Interview by Kaitlyn Tarallo
Today, most young women and college students recognize POPSUGAR as the top lifestyle media brand for women. What many people don’t know is that before it was a massive global brand, POPSUGAR was a blog run by a single, dedicated individual – its Founder and President, Lisa Sugar.
Lisa was kind enough to chat with us about her journey to success, her advice for students working toward their dream careers, and her brand new book, Power Your Happy! Keep reading to see what she had to say!
You transformed POPSUGAR from something created in your living room to an absolute powerhouse in women’s lifestyle branding. What was your primary goal when starting POPSUGAR? Did you always have the intention of creating something big?
LS: My primary goal was originally to get myself in the habit of writing every day. I knew that I wanted to create content and I knew that I loved writing, and I wanted to become more creative in what I was doing. I was working in advertising at the time and that was not a creative enough outlet for me. I did always talk about how there wasn’t this place that existed yet where I felt like I had everything I needed on a daily basis that entertained me and informed me. I always wanted a little bit of celebrity, a little bit of Real Simple, and a little bit of Oprah all in one place. I didn’t feel like that existed yet – especially online back in 2005. So, the real intention was to get myself writing every day, but underneath that I knew that there was this chance that I could hopefully create something that covered all this area that didn’t exist yet.
At what point during the growth of POPSUGAR did you know it would become more than just a side hustle? What was that like?
LS: What’s so great about everything online is that you can see all the analytics of how many people are reading your story. This was all before social media even, so there was no sharing or anything – but there were lots of comments and there was a community that was building up. The first couple of months I wasn’t even telling my friends I was doing it. I had some friends that did find it and people who had actually worked in PR or worked in the industry, and they were loving it and telling their friends about it. The first week, five people read the site, and then it went to like 50, then 500 – and I was like, “Well, I don’t know 500 people!”
It got really big within six months, to a point where even [my husband] Brian was like, “You need to quit working in advertising and concentrate everything on this.” Within a year, having over a million unique [visitors] coming to the site, it was just one of those things where i was like, “Let’s blow this out to something beyond just me and PopSugar .”
POPSUGAR has already come so far and accomplished so much. What do you see in its future?
LS: I think that for POPSUGAR to continue to grow, we want to be more of a global brand – so a lot more international growth. We’ve already been in the UK for like 8 years. We’re in France, we’re in Germany, we’re in Australia, and we’re in Japan – but we want to be even more in Japan and China. International growth is definitely a priority. As far as content growth, continuing to do more and more video. I always think about even having a TV Network or figuring out the right places where we want to distribute our shows, because there are so many new ways to watch video. Hopefully more books too! We have a lot of really talented writers on staff. A lot of really creative minds here who I could see doing more publishing in the future.
Speaking of plans for the future, we can NOT wait for the release of your book, Power Your Happy! When did you decide to write this book? Was there something in particular that inspired you?
LS: I decided about a year and a half ago. It was something that I always knew that I wanted to get to as part of the company plan, but I wasn’t really sure when the right time would be. I was in a meeting on a call with the agent who we’re working with, and it just was like, “Okay, this is it. We have an audience that is constantly asking us for tips and advice.” We knew that our audience craved career advice – and this is our 10 year anniversary this year – so I felt like between being 10 years wiser in the business and having a great story to tell, there was a whole lot of practical advice that I could share with the book. It really seemed like the right time to put it together now.
What motivated you to want to help others build their dream lives?
LS: I’ve always believed in the religion of karma, so I really do think that helping others out helps you in the long run. I’ve always believed in the play nice mentality and building a great team where we can all work together and lift each other up. And I don’t by any means ever think that POPSUGAR was something I could do by myself. I love what we’ve created here and all the people that are involved in it. I think that creating a company where I feel like people are really happy to work at, and having an audience who comes to us every day – it’s just that ongoing feeling of, “I found something I’m really excited about, everybody should know about this.” That’s kind of always been our underlying content strategy, and so that just goes on top of wanting to have people just figure out how to make themselves happy and build their dream lives. Happiness is something that we always come back to in our content.
Power Your Happy discusses what you should do in order to create your dream job – work hard, have patience. But, what about what you shouldn’t do? What do you find to be the most prominent career mistake people make, particularly recent grads and those new to the work force?
LS: I think one of the things that’s so scary is the fear of failure or being rejected. I think that people need to know that with every job interview you don’t get – or job that you want but you don’t think you can get because it’s just so hard to get into the door – you can’t let that get you down. At the same time you have to realize that no job should be beneath you, so really just try anything you can get. And in some cases that’s an unpaid internship after you’ve gotten your degree, or something that you just are a little bummed that you have to start out that way – but you should. You’ll still learn from it and take something away from it.
I think another thing that’s really important, which I see here sometimes, is that people will be at a job for a year and immediately leave because somebody else lures them away. And they may be perfectly happy – really happy – and it may be even really sad for them to say that they’re coming to quit. But they’ve got this other job for an extra few thousand dollars and a big title change, and they don’t even know what they’re really going into. They don’t realize they could be at a home where they can learn 10x that if they actually stay with it. I think that that’s something that’s important, too – not jumping around too much when you’re young in your career because there’s potential to really learn how to own a lot if you stay in the same place.
We love that Power Your Happy focuses on motivating readers to work toward their dream jobs. However, many college students struggle to figure out what their passion is and feel as if they’re working against a deadline. What kind of advice would you give to them?
LS: In the book I talk about how I didn’t really know what I wanted to do until I was in my late 20s, and I know that that’s frustrating when you’re in college and you’re like, “But I want to know it now!” Some people really do know what they want to do earlier on, but I think that it’s really important to use the time in college to continue to experiment with jobs. Whether it’s working a start up, working in retail, working at a law firm – anything that just gives you different kinds of office environments or work experience is really important, and then taking clues away from those jobs to figure out what you like about them or not. I think it’s okay to not know, is basically what the bottom line is.
The road to building your dream life must have come with a few twists and turns. Have there been any career setbacks you’ve experienced? How did you learn from them and turn them into fuel for your success?
LS: I spent the first 7 or 8 years of my career in advertising – and I really liked the creative environment, the clients that I had, and learning what I was learning – but I knew that it was never what I wanted to do long term. I still stayed with it for a long time because I wanted to learn as much as I could, and I was with people that I liked and in an environment that I liked. I think as much as I knew deep down this isn’t what I want to do for the rest of my life, I did learn a lot from it. I even had managers who were like, “Okay, you know you’re not so great at this part of the job, but you’re really great at this. So how could we make your job this?” And ultimately it’s really lead me to think I need to actually start POPSUGAR and leave this company to start my next venture. Sometimes it does take listening to your managers who are pointing out some of these things, and figure out what that next turn is for you – even if it means taking a huge risk and starting something completely different on your own.
Is there anything in the book you think readers wouldn’t expect to see?
LS: There’s definitely a lot of funny, personal stories in it. I talk about, like, woes with my curly hair or body issues. It’s not just straight-up career advice, so there are other things that are lighthearted and fun. I also talk a lot about things like working with your friends, because we’ve hired a lot of our friends here at the company.
What is the most important thing you hope people take away from Power Your Happy?
LS: I hope that people are going to take away clues from their life and use the advice to figure out next steps for themselves. It’s really an easy fun read where there’s a lot of practical advice that people will walk away from it being like, “Oh, that is so true. I should just try this.” We have little questions in the back of each chapter – like bucket list stuff. I’m hoping there’s actual stuff that people will really be motivated to partake in when they read it.
Make sure to pick up your copy of Power Your Happy. Were you inspired by Lisa Sugar’s story? What is your dream career? Share your feedback with us in the comments below!