An interview with Lisa Stone, BlogHer CEO
As I consider Mamalode’s growth, I am inspired and encouraged by the path others have laid before me. One of those trailblazers is Lisa Stone. A Missoula gal, graduate of Hellgate High School and CEO of BlogHer, Lisa runs an online women’s powerhouse—engaging more than 92 million women every month.
I had the opportunity to meet Lisa at one of BlogHer’s events in Silicon Valley. In fact, she was the first person I met. Silicon Valley energized my brainy heart, but I must admit to feeling a bit like a bumpkin as I took notes with paper and pen, while thousands of others rapidly tapped keys on laptops. Imagine my delight when Lisa introduced herself and we discovered our Missoula connection.
She has been named (along with co-founders Elisa Camahort Page and Jory Des Jardins) among FORTUNE’s 2013 Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs, one of the most influential women in Web 2.0 and technology by Fast Company (2008, 2009 and 2010), Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist (2010) and among the seven most powerful people in new media by Forbes Magazine (2009). In 2011, she and her partners were jointly awarded the PepsiCo Women’s Inspiration award and in 2008, the Anita Borg Institute Social Impact Award.
This year alone, BlogHer was selected by AlwaysOn as a 2013 OnMedia Top 100 Winner, 2013 AlwaysOn Global 250 Winner and named Innovator of the Year at Infusionsoft Innovation Summit.
And despite numerous and prestigious accolades, Lisa Stone keeps her feet firmly planted on the ground. She is just really, really nice—like Missoula nice. Whip-smart and articulate, Lisa has the delightful ability to listen with her full attention. She introduced me to amazing people, navigated her own major annual event with ease and spoke passionately to a global audience of conference attendees. In the midst of my observations, I realized Missoula should burst at the seams with pride—Lisa Stone just might be one of our finest exports.
I am thrilled to (re)introduce you to Lisa Stone.
Mamalode: Tell us about your Missoula connection.
Lisa: My parents, Janet and John, fell in love with Missoula after visiting George and Carol Reed, friends from medical school. We moved to town in March of 1976 from Georgia. I took one look at the mountains and the snow, and decided it was heaven. We grew up in the university area—my sisters, Nancy and Anna, and my brother John. My mother shopped at Freddy's Feed and Read (now Buttercup Market and Cafe) for health food to cook during her carob and wheat germ phase. We kids would sneak off to Grizzly Grocery for candy.
Mamalode: How did BlogHer begin?
Lisa: BlogHer was a labor of love. “Where are the women who blog?” was the question echoing from my former newsrooms in 2005. The irony? Women were blogging everything from parenthood to politics—I’d blogged the 2004 Democratic National Convention for the Los Angeles Times, among others. I knew the answer to the question, but to most people, certainly to most journalists, the suggestion that women would embrace a technology and develop their own enormous audiences of readers was revolutionary. I was introduced to Elisa Camahort Page, an insider with nine blogs who was to become my co-founder, and was inspired to tell her about my idea for a conference where we could show the world yes, women are blogging, and wait until you hear their incredible voices. “We’re going to do this,” Elisa said, and we’ve been partners since, joined also by Jory des Jardins, another blogger. Interestingly, we all come from families with three girls and one boy.
We took a big risk: we used our credit cards to reserve a conference space in Silicon Valley, invited other women online to BlogHer Conference ‘05 and…prayed. We were amazed by the speed at which it sold out. We hosted 300 women from four continents. Google and Yahoo took notice and agreed to sponsor, and their powerful support was recorded by CNN’s cameras.
Today BlogHer Inc. is the fifth largest women’s lifestyle network tracked by comScore Media Metrix, the Nielsen of the Internet. Our company has expanded to 60+ employees and five major yearly conferences. BlogHer hosts an influential publishing network of 2,500 blogs by women (and men!) where we pay via revenue share from the advertising we sell. This network, plus BlogHer.com, our news service and directory of bloggers, reaches 26 million unique visitors each month, or 1 out of every 2 women who blogs, as well as an additional eight million uniques on Facebook and twitter. This year we have expanded our network to include major additional communities devoted to motherhood, pets and Latino identity. Working with the world’s most powerful consumer brands, BlogHer has become a key strategic marketing channel and research center for reaching women and influencing consumer behavior by leveraging the earned trust of today’s most popular and influential women’s voices online.
Mamalode: How did you go from Hellgate High School to being named one of Forbes Most Influential Women in Media?
Lisa: Ah, Hellgate. Is everyone lost in high school? I certainly was. I invested most of my waking hours hiding in really, truly big 1980s hair and boys—until a few sharp teachers in Hellgate's English and Social Studies departments socked it to me. Like Ms. Dean Marshall, who pulled me aside and said, "Listen missy, you're hiding interesting ideas behind that cheerleading outfit. Speak up." at an age when I wouldn't listen to any adults, she mothered me into planning on college.
My son Jake, now 15, is my real career inspiration. Jake's the reason I left traditional news and went online in the first place. In 1997, I had a new baby and a new divorce. I decided to stop flying around for CNN and try to be at least half the amazing mother I had. At the time, conventional wisdom said "women won't go online." I laughed and ran for the Internet—a way to read and email with friends while the baby slept? Done! Silicon Valley was just what my little boy and I needed—I walked away from the daily news cycle and chose jobs where I could work a flexible schedule, even from home.
There's nothing like single motherhood to burn the candle at both ends—with a blowtorch—but I found some incredible companies. WebTV taught me html. Women.com was next, where I helped put 11 Hearst magazines online and built diverse sites for Bloomberg (women and finance) and Sex and the City (women and, well, sex). When that company was sold, I applied for a journalism fellowship at Harvard, shocked myself and them by getting it (they'd never had an Internet journalist as a Nieman Fellow before). I was in heaven: I got to study new media business models and pick up Jake from kindergarten every day.
When I got back to Silicon Valley, I was ready to dig into social media and blogging. When BlogHer began to look like more than a labor of love, I didn't hesitate to raise venture capital to grow the company, to talk with banks and to develop the opportunity. Once you've bought a house and moved across the country as a single mother, nothing about the business world can scare you.
Mamalode: What niche does BlogHer fill?
Lisa: One of the reasons I love Mamalode so much is—like BlogHer—this magazine represents women's voices and women's lives in a way that just doesn't make it into mainstream media enough and never has. BlogHer’s blogs and Mamalode’s writers are so relevant and valuable and appropriate to women who are doing their darn best day after day to take care of everyone and everything else. And like the American greats—Erma Bombeck, Dear Abby, Anna Quindlan, Ellen Goodman, Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart—these women tell a story so well, in a great combination of humility, humor and self-respect, with which readers can identify, laugh, get a sense that someone out there understands, and feel better about themselves—and, thanks to the Internet, talk back!
With blogging, it’s possible to discover an entirely new pantheon of writers who are liberated from geography and family connections to share their perspective and their story, from family and food to technology, business and world politics as BlogHer.com's news service demonstrates.
This is why I love technology: no longer do you have to go to the right school or come from the right family or live in New York City to be published in a world-class way. And yes, you can be paid to write: a network like BlogHer's sells advertising to Fortune 500 brands and pays writers a revenue share based upon the size of their audience. The women in our network get exposure for their writing, community, education on how to grow their blog and their brand and, if they so choose, economic empowerment. A smaller blog gets the validation of a national publisher and access to a larger community of readers through BlogHer; a larger blog can pay grocery bills, college tuitions and more.
Mamalode: Tell us about your family.
Lisa: In 2003 I met a fellow geek online who also happened to be a single father. Today, Christopher Carfi and I have a Brady Bunch: Jake, 15 and Gordon, 11, live at home, and Meghan, 23, lives on the east coast. Oh—and two Australian cattle dogs, Ike and Max, who are much more high maintenance than any of our human children.
Mamalode: How do you juggle work & family?
Lisa: Oh, it's a struggle. I've never had the choice not to work, but I do think it's made me a better mother. My children are my happy free time, my destination, the reason I do what I do. Ironically, the biggest change in my working mom mojo came when I decided to be in a relationship again, when I met Chris. I decided that I did not want my relationship with my son or my work to suffer, even as I gained a son in Gordon and had to make decisions with Chris—joint rule is a little different from being the Queen! And it takes time to have a family.
To get some semblance of balance between work and home, I've cut many, many things out of my life. If I allowed myself to look at the cup half empty, I'd wail over the time I don't have to see friends or sew or paint or read or ski. I am truly a ski bum at heart and that last little bit does torture me. But look what I do get: I'm in love with my family and my work, and both get 100 percent commitment. I can sew and ski when the kids are (sob!) gone. And I'm already dreading that, I must confess...
Mamalode: Many of our readers have personal and professional ambitions in addition to family—what advice do you have for them?
Lisa: Here's my personal algebra for dreaming big at work and at home: Your work—any work—has to be worth leaving those babies, so you'd better love it. And if you love your work, you'll enrich your children's lives with perspectives and ideas and stories and humor that you might otherwise not be able to offer them. Ultimately, children deserve to have dreams for themselves, to grow into those dreams. Shouldn't you set the example, mama, by cherishing and realizing a few dreams of your own?
That's what I love about blogging: It used to be that women had to sacrifice our voices in order to give our children theirs. With free and easy-to-use blog technology, that's no longer the case. Go for it!
Mamalode: What is your vision for the future?
Lisa: BlogHer has the opportunity to be the number one post-Oprah, post-Martha Stewart cross-platform media network created by, for and with women who are social media leaders. We are going for it: I want BlogHer to continue to create and lead the marketplace with the most robust economic and networking opportunities for women in social media and brands seeking to influence them.
I want to stay true to my inner media geek, and continue to contribute new ideas for matching the creativity of every day people with business models that give users the freedom to keep on doing what we do. Given how fast technology is evolving I don’t know where that’ll lead me…but I just love the opportunities to learn and grow.
Mamalode: Do you ever make it back to Missoula?
Lisa: Yes, I come back every year for Christmas and New Year’s. Other times, I carry the feeling of the community, the open warm culture of the Big West.
Thanks to my parents’ decision to move to Missoula, I’ve absorbed the values of people who appreciate a dollar, whether they are pinching it or not, and understand it makes sense to be courteous to everyone you meet because you are more likely than not to meet again. This life-training has been essential in the boom and bust cycles of Silicon Valley.
This essay was originally published in print Issue no. 9, theme Letting Go.