Sophia Amoruso returns to the Girlboss Radio podcast—but this time as a guest. The founder and former CEO of Girlboss left in 2020 just after the pandemic hit. After all, what’s left for an events company when the whole world stops traveling?
Hello, and welcome to a brand new season of Girlboss Radio!
After reading the headline, you’re probably thinking, wait a minute, where’s Sophia Amoruso? We’ll be unpacking that, and a whole lot more, in this episode of Girlboss Radio, where Sophia will be passing the torch to….Puno!
Puno is a proud lifestyle business owner and the founder of ilovecreatives, edu-tainer extraordinaire through her successful courses, and the new host of Girlboss Radio!
Puno has been a speaker at Girlboss Rallies, teacher at Girlboss’ Startup Studio, and even a Girlboss model with her Insta-famous cat Muad’dib.
At the 2019 Girlboss Rally, Puno spoke about running a lifestyle business, and has been evangelizing the concept ever since. So when it came time for Sophia to pass the torch of Girlboss Radio, she simply texted Puno and said: “you should host Girlboss Radio.”
And the rest, they say, is history.
In this episode, Sophia talks about why she stepped down from Girlboss as CEO, selling it to a holding company, launching her first non-gendered business, and how she really feels about the term “Girlboss” in 2021.
Is it weird to not be at Girlboss anymore?
Not really. I don’t really look back maybe enough. It wasn’t fun to hand the keys to Girlboss over in terms who’s operating it. I loved the team that I built at Girlboss, but I’m also just happy to pass the torch. I’m not really attached to anything, which is weird, but I’m happy for you. I texted you and I was like, you should be the host. I’m so glad it worked out and they didn’t put someone else behind the microphone. That would be weird.
So Attention Capital owned Girlboss, and then you stay on as CEO and host, but then COVID happened. How did that affect Girlboss?
At the beginning of 2020, we had a $10 million partnership on the table, signed by us, and waiting for a counter signature from this massive company. The attorneys had blessed it and it was done. The day they were supposed to sign it COVID-19 hit. And it decimated our revenue. With COVID-19, we couldn’t do events, which is a huge part of the business. That’s part of why I left.
We couldn’t see when things were going to change. I worked for free for several months. We had to lay off the majority of the team and then it’s like, do I want to rebuild my business again? I like to keep moving, and so I’m not precious about what I’m attached to.
A lot has happened since 2017. You sold the company to Attention Capital, a holding company two years after you founded Girlboss. Why did you sell it?
I sold it to someone that I absolutely adore, one of our investors at Girlboss, a good friend of mine—someone who is building something pretty awesome and was kind of on this upward trajectory with us. I sold it because I just didn’t want to keep raising money and I wanted to partner with a long term financial partner who was going to build the company with us.
(Editor’s note: Tiny, an early investor in Girlboss, acquired the company from Attention Capital in the summer of 2020).
What is a holding company? And what’s the difference between venture capitalists?
Venture capitalists are kind of hands-off. They invest in high-risk companies. They want you to build the company to 100x the size it is and they’ll invest. And so they own a chunk of your company.
A holding company is like an acquirer. They would buy a company like Girlboss, and they would buy it from everyone who has stock in it, which would be the Founder, the employees, the investors, and the shareholders. And it would be planted within this company that holds multiple businesses. For example, Urban Outfitters owns Anthropologie, Free People and Urban Outfitters.
People don’t realize how VC funding can affect a startup business and the direction they want to go. How did it affect your decisions as a founder?
When you don’t have investors, you can do whatever you want. When you do have investors, you have a board. We didn’t have a board that was telling us what to do. But we ended up building a social network, which is really awesome but it’s expensive. It takes a lot of engineers and we did that because VCs want technology. I don’t know if I would have built that, had that not be the thing that I felt like investors wanted. They don’t necessarily want an events business. There are no event businesses that are venture-backed.
With Girlboss, we were doing a lot of things. You guys are doing less things now which is smart. We were doing events, conferences, retreats, brand partnerships that lived across website content, a newsletter, a podcast, and we built a social network. You really don’t want to fracture your time and your focus like that.
I’m teaching entrepreneurs how to bootstrap with Business class, which is my online course. I want to connect with my community and give them lots of value. I know my community, my customer, and I know what they want. I don’t want to do too many things; I’m very clear on how I want to work and how much I want to take on or not. So far, revenue’s great—the launch of Business Class was amazing; we did over seven figures. But at the same time, I’m not in it for just growth. I’m in it for a quality of life. I’m in it to build the right thing, have long-term value, and do something that I love doing. Yes, profitable, but not profitability over growth.
On her natural entrepreneurial progression:
Nasty Gal gave women confidence through getting dressed. It was more than fashion. Girlboss inspired women across all parts of their life. It was generally about being entrepreneurial. It was about confidence. It was kind of broad. And with Business Class, I’m qualified to teach entrepreneurs. I’m qualified to talk about the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. And so it’s really been a natural progression into Business Class.
On bootstrapping and the importance of financial freedom:
Girlboss wasn’t necessarily about bootstrapping because the business wasn’t venture-backed. We weren’t necessarily teaching people how to bootstrap. I wasn’t evangelizing it per se. Now I’m really focused on doing that myself, which is where I started. I built Nasty Gal from the back of my Volvo to $28 million in revenue, annually with no debt and no investors. I mean, you don’t even need to have a $28 million business to bootstrap and have a good life. You can make a hundred thousand dollars bootstrapping and you aren’t beholden to anybody else. You have financial freedom. I think people look at others who accomplished a lot, are on Forbes, 30 under 30, and that’s not really what matters. Having a life that you love and control is often better than having a bigger unwieldy business, which ends up not being fun. I’ve been there.
On developing and branding Business Class:
You built out Business Class in just a few months. How do you approach getting new projects off the ground specifically during COVID?
I’ve loved working remotely. I’ve done my best work behind a computer by myself, like Nasty Gal. I’m just able to focus and create. I love leading teams, seeing what people bring to the table, and the things you’re able to accomplish with teams. Building out Business Class and starting a brand is just so much fun. The flight manual puns are endlessly entertaining and the space to bring a new spin on entrepreneurial education was wide open.
On branding Business Class:
I did work with a creative agency on the branding. I named it and put together the mood boards with all the references. We set up a studio in the house and it looked super slick. I think people think that because I’ve been building businesses for 15 years, that I’m not in the weeds anymore, but that’s the most fun part. People think when you’re successful, you’ll have a hundred employees. But no, now I’m in meetings about timelines, warehouse management, implementations and HR policies.
That’s what happens when your business explodes. Not complaining, but I just really love the stage of the business where I get to move quickly and I can accomplish a lot, alone or with just a few people. That’s way more fun for me.
A big thing that’s always on people’s minds is about the company culture at Nasty Gal. As an employer, how did you talk about that?
Things may be painful in the moment. There was so much written about the culture, and there was a lot of speculation. But at the end of the day, if your employees are on Glass Door they’re going there because they’re not feeling heard.
It’s through that, that I was really able to learn how they were feeling. I had no idea what company culture was because I’ve never worked in an office. Of course it’s my responsibility to educate myself on how to be a great leader, scale a great executive team, and create a nurturing environment where people can grow, have transparency and all of these things that contribute to a healthy culture. I guess I don’t expect to get it right the first time. I was able to take everything I learned at Nasty Gal and apply what worked and what didn’t work to Girlboss—to the culture and to the leadership.
We can learn from our past. It’s validating to take what it is that you’ve learned and implement it. It’s like, I am capable of doing this right. I’m not doomed. I didn’t have a chip on my shoulder to prove anything to anyone else. I had a chip on my shoulder to prove to myself that I could do things better.
Do you think that Girlboss is relevant anymore?
The term has just been used so broadly. Yes, it’s descriptive but the intent wasn’t to be about being female bosses, it was like, “be the boss of your own life.” I wrote a book for women because that’s who shopped from me and I’m a woman. It evolved into 20 million hashtags and then a Netflix series.
That’s one depiction of who I am and what a Girlboss is.. And then there’s all these people using the word Girlboss. The best thing you could ever wish for is that your brand becomes part of the Zeitgeist. But at the same time, you don’t have control over it. And whatever anybody does with it somehow is a reflection of you. It was an intellectual property game of whack-a-mole.
And then the “I’m a Girlboss thing” became synonymous with white feminism.I wrote Girlboss in 2014—It was a very different time. I very naively thought that we were in a post-feminist world. In the beginning of 2017, the women’s movement really took hold. I somehow became responsible to represent women, and I didn’t really co-sign on that.
I’ve put myself in a position of responsibility that can be really challenging. Especially in the last year, a lot of female founders have been called out for creating racist cultures or not being inclusive.
On the changing of the (Girlboss) guard:
Girlboss became wrapped up in the 2020s—kind of like the changing of the guard of white women’s voices being like, we’ve heard enough of you. Let’s make some room for other voices. I want to do that. I can help amplify those voices.
Honestly, there’s no room for my voice. It’s time to pass the torch of Girlboss to women of color, and I’ll go do my thing. With Business Class, it’s the first non-gendered brand I’ve ever made. And even though it’s mostly women taking it, I’m so happy that it’s not gendered.
I’m all about actionable education. One thing that we’re going to do on the show is we’re going to give Girlbosses an opportunity to ask others for advice. Do you have any advice for me?
In terms of podcasting, you want to drive a conversation that speaks to the headset of the people. So understanding them, empathizing with them and sometimes asking really obvious questions. This is important because you’re not leaving them out in assuming they know everything. it’s really generous to break that down for the listener and make sure that you’re bringing them along with the conversation.
Respond to your guest. It’s something I always struggled with because I have such a short attention span, and I can’t listen and think at the same time. There’s been many times where I was like, “Okay, next question”, but then someone says something really interesting, but then I don’t dig deeper into it. That’s what great hosting is.
If you want to build a bigger podcast audience, guest on other podcasts. When you’re already in someone’s ears, it’s way easier to convert them to another podcast because they’re already podcast listeners.
Girlboss Radio has interviewed really impressive people, and we support their success! But in a way, we’ve kind of just scratched the surface.
The past stories you’ve heard on this podcast are just one small part of a bigger picture. A picture we believe includes untold stories from women defining success in their own way.
And that’s our mission: we want to share the voices of people who are challenging success. They’re changing it, expanding it, and quite frankly: just trying to figure out what success means specifically for them…and then being okay with that.
For Puno, success is about putting her happiness first.
But you know what? That definition might be different for someone else.
And that’s the point!
Why should super fast, exponential growth be the only defining values of success?
There has to be other norms, there has to be other things available to us.
And that’s what we’re going to do.
We want to show you so many variations of success, that you can’t help but feel confident and empowered to define your own.
We’re really excited to explore that with the people that we’re having on the new season of Girlboss Radio! Next week, Puno will be speaking with Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, a trans Latina human rights advocate, who also worked at the White House under the Obama administration.
In Episode 3, Puno sits down with Nabela Noor, a TikTok sensation and Bangladeshi-American who founded a plus-size women’s apparel company. We’ll even be exploring fibroids and endometriosis with Dr. Soyini Hawkins, a gynaecological surgeon, because you know what? We do not talk about our uteruses enough! Let’s give that uterus some space.
But more importantly, we’re going to have fun, we’re going to cry, and we’re going to be transparent and give a whole lot of actionable advice about work, about not having work, about freelancing, working less, business, growth, and of course….how to find your definition of success.
Are you pumped right now? We’re pumped right now!
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