I had to write a business plan and get funding, because you can't start a business without funding. That's a mistake many women make, they start out under capitalized and begin using their credit cards and never really grow. My business plan projected a nice methodical growth track trajectory. That business plan was what I turned to when I made decisions about spending money or moving the business in any direction. It really helps you stay focused. I took it to investors who I met by asking around the media community. With the first meeting, literally within 15 minutes of hearing my plan, the potential investor said, "I'm in with $250,000." It seemed like a dream come true. I wanted to raise $1 million, and I told him I thought I needed that amount to be safe. So he introduced me to a lead investor.
I was scared. Early on I had good reason to be, because as soon as I got funding, suddenly the Internet crashed, and everyone was going out of business around me. A lot of those Internet companies were my customers. They weren't able to pay me. So I ended up doing what anyone would do. I landed on people's doorsteps. I went to company offices, demanded to speak to CFOs and asked for a check on the spot. They were paying the squeaky wheel, and what's squeakier than showing up on their doorstep?
Well, 9/11 hit the next year, and it really beat up the media industry and that was our customer base. Everyone was holding back on job listings because they were too afraid to hire. While a large group of our customers—employers—had abandoned us, another group of our customers—job hunters—were still very active on the site. What could we sell them, we wondered? Those unemployed writers and editors told me that they needed training to get new jobs and more work, and, I figured, who better to provide that than mediabistro.com? We launched a series of classes and workshops geared toward helping them.
About this time, I decided to go to some of my employees, those who were making more than $50,000 a year, and ask them if they were willing to help out and give up a portion of their salaries in the short term to save the company from firing any of the staff. Everyone agreed to do their share. I took out a line of credit against my apartment and gave up 100 percent of my salary, and my programmer gave up 100 percent of his for three months. We survived and didn't have to fire one person. I think more companies could save body counts by asking everyone to pitch in. Along the way I always gave ownership stakes because I wanted all my employees to feel that they were part of the company and its success.