What goes on at the average women’s magazine? Editorial meetings about how to effectively airbrush a major star’s postpartum body. Discussions with an advertiser on how to best milk the self-esteem of readers for optimum product sales. When Alexis Wolfer set out to create a woman’s magazine, she knew what she didn’t want any of these scenarios to play out in her startup office. Her creation that she named The Beauty Bean would rather be a refreshing resource for women from the positive content to the uplifting articles to the nature-based product reviews.
The Beauty Bean started to take shape while Wolfer was working her Master’s degree in Women’s Studies at Columbia University in the City of New York. She decided to write her thesis on the correlation between the images presented in women’s magazines and eating disorders and body image (which she had tackled in the past). Most of the material in that thesis wound up as text in her eventual business plan for The Beauty Bean, an online magazine that she decided would be the anti-thesis of popular women’s magazines.
But would consumers buy into the idea of a magazine that didn’t make them feel as if they were inadequate? Two years later, The Beauty Bean surpassed Wolfer’s most grandiose plans for it. One of The Beauty Bean’s looked-forward-to features with readers has got to be Wolfer’s coined “Makeup-Free Mondays”, in which readers are encouraged to go sans makeup and revel in true beauty.
Wolfer’s hard-hitting, self-esteem encouraging content not only got millions of unique readers daily, but captivated the attention of the international media. Before she could utter the words “beauty bean”, she was being summoned left and right by outlets from major television affiliates to online destination as a natural beauty expert.
Now, fans of The Beauty Bean can look towards Wolfer expanding her brand in a big way. Her very first book, The Recipe For Radiance: Discover Beauty’s Best Kept Secrets In Your Kitchen, is due out this upcoming spring through Running Press. It’s a natural beauty lover’s bookshelf staple-in-the making and features beauty food recipes that encourage and is filled with DIY beauty recipes for homemade facial masks, hair tonics and more.
When you were in high school, did you feel pretty?
No, but does any teenager feel pretty? I hope someday they all do, but I wasn’t one of them.
What was your favorite magazine growing up?
I remember when Teen Vogue launched – and how much I loved it—still do!
Did the name come easily?
It did, shockingly. Although, I wish I had a better explanation for why I chose the name!
If you were using a series of words to describe yourself, would the word “feminist” somehow figure on the list?
Absolutely! I think far too many women think “feminist” is the ultimate “f-word” and I couldn’t disagree more. If you believe in equal rights for women, you are a feminist. And if you’re a girl growing up today in the United States, you have directly benefited from the feminist movement.
There are so many magazines out there. Why do you think readers are so drawn to The Beauty Bean?
I think our readers appreciate our empowered take on beauty. Sure, we tell you about the best anti-aging facial cleansers, but we’ll never tell you that you need it. Plus, we also talk about the deeper issues of “Real Beauty” in our Pretty/Bold column, where we voice our feminist take on beauty. Bottom line: we empower women to own their most beautiful selves and to appreciate their Real Beauty.
You did with The Beauty Bean in two years what a lot of online magazines that have been around much longer still strive to achieve. And in some cases, some may never reach the stratospheric heights of The Beauty Bean. What strategies do you think were most helpful in making the site such a big destination?
The number one piece of advice I give to all entrepreneurs is that they figure out what they’re really good at and or passionate about—ideally they’re the same things—and outsource or at least defer to others for all the rest. You can’t do it all, so don’t try. But with specific regard to the online magazine world, I think it’s about finding a niche in the industry. Don’t try to be like anyone else. Try to find the space in the market where when people ask “who else is doing what you’re doing” you can honestly say “no one.” Because that’s always been my answer with regard to The Beauty Bean. Sure, there are a lot of great online magazines, there are a lot of great beauty sites, and there are a lot of great sites for people looking for confidence or help with body image issues; but there was—and as far as I know still isn’t—anyone doing what we’re doing at The Beauty Bean and I intend to do my best to keep it that way.
An important component in the life of an entrepreneur is no doubt networking. What tips do you have in that regards?
Networking is extraordinarily essential when starting a business. Not only because the greater your network, the larger number of people whose brains you can pick, but also because you can learn so much from other people’s mistakes.
You went to Washington University in St. Louis and have a Master’s from Columbia. If you had to do it all again, would you have skipped college altogether?
Definitely not. Had I not gone to both of those universities, I would never have started The Beauty Bean, and wouldn’t have all the amazing friends I made at both universities. I started at WashU thinking I would study economics—I have three brothers all in finance—and literally stumbled into an Introduction to Women’s Studies class as an elective. I had always been passionate about women’s rights, but never knew I could study it. That single class changed the entire trajectory of my life. I ended up double majoring in Women and Gender Studies and Psychology with a minor in Business. And had I not earned my Master’s from Columbia, I would have never realized I could combine my love for the beauty and fashion world with my passion for women’s rights. I really thought I would either join the Peace Corps and have a love for beauty and fashion on the side, or that I would work at Conde Nast and be involved in women’s rights organizations on the side. It wasn’t until I was at Columbia that I realized that if we don’t love and respect ourselves, we can’t ask others to love and respect us either and that self-love is the ultimate human right. It was from there that I understood how eating disorders played into the women’s rights movement and the impact media have on the way women perceive their own bodies. I ended up writing my graduate school thesis on women’s magazines and their influence on body image and eating disorders and that work directly led to my starting The Beauty Bean. That being said, college isn’t for all budding entrepreneurs, but it was definitely for me.
What advice do you have for those wanting to create online magazines?
Find a niche no one else is in and work your butt off!
Are there days when you’re weary with entrepreneur life?
I never doubt my decision to take this path but there are certainly days where the road feels rocky and painfully uphill. I should tell you about how I go for a hike and remind myself of how far I’ve come; but the honest answer is that I usually call my Mom and that’s what she tells me! Every entrepreneur needs someone in their corner they can call when they’re down!
You can visit The Beauty Bean HERE.