Name: Alisa Volkman
Why she’s fierce: After the birth of her first son, Volkman realized the reality of raising children doesn’t look like the images in parenting magazines—full of sunny playrooms, smiling children eating vegetables craftily cut up to look like dinosaurs, and preschool preparedness checklists. Volkman founded Babble.com in December 2006 with her husband, Nerve.com founder Rufus Griscom. The concept was to create content that dispelled some of the false advertising around parenting and serve urban, irreverent parents. For any parent who has received the stink eye for caving to public tantrums, carrying an old backpack instead of a designer diaper bag, or climbing the play structures at the park, you know the courage it takes to step out from under the peer pressure behind perfect parenting.
Volkman was not alone in her feelings about the misrepresentation of motherhood in the media because the site has received more than 5 million unique visitors. While Babble started under the Nerve Media umbrella, the site was spun off to its own entity, Babble Media, in 2009.
Two years later, Babble.com’s Volkman and Griscom sold the site to the Walt Disney Company—for a reported $40 to $45 million. Many critics of the deal and Babble enthusiasts thought the purchase would mean the blogs would lose their edge and become Disnified. While still at the helm, the founders believe Babble has stayed true to its founding principles. Volkman has not only become a successful entrepreneur, but this mother of three boys has also become the face of a progressively candid approach to parenting.
In her own words:
Daria Meoli: I’ve read you talk about ripping the façade off parenting. Why do you think that hadn’t been done before?
Alisa Volkman: We were the first website that made it a central mission to speak honestly about the experience of parenting. Parents are expected to talk about the parenting experience as precious and perfect and always rosy, which can make it really hard for parents to get the support they need, find the comradery they need and enjoy the humor they need to manage the trying, challenging elements of parenting.
DM: What are some of the issues you’ve faced that you feel are exclusive to mom entrepreneurs?
AV: The work / life balance as a mother of three presents considerable challenges we are all familiar with. The biggest single challenge is balancing the time commitments. In many ways, [women have] achieved what we set out to do but have doubled our workload in doing so. I feel a part of a generation of women who are now trying to figure out how to make it all work. I agree with both Sheryl Sandberg and Anne-Marie Slaughter—it’s the right time for women to continue to step up but there’s also a societal problem to be solved in how we collectively manage all that’s on our plate.
The solution I’ve come up with is to work pretty much around the clock, while carving out pockets of quality time with my children, but as mentioned earlier, I truly believe that there’s a societal problem to be solved in how we collectively manage all that’s on our plate. Allowing for more flexibility would be a good start.
DM: What was it like starting the site with your husband?
AV: Rufus and I are both really passionate about our work, and also really passionate about our family and time together. There is not enough time in the day to fit it all in, so working together enables us to both interact with each other and be workaholics. It has worked well for us.
DM: Can you talk about your early growing pains as a business? What challenges did you personally face as a leader of a growing business?
AV: I’ve learned that you must put a huge amount of focus into getting the right people on the bus. Hiring and partnering with the right people may be the single biggest factor in the success of a start-up. Model the behavior you want of your team. And evolve your business model—don’t be afraid to significantly change your business model to make it work. And don’t stop pushing for more flexibility and sensitivity to the work / life balance challenge.
DM: Did you have any reservations about joining Disney? What is your role now? What benefits have come from the deal?
AV: As a serial entrepreneur, I had some hesitations on the front end about joining a large American corporation. But it’s been great. We work with amazing people at Disney, and we’ve been able to enjoy the upsides of working with one of the greatest companies in world—resources, best practices, synergies of all these powerful business units—without a slowing of our pace and productivity. It’s really been the best of both worlds.