Elke Govertsen is an entrepreneur and mom. She was raised between Alaska and Montana, with her first business at the age of 16 as a welder. She now publishes mamalode, does creative work, custom publishing, small business coaching, speaking, photography and writing.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I was raised between Alaska and MT-- so I grew up with hard working, make-your-own-way types of people.
When I was 25 I contacted a terrible case of typhoid fever which led to a series of surgeries and infections. A year later I was pregnant with my first son. Both of these shocks were profound, future shaping and a huge dose of perspective-- which helps me keep the risks involved with starting a business in check-- borrowed time is a great teacher.
I always say that if Mamalode fails I will move my family to Alaska and live on a boat-- and that if Mamalode succeeds wildly I will move my family to Alaska and live on a bigger boat. Keeping the best and worst case scenarios really close together helps with taking risks.
And being a mom is serious business training-- negotiation, sales, HR, management, disappointment, hope, thick skin, the ability to push through exhaustion and perspective.
How did your previous employment experience aided your position at Mamalode?
I did not set out to be a publisher. Or a business person.
I wanted to be a camp director. I had worked and volunteered for many years at summer camps for chronic and terminally ill children. I got a terrific degree from Western Washington University in Therapeutic Recreation. It was a very entrepreneurial program-- how to not only start something out of nothing, but how to also make it special. I can honestly say I use my degree every day.
I have applied this camp director lens to Mamalode-- we are building a place for people to come together and have profound shared experiences, fun, and make good memories. It is like camp-- without the bug bites.
When I was a kid I raised doves and sold them to magicians. As a teenager I worked as a welder and had my own wood-fired hot tub business on the side. I have always been entrepreneurial.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Mamalode?
It has been an incredible ride-- Mamalode started with a party for a few friends on the night before Mother's Day-- Mother's Day Eve® which grew to hundreds of women, sponsors and launched the magazine.
A huge highlight was being called "America's BEST parenting magazine" by Lisa Stone on BlogHer.com.
Being involved in the HATCH network has been personally and professionally profound.
Doing a TEDx talk was a really amazing moment because I have had to work very hard to override my fear of public speaking. I know success will not be found in my comfort zone but that doesn't make it any easier to push through.
At the end of the day, the feedback we get from our readers is really the best-- women feel important, heard, validated, less alone. Mamalode is doing something really special and watching it take off is amazing.
And getting it there have been many challenges. I started Mamalode with $400. So money has always been tight, forcing us to be scrappy.
Another challenge/positive is that Mamalode is based in Montana-- which has allowed us to have a really low overhead and unbelievable work ethic-- but we have had to work prove that this was a serious magazine company that could resonate nationally.
As for the industry struggles in publishing, we have really seen that as a chance for a small magazine to really jump on the playing field and adapt quickly to changes. We missed the era of massive ad dollars and so we have always been looking at alternate revenue models.
At the end of the day, every challenge has forced a creative solution that was the best for the business. I have yet to meet an obstacle I didn't wind up appreciating at some level.
Tell us about Mother's Day Eve® and how it is changed the national holiday landscape in the US.
Mother's Day Eve® has been a pretty amazing thing to watch-- it has become a movement. Women around the country are really taking ownership of this idea-- a night for moms to celebrate the parts of motherhood that aren't about your family.
It is a really easy idea to grasp which makes it easy to spread.
Mother's Day Eve ® is a holiday and proof that media is as much about personal connection and experiences as it is about information. We still all really need and want each other.
What advice would you give to women who are looking to start their own business?
First off I would give them a high five. Then I would say to read everything you can about business, financing, and strategy.
Most of all build relationships-- not just contacts. A business card does not a relationship make. Be a person. Let them be a person. Send thank-you notes. Stay connected. Be interested in what is happening in their life/business. A really smart friend of mine told me once, "It isn't about who you know, it is who knows you" which is so true. If you have genuine relationships with people in place then when you are ready to take the plunge (or are feeling terrified) they are your biggest cheerleaders.
Mamalode's network has always far outreached it's business model. Which means that as we have ramped up and scaled the relationships were already in place to open doors.
And the beauty is that those relationships are genuine-- regardless of what happens with Mamalode I have some lifelong connections and memories.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I love what I do-- it is immensely creative and personally fulfilling and challenging. I think of ideas all the time. My mind never stops. But my phone does get turned off when I am home.
The beauty is that I have built a brand that is about being a mom, which means people are very supportive of my time with my family. When I go on vacation I put up an email response that says "Out of office-- putting the MAMA back in Mamalode" and people eat it up. Honestly it is much more on brand than when I send the 3 am emails.
For me the secret is to really love the life that comes from my work and to keep them supporting each other rather than in opposition.
The exhaustion of a business and a family kind certainly pile up and I really try to make sure my kids don't get the short end of the stick.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I am fortunate to have not experienced any direct discrimination-- or to have just been to dang busy to notice.
One thing I see as a huge problem for women is our tendency to judge each other-- this really needs to stop as it is so destructive on a large scale. Some of that comes from the feeling that there is not enough opportunity to go around which is a direct result of the inequality in pay and in financing.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I am deeply indebted to my mentors-- of which there are many. Lisa Stone (CEO of BlogHer) has been a mentor of mine since I met her. She has given me professional advice, asked me the hard questions, made introductions and most importantly become a really amazing friend.
I am always gobsmacked by people's willingness to help-- I think it speaks to our inherent desire to connect. It inspires me to continue making time to mentor others-- it really is just a circle-- I always learn from people, whether the intention was to mentor them or vise versa.
I am shocked when people say they don't have time to be a mentor, but they HAVE mentors. That is so self serving. Mentorship is an absolute in business.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Lisa Stone, CEO of BlogHer-- watching how she has grown her businesses with her partners, seeing her interview skills in action, and for being a living example of grace equating power.
I have loved watching Pattie Sellers at Fortune/TIME over the years. Her leadership skills are spot on-- highlight others, draw them forward, empower them.
I always joke that when I grow up I want to be a combination of Cheryl Strayed, Sheryl Sandburg and Shakira-- a driven wordsmith who can make working her ass off look like dancing.
What are your hopes for the future of your company?
Let me start with the WHY-- Mamalode has the opportunity to connect mothers to each other, and to themselves in a unique way. We share, validate and empower. It is real and I think the world is ready for a post-photoshop conversation. And at a 10,000 foot level-- if moms feel supported, they are happier. If they are happier so are their families. If families are happier, the world is a better place.
Now for the WHAT-- The opportunity of Mamalode is huge.
Mamalode cut its chops at a time of great turmoil in media-- we have always been adapting to new platforms, always been responding to how ever our readers want to connect with us. We will continue the conversation and brand as such.
My hope is that Mamalode grows into a household name, a success story of "the little magazine that could", and a way for moms to claim their space as gutsy, cool, real people who are more than the sum of their kids.