Lisa Stone had just one item on her agenda Thursday during a quick trip back home to Missoula: Share her expert knowledge of the online media world with Montana entrepreneurs.
Stone was the featured speaker at Innovate Montana’s first Montana Innovation and Entrepreneur Day, held Thursday at the University of Montana’s School of Business Administration.
A Hellgate High School graduate, Stone is the chief executive officer and co-founder of BlogHer, a media company that supports a network of 3,000 bloggers who write about everything from entrepreneurship to cooking for kids. Once a newspaper and TV journalist, Stone helped launched BlogHer in 2005.
Today, BlogHer reaches 40 million unique visitors per month. The company has raised $15 million in venture capital investments and is on track to generate $26 million in revenue this year. Stone is considered a pioneer in the online media and was named one of the seven most powerful people in new media by Forbes in 2009.
It was a one-day trip for Stone, who now lives in Silicon Valley but credits her Montana upbringing as a key to much of her success.
Before she left, Stone talked with the Missoulian about her company’s innovations, how her Missoula connection has helped her career and about how local entrepreneurs can use online and social media to spur business building opportunities.
What was the main reason you wanted to be at the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Day?
Montana always is going to be home for me and you know, I have had so many amazing people help me and my co-founders develop the business we wanted to develop. Anything I can do to pay that forward I’m really happy to do.
You mentioned in your talk at the opening event that you don’t think you’d be where you were without your Montana upbringing. Can you expand on that, why?
When I think about Western values, I think about the ability to think independently, without the restrictions of a society or class structure that’s been in place for hundreds of years. The combination of wide open spaces and the ability to open up your eyes and think in a community of people you’re going to see again, where you have a connection to the community and you actually learn over years what motivates people and makes them tick and what they care about, and what works and doesn’t work. For someone building a consumer-based media business, the best possible laboratory I could have had was going to Paxson Elementary, going to high school at Hellgate, working at Baskin-Robbins and Nordstrom’s and the Montana State Fair and getting to know other people like me because the business I built with my co-founders serves and helps people like us.
BlogHer is a place where you’ve seen thousands of women connect and engage. Why do you think women respond so well to blogs and what they’ve become today?
One of the things I learned when I left traditional media, print and broadcast for the Internet, was that the user was much more excited to talk about what she was interested in than to just passively read or watch what other people were doing. Technology has made it possible for women and men to follow their passions and take control of their lives. So with BlogHer, we found that the conversation that women were leading, as journalists, were conversations that weren’t typically covered in the print or broadcast newsrooms I worked in ...
The great thing about being American is that we embrace self-expression, we have the First Amendment and now we have the technology where women can lead and tell their own stories. BlogHer’s role is to create an opportunity for the women, and the men in our community ... to help get the word out about what their doing, grow their communities of readers, market themselves, grow their exposure and ultimately, get paid for what they’re doing.
How exactly does the “business side” of BlogHer work, the part that allows the bloggers to get paid?
BlogHer acts as a business infrastructure that is publishing the new Oprahs and new Marthas of the Internet. We provide marketing support and external sales team for bloggers who are willing to write to our quality of standards. Every dollar we take in from Fortune 500 advertisers, we split with the writers. We take 10 percent off the top and split the rest 50-50. ... We have 3,000 carefully selected bloggers. We work with them across social media to help them promote what they do and also help them get the word out about what they’re doing.
We did something revolutionary at the time, in which we decided to build a business with women, instead of just making money off of them, which is what traditional magazines have always done.
It’s safe to say you’ve created a successful platform for your business and you continue to use social media and the Internet to grow it. What is the No. 1 thing a Montana entrepreneur can use social media for to succeed?
The great thing about the Internet is it doesn’t have any state borders. I grew up in Missoula in the 1970s and 1980s before the Internet, before cable television. MTV came out when I was in college. There was nothing much more remote than Missoula in the ’70s and ’80s, the radio was our form of social media. Today, there’s an opportunity to use Facebook and to use social sites to help get the word out to people who are interested.
Mamalode, run by Elke Govertsen, is a great example of that, because she has gained national prominence about the parenting magazine she produces here. Friends of mine at Fortune magazine are reading her, I’m reading her, and other bloggers are trying to write for her because the quality is so high ...
(Social media) really reduces the amount of money a business has to spend to reach out to people who might need their help. But it also helps a business really help their customer. When you’re building a business, you’re not just selling a product, you’re helping your customer, and if you’re having a conversation in social media about that, and learning more about your customer, you can do a better job.
Montana is 45th out of 50 in the amount of venture capital investments per state. Do you think social media can help entrepreneurs bring more venture capital investments to Montana?
In my experience, as a first-time CEO growing a company that now has investment from three different venture capitalist firms, I’ve found that what gets venture capitalists really excited is the kind of independent thinking and work ethic that absolutely characterizes Montanans. What’s even more exciting, is that you can get the independent thinking work ethic and thinking here for a much smaller cost of employee acquisition and cost of doing business. Because our cost of living here is lower here, even though out living standards are so much higher, I think you’ll see an increasing excitement from people, whether they’re early seed funders or angel investors or larger (venture capitalists), in helping support companies that are excited about being lean, mean and innovative.
Reporter Jenna Cederberg can be reached at 523-5241 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.