The CEO of female empowerment platform, Smart Girl Tribe, talks about her entrepreneurial journey to redefine the media’s take on womanhood and to offer a resource through which women can share and access narratives that resonate and inspire
Harvard University is ostentatious, majestic and a pioneer of education and in the autumn of 2019, I was there about to speak at its largest annual conference as a ‘female empowerment expert’. Having only just returned from Tanzania, quickly followed by Switzerland for another speaking gig, you would think I was fatigued yet, as I studied my speech notes, I thought about the unconventional journey it had taken to build a fully-fledged business at the age of only 19, everything that had been required to realise my dream and how far, collectively, the team had come.
Since grafting from a dorm room as that wide-eyed teenager, Smart Girl Tribe has grown to boast a top-rated podcast, an event series with the BBC and a published book. My job involves arming women with the tools and knowledge to live freely as their most authentic selves. As CEO of a leading UK female empowerment organisation, it is easy to focus on the triumphs, such as moving and making it as a journalist in New York, or walking the famous British Vogue corridors – but there is a lot more to the story than this.
Women deserved more
When I was growing up, women’s magazines were only promoting three topics: body image, intimate relationships and boyfriends. Desperate to be a writer, I struggled to accept the internships I was offered as I didn’t follow the same ethos as these magazines. Women deserved more from the media, an outlet to concentrate on mental health, confidence, social issues affecting women and tangible ways to become the people we are destined to be. At what price was my dream going to cost?
It was during a summer holiday in my hometown in Italy that I had a monumental conversation with my mother and decided to create my own magazine. Being in rural Le Marche, I had no internet or phone connection and having spent the majority of my time at university in the library striving to be an academic – no valuable mentor or real friends. Persevering, I contacted my entire email list asking if anyone knew someone who could help me build a website. After three months of designing and writing the first few articles myself, the launch date was set with a Twitter account set up to promote my endeavour. Within three days of launching, we had more than 40 applications from writers requesting to contribute to Smart Girl Tribe. At that very moment, I knew we were onto something and realised how many smart girls like me existed but didn’t have a platform to inspire, educate or entertain them.
Know your mission
Women were worth more than what they were being sold. Major magazines perpetually had us buy into the idea that we are not enough, they continued to undermine our intelligence and innate power. Someone had to change the system, someone had to do something, and then I realised I am ‘someone’. It was crucial for all women to have a safe space online to lend a voice to the female experience. Even when having a bad day with Smart Girl Tribe I wasn’t prepared to jeopardise its mission – to redefine the media’s take on womanhood. We didn’t focus on the directions other publications were following but stayed true to our subject matter – becoming the change we wanted to see in the world and developing an all-inclusive platform for every woman. As a result, we have worked with some incredible organisations, including UN Women, HeforShe, Women for Women International and 50:50.
Entrepreneurship demands everything from you. You have to eat it, breathe it and live it. Being an entrepreneur can also be risky, but not going after your dreams is even riskier. During my final years at university, I began recording my lectures purely because I would end up drafting ideas for Smart Girl Tribe during them. Coding was initially a foreign language to me, but not having the funds or investment to support my venture meant I had to learn everything myself. In one day, I could find myself being editor, writer, proofreader, speaker, photographer, model, activist, graphic designer and web developer. The entrepreneurial life in itself can bring many challenges – it’s not about being the smartest or the most experienced, it’s about being the one who can hold on for the longest.
Leave excuses at the door
I didn’t have an economics degree, business qualification or experience when setting up Smart Girl Tribe. Its foundation was built on its core principles, a strong mission and tenacity. At the end of the day, if you don’t have the answers, Google does. You will either find a way or an excuse. My approach to Smart Girl Tribe has never changed. How do you build a house? From the ground up. I never focused on white noise, such as our following or how pretty our site was, I homed in on the only trait I knew would help me get to where I wanted to be – my hustle.
Know your audience and the times
For some businesses, the priority is the client or customer. For us, it was our readers and later, listeners. Getting ready to launch, I constructed the Smart Girl Tribe reader – their age, hobbies, shopping tendencies and even minute details such as what she drinks, who her friends are and where she travels to. We knew the reader inside and out, so with every conflicting decision that appeared we could come back to that same question – what would the smart girl want? Times have evolved but the readership has remained committed. Everything we have created was a response to what our tribe has asked for.
Max your dream
Women have been conditioned to shrink themselves and apologise for taking up space.Smart Girl Tribe is essentially a personal development community for women where they can heal, grow and become. Despite its astounding growth, for years, I kept this platform to my dorm room, rarely talking about it, even to friends and family, out of fear. It wasn’t until I entered adulthood that I realised the detrimental effect this attitude would have. Seeking validation or permission from anyone can only hinder and hurt, it never helps. Indeed, one woman rising gives other women the courage to rise too, so I started maxing my dreams and building everything on a larger scale. This is how I have been able to work with international organisations and received invitations to speak all over the world.
Smart Girl Tribe, the platform, has served as a great terrain to share stories. They were always the fixture throughout the journey – the magazine, podcast, events and book have really always just been channels to feature narratives that resonate with people on a deeply personal level. Often, we don’t want to be vulnerable or show struggle but Smart Girl Tribe has been the quiet ally that says: ‘you are not alone’.
Scarlett V Clark is CEO and Founder of Smart Girl Tribe and author of The Smart Girls Handbook (Trigger 2021).