She's been described as an Ari Emanuel for "mommy bloggers," with less cursing. As CEO of the Corte Madera, California-based content marketing firm Sway Group, Danielle Wiley represents a legion of some 90,000 bloggers who cover everything from parenting and DIY to food and technology. And business has been swift. In the past three years, her firm's revenue has grown nearly 1,000 percent to $4.3 million in 2014. That performance handily won her a slot on the 2015 Inc. 5000 at No. 466. Here, the PR maven discusses seizing upon her business idea and how it was the best decision she's ever made.
-As told to Saki Knafo
When I was running the strategy department of the Chicago-based digital group at PR firm Edelman, I would get a lot of stressed-out emails and phone calls from my friends in the blogging space. They wanted to make money from their blogs, but many of them didn't have the expertise to negotiate with agencies.
They didn't know all of the terminology; they didn't know what to charge. More important, they wanted to focus on creating great content and engaging with their readers. Most of them didn't want to spend their time on the business side of things. So, it seemed pretty obvious that there needed to be some kind of middleman to handle the business negotiations between the brands and the influencers. It took me a good three years to work up the courage to quit my job and do it.
I left Edelman in 2011, and launched the company with two partners. We now have a total of five partners, all women. It's one of our goals to elevate the space of female-generated content online and make sure that women are getting paid what they should get paid for the work they do. I love being women-owned, but sometimes we do get a little bit of, "Oh, you cute little ladies." I'd like to see that change.
I'm sort of a failed food writer. My dream was to write for Saveur or Gourmet. But writing is such a solo existence--you're sitting alone at your computer and you slave away and then you have to send it out and wait for a response. When blogs came along, I realized that I could escape, albeit virtually, from my solo existence. There were comments and dialogue, and it felt like a game changer.
In 2005, I started a blog called Foodmomiac. It was just a place for me to share what I was cooking for dinner and the day-to-day happenings of my young family. As I've gotten busier with work, my posting schedule decreased dramatically, and it hasn't been updated in over a year. It was great having it, though--being part of that community and building those relationships and understanding how much work goes into creating a space like that has a tremendous impact on how to grow the business.
A couple weeks ago, I went back to the offices of one of my first jobs and had meeting with the CEO, whom I hadn't seen for seven years. He said, "I remember talking to you in 2001 and you said you will never start your own company." It was the idea that pushed me to do it.
I kept having this conversation with myself and saying, "If I can't do this, someone else is going to do this and I'm going to hate myself." I couldn't just keep thinking about it and talking about it. I had to take the leap.
I'm so happy now with what I do. I love food and I love writing and it's definitely a part of who I am, but it was something that was a struggle for me. Running this company now, I wouldn't say it's not a struggle, but I love the brainstorming. I love collaborating. It's a more natural fit for who I am.