Andrew: Hey there freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. This is the place where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses.
I read an article about a teenage girl who started a site that was worth $15 million. I got curious. So, I invited here to do an interview about how she built her business and to dig deeper than any article ever could. Juliette Brindak is the founder of Miss O and Friends, a site she created to give tweens and young girls a safe place to socialize and play online. We’ll talk about how big she got it and how she got it here.
It’s all thanks to, well, frankly, my sponsor Toptal. But I keep getting complaints from people every time I talk about Toptal. It’s not about their service. It’s not about the company. It’s about the way I say the company’s name. I got an email here from a guy named Omar who says, “I had to search forever to find this company. Tell Andrew to say Toptal for top talent.” I guess he didn’t understand. So, it’s Toptal.
The reason that it’s called Toptal is if you need a developer and you don’t just want a developer that you can find off of these cheapo freelance sites but you want the top developer out there, the one that’s a good cultural fit for you, do what I did. Go to Toptal.com, tell them the kind of developer you’re looking for. They will go to their network of developers who are the top of their field. That’s where the top comes from. And then they will introduce you to not to 100 different developers, not send you a stack of resumes, but to the top one or two people who will be good cultural fits and who you can offer hire the very next day and have them start the very next day.
So, go to Toptal. They guarantee it. Here, if you want the guarantee, here’s where you go: Toptal.com/Mixergy. They will guarantee the right cultural fit, the right developer for you and you can hire them 40 hours part time a week or however many hours you need. Toptal.com-how’s that, Omar? Clear? Toptal.
Juliette, thank you so much for coming here and doing the interview. What did you think? Did I do a clear enough job or am I going to get more complaints from people like Omar?
Juliette: I think that was pretty clear. I got it and I might check out Toptal.com.
Andrew: Good. Frankly, I don’t mean to put Omar down. I like that people are so passionate that they will help me and correct me and tell me when I’m not being clear enough about the sponsorship. I want to really nail it. The more customers I get for Toptal, the more my audience will love me and, frankly, the more revenue for Mixergy. Isn’t that great?
Juliette: That’s great.
Andrew: That’s what it’s about. Hey, this $15 million number-I’m such a skeptical jerk. I looked at that and I go, “Come on. Where does it come from?” Where does it come from? What makes your company worth $15 million?
Juliette: So, the $15 million valuation was actually from 2008 when Procter & Gamble invested in our company at that valuation. Really, it was coming from the potential that they saw with Miss O and Friends and, again, this was back in 2008, so, it was a while ago, and kind of how they saw it playing into their product development and a lot of stuff that P&G was doing at the time. But it is coming from a verified, real company who did invest money in us and did give us that valuation.
Andrew: It is Procter & Gamble. It’s not your uncle who bought like a fraction of a share or a share for a buck and then valued your company. Actually, it wouldn’t be a share for a buck, but a fraction of a share for a buck and valued your company at $15 million. Alright. The other thing that I looked into before we got started-wait, how much did they invest in your business?
Juliette: I’m not going to disclose that, but it was a lot. It was enough to be able to really get us started and growing as a company, taking it from just a hobby that I had to make it an actual business.
Andrew: You were a 16-year old when they invested, right?
Juliette: Yes. I was 16.
Andrew: I looked into traffic, data. I don’t think my numbers are accurate. What do you see in Google Analytics? How much traffic does Miss O and Friends get?
Juliette: So, we use Google Analytics to monitor traffic for both Miss O and Friends and for Miss O Moms. We are getting over five million monthly uniques on Miss O and Friends. So, we are getting a lot of uniques. There are a lot of girls coming to the site and engaging in our content.
Andrew: Five million unique people are coming to your site every month. That’s multiple times more than I’m getting at Mixergy. I’ve got to hear how you did this, frankly, so that I can get some ideas from you.
Let’s learn a little bit more about you before we get into the details of the business. There’s something about you that allowed this business to grow. You’re a person who even when you were a girl in the Girl Scouts, you excelled. You sold Girl Scout cookies, I heard, and I was told by Jeremy who did the pre-interview with you that I’ve got to ask you. What’s the story behind the Girl Scout cookies?
Juliette: So, the story behind the Girl Scout cookies is actually really funny. I didn’t know this story or at least I didn’t remember this story until about a year or year and a half ago when somebody was asking my parents, “Describe Juliette. What is a really good way to describe your daughter?” This was in an interview context as well that they were trying to get a better understanding of me and my working relationship with my parents.
Basically, the story is when I was younger, I was a girl scout. Both of my parents also worked. So, we had a babysitter. But after school I would go to this after school program called The Dolphin Club where you play with all the other kids, you do your homework, you do whatever it is that you do until your parent comes to pick you up.
One day, my mom comes to pick me up at The Dolphin Club and Linda, who was one of the women who was in charge of it, comes up to my mom and hands her a folder and is like, “So sorry. I tried to collect all of it.” My mom was like, “What are you talking about? Trying to collect all of what?” She’s like, “Yeah, I don’t know where Juliette got it from?”
My mom was like, “What are you talking about? Got what from? I don’t even know what you’re talking about.” She said, “She was going around and handing out all of this money. I don’t know where she got it from. She was going around to everyone in The Dolphin Club handing out $20 bills, $5 bills, $10 bills, handing it out saying, ‘This is for your college fund.'”
And what it was is it was money that I had raised. It was money from selling Girl Scout cookies. Basically, when you’re a Girl Scout, you want your troop to sell the most cookies, but also you want to be the highest seller within your troop. So, I wanted to sell the most cookies. So, I had a lot of money from selling all of these cookies that I then wanted to give out to everybody to raise.
Andrew: And you’re not supposed to give that money to Girl Scouts?
Juliette: You are supposed to give the money to the Girl Scouts.
Andrew: And you said, “These girls here are going to be able to use it directly. Why should I send it to some organization that I don’t see day-to-day?”
Juliette: Yeah. I don’t know.
Andrew: How did you get so much? What did you do that helped you sell so many Girl Scout cookies?
Juliette: I obviously went door-to-door. I brought it into school. I went into my parents offices and went around to everyone in their offices and said, “Hey, will you buy Girl Scout cookies?” I had them bring it in sometimes as well. I wanted to sell the most cookies and I wanted to be the best in my troop, but I also, at the end of the day, I wanted to give that money back and help other people.
Andrew: But why do it? For me, frankly, to put points up on the board-dollars are often points that you use to measure your success in this game of business, number one-and number two, I’d want whatever prize they gave or whatever money they gave to the winner. I understand that you have that same need to just excel because they put you in a game and you want to do well in it. But what else is there that’s driving you to care about this game if you’re handing the money out to other people?
Juliette: A lot of it is being successful and getting to where you want to be and growing professionally, personally, whatever way is important to you. But for me, people are even more important. My relationships with people, what I can give back to people, especially with Miss O and Friends, what I can give back to teen and tween girls-that is the absolute most important thing for me and that’s kind of the overlying mission and what I feel like my purpose is in creating this company, to really help girls who are going through middle school by giving them a place that they can just be girls, can just be themselves and to build their self-confidence, to feel inspired, to feel empowered and to really be able to give back that way through Miss O and Friends.
Andrew: I’ve got to be honest with you. When I was going to school, I thought girls had it all made. I thought it was easy for girls because we guys were trying to get their attention and they just had to be the magnets of the attention. I thought it was easier for them because the girls at my school seemed to have more social confidence and awareness. They could talk to adults. They could talk to each other like human beings and we still couldn’t do it.
What I didn’t realize was that the girls themselves were going through their own issues. In fact, I was reading notes about you. One of the things that you went through was you were in summer school, seventh grade and you got an IM. Do you remember the IM that I’m talking about? It’s the one telling you not to be friends with someone. I would never get an IM from my friends telling me not to be friends with someone. What was that like?
Juliette: I remember that experience really, really well. At first when you were talking about it I was like, “Wait, what IM?” I’m sure I’ve gotten a bunch of IMs that-
Andrew: You know what? I’m trying as I’m asking my questions to not give so much away that the guest isn’t necessary, but not so little that it’s mysterious. I was walking a fine line on that one.
Juliette: Yeah. That was really crappy. There was this girl who was the leader of our group. No one had to do anything, but everyone felt like if she didn’t like us, then we weren’t going to be cool or we were going to have no friends. We already had seen how mean she had been to other people.
Yeah. She sent out an IM right before school started and said, “We’re not going to be friends with this girl anymore.” We were kind of like all still friends with her, but because she said we shouldn’t be friends with her-it’s one of those weaker moments in my life that I look back on and I’m like, “I can’t believe I did that.” I’m still just knowing like how upsetting it was for this other girl.
But it was like we were afraid. We were afraid of this girl who was a bully and was basically bullying us in. A lot of girls go through that in middle school, whether they are trying to be cool or popular, thinking that that is the most important thing. It’s not and it’s hard to realize that.
Andrew: And this is the kind of person and the kind of environment that you want to help out.
Juliette: Absolutely. Middle school is so tough. Girls have a really, really tough time as you were saying. I think the hardest part is, as you were saying, girls could have conversations with adults and human-like conversations and I think that’s such a big part of the problem that girls do mature faster than guys.
Not only are they maturing emotionally faster, but physically too. They’re having all these feelings, they’re growing up, but they’re still little girls. There are still a lot of things that they shouldn’t be exposed to and they shouldn’t be doing or feeling like they have to do to fit in or to be cool or whatever it is that might be important to them or what they think is important to them.
So, it’s a tough time. There are so many changes that are happening. What we’re trying to do with Miss O and Friends is really make that as easy as possible and give girls a place where they can talk about all these issues and that they can just be girls and they can just be themselves and they don’t have to feel like they’re growing up too fast or trying to be something that they’re not.
Andrew: Did the site start as a hobby where you were putting up drawings on it?
Juliette: So, not really. So, the site did start as a hobby, but it was more from drawings that I did initially. So, I started doodling these girls. It’s actually when I was ten. I doodled this girls that I called “Cool Girls.”
Andrew: You called them what?
Juliette: Cool Girls.
Andrew: Cool Girls. Okay.
Juliette: I gave them to my mom and for some reason she held on to them. In combination with drawings that my younger sister did, Olivia, who is the real Miss O, these drawings, my mom, who has a background in graphic design, took the drawings and made the Juliette and an Olivia character. For years, it was really just something fun for us to do. It was just a hobby. “Oh, Mom, make us go skiing or make us go to the beach or play soccer,” just things that Olivia and I liked to do.
Andrew: I see. And by make us, you mean make the characters that you draw of us do this fun stuff.
Andrew: We’re talking about roughly 2004 at this point.
Juliette: Well, it was more 2000 because I was ten. That was like 1999, which then went over into 2002. Actually, I misspoke before. The first time I met with P&G was when I was 16. They invested in us when I was 19. So, just to clarify that. So, for years it was just a hobby for the three of us. And then one year for Olivia’s eighth birthday party-I was 13. I’m five years older than her.
My mom made these characters for all of her friends that resembled them in the Miss O format, blew them up really big, mounted them on this thick foam course so when they walked into the house for the birthday party, they saw these characters. This was really the first time that we really showed anybody else these characters. Olivia’s friends loved them. They were like, “Oh my gosh. These girls are so cool. I love this. This is the greatest thing ever.”
What was interesting was at that birthday party, like I said, I was 13 and I was the older sister chaperone there. I was helping out with the birthday activities and doing the cake and the dance contest and whatever we were doing at the birthday.
But what I started to notice was that Olivia and her friends were starting to go through things that my friends and I were experiencing in middle school. So, it was the first time that I saw her friends like cliquing off or a girl being upset about her boyfriend and she’s eight years old or a girl not wanting to eat cake because she felt like she was chubby. Again, she’s eight years old.
So, for me, as the older sister, I was like, “Oh my gosh. This is so awful, what my friends and I are dealing with. I don’t want my little baby sister to have such a hard time as well and her friends,” which is why the company is called Miss O and Friends, because Olivia’s nickname is Miss O and I started it for her and her friends to help them through the middle school years.
Andrew: I see. So, the original site-I’m actually looking at a version of it from 2004-2005. There’s already content up on the site. There are games. There is create-I guess that’s a diary or a place to be creative. There are all these different contests, a club. What was the first version of all this? This seems pretty already involved, even though we’re looking at this in 2005.
Juliette: Yeah. The first version of it definitely still had a lot of content because what we wanted to do was really create a place online for girls to go to. So, there were a lot of games. Most of the games that you probably will be seeing on that, those were all games that we actually like custom created, which we then realized later down the road, “Okay, we don’t need to be making like 1,000 games. We can work with other gaming companies to get the games on our site.”
Andrew: So, who created those original games? You were just young girls.
Juliette: Yeah. So, we hired developers to create those games.
Andrew: You and your sister or you, your sister and your mom?
Juliette: No. So, basically, what then transpired really after this birthday party is I kind of went to both of my parents and said, “I want to create something for Olivia and her friends to help them through middle school. I want there to be a place online,” because this was back before the internet had its big boom and everybody was online, but it was getting there. We didn’t want to do a magazine or anything like that because that was already starting to get a little outdated.
So, I went to both my parents with the idea and they said like, “Wow, Juliette, this is a really good idea.” They invested some of their personal money in the company and then I invested-it was a family decision to invest the college funds that they had been saving for me.
Juliette: And from that, my dad’s background is in marketing. So, he then reached out to a couple of people he had worked with, like friends of friends of friends, who were in the web development industry and Matt Service, who has been with us since 2005 and is still a partner in Miss O today, him and his company do everything for our site. So, it was really initially finding the right people, going on meetings and finding people that were going to be sweat equity partners. We had no money to pay them.
Andrew: So, the designers were getting pieces of the business for the work they did?
Andrew: They did?
Andrew: So, where did you and your dad find-where did this whole team find designers who were going to create these games and these images and the flash that was on the site?
Juliette: So, all the art you see, that’s created by my mom. Every single piece of art that you see, that’s completely created-that’s her. That’s her graphic design. That’s all of her talent. So, it was then finding people within that arena. Actually, it’s interesting because we’ve learned how to do a lot of this now too. We’ve learned how to create these games. We’ve learned how to code. I’ve learned a lot of coding.
So, it was networking. It’s talking to people and it’s finding the right people who are like, “Okay, yeah. I’m not going to get paid for this or maybe they will, but it was always very minimal.” Especially starting out your own company, first of all, you’re the last person ever to get paid. So, you’re not taking anything.
And then trying to allocate funds to things that we thought were a necessity, which is why we stopped making our own games because it was so expensive to do. There were times where we did have to pay people. In the long run, it’s like, “Okay, there’s more to the site than just our own games. We can do more than that,” which is why initially there’s a secret diary on there.
Andrew: Yeah. Let me break it down. What was in the first version? There were games. What else?
Juliette: There were games. There was an advice column.
Andrew: Okay. That was written by…?
Juliette: It was two parts. It was called Kids Counsel. It’s now changed to Just from Juliette. But Kids Counsel, girls wrote in questions. They got a response from a school psychologist who was on our board and they also got a response from me. So, the professional and I was 16 at first, 15 or 16-
Andrew: So, the games, advice column, what else?
Juliette: There are a lot of games that go across different boards. So, like a scavenger hunt, a lot of creating things-so, like make your own jewelry, make your own calligraphy, make your own background, like a secret vault where you unlock things. We’ve always had badges on the site. The whole site has always been based on points. So, anything that a girl does on the site ties back into her username and it ties back into the points, which then she can use to enter to win prizes. We’ve always had prizes. Those prizes have just kind of grown and gotten bigger and we’ve been able to get more prizes as we’ve grown.
Andrew: So, the more active they were on the site, the more points they got, the more things they got. Okay. What was the biggest hit out of all of these things? What was the one thing that you launched that you said, “If we just launched with this, the whole site would have been okay?”
Juliette: Pick or Pitch, which is our picture game. Basically, it’s very simple. It’s like two pictures. So, it will be, “What’s your favorite animal?” And it will be two pictures. Let’s say it’s a cat and the other one is a dog. I pick dog. It then flips to the next slide and it shows how many people voted cat versus dog.
So, one, girls can see how people are voting with what they’re thinking and then it takes them to the next one that they can choose between. It’s the simplest game, but it’s fun. You’re answering a question but girls get a lot of points from it too because you can just keep clicking back and forth and keep playing. So, that is our number one and has always been our number one most popular game.
Andrew: It’s like Hot or Not.
Juliette: Honestly, that was the inspiration for it. Obviously we’re not going to call it Hot or Not because that’s not really our motto, but Pick or Pitch.
Andrew: James Hong, the founder of Hot or Not was one of the first interviewees here on Mixergy and he’s been amazed by how many different businesses were built trying to take the Hot or Not concept to other areas of the world.
Alright. So, the fact that they were getting more points for clicking and how easy it was and how interesting the game was got girls to keep clicking, clicking, clicking, getting more points. The more engaged they were, the more likely they were to come back. Where was the business going to be here? If you were taking your college fund and putting it on the site, where did you think the revenue was going to come from?
Juliette: To be totally honest, we didn’t really know. What we kind of had always aspired to do was licensing. That’s still something that we are looking to do, but there’s a lot more to get to that point.
Andrew: You mean the licensing of the characters that your mom drew?
Juliette: Yes, and the whole brand behind Miss O.
Andrew: I see, all the characters at the top of the site.
Juliette: The patterns and the themes-we have spent a lot of time on thinking about that and developing that for when it will happen one day. But that was kind of our initial thing was, “Okay, we’re just going to go right into licensing.” We actually in 2006, we had a stint with a company that did some licensing for us, not super successful. It definitely wasn’t the right time for us. We had just launched and not a lot of brand awareness. But the company was also looking at us as a test.
Andrew: Today it looks like advertising is the way that you’re generating revenue. I see quite a few ads here. There’s a YouTube ad that autoplays. I see an ad right now for the Game World, which is by an ad network. You have AOL ads on the bottom, again, autoplay. Then you have what so many other people do, which is similar content that links over to other articles somewhere else, the Taboola-like service. It’s actually powered by YARP.
Juliette: Yeah. So, now the form of revenue has changed over. The thing is, when we first launched-to backtrack, everything that we do, we’re always asking our audience, “Do you want this? Do you like this? What do you want to see? What do you want to do?” One thing we’ve consistently heard from this is, “We don’t want ads. We don’t want ads. We want no ads on the site.”
So, for a really long time, we did not have any ads on the site. But it came to a point where we needed to start making money and we had to put ads on the site. But again, because we are working with a particular age group and also girls, all the ad networks that we do work with, we are filtering for anything that’s inappropriate and we never really come into an issue like that.
But also in addition to ad revenue in terms of the ads that you’re seeing through networks, we also do sponsorships, which are really like we’re working with another brand that has a product, a book, something that relates to this target audience and taking their content, creating custom ads for it but also creating like very easily integrated content from all that they have into the site that girls can play. Again, it’s all based on points. It’s reading articles and then ultimately winning some sort of prizes.
Andrew: And you guys are profitable now, right?
Andrew: From ads exclusively?
Juliette: From ads and sponsorships.
Andrew: And sponsorships, excuse me. I guess I think of ads as the same as sponsorships, but I know the difference.
Juliette: They’re very different.
Andrew: Ads are like that Google ad that you have at the top, the sponsorship is what you just described. Alright. We’ve talked about revenue. We’ve talked about the idea. Let’s talk about how you get people in the door. What do you do to get more people than Miss O and her friends?
Juliette: That was cute. Well, initially, when we first started, we had this one piece of press. I’m not sure if this is still out in schools, but there was this magazine called Time for Kids, which was probably like four pages, if that. It was an in-classroom magazine that you would get in elementary/middle school that you kind of read with your teacher and your class and it has some current events and some quizzes and some things like that.
Andrew: Yeah. It’s still active. I see it right here.
Juliette: Is it?
Juliette: So, the very first piece of press we had was an article about me in Time for Kids. So, that one got us really synced in with schools. As you were saying, a lot of our traffic does come from teachers’ classrooms or at least it did initially. And then I would say now there are a lot of different things that we do. We do SEO. We do web marketing. We are semi-active on social, but I don’t attribute that to a lot of the traffic that’s coming to our site because we are higher on our site than we are on social.
But it is really like pushing the word our through a lot of press, doing a lot of interviews, sending out press releases, really trying to get into niche areas where we know girls are, where they’re going to. We’ve done stuff with the girl scouts. Like I said, we’ve been tied in with teachers.
Andrew: Let me break that down. I’ve been writing all these down as you said it so I could understand how you did it. Girl Scouts, teachers we’ll come back to-
Juliette: And you know what? What’s really crazy, to be totally honest, a lot of this has come from us not doing it. It’s come from people being interested in the story of Miss O and Friends, being interested in who we are, especially when I was younger, interested in, “Oh, this young girl has started something for young girls.” So much of that press is still out there. When anybody is going to search “young female entrepreneur,” there’s a good chance that I come up and then someone else wants to talk to me.
Andrew: So, let’s understand how you got that press. Time for Kids is a Time Magazine version of itself for kids. How did you get in that? That’s not an easy thing to do.
Juliette: So, also when we first started, we had a PR agent who was helping us.
Andrew: Who was the PR agent, like a friend of the family?
Juliette: Yes. A lot of these people were friends of the family. They were honestly people who, like I said, believed in us and believed in the mission. I think that’s a really important aspect of it.
Andrew: So, it was a friend of the family who your dad went to, I’m guessing based on his experience, and said, “Will you help us out by getting us some press?” and the friend said yes.
Andrew: Okay. Alright. So, that got you there. How did you know what to say? Was it also the friend of the family who coached you through it?
Juliette: Yes and no. She definitely helped in terms of like after that, I did some TV interviews. I was always nervous. I didn’t know what to say.
Andrew: Paul Brindak is your dad. He was Chief Marketing Officer for the data ISP IntelliSpace and before that, he worked for a bank, I think. Am I right?
Juliette: He worked for a lot of places.
Andrew: A lot of places.
Juliette: He’s very entrepreneurial. So, the corporate environment wasn’t always the best thing.
Andrew: Yeah. I don’t see a lot of entrepreneurial experience here in his online resume until this site. This site gave him an opportunity to take all those friendships that he made, all that entrepreneurial energy that was bubbling inside and just let it out.
Andrew: Am I right?
Andrew: Okay. So, he helped you with that or the friend did. Television also came from the same PR friend?
Juliette: Yes. A couple of things that we initially had done and the first couple of things came from her.
Andrew: Okay. Alright. You also said then that you got teachers to help out. How did teachers come in?
Juliette: Well, what was interesting is like I said, from the Time for Kids article, teachers saw the site and saw that it was something positive for their students, specifically girls. They put Miss O and Friends on their homepage or teacher’s web. So, it was the classroom assignments and it would have a couple of links of things that kids could check out. It was like Nat Geo or Whitehouse or whatever it was, but a lot of teachers were putting Miss O and Friends there as well.
Andrew: Okay. Social is something I did look into. You guys don’t have a lot of followers on Twitter because I’m guessing your age group is not active on Twitter. You have 23 likes on Facebook.
Andrew: 2,300, not 23.
Juliette: I know we’re low, but we’re not that low.
Andrew: 2,300. Where is the social part really active?
Juliette: Well, like I said, we haven’t really focused on social because of the age restrictions. So, one of the reasons why we created-we created a co-view site called Miss O Moms because there are a lot of problems that we were running into, not problems, but just because of COPA, we can’t have Twitter on Miss O and Friends. We can’t have Pinterest.
We can’t have anything that doesn’t require an age to sign up. We can’t necessarily be directing people to those sites. So, it has made it difficult for us to build those presences, which is why we have also looked into-that’s why we created Miss O Moms, to get moms to refer their daughters to Miss O and Friends.
Andrew: I do see some-what is this? 1, 200 likes, where is that? Let me see. I just liked you to see where that goes. Huh. Alright. I’ll have to look at it later. So, social isn’t driving you a lot, it seems like, right?
Andrew: Teachers came in just from that Time Magazine. Did you do anything to give teachers activities for their classrooms or anything like that?
Juliette: No. We’re not educational.
Andrew: So, they just kept referring students in. Why would teachers keep referring students over to Miss O and Friends?
Juliette: Because it was a positive place for them to be online. Also initially at the time, we didn’t have any socialization. It was just games. It was advice. It was articles and the secret diary. So, there were no risks for these kids going to the site. They knew that it was going to be safe and a positive place with positive messaging for their students that might need it.
Andrew: Okay. And then SEO-you and I talked about how before you came to do this interview today, you were working on moving your site over to a different infrastructure.
Andrew: What are you moving to?
Juliette: So, we’re moving over to WordPress.
Andrew: And what were you built on? That makes so much sense. What was the first version?
Juliette: It was a LAMP architecture that our developers, the same guys that have been with us since the beginning, built from scratch and created. To maintain that and to update it regularly and to change any sort of SEO on it is a really, really big pain. It’s not easy.
We have, in the last two and a half, three years, we have been in the process of moving everything over, obviously from initial discussions to like actually getting it to be there. But one of the huge reasons was one, our site not being as mobile friendly as it should be because a lot of the ads that you’ll see are flash ads, and that’s just not mobile friendly.
Two, the SEO restrictions of going in, changing pages, just the way that it was created, we couldn’t make all those changes. Over the last year and a half, we really got into focusing on the SEO for the site that we have now and trying to make it as good as possible without being in a WordPress platform or something that’s easily changeable. So, now we’re like very much looking forward to taking all of that and moving it over to the new platform and everything that we learned from that.
Andrew: At what point did you get a buyout opportunity?
Juliette: We had one in 2010.
Andrew: Okay. How did that come about?
Juliette: So, that came about from a conference that I went to in Russia. I went to a conference.
Andrew: In Russia.
Juliette: In Saint Petersburg in the summer of 2010. I went twice. I went in 2010 and 2011. It was to help build an entrepreneurial spirit in Russia. It was the East International Economic Forum. There was a chairman of a large entertainment company. He was one of the only Americans there. I went up and I talked to him and I said, “I have a property that I think would be really interesting for you guys. I would love to present to you and I would love to talk to you.” Then when we got back, I followed up with him and he introduced us to M&A over there and we went and presented on a Friday and they made us an offer on Monday.
Andrew: What was the offer for?
Juliette: I’m not going to tell you how much it was for. I’m sorry.
Andrew: Was it more than the Procter & Gamble?
Juliette: It wasn’t as high as we wanted it to be.
Andrew: I’m sorry?
Juliette: It was not as high as we would have liked.
Andrew: I see. So, it wouldn’t have made you into a millionaire.
Juliette: It would have. Absolutely.
Andrew: You personally and you decided no?
Juliette: Well, we went into conversations with them. We wanted to get a little bit more. Then what was also going on internally at this company is they had just hired a bunch of people to reorganize all of their family content and like all of their family brands. So, they were like, “We can’t take anything else on right now,” and it fell through. But I think it was the right thing that it fell through. If we had sold at that time, I think it would have been disappointing. I see that we have so much potential as a company that I want to keep building and building.
Andrew: Fair to say that you’re a millionaire from the business, that it’s done over $1 million in profits?
Andrew: Yeah. This is phenomenal. Frankly, I’m going to continue with the interview, but I just wanted to take a moment here and say that when I first saw the site, I didn’t think it was that big. I think there’s the fact that you’re talking to tweens and teenage girls that maybe I don’t relate to, so I didn’t realize the value of it. I think the fact that the tools that I use to measure traffic maybe are just not accurate for a site like yours because I think they’re using tools like plugins for browsers that teenage girls and tweens aren’t installing.
Juliette: Well, it’s funny that you say that because one of our really active members on the site is actually an intern that we pay. She was asking me about something. I was like, “Oh no, well, it pops up here and you can see it here.” She goes, “I need to have all that deactivated. My parents make me deactivate all that stuff.”
So, I think also for that age group, you have to take into consideration security measures that parents might be putting on their computers to block any sort of trackers or things like that. But on Google Analytics, these are the numbers that we have and they’ll show them on some other platforms as well.
Andrew: The other thing that you have going for you with this business is is-you know how much of a skeptic I am, how cynical I am because I’m an interviewer. I feel like my audience is ten times as much. There’s someone who’s now checked out of this whole interview because I did a sponsorship spot at the top of the interview. They won’t let me run banner ads. They won’t let me do all that stuff.
I’m on your site. You have videos that play. It’s for mac and cheese. So, we’re not talking about selling kids stuff that they wouldn’t want. But it autoplays in there. You get to run multiple ads on the same page. So, this audience that we as, frankly, largely males and as older entrepreneurs don’t get, we’re missing out on this huge opportunity with them.
Juliette: Yeah. They’re a big demographic. There’s a lot of tween and teen girls and they’re online and they’re-
Andrew: And they’re more accepting of these kinds of ads.
Juliette: Well, the thing is is we also try and make sure-we do need to make money off of ads right now. There are plans for other ways that we will have a stream of revenue, but this is where we are right now. What it comes down to is making sure that if we are going to be showing these ads, if we are going to be showing videos, then it’s still content that’s not irrelevant to them or stupid or something that they will get really easily.
Sometimes there might be a random car ad that shows up. It really makes no sense to the demographic. But also, it’s not harmful. It’s something that’s harmless. What we also have really worked on trying to do is putting in our own content after these pre-roll ads. So, you’ll see like a Just from Juliette video, which is me giving advice to girls.
We’re really trying to do that with a lot of this new video content that we’re creating to at least, okay, if we’re going to have an ad, we’re at least going to have content, especially if it’s video content, that these girls are going to want to watch and really be able to engage and relate with.
Andrew: You said that you hit a million uniques a month partially because you created Miss O with Moms.
Andrew: Is it called Miss O with Mom? No. It’s MissOMoms.com.
Juliette: It’s called Miss O Moms.
Andrew: MissOMoms.com. I’m on that site right now. Can you tell me again what led you to create MissOMoms.com?
Juliette: So, there were a couple of different catalysts to lead us to create Miss O Moms. The biggest one is that we were finding that especially for the younger girls, for girls that were 8, 9, 10, 11, even 12, 13, but even more so for these younger girls, before they were allowed to go to the site, their parents were coming to the site to check it out and to make sure it was safe, especially after we introduced a Girl to Girl Wall and level two membership which allows girls to safely socialize on the site.
So, what was happening is we were getting all these parents coming to the site and they’re looking at it to make sure that it’s okay for their daughter, but we were also getting all these parents coming to the site. So, we were like, “Well, let’s create something for them because that’s a whole other market that we can potentially tap into.”
And then, like I also briefly mentioned, it was to be able to use Miss O Moms as a way to promote Miss O and Friends to the moms to get through socialization, but also more like writing on other blogs, talking with other bloggers, getting our content cross-generated. That’s also another way that we get girls to Miss O and Friends, sharing our content out with other sites that might be relevant and getting users from that cross-channel.
Andrew: Before we get into that, let me see if I understand this. You realized moms were coming to the site and so you created a site for moms that’s a sister site to this one. You then, I see, linked people who were clicking the Mom link at the top, they went over to MissOMoms.com. Sorry. Something else just autoplayed on MissOMoms.com. And then how did you get-that doesn’t seem like even a small portion of your site going over to MissOMoms.com doesn’t seem like it’s enough to grow both sites together. What happened? What else did you do?
Juliette: Well, with MissOMoms, that was done in WordPress. So, we were automatically able to build in SEO with that and reach out. So, MissOMoms is basically a blog. Anybody can write on it. We obviously post articles and curate things. But it was working with other bloggers, other mom bloggers and saying, “Hey, you want to write an article on our site? Can we post this on your site?” So, it was really, again, a lot of that working together to grow Miss O Moms and grow it that way. And internet marketing and ads and things like that have also helped.
Andrew: You’re saying you then created this site. But even this, I don’t see a lot of shares on this. One of the latest posts called “The Teens Perspective: Cleaning My Room,” only shared three times on Twitter, three times on Facebook. That’s it. So, what’s bringing all this traffic to this beyond your main site?
Juliette: You mean beyond Miss O and Friends?
Andrew: Yeah. What’s getting the Moms site traffic beyond the girls site?
Juliette: What’s really interesting is we monitor-so, we monitor the links. A lot of the content on Moms is also shared in other places. So, you might not be seeing on there-like if it says the actual article, like Miss O Moms and it says it was shared like three times on Twitter. That’s probably just from Miss O Moms. So, it’s not like moms or parents or whatever are constantly checking Miss O Moms daily to see what they can share. It’s that content that’s being shared across platforms.
This is kind of the crazy notion of metrics and where you’re looking and who’s telling you what. So, whenever we’re posting anything on social, we use the Bitly to be able to shorten our link and also be able to track it and see how many shares and how many clicks it’s had. If we share something on Facebook, especially I find this most with the Miss O Moms articles.
We honestly haven’t gotten to the bottom of the huge discrepancy and like what it is that is making the number so different. If I go to Facebook and it will tell me how many people have viewed it or how many people have shared it, it will be like one person or like, “This reached 70 people or this reached 90 people.” When I go to Bitly, that link has thousands of clicks to it and shares.
Andrew: Let’s take a look. I’m looking at one of the things. Let’s not look at something you posted today. I’ll look at something you posted yesterday on Miss O Moms on Twitter. I’m grabbing the Bitly link. I’m going to put a plus at the end of the URL. So, it’s Bitly-slash-etc. and I’m going to put a plus at the end of it. It’s 77 clicks overall but it’s only two clicks from this one tweet. But that one tweet, frankly, is going out to your Twitter audience of 314 followers. So, it’s not coming from there.
Juliette: Right. So, there are certain ones where-like “iPhone App for Kids” that we shared had 636 clicks.
Andrew: I see.
Juliette: It’s saying 634 of those are from Facebook. But when we go to Facebook, it’s not showing us that traffic. “A Teens Perspective on Cleaning My Room.” You said how many shares did that have?
Andrew: Two and two-two Facebook likes, two Twitter.
Juliette: So, on Bitly it’s saying it had 1,029 clicks.
Juliette: So, it’s interesting.
Andrew: Okay. And where did you get that Bitly link?
Juliette: It’s on my account that I monitor.
Andrew: Okay. Here. Let me do it. I’m going to shorten the link right now. Let’s do shorten on Bitly link. This is where people start regretting that they’ve agreed to do an interview with me. Especially before the interview, I start to get really-
Juliette: That’s fine.
Andrew: I see what you mean. Yes.
Juliette: I think it’s interesting too. I had a conversation with someone the other day being like it’s crazy how there’s this discrepancy between what Facebook is reporting or what our site is reporting. I’ve seen these numbers.
Andrew: Yeah. I’m seeing over 1,000 people use that Bitly link.
Andrew: Weird. Interesting. Alright.
Juliette: But my point is what I can chalk that up to, because of how we do across shared content, I think a lot of people might be sharing that Bitly link on their site without us even knowing about it.
Andrew: How into the metrics are you?
Juliette: Me personally or our company in general?
Andrew: Yeah. Both. I’ve had periods in my life or periods at Mixergy where I’ve cared tremendously and mostly where I haven’t. Where are you and where is the company as a whole?
Juliette: Well, the company as a whole-it’s based on different things. But me personally, I am always skeptical of different numbers that I’m seeing because just as we did, we’re getting such different numbers from different sources that we’re looking at. So, it doesn’t drive me crazy or at least I don’t let it drive me crazy. If something seems really low or if something seems really weirdly high.
But it obviously is important. It helps us to grow as a company, to get people to want to work with us, to work with ad networks and that we have good traffic and real traffic and the girls are coming to the site, to work with different partners on sponsorships that they are going to get these eyeballs and they are going to get this engagement. So, it’s an important factor. But I can’t drive myself crazy over it because just as we’re doing this, we’re getting such different information.
There’s only, at least for us, there’s only so much that we can track. Because again, we are dealing with a demographic, especially on Miss O and Friends, that is younger. We can’t gather identifiable information from them. We can’t gather certain data from them because it’s illegal. We literally cannot do it. I think that in itself obviously imposes some issues in terms of things that we can and can’t do and how we want to work on something or gather information that might help us make our site better.
But that’s when we rely on our community to give us that information. If all of a sudden we are hearing nothing from any of our users and nothing from girls and our numbers are showing something else, then I’d be like, “Huh, alright… what’s going on here?” But that hasn’t necessarily been the case.
Andrew: What kind of revenue are you guys doing now?
Juliette: I’m not going to give that number either. But we are profitable.
Andrew: There was a period, though, where you had to mortgage your house, I heard.
Juliette: Yeah. There was a period where we made no money. We didn’t start becoming profitable until 2012.
Andrew: 2012. And the site first came on board in what, 2005, I’d say. So, we’re talking seven years after you’ve taken money out of your college fund and after you’ve asked friends to help out and after you’ve spent hours on it, still no profit and then 2012 it happened. Do you remember the day when you turned profitable?
Juliette: Yes. I remember the day because that allowed me to be able to work on Miss O full time. Even though this was my company that I always wanted to be able to do full time, after I graduated college, I couldn’t get paid. I wanted to be able to live on my own and I didn’t want to live at home with mom and dad. I lived at home with mom and dad for a few months and I was like, “I can’t do this. I was just in college for four years. I’m an adult and I need to be independent.”
I had other jobs. I hated every single one of them because it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing. Miss O was the only thing that I wanted to be doing. But I couldn’t get paid full time to do it. So, I did Miss O every other time that I wasn’t working at another job to make money. To my parents’ credit, they didn’t have salaries for that whole time either.
Andrew: What turned it around in 2012 that allowed you to do all this?
Juliette: Well, it was a couple-fold. But it was mostly the increase in our traffic, us hitting that one million unqiues, which made a lot of people more interested in us and interested in working with us in terms of sponsorships. Then once we started working with other companies sponsorship-related, obviously our numbers continued to grow and then that’s when we were able to start working with ad networks.
Andrew: How did you get Procter & Gamble as an investor?
Juliette: So, it’s funny because my dad grew up-when I say “grew up,” that’s the word he uses-at Colgate, which is P&G’s biggest rival. So, his background comes from a lot of consumer marketing and products. From a market research aspect, it was my dad’s idea to say, “I think that Colgate might be interested in this.” He went to Colgate and they’re like, “Yeah, no, we’re not interested.”
Andrew: He was thinking Colgate would be interested in market research to understand what girls are into as a way of knowing how to create new products and also how to promote them to girls.
Andrew: And they said no. Okay.
Juliette: They said no. So, it was like this really funny internal dilemma to him like, “Oh no, do I go to P&G? I’ve only bought Colgate toothpaste my whole adult life,” and like all of this stuff. But there was this guy. He’s not there anymore. His name was Pat Gentile. He basically ran the P&G entertainment arm. If you think of soap operas, where soap opera comes from back in the day, it was really companies like P&G and Colgate creating these shows.
They were interested in us from an entertainment aspect but also a market research aspect. So, when I was 16, we went in and went up to Cincinnati and we presented to them. They were really interested. They thought that what we were doing was really relevant and was really significant, not only from what they could get from just the general interactions of girls on the site, but also the importance and the significance that it had and then also looking at it from that entertainment aspect and potentially growing into that one day.
Andrew: I see him here, actually, on LinkedIn. I didn’t realize I’m a LinkedIn premium member. Now they’re making it very clear to me that I am. I think that’s because we use LinkedIn to find potential guests. I don’t know how I would reach this guy. How did you reach him? I see him. Pascale is the full name, Pascale Gentile. Pat is how he’s known. He was with Procter & Gamble for 12 years up until 2012. I don’t know. This guy seems impenetrable to me. Was it your dad’s friend who introduced him, your dad’s connections?
Juliette: It was my dad’s connections through Colgate that introduced us.
Andrew: I see. So, he went to a friend at Colgate and said, “Listen, if you guys aren’t interested, you know your competition.”
Juliette: It’s basically people that we knew. That’s the thing. A lot of it is through people that my parents knew or parents of my friends or people in our town or different things like that. What I also find really interesting is that the town that I grew up in wasn’t like a city like Manhattan. It wasn’t a tiny little town, but it was small enough that if an article came out in the local newspaper, people would call you if they had some insight for you or be interested or say, “How can we help you do this?”
So, that was a lot of it also. People were genuinely interested in what we were trying to do, what I was trying to do, how this was something important that I felt really related to and wanted to help girls that a lot of people end up offering their services because they can.
Andrew: I see. That’s a really cool environment to grow up in. I grew up in New York. Everyone wants to beat you up there.
Juliette: Well, people still want you to beat you up where I grew up. If they think that they can get something out of it, they’re going to help you.
Andrew: I see. You know, that brings me to something else. When you ask your friends for a lot, when you make it big and they find articles about how well you’re doing, they come back asking for things. “Hey, listen, Juliette, I need a job. Can you help me out? Juliette, can you fix my computer? I’m having some trouble.” You must get that all the time. How do you respond to all these requests from people who might have helped you out in the past?
Juliette: Well, if someone is someone has helped me out, I obviously want to help them in any capacity that I can. I can’t necessarily offer them a job, but I can refer them to someone who I think might be interested in their skills and might be able to help them out. One, it’s important to repay people as much as you can, especially if you’re not paying them with dollars.
Actually, just before this interview, a friend that I went to college with messaged me and she’s working for this TV startup app company that’s focusing on the Middle East and she said, “We’re looking for some rounds right now. Is there anyone that you can introduce me to?” And absolutely. She was a friend of mine. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t. She didn’t help me with anything in the past, but if I can help somebody, I definitely will.
Andrew: I was on LinkedIn and I checked your dad out on LinkedIn. He is so proud of this business. He is so proud of Miss O. He’s wearing the Miss O logo on his LinkedIn a bunch.
Andrew: And he’s also proud of your metrics. He’s telling people to go check out Quantcast to see it. Let me see. I think I need access from you guys. MissOandFriends.com on Quantcast… No. Oh, there we go. So, Quantcast is saying that you guys do over a million page views. Let me see over what period of time is this? Yeah. Your numbers are huge. Here we go. Web, uniques for the month of February… nine million people, forty million page views. And Quantcast is the one that puts the pixel on your site. You’re huge.
Juliette: I’m not lying here.
Andrew: Oh, I don’t think you’re lying, actually. I can tell when someone’s lying and being evasive. I ask a couple of really tough questions before we start and they fall apart and then they say, “Listen, I think this might be a bad idea.”
Juliette: I’m telling you, these are what the numbers say. This is what our site shows. I’m not making anything up.
Andrew: So, what did you do? How did you celebrate all this? I’ll tell you what my brother did. When we did well, my brother rented-what car was it? A Dodge Viper or something. I’m not a car guy. But they basically made him put $20,000 just to drive it around for a day, but he said, “Screw it. I made it. I’ve got to have something here. I can’t just keep working forever.” And then he went and had fun like that. What did you do? What’s one thing that you said, “You know what? We’re no longer remortgaging our place. We’re successful.”
Juliette: I’ve done nice things. I like to go on a vacation. But yeah, we’re doing well right now. That could change tomorrow. I got really bad news yesterday about something that I thought was going to happen and was so excited for. You don’t know. Actually, to be totally honest, the last three weeks have been extremely hard in terms of things that we were really, really hoping for and had worked really hard to get to and they are not happening right now.
Andrew: Like what? What’s an example of something that fell apart?
Juliette: A TV show.
Andrew: Okay. That’s got to be devastating because you get your hopes up.
Juliette: It was devastating. It’s really hard and we just found out yesterday. I’m going to refer back to my dad. I know I’ve been talking about it a lot, but he’s obviously a huge part of my life and a huge part of the company. Not only is he a great business partner, but he’s a great dad too and I’m definitely lucky to have both of those things.
But I’ve been upset the last few days and he’s like, “Juliette, I know you say this to people and I say this all the time, but you really have to keep it even keel. You really can’t get too excited about something.” It’s so hard though. It’s so hard not to let your mind drift off and get excited and want to celebrate. When it doesn’t happen, it just makes you even more devastated.
So, I don’t really celebrate anything. That might sound cynical, but I have been doing this for like half of my life that it is so important to me and I am always so nervous and paranoid and like, “Oh my God, what if this happens tomorrow or what if this doesn’t happen tomorrow?”
So, yeah, I’ll take a nice vacation. I’ll go buy something that I wanted to buy. I live in a nice apartment. So, for me, that’s like a treat that I have. I can have my own office space and things like that. But I’m not going to really celebrate until all of my things on my wish list come true and they may never come true.
That’s never to say that I’m never going to be happy because I am very happy, but I’m just always superstitious. I know it’s silly, but I am. It’s hard. Yeah. I got a sponsorship today and that was great, but I’m still upset about the TV thing not happening, so I’m not going to go and celebrate my sponsorship. That might be silly. That might be stupid. But I just can’t yet. I’m not ready to be there yet. I don’t think that we’re there as a company yet.
Andrew: I get that. That’s one of the frustrating parts about entrepreneurship. You never feel fully safe. That bit of paranoia is always there. Well, congratulations. I saw your TED Talk also, which was fantastic. I know how much you care about your mission. I’m really proud to see how far you’ve come with it. Thanks so much for sharing the story here on Mixergy and for putting up with my questions, especially before we started when I get to be even more skeptical.
Andrew: I wasn’t skeptical. As an interviewer, you want to make sure that the stuff you put out there is good and that it’s accurate because frankly, I see a lot of interviewers out there. They are spreading lies.
Juliette: Oh, and I appreciate that because if you Google my name, you will get so much different information. Some people will literally just make up things and I’ll be like, “What? Who told you that? Where did you pull that number out from?” So, I appreciate your questions that are trying to get to the truth. I hope I provided the best answers I could for you.
Andrew: Absolutely have. And I want to thank a few people for helping me put this whole thing together. One of them is Jeremy Weisz who did the pre-interview. I also want to thank Stephanie Littlefield and Andrea Schumann who helped me put together the research for this. And this interview will be posted up on the site thanks to Ari Disormo. Ari is always up there on the site and in the comments helping out. I’ve got a great team here and I’m glad they helped me put this interview together with you.
The website for anyone that wants is Miss O and Friends. I especially urge entrepreneurs to go check this out. It’s not going to put a dent in Miss O and Friends website’s traffic, but I think we really look at the exact same sites-I know I do-the exact same sites, the exact same designs, the exact same everything all the time. What Miss O and Friends has as a business and also as a site is a different perspective, a different audience, so different from what we’re doing that it’s worth exploring and getting ourselves out of the tech bubble that I’m in. I’m glad I got to learn from you and thanks so much for doing this interview.
Juliette: Thanks so much for having me.
Andrew: You bet. Thank you everyone. Bye.