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5 Minutes With A Mentor: Molly Longest

Missed our Startup Study Hall with Molly Longest, Co-Founder of the Lala? Not to worry - we sat down with Molly and asked five questions to help YOU and your startup! Molly shared her thoughts on staying true to your brand, bootstrapping, and gave us the scoop on the Lala shop and the Lala Fund.

1. How does the Lala plan to continue to stand out against other news and media organizations? Do you have plans to extend beyond your audience of college contributors and readers?

“In everything we’ve done up to this point, we’ve stayed true to our brand and what we stand for – that alone sets us apart from other news and media organizations. But I think over the next few years where we’ll really stand out is in our brand extensions. For us, online media is just the beginning. We’re a brand that a whole lifestyle can be built around.

This spring we launched an online shop so our followers can now connect with us through product. In the next few months we’ll really be amping up our video content as well. Down the line we’d love to see the Lala have a more physical presence on college campuses and in cities where a lot of post-grads live through smaller community events. We’d also love to put on a huge annual Lala event in the next coming years.

As far as our audience goes, we’re looking to extend our brand beyond just college. We’re a young site, so we’ve just started to see our audience graduate and move into post-grad life, but we want to hold on to those readers. We’re slowly transitioning to not just be solely college-focused, but really focused on the 18-24 year old female age group.”

2. You talked about the importance of finding loopholes around certain problems. Any tips for female entrepreneurs who are looking for those loopholes themselves?

“Don’t be afraid to bootstrap. Bootstrapping is so important, especially in your first months of starting your business when resources, for many, are scarce. We had no choice but to bootstrap because we were recent college grads with no money when we started the Lala, but I think sometimes people are afraid to bootstrap things because they think they need professional help, or people will be able to tell they have no budget.

But there are so many ways to get creative, build a great product or marketing materials, and not spend a dime. For example, needing professional photos of your products? Rather than paying a professional photographer, reach out to a college photo program, or find a young talented photographer on Instagram and offer them some free product in exchange for a few photos. So many of them are trying to build up their portfolios and will snap some photos for free or really cheap.

Also one of the most valuable loopholes we’ve found to getting into certain events and meetings has been by surrounding ourselves with connected people and just asking.

Want a meeting with someone super high up in Google? Ask around to everyone you know if they know someone who works at Google who’d like to be a business mentor to you, grab coffee or sit down for a meeting with that person, and then ask how you can get connected to that high up person you really want to talk to.

Sometimes when you look at the super high, hard-to-reach-on-your-own goal, it seems insanely overwhelming. But take the steps to get halfway there and find someone else who help get you the rest of the way.”

3. How many different social media channels do you think startups should begin their strategy with? Do you have a recommended amount of time you think startups should spend on social media weekly?

“I think it all depends on your area of business, but I’d say having at least two strong channels will be ideal. You can’t assume everyone is on every social media outlet, but by being on at least two, hopefully you’ll be able to connect with a good amount of people.

And once again, the amount of time depends on your industry, but I think startups should be on their social media outlets daily, if not multiple times a day. I think sitting down every month with your team to go over strategy, what’s working what’s not, etc. is incredibly important. It helps you see the big picture of what you’re trying to do.”

4. What is your advice for entrepreneurs who are working with partners or co-founders to make those relationships successful?

“Before going into business, it’s important to talk about how the partnership will function when it comes to power. Are you equal partners? Is one of you the Founder and the other the co-founder? What will ownership of the company look like?

Setting those expectations up front is so important to avoid power struggles, or to refer to if someone isn’t holding up their end of the bargain.

Sit down and talk about your five-year visions for the company and yourselves. Do you both have the same end goal? How many years are you both willing to commit? You don’t want to jump into a venture wholeheartedly and then find out a year in, your co-founder wants out after year two.

Also, some people will tell you that a co-founder relationship can purely be a “just work” relationship, but I personally would have a really hard time spending that much time with someone I didn’t enjoy being around. I think the business relationship can come first, but it’s important that you and your partner also get along outside of work, enjoy each others’ presence and care about each others’ well-being.

You’ll have times when one of you might be going through something difficult and the other one will have to pick up the slack and not be mad about it. I think when you truly like your work partner, that part comes as instinct because you have compassion for them.

Also, make sure to go out for frequent coffee dates or happy hours to just dream up big ideas for your company. It’s important to get out of the day-to-day grind and remember why you went in to business together.”

5. Give me the scoop on the Lala shop and your Lala fund! What's that all about?

“Since we started the Lala three years ago, we knew product was an area we wanted to get in to, but when the timing was right. We want to be able to connect with every college-aged and post-grad woman in the US and beyond, and this is a great way to connect with new followers as well as someone who’d rather buy a hat than read an article on the Lala (but they’re totally missing out by not reading the Lala – it rocks!).

Through our shop we offer fun products designed specifically for our reader. Right now we have just a few products ranging from hats, to dorm room signs, sweatshirts and notebooks, but hope to continue to expand our offerings as we grow.

We knew we wanted to have some sort of “give-back” or philanthropic aspect to our store – especially because our company is rooted in a positive mission. We decided something that was close to our hearts and that excited us was the using a portion of proceeds from the shop to invest in young women’s companies. A huge reason why we’re at the stage we are today is because we had an investor early on put some money behind the company. That money not only helped us accelerate our business, but truly validated the fact we were building something exciting with real potential. It gave us the confidence we needed to go out and really build this thing!”

Get to Know Molly Longest

  • Entrepreneur Idol(s): "I’m inspired by entrepreneurs who have an incredible understanding of branding and who have built brands I just adore. To name a few: Jen Gotch from Bando, Emily Weiss of Glossier and Into the Gloss, Yael Aflalo of Reformation, Tyler Haney of Outdoor Voices and of course Carly and Danielle of the Skimm."

  • Favorite Blog(s): "Daily, I check Designlovefest, Cupcakes and Cashmere, A Beautiful Mess and the Free People blog. As a creative director, those keep me so inspired."

  • Favorite Quote: “I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story – I will.” – Amy Schumer

  • I Am Inspired By: "Everything! But really, I find inspiration in sometimes the most ordinary of moments. Driving, running to some of my favorite songs, in the shower. I do find so much inspiration on Instagram and the Internet, but lately I’ve been trying to do more non-tech related things to get ideas going from painting, to thrift shopping, to playing my guitar or even mixing up a tasty cocktail."

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