“A lot of those guys just wanted selfies”

23.01.2020 | Author: Maxi Leinkauf | Photos: Alex Welsh   

Gwyneth Paltrow is wearing a blue-and-white striped blouse.
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Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow on her greatest role: as a successful entrepreneur.

Self-deprecating and open: Gwyneth Paltrow talked at a dinner hosted by the She’s Mercedes Initiative during last year’s South by Southwest conference. The Hollywood star about her path to becoming a successful businesswoman, googling business terms – and how hard it was to find serious investors.

Mrs Paltrow, in 2016, with very little fanfare, you officially assumed the title CEO of Goop. You were so cautious about taking on this role. Why not shout it from the rooftop?

Well, I didn’t really know if I could pull it off. It took a lot of courage for me to step into that role. I felt like proving myself before announcing anything to the world. I didn’t go to business school, I didn’t even finish college. I had to give myself a kind of “street MBA”. It was learning by doing. And I’m still learning.

So, fast-forward to today: you have proved yourself. Since becoming CEO, you have doubled the revenue.

Tripled.

Excuse me, tripled! You’ve significantly increased the company’s growth. What ideas did you bring to the CEO job that needed to be unlocked to achieve such a degree of growth?

There were a few things. First of all, the company had been distributed between L.A. and New York, which was really difficult. I needed to reinfuse the company with the entrepreneurial spirit we had in the beginning, which came from me and two other people sitting around the kitchen table. We lost that feeling, so I wanted to get everybody back in the same place. I also had to be clear about what I wanted to do and where we wanted to go. We just needed to bring to the company what I would call masculinity. What I mean is that when a company starts, even if it is a few guys in a garage in Silicon Valley, it is very feminine because it is brought to life by its own nature. It’s collaborative, it’s passionate, it thrives on creativity. And all these are qualities which we assign to femininity. Then at a certain point, you have to start introducing more masculine elements, which include structure, compliance and human resource.

You have always been a tastemaker and curator. A lot of the product development is rather instinctual. How do you find the balance between just knowing in your gut that there is a market for something and looking at the information from customers, then serving a need based on data?

It is a real balance. The intersection of the data and the intuition is probably the most exciting part of the business for me. I naturally have such a strong instinct about things, so it’s fascinating to look at data. Sometimes it backs you up and sometimes it tells you to go in the opposite direction. You can slice it ten thousand ways, it is amazing. Understanding is always important, to know who your customer is, where she has been, what she wants, what she does, what she reads, what she buys or doesn’t buy.

Gwyneth Paltrow is wearing a blue-and-white striped blouse while touching her hair.

I see, data seems to be really fascinating for you! Let’s talk about finances: What has been your experience when you go out to raise money?

In the beginning, it was really tough, and I knew I needed to raise money if I wanted to put any kind of stake in the ground and hire a team. It took a lot of meetings and it turned out that a lot of those guys just wanted selfies they could show their wives. I think it is hard for women anyway, because most venture capitalists are men and they think they don’t need a business like mine. I often hear “I don’t get it,” and I usually say, “Well, I wouldn’t expect you to get it but there is a reason your wife likes it.” It was a humbling process. By the time I had a functioning and growing business, it had become much easier.

You are very open about your uncertainties. That is unusual, particularly for male entrepreneurs. But even a lot of female entrepreneurs put up a strong front. Do you worry about revealing certain vulnerabilities?

No, I am inherently vulnerable. I was dropped into this business and had to basically learn a new dictionary of acronyms. Sometimes I felt like the dumbest person in America. Actually, I remember googling business language under the table during a meeting: “What does this mean?” And you know what, I don’t care. I pledge to myself to just ask the question even if that is going to put someone off.

Do you find your fame has a positive or negative impact on building Goop?

It has both. If I weren’t Gwyneth Paltrow, I wouldn’t have had a platform, and nobody would have signed up for my newsletter. If I weren’t famous and had been writing good recipes and travel content back in 2008, there wouldn’t have been a three-page article in The New York Times, baffled by why I was doing this. It’s difficult for people to understand that women want to be more than one thing. You may want to be maternal and sexual, funny and intelligent, or all forms of those things. People have a hard time understanding that we are complex. We women are definitely seen through a different microscope. But I try to have a thick skin about it.

Gwyneth and Goop

The actress has spun her lifestyle blog into an internationally active business with focus on wellness, fitness and health. Goop offers a wide range of products from clothes to aroma fragrances. The company was estimated at $250 million in its most recent disclosed valuation. It currently employs approximately 250 people and has its own Netflix series.

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