Celebrity entrepreneurs Gwyneth Paltrow and Zooey Deschanel talk business

Founders of successful online platforms Goop and Hello Giggles, Paltrow and Deschanel share their start-up stories and business advice...

While it’s true that many A-listers might just put their name to a brand or act as an ambassador for a business, an increasing number of celebrities are actually launching and scaling their own businesses from scratch.

Gwyneth Paltrow and Zooey Deschanel are two stars who have done just that.

While Paltrow has appeared in blockbuster films and Deschanel has built an exceptional career in acting and music, both have created successful businesses – Goop and Hello Giggles – from the ground up.

Paltrow founded lifestyle platform Goop in 2008 and it offers highly curated content on areas ranging from fashion to parenting and cultural issues, alongside an e-commerce platform.

Deschanel’s business is also an online brand. She co-founded Hello Giggles – a place on the internet to inspire young women – back in 2011 and sold it to Time Inc. four years later in a deal estimated to be worth $20m.

Speaking at Sage’s annual Sage Summit 2016 in Chicago this week, Paltrow and Deschanel explained why they took the leap into business, the start-up challenges they’ve faced along the way, and their essential advice for budding business owners…

On having that ‘lightbulb’ moment

Deschanel: “I’m not really a business person and I’m not really business-minded but I’m creative and I always have a lot of ideas. I grew up before the internet and I always thought it would be nice to connect with other creative people.

“I met my partners Sophia Rossi and Molly McAleer around 2010 and we all had that same feeling to start a positive online creative community. Luckily we each had different creative strengths so we really gelled as a team.

“Hello Giggles is a positive online community for women, when I first started the business there were very few places you could go where you could write an article or blog and there wouldn’t be vicious comments. We had teen bloggers that were looking to relate to the young millennial audience – the site kind of covers a lot of ground, it’s editorial and lifestyle. It’s safe and positive.”

Paltrow: 

“I had been acting for a long, long time – it was very back to back and I sort of burned out. I was doing three or four movies a year and then I had kids and I started to ruminate on what was my purpose and [asked myself] ‘what did I want to do?’ At that time, I came to think of Goop. It took several years for me to even monitise it but running the business every day has been awesome… and terrifying.

“Goop is an e-commerce and content platform, our strap-line is that ‘we’re devoted to making every choice count’. We like to push boundaries and we’re not afraid to create some controversy once in a while, I work with very like-minded people, we want to be a truly digital lifestyle brand. We feel that we’re truly at the acorn stage and have a lot more work to do.”

On growing their businesses

Deschanel: “There was an organic path that [Hello Giggles] took. Sometimes it took a while to hire the right people but we’ve had different people help us along the way.

“Ashton Kutcher helped us at the early stages and gave us a lot of advice. And it grew; after a while it was kind of like our baby had grown up – there were all these people devoted to the website that weren’t there at the beginning. At a certain point, I felt like I didn’t even need to interfere as much.

“We wanted to grow the brand while retaining our integrity. Time [Inc] understood what our aim was, that’s why they wanted to buy the brand and spread the positive image.”

Paltrow: “Pre-monetisation it was just me and I was on my own schedule and it was my own money I was putting in.

“Post-monetisation, that’s where the challenges have come in. I did a crash course on being a founder, asking myself questions like ‘what kind of leader do I want to be?’ and trying to understand that emotional piece of it. Fundraising, reading a profit and loss account; I had to learn everything that I didn’t know. I actually love fundraising – it’s my favourite part of business! My biggest challenge is learning how to be a good business founder.”

On choosing online over offline

Deschanel: “The very essence of the idea [behind Hello Giggles] relied on the fact that it was an online business as we wanted that instant connectivity. The challenge is taking advantage of whatever’s new technologically without losing the spirit.”

Paltrow: “Online was the new form of media at the time [2008], it was the way forward. It was the way for people like Zooey and myself to communicate – not through a journalist lens but directly to our audience.”

On business brands v personal brands

Paltrow: “More and more I would like [Goop] to be its own brand, my dream is that one day no one would remember I had anything to do with it!”

Deschanel: “I would say that the HelloGiggles brand is much younger, we really shaped it around ‘that girl’ – like ‘Who is she?’ What are her interests? What is she looking to read about?’

On partnerships and building a team

Deschanel: “I think having amazing people around you makes you better, and it makes you look better. You’re only as good as the people you work with.

“When we first started we were in Sophia’s living room, having all these friends write articles and we’d read them – it’s funny that it’s a big business now, I can’t fathom how big it’s got. I don’t want to say that the motives were entirely altruistic but it ended up being a collage of interesting pieces.”

Paltrow: “Partnerships are really important to everything we do at Goop, across a range of verticals [such as] ad-sales, brand partnerships, partnerships on the e-commerce side, and I have partnerships with the (mostly women) that I work with.

“A partnership to me is a safety net, it will protect you and help your business grow.”

On the most satisfying thing about running a business

Deschanel: “The reactions from contributors. As soon as I saw what [Hello Giggles] meant to the contributors it was such an incredible feeling. For our storytelling events, we started at like a 99 seat theatre and [at the time] it was so exciting then that 100 people came!”

Paltrow: “We are living in complicated and uncertain times, one of the beauties of the internet is that you can connect and interact with people. Some of the letters we get to Goop [are great], we get letters about having helped point people in the direction in a way that’s meaningful to them.”

On the future

Paltrow: “I would love to have a lot more users, I would love to grow out each of our verticals and to have a positive impact on people’s lives.

“[I’m thinking long-term] but I don’t know how my VCs feel about that!”

Deschanel: “I have a lot of things that I’m passionate about. My husband [Jacob Pechenik] and I invested in an aquaponics business – it’s a natural business growing fish and plants together in one system. It has less impact on the environment, it uses technology to improve the output without stripping the nutrients using technology.”

On ultimate advice for budding entrepreneurs

Deschanel: “My philosophy ‘If I like it, someone else will like it’ has never led me astray – don’t pander to people as people can smell pandering. I think you should always trust your gut. Don’t over-analyse, if you want it, other people are probably going to want it.”

Paltrow: “I think self-belief is everything, unwavering self-belief. People are going to try and knock you off. Keep your eye on the prize, I had a friend that said to me ‘where you look is where you go’ and [I believe in that].”

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