Several years ago I was invited to speak at one of the BlogHer events. As I was immersing myself into the amazing depth of talent and style around me, I couldn't help but feel welcomed by women from all walks of life. Ever since I've watched BlogHer grow into the powerhouse of female awesomeness -- Ok, so that isn't a real word, but the fact remains -- three BlogHer founders have created an extraordinary organization that gives women voice and power.
BlogHer is the leading cross-platform media network created by, for and with women social media leaders. BlogHer developed and leads the marketplace with the most robust economic and networking opportunities for women in social media and brands seeking to engage in authentic and persuasive dialog with them, reaching more than 55 million women each month via annual conferences, a Web hub and a publishing network of more than 3,000 qualified, contextually targeted blog affiliates.
I couldn't help but reach out to one of the founders of BlogHer, Elisa Camahort Page, for an interview to share her story, her thoughts and her perspective with all of you readers. (Note: the author has no affiliation with the organization)
Ekaterina: Why did you create BlogHer?
Elisa: My two co-founders, Lisa Stone and Jory Des Jardins, and I created BlogHer in 2005 to answer a question we thought needed to die: Where are the women who blog? We thought that rather than talk about it and make a bunch of great lists of women (or maybe binders, as it were), we would ask who wanted to show up and be counted. That was the impetus behind the first BlogHer Conference in 2005, when 300 women (and a few men) did indeed show up. We realized there was a huge community there, a community with a lot of passion and potential. From there, we really just decided to deliver what that community was asking for: More opportunities to connect in person, a way to find each other every day and, for some, a way to make money. And that's really what we still do today: Meet in person at BlogHer conferences, promote the work of women in the social media space via BlogHer.com and across our network and help women influencers get paid for their work and their reach.
It was really that same impetus that was behind the introduction of our first BlogHer Entrepreneurs Conference in 2011. We were hearing "where are the women?" again, and yet, we heard from women all the time who had an idea and were looking for advice on how to pursue it. We felt like, once again, the best way to make change and make an impact was to ask women to show up, to have faith in their big ideas and to give them tools, resources and information they could use to take those ideas to the next level. And this time we asked women leaders that we knew... role models in every way... to also show up and lend a hand and their expertise to the attendees. We've just announced the third BlogHer Entrepreneurs conference, taking place on March 21/22 in Silicon Valley, and we look forward to sending 100 more women another step down their entrepreneurial path!
Ekaterina: What do we need (and lack) to empower women?
Elisa: I think it's a supply and demand issue. Meaning: I do think companies, conference organizers, investors, etc. need to demand of themselves that they are exposing themselves to, recognizing, valuing and choosing diversity across many many dimensions. They need to demand it, and we, as consumers, users, attendees, need to demand it of them.
But we, as women, need to provide the supply. Again: Show up. Use your network. Make the ask. Know your value. Pitch it. A lot of our programming is focused on developing those fundamental skills.
Ekaterina: How does BlogHer help empower women entrepreneurs?
Elisa: We know from our recent BlogHer 2012 Women and Work Study that a) the BlogHer community indices higher for self-employment and entrepreneurship than the national average and b) that our community actually values that entrepreneurial spirit more than climbing the corporate ladder. We act on our mission to create opportunities for the women in our community in multiple ways. We pay the women who write for BlogHer.com, that's just for starters. Our Influencer Network provides a way to start monetizing not only your blog, but your other online activities. And even providing a secondary income can make a huge difference, especially during this these tough economic times. Over the three years from 2009-2011, BlogHer paid over $17 million dollars to the women -- and men -- who wrote for our site and participated in our network. That money is sometimes discretionary income, sometimes used on essentials, sometimes re-invested into the business that generated it. But beyond actually providing income, we provide exposure: exposure to experts, to ideas, to writing and speaking opportunities. Our mission is to create these opportunities, and to shine a light on what women are doing.
Ekaterina: You mentioned that women are the real drivers of technology and social growth. Why?
Elisa: Women are more than half the population, half the bloggers... and not only do they make up more than half of the users of most social tools, but they drive more than half of their actual activity and engagement. Not to mention that they control 80% of household spending in the U.S. So, I think companies like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest owe their valuations to women. Women are also highly dependent on their mobiles... it's a device we no longer can live without.
Ekaterina: What are the lessons you can share with women entrepreneurs?
Elisa: The best piece of advice we ever got in the early days of our business was from serial entrepreneur Caterina Fake. She said to make a decision about potential investors in terms of prioritizing "People, then Terms, then Valuation." I have since come to realize this advice applies to potential investors, potential partners, to potential co-founders, and so on.
What she meant by it was that these are people who are going to be working with you very closely. These people will have a say in your business. You have to make sure they get you, and make sure you feel comfortable with them. You have to make sure you feel they are bringing something to the table. You want them to believe in you, even if you need to pivot with your idea.
As to her point about terms vs. valuation, it's better to end up with better terms than sacrifice more attractive terms for a higher valuation. Don't be seduced by that big valuation. What's the point of getting a higher valuation if you wind up with no part of it at the end of the day?
Ekaterina: If you would give one piece of advice to young women who want to either build a successful business or have a great career within a company, what would that be?
Elisa: Many people never pursue their big idea, or speak up in that meeting, or go ask for that promotion or raise, because they're afraid of what will happen if they fail. I advise everyone to answer the question "What is the worst that could happen?" Answer it in gory detail. For me, as I went through my life savings and racked up new debt during the two years we bootstrapped BlogHer, the worst that could have happened is that I'd have to move back into my old bedroom in my mom's house and get a job... and start over. Not desirable for a woman over 40, no doubt, but not a tragedy. Not the end of the world. So, don't let your fear be abstract. Make it absolutely concrete... and if you realize that you have a similar safety net... if you have the privilege of that safety net... how can you not pursue the big idea and see where it leads you?