Welcome to E!'s Tales From the Top, our series on women who are leaders in their fields and masters of their craft. Spanning industries and experiences, these powerhouse women answer all the questions you've ever had about how they got to where they are today—and what they overcame to get there. Read along as they bring their resumés to life.
A website, 12 podcasts, a dating app, three books, merch, comedy tours and more than 7 million Instagram followers.
It's all in a day's work—or should we say empire—for the founders of Betches Media, that sarcastic, sassy, unapologetic corner of the internet for millennial women that blossomed out of a WordPress blog a not-so-casual 10 years ago. Back then, Jordana Abraham, Samantha Fishbein and Aleen Dreksler were not the trio of commanders-in-chief Betches fans know today, but childhood friends-turned-Cornell University roommates with some extra time on their hands...and keys at their fingertips.
"It really just started late one night," Abraham, Betches' chief revenue officer, recalled in an exclusive interview with E! News, "sort of as a funny kind of joke." Instagram had just been born, Kim Kardashian was in a relationship with Kris Humphries and Selena Gomez was still starring on Wizards of Waverly Place. Meanwhile, Abraham, Fishbein and Dreksler were busy finding the words for their internet character to comment on the culture around them—while drawing a thin line between satire and seriousness in the process.
While those early posts have seemingly disappeared down the digital rabbit hole, perhaps this quote from the introduction of their first book, Nice Is Just a Place in Paris, gives you an idea of how far they once pushed their snark: "First we must commend you on already making it farther into a book than Helen Keller ever could. Nice. Apologies if that last comment was insensitive. Relax, it's not like she can see it anyway. That, however, was a test, and if we've already offended your sensibilities, we advise you to walk away."
Whether their content was loved, hated, questioned, analyzed or criticized, millennial women were definitely reading it. An entire decade later, their readers are still laughing, but their success is no joke. In an industry that has since become saturated with personalities looking to attract an audience, the longtime pals captivated a community from their computers and grew it into a fully fledged brand. While the OG site enjoyed some viral success, reaching business status, however, was by no means quick and seamless. After all, in those early days, Abraham was doing ground-level marketing, handing out coconut waters on the streets of New York to help make her rent as they honed their signature Betch voice.
Albeit with a similar level of 'tude, that voice has come of age as the women—the leaders and their readers—have also matured. There's been additions like Betches Brides (in 2020, Fishbein tied the knot and Abraham got engaged), Betches Moms (the expectant Dreksler will join that club this year) and the rebrand they launched in March as they commemorated crossing the 10-year mark. Part of the redesign included a major promise: "The biggest change you will see is to betches.com," they wrote in a joint letter, "where we'll be returning to our roots by integrating more of the satirical writing style that so many of you loved when we first started." And headlines like "I'm A Total Feminist Except For The Time Of Year I Have To Put My Air Conditioner In" and "How To Make Your Sister's Wedding About You" sound like they're keeping that vow.
Of course, 2021 is no finish line for these friends—and navigating their business through the coronavirus pandemic has only strengthened their savvy. "I think anything you go through like that kind of makes you feel more confident and stronger," Abraham said, "because you're like, 'OK, I've dealt with that. Now I know what I'm doing.'"
But how'd they figure it all out? Abraham took E! News behind the scenes of the Betches story:
E!: What would you say has been the worst job that you've had?
Jordana Abraham: Back when we started Betches, we weren't really making a lot of money yet. I had a bunch of odd jobs to kind of piece together my rent, and one of my jobs was I was a coconut water, I guess like a marketing girl, where we would just go to various places in New York and hand them out for free, get people to try them and I really didn't like that job.
E!: Before the three of you started Betches and decided, "This is what we want to do as a job," what did you think you would do as a career?
JA: I think I was definitely toying with the idea of law school. When we started Betches, I had actually already graduated college. I had graduated a semester early, so I was kind of hanging out, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life anyway. I had interned for a PR company. I really was kind of all over the place. I'd also interned for Senator [Kirsten] Gillibrand in New York, so I really liked trying to try everything, but I think if I couldn't have figured it out, I probably would've gone to law school.
E!: Take me back to those early days of when Betches was coming together. How did it all really begin?
JA: We lived together our senior year of college and it was our second semester and I had already graduated. So we had a lot of time on our hands and it really just started late one night sort of as a funny kind of joke. We were all very into writing and being funny and it kind of came about from just wanting to really comment on the world around us. We were in the thick of college life and, I think in a way, wanting to critique these sort of absurdities of the way people around us—including ourselves—were drinking or dieting or dating, but without being too much of a hater because we were still doing it, too, but just to comment on it and satirize it. When we started, it was a WordPress blog, betcheslovethissite.com, and then it really evolved from there. We put it on one person's Facebook wall in 2011—so that was still an acceptable thing to do—and it really just went kind of viral from there. And it was funny because we thought we were really just describing ourselves and our friends, and it really caught on to people all over the country or, even in some cases, out of the country, who felt they could relate to this lifestyle or just this way of thinking or this snarkiness that I think we really personified in this tone of this caricature.
E!: Was there a moment when all three of you were like, "We're going to pursue this as an actual job?" Or was it more like, "Let's keep this going as a hobby and let's all work on the side?"
JA: It definitely wasn't an immediate thing. I think we always had a sense of, "Well, we're in college and we're graduating and so, we don't really have other jobs that are really exciting." So we were kind of like, "Let's see where it goes." At some point while we were still at school, some producer in Hollywood had emailed us saying her daughter showed her [our site], and she thought it would be a great show. That didn't actually wind up panning out to anything, but I think that email was like, "Oh, someone who's serious likes this, and so we must be onto something." We had little moments like that that were encouraging. One of our friends' brothers was an agent at one of the big agencies and he put us in touch with a book agent who was like, "I think these blog posts could be turned into a book." She basically helped us create this book proposal that we wound up shopping, so it definitely gave us a sense of, "OK, we're gaining a little bit of legitimacy here." It definitely wasn't immediately profitable or anything. I think these little legitimizing things along the way kind of kept us going until we could wind up really paying for our lifestyles and supporting ourselves with the revenue from the business.
E!: Especially right now with social media and the landscape that we live in today, everything looks so easy and immediate, and I think people would be interested to know that it wasn't overnight.
JA: Totally. I think exactly like what you said—Social media can make it seem success is also just so linear, and so it's nothing and then it's a thing. And it's funny, for every great deal you see posted on social media or cool activation, there's usually two or three failed things before that that didn't work out, that set you back, that you don't actually see. There were definitely moments in the beginning where we were like, "We're not really sure if this is ever going to fully be a viable business." And so we thought about what we would do as backups and then, thankfully, it did work out and now it's become a business that we're really proud of with a lot of employees that we're excited about and we have a great team.
E!: Did you ever feel like, "Oh, maybe I'm making this out to be more than it is?"
JA: Totally. And I think especially in the sense of the three of us not having really been to business school or not really having been in a business mindset, that we were like, "How are we going to turn this into a real business? We don't know what we're doing" or "There's people who could do this better than us" or "We don't know if what we're doing is right or if this is the right move." And I think there's definitely those moments the whole way along the lines of just not being sure if you can actually do it without someone else stepping in and taking over or helping you and that happens frequently. Sometimes it still happens. There's always those moments where you're like, "Am I the best person to be handling this?"
E!: How did you fill whatever you felt were knowledge gaps?
JA: We definitely have had really good mentors along the way. We found people who could advise us. We've always known that we can make content and we've known how to speak to our audience and we've known what we know, but for things like the other parts of building a business, there were always people that we consulted or sought out or if we knew that we didn't know something, we were always very open to feedback.
E!: And now you are here 10 years later. Congratulations! Especially nowadays, there's a lot of people that try to create some kind of social media gig and it just doesn't pan out and the environment, too, is just so saturated. Why do you think you've been able to keep it going for as long as you have?
JA: Having started this with friends—and in a lot of ways obviously that creates its own problems—but in a lot of ways, it really creates this support system where we do keep each other going. It hasn't always been about the bottom line, so if one or two of us is like, "I don't think that we can do this," there is usually a third person who's like, "We can figure it out. We've got it." And there's three of us, also, so we can divide things where even if there's something that we don't feel the most natural at, there's usually one person who feels at least slightly more natural at that aspect of the business, so I think our friendship has actually really helped us in a lot of ways keep going and move past those harder moments or those moments where we've doubted ourselves.
E!: Three longtime friends—that's a hard dynamic to work out in business. I'm sure there's been arguments in the last 10 years, so how do you three navigate all of that?
JA: It feels in a lot of ways like a marriage itself. Especially pre-COVID, we were in the office together all the time and this business is 10 years old, so we've spent a lot of time together, and we've had those moments that we've had to really work through. Because we're friends, it's also about keeping the business part separate from the friendship part and knowing when to tap into both of those sides. And also just knowing each other so well that I'm like, "OK, I know you. I know that this is not the right time to talk to you about this thing. I'm going to talk to you about it later" or "I know you. I know the best way to approach you about this kind of situation so that it can be handled the best and we can really understand each other better."
E!: Looking back, can you pinpoint a particularly scary or stressful moment in your career and how you handled it?
JA: I think COVID was obviously a challenge to businesses everywhere, especially a company like ours. In some ways, we're lucky that we're a digital brand. We're not a storefront kind of situation where we were depending on foot traffic, but we do have a lot of partners that were in the travel industry and those were deals that may have fallen through. We had a lot of exciting stuff going on that was supposed to happen in 2020 and we were, of course, as business owners—we own 100 percent of our business—worried about how this is going to affect us. This was not a situation we had ever dealt with, but thankfully we pivoted our sales strategy, we figured out how to move towards partners that were spending and we made it through. I think anything you go through like that kind of makes you feel more confident and stronger because you're like, "OK, I've dealt with that. Now I know what I'm doing."
E!: In this world of social media, everything looks very easy and glamorous and seamless, but what would you say is something that people don't see about your work that is essential to your success?
JA: The failures are essential to the success because the failures are not things we post on social media; the deals that didn't go well or the partners who didn't come back or that kind of thing. That's not something anyone shows, but every time that that happens, much like a breakup, if you can learn something from it, I think it makes you a lot stronger and most people don't make the same mistake twice.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)