How the Hair Club for Men can Teach a Lesson to Silicon Valley

by Jory Des Jardins

by Mike Mozart

by Mike Mozart

I have a well-worn — if not, overused — joke I like to make about being a co-founder at BlogHer: “I’m like the that guy from the Hair Club for Men: I’m not just the President; I’m a customer…”

I use this dated joke, though, to send a very real message about the importance of understanding your customer. If possible, it helps to be your customer, just as my co-founders and I were bloggers before founding a company that served, initially, other bloggers.

All that said, I don’t share the convictions of the writer of this piece, who heavily criticizes the lack of women employees at the red-hot social platform Pinterest, despite the very high percentage of female users who flock to it. It’s not that I don’t believe they could benefit from more female talent — they could. But given that most social tools have user bases that are majority women (women who use those tools much more actively than male users) the dearth of female leadership at Pinterest simply illustrates a systemic issue in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, where such digital sausage is made.

As part of the minority of venture-backed women co-founders in Silicon Valley, my preferred response is to point out the insights that could be gained if there were more of us making product decisions:

  1. Privacy should equal actual security
    All too often, a standard privacy policy reflects a commercial perspective — protecting your content or protecting you from commercial messages. Women want both those things, but that’s only going to get you so far. The privacy policies women really like give them a sense of control over how they engage and with whom. We saw one example of the ramifications of ignoring this fact in BlogHer’s annual Women & Social Media Studies in 2011/2012. Women were early — and even majority — adopters of every social platform that came along until Foursquare. Here’s why: The benefits did not outweigh the creepy factor. Turns out, we don’t want everyone knowing our physical whereabouts in real time. It doesn’t feel safe. Understanding how high the “privacy” stakes are for women will help you create a better environment and feature set for them.
  2. We’ll purchase if you let us
    Pinterest got it right by emphasizing a beautiful user experience at launch over monetizing, but it frustrates us to see that perfect throw rug and not be able to Buy. It. Now. Sponsored Pins and early attempts at eCommerce notwithstanding, the quicker Pinterest can close the loop between my search for the perfect tchotchke for the kid’s room and buying it, the better. Believe me, I WANT Pinterest to help me here. But alas, its eCommerce partnership with SkimLinks soured influencer’s good will, and to Pinterest’s credit, they had to scrap that initiative. Here’s why it didn’t work:
  3. We love a bargain… but we love transparency more
    What didn’t work about the Skimlinks initiative, similar to what didn’t work for Facebook with its Beacon initiative years ago, is that we felt duped. BlogHer re-visits the concepts of trust and influence in every research study we conduct, and one things has always been clear: We trust the people we feel like we “know” online. We believe that when they endorse a produce, even if they’ve been compensated to review it, they are sharing their authentic opinions. Tell us it’s an ad. Tell us it’s a paid endorsement. Tell us you’ll make 20 cents for every purchase made via your affiliate program. If it’s a good product and a good deal, we will sign up. But you must tell us.

For those tech companies that are attempting to right the balance by making their teams better reflect their user base, bravo! And for those who are contemplating it, at least consider how real women — not “female consumers” — engage online.


2014_JoryDesJardinJory Des Jardins co-founded BlogHer, Inc., in 2005 with Elisa Camahort Page and Lisa Stone, and serves as the company’s President of Strategic Alliances. Jory leads the company’s relationships with some of the world’s largest brands, working with them to create high-impact presence within the BlogHer community, which reaches more than 100 million internet influencers via its network of 3,000 blogs and their readers. With Jory’s leadership, BlogHer has developed its own distinctive brand of strategic partnership, helping to facilitate constructive dialogue between some of the world’s major brands and women who are social media leaders and their readers. Together, BlogHer’s co-founders were named among Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs in 2013, in the Ernst & Young Winning Women Class of 2011, and among the seven most powerful people in new media by Forbes Magazine. Jory is BlogHer’s representative on the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Board of Directors and serves on the advisory board of start-ups FeedBlitz and Juno Baby. Follow her on Twitter @JoryDJ