Founder Friday: Turning a Passion into a Business, with Lisa Sugar
As a #ByWomenForWomen company, we love celebrating brands that are led by fellow female founders. Our new series, Founder Friday, is a chance to get to know some of these standout women, including our very own Heidi Zak!
When Lisa Sugar started her career in advertising, she loved the creative elements but didn’t feel like she was as passionate about ad copy as she was about Matt Damon, pop culture, and blue handbags. So, she started blogging about the topics she found interesting as her side hustle. In 2005, she left the advertising world behind to officially start POPSUGAR with her husband. Over the last 14 years, Lisa has built her brand into a multichannel lifestyle powerhouse, with three brands ranging from publishing to subscription boxes to beauty products and clothing lines. We caught up with this driven #WomenCrush to hear about how she took the plunge into starting a company she was passionate about.
Why did you start your company?
I always wanted to write, but I was not exactly sure how to get started. The early years of my career were a learning process, and while I had some great jobs and worked with great people, I would not call my first jobs amazing or what I had imagined. I worked in advertising, and I really liked the creative environment, but I knew that it was not what I wanted to do long-term. I wanted to do something that I was passionate about, and at the time, I was pretty obsessed with entertainment and pop culture. One day, I finally just started writing in any free time I had. I wrote reviews of shows and movies, tested beauty products, and would go down rabbit holes online to be the first to find something new to share. I was on my computer after hours and all weekend, writing and writing — and I loved it. When POPSUGAR had a million followers my husband, Brian, [POPSUGAR’s CEO] left his job, and we both dove in and started POPSUGAR as a business. It was a scary jump, but it was an awesome decision. We’ve never looked back.
What was one challenge you overcame during the early days of your company?
When we officially started the company, I was also pregnant. Our daughter Katie was born two weeks early, and literally on the day our first six employees started, I had to go to the hospital! It was a crazy time. Now I had to figure out how to launch a company and have employees and a newborn simultaneously. When Katie was in the office, we would take “Katie breaks.” I would interview employees while taking her for a walk in a stroller. That balance as a new mom and founder was a juggle, but from the start, we wanted work to feel like a family — and still does!
Was there anyone who helped pave the way for your business or your path as an entrepreneur?
I have been supported by many people to get to where I am today. Most notable is my husband, who is my partner in this venture, but also my parents, who encouraged me to learn how to make it on my own and figure out what jobs I liked and didn’t like.
What are some of the ways entrepreneurs today can help raise and inspire the next generation of women entrepreneurs?
We are living in a really incredible time where so many women are beginning to be recognized for their ideas and leadership. Whether it’s advice, connecting others who could benefit from working together, or simply supporting them via word of mouth, it is easier than ever for us to help one another. As for raising and inspiring the next generation, listening and supporting them is key.
Why is it important for entrepreneurs to put time into helping the next generation of women founders?
It’s important because we have learned from our mistakes and failures already. Whatever we can share might help others avoid repeating similar mistakes or offer advice on what to do once on the other side.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Optimistic, happy, thankful.
When and where are you happiest?
Anywhere I can be with my family, but if I was to get super specific, it’s either on vacation somewhere warm or on the sidelines watching my girls play soccer.
If you could give your younger self advice, what would you tell her?
Don’t stress about not knowing what you want to do when you grow up. Work a variety of jobs, and adapt with the times to figure out your own career path.
What are the top songs on your playlist right now?
Thank U, Next and Shallow
What are the advantages or benefits of being a founder that many people may not realize or know about?
The advantages are that you are making your dreams come true while also helping others and hiring a team that believes in the same mission. As a founder, it’s such an incredible feeling to work with a group of smart, passionate individuals who are all hoping for the same end goal.
Why is it important to understand both the challenges and benefits of being a founder?
The challenges are rarely talked about, and yes, it’s very important for founders to be able to understand the pressure of putting your all into something that may not succeed. There are sleepless nights and lots of stress, but the highs and lows are all worth it when you come together as a company.
Thinking about your time as an entrepreneur, what do you believe is one of the most challenging hurdles women entrepreneurs have to overcome?
Many people ask me how I balance running a company of over 300 employees and being a good wife and mom to three girls and a dog — and I say that you can’t have it all, and you need to forget having a perfect balance. There are times when I don’t think I can handle everything, and there are times when I get into a groove, and I need to challenge myself when I mix it up and make myself take risks again and get uncomfortable and experiment. That said — no more kids or dogs for me anytime soon. ;) Another important thing is to know when to speak up versus when to listen. It’s important to have a point of view, a voice, and common goals and interests for the greater good of the company. It’s important to think about the company at large while also prioritizing personal career growth.
What does your morning routine look like?
I wake up at 6:25 and the first thing I do is check my phone for breaking news and emails from the team and reread any reminders I emailed myself the night before. Then I hop in the shower. By 6:45 I make sure my three daughters are up and getting dressed. I head downstairs with the girls and make myself a cup of coffee while the kids start having breakfast. Brian is already working away on his computer in the kitchen after running our dog outside. He helps makes the girls breakfast, and then we alternate helping them and getting ourselves ready for work. At 7:50 Brian and I walk our daughters to school. It’s only four blocks. From there, we walk together downtown to our offices, which is about two miles with some serious hills. It’s a great time for us to catch up with each other.
What are your favorite ways to practice self-care?
I love to exercise. My morning walk is crucial to my well-being. I also love taking classes on the weekends — mostly SoulCycle but I’ve also been also adding in Barry’s and other exciting new ones, as I know I need to change things up. I am also a beauty junkie — you should see my bathroom. Testing new products is fun for me. And I have a thing for blue bags — I collect them, and they are a way I treat myself.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I’ve ever received was from my dad when I was a girl: he told me to do what I love. It sounds so simple, but it’s not, and sadly, most of us don’t. His advice has never failed me, and it led me to create POPSUGAR.
What’s the most fulfilling part of your job?
For me, watching young women at POPSUGAR create incredibly awesome content and stories they are proud of while also growing up together. Seeing them get promoted and assume more confidence as they mature into leaders is one of my proudest and most fulfilling accomplishments.