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Video Interview with Lisa Stone, CoFounder & CEO Blogher. As BlogHer’s CEO, Lisa Stone works across the entire organization to advocate for bloggers, partners, products, and events that fulfill BlogHer’s vision.A traditional journalist who left CNN for the Internet in 1997, Lisa became the executive producer and Editor in Chief/VP, Programming for Women.com. While there, she oversaw all original programming, integrated Hearst and Rodale magazines, and grew Women.com to a Top-30 site and worked with Hearst and Rodale magazines, E! Television/Online, HBO’s Sex and the City, Bloomberg and Gallup, among others. Lisa was the first Internet journalist awarded a Nieman Fellowship by Harvard University (2002), and began blogging as an extension of her 2004 political reporting for the Los Angeles Times. You can find Lisa on Twitter @LisaStone Transcript follows & video below. This is Part I of the interview.
- Could you tell me briefly about your past history in sourcing venture funding?
I’d never done it before. BlogHer was the 4th startup I worked in but it was the first time that I’d been involved in actively leading the venture funding. I’ve been on executive teams where I was part of pre IPO workup or helped to describe a pitch a company. But this has really been a first!
Thanks. Elisa Camahort Page & Jory Des Jardins, my cofounders have been of course extremely involved.
Brilliant, brilliant & was it challenging for you? Was there anything that stood out that was difficult or challenging? or easy?
You know what I am really grateful for is that in 1997 when I left the traditional news room. I left CNN for the internet. I was at WebTV for 6 months & then I was at Women.com for 4 years. From the CNN time I’ve actually been making board room arguments for quality content & quality programming. So my first experience with a budget was not pitching this company. I was working with multimillion dollar programming & production budgets, some international & some domestic. So it was a natural progression of falling in love with how to build the business around what we’re so passionate about here. But of course the vc mindset on mission driven business is very different. So that was valuable learning.
OK so it sounds like you had great experience to go into that venture.
But I don’t have a MBA.
OK so you were aware of that when you were pitching? Yeah, yeah.
- What personal lessons being a woman have you taken out of your successes &/or failures in that regard?
I have to tell you my successes have everything to do with the fact that Elisa, Jory & I built the business & boot strapped it for 2 years. And then went out for venture funding. We made that decision because we had all worked for startups. Between us we’d probably worked for 15 different startups. We found that the companies that we worked for that were able to stay closer & do a better job assuming their business goals were ones that did not have venture driven short term incentives.
That’s interesting feedback.
We wanted to marathon. So what we did 2005 we held our first conference, invited women who blog to come. Suddenly learned that there was this pan demand by women for services around social media, people who wanted recognition & revenue. We built a series of businesses helping women & men make money from their work in social media according to the editorial guidelines that we were excited to uphold. Great writers, great revenue! Well the key & interesting point to this was the fact that we said we want to build the community first. We want to do something unique, we want to build a business that is aimed at asking the user what she wants & then developing for profit businesses around what she wants. Instead of traditional media: let’s build this shiny thing, market the heck out of it & scrape a razor thin margin.
Really this is the new way of doing business in startups, isn’t it? Listening to the user first?
It totally changed the dynamics in our conversations with potential investors to walk in & say ‘We have a 6 figure revenue stream demand from thousands of users that we can’t meet & thousands of sponsors that we can’t meet unless we invest the capital needed to take this to the next level. Totally different conversation.
Great way to sell it!
We were very sleep deprived. We thought it was a good idea. We were sleep deprived enough to be ready to go do it!
That’s brilliant, what a great success!
- What attitudes towards you being female have you noted from venture capitalists when you have been sourcing investment? (Obviously they would have liked you because you already had a great business!)
Right! I have to tell you that my immediate response to that question is ‘I’m not a mind reader!’ I have never been in a business meeting whilst raising venture capital where I received any kind of a comment about my gender.
That’s so great, isn’t it!
This is 2010, we’d been raising funding after 2005. We already had a business. We already knew leading women in the valley like Ann Windblag & Caterina Fake & Charlene Li . We’d been around the block & we were treated like people who had a hot business that lots of people were interested in. The fact that we are chicks actually did not play a role. But what’s interesting, is that it’s a women’s oriented business.
Yes, you were targeting the right market!
Right. In 1997 when I left the mainstream newsroom for the web, people were saying women will never go online. When I went to women.com plenty of people were saying ‘that’s crazy, women are never going to go online, women are never going to code!’ That attitude disappeared by 2007 when we were funded. But it’s been a long 10 years!
But isn’t it great to have seen that change & to have been there watching that change happen?
It was very encouraging.
Good work, good work. That’s fantastic!
- What qualities do you think women entrepreneurs need specifically for sourcing venture capital?
I think that you need fantastic cofounders. Three things 1) you need fantastic cofounders 2) you need to over prepare the answers to the questions 3) you need to have actually begun to build your business without asking anyone for permission.
Yes I’ve heard that a few times from different people.
I can’t tell you how important it’s actually turned out to be, to be the oldest child in a family of 4 kids, as Jory & Elisa are as well, & have a lot of acappella singing in my background. I was a super shy girl who fell in love with music & I have spent a lot of time being nervous in front of crowds. I’m not a great singer, let’s be clear. I was lucky enough to be in a acappella group & so now getting in front of 2, 3, 5, 10, 200, 2,000 people, I have to work myself up but if I know the data cold & I’m over prepared, talking about something that I care this much about, is a natural.
Fantastic, so that was a really good background to the experiences that you’ve had as an adult. That’s wonderful!
- In your opinion what percentage of women would qualify then as regards having these qualities? Could they be developed? If so what are your ideas about how this could happen?
I think just as many women as men can develop those qualities, confidence, over preparation & building your business. I don’t think this is a gender linked trait. I think it is really important for some of the stereotypes I’ve read about women who are or aren’t entrepreneurs or about men who do or don’t invest are kind of shocking. There are people using huge paint rollers to tar the entire venture capital community & every woman who’s ever wanted to build a business.
Great image, thank you.
I love what Cindy Gallop said. She said ‘Women burn with the same intense desire to be entrepreneurs as men do!’ I find that’s totally true. My email’s filled with women who want to do something every week which is actually one of the reasons we’re doing BlogHer’s first women entrepreneurism technology conference in March 2011 is to introduce all these services to women.
I’m also hearing that your personal story is one of having to overcome impediments that held you back from sourcing venture. So in fact you’re proving my question, is that of course women can develop these qualities. You’ve done that. If you were shy when you were younger, you’ve actually changed that dynamic & now you can get up in front of hundreds of people, thousands of people (I would imagine) as well as venture capitalists.I guesss what I’m hearing by your story, is that you have actually accomplished that, so other women can too!
Well I will tell, I absolutely refuse to let anything I’m scared of to get in the way of what I care so much about. So that’s an interesting task for anyone that’s ever been shy, has to overcome. Are you going to let your fear keep you from accomplishing your goal?
Do you have any advice for anyone around that? What secrets you’ve used? Or what tips you’ve used?
Great friends & cofounders, people who will literally sit you down & say ‘That was fantastic! You have to memorize that line! You have to say it again!’ or ‘You must not do the following things…’
So honest feedback.
You absolutely need people who are going to be honest champions of what you’re doing. But also you need a great deodorant! This is not easy! I’m sorry but you’ve got to be willing to fail. What could be so bad?
Yeah, yeah, that’s all that could happen really!
5 out of 6 American businesses have a tough time sustaining profitability. 9 out of 10 startups never see a profitable quarter. What could be so bad? You fail? Wouldn’t that be better than never trying what no-one else has tried? It has to be!
Thanks so much for that encouragement.