Stephanie Kaplan Lewis likes to say that she and her co-founders Annie Wang and Windsor Hangar Western started their business, Her Campus Media, with “no money, no experience and no business education.” Despite it’s unlikely beginning, Her Campus has grown within the past ten years and has become the number one media and marketing company for college women. As part of our Lunches on Leadership series, we sat down with Stephanie and Meghan E. Kelly of Nutter McClennen & Fish to talk about Stephanie’s experience building the company from the ground up.
M.E.K: Can you talk about the journey to founding your company while you were on campus?
S.K.L: I met my cofounders as an undergrad Harvard. We became involved in a publication on campus that was basically Harvard’s lifestyle magazine. We became board members, and as the leadership of that organization we decided to position it online. Once it was online, it became really popular all over even with college women at other schools. We started hearing from a lot of women who said ‘I love this publication, I wish there was something like it at my school.’ Women also reached out saying ‘I wish I had something like this on campus so I could write for it. I want to write for Glamour or Vogue when I graduate, but the only outlet I have on campus is the school newspaper.’
M.E.K: You started it with two of you best friends, Annie Wang and Windsor Hangar Western. How have those relationships evolved from when you guys were first starting to today?
S.K.L: You know it’s funny, it’s kind of a common misconception that we started this company with our best friends. We really were business partners first who have become really close from working on this together. We met through working on a publication at Harvard and we loved working together. We had a shared work ethic, shared values, and complementary skill sets. It’s been over ten years that we’ve been working together, and I couldn’t imagine running a company without them. We’ve spent more time together than we have with our parents or our husbands over these past years. Now it’s like the way I am with my immediate family- you might have an issue with something one second, but you just move right on. You’re in it together.
M.E.K: What were some of things that you really struggled with getting Her Campus off the ground?
S.K.L: In the beginning we were still full-time students, so it was a struggle to find enough time. In addition, we had literally no experience. We hadn’t been out in the working world before and we had no business education. None of us had ever taken a marketing course or a finance course or a journalism course. We like to say that we started this company with no money, no experience and no business education. There was the also the day to day struggle to keep the lights on, when a million things are going on and nothing really feels stable.
M.E.K: One of things I love about Her Campus is that showcases a lot of different women and diverse women. Why has that been something that you guys have focused on and what does it mean to you to include that in your brand?
S.K.L: Diversity is huge both internally at the company and externally with everything do. We’re a 50 person company, but beyond that we’re reaching millions of women across college campuses, so we’ve been about serving college women. It’s important for us to make sure that there’s something there for every woman. We want people to connect from both a background perspective and a career perspective. We want to ensure that we showcase diversity in every sense of the word. Now that we’re a 50 person company, we’ve also started creating committees to ensure that we’re being conscious of it and intentional about it.
"We want people to connect from both a background perspective and a career perspective. We want to ensure that we showcase diversity in every sense of the word." - Stephanie Kaplan Lewis
M.E.K: How would you describe the landscape of women in business today and particularly young women who are just trying to enter the field?
S.K.L: I think it’s a great time for women in business. There’s been such a spotlight on the challenges facing women. Everyone is so much more conscious and aware of it, and can then correct for it, which was not the case in the past. For us [at Her Campus], we’re really focused on women right out of college and looking at how can we help them start their careers. The second part of it for us is when you become a mom. We want to make sure that the workforce is still friendly to moms and parents at that point in time.
M.E.K: What are some of the ways that you feel that people can be effective allies to women in business?
S.K.L: Having mentors that have sway and have power and power and have experience is one of the most effective ways to help women build their careers, from a skills perspective and from a networking perspective. In addition, companies can create policies that attract women and then enable those women once they’re there.
M.E.K: If you could offer your younger self one piece of advice what would it be?
S.K.L: Whatever challenge you’re going through at the moment, ‘this too shall pass.’ There have been so many times over the years where something has felt insurmountable, or we’ve wondered ‘how are we going to get through this?’. There’s always something like that, and inevitably in a matter of weeks or months you totally forget that that thing was even an issue.
Thanks to moderator Meghan Kelly and speaker Stephanie Kaplan for their candid and inspiring conversation on building a company from the ground up and their advice on how to succeed as a woman in the business community.
To hear the full discussion, check out our video on Facebook.