Michelle Madhok

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Founder and President, SheFinds

Who Is She?

Meet the woman who can update your wardrobe and make your pre-holiday shopping more merry by saving you from lines at the mall and hours surfing the Internet: Michelle Madhok, founder and president of SheFinds. SheFind’s motto: “We shop the Web so you don’t have to.” Madhok studies the latest trends and recommends fashions, often at a discount, from a variety of big-name retailers, as well as smaller boutiques and new designers.

Since starting SheFinds in February of 2004, Madhok has racked up more than 6,000 subscribers to her twice-weekly e-mails that offer tips on trends, products and special discounts, and many articles in publications like the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and Newsday. She also provides personal shopping services and puts together shopping tours in New York City.

Getting an Education from Consumers and Corporate America

“While working toward my master’s degree in marketing from Northwestern, which has some of the best consumer behavior experts in the country, I learned how to recognize what people want and understand why they buy. After college, I spent three years with CBS Broadcasting New Media helping the company to start CBS.com, when I received a call from AOL, which at the time was the center of the universe for Internet content. They wanted me to revamp their editorial content for women. I took the job, changed the content based on extensive research into what women want online, and within a year we went from about 150,000 to 10,000,000 unique users per month.”

What Women Want

“One of the things that kept hitting home is that 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. 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.”

Where to Find the Best of the Web

“While working in D.C., I used to shop at the outlet malls for friends who didn’t have time. Meanwhile, last Christmas was the biggest online shopping season ever, with an increase in spending of nearly 20 percent over the previous year. 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.”

Model for Making Money

“SheFinds makes most of its revenue through advertising and through the commissions we receive – usually 5-10 percent – when subscribers use a link on SheFinds to buy a product from a retailer with whom we have an affiliate agreement. But I do not accept money from advertisers to push certain products and don’t recommend anything that I personally wouldn’t wear.”

Change Your Look – and Your Life – Online

“I love things ideas that change people’s lives for the better, and the Internet has changed the entire world. I never would have been able to create SheFinds if it weren’t for the Internet, because the established media wouldn’t let me in. Even with years of consumer experience from AOL and CBS and a Master’s degree from Medill, I went to a major fashion publisher to try and develop editorial content and they told me flat out, ‘We’re sorry, but you’ll have to start as an intern.’ I thought to myself, ‘I’ll create my own publication.'”

Starting and Running Your Business on a Budget

“I financed SheFinds myself and have spent about $5,000 of my own money to get the business off the ground. Initially it made me nervous – I didn’t want to blow through my savings, but we started realizing revenue within 4 months.”

“The most expensive items were forming the LLC, legal costs and public relations. My site was built for about $250 by a guy in the Ukraine who I found on craigslist (www.craigslist.org). My photos were done for barter and I got a good deal on the illustrations on my site because the artist had downtime. I work with many independents – my lawyer is an independent, because I don’t see the value in paying for a big, fancy firm. And I look for discount resources on the Internet – if you search around, you can find companies that will make quality color copies for about 20 cents a copy.”

Growth Plans

“SheFinds taps into women’s emotional connection to shopping and makes it easier to look and feel better, and I would like to see that extend into areas beyond the Internet including TV, books and radio.”

Greatest Success

“Our biggest sales month so far was $4,000 just from advertising revenues and some of our shopping trips bring in another $4,000, which is not bad for one weekend. Also, our number of subscribers astounds me sometimes. I’m surprised that so many people want to listen to what I have to say. I get e-mails that say, ‘You have revamped my whole wardrobe and given me a new outlook on shopping.'”

Greatest Challenge

“Letting go of the corporate safety net. I’ve been a ‘good girl’ all my life, a good student, worked for good companies. Making the jump into business for yourself, sometimes people look at you cross-eyed and say, ‘You’re going to do what!?’ You’re not going to starve. You can always get another job. But it’s a challenge for most of us to get over that initial fear.”

Always Scouting Good Deals, Even During Downtime

“Eating out and drinking wine are two of my favorite things. A funny story… I recently went to the Napa Valley wine region for a reunion with friends and the limo services there wanted $65 per person to drive us around for the day. I posted an ad on craigslist and found a guy who agreed to chauffeur us in his van for a total of $100 for the whole day.”

Words of Advice

“It’s important to connect with other female entrepreneurs so that you can cheer each other on. When I started this business, I set a goal to meet four new people each week. I told myself that I HAVE to do this, every week. What works in business also works for dating. I decided last year that I was going to go on Match.com and a friend asked me, ‘How many people do you think you will have to meet to find five who you like and five who like you?’ I realized I was probably going to have to go on 100 dates within the year. That’s how I met my boyfriend – he was Number 20. Without services like SheFinds, you have to shop around.”

To learn more about Michelle Madhok and to subscribe to her free weekly newsletters, visit www.shefinds.com.

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Kathi O’Neil

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CEO and Founder, Westover Media

Who Is She?

Kathi O’Neil is the CEO and founder of Westover Media, a marketing promotions business that specializes in creating opportunities for advertisers to offer samples of their products to targeted consumers. Clients include Cosmopolitan, ELLE, Glamour, In-Style, Newsweek, The New York Times, People, Readers Digest, Tom’s of Maine toothpaste, Vanity Fair and many others.

O’Neil is also the founder of Potion www.potionmagazine.com, an online magazine for single women, and Portland Picks www.portlandpicks.com, a free weekly email column that profiles the best of the best fashion, dining, music, travel and other lifestyle attractions the city of Portland has to offer. O’Neil resides in Portland, Oregon.

Adding Value for Advertisers

“I started my marketing business 15 years ago in New York while working for Hearst magazines. Hearst was creating a department designed to generate more revenue from advertisers and give them more opportunities to promote their products. I developed and grew this department. We offered added-value programs that gave advertisers’ customers an opportunity to sample their products, and by doing so we were able to tap into our clients’ retail marketing budgets in addition to their advertising budgets.”

Sample This

“For example, Redbook might offer its advertisers a supermarket program, such as the Redbook Supermarket Diet, and we would offer samples and coupons from various advertisers in supermarkets, dedicate a special section of the magazine to the diet and give every product a ‘shelf talker,’ a special sign announcing its participation in the program. Basically every advertiser receives approximately one half of one percent in merchandising dollars from their total annual ad dollars spent in that magazine.”

Launching from Corporate Leader to Consultant

“My husband had worked on Wall Street for 11 years and he thought it was time for a change. We wanted to start a family. I’m from Oregon originally, so we decided to move back to Portland. My husband interviewed with a few firms, one was a perfect match and he became a partner. So we moved and I wondered, ‘What am I going to do with my career?'”

“I put a proposal together for Hearst suggesting that I continue working as a consultant from Portland. They accepted. I felt so lucky. I would put together a menu of promotional ideas and work with the marketing departments at various publications to determine whether advertisers wanted to take advantage of the opportunities. A magazine might offer an advertiser an incentive to advertise in three magazines by offering them a big added value promotion in addition to their ad schedule. That’s where I come in. We propose the programs and then fulfill them turnkey.”

More Free Stuff

“Some examples of sampling programs that Westover Media has recently delivered include distributing gift bags of health and beauty advertisers in movie theaters during targeted teen movies, giving out waterproof Band-Aids at kids’ camps, swim schools and water parks around the country and providing winery tasting rooms in the Napa Valley with cheese and crackers on behalf of California Cheese.”

Concocting a “Potion” for Romance

My background is in journalism – I have a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Oregon School of Journalism. My consulting and marketing business has gratefully allowed me to do some of the creative things I love, write and start my own media properties. Potion, the magazine I started for single girls, is all about love, style and attitude. In contrast with many other sites for single women that have a high sleeze factor, Potion is a respectable publication. We refuse advertising from companies that don’t fit our image. Someday I would like to turn it into a print publication.”

Plugging Portland Into Style and Fun

“I also started a lifestyle column – delivered by email for free to subscribers each Friday – that offers inside information on the best of shopping, dining, music and style in the city of Portland to readers. It’s kind of like Daily Candy for Portland. We have about 1000 subscribers, mostly influential, well-educated women with average household incomes of $50,000 a year or more. As a result, local advertisers are coming to me.”

Greatest Success

“I’m passionate about my work, but my family – I have three children – comes first. I would probably say my greatest success has been building my businesses while balancing a healthy family life and not sacrificing time with my kids.”

Words of Advice

“If you want to start your own business, do it, don’t just think about it. Put a plan together, execute on the plan, persevere and be patient. Brand yourself, brand your business and network, network, network.”

To learn more about Kathi O’Neil and her media conglomerate, visit www.westovermedia.com, www.potionmagazine.com and www.portlandpicks.com.

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Amy Hobby

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President, Hobby Films

Who Is She?

30-something Amy Hobby is the president of Hobby Films, a film production company she started after having produced such well-known films as the Sundance Film Festival’s critically acclaimed Sunday, Hamlet starring Ethan Hawke and Bill Murray, and most recently, Secretary with James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Although Amy’s production experience covers everything from making deals, to analyzing cost reports, to hiring the crew, her main role is as creative producer. This means she does everything from finding the right writer, to developing the project from start to finish, including making sure that the vision of the project is consistent throughout the production process. Amy resides in Brooklyn, New York.

Childhood prodigy:

“My passion for this business began as a young child. Growing up in Florida, my father had a dark room and I began experimenting with photography. My work was featured in People magazine and a Canadian film company chose to feature me in a documentary about children artists around the world. Shooting this documentary was my first exposure to the film making and a defining moment for me in terms of wanting to pursue a career in film. I kept thinking, ‘this is what I want to be when I grow up. You get to travel, be creative and set your own schedule.’ It seemed idyllic.”

Learning hands-on:

“I attended Rice University, where I studied mainly art history and literature. I then decided to go to film school, which turned out to be quite uninspiring—I had already worked on two films and I felt that school was very isolated from the film industry experience. During my first summer I worked on a film as a camera assistant and I decided at that time not to go back to school. I wanted to continue learning hands-on. Fortunately I got another job right away.”

Work experience:

“I worked in Los Angeles as a camera assistant for 5 years, after which time I decided I wanted to find a way to make my own films, produce, direct and choose my own material. This led me to get a job as a producer’s assistant where I learned the studio and financing side of the business. I had a strong male mentor, but I remember thinking that I wished there had been more women in the industry to act as mentors. At the time there were very few women producers—this has changed but the industry in general is still male-dominated.”

Entrepreneurial beginnings

“I started my first company with a partner and we started it out of a friend’s basement in New York City. We had very little money, phones with call-waiting and lots of energy and enthusiasm for what we were doing. The first film we produced was Sunday which did extremely well critically and won the top prize at the Sundance Film Festival. We then achieved success with Hamlet and most recently, Secretary, a film about unconventional love and sexual dominance, which was tremendously well-received by women. Eventually, my partner and I went our separate ways and I started Hobby Films.”

Film style:

“I don’t really have one style of film but in general my taste is very American and fairly commercial. I will say that all of my films have the commonality of being visually well-crafted, but within this framework my tastes are diverse.”

Management style:

“Over the years I have come to believe that being relaxed and confident creates effective management and helps me garner respect. The fact is, I have been exposed to and worked on almost every aspect of making a film—I know what everyone’s job is—-when you know your craft, you can make others accountable to you.”

Raising money:

“There are several ways to approach raising money for film making. Generally speaking you want to package a film as much as possible before approaching companies like Miramax or Fineline for financing. This means coming to the table with partial financing in tact, and / or A-list talent, and /or a well-known director. I usually front small costs and often I find wealthy private investors who have a strong interest in film or the desire to attend a premiere.”

A day in the life:

“When I’m not in production, I get up in the morning, read a script, and make a list of what I can do today to follow up on each project. I also spend time thinking, strategizing and brainstorming with my Head of Development at the local coffee shop-—we usually spend an hour in the day brainstorming ideas. I also spend time negotiating book rights and finding books that may make great scripts but have yet been undiscovered. I will purchase an option that is renewable for two years, then try to put a project together. If it doesn’t work out, I lose my option without having spent a fortune.”

Biggest challenge:

“Film making is a very collaborative art so the biggest challenge for me is keeping everyone focused and on the same page, especially in light of the fact that on any given film, I may have 75 people working for me.”

Growth stages:

“I directed a film which is about to obtain a distributor and I have a new script that I have optioned that I am about to direct in May. As a director on this project, I am also trying to bring on a producer. I slightly prefer directing over producing, but I have 10 producing projects right now in various stages.”

Words of advice:

“Be persistent and know your craft so you can be confident in what you are doing.”

To learn more about Hobby Films, email us at GoodHobbyFilms@verizon.net.

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Dany Levy

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Founder and Chairman, DailyCandy, Inc.

Who is she?

31 year-old Dany Levy is the Founder, Editor-in-Chief and Chairman of DailyCandy.com, a free daily email that provides the latest insider scoop on fashion, food and fun. DailyCandy is “defiantly hip, delightfully random,” and as informative as it is interesting. DailyCandy comes in the following four flavors: DailyCandy NY and DailyCandy LA – for those who live in those cities (or just wish they did), DailyCandy Everywhere – for everyone else (since good scoop is not limited by geography), and DailyCandy Kids – for hip parents (as well as the young at heart) – and DailyCandy is launching in other cities as well, including in Chicago this May. Dany Levy resides in New York City and spends about 10 days a month in Los Angeles and Chicago.

Background / Experience:

“I went to Brown University undergrad and completed the Creative Writing Program. Brown is very much a self-starter school—you can either breeze through or make the most of it. After Brown, I spent four years at New York Magazine, first as an intern, then as assistant to the managing editor. I was later assigned the role of revamping the Sales and Bargains column. Subsequently I pitched the idea of doing a style page which led to the launch of Gotham Style. The magazine underwent major changes and a shift in power—and I felt creatively stifled, so I began considering graduate school. I was accepted at the Columbia School of Journalism but ultimately I decided against it, thinking my time and money might be better spent in some other productive way.”

Seeing an opportunity:

“While freelancing and later working on the prototype for Lucky magazine, I became incredibly frustrated by lead times. We would be working on an April issue as early as January. It struck me that the internet offered the perfect mechanism to overcome this problem. It was speedy. It was immediate. I became fascinated by the power of internet publishing, the low cost of production and the built in viral tool of email forwarding. I conceived the idea for DailyCandy based on these internet characteristics and the concept of making New York City chic easily available to people all over the world via email.”

Competitive thrill:

“What’s cool about DailyCandy is that you know what’s going on first—before it is printed in magazines and newspapers It’s a competitive thrill to be able to offer this information first. It follows that nearly one third of our subscribers are from the media.”

Starting point:

“I developed a two-page idea summary, then chose an illustrator. I wanted each email to resemble a piece of stationery. Finding and producing the content was the easiest part. My job since college had been to find things. The first nine months, I wrote everything. By the end of that period, I decided that in order to scale I had to teach the DailyCandy ‘voice’ to others and I was able to engage writers to help. To this day, I still top-line edit everything and I write several pieces a month.”


“From early on, we obtained great press, an indicator that things were really taking off. We were able to secure press coverage in the Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, Crains, Vogue and British Vogue. Still, I had no idea what my revenue model was going to be. I initially wanted to create an online magazine, not an email. I thought if I could build a critical mass, I might be able to obtain advertising.”

My team:

“I have hired people to manage different areas of the company. I try hard not to micromanage and to let each person ‘own’ her area. I have a great team of people working with me and I defer to them as much as possible.”

Expansion, growth and the brand:

“My job is to oversee everything and maintain the integrity of the brand and the quality of the email. I am also in charge of launching new products in new cities. So far the DailyCandy email is available in three different cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, (which we are about to launch), as well as a national edition. DailyCandy Kids is also a recent expansion effort. I am not sure to what extent we will continue to grow in other media. I think it is important to stay extremely focused on the one thing we do well—emailing a short, timely and reliable piece of information. DailyCandy’s value is that it gets people insider scoop in a quick, easy to read format, never wastes the reader’s time and lets them be in the know first.”

Biggest obstacle:

“As we grow, it is important to never lose site that content is king. I view maintaining quality control over our content as my primary responsibility. I spent four years building and cementing the DailyCandy brand. Every choice we make impacts our brand.”

My favorite part about the business:

“I love the writing and the satisfaction of knowing that I have created a product that makes people happy and at the same time helps small businesses. It’s a wonderful and scary power to have. It needs to be used wisely.”

Biggest success:

“I view my biggest successes as having found amazing people to work with and having created an email brand people trust. Our subscribers trust our recommendations and our picks. Our subscribers make our business.”

Outside of work:

“In terms of exercise, I run almost every day. I still love to write so I also freelance for Vanity Fair, Allure and Budget Living. My life is pretty normal. I work all day, go out with my friends and I’m usually asleep by 11pm.”

Words of advice:

“Be as flexible as possible. Be nimble and quick and listen to your subscribers. Your customer is your greatest asset. Every day I analyze what we write about and how our numbers respond. The climate is always changing and you can never take your eye off the ball, or rest on your laurels. You always have to be looking at the next step and anticipating the reaction.”

To learn more about DailyCandy and to view past emails, visit www.DailyCandy.com.

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