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How HelloGiggles Carved Out a Safe Space on the Internet

Photo: Justin Coit
Photo: Justin Coit

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From nail art features to puppy videos to nostalgic lists, HelloGiggles has carved out a particular niche in the women's media space since its inception in 2011. While other lady sites like Jezebel can take on a serious tone, HelloGiggles prefers to stick to all the fun and amusing content the internet has to offer.

The site was started by three LA talents—actress and musician Zooey Deschanel, writer Molly McAleer, and producer Rivka Sophia Rossi—and has since assembled an army of contributors who add just the right amount of cheer the world wide web needs these days. Targeting women who don't want the "standard Boys' Club content," as their Facebook page puts it, HelloGiggles has readers and writers as young as 13, including Maude Apatow. HelloGiggles now boasts some 12 million unique visitors a month and just raised its first round of capital to expand its video interface.

Racked caught up with co-founder Rossi, who broke down what she dislikes about women's websites, what HelloGiggles' work culture is like, and the things she had to learn on the go when building a website from scratch.

What did you do before HelloGiggles?
I didn't go to college. My first job was in music videos, and then I worked as a producer for MTV on The Hills and The City.

Why did you start the site?
I had been doing freelance work for College Humor, and I wanted to get into comedy—I had a lot of friends in comedy, especially those who wanted to do sketches. Zooey wasn't working and wanted to start something like it, and Molly was writing for Gawker and Defamer, and we realized there wasn't a site online that had content that we wanted to read and send to each other that was positive and humor-based. At that time, Zooey was afraid of the internet. She didn't have Twitter or anything, so we said, "Whatever we do, we have to make sure that there is no negativity on the site." It came from us looking for what we wanted to be a part of.

Is the site still adamant about no negativity?
Yes. We don't review things, we suggest them. There are no open letters, there are no takedowns. We're contributor-based, so we want to make sure we're protecting our contributors from any negativity. We're not—we're more friends that you can feel connected to. We don't do news or anything that we feel can open up any areas of negativity.

Do you think the internet is more or less positive these days?
I think it's more positive. People are more comfortable sharing their thoughts online. Even if 10 people write something negative, someone will feel connected to those who didn't do that.

Who came up with the name?
We did it all together. We would always say "hey girl" to each other, and when we were on GoDaddy years ago trying to find alternatives to that and looking for something humorous, we found "giggles."

How did you meet Zooey and Molly?
I met Molly through friends. Zooey and I grew up in the same area, but we met at a dance class.

How are the co-founder duties split?
I'm the CEO, so I do the day-to-day. Zooey is Creative Director, and Molly now is a silent partner. We have an office downtown, with about nine employees. We were in my apartment until nine months ago, so the office is a big deal. Right now, we're locking in our fundraising for the first time. We have about six contributors a week, so we're probably at about 600 contributors total, which means a lot of managing.

What about monetization?
We're advertising-based. We used to do branded videos because we thought we'd be more of a Funny or Die, so we used profits from those videos to build the site.

How do you view the women's online space? Is there anything you want to change about it?
I would like it to not always be beauty or fashion-related. I wish it could just be cool stories. I don't think that a women's site always has to be associated with what people think women are involved with.

What other websites do you like to read?
I don't read as much as I used to, but I like Refinery29, Who What Wear, Rookie, BuzzFeed. I read Twitter now for random links, but I don't really explore that much.

What do you think makes HelloGiggles different?
Mainly that we are contributor-based, but also that we're relevant but our topics aren't time-sensitive. Also, how much we protect our community as far as comments through Facebook go, so people are accountable for their words. We really edit posts and support our contributors to make sure they feel safe. We have a lot of young contributors who write for us, and we want to make sure they are not judged or thrown into this online world.

What kind of posts do really well on your site?
We do really well with nostalgia and body image topics. Whatever the internet supports usually tends to be the same with our site. Also, grammar! This week we ran a piece on 10 words you're probably using wrong, and that did really well.

What's the work culture like?
We get a lot of free, fun, silly stuff. It's really funky. There's nail art, and yesterday we had arm tattoos. We're eight girls and one guy who's a programmer all in one room.

What were some early challenges HelloGiggles faced?
I think it was just manpower. We got a thousand submissions, so we had to figure out how to go through all that and make sure everyone got a response and everyone felt heard, even if they didn't get published.

What about now?
Some of the problems we have now are similar. It comes down to manpower and resources. We want to keep on having more contributors, but we can't respond to all of them, so that's a little bit frustrating.

Was it hard to learn things on the go?
I personally had to learn about internet usage, like the use of photos and trademarking. I didn't go to college, and I feel like the last three-and-a-half years were like going to school. I made sure to surround myself with people who knew more. I'm pretty smart, but I'm also okay asking questions—I ask my CFO questions all the time. In fact, the most important business thing I had to learn was to bring in a CFO. I felt like we had so many new opportunities, and you want to do everything, but you need someone to help you prioritize when you have something so big.

What does the future of HelloGiggles look like?
I think our voice is getting more defined, and we have a more focused plan on video. I want to give more options to our contributors. Out of our submissions, 20 percent are illustrations and 20 percent are video, and we haven't been able to service the content. I'd like to have more systems implemented for things like that. We want to help our contributors monetize their ideas while they're using our platform.

Do you have advice for young writers who want to contribute to the site?
I think it's about separating what would be in a personal journal from something that actually has a takeaway—people are more receptive to that than to just storytelling. For HelloGiggles, there are a lot of personal essays, but we don't include those unless they have lessons or are more memoir-y. I would also say it matters if you have a voice. For me, I'd rather have less traffic and a defined voice than tons of traffic but not knowing where to start. If we had 15 contributors, I'd be happy. It just matters that everyone is recognized and heard.

· HelloGiggles [Official site]
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