What do Beyonce, blogging and work-life balance have in common? Lisa Sugar. The media mogul and founder-president of the number one lifestyle brand for women, POPSUGAR, counts each of these three things as being core to her business. Beyonce’s her mentor (in her head), blogging from her couch is how she got her start, and work-life balance is the goal she strives for daily as she oversees a remarkable staff creating content about pop culture, must-eat dishes, and Instagram-worthy fashions.
10 years ago, Lisa Sugar created her dream job alongside her husband, Brian, who is also POPSUGAR’s CEO. After a lot of hard work, patience and more celebrity breaking news stories than she can count, Sugar has impacted 100M+ global audience members racking up 2.4 billion monthly content views covering everything from fashion to fitness and home decor.
Now, Sugar is releasing her first book, “Power Your Happy: Work Hard, Play Nice & Build Your Dream Life” to share the story of how she built a successful personal and professional life. In the hilariously honest book, Sugar gives advice, in big and small ways, about exactly how to achieve success, from starting a company to ditching a relationship that isn't working to becoming a fabulous boss. Two of our favorite takeaways? “Play fair; karma is a bitch. And if you love it, working hard is effortless and addictive.”
Glassdoor got a chance to catch up with Sugar before she dashed into another series of meetings to talk about the book, the business and balance.
GLASSDOOR: Take me through your average day. I’m sure as a media mogul, titan, mom, wife, there is nothing that is quite average about any day. Talk to me about when your day starts, what you do?
LISA SUGAR: I like routine as much as I like flexibility, but yes my schedule does change often. If I’m not traveling, I’m in San Francisco and my day starts between 6:30 a.m. and 7. The first thing I do is look at email to see if anybody on the east coast needs me, then I shower. I start getting ready depending on if any kids are up yet or not. I get as far done in that process as I can before maybe going downstairs and setting anyone up with breakfast and then going back up and finishing getting ready before going into the office. Brian and I will walk our daughters to school, and then we like to walk to work together.
GLASSDOOR: Your husband Brian is also POPSUGAR Inc.’s CEO, what are those walks to work like? All business or 50/50?
LS: We talk about anything from brainstorming to business planning, to personal planning, to whatever was on TV last night. If he's not with me I usually call team on the east coast or my mom and some friends before the day gets crazy.
GLASSDOOR: How do you stay on track when things get crazy?
LS: I try to leave that first half-hour open in the morning so that I can prioritize whatever needs to get done that day. Then I usually start meetings at 10 a.m. I’ll work with our sales team whether it's brainstorming stuff to sell or working with clients. I work with the editorial team on strategy, brainstorms for features and network-wide content themes.
I do a lot with our LA-based video team. We have lots of programming meetings, playbook analysis meetings where we're looking at each and every video per vertical to figure out what works and what themes we’re working on. Then, hiring, recruiting and training falls in there somewhere every day. Lots of meetings. It’s lots of email. I would like to say it's a lot of directing traffic.
GLASSDOOR: It’s impressive that you’re still so hands on with editorial content, video and POPSUGAR’S Must-Have Box.
LS: It is a lot. We’ve figured out how to make the trains run whereby I don’t have to be involved in the day-to-day. Anything that is new I’m really hands on with until I feel like the engine is running. I get really excited about those things because it is bringing a new part of POPSUGAR to life. For example I would say SnapChat and Instagram stories. That is the newest, latest visual representation of POPSUGAR that has been created. Because it's still very new and still very experimental, I’ll be very hands on with it until it starts running regularly.
GLASSDOOR: As POPSUGAR celebrates its 10-year anniversary, what are the challenges you still find yourself grappling with as founder & president?
LS: The hardest thing for me is not knowing everyone personally because that is something that I loved so much about when the company first started. It was a very family-oriented feeling and as we have grown it's really hard to keep that. I was just in New York this past week. I was excited we had our annual summer party and I thought, “I’ve got to meet people that I haven’t talked to yet because there are so many people that I want to make sure that I get to know.”
[Related: Check Out Available Jobs At POPSUGAR!]
GLASSDOOR: In your book “Power Your Happy” you talk a lot about POPSUGAR being a family business and the responsibilities that come along with that. How do you navigate work-life balance with this kind of digital, family company?
LS: Work-life balance it's a matter of knowing what is important to you both in your job and at home and constantly prioritizing and re-prioritizing. There are just some things that I will not budge around whether it's a birthday or some important event. Unfortunately, Brian is out of the country every year for one of our daughter's birthday because he speaks at this event. So we find other ways to make sure we get to celebrate it before he leaves. I do the same thing. Maybe it's not a birthday but maybe soccer games or something at school that I missed but it's really making sure that when you have those particular days and blocking off the calendar accordingly.
GLASSDOOR: What does work-life balance look like with your staff?
LS: The bottom line for anyone here whether they're a mom, they're a bride or they're pregnant is get your job done whenever it works for you and when you're not holding people up. I absolutely think that it's okay to have to figure out an alternate plan for people who need flexible schedules. I said to people very early on that I’m going to be writing emails at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning. That does not mean necessarily that you need to get back to me that second. It’s when the time works for me. People learn around that.
GLASSDOOR: With everything you’re juggling, how did you find the time to write “Power Your Happy” and why?
LS: We are constantly asked by our audience for advice. They are asking for us to help lead them, give them practical actionable information and career advice. Plus, it felt like the right time with POPSUGAR turning 10. I finally felt like I was wise enough to be able to share a lot of what I’ve learned.
GLASSDOOR: When I first saw your motto “Work hard, play nice,” the feminist, ladder-climber in me was frustrated. Why must I play nice while I’m climbing the corporate ladder?
LS: Everyone needs to know that if you really want to be successful you have to work really hard. The play nice part was partly because POPSUGAR was built on a lot of partnerships. Early on, there were a lot of one-off bloggers writing and we actually would work together, link to each other every day and send each other traffic. That actually helped us build when we started working with other publishing houses like Time Inc. I really felt that that was important and different for POPSUGAR. It then continued on with my leadership style.
GLASSDOOR: How so?
LS: When I think of how POPSUGAR was built and how partnerships and other people help lift each other up, I wanted that same mentality with the leadership internally too. We also were a husband-and-wife team and we had a family focus. I really wanted people to know that if I can count on you and you can count on me, we're going to get 10 steps further than if we're trying to step on each other on the way up.
GLASSDOOR: How does the dynamic between you and Brian work? Founder vs CEO, who gets the final word?
LS: We both know where our strengths and weaknesses are, which is great. He totally trusts what I do on a day-to-day basis in the world that I’m working in, and by all means I trust his instinct and his leadership and his knowledge is incredible. We joked that the biggest argument that we have every day is really ‘what’s for dinner.’ I know it's not normal. I’d love to say that it's something more salacious but really it's like ‘what are we having for dinner every night?’ Neither of us wants to decide that.
[Related: Are You Ready to Be a CEO? Take Our Quiz]
GLASSDOOR: We’ve done research recently about the attributes that make a CEO great. What do you think it takes to be an exceptional CEO?
LS: A CEO must be a visionary—someone who really wants to take you on a journey with them and isn’t afraid to try new things, but at the same time has focus; they can’t get too distracted. Vision, focus, ability to hire great people and have good instincts are really important. Also being able to motivate people, getting people excited about what they’re doing every day and having that cheerleading quality is really important too.
GLASSDOOR: Who is more of a cheerleader: you or Brian?
LS: Brian is more the cheerleader. He’s great at motivating a crowd and he has an amazing energy to get people really excited. I always felt like more the athlete than the cheerleader.
GLASSDOOR: What’s been the biggest setback or challenge for you recently?
LS: Writing this book has definitely been a journey. It’s been a huge learning experience just writing a book, turning it in, speaking at events, doing some keynotes. I don’t normally do that type of stuff because I’m really into the every day. This will be a big challenge for me coming up in the next month.
GLASSDOOR: Did you ever hit a point where you got writer's block?
LS: The writing was really easy and natural for me. I had our executive editor Nancy Einhart help me. Having a partner to help pull stuff out of me was really awesome. I wouldn’t say there was ever really a writer's block. If anything, it was more about learning when to take a step away from it too was a challenge.
GLASSDOOR: What was it like for your daughters to see you tackle a book and take on new challenges?
LS: Two of my daughters are too young to appreciate it yet, but my 10-year-old is an avid reader so I gave her the book to read when I first got the galley copy. She came in one night while I was reading to the other two and she says, “Mom I’m so proud of you. The book is so great.” I was like, “Thanks.” She said, “You've only cursed three times in the first 30 pages!” I was like “Oh man.” That was kind of funny.
GLASSDOOR: Kids pick up everything.
LS: Then I asked her what about the rest of the books? She said, “I’m not really looking for a job right now so it doesn’t really apply to me.” Oh, that’s good to know.