Holly Hamann, co-founder and VP of marketing of BlogFrog, is at it again– leading a successful company. Last week BlogFrog, a community-building company for bloggers and brands, announced that they had secured $3.2 million in VC funding. Over her career she has launched, grown and sold many internet companies, while still maintaining her blog Love and Math.
Holly has been a champion of women in business, and active supporter of women entrepreneurs . She has been honored as American Marketing Association’s “Marketer of the Year” and is frequently asked to speak at leading blogger conferences.
I recently had a chance to ask Holly about the announcement, the future for BlogFrog and advice for bloggers trying to make the transition to profitable business ventures.
Your career appears to be highlighted by successful ventures that all seem to marry forms of sociology and technology. These interests are what compelled Mark Zuckerberg to launch Facebook. Do you see similarities in yourself? If so please explain.
Mark Zuckerberg is an entrepreneur and from that perspective, we (and many others) have lots in common. Entrepreneurs view the world in terms of opportunities, which come in all kinds of forms. Zuckerberg also thrives on innovation, another trait that us entrepreneurs share. At BlogFrog, we’re constantly trying to make the product better and figure out new ways (that are better, faster, cheaper, more fun, etc) to help like-minded people discover, form, and grow communities online. You have to have almost an obsessive curiosity about the business you are in.
After successfully building (and in some cases selling) start-ups in the internet, multimedia, entertainment, video and other high tech areas, what prompted you to launch Blog Frog? And what was the unique proposition that compelled the VCs to recently invest $3.2 million?
In 2007, I was helping to launch a social music network (think iTunes meets Pandora meets Rhapsody) and our target audience was Gen Yers (18-35 year olds). Part of what we did to gain insight into the world of the music-listening millennial was to create a blogging platform on the site and invite college students to blog about the music scenes in their areas. This is where I realized the enormous influence that niche content creators had. Several people in my network kept saying I needed to meet Rustin Banks and that I would like what he was up to. Rustin had programmed and launched an early version of online communities, was initially targeting women/moms and was looking for a co-founder. It was the perfect collision of my worlds so I quit my job in April 09 and we launched BlogFrog that summer. It was fun to actually BE my own target audience.
What unique challenges are you facing building BlogFrog compared to past ventures?
Most of my other start-ups were technology plays that targeted a demographic that was a little easier to figure out, IT executives, Hollywood producers, and early-adopters to online advertising. BlogFrog is all about creating a mutually beneficial eco-system between interest-based influencers and the brands who want to reach that audience. It’s really easy for that relationship to become inauthentic, causing blog readers and influencers to lose the trust of their followers. We are crazy dedicated to making sure programs and partnerships between brands and influencers stay transparent and relevant. The moment you drift from either of those is the moment you aren’t serving anyone – the brands, bloggers, or their readers.
What advice do you have for other bloggers who are trying to transition from casual blogging to the creation of a sustainable and income-generating business?
I would encourage those bloggers to learn to think like entrepreneurs, to develop a radar for opportunities, be vigilant about their brand reputation, and be intentional about which brands (if any) they want to work with. Don’t be afraid to reach out to brands and pitch yourself, just be professional. I also encourage bloggers to treat partners and brands as professional as they want to be treated. Be accountable for understanding exactly what is being requested, produce quality content, be responsive and on time, and it doesn’t hurt to over-deliver, especially when you are starting out. Delight your customers and they will come back! Also, it’s a good idea to diversify revenue streams. Explore a mixture of ad revenue, affiliate programs, sponsored brand opportunities, newsletters where brands can include a paid message, or even e-books or book deals. It’s an incredible time to be a blogger right now!
How do you intend to invest your recent funding? And what’s next on the horizon for BlogFrog?
The funding will be mainly used to expand the features and community-building tools for bloggers, broaden the categories of revenue opportunities we can offer bloggers – for instance, we’ll have more food, fashion, fitness, entertainment and technology related programs, and we might even open a NY office!