Brit Morin has wanted to be her own boss since she was a little girl.
In an age when wunderkind entrepreneurs seem to sprout fully formed from the solitude of dorm rooms and garages, Morin set about learning how to lead. She spent a year at Apple, then took a four-year turn through the ranks of Google where she helped to launch Google TV, Google Maps, Google Search, and iGoogle. By the time she was 25, Morin says she’d learned enough to strike out on her own to launch Brit + Co. "No one told me it was a bad idea," she tells Fast Company. "I think that it’s an interesting time to leave somewhere and start something new when you’re in your late 20s because the tolerance for risk is so much higher. You don’t have a family yet."
Now, two years later, Brit + Co. is a full-fledged lifestyle brand for "the Maker Movement," an avid group of DIYers scouring the web for inspiration and instructions to make anything from cupcakes to laser cut patterns. The site, which produces Morin-approved video tutorials, subscription craft kits, and a wedding planning app, is estimated to draw 3 million followers and raised $1.25 million in a seed round from investors such as Morin’s former boss, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer.
As a former high school class president, captain of the soccer team, camp counselor, and consistent holder of the Girl Scout’s coveted best cookie seller designation, Morin’s a natural born leader. Yet after graduating from University of Texas (no, she didn’t drop out, just earned her degree in three years) she hoofed it out to Silicon Valley to steep herself in some of the most collaborative tech cultures around.
Good move. Her company is 11 times bigger than it was this time last year, with 60% of traffic coming from mobile. Use of mobile apps has tripled in the last six months. Lest you think the ranks of devotees are relegated to crafty Millennials, Morin’s a regular fixture on Katie whose daytime show draws Boomer and Gen X viewers. The growth just prompted another funding round with $6.3 million Series A led by Oak Investment Partners, with participation from Index Ventures, Lerer Ventures, and Cowboy Ventures. Mayer was among the angels who also reinvested.
Any "I told you so’s" would be forgiven as Morin predicted that the Maker Movement would be big business a few years ago. She’s confident, but not overbearing. Instead her conversation suggests that she’s thought a lot about what she’s learned and exactly how she’d like to apply it in her own company.
In the collaborative atmosphere at Google, Morin says it quickly becomes obvious that multiple minds are better than one. However, it’s important to go beyond your immediate team to spur innovation. That’s why brainstorming at Brit + Co.—whether on design direction for mobile app or a new kind of cake to bake—becomes a chorus of voices from engineers and writers to designers.
Though the parallels between Martha Stewart and Morin abound, Morin says there’s a crucial difference between her leadership and the way the DIY doyenne rules her empire. "I am super inclusive," she says, "In a digital world it’s impossible to be an expert at so many things, so I shine a spotlight on [the community] as well."
But it isn’t a free-for-all. Morin cautions that there is one caveat to user feedback: At some point they don’t actually know what they want. "If you are inventing something brand new or an app that functions in a new way, most often people don’t know what to ask for so you have to make a judgement call based on trends," she says. Morin breaks it down to and 80/20 rule. "80% to crowdsource ideas and solutions and 20% to innovate and be iterative."
At Google, as opposed to Apple, Morin points out, there’s a lot of importance placed on data to drive decision-making. "Something that Marissa embedded into my mind is the fact that you could argue with team all day long about where the button should be," she explains. In the end it’s more effective to move the button all around and see where people actually click, and then make the decision, Mayer told her. "That’s so useful because you don’t have that much time to prove your worth as a startup. You have to just launch and iterate based on what works," she maintains.
When she first started the site in 2011, the domain name was hellobrit.com. Since then, there’s been a subtle shift to emphasize the "co" in Brit + Co. Morin understands that you can’t just proclaim yourself the Martha Stewart of the technorati, slap up a website, add water and voila—instant community. Instead, she emphasizes the importance of hard work to build and maintain a following.
"The reason people don’t do well is because they don’t invest the time to respond [to followers] on all the networks," she asserts. "I am on my phone all day every day, even standing in line at grocery store." The company’s Twitter feed illustrates this dedication. On a recent exchange, Morin responded immediately and graciously, to the delight a follower.
Though she admits there will be a point where such attention will become less scaleable, Morin insists "all I can do is put as much time into responding letting them know they are seen and heard, and I appreciate their feedback."
That said, she does advocate for spending time offline, baking, crafting, and otherwise allowing creative juices to flow. Just don’t expect her to pull a Baratunde and unplug for an extended period of time. After chatting with Paul from The Verge (who cut his umbilical digital cord for a year), Morin determined that a weekend of detachment might be possible. Her responsibilities as a CEO outweigh the potential benefits of unplugging, she says. Even on vacation, she gave herself an hour a day online. "I have less anxiety and crazy nightmares about what might be happening online if I check in," she explains.
It’s almost too easy to blur boundaries between work and personal life when you’re married to an entrepreneur. Dave Morin, Apple alum (its where they met) and founder of the social network Path (that Google offered to buy for $100 million), is not only her best friend, but understands the kit and caboodle of launching and running a tech startup. "We definitely talk about what’s happening at work," she admits, "But there are times we definitely make it clear we want to unplug from that conversation. It’s an on or off switch.
Though the two have a dog named Pixel, they haven’t started a family yet. But Morin’s already had a conversation with Marissa Mayer about managing a business when you’re a mom. "She spends more time with her son than most people think," Morin says. "I think it is about incorporating kids into your work life and she’s done that really well."
That’s not to say she hasn’t gotten her share of bad advice. One point is particularly memorable. "[Someone] told me to just try to do as much as I can to get the brand out there: write a book, do a TV show, create apps," she recalls. "I think the correct advice is to pick a focus that is proven to work. It’s so easy to spread yourself too thin when so many opportunities pop up," says Morin, quickly and courteously adding, "It was poor piece of advice, but I understand the intent."
Though she means business, Morin insists that another lesson she took from Google is not to take herself too seriously. "In a startup you are constantly driven to perform, grow a team, and please investors and users," she observes, "It is stressful so you have to remember to have fun because your perspective will influence those around you."
Of her success thus far, Morin says simply, "It matters that you are doing something you are super passionate about. That’s how the best companies get built."