After years of skirting requests to be StyleBlueprint FACES, today we actually got our own StyleBlueprint cofounders to agree to be profiled! In January of 2009, Elizabeth Fox and Liza Graves launched StyleBlueprint, and nearly 10 years later, their company has evolved from a local blog to a multi-market, Southern-focused digital media company. StyleBlueprint is now in Atlanta, Birmingham, Charlotte, Louisville, Memphis and Nashville, and has a regional Southern Edition as well. Today we’re getting back to basics and chatting it up with Elizabeth and Liza to get a true insider’s look at how this company was built from the ground up, find out their memorable moments and learn if they have discovered the ever-elusive work/life balance. We’re thrilled to feature our very own from here at StyleBlueprint as this week’s FACES of the South!
You established the StyleBlueprint mission as “Connecting Women to the Community.” Describe why that was an important mission and how you set out to fulfill it.
Liza Graves: As a general statement, women want to be in community with each other, but we’re often too busy taking care of our kids, our parents, our jobs … we’re the frontlines for these things, but we thrive off of community. Our mission is to connect women to their community, whether that be their physical community or their online community, but to give them reason to get out, to connect, to strike up a conversation, to read and hopefully have their proverbial cup be filled, just a bit, as most of us are running dry. As an army of women who all feel a bit better about their place in the world and thus are more empowered, spreading some positiveness, reaching out to others … well, that’s a significant cumulative effect and one we aim to earnestly foster.
Elizabeth Fox: I continue to marvel how women juggle their family, their work and their personal time. By the time women have taken care of everyone else’s needs, there is usually no time left for them. Our initial thought was that we may have a business concept if we could find a way to connect women virtually and give them a positive lift. StyleBlueprint’s main article is sent out at 5 a.m. for a reason — it allows women a quick read before they start their busy days. One of our goals is to offer solutions for women’s everyday needs. It may be how to make a meal in under 20 minutes or how to pack for a week-long vacation in a small carry-on. The underlying message is that we’re all in this together, whether it’s a good day or bad day. Another aspect of “connecting women to the community” is, and has always been, promoting what women do to make their communities better. Let’s face it, women provide the foundation for many aspects of life.
StyleBlueprint is all about local — supporting local, shopping local, connecting locals. Why is it so important to you to “live local”?
Elizabeth: It’s funny because one of my huge motivations to start StyleBlueprint was to be a sleuth in my own city. Now, I get to be a sleuth in the entire South. I truly believe that great cities happen because of the shop owners, chefs and various merchants who put a stake in the ground to make a difference in their cities. I learned that the first time I went to New York City. Yes, it is a huge city but each neighborhood has a unique personality of its own. By supporting the local butcher, the baker and candlestick maker, you’re invested in the future of the town you love. Every StyleBlueprint city has similar vibes —great neighborhoods and equally as great residents from all walks of life. ‘Live local’ means that you don’t want to consume things that are all the same. You want variety and choice. Can you imagine your city without great ethnic restaurants or someone who repairs your shoes?
Liza: Supporting local is something people say, but it’s amazing how many still walk into a local store, use the person’s expertise to help them make a decision on a gift, piece of clothing or piece of furniture — and then they LOOK IT UP ONLINE TO BUY IT TO SAVE A FEW BUCKS! It’s terrible. If anyone reading does that, stop. It’s tacky and just not cool. You’re buying the advice, the taste of the owner and the experience … that all comes with your local purchase. That’s something to pay retail for and not hunt online for the lowest price.
What’s your most memorable moment — good or bad — in the history of StyleBlueprint that you’ll remember as long as you live?
Liza: Well, my most memorable bad moment is one I really don’t want to talk about, and, yeah, it’s bad. Just throwing a dose of reality into the filtered, perfect world we live in as it’s important for everyone to know that you can be hit hard and get back up. But, something that is far more fun to talk about, and the one I’m most proud of, was when, just a few months ago, we were able to start providing health insurance to our fabulous team. They deserved it, and Elizabeth and I worked so hard to make sure we could afford this. Our team is part of our extended family, and being able to provide this was one of the greatest moments in business I’ve ever had.
Elizabeth: Our first company gathering at Evins Mill was a huge rush for me. We were seated outside on a gorgeous night with one long table, and I was awestruck. Not only did I feel proud that we had assembled such an incredible group of women to work for StyleBlueprint, but it was a company that Liza and I had created based on an idea. Yes, we have had struggles like any startup company, but the good certainly outweighs the bad.
Since the launch of StyleBlueprint in 2009, the digital space has changed drastically. How do you keep up with the constant change?
Elizabeth: With regard to clients, we started StyleBlueprint before Facebook and Instagram were important factors for local businesses. Now social media is so critical to the success of any business as it is a relatively inexpensive marketing investment and highly effective. The evolution of media is dramatic. It used to be you could buy TV, radio and newspaper, and get a tremendous reach. Now it’s all about segmentation and hyper-targeting your customer. The data is rich and allows companies to make intelligent marketing decisions. I feel fortunate that we have a talented group of employees who are open to new ideas when challenged and able to grow our readership and client base. Also, we have a distinct advantage over many local media companies in that we started as a digital publisher. We can be nimble when we see a good idea and run with it.
What’s the most memorable story that has ever run on StyleBlueprint in any of its markets?
Liza: Oh, gosh, that’s a hard one and I guess it depends on to whom you are talking … But, the first one that we ever got TONS of feedback on was “Are You Bare Down There?” which ran in 2010 and walked a reader through the Brazilian wax trend, how popular it was and how to position yourself (criss-cross-applesauce and lie back, just in case you are wondering). I was really stuck on what photos to use, and I settled on Georgia O’Keeffe paintings as we’ve all been told what her paintings are truly of, right? If you don’t know, it’s perfect for this topic. There was also a photo of an older woman manicuring her hedges, and the caption read, “See, even older women trim their bushes.” It ran right before Christmas, and I knew it was a hit when I was walking into Christmas Eve service and all these people started laughing seeing me and several gave me high fives. Who knew so many people would be interested?
Elizabeth: Publishing our first FACES article truly resonated with me. FACES is a series where we celebrate the good things women are doing in their communities. So many good things have happened through the FACES articles, whether it be a connection to a not-for-profit or to just recognize someone who would never be acknowledged for their good works. I tell the women who are FACES to expect to be queen for a day. We get asked so much, “Will you ever consider doing a FACES series on men?” The answer is not now as we believe women, in general, are under-recognized. But one never knows … we could change our minds.
As owners of a company that has seen plenty of locally owned businesses come and go throughout the near-decade you’ve been in business, what advice would you offer folks looking to start their own business?
Liza: It’s going to be far harder than you can imagine … make sure you have the fortitude for it and enough saved up as your pay will likely be sporadic, at least at first. Figure out what your mission is and work the numbers to see if your idea is a job, or is it a hobby? And, your business should reflect you. You would never have someone over to your home and not graciously greet them, or make sure the powder room was clean, or say thank you if they bring you a gift. Treat your customers that same way. And, better yet, treat your vendors that same way as well. Expect a lot from everyone around you as only from high expectations will they grow. And, when it comes to bricks and mortar, just as always, location, location, location.
Elizabeth: Pretty simple — once you have a concept nailed down, figure out what the end game is. Do you want to build a company to give you a nice lifestyle business or build it to sell it? Then, ask the smartest people you know to shoot holes through your concept. Once you’ve vetted your business idea, then spend your money on a top-notch lawyer, accountant and business consultant.
Tell us a little about the behind-the-scenes of StyleBlueprint.
Liza: We have the most amazing team, and it’s been so fun seeing them really stretch and grow, especially over the last year. They care so much about creating a great product that we are all proud of. And, they’re fun, smart and curious. I may write for a living, but expressing how grateful I am for each person on our team is something I don’t think I could ever fully do.
Elizabeth: We are a great melding of personalities with a great commitment to seeing our company improve. Our office is non-traditional as it is an open space with one conference room and a single office with a door. For a long time, it was hard to find a pen since we all work on computers. We have moved four times in the same building due to needing more space. It’s been fun to see that happen.
What has been the best moment of your StyleBlueprint career?
Liza: If I had to pick, it would be writing about Old Made Good (OMG) and their new location in 2013. You see, the owners of this East Nashville business decided to create a gold glitter floor as a DIY project. They got in way over their heads, and it was going to cost $5,000 to fix and make it right. They didn’t have the money to do this. They had a huge following online, and they put their story out on Indiegogo to raise funds (this was right when crowdfunding had emerged), but it wasn’t getting much traction. Our story ran the next day, and you know what happened? I’m getting teary talking about it. Our readers pledged over $7,000 that very day. They shared the story over 1,000 times on Facebook. The floor was able to be fixed, gold glitter and all, and it was fabulous. This was community. To be able to have a platform with such amazing readers who saw the need and donated to the cause of these two business owners who had gotten in over their heads in a DIY project gone bad? I will forever be grateful that we were, and are, blessed enough to have this type of reader who takes the time to read StyleBlueprint each day and when called to action, responds. Another example is when we wrote a story on pillowcase dresses for Africa, and the need for more new pillowcases from which to make dresses for these little girls. Just shy of a 1,000 pillowcases were turned in.
Elizabeth: Since I live on the client side of StyleBlueprint, I don’t have a singular moment. I do remember quite well going out to ask Nashville businesses to become big sponsors and 90% said yes on the first ask. The first big investment in StyleBlueprint was a hospital that made the decision to underwrite FACES of Nashville. Those moments for me are truly memorable.
How do you balance a startup with your family and personal life?
Liza: I don’t [laughs]. But, in order to work this hard at work and still connect with my family in a meaningful way, I’d say I’ve given up a lot of my personal life and I miss seeing my friends more. It’s family and work first and I try to fill in the personal stuff, but that’s what has really suffered. My goal this year to get some of that back.
Elizabeth: Anyone who knows me well knows that I get up at 4:30 a.m. three mornings a week to hike in Percy Warner Park with Ann West and Christy Palmer. It’s insane but I honestly couldn’t be in so many meetings without connecting with nature first. We also try to have family dinners at least three nights a week, but I echo what Liza said as personal services and lunch with friends have gone by the wayside.
What attribute do you most admire in your business partner?
Liza: Elizabeth simply doesn’t get knocked down. She has the ability to see new channels to navigate, she meets adversity head on, and she comes up with new solutions to benefit all. She passionately cares about our clients and how to bring them new ideas to help their businesses. It is fun to watch and learn from.
Elizabeth: Good partnerships result in merging talents and understanding why it’s okay to have different skill sets. Liza has some unique talents that have benefited StyleBlueprint greatly. She has an incredible radar when it comes to finding a story or concept that will take off and go viral. She also has the ability to deep dive into complicated projects that require a tremendous amount of time and focus.
What are three things you can’t live without (besides faith, friends and family)?
Liza: Pets, the mountains, cooking for friends and family
Elizabeth: Hiking; Mackinac Island, Michigan; and reading the New York Times
Meet more amazing Southern FACES — check out our FACES section and prepare to be inspired!