Q&A: PopSugar’s Lisa Sugar on Expansion, Partnerships and What Sets Brands Apart

Plus, her new book about her business journey

In 2005, Lisa Sugar started blogging about celebrities as a side project while working as a media planner at Goodby, Silverstein and Partners in San Francisco. Eleven years later, her blog, PopSugar, has expanded into a massive lifestyle media company with numerous content verticals, international sites and an ecommerce division.

Sugar shares the story behind her company's growth and some of the lessons she learned along the way in her new book, Power Your Happy: Work Hard, Play Nice, and Build Your Dream Life, due out Sept. 20. Adweek spoke with Sugar about running a content company, the importance of standing out and who else in the business world is doing it right.

Adweek: What made you decide to write a book in the first place?

Lisa Sugar: We've been always giving advice in a variety of areas, whether it's fashion and beauty or fitness, but career is one that [the audience] keeps coming back for. So I felt now I've had 10 years of wisdom and expertise of growing the company, it was a good time to share our story about what we did to build PopSugar as well as practical advice that you could take away whether you were someone in college trying to figure all this stuff out, in your late 20s about to make a career change, or a mom coming back to work. We felt the book kind of could talk to all those types of audiences.

When you first decided to go out on your own and make PopSugar into a full-time career, what's one piece of advice you wish someone had given you?

Picking one thing out would be really hard, but persistence is one thing—just not giving up whether one person came to the site that day or a hundred people came to the site that day, and to keep on trying to figure out what it was that people were relating to and how to get creative about bringing people back. As the company grew, another important thing was learning the right time to let go and take on different responsibilities. I obviously loved writing every day, but a few years in, when we'd hired an amazing team, I needed to let go and let them do stuff so I could start helping with other parts of the company.

You mention in the book that when you launched PopSugar, there were already a ton of celebrity sites on the internet. How does a new content brand set itself apart in a crowded market like that?

I think the bottom line is knowing what your voice is and sticking with that from day one. We really wanted to be a fun, safe place online where we were making your life better. We were giving you advice of the day, things you needed to know, practical tips, fun stuff, everything from celebrity and entertainment but also to fitness and fashion. And I think that because we've always given that to readers in a really digestible, real, easy voice, we just know what PopSugar is and how our audience wants to read our content. So for us, it is that voice [that sets us apart] and I think for brands who are continuing to stand out it's the same thing—they've created their own voice and vision, and they stick with it.

Courtesy of PopSugar

Are there any particular brands that you think are doing a really good job of maintaining a singular voice?

I think SoulCycle does an incredible job of it. I think the brand hit 10 years this year, but I feel like they've exploded so much in the past three or four years. I love listening to each instructor, because they really go back to the brand's core values. I think Everlane has also done an amazing job with their voice and visuals and social media.

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