Michelle Madhok, Founder & CEO SheFinds Media: Ask For Forgiveness Rather Than Permission

The NextWomen DWEN Interview Series features Michelle Madhok, Founder, CEO & Chief Editor at SheFinds Media, which publishes SheFinds.com, Bridefinds.com and MomFinds.com.

Distributed via e-mail and blogs, these online publications help millions of busy women everywhere shop the web for the latest fashion and style finds. 

A widely regarded shopping expert, Michelle has shared her expertise through channels such as The Today Show, The Martha Stewart Show, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Post, The New York Times, and the Washington Post.

Prior to launching SheFinds, Michelle was the Director of Entertainment
Marketing for CBS Broadcasting New Media, then Group Director of
Editorial Products for women at AOL, where she oversaw all women's content. 

Her book Wear. This. Now. will be published in August 2012.

We talked to Michelle about leaving the corporate world to strike out on her own; what she loves about running her own business; and the company mantra which encourages her team to take chances.

TNW: What was the inspired moment that led you to launch SheFinds Media?

MM: I oversaw women's content for AOL for five years and one of the insights I had was that most women are  split in half… one half is the woman who is CEO of her home – she goes to work, pays bills, gets kids to soccer practice and plans dinner, and the other half is the woman who wants a bubble bath, a glass of chardonnay and time to have her nails done. Women are time-starved.

I used to shop at the outlet malls for friends who didn’t have time. Meanwhile, more and more retailers were going online. So after five years at AOL, I started thinking… say you want to buy black pants. No one was telling you the best place to buy black pants on the Internet. Shopping magazines like Lucky were popping up, but the online content did not exist, so I created SheFinds.  My goal is to help women use the Internet to add time back into their lives and fulfill their desires to look and feel better about themselves.

TNW: Was it difficult to find the courage to leave corporate life and strike out on your own? Since then, what have you most enjoyed about running your own company?

Working for corporations for ten years, I grew tired of all the politics and inefficiency. I had lots of great ideas but felt frustrated and stymied by the structure. I also don’t like being told what to do — and that kind of doesn’t jibe well with the corporate structure.

I’d been a good corporate citizen all my life and I was terrified of going broke or not being able to get another job. I ended up doing some consulting part-time while I built the business in order to ease the transition. Now I have 9 employees and we are profitable.

Letting go of the corporate safety net was emotionally trying. I’d been a ‘good girl’ all my life, a good student, worked for good companies. Making the jump into business for yourself, my friends and family looked at me cross-eyed and said, ‘You’re going to do what!?’ But in the end I realized I could  always get another job. But it was a challenge to get over that initial fear.

I love running my own business.  I  get to do one of my favorite things (online shopping), go to events about new products and work on my own schedule. I will say that running your own business is also major headache. While there are days of fun and interesting experiences, there are also days that are incredibly frustrating. I've been through an IRS audit, had people quit in the middle of our busy season, had to fire multiple Web designers - there are definitely some pain points, but doing my own thing outweighs all the stressors.

TNW: How does your company distinguish itself from others in the same arena?

MM: We continually try to update and evolve to meet our audience's needs. 

The good thing about the internet is that there's room for a lot of sites that do similar things. It's not like we're making cereal and there's only so much room on the grocery store shelves.

TNW: How did you monetise SheFinds.com in the early days and how has that changed as the site has grown?

MM: We make money in multiple ways.  We try to monetize every eyeball multiple times. We sell advertising and sponsorships, if someone buys a product we recommend we get a commission. Now that we've proven our influence in increasing sales we syndicated content to other sites and I am a paid spokesperson for a number of companies.

TNW: How important is technology to the success of your company?

MM: Technology is a vital part of our business. We're always looking for new tools to optimize the reader experience and up our sales.  We have flexible in office hours so employees need to be mobile and able to easily communicate and share information when not in the same place.

TNW: When you built your team, what are the key qualities you looked for to ensure the success of your business?

MM: We hire for attitude.  We are a very no nonsense environment so you have to be able to take criticism and not take things personally. We look for people who take ownership of their work and change strategy to get results. 

Our company mantra is 'ask for forgiveness rather than permission" which gives people a lot of leeway to take chances.

TNW: How has Dell or the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network enabled you to grow your business? What do you see as the benefits of all-women networks such as DWEN?

MM: In the early days of my business Dell gave us an office technology makeover as part of my membership in countmein.org.  I'm still using the equipment they gave us!

The DWEN conference in Rio was an amazing way to bond with other entrepreneurs and spend quality time with successful entrepreneurs I really admire like Heidi Messer, Carley Roney and Cindy Gallop.

TNW: Which three golden rules of online content would you advise entrepreneurs to follow?

  • Solve a problem.
  • Be interesting.
  • Make taking action easy.

TNW: What is next for She Finds Media? How do you see technology as a key growth driver?

MM: We're using technology to make our sites more relevant to users.  A website only lasts about 18 months before it needs to be redesigned to meet the way people consume technology.

TNW: How would you describe your leadership style? How has your leadership style changed over the years, and why? 

MM: I used to feel that everything was a high stake decision or outcome. Now I look at everything more as small iterations. I have high expectations for my team, but I don't micromanage on how to get there.

My rule is only do something if it gets us money or traffic. If it gets neither than don't do it.

The Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network (DWEN) celebrates the wonderful accomplishments of women in business, whilst looking forward at how we can progress and learn from each other. Natural networkers and relationship builders, women have innate flair for entrepreneurship. With DWEN, Dell is helping women in business to expand their networks while offering technology capabilities designed to help them innovate and grow their businesses.

The NextWomen is in partnership with DWEN to bring you a series of 40 interviews with the world's most influential female founders, investors and decision makers: The NextWomen DWEN Interview Series.

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