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Women in Business: Q&A With Sarah Bryden-Brown, Founder and CEO, GREAT.LY

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Sarah Bryden-Brown has been a newspaper reporter and editor (The Australian), magazine editor (donna hay and Family Circle), author (The Lost Art of Childhood, Random House, and Dad and Me, Harper Collins), before ditching old media for new when she joined the online start-up, which sold to News Corp. Following Kidspot, she moved to New York to become VP Content and Community for Babble. Following Babble she launched Blogstar, a database of 650 bloggers. She is now the founder of GREAT.LY, a new social shopping experience. This is Sarah's first time leading the charge and she's using a connect-the-dots strategy in both the business set up as well as the business strategy.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at GREAT.LY?
I knew from the outset that GREAT.LY was a great idea. I checked it again and again and found solutions to challenges as they presented themselves, and will continue to do so. I knew what components I needed, but it's still terrifying taking the giant leap, and then bringing everything and everyone together. What inspires me is helping others be successful. That's where the highlights come from.

We have built a brilliant team all of whom truly value the intersection of creativity and business. We are all passionate about what we are doing. But core to this is that we're not so much passionate about what we're doing for ourselves, we're passionate about what we're creating, and what we're doing for others. By building an innovative and trusted platform, which makes it easy for the best tastemakers to connect with makers and artisans from around the world, we're providing a continuous source of discovery for the tastemakers and their readers, and allowing the makers to find a market for what they love doing.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at GREAT.LY?
I started out as a journalist on a national daily newspaper in Australia. That's where I grew up, and thanks to that I'm resourceful, resilient, and cannot miss a deadline if I try. They are all great skills to bring to business, but when I made the switch to on-line a decade ago I wasn't prepared for the uncertainty of digital.

The landscape was evolving so quickly, and with it practices and applications. For three years I built with Katie May, who went on to become the CEO of Shipping Easy in the US after the sale of Kidspot to News Corp, and is now one of GREAT.LY's partners. We were a formidable team of driven women, and during that time I learnt from Katie that by constantly re-evaluating and purposefully connecting the dots, rather than just collecting the dots, uncertainty can be an asset.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I believe all your experiences contribute; the successes, the failures, the disappointments, the proud moments. You can find a valuable lesson in most things. I've always been good at being bold but to become a better leader I needed to learn to let go of my controlling instincts. As a leader your aim is to have a lot of balls in the air. You can catch them when they fall and relaunch them, but you can't control them in the air nor can you hold on to them for too long. By reading a ton of biographies and thanks to two wonderful role models, a newspaper editor in Australia, Eliot Taylor, and Katie, I learned that leadership at its core is about patience and benefit of the doubt. It was difficult for me to learn those values but now they are my constant companions.

How is GREAT.LY transforming social shopping?
Tastemakers are a powerful force online, motivating the purchasing habits of millions of people worldwide daily, yet no one has made them central to an online shopping site where makers go to sell their fabulous products.

At GREAT.LY tastemakers are introduced to makers from around the world, who create extraordinary and beautiful housewares, products and accessories. Tastemakers then curate their own boutiques, selecting only items they love and are happy to recommend, so when shoppers visit GREAT.LY, they can find just what they are looking for by following a tastemaker whose style they love.

It's a win-win-win solution that provides a relevant and targeted direct sales channel for the rapid growth of small manufacturing, niche, artisan and handmade goods. Makers only have to worry about doing what they truly love doing-- making and creating! Tastemakers, who already spend their days searching the world for beautiful things to write about, can finally setup shop to share those finds and make a sustainable income. All in one beautifully curated place. That is GREAT.LY.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking to start their own business?
Relationships are everything. I'm still learning how to choose the right people to invest my time and energy with, but think I am getting better at it having been through some difficult ones. It's when you think no one is watching that your actions leave the greatest impression on others. I'm not a networking fan, being an introvert, so I prefer to cultivate richer and deeper working relationships over being seen.

You never know who is around the corner waiting to help you, but most likely it's a person you already know, so make sure you always give more than you take.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I compartmentalize my day into family, work and me. I start by replying to emails from about 6am before having breakfast with my daughter each morning. When my husband is with us in New York (he spends around 6 months of the year working in Australia) I'm home by 6pm and we have dinner as a family at least five out of seven nights. When he is in Australia I am home earlier and work up until dinnertime. I think mealtime as a family is the cornerstone to happiness. We entertain at home regularly, make the most of living in NYC and make sure our holidays are extraordinary experiences. Oh, and I love to nap on weekends.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
The gender based assumptions that continue to prevail. And outmoded work practices like people being scared to leave the office before 6pm. It's about outcomes not about hours.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have only one mentor, Katie May. We built a business together in Australia and four years later we are partners again in the US. Interestingly, we have different personalities and skillsets, but perhaps for this reason her advice always seems to be grounded and astute. She knows just what to tell me at the right moment for me to hear it. And we laugh a lot together. The difference she has made is that of a partner you can't be without but don't need.

I asked Katie to describe our relationship and here's her view: "We enjoy each other's sense of humor. We admire each other's talents - they are very different yet complementary. And above all, we are lifelong friends. We achieved together but we also challenged each other and taught each other at every juncture. Oh - and we also argued every now and then! Like good executives do. I think we both won evenly. So, that was good."

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I don't have first hand experience working with female leaders other than Katie. They have all been men! Go figure! I'd love to see Marissa Mayer succeed at Yahoo. I don't know her personally but it would be a great day for women if she can turn Yahoo around.

What do you want GREAT.LY to accomplish in the next year?
We have growth targets of course, but what I really want to accomplish is to establish GREAT.LY as a platform that substantially improves the creative economy and the lives of people who have chosen to be creative. The internet makes all of this possible for the first time. If we can be successful in this, we will meet the targets that keep our investors and accountants happy.

Unlike many startups that launch with a product, and then look for an audience, GREAT.LY launched with a massive audience right from the start, thanks to the already established following of our 60+ tastemakers, who collectively reach over 30million page views per month. In 12 months we expect to have 1,000 tastemakers selected from across the globe, who combined will have 200million page views.