We can’t sing enough praises for Jen Boulden. After all, she’s one of DailyWorth's advisors. But beyond that, the lifelong environmentalist is famous for creating Ideal Bite, a daily email based on the DailyCandy newsletter model, that delivered tips for green living to more than half a million subscribers. It made Jen a regular on morning shows like The View and landed her a two-page spread in Vanity Fair. In 2008, she and her co-founder sold the company for $20 million to The Walt Disney Company.
You might imagine it’s all smooth sailing from there, but in fact, the story ended on a regretful note for Jen. Roughly a year and a half after purchasing Ideal Bite, Disney, facing a bad economy, a hiring freeze and declining trendiness of the green movement, closed the site.
Jen took some time off — to “lick my wounds,” as she puts it — and to advise other entrepreneurs for a while. And now she’s back with a new company called JenB.TV. It’s like Ideal Bite, but 2.0 — a weekly, five-minute video about sustainable living (how and why to raise chickens, for example), alongside other Web offerings like quick-tip articles and discussion forums. We spoke to Jen about life after Disney and what she plans to do differently this time.
How did the financing work for Ideal Bite?
When my co-founder and I started Ideal Bite in 2005, we thought we could do it with self-financing. We both emptied out our savings accounts, about $20,000 each, and within six months, we were out of money. But we had a lot of traction. I think we had 85,000 subscribers already. So we said, “OK, let’s get a loan” — then quickly figured out that [small business] loans took too long and required too much in interest.
At that time the Internet space was skyrocketing and we had both worked at startups in New York City, so we said, “We’ve watched other people raise money for companies; let’s take those lessons learned and raise our own money.” We went out and raised a friends-and-family round, which was eight people who knew us, trusted us and each put in about $25,000. All of a sudden we had about $265,000 in the bank account, and that took us another year, then we were almost out of money again.
We talked to a bunch of venture capitalists and private equity guys and ultimately ended up taking money from Bob Pittman’s group [Pilot Group], who was also the majority investor in DailyCandy. It was strategic money, as they say. We got all that knowledge given to us in terms of lessons learned and how they had grown DailyCandy. We benefitted from the network and the knowledge from Bob Pittman, who’s wicked smart, and the people he surrounds himself with.
What happened with Disney?
Eleven months later, Disney came to [Pilot Group] and said, “We want to buy [Ideal Bite].” At this point we were at 400,000 subscribers. It was a bird in hand, and the economy was starting to look a little bit wobbly, so even though we were trepidatious … we took it. And a year and a half later [in 2010], they closed us down.
When I got the call, I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “How in the world am I going to function without Ideal Bite?” That company was me. Literally, in each of the daily emails, there would be something that came from my own life. Green is me. So that was a hard year, 2010. That took the wind out of my sails for sure.
Unlike Ideal Bite, JenB.TV is completely self-financed. Why?
I’m starting this time with a more realistic business and financial model, knowing just how much it costs to start a business and to get it to a point where it can be self-funded. I don’t want to have to take on what I call OPM, other people’s money, because it just gets more confusing. [For Ideal Bite] we couldn’t have done it without [other investors], and I’m still very good friends with all of them, but I don’t want to have to say goodbye to a business.
Maybe I won’t be able to grow as fast, maybe I’ll have to really tighten the belt personally in terms of having to self-finance for at least a year and a half, and then not take salary for another year and a half after that. That’s a financial sacrifice, but it’s one that I’m willing to make because then in year four or five, the business is taking off, hopefully above $300,000 in profit.
I’m not trying to build a business to flip it. (It’s called “built to flip.”) I’m building a business that I can keep as my own lifestyle business. That’s also why I chose the name JenB.TV. It’s me, it’s my personality and I don’t want to sell it.
How exactly are you funding it?
I’m cashing out some investments and putting $50,000 into the business. Then it’s generating revenue, hopefully in month two or three, that will start to fund some of the operations.
[My husband and I] also downsized houses to do this. Because we had so many outside investors with Ideal Bite, and I had a co-founding partner and all of our employees, who also had a lot of stock options, we didn’t make that much when we sold the business. The investors made the majority of the money — let’s put it that way. So I’m making the sacrifices to lower my overhead substantially and fund this myself.
How will JenB.TV be different from Ideal Bite?
I don't want to just give quick tips anymore, which is what I was doing with Ideal Bites. I really want to evolve the dialogue. The best way to do that is through video.
JenB.TV is very much in the same ethos as Ideal Bite from a philosophy standpoint, meaning it’s “light green.” We used to say that our subscribers drive their SUVs to Whole Foods, and that’s just fine; at least they’re doing something. We’re not trying to make everybody move out of their houses into a yurt or start wearing Birkenstocks. That’s not realistic. But we can certainly move the needle if everybody does something small. It all adds up.
Beyond just making a perfunctory “do one green thing a day” kind of business model, I think people are intelligent and want to understand how to connect the dots, and we can do that much better with a video model and have very lively discussions about it afterwards. We do have supporting materials in terms of mini articles, since people still love the quick tips. That’s always my goal — making it both fun and educational.
Visit JenBTV.com to subscribe in advance to weekly videos and discussions on light green living, launching next week.