Aleen Kuperman, Jordana Abraham and Samantha Fishbein tell Moneyish about running a business as childhood friends and dealing with the flak only female comedians get
This story is part of “Uninterrupted,” a series where female leaders – who also happen to be friends – talk to Moneyish about the issues that matter to them.
Betches be good at running a business.
As kids, Aleen Kuperman, Jordana Abraham and Samantha Fishbein grew up together in a New York suburb before rooming together during their final year at Cornell University. Like many female BFFs in 2011, the trio bonded over a common sense of humor about “The Bachelor” and other things sorority girls like themselves find funny.
Unlike many other BFFs, the three women published their tongue-in-cheek takes on everything from eating disorders to hookup culture and the presence of a smart and slim Asian girl with silky hair in every sorority. Then called Betches Love This, their decidedly un-PC blog became a viral hit. (They would “pre-game” while looking at the readership counter on their website tick up.)
“We have a sense that we’re in a certain culture but we’re also able to look at the world we’re in and make fun of it,” says Abraham, Betches’ chief creative officer, in a joint interview. “We say what people are thinking about the world, but no one’s said out loud.”
Seven years removed from their dorms, the 28-year-olds find themselves managing an enterprise with the most coveted of assets—a devoted, millennial women audience. Now simply known as Betches, the brand has over 6.1 million followers on Instagram and two bestselling books. They produce three podcasts, a current affairs newsletter (“it is no longer cute to not keep up with the news”) and occupy a millennial pink office in Manhattan’s Flatiron District. A Comedy Central animated series voiced by Emma Roberts is on the way, as is a third book. Forbes estimates that they pulled in $5 million in revenue last year.
The trio own 100% of the brand and say that their tight-knit friendship remains key to operating at this scale. “From the beginning, we didn’t have disagreements,” says Fishbein, the chief operating officer. “We never said ‘no, don’t say this.’ It was more like ‘it would be funnier if we said it this way.’”
“If we were just business partners, sure, you’d say we were workshopping. But really we’re just having fun chatting about these topics,” says Kuperman, the chief exec. “Maybe on a weekend, I’ll start to say something [about work] but decide not to talk about it. But friendship and business are equally important.”
Betches has taken its share of knocks along the way. They’ve been pilloried for glamorizing—albeit ironically—a certain kind of femininity: white, affluent and a tad too narcissistic. “We are at our heart a female comedy site and a lot of the things that we’re criticized for, men have historically talked about” without flak, says Abraham. “Any negative feedback is almost singularly because we’re a female company.”
Kuperman, for instance, recalls being mansplained to by potential business partners all too often about what their audience really wanted. “So many times, we were spoken to by males about the business and they’ve been condescending to us because we’re female founders,” she says. “But we found our way out of it. We’re self-aware and understand why people say the things they do.”
At the same time, Betches has grown up. Instead of posts on binge drinking and hating on bland nice guys, sample headlines now run along the lines of “Tacky Wedding Centerpieces Your Guests Will Judge You For” and “How To Survive In NYC For Under $70K Per Year,” the latter a snipe at Refinery 29’s boogie “Money Diaries.” (Coverage of “The Bachelor” remains a staple, while the Betches e-commerce shop retails a tank that simply says “I’m Drunk.”)
Betches now employs well over a dozen people, and the founders say that they’re committed to promoting the careers of the many millennial women—and some men— they hire. The third Betches book, a snarky guide for women who want to advance their careers, is set for this fall.
“It’s important for women to support each other when they believe in each other’s cause,” says Fishbein. “In the course of writing this book, we’ve spoken to friends who say women higher up than them feel threatened and try to push them down. We wouldn’t want to be like that at all. [Mentoring] is really important whether male or female, but women can understand each others’ experiences in a certain way and that’s important to have at work.”
But in an age of supposed snowflakes and outrage culture, can a more sophisticated Betches keep its verve? “I’ve become more conscious of what we say and how we say things, for an edgy brand,” says Fishbein. Online, “Harvey Weinstein gets the same treatment as…Aziz Ansari. The way people tend to swarm is worrisome. We try to be careful while keeping our voice.”
As with many other online publishers, Betches is subject to the whims of platforms like Facebook and, especially in its case, Instagram, who have tweaked their algorithms and decimated readership for other media brands previously. However, the brand thinks that it’s less liable to this because it’s never put a substantial budget behind follower acquisition on those platforms, says Kuperman. “On Instagram, it’s pretty much word of mouth, or word of @ sign.”
“We have such an honest voice and people trust what we say. As much as you can buy an audience, you can’t make people like you and people are attracted to that” ethos, says Abraham. “As we mature, the language is more refined and thoughtful. But at the same time, there are still the ridiculous things people do that we make fun of.
© 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved