Q&A with Hilary
Were you the kind of kid who sold lemonade on the sidewalk?
My brother and I actually did sell lemonade! I think we were about four and five years old. When I was twelve, my brother and I set up a booth at a sidewalk sale in Port Hope and sold grape vine wreaths and crafts that we’d made – I think our crafts were probably pretty primitive but we sold out and were written up in the local paper.
Where do you think you got your business sense?
From my mom who is a marketing genius and a creative problem solver. I think creative problem solving is an important skill because it’s transferable to almost any business or situation. My mother is an entrepreneur and my father is a writer, so they both work for themselves. I’m glad they instilled me with that same entrepreneurial drive.
What advice would you give to other young entrepreneur’s to turn their dream into a reality?
Don’t get discouraged. Starting a successful business takes more work than you think but it’s doable if you have the will and determination to keep pushing yourself until you’ve reached your goal. Oh–and make sure you have a viable business plan that fills a gap in the market or is an innovative approach. Think everything out thoroughly.
Do you have someone you look to for advice?
I really value my friendship with Richard Branson. We met in Toronto at the Spoke Club almost a decade ago and bonded instantly over the fact that we both started magazines when we were 15. He’s an incredible man, very down to earth and always genuinely interested in what I’m up to. I really admire him and love spending time with him – and he has great advice, to boot.
Are you a workaholic? What do you do to relax?
I definitely used to be! When I was in my teens, after I graduated high school at age 17, I used to get up at 6:30am to exercise, then I’d work from about 8am to 11pm. In my later years I’ve realized how important a good live-work balance is, and I’ve started taking more time to myself. Now I work regular hours, from 9:30 to about 6pm and see friends in the evening. Plus, when I do work, it’s more like I’m working at a hobby that is also a business because I enjoy working so much. I love dinner parties and fun events, but hanging out and catching a movie is also an essential break from the craziness of New York social life.
What was your happiest day?
When I was 25 I bought my parents a sailboat. I spent my first couple years of life on a 42-foot sailboat. The plan was to sail around the Mediterranean and home-school, but my brother came a year later and it was too difficult with two babies in diapers, so my parents sold the boat. Almost since then I’ve wanted to give that back to them, so it was a happy day when I did.
Did you have financial help to get started?
No. It doesn’t actually cost anything to get started on the Internet, as long as you’re willing to learn to code. I grew my businesses from the ground up, organically. No handouts, investors or loans.
Are you a big spender?
Not at all. I’m much more of a saver and spendthrift. When I was a teenager a fair chunk of my money went to charities and organizations devoted to stopping animal cruelty, and I volunteered every day after school at the local animal shelter.
In your opinion, what is the most profound issue facing women today and why?
Inequality. Girls aren’t even given a chance in many countries because the aren’t seen to have any value. One problem we are tackling is that girls families see little incentive to invest in their daughter without visible income in her future. Her family would rather invest in their son’s future, which seems far more bright, and keep the girl as a source of free household labor and dowry. It’s been shown that when a girl gains educational and economic opportunities, the benefits ripple beyond her – to her brothers, her sisters, her parents, her community, her future children and grandchildren. When women are oppressed, that entire society is put at a disadvantage, and is unable to compete with the rest of the world, and therefore unable to grow upwards.
What would you like to see every woman do for herself? For another woman?
Be supportive and help any way you can. I will never understand why some women are so competitive. If we all helped each other, we’d all benefit and thrive.
What impact does the media have on young girls?
I think the media can have a very negative effect on girls self image. The media portrays an ideal that doesn’t exist without a makeup artist, stylist, lighting, photo touch-ups and often hours of exercise a day – not to mention hair extensions, false eyelashes and cosmetic surgery! How are girls going to be happy with themselves if they think they’re expected to look like that in order to be attractive or sexy?
What message do you want to send, and to whom?
I want to send a message of empowerment. I hope that some of my articles will make my readers stop and consider issues break away from stereotypes and prejudices. For example, I often write articles on body image, women’s issues and the females in the media. I wanted to expose the truth about the images in magazines so that women understand what’s happening in the media and advertising and that the photos of the supposedly perfect models are not a realistic portrayal of women – or even something that a normal women should aspire to. I wanted to get across that women should be accepting of themselves and society should move away from being so image conscious and objectifying women. The inner person is where people should be devoting their development time.
What advice can you give them to improve their self-esteem?
Don’t compare yourself to the images in magazines. They’re not real – they’re fantasy. Concentrate on developing yourself as a person – learn things, take classes and read books, not superficial magazines. Get outside and don’t wear makeup when you’re not going out. You’ll be surprised what a difference these things can make on your outlook on life.
What do you like and dislike about modeling?
I always felt like sort of an outsider at school because I was artistic and didn’t fit into any of the cliques. Modeling gave me confidence. It helped me get pass some of the insecurities that all teens have. But the international modeling scene really isn’t a very healthy environment for a teenager. When I was barely 18, I decided modeling wasn’t where I wanted to be. I remember seeing my face on two magazine covers in one month and I realized that I’d gone as far as I wanted to go with it. So I focused my time on business, which I thought would be better for me in the long run–and it was.
What advice can you give to young girls who want to model?
If you want to model, read the books I wrote about breaking into the industry. You can buy the printed version in bookstores soon, or download the digital version on NewFaces.com. I wrote them specifically for girls who want to be models to help them avoid the pitfalls of the industry and to share insider info about how to get free photoshoots and how they can get ahead quickly. NewFaces.com is also a great way to get yourself an agent and modeling jobs.
What makes an entrepreneur?
Being an entrepreneur requires a lot of different skills. You have to have vision and realistic goals, you have to know how to diplomatically deal with clients, and you need the ability to anticipate market trends and use them to your advantage. You also need to be willing to work very hard and be creative in thinking and planning in order to grow your business up and stay up-to-date with technology. Finally, you have to have a passion for what you do so that it’s fun and you enjoy it, like I do!
Would you say your childhood had a significant impact on you becoming an entrepreneur?
Yes, because my parents encouraged me to pursue whatever brought me joy. It just so happens that writing and doing web design made me happy when I was young… but I think had I wanted to be a lawyer – or anything else – they would have been equally as encouraging and happy for me. I strongly believe that people should do what they love, then find a way to make that profitable. It’s like the old saying: “If you love what you do, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”
What kind of support did you have (parental help, business loans, etc.)?
My parents have always been very supportive of everything I do. My mother is a very talented artist and has great business suggestions. She’s worked for me part-time for the past few years. Other than that, I have done everything myself, including thinking up the concepts, learning to code and creating the Web sites. Because I already had computer supplies, and designing Web sites doesn’t require a lot of capital (just business smarts!) other than a computer and software, I thankfully haven’t had a need to get any financial help or loans.
Where did you learn to design Web sites?
I didn’t take any classes for Web design. In fact, when I started there weren’t any! I started designing Web sites in early 1995 and I learned the tricks of the trade over time. I guess you could say I learned on the job. It was the best way to learn, for me. When I was a teenager I worked about 80 hours a week, not because I had to, but because I loved it!
When I started, no one I knew had any idea what the Internet was, let alone what an email address is. I pretty much learned on the go. HTML was much simpler back then and got more and more complex as the years passed. It was easier to learn progressively rather than jumping in later and having to get up to speed all at once.
What is the most rewarding part of running a business?
The most rewarding part of running my own business is knowing that everything I do is building my company and my future. I don’t have to worry about working my hardest to help grow somebody else’s company and then getting laid off and knowing that all my hard work was for nothing.