This is how BlogHer Co-Founder and SheKnows Chief Community Officer Elisa Camahort Page grew a successful, women-centered, tech media company
In 2007, three women founders walked into a Silicon Valley VC firm with a dream to bring their women-centered blogging platform, BlogHer, to the next level. Even though all-male startup teams are six times more likely to raise VC funding than founding teams with a woman, only 7% of venture capital goes to teams with a female founder, and many investors initially misperceived BlogHer as a nonprofit — it was rare to see any women founders, let alone an entire founding team of women, raising venture capital — in the end, they pulled it off.
After nine years of creating successful conferences, launching a pioneering blogging website, and developing a unique native advertising content and metrics platform, InfluenceHer 360, BlogHer made it to the exit. In 2014, SheKnows bought BlogHer to bolster their native content for reportedly between $30 and $40 million. Currently SheKnows Media reaches more than 90.1 million unique visitors per month and ranked #1 in comScores’ lifestyle category for female audience in November.
We had the pleasure to talk to Elisa Camahort Page, one of BlogHer‘s founders and SheKnows’ Chief Community Officer, about what made them truly successful, how they transitioned from being considered a “lifestyle” business to a technology company, what the biggest challenges she has faced as a founder were, and what it’s like being part of SheKnows.
“Where are all the women? Here are all the women.”
When Elisa Camahort Page, Lisa Stone, and Jory Des Jardins first got together in 2005, they were motivated to show that there were more women in the blogging space than met the eye. To do so, they decided to organize a blogging conference where all the speakers were women. They thought this was the easiest way to answer the question “Where are all the women? Here are all the women,” as Camahort Page described in an interview with AOL’s Krizia.
They hit a nerve. The conference was a huge success and women deeply appreciated the opportunity to network and meet fellow bloggers. What they wanted the most after the conference was a space where they could interact virtually on a daily basis: This is what inspired the BlogHer team to create the BlogHer blogging platform.
After two years of bootstrapping, steady growth, 150 bloggers and about 1 million views a month, they decided to raise external funding. While Camahort Page noted to Geektime that, “A lifestyle business is pretty awesome” and actually said she’s not sure she wouldn’t launch a lifestyle-type business if she were to start another company, she and her co-founders decided to scale. They became a VC-backed tech startup because of the opportunities it presented for BlogHer’s community. Since BlogHer’s mission was to create a platform for increased exposure, community, and economic empowerment for women bloggers, they were “manufacturing the serendipity by increasing the opportunity,” she explained to Krizia.
The best way to do that was to get venture capital investment.
Specifically, she told Geektime that they decided to raise VC rounds for two critical reasons. First, “When we needed to scale up the size and reach of our network to accommodate bigger deals, we needed more people to grow on both sides of that equation, i.e. a) more sales people with feet on the street and b) more producers who could find, add, and support adding more bloggers to the network.” Secondly, “When we decided to evolve our model to include productizing a heretofore proprietary but entirely internal-only back-end content and campaign management and analytics system, we needed to invest in more technology and developer resources.”
In both cases, they didn’t just want to grow but also scale quickly to stave off competition. Other brands were catching on to the huge audience that women on social media represented.
Was it hard raising money as a woman founder in Silicon Valley?
Camahort Page recognized the structural challenges women face in securing VC funding. While she said it was frustrating investors often thought they were fundraising for a nonprofit, she did not say she felt like they had a particularly difficult time raising venture capital financing just because they were women. She told us, “When we did our first round we were very strategic and targeted. We did outreach to a very small number of investors, and only if we had a very warm introduction. Plus we had been bootstrapping for two years, so we had two years of actual revenue and a model, plus a very specific demand we were looking to scale to meet. So our circumstances to do our first raise were probably ideal and we should have raised more right then, probably!”
They raised three rounds in total: a $3.5 million Series A in 2007, a $5 million Series B in 2008, and a $7 million Series C in 2009.
However, she did think they experienced gender discrimination in their valuation. “I would say our bigger challenge was valuation. I think there was a women-doing-woman-y things discount. There are plenty of men running woman-y companies (say, Pinterest) who easily got higher valuations, even early on.
“Then again, as all the so-called unicorns have been imploding, I guess I’m happy not to be in their shoes,” she reflected.
What were the toughest moments running a startup?
She sighed and told us that letting someone go is the hardest decision anyone running a company needs to make, especially because of company changes. Not raising enough money or restructuring — which they had to do when they decided to focus more on developing their InfluenceHer advertising tool — was the most difficult. She noted, “Nothing says ‘failure’ more viscerally than having to let someone go … Either you failed in the hiring, or you failed in the managing, or in the case of a layoff you failed in meeting your business plan, plain and simple.
“So, yes, it’s hard, because it’s hard to know you’re causing someone pain or at the least a hard time. But it’s also hard because of what you have to face about yourself,” she said.
Has the acquisition gone smoothly?
In short, yes. Even though she “witnessed about a dozen tech M&As in my old corporate life in high tech during the dot.com boom [and] not one really delivered on its promise,” she said that so far, “This was by far the smoothest and most well-aligned merger I had ever been a part of or seen. We were completely aligned on mission, and we filled in each other’s gaps in capabilities nicely.”
However, a merger does not come without its challenges. “Integration is always going to be tough…you’ve got two full teams trying to become one. You have new routes to get things done; new personalities to figure out; new teams to build and re-build. And as a founder, adjusting to being one executive among many can be both freeing and frustrating.”
In the end, “I definitely enjoy having more leaders and resources with whom to share the load, though, after ten years co-running a scrappy start-up!”