EDITOR’S NOTE: An ongoing series (both in print and online), Girl Like Us will spotlight women, in their 20’s, who are making waves in their various fields. It is easy to be inspired by those who came before, but there are countless women just like us who are making their ways in multiple and varied careers, women who are running their own shops, writing, working with and for others while pursuing their own creative projects — these women are smart and witty and passionate and multitasking and awesome. I can’t say how thrilled we are to share their stories with all of you.
WHO Amber Gordon, 25
WHERE New York, New York
WHAT Founder of Femsplain
Femsplain hit the internet like a femme positive wrecking ball in October 2014 when founder Amber Gordon first brought her personal project to the masses. A former employee of Tumblr, Gordon created Femsplain with one mission in mind: to change the dialogue of what it’s like to be a woman –– and in doing so, make our world a better place.
Femsplain publishes contributions from anyone female identified, covering all manner of topics from surving sexual violence to getting out of the bed with depression, eating disorders, career, relationships, and much more—creating a web experience that is all at once moving, informative and fun; and one that is making a huge impact on how the female-identified spend their time on the internet. So much so, in fact, that Femsplain was able to raise $30,000 via their Kickstarter campaign; despite the anti-feminist trolls who have tried to attack and bring down the site multiple times since its inception.
Gordon shares more about her unique career path, how she stays inspired and the way she manages to get everything done.
SCHOOL’s OUT I studied at an art school in Boston for Interactive Media and Design (but only briefly). I ended up dropping out after only one semester because I felt I wasn’t learning enough for what was spent to attend. I really didn’t have the money and my loans fell through, so instead of trying to reapply and dig myself into more debt, I made a huge decision to leave and try to get hired full-time at a company.
Now don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t work for everyone. Even though I worked super hard, I’m also incredibly lucky that opportunity found me when it did. I had self-taught myself the skills I needed to get hired as a front end web developer. My career path is very confusing but it went something like: php developer > social media manager > QA Engineer > community manager > creative strategist > founder. I never saw my career as a linear path, I just knew I wanted to work with computers… whatever the job would be.
THE TUMBLR EFFECT Tumblr was truly a fantastic and educational experience. I only worked there for a year and a half, but in that short time I learned so much about sales and advertising, two things I didn’t have much knowledge prior. I was hired because at my previous job at Gotham, I’d created the voice and managed the community of Denny’s Diner on Tumblr. Denny’s came to be one of the top community engagement Tumblrs on the platform because of its unique usage and its quirky/relatable voice is something most brands weren’t doing at the time. I also think I was hired at Tumblr because of my deep knowledge of the community and how to discover and take part in trends that were happening.
I always felt like I was equal to my co-workers at Tumblr, but at previous jobs in tech where I was on the engineering team, I always felt less appreciated than my male co-workers. I was talked down on a lot and my ideas were hardly ever taken seriously. It felt really hostile, and if I didn’t find my passion for community I probably never have left and might have just dealt with it. We shouldn’t have to just “deal with it”.
My previous experiences have 100% helped me with what we’re doing now. Again, I knew nothing about native advertising but what I did learn at Tumblr will definitely help me with my decisions in the future.
FEMME ORIGINS Femsplain just kind of happened very quickly. My friends and I had been talking about how we wanted to build a community where other people would feel comfortable telling their stories for almost a year. One day I was feeling particularly uninspired at my job and just decided to build it. I had no idea what it would be or what it would grow to be, but I just knew I had to do it. We bought the domain name on October 6, 2014 and launched the website on October 27, with about 20 pieces from our close female friends.
In addition, our mission is to reshape the way women are discussed through discussion. We aim to amplify a diverse range of voices and welcome anyone to support us!
A VIRAL HIT We first started talking to people on our contact list who we thought would be interested in getting the word out and covering it. Mainly I reached out to 100 of my closest Internet friends over email and Twitter DM, letting them know that we would be launching a campaign soon and if they would be interested knowing more once we launched. When the day came to launch, we had some media coverage which really helped get eyes on the campaign from people we didn’t know. From there we used social media to keep the momentum going, which thankfully paid off in the end!
LEARNING BALANCE I wish I could say it was super easy and I just laid out a strict schedule for myself to work on Femsplain and my real job at the same time, but honestly that was far from the case. I was working from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. most days at Tumblr and then from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. at home and all day on weekends. I really didn’t have a social life except for occasionally going to friends’ birthday parties for a few hours. You’re probably thinking “You’re crazy,” and yeah I was.
I get in these modes where when I have my mind set to something, I go all in. It’s probably not the most smart, healthy thing to do, but hey we’re doing some amazing things and the messages I get from people saying how positive Femsplain has impacted them makes all those days/nights without sleep worth it. I mean eventually it got to be too much and I had to quit my job (and it was really, really hard for me to make that decision.)
My advice for anyone wanting to pursue multiple passion projects is to make sure your side project isn’t going to get in the way of your life as it is now. If you do want your passion project to become a bigger part of your life, before you dive in, stop and figure out a plan for yourself to transition. Ask yourself what you can do without to make more time for this project. If that means less Netflix, so be it. If that means less face to face time with friends, maybe that’s what you need to do. Make sure you’re comfortable and ready for this commitment. Otherwise it’s going to be hard to succeed.
TAKING CHANCES Quitting my job was really, really hard. Tumblr was a place that I loved working. I loved the people I worked with, the company culture, the platform, the community. I loved everything. But I also really loved what I was building. I knew I was going to have to quit eventually, but it was just a matter of when.
And I was finding every day that there was going to be no right time for me to leave. It came down to a single day that I felt so emotionally and physically exhausted because I was overworking myself. I was getting behind on my work and didn’t feel like I was putting in the quality or effort I should be. One thing about me is I always need to feel like I’m doing my best at my job, and I wasn’t at the time. So I wrote a very long and emotional email to my boss and decided that was it. I had been planning to leave for weeks but when it came down to the decision, it was very on a whim and in the moment.
I knew that when I made this decision my family and friends would support me through it. I definitely had a hard time telling my mom, because like a mom, she worries about me all the time. I’ve been saving up for a while now so money wasn’t an issue, mostly just health insurance, for which I’m now covered. Thanks Obama!
Even though I left somewhat spontaneously, I still had a plan on how I would survive afterwards. I pay for all my bills and that’s important which is why I didn’t leave Tumblr sooner. I stayed and saved as long as I possibly could, and that’s what anyone thinking about leaving should do, too.
WOMAN POWER I’ve learned so many things from the Femsplain staff! Everyone is kind and really wants to help build Femsplain into something more than “just a blog.” Empathetic is a word I find myself often describing everyone. We’re very aware of each-others’ feelings and if one of us seems off, we always talk about what’s going on. We’re very open with each other and transparent. I’m very close with Gabriela Barkho, who’s our founding editor and basically my right hand lady. She’s not only my business partner but someone who I call a good friend.
WHAT’S NEXT Well, we’re in the process of hiring our very first intern! Other than that, we’re focused on growth and working to bring more eyes to the amazing content we publish. We’re trying to continue hosting monthly workshops and plan our quarterly events. We also need to wrap up our Kickstarter campaign and send out all the rewards! It’s all really exciting and I’m so eager to see what the future brings.
Interview by Kerri Jarema
See more from Lydia Magazine’s Summer 2015 issue below!