An EOY 2018 Letter from Stephanie, Windsor & Annie

Wow--what a year 2018 has been.  Busy.  Nonstop.  Invigorating.  Empowering.  Validating.  These are some of the words that come to mind when we reflect back on what 2018 has seen.

It's been a year of incredible growth for HCM no matter how you slice it.  From audience, to revenues, to chapters, influencers, event attendees, our staff, and more, there's no doubt that in 2018, we scaled up in a big way.

Though when you look out at the broader digital media landscape, you see something a little different.  A digital media "shutdown", "apocalypse", "reckoning", with industry behemoths and new media starlings alike suffering big blows--and this has been the case for a couple of years now.

So how is a small, bootstrapped company like HCM objectively thriving?

We've stayed focused.

We've carved out a niche for ourselves with the female college audience where we can be the leader, and have continued to drill down here, rather than trying to cast too wide of a net into spaces that are too crowded already or where we lack expertise and won't excel.

We haven't put all our eggs in one basket.

We haven't been so wooed by the potential of any one buzzy trend so as to take a big bet that we wouldn't be able to recover from if expectations didn't line up with reality.  Instead we've stayed nimble and diversified from an audience and revenue perspective, with the common thread being our mission and brand rather than a seemingly promising platform or technology.

We've stayed scrappy.

We've continued to run the business lean and frugal, the same way we did in our very modest beginnings, being careful with every penny we spend, making sure there is real ROI for every line item in the budget, and applying a conservative, cost-effective mindset to our financial decisions, rather than a "spend spend spend" approach that leaves the company bloated and with perilously high fixed costs.

As others are laying off, we're staffing up.  As others are pulling back, we're going further.  As others are closing down, we're opening up new opportunities.

But enough about what's going on elsewhere--we owe our success to a deliberate focus on what we feel is best for our brand and our audience from where we stand, not to being reactive or taking cues from everyone else.

So what all did we accomplish in 2018?

First and foremost, every single person and every single team's talent, creativity, drive, and effort enabled us to grow revenues significantly and be profitable for our ninth consecutive year, thus enabling us to continue to run a growing, sustainable, stable business that allows us to create jobs and offer a wholly secure place to work.  We signed contracts with major new clients and key returning clients, running best-in-class marketing programs that brands can't get anywhere else.

We succeeded in audience growth and development, growing our core social accounts dramatically, launching and further developing our toddler accounts, pulling off major content programs such as The Bodies Project, landing exclusive interviews with everyone from Olympic athletes to Bachelor/Bachelorette contestants to Netflix stars, and bringing to life our very own custom college-themed guided meditations, among other special projects.

Our communities exploded in the best way, as we strengthened our hallmark campus chapter network, launching new chapters and maintaining our unparalleled retention rate.  We achieved astronomical InfluenceHer Collective growth, almost doubling our members, launching our proprietary dashboard, and rolling out new offerings.  We also launched an entire new community to hit that sweet spot of not-quite-influencers-not-just-readers with Campus Trendsetters, which we have already begun to monetize.

We produced out-of-this-world events, with totally elevated Her Conference speakers, programming, and aesthetic, a revamped College Fashion Week centered around "the real runway", and our second annual College Marketing Summit, which was a huge success even in the middle of a literal blizzard.

We stepped up our already-impressive design game big-time with cheeky Instagram gifs, a moving Sandy Hook anniversary motion graphic video, mind-blowingly beautiful campaign creative, and much more, and took our site to a whole new level with the rollout of a gorgeous redesign.

At the beginning of this year, we moved into our pristine, custom-built office where we can remain settled for years to come, and which afforded us the opportunity to take advantage of our special location as we hosted guests for the Red Sox parade, enjoyed happy hours and our holiday party at the bars right downstairs, and more, as we headquarter ourselves in one of Boston's newest, hottest neighborhoods.

We continued our award-winning streak, racking up five more MarCom awards and a Gold AVA award, and we were called on as experts all year long, delivering keynotes at MassChallenge and the Boston PRSA Summit, a TED talk (!), speaking at the Forbes Under 30 Summit, BlogHer Creators Summit, judging Harvard's business plan competition, and even receiving a shoutout on Wheel of Fortune's college episode.

We made this a better, more supportive place to work so we all can bring our whole selves to work every day, with a dog-friendly office and free lunchtime workout classes for those of us in Boston, a remote-, work-from-home-friendly culture for our team members elsewhere, professional development workshops, and a strong maternity policy so starting or adding to your family can be less stressful and more special.

In 2018 we grew our HCM family by loads as we grew our staff, welcomed new family members both small and furry, and celebrated incredible milestone workiversaries of many long-standing team members.

2018 was a year of mega success, laugh-out-loud Slack conversations, and many, many face masks.

So where does that leave us?

To put it concisely, 2019 is going to be BIG.  We'll be celebrating our 10th birthday in a big way--for our team, our readers, and our clients.  As we enter this new calendar year stronger than ever, 2019 will be the year we really sink our teeth in and rev our engines.  We're investing in new team members, with six new employees already slated to start in January.  We'll be putting on two Her Conferences, two College Marketing Summits, beefing up and rounding out tried and true offerings of ours, and publishing the 2nd edition of our print book, The Her Campus Guide to College Life.  HCM is turning 10, and ~we mean business~.

As we close out 2018, the most fitting word the three of us can think of to encompass how we feel is Thankful.  Thankful to all of you incredibly talented people who choose HCM as your place to work, and who we are lucky to learn from and be inspired by day in and day out, as you make HCM's mission and our vision manifest on a grand scale.  We are nothing but excited, energized, and optimistic as we look to 2019, and we can't wait to ring in a decade of HCM, together.


Stephanie, Windsor & Annie

Stephanie Kaplan Lewis