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When you think of the word entrepreneur, what kind of person comes to mind? Richard Branson? Elon Musk? Mark Zuckerberg?
A good percentage of you may picture a straight, white male – which, for the most part, is what many of us would subconsciously imagine a typical entrepreneur to be. There's at least one woman who is determined to challenge the status quo.
Meet Grace Bonney, founder of the popular design blog Design*Sponge. She's also the author of the book, In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs, which was just released on Amazon this week. (Her first book, Design*Sponge at Home, was released in 2011 and received positive reviews.)
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If you love design and decor, you may have already heard of Bonney. She's been featured on The Martha Stewart Show, NBC's The Chew, Good Morning America, and many more. With more than 1 million readers a day to the site (which launched in August 2004) and an impressive number of social followers, "successful" is definitely a good word to describe her.
When I first came across this book, I was struck immediately by the gorgeous photography of the diverse range of women on the cover. After opening and reading parts of the book, I knew this was something I had to tell our Entrepreneur readers about.
I had the chance to do a Q+A with Bonney ahead of her book tour to discuss the book, her entrepreneurial journey and what motivates her.
The following was lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Why do you do what you do?
Bonney: I’m most fulfilled and most excited by problem solving. I started Design*Sponge because I wasn’t seeing the type of design I love being represented in mainstream media. I wrote my new book because not all women (women of color, LGBTQ women and differently-abled women) were included in traditional business media. I’m constantly driven to see how I can help or give back to the communities I love and at the end of the day, that’s why I do any project I’m a part of.
How did you make the leap from employee to business owner?
Bonney: I started Design*Sponge when I was working at my first post-college job, so working for someone else and working on my own always happened at the same time. But I realized quickly that I wanted to run my business in a very specific way and when I was able to do that and still pay my bills, I made the leap. It took me a few years to feel comfortable to do that without a full time job to support me, but when I finally did it was a powerful motivator to have that pressure to make sure Design*Sponge could support myself and our team, financially.
What milestone are you most proud of?
Bonney: Our new book, In the Company of Women, is the project I’m most proud of from the past 12 years of my work life. It represents all of the people and issues I’m most passionate about and seeing all of these incredible women together in one place feels like my dream dinner party come-to-life. I’m mostly just so excited to see how these women will inspire the next generation to do more and dream bigger.
What’s the riskiest move you’ve taken in your business?
Bonney: The riskiest move I’ve ever made was deciding to stay small and independent. The traditional path of blogs these days is to take VC money, sell to a bigger publisher or work with sponsors to scale the business. But because I’ve always cared more about creative freedom than a bigger paycheck (or a bigger office, or any office at all), I’ve chosen to run our business really conservatively and focus on sticking to a budget that allows us to make choices based on our core goals and beliefs, rather than someone else’s.
What has been the most difficult part of growing your business?
Bonney: Accepting that things will always constantly be changing. There is no standing still on the Internet, so just when something feels like it’s working well and running smoothly, we have to adjust, shift and learn a new skill, app or platform.
A photo posted by Grace Bonney (@designsponge) on Oct 4, 2016 at 2:58pm PDT
How has the closest person in your life inspired you and your business?
Bonney: My wife, Julia Turshen, constantly inspires me to reach further and dream bigger. She was the person who encouraged me to take the leap and change my book subject from the original theme, a DIY encyclopedia, to what I really wanted to write about, women in business.
What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received?
Bonney: That how you handle things when they don’t work out is just as important as how you handle things when they do. It’s helped me learn to embrace our less-than-perfect business moments and use them as a chance to show people what we really believe in and who we are.
What’s the one thing you do every day to remain sharp and focused?
Bonney: Walk, walk, walk. Walking is the most powerful tool for clearing my mind, putting everything back in perspective and helping me shake off the fog that comes with being in front of a screen for too long. I tried running and every other type of exercise, but nothing beats a nice long walk. It’s like a Brita filter for your mind. By the time I come home, I feel like I left all my stress, worry and mental business on the road behind me.
Do you have a kooky or funny customer story?
Bonney: My favorite funny customer story is actually a snippet of some "hate mail" I got via email in my early days. When I first started out I got a lot of angry emails from people who I think must have assumed I was rolling in money and just hanging around writing about chairs in between massage appointments and being chauffeured around town. They sent me a series of emails criticizing my appearance and ended with, "I hope you cry yourself to sleep in your Marimekko panties." I could not stop laughing. I think about that attempted burn all the time. I think they meant it as a biting insult, but I immediately said out loud, "Ooh, wait, does Marimekko make underwear?" They don’t, but I’m still hoping they will one day.
This week, Grace Bonney will embark on a 12-city book tour and moderate panel discussions with a wide range of female entrepreneurs. Visit this link for tickets and more information.