. Those women -- I think I interviewed 80 to 90 when I launched the site -- are the original group of founders and they are from all fields, and we keep adding to them. The community is anyone who joins the site, but with the founding people, we do interviews and features on them.
What is the most unique feature of the website?
I think the section called "Ask an FOF." We have over 1,000 women across the country that we call "gurus," and these women are experts in certain categories -- they have a passion for different subjects. So you can ask a question about anything, from gardening to health. Let's say you're going to your daughter's wedding and want to know what to wear on a Saturday afternoon ceremony -- you plug in your question, and that question gets sent out to all the gurus listed as style experts, and they will answer you. Some women get 45 answers, some get three answers, and you generally get answers pretty quickly. It's women recommending to other women. I you consider the concept of Angie's List, where people write reviews, this is really similar, with women in your age group who have passions for different subjects giving advice and recommendations. We find that that section is doing really well and getting a lot of traction, and nobody else has that on their site.
Your son Colby played an integral part in launching FabOverFifty. How did he contribute to this women-centered site?
In the beginning, Colby helped launch the site by feeding it with content and doing all the PR work, and he's still involved with it in terms of content and stories. He'll do interviews and health stories. He's now in the sports marketing business, but I would call this his satellite job. He's 32, and he's worked with me for about seven of the 10 years since he graduated from college. He still spends about two days per week with us working on projects for the website. I love working with him, and he's a very smart, intuitive guy. I've helped him learn things about marketing and he teaches me. That's what I love about young, smart, passionate people, because you never do stop learning.
The idea for your spinoff dating blog -- "Date My Single Kid" -- really made me laugh. It's every mom's dream and every kid's nightmare, but we've all been there. Where did the idea come from?
That has truly been a little journey for us. We launched that over a year ago, in July 2010, Every time my editor, Lena, and Colby, who are both 32, transcribed an interview I had done for the site, inevitably part of the transcription would be me and the woman discussing our single kids. "How old is your daughter? Oh, she's 23! And what does she do? Is she married? Does she have a boyfriend?" My son would laugh because he knows that's how I am, and all of sudden it popped into my head as we were sitting and brainstorming, what a great idea it would be to start a feature on the site that would reflect what we do in real life anyway. Women are constantly trying to fix up their children -- I mean, I'm a Jewish mother, but all mothers do it. So, we launched it, and the goal was just to have another fun feature on the site. Then the New York Post picked up the story in July 2010 and we started getting phone calls from "The Today Show" and "The View," asking if we'd be on TV. The hosts positioned it that I had started a website to get my son married, which could not be further from the truth. Then we started getting calls from Hollywood producers pitching sitcoms and reality shows, and we are now in conversation to do a reality show. It's funny -- people really respond to the concept because today it's hard to meet the right person. There is so much going on in all of your lives that we didn't have to deal with in our lives, and this is just another tool to help young people meet the right person. We're not replacing your interactions at work or out having fun -- this is just another way to help your son, daughter, niece, nephew or grandkid out.
It's been fun, and in fact, if there is a show, it would be great fun and the show would not be a typical reality show -- it would really be about moms connecting with other moms to help their kids.
We've got about 900 kids registered, and we got a real rush of kids after being on "The View" and "The Today Show," and every week kids get added, but we really don't promote it. It's a feature that we'll always keep on the site because we think it's cool, but we haven't really promoted it so instead of there being hundreds of thousands, we've got a respectable number for a free service.
You gave up a salaried position to launch this site. How do you plan on making it profitable?
The whole site is free of charge, and the only thing that is paid on the site at this point is if you want to become a premium member, and that's $35 for the year. You get a gift and some great perks, it's a great membership and we have a few hundred people who are premium members. The site isn't profitable yet, but our business model is constantly evolving. We have a couple of revenue streams. We have a shop with merchandise that is unique to our audience -- stuff you won't find in Bloomingdales or Macy's -- the premium membership and events. We hosted a Beauty Bash this year in New York City and had about 900 women. There were dermatologists, plastic surgeons, one-on-one consultations, L'Oreal was a major player and they had skin damage sessions, we had makeup artists and free haircuts from Mark Garrison, who gives $300 haircuts and consultations.
Because my background is in publishing, the way we approach advertising is through content-related programs, and I look at our site as a marketing tool for companies. You won't see huge banners splashing across the site, but we have 45,000 registered members, and about 25,000 of those are signed up for our email list, so if someone wants to promote to our email list and it's a product that we like or have serviced before, they will pay us for that. We integrate into editorial content as well -- for example, the FDA just approved this company's product that you strap onto your body several times a day and it helps tone and slim your body, and we have developed this whole program with them to test their product. So we rounded up 1,700 women who wanted to test their product, and we've narrowed that down to 21 women, and we'll follow these women for two months and write up the results in a feature. So we're promoting the product but in a much more personal, intense, authoritative way than if we just sold this company an ad on the site. It's really a marketing partnership, and that's the biggest part of our revenue. L'Oreal wants to do a series of Beauty Bashes this year with us, so that's going to be another source of revenue beyond the fact that it's wonderful to have such a prestigious company supporting us because they are very much after this demographic.
What are the best and worst parts of being a boomer?
The greatest part about being a boomer is that you really can take all of your accumulative experiences in life, whether it's relationships, your job or friendships, and you can apply all that experience into this new section of your life and feel good about it. When you're young, you're going through all the relationship struggles, boyfriends, husbands, friends, all of that goes away when you get older, and yet you have all that experience behind you. Boomers don't sit and dwell on the bad things, you take what happened to you, some which is great, some which is not so great, and you apply it to what you're doing in your life now. You apply it without the tension that you had when you were younger. There's nothing that is the end of the world, other than the end of the world. When you're young, you want to get married, have kids, have a career -- we've done all of that. Now it's time to live life really to its fullest without tensions. Boomers have things in perspective.
The bad part of being a boomer is that we're not going to have enough time to use all our knowledge, which is sad, but it's true: youth is wasted on the young. I don't want to be 30, I don't want to be 20, but I wouldn't mind being 45 right now. And that's only because I'd have more time than I do right now.
A lot of boomers complain that they feel invisible -- "people don't see me." I think that's baloney. When I was 41, construction workers whistled at me because I had a hot body. Well, I don't have a hot body at 64 but you know what, I don't care! I don't want to be 41 again to get whistled at -- I want to be 41 again so I'd have more time. I don't feel invisible at all, in fact, I feel much more visible than I ever did in my life because I feel good about myself, I've accomplished things in my career in the last 40 years, I have two great kids, I have a nice apartment, I have great friends, I have my health ... I'm lucky! Boomers are so important because they're the ones spending the money, and companies realize that now. We're very vibrant and want to look good, and makeup companies want to sell us cosmetics. We, as contemporaries, just have a different mindset. We got into colleges that only males were getting into -- Princeton, Yale, Harvard. We forged the way and now we're running universities, and we're in science and math and on Wall Street. I'm no female liberator -- we women just somehow forged the way. Look at Arianna Huffington -- she would have never been Arianna Huffington 40 years ago. It was a man's world. We're not what our mothers were.
What's your advice for boomer women who have fallen on hard times, or are having difficulty accepting this new stage in their life?
Times have been tough for boomers, and for women who are hitting that 50 mark and may have lost their jobs or are feeling unhappy because of the economy. Fifty is a huge transition in any women's life. Even if you have a successful career, marriage, kids, everyone goes through a transition at 50. If you're facing other challenges and extra burdens, I would say that this is truly the best time of your life, because you're vibrant, you're still young and you have to look at it as the beginning of something instead of the end of something. There are new men around the corner, you're talented because you've had a job, and you have to apply those talents to the future. You may have to even change your career, but that's not a bad thing. Women are a resilient bunch. I find women complaining less, even in this economy, than men. I know a woman who was a big TV producer that lost her job, and she decided to work for J. Crew during the holiday season. A man would never do that -- it's beneath them. Women find they can survive, and they do.
Name: Geri Brin
Location: New York