I messed up.
There has been a lot of response to my fundraise blog post on PandoDaily on Tuesday. Most of that response has been negative. And there are many good reasons for the criticism:
- It over-simplified the editorial landscape.
- It failed to highlight the fact that there are a lot of great women’s publications out there.
- It took a tongue-in-cheek approach for part of the fundraise announcement, at one point joking about cosmetics. That was a horrible decision. Especially given how difficult it is for people (and women especially) to raise capital to bring their ideas to life. I put an immense amount of time into getting Bustle off the ground. I owed it to myself, my team, and all entrepreneurs to treat the moment with full seriousness.
- To a lot of people, it came across as pandering. And it doesn’t matter if that wasn’t my intention. That’s how it came across.
Those were huge issues. I deserved to get called out for them. And I’m glad that people like Anna Holmes, Rachel Sklar, and Elizabeth Spiers took the time to write thorough responses to it. Being criticized is never fun. I have thick skin, and this was incredibly painful. It helps when people care enough to really go into depth. I’d rather that they be harsh, if it means that they are also thorough.
People on Twitter are absolutely correct that I should have mentioned the many, high-quality women’s publications out there. In my effort to call out big-name magazine publishers (who attract big advertising dollars), I specifically failed to talk about the sites who are doing things right. Sites like xoJane and The Hairpin have built passionate followings by doing a lot of things correctly. Their success has been well-earned. There are many more on that list.
I’m disappointed in myself, because my blog post completely overshadowed the women who are working hard at Bustle to build a valuable site. I came to these editors with the proposition that we could put together a ‘dream team’ of skill sets and bring a great publishing company to life. Not just great editors, but also software engineers, investors, and ultimately ad sales people. We achieved the goal of building a great team, bringing in talented writers, and launching a sleek product…
And my blog post completely took away from that.
This is a brand new site that still needs time to develop and evolve, and putting the team through this has added needless pain to that effort.
My blog post not only spoke about Bustle’s voice on behalf of the editors, but it also put them in a tough spot with the claim that we are trying to do something completely different.
It would be impossible to create a site that is completely different, because our editors and writers have spent so much of their free time enjoying sites like The Hairpin, xoJane, Rookie, and Jezebel. Many of our writers are young women who admire those publications. By not mentioning these sites in my blog post, I undermined one of the major reasons why these women are inspired to write in the first place.
Starting a company takes a great deal of humility. That is something that I believe, and my blog post did not convey that in the slightest. Far from it. Yes, my last company was a financial success, but that does not mean this one will be. Our team is going to have to earn it. Each of the employees of the company are share holders in what we are building, and they are committed to carving out a space for Bustle.
What will that space look like? It won’t just be about our content mix. There are a lot of sites with an interesting content mix. Our mission is about voices — trying to find great voices who have yet to achieve mainstream recognition. After we find these talented writers, we will work closely with them, pay them, and encourage them to write what they want to write. And if more famous/esteemed publications offer our writers greater compensation and hire them away from us… then great — mission accomplished for both parties.
Finally, my blog post has been called out because it conveyed that sports and tech websites are for men, and that female readers were not relevant to such publications. That was also not the point that I intended to make.
Advertising is often a world of simplifications. Sophisticated websites are often sorted into ‘men’ sites and ‘women’ sites. Or ‘young people’ sites vs. ‘old people’ sites. A site’s demographic statistics are carefully monitored by prospective advertisers.
Sites that reach male audiences (and thus male advertisers) are in high supply right now, especially given that women control household incomes. This was the point that I was speaking to, and for a lot of readers, I did a poor job conveying it.
In summary, my blog post about the fundraise had a lot of problems. While I do like the idea of founders personally taking ownership of these sorts of announcements, it is a perilous approach, and those who do it need to hold themselves to a far higher level of scrutiny.
This post fell far short of that.
I ignored (and therefore dismissed) a lot of talented people, and that should not have happened. Because I am proud of Bustle and excited to launch a site that aims to reach women, this was a perfect opportunity to talk about exciting things that are going on in the industry. Instead I used it to gripe about magazines whose strengths and weaknesses are widely known.
Most women are completely open to the idea of a man starting a company aimed at women, and hiring a large team of women. But for men who do so, it is not enough that we build strong relationships with our female colleagues — something that I have tried to do at Bustle. We owe it to the public at large to approach the situation with great attentiveness. My blog post came nowhere near achieving that.
Instead, it undermined a lot of great people, here at Bustle and in the wider media space. And for that I really am sorry.