Many women ask me why Elisa, Jory and I started BlogHer. But almost no one asks me how we decided to go for it, to transform BlogHer from a great idea into a for-profit startup business.
Don't worry, I'll spare you the novel :) But I can share the most important part: We got great advice that had nothing to do with dollars and everything to do with sense. (Great advice is the reason I'm so excited about BlogHer Entrepreneurs '12, the event we're hosting on March 22-23 in Silicon Valley. Last year, we decided to start this conference to help answer the question, "Where are the women in technology?" This year, we are bringing Entrepreneurs back by popular demand. More below.)
Back to the great advice. Here's what happened: In late 2006, Elisa, Jory, and I were working part-time freelance gigs to support our full-time BlogHer habit. At the end of year two and growing strong, we were overwhelmed by demand from bloggers who wanted to join the publishing network and sponsors who wanted to reach MORE WOMEN NOW. Sleep was a fantasy, not a reality. We had to do something. Go big? Go home? Get a bank loan? Raise venture capital? Hire a lawyer? What?
So we started asking people for advice. Many people. And then, one day, we heard the great advice of Caterina Fake, founder of Flickr and Hunch. Caterina looked at Elisa and me over tea in her San Francisco living room and dictated our priorities when making big business decisions:
- First: People
- Then: Terms
- Last: Valuation
Caterina Fake and Bill Gates at the session titled "The Impact of Web 2.0 and Emerging Social Network Models" at the the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 27, 2007. (Bloomberg/Getty Images)
Caterina's Rule, in a nutshell, is to get together with great people who share your vision of the product and your priorities, so the terms of any agreement are reasonable and the valuation of your company -- the financial terms -- naturally emerges from that conversation. But, she warned, if you put the value of your company above all, you'll risk agreeing to unreasonable terms and might do a deal with the devil. (My words, not hers; Elisa remembers the conversation here.)
For me, the pure gold in Caterina's advice was to trust myself and focus on the people. Trust yourself, she was saying, trust your gut, when it comes to finding great like minds, and you will have the greatest likelihood of success when you embark on the long road of building something exciting with them. Since my gut had already led me to Elisa and Jory, two BlogHer conferences with mind-blowing conversations led by women I respected from across the blogosphere, and a fledgling publishing network, I was in.
Since then, the three of us have been on an advice-seeking bender. From venture capitalists like Heidi Roizen and Ann Winblad. And sister entrepreneurs like Wendy Lea and Barb Dybwad and Nelly Yusupova and Angie Chang and Shaherose Charania of Women 2.0. And, most recently for me, with the terrific book "Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist" written by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson. I heard echoes of Caterina in Brad and Jason's section on negotiation tactics:
"Remember, you can't change the game you are in, but you can judge people who play poorly within it…"
These women -- and Brad Feld, as keynote -- will join the 50+ experts who will be on-hand at BlogHer Entrepreneurs '12 to share their terrific advice with 100 fortunate entrepreneurs. If this story appeals to you, and you are thinking of starting something either of your own, with friends or in a company where you already work, I urge you to apply for the remaining open spots at this event for 100 entrepreneurs.
We hope you can join us. And even if you can't, I hope you enjoy the look into our list of great people who've opened up their big brains and huge hearts and helped us along, too. If you're forming a board, we recommend them ...
So tell me, have you ever gotten one piece of pivotal advice -- shockingly evident, perhaps, but brilliant in its simple application to a complicated question? I'd love to hear your stories.
Lisa Stone, BlogHer Co-founder
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