Lady Gaga has her Little Monsters, Jasmine Villegas has her Jasminators and Stephanie Kaplan, CEO of HerCampus.com, has her collegiettes™ to look after. Did we mention she’s only 22?
From ASME to absolute success, Stephanie Kaplan has come a long way from formulating an innovative idea to making it into reality, and has no intention of slowing down. ME had the chance to ask the inspiring CEO about her journey to success, future business plans, and helpful advice for making your own dreams come true.
ME: Tell ME about your college experience at Harvard University.
SK: At Harvard I was a psychology major and economics minor, and I also participated in a number of extracurricular activities that were definitely formative experiences for me. I joined a sorority (Delta Gamma) my freshman year and later became Vice President, Communications of it. This role definitely taught me a lot about leadership and how to effectively communicate with a large team of people. I also worked as a research assistant in two psychology labs, which taught me to be analytical, think through every step of a project, and pay close attention to detail. In addition, I worked as a tour guide at the Harvard admissions office, which gave me good public speaking and PR experience. I also served on the communications and development committees at Harvard Hillel, which taught me about marketing. But my most important extracurricular was running Freeze College Magazine, Harvard’s lifestyle and fashion magazine, with Windsor and Annie (co-founders of Her Campus), which inspired us to start Her Campus.
ME: Why did you choose to major in Psychology?
SK: I never planned on a career in psychology; rather, I just thought psychology was really interesting and I liked that I could easily apply it to my life. It seemed like a helpful field no matter what career you go on to pursue, and I found understanding how people work to be fascinating.
ME: Like Ashlyee Hickman, MyEveryzine’s founder, you were also accepted into the super selective ASME internship program. Can you tell us what ASME is and share your own experience with ASME?
SK: ASME is the top magazine internship program in the country, accepting about 25 college students nationwide each year and then placing them at magazine internships in NYC and DC. Your internship is supplemented with program-wide speakers, panels, and events. I interned at SELF magazine and had an unbelievable experience there. SELF is one of my favorite magazines and I felt so lucky to get to work there. I also made amazing connections through the speakers that we got to hear from at ASME, including one of our current advisors at Her Campus, Nina Link, who is the President of Magazine Publishers of America.
ME: Do you feel the experience with ASME helped you successfully launch Her Campus?
SK: I definitely do. I learned so much about how a successful magazine runs through my internship at SELF, and I made so many connections and got to hear about so many different parts of the industry through all of the speakers who we heard from throughout the program.
ME: When and how did you come up with the idea for Her Campus?
SK: Windsor, Annie and I met as undergrads at Harvard through running Harvard’s lifestyle and fashion magazine, which was a student publication on campus. We transitioned the magazine entirely online, and it started experiencing incredible success. Girls from colleges across the country were reading it and telling us they wished their school had something similar, because their only media outlet on campus was the school newspaper. We recognized a hole in the media market for media that specifically reaches out to college women, and we wanted to provide this as well as a platform for the nation’s top student journalists to get their work published somewhere beyond just the school paper. We decided to take what we had done at Harvard and do something similar but on a national level, with localized campus branches at colleges across the country.
ME: Were your loved ones supportive about your decision to start up Her Campus?
SK: My family was incredibly supportive of my decision to start Her Campus. They’ve been behind me every step of the way!
ME: What makes Her Campus different and innovative?
SK: I think Her Campus’s model of national content supplemented by local content at the campus level is really interesting. I also love that all of our content is produced by students; college students are often just as capable if not more so than real “adults”! Her Campus also serves as a marketing platform for companies looking to reach college students, and because of our role as a content provider with an online and offline presence on the ground at schools across the country, we’re able to execute really creative strategic marketing programs for our clients.
ME: What is it like working with so many girls?
SK: It’s a lot of fun! We have a nail polish library in the office, as well as makeup that we keep there for touch-ups. Our office is super “girly.” But we try to only take the fun parts of being girly to work with us, and skip the cattiness.
ME: What is one thing you wish you could change about your journey in becoming CEO of Her Campus?
SK: I can’t think of anything! We certainly made mistakes along the way, but I’m happy with where things are now, so at this point there is nothing I would change.
ME: Were you ever discouraged or fearful about launching Her Campus? How did you overcome it?
SK: We were definitely nervous about launching Her Campus because there was no guarantee it would work out at all! I was most nervous about how I was going to be able to balance Her Campus with being a full-time student at Harvard. I was also planning on writing a senior thesis in psychology, but decided to drop that so I could focus more on Her Campus, which was definitely the right decision. We decided to just launch Her Campus and take a risk and see what happened!
ME: What is the craziest and most rewarding thing about being an entrepreneur/ working on the Web?
SK: I think the craziest thing is the fact that Her Campus has a team of 1500+ college students working on it across the country, yet I have only met a handful of them! Basically our entire business is run remotely—the office is just me, Windsor, Annie and a few interns, and everything else is done via e-mail and phone. The most rewarding thing is having a vision and being able to see it come to fruition, and knowing that you are fully in charge of making things happen one way or the other; though that is also scary.
ME: Where do you see yourself and Her Campus in 5, 10 even 15 years?
SK: I have no idea, and that’s what’s so exciting! But we see Her Campus becoming the leader in college marketing with a branch at every college and being a must-read daily for every college girl.
ME: Do you ever feel discouraged about your professional future?
SK: I really don’t. I think as long as I keep doing things that I love, my passion for my work will make me happy and will make what I’m doing a success.
ME: Do you have enough time for yourself outside of Her Campus?
SK: At this point in my life, work is definitely my focus, but I still have time to work out, hang out with friends, watch TV, go shopping, etc…Our work is very flexible so we are able to make time for anything in our personal life that is important to us.
ME: Fill in the blank: I love my job because_______
SK: I get to be in Miami on college spring break right now for “work”!
ME: As an entrepreneur, what will be your next big move?
SK: I have no idea! For the time being, my focus is on making Her Campus as successful as possible.
ME: Have you always known what you’ve wanted to do career-wise?
SK: No. I used to want to be a writer and I did not think I had any interest in business, but that has since changed of course! But I was always interested in journalism and media.
ME: Any advice for aspiring business women?
SK: Be confident in your abilities and don’t doubt yourself. I like the saying, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” I think everyone should live by that, and women in particular are often afraid of taking risks, but you should just do it!
ME: Would you like to share anything else with our readers?
SK: Pursue things that you love, not things that you think you “should” do. If you’re doing something you love, that will translate much more easily into success.
Stephanie Kaplan was named to Inc. magazine’s 30 Under 30 Coolest Young Entrepreneurs, Glamour magazine’s 20 Amazing Young Women, and The Boston Globe’s 25 Most Stylish Bostonians. Stay tuned for her next big move, and check out HerCampus.com!