Interview with Amanda Steinberg
Like many women, Amanda Steinberg came to a tech career through a back door. But when she realized that it interested her and she was good at it, she used it to kick-start her career as an entrepreneur.
An Interview with Amanda Steinberg CEO and Co-founder, Daily Worth and Soapbxx
Date: December 13, 2010
NCWIT Entrepreneurial Heroes
Lee Kennedy: Hi, this is Lee Kennedy. I'm a board member for the National Center for Women & Information Technology or NCWIT and I also started Bolder Search. And today, we are here to do yet another interview as part of series of interviews that we are having with just fabulous female entrepreneurs. And they're women who have started IT companies in a variety of sectors, all of whom just have fabulous stories to tell us. With me, here today, is Larry Nelson from w3w3. Hey, Larry.
Larry Nelson: Hey, I'm happy to be here. This has been a wonderful series. We host all the interviews not only in the NCWIT.org website but also w3w3.com and we get very heavy traffic and that makes us feel good.
Lee: Super. And also today, we are interviewing Amanda Steinberg, whose professional experience spans entrepreneurship, website and software development, business development, and online community development. So, Amanda is one busy gal and she's had two really interesting ventures going on now. She's CEO and co-founder of Soapbxx. Did I say that right, Amanda?
Amanda Steinberg: Yes, you did. Lee: OK. Well, welcome Amanda. We are really excited to have you today. Just a little more about Soapbxx, and Amanda you can expound if I leave anything out, it's a Web 2.0 consultancy firm. Tell me a little more about it, because I'm probably just going to mess it all up. Amanda: No problem. So, yes, I run two companies and I have two children under the age of four.
Larry: Wow. [laughter] Lee: Yeah, as parents of three and five kids here, we know what you're up against.
Amanda: Yeah, definitely. It gets exhausting but I love every second of all of it. So, yes, I run two companies right now and I'll talk about the management structure of each and how I am able to run two companies in the limited work day that I do have. So, Soapbox is a website consultancy. We are most specifically focused on online fundraising and marketing strategies for nonprofit organizations. I was previously the Internet director for the American Civil Liberties Union and I was able to take that experience from back in 2004/2005 and bring it into a consulting environment. And we have been serving many other national nonprofits in the same capacity of what I did for the ACLU. Lee: Cool.
Larry: Yeah, that's fantastic. Now, tell us about the other company.
Amanda: DailyWorth.com is a long-time dream of mine coming to fruition. DailyWorth is very simple actually. It is a daily email, a free daily email, that teaches women about basic finance. We currently serve 50,000 members and it's growing quite rapidly. And having run Internet consultancies of one form or another for 10 years, I really was drawn to the "low overhead, high margin" nature of a daily email, daily newsletter company.
Lee: Wow, I love it.
Larry: Yeah, fantastic.
Lee: I'm signing up.
Larry: Yeah, my four daughters are, too.
Lee: So Amanda, we just love to hear about how you really got into technology, and today, what are some of the coolest technologies you think are out there?
Amanda: Well, I got into technology, funny enough -- my mother, back in college in 1964, majored in math and minored in computer science. The industry had just come to fruition.
Amanda: And I think she was the only woman in her class doing this.
Lee: That is so cool.
Amanda: And then when I was three or four years old, she got her MBA in Management Information Systems. So whereas most kids were doing arts and crafts, my mom plunked me down in front of the computer. And I think I really got into technology. You know, I actually was following a career path of politics, but through many convoluted means I got an administrative position in college where I graduated into doing BB scripting for databases. And despite my leanings -- my extroverted leanings towards politics -- I actually really fell in love with technology in college and realized, "Hey, my brain actually kind of works this way. I think I'm going to do this as a career."
Lee: And that is such a cool story because how many of us had mothers that we learned from, at least the technology side. So it's very cool.
Amanda: Yeah, it is very rare. It's a very rare situation, indeed.
Larry: So, what are some of the technologies that you think today are very cool?
Amanda: I'm such an Apple geek these days. I mean, lately, I'm just amazed at how connected I feel to my iPhone, much to my husband's some sadness at times. My latest and favorite technology right now is -- I guess I'll talk about two things. The first is something called HeyTell, H-E-Y-T-E-L-L. It's an iPhone app that turns my phone into a walkie-talkie. So I'm able to have these kind of intermittent conversations with all sorts of people in my life -- anyone that I've convinced to download it. And it is much better than voicemail, but it's more personal than an instant message and I'm really encouraging everyone to try it out. The other thing, from a work context, is that I'm just getting into Skype Group Video Chat. I have probably 12 employees and contractors reporting to me now across two companies and no one is in a central location. So we all talk as a team throughout the day, and I really appreciate the group video technology that enables that.
Lee: So glad that you brought that up because it is such a... Well, I should say "underused technology," but so many people are starting to use it and it is so cool.
Larry: Yes. I use it from time to time, also. We have clients overseas and that really is handy then.
Amanda: Really. Yeah, and the fact that we can all save time and money and a commute, and I can hire my director of marketing in Bozeman, and be coached by my mentor in LA, and I'm based out of Philadelphia. You know, it really just makes all of that so much more fluid.
Larry: Yeah, that's fantastic. Lucy Sanders really likes us to ask this question. Why are you an entrepreneur today?
Amanda: Oh! How could I not be an entrepreneur? I spent -- in the two years that I spent at the ALCU, which I loved, by 11:00 a.m. I was kind of banging my head against the table because I need to have my hands... I did not like being "siloed" in the IT department. I wanted to be involved in strategy, and I wanted to be involved in creative, and I wanted to... As much as I was in a leadership role there, it just felt segmented for me, and I know that would be the case for me in any corporate environment. And the reality is, is that I really thrived as an entrepreneur. I was the managing director of a website consultancy when I was 22, and I was the top-selling manager there. And I realized that because I'm able to generate business and because I do have certain leadership attributes that I have to be an entrepreneur, it's just not even a choice for me.
Larry: Excellent. Well, then what is it about entrepreneurship that makes you tick? I know you hit a number of points, but is there anything else?
Amanda: I just really enjoy setting big goals and working toward them, and building teams and building networks. Despite the fact that I'm a home-based mother entrepreneur, I'm highly extroverted and need to be constantly connecting and interacting with people. So, I'm not sure if that's entrepreneurship that's making me tick or if it is the way that I tick that feeds into the fact that I'm an entrepreneur. But it's kind of this... I love kind of wild chaos towards big goals and seeing things come to fruition. And especially with DailyWorth, as we've grown to 50,000 members and we've signed on sponsors including ING Direct and H&R Block, and we have a pipeline of advertising revenue that makes my heart sing. After two years of constant endless workdays into the wee hours of the morning, I'm really seeing it come to fruition, and it's just -- I can't imagine doing anything else.
Lee: I think you've summed up being an entrepreneur.
Larry: Yeah, you got it.
Lee: It's wild, chaotic, and thriving on it.
Amanda: Yes, for sure.
Lee: So, you had mentioned earlier that your mom was a big influence that really opened your eyes to the whole IT world. Who would you say have been other role models or mentors?
Amanda: I have so many. It's really impossible to summarize. I think everyone I've worked for and worked with, I've learned something in some way. But I guess I'll talk about two in particular that have really helped me as of late. The first is a gentleman by the name of David Ronick. He runs something called upstartbootcamp.com. When I had my idea for DailyWorth two years ago, he was the one who really said, "OK, you need a business model. You need to understand your inflection points. You need to understand the revenue and the funds that you have to raise." And he really helped me put this -- what seemed like a wildly complex business model, spreadsheet together at the time, that now is really the blueprint of how I'm growing the company. So, he's been critical. I recommend that everyone has an MBA to lean on. And then the second person who's really, really transformed my world is a woman by the name of Jen Boulden. She is based in LA. I talk to her... It was twice a day. I think now it's probably three times a week as I've matured. She built the company called Ideal Bite which she successfully sold to Disney two years ago, using a very similar email newsletter model that I'm using. So she, as I joked, she's actually not very nice to me -- she is very nice to me, but she's not there to be nice to me. She's there to hold me to very high standards and point out all of my shortcomings and I've grown so much as a result of having her. I owe so much to her.
Larry: Yeah. Boy, that's fantastic. You have two young children. You have two companies that you are running. What is the toughest thing you've ever had to do in your career?
Amanda: The toughest thing I had to do in my career, no doubt, was back in 2001, after 9/11. As I mentioned, I was the managing director of a different website consultancy and we had grown to about 20 people and the sales just were not there to support the office. We had really high overhead and it was extremely painful. And I was responsible for laying off five people in a single go at the same time. I know you hear stories about people being fired and how horrible that is and it is absolutely excruciating. It was definitely, probably one of the worst days of my life, when I had to deliver those words to a group of people at once. Lee: I have to say that's probably about 95 percent of the other gals that we've interviewed have said. It seems to be unanimous, almost.
Larry: You bet.
Lee: So, Amanda, one of the things we'd like to do is have you give your advice about being an entrepreneur. We have a lot of young people, and people that are just starting to think about being an entrepreneur, so what advice would you give them?
Amanda: The advice I would give them is that I find a lot of entrepreneurs that are really interested in coming up with their idea, their big money idea. And what I found is that I'm not so particularly interested in entrepreneur's ideas. I'm more interested in their business models, and how those models make money. Because I have seen countless times, amazing ideas fall flat because there wasn't the revenue or the scale to support them. And at the same time, I've seen some businesses entering crowded markets that don't seem so innovative that are really successful because they're simply improving upon one or two things that the rest of the market isn't. So, I would say, look at the businesses that really interest you. What is it about the operations of that business that are really exciting? And then, figure out your idea. That's what I did, and I can't tell you how happy I am that I took that path.
Lee: That's great because it's probably a little-known fact that most of the most successful businesses out there weren't started with the actual idea. It morphed and changed along the way to find something that was really successful and a niche in the market at that time.
Amanda: Absolutely. Both of my businesses look nothing like what they were when they started.
Larry: [laughs] Amanda, what are the personal characteristics, I know you've hit on some as we've gone through this but, that has given you the advantage of being an entrepreneur?
Amanda: The first thing is I think I'm a little bit crazy. I don't seek balance in my life. I love to work. Work is very much enmeshed in my life. I am very ambitious, and I think you really kind of need that manic optimism to be successful, because it can just be so hard, so hard on so many levels. So, I think that's been helpful, honestly. I've definitely met other entrepreneurs who I think mirror those traits, and we often kind of laugh about how crazy we feel and yet how instrumental that is in being successful as an entrepreneur. The second thing is just being highly extroverted. I love nothing more than being dropped in a room with a thousand people I don't know. So much of building a business is about building a team and building the people to support you, not necessarily about what you can do on your own. So, I collect people as a hobby. I love -- I'm just genuinely interested in other people, and I think that's absolutely critical to any business as well.
Lee: That's cool. Well, you kind of put me in a conundrum here because our next question is how do you bring balance into your...?
Amanda: I did that on purpose. [laughter]
Lee: So, obviously, you don't bring balance. But how do you survive? Maybe that's the better question.
Amanda: You know, it was 11:00 last night, and I was making my son's and my daughter's egg salad sandwich for their lunch, and I was thinking about this slide I needed to update for my investor presentation at 9:00 a.m. this morning, and I really was cross-eyed. I was thinking "Oh, my God! I am in the depths of darkness right now. I am so tired. All I want to do is go to sleep." But somehow, I am able to survive. This is not my long-term plan -- to be living like this -- but I think if you have a certain level of ambition, you have to match it with that energy, and you have to make some sacrifices. I'd say my day is 95 percent energizing and five percent exhausting when I reach the darkness of 11:00 and the lunches still aren't packed, and I still haven't done the laundry to get their socks ready for the next day. So, I'll take that 95 percent positive, five percent pain point for what I look forward to in the future.
Larry: Wow. Well, Amanda, you've got two companies that you're working and running right now. You've had successes in the past.
Amanda: I've had a lot of failures, too. I've had so many failures.
Larry: Oh, I'm so happy to hear that, yes. My wife and I, we started 12 companies and some were learning experiences.
Amanda: Yeah. I've started probably seven to date, so, yes.
Larry: Wow. Well, what's next for you?
Amanda: What's next for me? Well, DailyWorth is really interesting because it's about empowering women in the area of finance. We have 50,000 members, and I know that it's applicable to reach millions of members. So, what's next for me is I'm raising around about 750,000 in Angel capital which will enable me to take my amazing DailyWorth team full time, and work toward our goal -- which is to reach 300,000 by the end of next year, and then a million over the next four years. So, that's really what I'm focused on.
Larry: Excellent, that is super. Boy, I want to say that I am so happy that we had this opportunity to interview you. This interview will be heard by many people, many managers, entrepreneurs, and a number of young people who are looking into technology and entrepreneurship, so thank you for all your ideas.
Lee: Thanks so much, Amanda.
Amanda: My pleasure, and if I could just invite everyone to check out DailyWorth.com. For all the women interested in finance, I invite you to sign up. For anyone in the nonprofit world, Soapbxx -- spelled S-O-A-P-B-X-X -- .com is a great solution provider in the nonprofit space. Thank you. [laughs]
Larry: That's excellent, and yes, we will. We'll also put it on our website so that people can link right to it if they hadn't taken that down. They can listen to this 24/7 at w3w3.com and ncwit.org.
Lee: Thanks so much, Amanda.
Amanda: Thank you. [music]