Fran Hauser, 46
Startup investor, Former President of Digital at Time Inc. and Author of the Forthcoming Book, The Myth of the Nice Girl
Startup investor, media executive and author, Fran Hauser, has a knack for building things. Instructed early on in her career to be tough in business in order to be successful, Hauser instead took on a leadership style that was both approachable and assertive. After a series of career milestones, including the acquisition of Moviefone by AOL, and helping to build people.com into one of the most profitable businesses at Time Inc., Hauser has proven that you can kill it in the business world by being both kind and strong, and her forthcoming book, The Myth of the Nice Girl: Achieving a Career You Love Without Becoming a Person You Hate, explains exactly how.
1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?
I’ve worked across several industries, but have consistently gravitated toward roles that allow me to do what I love most: build things. At Time Inc., I was passionate about collaborating with startups and building digital extensions for iconic brands like People and InStyle. As an investor, I help smart entrepreneurs build successful businesses and introduce creative products and services into the marketplace. My greatest achievement has been my ability to reinvent myself throughout my career, most recently transitioning from digital media to investing. Leaping into the unknown can be scary, but it’s how I got to where I am today.
"I’ve learned over the years that the best female leaders are confident and authentic..."
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?
I was told throughout my early career that I was “too nice” to succeed in the business world. I got the advice that I needed to behave like a man if I ever wanted a corner office of my own.
Photo Credit: Jennifer Mullowney
3. Do you find this is a common stereotype in the media industry, or in the business world at large?
A lot of women, including myself, face the same Catch 22: if you’re too nice, you’re labeled a pushover or ineffective. If you’re not nice enough, then you’re a bitch. These stereotypes are harmful and divisive. I’ve learned over the years that the best female leaders are confident and authentic – whether they’re tough, nice, or some combination of the two.
4. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative? What was the reaction by those who told you you “couldn’t” do it?
I swaayed the narrative by focusing on delivering results while staying true to myself. I played a central role in the acquisition of Moviefone by AOL, helped build people.com into one of the most profitable businesses at Time Inc., and developed a robust investment portfolio focused on female-led startups – all without sacrificing who I am. I showed the doubters that you can be kind and strong and still kill it in the business world.
"If it doesn't feel authentic to who you are, don't do it."
I was sick of feeling powerless and not honoring the tiger within me. But I was also afraid to write about my inner most feelings about sex, power dynamics, social status, money and all the issues I felt compelled to unravel. I was afraid to show my anger. I was afraid people wouldn’t like me anymore and that I'd shatter that passive, sweet girl image I had cloaked myself in. Well, I think I shattered that and thank God!
5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
If it doesn’t feel authentic to who you are, don’t do it. Trying to be someone you’re not usually doesn’t end well, and it can leave you feeling unfulfilled. Being genuine and confident will lead you to opportunities that bring out your best self. You have the power to create your own reality.
Photo Credit: Jennifer Mullowney
It seemed like everything happened overnight because, well… it did.
One moment, my team and I were business as usual, running a multi-million-dollar edible cookie dough company I built from scratch in my at-home kitchen five years ago and the next we were sitting in an emergency management team meeting asking ourselves, "What do we do now?" Things had escalated in New York, and we were all called to do our part in "flattening the curve" and "slowing the spread."
The governor had declared that all restaurants immediately close to the public. All non-essential businesses were also closed, and 8.7 million New Yorkers were quarantined to their tiny apartments for the foreseeable future. Things like "social distancing" and "quarantine" were our new 2020 vernacular — and reality.
What did that mean for us? Our main revenue source was the retail part of the business. Sure, we offered delivery and take-out, but that was such a small portion of our sales. I had built a retail experience where people from near and far came to eat edible cookie dough exactly how they craved it. We had two stores, one in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn, which employed over 55 people. We have two production facilities; an online business shipping cookie dough nationwide; a wholesale arm that supplies stores, restaurants, and other retail establishments with treats; and a catering vertical for customizable treats for celebrations of all sizes. And while business and sales were nearly at a complete halt, we still had bills. We had payroll to pay, vendors we owed, services we were contractually obligated to continue, rent, utilities, insurance, and none of that was stopping.
How were we going to do this? And for how long will this go on? No one knew.
As an entrepreneur, this certainly wasn't my first-time facing challenges. But this was unprecedented. Unimaginable. Unbelievable. Certainly unplanned. This control-freak type-A gal was unraveling. I had to make decisions quickly. What was best for my team? For my business? For the safety of my staff? For the city? For my family and unborn baby (oh, yeah, throw being 28 weeks pregnant and all those fun hormones in there, it's real interesting!). Everything was spiraling out of control.
I decided to take the advice I had given to many people over the years — focus on the things you can control. There's no point worrying about all the things you have no control over. If you focus there, you'll just continue spiraling into a deeper, darker hole. Let it go. Once you shift your perspective, you can move forward. It's not going to be easy; the challenges still exist. But you can control certain things, so focus your energy and attention on those.
So that's what I did. I chose, for the safety of staff and customers, to close the retail portion completely — it wasn't worth the take-out and delivery volume to staff the store, open ourselves up to more germs and human contact than absolutely necessary.
I went back to our mission and the reason I started the business in the first place — to spread joy. How could we continue to bring happiness to people during this uncertain time? That's our purpose. With millions of people across the globe stuck inside, working from home, quarantined with their families, how can we reach them since they can't come to us? So I thought back to how and why we got started.
Baking, for me, has always been a type of therapy. I could get lost in the mixing bowl and forget about everything else for a moment in time. Sure, I have a huge sweet tooth, but it's about the process. It's about taking all of these different ingredients and mixing them together to create something magically sweet and special. It's about creating and being creative with the simple things. It's about allowing people to indulge in something that brings them joy — a lick from the spatula or a big batch of cookies.
It's about joy in the moment and sharing that joy with others. So my focus is back on that, and it feels good.
We could still ship nationwide, straight to people's doorstep. So we are making it easier and less expensive to send the ultimate comfort food (edible cookie dough) by introducing a reduced shipping rate, and deals on some of our best-selling packages.
In a way for us, it feels like we are going back in time… back to our roots. When I first started the business, we were only shipping nationwide. There were no stores, no big team, no wholesale. It was just me, a small crew juggling it all, and we made it work then. And we'll make it work again. We have to leverage our online business and hope it floats us through this time.
We are focusing our digital content strategy on sharing recipes, activities, and at-home treats with our engaged, amazing social following so they bake with their families and stay busy at-home. We started live baking tutorials where our fans can bake-along with me and I can share all the tips and tricks I've learned over the years with them.
I've leveraged the cookbook I published last year, Hello, Cookie Dough: 110 Doughlicious Confections to Eat, Bake & Share, to come up with fun content and additional things to do at home. We started shipping it and our at-home baking mixes for free to encourage people to get busy in their kitchens!
And as a business, we will continue to connect with our community to bring them joy and focus on what we can control, including our attitude and outlook first.
During times of uncertainty, which this certainly is, you should do the same. Identify the things you can control and focus your time and energy on those things. Distract yourself with the positive. Force yourself to stop asking and worrying about all the what-ifs. Do what you can for the moment and then the next moment. Make a list, and take it day-by-day.
It's going to be okay. You will be okay. We will all be okay.