On Kelis and Entrepreneurship
About a month ago, before I became deathly afraid of writing comprehensive blog posts regularly, I wrote an overheated little ditty about the importance of colleges encouraging entrepreneurship on their campuses.
My editors must have sensed the entrepheremones or something, because they assigned me a guide to write called “How to Start a College Entrepreneurship Club”. I talked to a dude who started Hopkins Student Enterprises, which launches fully formed business ideas on campus, to a professor who’s the chair of entrepreneurship at Bradley, and to the dean of the conservatory at Oberlin, who was one of the starters of their entrepreneurship program, Creativity & Leadership (I’ve had an eye on that program for MONTHS, because they’re having their students create Oberlin bookstore apparel). Cool thing one: I had three lively conversations with three smart people that had polar opposite phone conducts. Cool thing two: they all gave me advice I wasn’t anticipating, all the while reiterating what I’ve learned so well this summer: small startups are back with an 808.
CLICK THIS HYPALINK to read my guide.
Then Inc. put out a pretty sweet list of the top 30 entrepreneurs under 30.
Spent all of last night sitting at a kitchen table brainstorming the gaps online that are waiting to be filled. We generated… well, one. I’m still looking for others. I could tell you that one, but that’s just impractical; I’d have to think of a new one. Then (and the timing is quite uncanny here), ASME hosted a luncheon with the three girls who started the online magazine HerCampus.com, who coincidentally were part of the Inc 30 under 30 list, and who are my age – two newly graduated, one still a rising senior. They’re now running a profitable, fully functioning site that is directed very specifically toward college girls. Seventeen and Teen Vogue get audiences as young as 12 and 13 (despite what they desperately want to believe), Glamour and Marie Claire are for women with, like, jobs, and these girls wanted to target the college market.
I have something to say about HerCampus. I don’t find it particularly interesting. I’m a college girl, but not the college girl they’re writing for, because I’m not particularly interested in the color pink or how many calories are in sushi. Articles like When Your Mom Asks You About Your Sex Life (“Awkward! Horrifying! Embarrassing!”) and Top Ten Things We Miss about College Over the Summer (“Summer can be a blast: what’s better than laying out by the pool, reading a trashy novel and jamming out to Gaga? But let’s face it, college is so much better!”) give me hives. And when the founders talked about it (“We tried to write about Microsoft’s ventures to get women in technology, but no one cared. You need to tailor to your audience, and this is what our audience wants.”), all I could think was, isn’t the job of a journalist to make uninteresting topics interesting? At what point do you stop writing what you know will please your audience and start writing what you want in your publication?
[Footnote: another thing this made me think about was the surprisingly difficult balance it is to write for a constituency you’re also a part of. Do you write in the same style that you’d want to read? Or do you emulate a template style that other writers in your genre have decided on? Or do you combine. I feel this way when I have to upkeep the Voice’s Twitter and Facebook posts – it’s a tough line. With a logo as my guise, I have access to the minifeeds of hundreds of people, many of whom aren't friends with me -- What’s relatable and what’s cheesefilled? How many links will make us look like spam? Please don’t tell me I sound like college PR. -- Even if you’re offering out things you want to read in a style you want to read it in, not everyone is you. It’s hard to do it right.]
Here’s the important thing about HerCampus – my own reaction is irrelevant, because the site is really successful at what it does. The girls have a strong team with complementary skill sets. They have individual chapters at 44 colleges, each college with an EIC that has full control over their subsite (hence, they all take on the character of their students – Skidmore’s posts vintage shopping guides while UC Santa Barbara wants to make you Spring-break-sexy). Oh, and they have that Harvard degree behind them, which gives them free office space and sweet contacts.
The most intriguing thing about this company is that they found an unfilled hole in the system in a subject matter they like. It’s not a subject matter I’m that into. But they’re doing the business they want (editing, marketing, graphic designing), writing about girl things, wearing pretty dresses, and getting read and paid.