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Young Entrepreneurs: A Conversation With Stephanie Kaplan

This is part of the Young Entrepreneur series. HerCampus is an online magazine for college women with 60+ branches at schools across the United States, written by each school’s journalists. HerCampus won Harvard’s i3 Innovation Challenge in March 2009. It was founded by Stephanie Kaplan (extreme right, pictured above), Annie Wang, and Windsor Hanger when they were still undergraduates at Harvard. Dea Surjadi recently sat down with Stephanie to learn more.

You’re the CEO and EIC of HerCampus.com. What are your main responsibilities?

I’m in charge of all of the content on the site as well as managing our expansion to schools across the country via our My Campus branches. We are currently at 75 schools and counting.

How did HerCampus get started? Are you willing to share how much the startup costs were?

It started when Windsor, Annie, and I won Harvard’s business plan competition, the i3 Innovation Challenge, with our idea for Her Campus. We launched in September 2009 at the start of my senior year.

Our start-up costs were very low; just the cost of filing as an LLC, buying some domain names, and minimal office supplies, so no more than $1,000. We were profitable from the start.

What were the biggest challenges when the business just got started? How did you and the team overcome them?

The most challenging thing was balancing running a business with being a full-time student. I learned how to prioritize and how to do things as efficiently as possible. We love now being able to work full-time on it now that we have graduated!

How did you survive Harvard and working on a startup at the same time? I didn’t even go to an Ivy League school and I thought my life was hell already!

It was difficult! Luckily I had completed my requirements by senior year and had taken some extra classes, so I was able to only take three classes each semester last year (instead of the usual four).

I also stepped back in my other commitments (other extra-curriculars).

Currently, what are the major sources of revenue for HerCampus.com?

We connect companies with college students across the country in creative ways via strategic marketing programs that combine online (on the Her Campus site), offline (on the ground at campuses throughout the country), and social media (Facebook and Twitter).

Our marketing programs include online advertising, site sponsorship, sponsored content, campus brand rep recruitment, market research, focus groups, and product distribution, among other avenues.

How did you find the companies that you’d like to do strategic partnerships with? Any tips on how to reach out to them, represent yourself, and make them say yes to the partnership?

My co-founder Windsor is the brains behind these strategic partnerships. She is the one who reaches out to companies and forges these relationships.

You have to have great marketing collateral, know the ins and outs of your industry and what you can provide a company, and be persistent!

Which are some of the companies that you would love to partner with?

Kate Spade, Coach, Bobbi Brown, Ralph Lauren, Sephora, Target, Zappos, Gilt Groupe

What’s in store for HerCampus.com for the next few years?

We’ll be expanding to branches at 1,000+ colleges across the country, cementing our role as an online hotspot for college women, defining what it means to be an online magazine, and becoming the leader in college marketing.

Any tips for young entrepreneurs on how to start a successful business?

Find co-founders who have skills that complement your own and who you love to spend time with. Read up on everything you can in your industry; network as much as possible and make as many contacts as you can; enter a business plan competition to really give yourself a push.

Image of Her Campus founders © Stephanie Kaplan, used with permission

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Dea Surjadi is a freelance public relations professional specializing in media relations and social media. Having worked in various newsrooms including television, radio, and the web, Dea applies her journalism and marketing background to the PR industry. A graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, you can reach Dea through email: dea[dot]surjadi[at]gmail[dot] com, or connect with her on Twitter.


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