By Estelle Sobel Erasmus
I met Jory Des Jardins over a decade ago when I was the editor-in-chief of a short-lived start-up for career-oriented women called W.I.T. (Women in Touch). Jory wrote a piece for me on sabbaticals, and I was very impressed with her writing, thoughtful intellect and professional but friendly demeanor. She was working as a writer for I-Village at the time. We met for lunch and shortly after she informed me she was moving to California for (hopefully) greener pastures.
Flash forward to 2012, when after blogging for less than a year, I learn that the idea for the show Listen to Your Mother (of which I was most recently in the NY production) was formed from a session at BlogHer, of which Jory is a co-founder, where she holds the title President of Strategic Alliances and lead evangelist to top revenue partners).
I sent her a message; thankfully she remembered me, too.
Jory is married with baby number two on the way in August (her daughter Olive is turning two shortly), we spoke at length about her interests, career, and of course, how and why she started BlogHer in February 2005, with the other co-founders Elisa Camahort Page, and Lisa Stone.
A little bit about BlogHer from the site:
Reaching more than 40 million women each month (Nielsen Site Census, April 2012), BlogHer is the leading cross-platform media network created by, for and with women social media leaders. BlogHer created 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; publishes and syndicates news, information, advice and recommendations to and from 2,500 premium blogs, delivers uniquely insightful research on women in social media across interest areas, hosts the world’s largest conferences for women in social media and curates a daily news service, BlogHer.com. The latest conference will be in NYC at the Hilton August 3-4, 2012.
So basically, if you are a blogger, you are either planning to attend a conference, have attended a conference, or have tried to get syndicated in BlogHer, or be named one of the Voices of the Year. Either way, BlogHer, with sponsors such as Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble, to name just a few has put bloggers on the map and provided a community that answered the co-founders’ original question in 2005, “where are all the female bloggers?”
Jory is such an inspiration to me because she had an idea, found the right partners and just went for it. She is also a tremendous advocate for women in business.
I hope you enjoy this candid view into Jory’s life as much as I enjoyed interviewing her and reconnecting again.
Q: What was your professional background before starting BlogHer?
A: I have always been a writer and editor. After working in various editorial and writing capacities in New York, I met the owners of a start-up in California. They asked me to join them, and basically wanted me to start the next week so I moved to the West Coast. After working there for two-and-a-half years, the start-up died, but I was hooked on the experience of launching a business and didn’t want to go back to New York, so I got into blogging as a way to express myself.
I took various jobs to make ends meet, consulting in business development, helping a small marketing firm start a blog and build their platforms, and working as an editor. I was at a crossroads and didn’t know what I wanted to do: I became addicted to blogging and wanted to somehow make it a big part of my career. I even started writing for Fast Company, and got a book deal but didn’t feel the passion for writing it, so I passed on the deal. Then, serendipitously, I met Elisa at an early blogging conference. She was a professional blogger who helped companies build their blogs.
At the time, blogging was about technology and a bunch of (mostly male) geeks were in the room.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for BlogHer?
A: I met Elisa we hit it off; she introduced me to Lisa, our third partner. We all mentioned to each other that we saw men at the conference, but knew that women were blogging like mad but weren’t getting any press. After the dot.com bust I had worked for a company that put on the now-defunct Comdex conference (which was in Chapter 11 at the time); so I knew how to bring in revenue. So we started our business as a non-profit, then we spoke to Google and Yahoo, made some money and rolled it into the organization. We had 300 women attend the first conference in 2005; had 4100 in 2011, and this year we’re looking at having 4,500 attendees.
We knew female bloggers didn’t have money so we made it easy for them to attend: it cost $100 a day; which it still costs. We had a potluck dinner the night before and sangria in a big vat the first year.
After the first conference, we knew we were on to something but we were not ready to quit our day jobs. This was before Facebook, so we focused on building up the blog network and taking on writing and consulting gigs for media companies while we were trying to get up to speed in social media.
Originally, we had no intention of commercializing the business. Then we noticed that brands were trying to jump on the bandwagon. So, we reached out to women who ruled the tech, business blogging and tech community and asked them to be on our advisory board. Then we did a call out to the community, asking them what they wanted. We started “A Room of Your Own” where people put together their own panels based on interest and responses.
A group of women contacted us and told us they wrote about parenting; we are mommy bloggers and can run a session they told us. There was nothing for them at the time and the blogging community mostly disparaged them. The mom or parenting bloggers showed up in spades to the conference. I invited Heather Armstrong, from Dooce, she was scared of being inundated by all the fans she had. One woman said mommy blogging is a radical act. We asked ourselves, “How can we help this group?” Then when we shifted from a non-profit company into a business, the brands came reaching out to mom bloggers, and they were our first test group.
Q: What is the mission of BlogHer?
A: Our mission is whether you want to monetize, grow or connect that’s what we want to help you do with your blog. Sponsors like P&G and PepsiCo and Johnson & Johnson come to develop relationships with the bloggers. Some people like to go on the site and read the content and join the discussion; those who want to monetize go to BlogHer ads. If they are accepted into the network they can get involved in review programs, or conversations from sponsors or advertising.
What’s gratifying are hearing women tell me, “I never thought I would have a career.” BlogHer has created a space for women to thrive. I met a woman who’s a fashion blogger; who had to stop working because she had four boys. She’s since built her fashion empire and is on TV and never dreamed that this could be her life and she could support her family doing what she loves.
Q: What do you do as President of Strategic Alliances and lead evangelist to top revenue partners?
A: Toward the end of 2006, we realized we were paying everyone but not ourselves. So we had a big meeting and decided that this was more than a lifestyle business. We went for venture capital funding in 2007. At the time, we were all Presidents; but I had been taking on the revenue generation for the company since the beginning, so that’s how I got my title. Lisa was the editorial director; so she became the CEO; Elisa was handling marketing and operations, so she is the COO.
For me, it was about developing relationships that led to revenue. I also work across departments and focus on our larger relationships, helping them get their marketing departments up to speed. We have 70 employees, and a sales team in New York, and sell hundreds of sponsorships to the conference. We can engage cross-platform and develop a marketing strategy to partner together.
Q: What would you tell your teenage self about business if you could go back in time?
A: I would probably tell myself its not just about checking the boxes and getting the A. You could do everything you are supposed to do and be deeply unhappy. I was a good student; but if you go on your own path you have to give up those rules. It helped me, but I also had to unlearn a lot to be more effective, and take the chances. I thought I would work at a company and work my way up. And it was a deeply unsatisfying experience working my way up the work world. It’s hard to be an independent thinker. I kept leaving Corporate America and coming back, and finally said there is no turning back. I want to do my own thing: not because I’ve done something else and I’ll get hired for it, not because there is a job application, but because a job will be created for me under my own terms.
Q: How do you feel you give back to the community?
A: I’ve thought a lot about this. I try to devote my expertise for “good.” I coach women and help some of them work on their businesses; others I’ve connected to resources they need. For example, Johnson & Johnson is a primary sponsor of BlogHer, and they are also huge donators to non-profit organizations, so I’ve connected them to non-profits that can use the funds. I am very excited about my work as a board member on the non-profit organization The Coach Initiative, which is a group of master coaches who donate their time to non-profits who lack the resources to train their executives or boards.
Q: Is there a credo you live by?
A: The motto has to do about being real. I feel that for me personally I’ve only been satisfied from every perspective when I was able to accept the truth in everything. It’s hard, and a constant challenge, but to be real and look for the truth is the only way you can be truly effective.
Q: What are you goals for the next year?
A: I want to be a more conscious parent; be more in the moment. Professionally at this point the business is growing and doing what it needs to do; I need to reevaluate my role; and figure out how do I integrate the growing the business into the idea of what I want to do and create and how can I be more of an advocate for women.