I am featured on The Every Girl this week.
Thank you Bianca Lambert for such an amazing piece!
The Art of Starting Over: How This CEO Reinvented Her Career
As I was waiting at my desk to interview Necole, it reminded me of the time I got to meet Solange at a party at the Saint Heron House at Essence Festival. I was so excited and nervous that I opened my mouth and nothing came out when she reached out to shake my hand. But, unlike my impromptu Solange sighting, going mute wasn’t an option this time. I had a job to do. I also had the chance to pick the brain of an entrepreneur I admired for the last 10 years. So, I got my butterflies in check and said, “Hi, Necole, it’s Bianca,” when I heard her bright voice on the other end of our UberConference.
Necole has been my mentor in my head since her days running NecoleBitchie.com. A gossip site she shuddered at the height of its success because, as she put it, “I didn’t want that to be my legacy.” Instead, she moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, to clear her head, take control of her career, and plan her next big step —launching xoNecole. It wasn’t just the content on Necole’s site that made me one of her biggest fans, it was her story and transparency because I saw myself in her. During our interview, we talk about taking chances, starting over, and why we should never let our careers come before our health.
Name: Necole Kane
Location: New York
Current Title/Company: CEO and Editor-in-Chief of xoNecole
Education: Towson University
As the CEO and Editor-in-Chief of a lifestyle brand, how do you start your day?
When I wake up in the morning, I write out exactly what I want to happen that day. I started it last January. I had gone through this stage of depression, and I just felt like I didn’t know what was happening. I felt like I didn’t have enough resources to turn xoNecole into what I wanted it to be. I felt like I was failing. A friend suggested I try intention setting each morning. I remember waking up the first day and just writing, “I will be presented with a new opportunity today.” I was very vague in the beginning because I just didn’t know what to write. That day I got an email from my managing editor, letting me know Will Packer was looking for me.
I know it’s all about the law of attraction, but I don’t think it’s magical. I think what writing things down does is get your mind into a winning mind frame. It’s almost like you know it’s possible because you’ve written it. So your perception of everything that happens in your life changes. Before I started writing everything, I would wake up some mornings in the fetal position because every bit of money I was making was being sucked up by this brand, and I started having resentment toward my website.
“If you’re getting up and just going and not setting your intentions it’s hard to get in alignment with the life you want for yourself.”
It’s funny because I think of all the bloggers that started back then and we didn’t think of our blogs as businesses. Necole Bitchie taught me to always start with an exit strategy, because if you don’t start out knowing where you’re trying to go, you’re going to be floating in the wind.
I was approached to sell the site (Necole Bitchie) in 2013 for seven figures, and I hadn’t planned for that. I hadn’t prepared for where I wanted Necole Bitchie to go. I didn’t know if I want it to be acquired or if I wanted an investor. I honestly didn’t see the brand going very far with the name. I was like, if I was going to sell this brand to someone, there’s not much else they could do with it. And if I sell it to someone, I still will always be Necole Bitchie for as long as that site runs, and I wanted to be in control of the legacy of the site.
Did you ever find yourself regretting not selling the site for the seven-figure price tag?
For years, it weighed on my spirit, like, should I have sold because once the blogging opportunities start falling off, you’re like, “Did I make a mistake and not sell?” But, it ended up working out. If I had sold Necole Bitchie, I never would have been acquired by Will Packer, and I would never have been able to launch xoNecole.
Necole Bitchie taught me to always start with an exit strategy, because if you don’t start out knowing where you’re trying to go, you’re going to be floating in the wind.
When I ended Necole Bitchie, as I said, I didn’t start with a plan so when I ended it, it was like what’s next? When I started xoNecole, I had a business plan, a marketing deck, and an exit strategy. That was to either be acquired or get an investor, and with me having an end goal I was able to get acquired within two years of launching xoNecole.
I closed Necole Bitchie because it no longer represented who I was and where I was going, and the woman I was becoming. I was no longer interested in the content, and your audience can tell when your heart’s no longer there. I remember watching an interview with Will Smith, and he said he had to leave The Fresh Prince because it was keeping him at one age. It was keeping him stuck, and he wanted to grow, and that’s how I felt about Necole Bitchie. It stagnated my growth for a minute. I was so wrapped up in what celebrities were doing at any given moment that I started living my life as a spectator to other people’s lives. I realized I wasn’t living my own. When I realized that, I knew that I could offer so much more to the world, and I wanted my legacy to be much more empowering.
Did you know you wanted to start xoNecole before closing your gossip site?
I started coming up with the concept of xoNecole in 2013. I thought xoNecole would be the event piece, and then I tried to spring up a site for xoNecole at the same time as Necole Bitchie, and it just wasn’t happening. People asked me why I didn’t keep both sites, but they just could not co-exist in the same space together.
Was it challenging for you to let go of what you built with Necole Bitchie?
The one mistake I almost made was I tried to keep my audience. When you evolve, you’re not going to take everybody with you, that’s in any area of your life. It’s impossible. Some people are not going to be ready to elevate at that particular time. When I launched xoNecole, in the first month, we were still trying to embed entertainment into the site, and I would see messages saying I don’t see the difference between Necole Bitchie and xoNecole.
“I wanted my legacy to be much more empowering.”
I lived in Arizona at the time. I had been there for six months, and I moved there to start my transition. I knew starting xoNecole was something I’d always want to do, and I knew I couldn’t change my brand living in LA or New York. I really had to seclude myself from friends, family, and everyone that knew me as Necole Bitchie because I knew people would try to talk me out of it. When I was able to shut my site down, I was able to live my life. It’s crazy how restrictive your life can be when you get a little bit of fame, and people start to know you. I tell people all of the time there is so much freedom in irrelevancy. I was able to live in that freedom when I closed down the site.
Many women connect with you because of your inspiring story. Do you think transparency has been key to your growth as a businesswoman?
I think transparency really helped my brand. There are a lot of people not willing to be as transparent. When you get on social media, you don’t know what’s real or fake. No one’s telling you when they’re failing, but they want to tell you they’re winning all the time — and that’s not realistic. We fail nine times and win on the tenth. It’s about getting knocked down and getting back up. I needed my audience to know about the times when I was knocked down, as much as they knew about the times that I was winning. I never wanted them to look at me as an unattainable goal.
When you closed your gossip site, I remember reading your goodbye newsletter, and shortly after you released a very candid video. What was it like putting your story out there with the possibility of judgment?
I put out that video and letter in September 2016, about a year after I left my website. I talked about running out of money and having to move back to my aunt’s house, and a lot of media outlets picked up the video and the headlines were, “Necole Bitchie From Boss to Broke and “She’s A Hot Mess,” and that terrified me because now you’re saying to all of these young women, “Don’t take a chance.” When they saw that I left something that no longer fulfilled me to do something positive, that was inspiring to them, but then when you put those headlines out there, it’s telling them that I failed. I didn’t want that to be the message that people got from me leaving something successful because now they’re thinking I’m going to stay even if I’m not happy because I don’t want to end up like her. A year after the release of that video, I got acquired by Will Packer. So, I needed them to see that low moment for that high moment to be even better.
“We fail nine times and win on the tenth. It’s about getting knocked down and getting back up. I needed my audience to know about the times when I was knocked down, as much as they knew about the times that I was winning. I never wanted them to look at me as an unattainable goal.”
When I would go to other sites that were targeting black women, it was so celebrity-heavy because that is what brings the page views. But black women are multidimensional, and we’re into way more than what celebrities are doing. I felt like, well, if I don’t see it out there I need to create it. I wanted xoNecole to be the site I needed when I was a young woman trying to find my way.
Did you encounter any roadblocks while rebranding? If so, what helped you make it over those hurdles?
Running a site like xoNecole, you have a lot of contributors. When I had a gossip site, I had a very small staff, and they just reported on the gossip, but with xoNecole, there are so many different topics, so we work with a lot of contributors. Building the infrastructure of my business was a process. All of our ads are sold in-house. So, it took about a year of knocking on doors, sending media kits to brands, and a lot of legwork to build those relationships. I did not plan for that. Everyone I hired to launch the site was getting paid from my bank account. Since there was no ad revenue coming in, I was watching my bank account dwindle. But, I knew I had to invest in myself first before I expected someone else to. If I had waited around for a check or investor to launch xoNecole, it would have never launched. Someone would have been telling me that a site like this for black women wouldn’t work without celebrity content. When people used to ask me what I did, I would pause, and it would be a sense of embarrassment. But, I look at my site every day, and I’m so proud of what we’ve built and I love what we do. It’s the best feeling in the world.
Your company was recently acquired by Will Packer Media (“Girls Trip,” “Think Like A Man,” “Ride Along”). What has it been like having the support of someone as influential and seasoned as Will Packer?
It’s been good. They created an environment that allows me to practice my self-care. I say that because they are very respectful of my fitness journey. If they know I have a competition, they aren’t scheduling any meetings or having me fly anywhere within three weeks of my competition. They know this is my passion and they don’t want to stress me before the show. I also love that they give me the freedom to run my brand. I thought there was going to be a huge change and it would be like working in corporate America, but it’s not because they trust me with my brand.
Health and fitness are an essential part of your life. How do you balance taking care of yourself along with a flourishing career?
When I had Necole Bitchie, I would eat one time a day. I went to a doctor in LA, and I found out I was extremely malnourished. They couldn’t even take my heart rate because it was so faint. The doctor was like, Girl, if you keep this up, you’re not going to live long. I realized I was going down the same path as my parents, who both died at 41 and 42 years old, over a career. That was a wake-up call for me. My health and fitness are important to me right now because I know when I’m pouring into myself healthwise, and making sure I’m the best me I can be, it pours over into every aspect of my life.
Necole Kane is The Everygirl…
Favorite way to unwind? A good candle and Sade
Favorite cheat day treat? Sour Patch Kids and Reese Cups
Favorite inspirational quote? A lot of people complain that life doesn’t give them any chances; you were given life, you must take the chances.
If you could have lunch with one woman, who would it be? Lisa Nichols