Career Profile: Stephanie Kaplan, Her Campus

Her Campus, the number one media site for college women, is providing aspiring journalists and marketers with the skills and experience they need to launch their careers after graduation. The founders, Stephanie Kaplan Lewis, Annie Wang and Windsor Hanger Western met while managing a publication for their fellow female Harvard undergraduates. Their publication became popular with college women across the country who wanted to bring similar publications to their schools. The founders realized there was a need for one national publication for college women that also catered to individual campuses similar to their Harvard-focused publication. There are currently 318 campus chapters across 44 states and nine countries run by more than 10,000 contributors. The Her Campus network receives more than 16 million monthly unique visitors and more than 90 million monthly multi-platform content views. Since joining the Her Campus team, contributors have received jobs and internships with Glamour, Vogue, Buzzfeed, Vanity Fair, Seventeen, Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, People, The Huffington Post, Teen Vogue, InStyle, Esquire, O, The Oprah magazine, MTV, The Washington Post, Digitas, Ogilvy and more.

What inspired you to start Her Campus?

We started Her Campus because we identified a hole in the media market for content that spoke directly to the needs of college women, and not to teens or twenty-somethings. We also recognized that there were tons of aspiring magazine journalists who were dying to get the experience and clips they needed while in school to then be able to land coveted media jobs and internships. All of our content is written by college women, for college women, which creates a uniquely authentic voice, while also opening up doors for the next generation of journalists and marketers.

What has been the biggest challenge and, on the flip side, the biggest reward of starting Her Campus?

Biggest challenge: Not having enough time! In the beginning, we were all full-time students at Harvard University, taking courses, doing extracurriculars and holding campus jobs, while also running a business on the side! We had so much we wanted to do with Her Campus, but there was only so much time to do it. We are now thrilled to devote (almost) all our time to our venture.

Biggest reward: We get handwritten letters, thank you cards and emails from young women saying, “I don’t want to sound cheesy, but Her Campus changed my life,” and “I found a community at school,” or “I got an internship or a job,” — thanking us for creating this community and organization. When you have letters like that coming in, how can you not stay motivated?

What advice do you have for other women who hope to start their own businesses?

If you do what you love and immerse yourself in industries you’re passionate about, you’ll be the best person to see where holes exist that you can fill. When Windsor, Annie and I started Her Campus, some of our fellow students thought our site was “fluffy.” But we knew we had hit on something huge and we knew we could bring it to that full potential because we were passionate about serving college women — and nobody else was engaging that demographic in that way at the time. You have to create your own tunnel vision and block out the naysayers. It’s the only way you can progress – because those types of people will always be there.

What is a workday like? Please walk me through a day!

It’s totally unpredictable! Running a startup is so fast-paced; every day is different and I never know what to expect in my inbox. I have so many projects I’m juggling at any given time that I feel like I get to work ten different jobs at once. But generally, I’ll be in the Her Campus office in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood working on my laptop, meeting with my cofounders Windsor and Annie, managing editorial and social media, marketing, campus development, influencer teams, having calls with contacts and partners and maybe attending an event at night. There is lots of U.S. travel as well – I find myself in New York quite often, and this fall I will have been in DC, NYC, Austin and Palm Springs for work. And those trips are a combination of meetings, conferences and speaking engagements.

What are the most important characteristics someone needs to have to be successful in your role?
Drive, perseverance and passion are a killer combination. First and foremost, you have to work really, really hard — and there’s no one pushing you to keep working other than yourself. But no matter how hard you work, there will always be ups and downs, even once your business is well off the ground. There were months early on when we had to defer our salaries, instances when huge projects and partnerships completely fell through and times when something we put a lot of effort into totally bombed. And during those times, it’s perseverance that will carry you through. And when things are going well, you can’t get too comfortable in your success or else things will stagnate. You have to keep challenging yourself, creating more work for yourself, looking toward what’s next and continuously setting higher and higher goals for yourself and your company as a whole. And the basis for all of this is passion—if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, it will be significantly harder to succeed at it.

Her Campus is helping young women get a head start on their journalism careers. What advice do you have for your college-aged self?

Going to college is a lot like being an entrepreneur in that outside of your professors, you really don’t have a boss. It’s up to you to succeed. My advice is to give yourself a schedule and deadlines and find a group of peers (similar to my cofounders!) who will motivate you and hold you accountable. College is not only the best place to learn academically, but also to build good habits for your future career. Though I always got all my work done and done well, I pulled way too many all-nighters in college and didn’t fully grasp the importance of prioritizing my sleep, health and wellbeing.

What are three characteristics you look for when you’re hiring a new team member?

I’ll give you six. Our company core values are: over-achieving, entrepreneurial, action-oriented, innovative, collaborative and passionate. We look for candidates who embody most, if not all, of these traits and we look to nurture and foster these traits in all of our team members.

What are the most important skills for doing your job and how did you develop them?

The most important skills are mental toughness and stick-to-it-iveness. Nothing else matters if you don’t have the will and drive to overcome the many, many challenges and obstacles that inevitably arise when you’re running a business. These are traits I’ve honed throughout my life, whether I was competing in tennis or mock trial in high school, pushing myself to succeed at Harvard or, most recently, training for and running the Boston Marathon. It’s important to put yourself in uncomfortable, challenging situations where you have to really push through. It breeds the self-confidence that allows you to do it again and again, no matter what the scenario may be.

What’s the biggest lesson you learned at work and how did you learn it?

Always have a contract, and don’t get excited about something until the contract is signed! This is one we got burned a few times early on after which we swore — never again!

How has mentorship played a role in your career?

After we won Harvard College’s business plan competition, we realized we knew pretty much nothing about any aspect of business, so we set out to find mentors who did. Whether it was going to hear relevant speakers at Harvard or connecting with anyone and everyone we had met through past internships, we made a point of networking like crazy.

While being young can absolutely be an advantage, being young also means you’re way behind the competition as far as knowledge and skills go, simply because you don’t have the experience that more seasoned people do. Seek out people you admire and be ballsy about meeting them, introducing yourself and following up because it will pay off. Find mentors in a variety of areas you know you’ll need help with and make a point of asking for advice from them when you run into something you haven’t seen before. Some of the connections we made back in the early days of Her Campus have become some of our most important advisors and contacts over the years.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

What is your business advice for other young professional women?

Introduce yourself and talk to as many people as you can! Be proactive and take initiative at every single step. You never know when you will make a helpful connection or learn something really valuable from someone. Network as much as possible in order to learn from others in the field as well as let others know what you’re up to.