You could call ChickClick a seat-of-the-lace-pants operation. Founder Heidi Swanson was 23 when she pitched the idea for a network of girl-oriented sites to Imagine Media president Chris Anderson. Her concept was linking independent Web ‘zines into a unified presence, then supporting them with ad sales and marketing.
“Imagine is a special place,” says Swanson. “Chris was willing to say, ‘Go ahead,’ to someone like me who had basically no business experience but who he knew was a good designer and smart.”
ChickClick, based in Brisbane, Calif., was created in just six weeks by a skeleton crew consisting of Swanson, illustrator Tiffany Spencer, and Heidi’s sister, Heather Swanson (lured out of college for the gig, which turned out to be a smart career move). Swanson thinks traditional college curricula may be as outdated as traditional business.
“There was a lot of protocol in old business and a lot of hierarchy, and the Web eliminated that,” Swanson says. “Someone like me can come in and design, build and publish at a very low overhead and give everyone out there a run for their money.”
Just a year after the launch, Swanson, now 25, who combines serious intellect with an engaging streak of girlishness (just like her sites), is definitely up to speed on the business thing. ChickClick has enabled the creators of such labors of love as Breakup Girl, Maxi, Disgruntled Housewife and Bust to enjoy some fruit with those labors. Just two more staffers, director of sales and marketing Caroline Frye and operations manager Beatrice Springborn, handle all the tracking, serving, selling and positioning of ads, including developing special promotions. The arrangement allows the editors to concentrate on content. Many of the ‘zines are bringing in four figures a month, not bad at all for so-called alternative sites, and ChickClick hopes to be writing some five-figure checks this year.
Now 35 sites strong, ChickClick recently added free e-mail, discussions and personal homepages, all with the same ebullient graphic style. “We feature our readers and users as much as we do our site producers,” says Swanson. “We let our readers shape the tone of the site.”
Advertisers are responding. Clothing manufacturer Esprit, Procter & Gamble and Netscape Communications are among those glomming some of the 30 million page views the network is expected to grab in January.
But Swanson’s crew vows it will never be just about page views.
“Traditional technology has been scary and intimidating,” Swanson says, “so when these girls and women enter the Web, we don’t want them to flounder around. We know our site is not for everyone on the planet, but for those it is, we want them to get excited and explore and learn more.”
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