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CEO Lisa Stone talks entrepreneurship with a journalism student


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By Nia Decaille

The digital revolution offers students  lots of opportunities to develop their own brand and publish their own work, even before they finish college.  BlogHer founder and entrepreneur Lisa Stone serves as a good role model for digital entrepreneurship, and students of al majors can learn from her challenges and ultimate success in building one of the top cross-platform publishing enterprises on the web. I was able to interview Stone for an assignment for Entrepreneurial Journalism.

Stone worked as a traditional  journalist for CNN and left the network in 1997 where she began configuring social media business models. On a Neiman Fellowship from Harvard University in 2004, Stone blogged for The Los Angeles Times and launched her first sponsored blog for Law.com. Later,  as Editor/Chief VP of Women.com, she  built Women.com into one of the top 30 sites for women. Stone has also had a hand in cultivating Hearst and Rodale magazines, E! Television/Online, HBO’s Sex and the City, Bloomberg, Gallup and Knight Ridder.

Stone co-founded BlogHer.com in 2005 with Elisa Camahort and Jory Des Jardins, eventually establishing it as one of the top five sites for women. An article published by Stone said the site paid $25 million  to 5,000 bloggers in 2012 and has had a 32 percent increase from year to year in its audience. The idea began as a grassroots community for women online that would generate diverse content. Stone developed an online model for profitable content to pay contributors, market contributors to advertisers and push the site on to social media. In 2011, the site was rated on TopMedia.com and Global250.com as one of America’s most promising start -ups.

During a brief phone call conversation I asked why Stone left CNN.

“I left the network because I didn’t like the way they treated viewers,” she said, adding that she was a mother with a family to provide for. Other than a phone call that lasted a few minutes, I received many of the answers to the questions I asked via email :

What are some of the ways that you’ve been able to strategically generate revenue for your site?

Quality guidelines for content and conversation have made it possible for us to work with Fortune 100 brands across social media–editorially and advertorially–for a decade. BlogHer sells content creation, curation, marketing and distribution services to advertisers and agencies who want to reach the 100 million women we reach and engage as publishers across blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and beyond.

In addition to quality, we have continued to develop the diversity of content topics that reflect the techno-savvy, aspirational audiences we reach–from social media and electronics to politics and policy to lifestyle topics, which has expanded the number of brands and agencies with whom we can partner. The new women’s newsstand will be built by for and with consumers, as opposed to just aimed at them.

What are some sacrifices that you made after you left CNN to make BlogHer.com possible?

My co-founders and I put the cost of reserving our first conference site on our credit cards and hoped for the best! Over the next two years, we poured every dollar from the business back into our business, drawing down our savings in the process. At the time my son was nine years old, so I thought I had enough time to save the money again before I started paying college tuition. It was worth it to be able to raise venture capital based on a growing business with a six-figure revenue stream and a waiting list/pent up demand from quality content creators.

What do you think are the challenges and opportunities of being in the digital media market?

Constant, accelerating change in publishing and advertising business models. I believe quality creative must be as easy to obtain and as accountable as programmatic advertising. That’s why we just launched the InfluenceHer 360 platform–and it’s grown our average deal size by 80 percent!

What advice do you give to young women who want to be successful entrepreneurs?

Go to college and graduate. Take engineering and technology courses. Even if art or creative writing majors– kernel code is now the primary medium for communication, so we owe it to ourselves to understand how it works.

What opportunities did you take advantage of that you think aspiring journalism entrepreneurs  should consider?

Retail for customer service (Baskin-Robbins and Nordstrom schooled me!) And small-town life for etiquette that translates beautifully in social media: Say good morning and ALWAYS be polite, you’ll see these people again soon.

An interview cliché for popular figures, I decided one of the things I had to know was where someone who received so many accolades and built a successful start up could go from here. Stone said, “My number one professional goal always has been to do what I love –storytelling–in a wildly creative team that forces me to grow and learn. So I feel very blessed. My vision is for BlogHer to be or to be part of the number one  women’s media company in the world.”

You can read more on Lisa Stone and BlogHer.com here and an interview  with USA Today.

Nia Decaille can be reached at [email protected]

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The digital-first, student-run magazine of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Journalism Department
CEO Lisa Stone talks entrepreneurship with a journalism student