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  • Hey, it’s Marie Forleo and you are watching MarieTV, the place to be to create a business

  • and life you love. You know, one of my favorite parts of this job is the fact that I get to

  • talk to incredible people who are doing the work that they were born to do. And today

  • I’m gonna introduce you to a woman who is doing exactly that in this digital era and

  • she has one of the most beautiful and popular design blogs on the web.

  • Grace Bonney is the founder of Design Sponge and the author of the best selling book Design

  • Sponge at Home. Grace is passionate about supporting all aspects of the design community

  • from up and coming designers to seasoned business owners. In 2007 she founded a scholarship

  • for young designers and in 2008 she started the Biz Ladies series to help support and

  • grow creative businesses. Grace also hosts a weekly radio show, After the Jump, where

  • she interviews artists and designers and discusses larger business issues within the creative

  • community.

  • Grace, thank you so much for being here today.

  • Thanks so much for having me.

  • So you fascinate me. I love your blog, I love your business, and I know that you started

  • Design Sponge over 10 years ago now. Right? What was the original inspiration when you

  • first started?

  • Honestly it was not seeing the things I wanted to see represented in magazines or on TV.

  • I had just moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 2003 after college and was so in love with

  • all of the incredible independent design happening, people making things by hand. All the things

  • that are sort of passe and normal now, like yarn bombing, all that stuff wasfelt very

  • new then. And I was taking photographs and I kept expecting to see it in magazines and

  • it wasn’t showing up. So I decided that it seemed to make sense, just write about

  • it myself if no one else was writing about it. And this was sort of pre Domino magazine,

  • pre Lani, and like that whole community, so I think it was a good time to be doing that

  • because no one else was really sort of championing the handmade community.

  • So it was a passion project.

  • Oh, absolutely.

  • Yeah. It was something that you just loved and you were like, “I wanna see this online.

  • Let’s make it happen.”

  • Yeah. I think that’s how all great things start. I think if you start with like a business

  • in mind at first it makes things operate from a very different place instead of just saying,

  • “I love this. I can’t wait to talk to other people who love this. This is the only

  • reason I’m getting up every morning.”

  • I mean, that’s how I started life coaching, for sure. Before I could figure out how to

  • build it into a business, I was doing it when I was like 17 so I totally relate. So you

  • ran it yourself, Design Sponge totally by yourself for 3 years before you decided to

  • bring on others. What was that decision process like and is that when it started to feel like

  • a business?

  • Weirdly, no. It didn't feel like a business until pretty much every other magazine closed.

  • Basically in 2008, 2009 all of the sort of home and design magazines like threw up against

  • a wall and everyone freaked out. Domino closed, House and Garden closed, Blueprint closed,

  • all of these like sort of bastions of cool, independent design just fell apart. And I

  • realized then that magazines, which I always thought was my end goal, because here’s

  • this traditional, sort of sustainable, safe job that I can hopefully work up to, that

  • became clear that wasn’t going to be the safe place anymore. And at that point the

  • site was running really well, it was supporting me half time, and I thought, “Ok, well,

  • this is the place to invest, to hunker down, and to make this really, really work.” So

  • I would say probably in 2009 it felt like a real business, but back in 2007 when I hired

  • everybody it was really sort of a… what I always think of is like an anti Martha move

  • where I… Martha Stewart is always my idol of everything but I didn't love the way that

  • I felt like the editors there didn't get the sort of credit and attention that they deserved.

  • Because no one person is an expert in every topic, and I’m certainly not, so I hired

  • people in the interest of having people who were experts in topics that I didn't know

  • about, whether it was gardening or DIY or food. So the first people I brought on were

  • all people who knew about things I didn't know about.

  • And were they friends of yours from the magazine world or were they just friends that you met

  • out and about or did you actually, like, put out classified ads or do something to go find

  • them?

  • No, they were internet friends. They were the first sort of OG generation of internet

  • friends and people I just found who were also blogging, who I sort of heard of through friends

  • of friends. Lorik and Derek Fakersom who were my DIY editors used to work for Todd Oldham

  • and they opened a store in San Francisco and I just knew of their store and they lived

  • and breathed DIY, so they were the natural fit to hire somebody like that. And then Christina,

  • who’s been my food editor since 2007 who lives in Rome was running an incredible Italian

  • design blog and was writing about food and architecture and we just clicked and weve

  • been working together ever since.

  • That is so cool. And did you find itbecause I know for me when I hired my first person

  • and then more people, I sucked at it. I was not good at all and I felt really insecure.

  • I’m like, “I don't know how to be a boss.” Did you have any of that when you started

  • to grow?

  • I still do. I think that’s the hardest part of my job. I think I’m naturally like a

  • solo act. I think I tend… I’m an only child, I prefer to sort of work by myself.

  • Although I love working with people that I admire and who I think make me work better,

  • and so I’ve always wanted to work with other people. But it’s really difficult to tell

  • to somebody who’s also writing from a place of passion and excitement that they need to

  • do it better or that they need to do it differently. That’s a really difficult thing to do, especially

  • when it’s someone that youre friends with. So that’s an ongoing struggle and

  • something that I think I sort of work on on a weekly basis.

  • Yeah, it’s… for me, I find that my business has changed so much when I found people that

  • so complement my strengths because there are so many things that I am not good at.

  • Yeah, and those things will always continue to grow and change.

  • Yeah.

  • There will be years where I’m really on it and really great at sort of being, like,

  • the person who says no and knows when to sort of hire the right person or let the person

  • go. And then there’s a year where I get overwhelmed with all the things that were

  • doing that are new and different and I kind of fall back on that. So it’s always a sort

  • of checks and balances thing that I have to constantly be aware of and work harder on.

  • So overwhelm is an amazing topic I think for all of us, especially in a digital space.

  • And a while back there was that New York Times piece about blogger burnout and I know you

  • have a great perspective on it. We can sometimes in our company, we don't do anywhere near

  • the volume of posting that you guys do. What’s your perspective on blogger burnout? How have

  • you been able to over the years manage the high quality that you guys produce all the

  • time?

  • I think that the first step is just to accept that it’s inevitable that everyone will

  • be burnt out at some point. It might happen every year, it might happen every other month,

  • whatever that cycle is, it will happen. It doesn't mean that youre not doing the right

  • thing anymore, it doesn't mean that you should change jobs, it just means you need to figure

  • out what’s not working and accept that that’s… that had its moment but now you need a new

  • system to deal with things. And so for me that’s meant either hiring a bigger team,

  • sometimes totally downsizing and having a really small team to sort of focus on writing

  • more and less on team management. And so it’s just always about changing and right now I

  • think it’s very much a less is more game for me and so I’m investing platforms that

  • I really enjoy personally. Like  I’m obsessed with Instagram and so I’m putting a lot

  • of time into that because

  • You guys do great, by the way.

  • Oh, thanks.

  • It’s genius.

  • I enjoy it and it’s meant spending less time on Pinterest and Twitter and Facebook

  • and other things that are important to be a part of but I’m not enjoying in the same

  • way. And I think when you don't enjoy something, your readers know. They can absolutely tell

  • it in the tone of your voice, when they see you. Everybody can tell when youre kind

  • of phoning it in. So at a certain point I realized the voice in my head that was saying,

  • People will be upset if you don't post 10 times a day,” that’s just my voice.

  • No one else is telling that to me. So I just started dialing things back saying, “Ok,

  • I’m gonna post 4 times a day and if anybody gets mad at me then I’ll explain why.”

  • But for the most part weve been scaling back and noticing that people are talking

  • more and theyre happier to have fewer posts that are a bit longer and more personal and

  • are more focused and engaged. And I mean, I would want to read that from all the sites

  • that I follow. So it sort of was a hard place to get to, but I think now that I understand

  • it. I hope I can sort of tell other people how to get through that same space because

  • all the bloggers I’m friends with that have been in the design community for the last

  • 10 years, I think everyone’s hitting a wall right now where you have to be on 10 different

  • platforms at the same time and it’s… it’s exhausting.

  • It is. Weve made some really conscious decisions in our business, you know, different

  • friends are like, “Oh, man. Youve gotta be on this, that, and the other thing,”

  • and when I really take a look at who I am as a human being outside of business and how

  • I want my life to be long term, weve actually made some super conscious choices to not be

  • in places weresupposedto be and it’s been so liberating.

  • It’s both liberating and terrifying because, to be brutally honest, I made a huge mistake

  • with Pinterest. I had a real issue with some of the stuff that was popping up, people were

  • taking photographs that weren’t theirs, they weren’t crediting them, and photographers

  • were getting upset, the stylists were getting upset, and I just decided I don't support

  • this, I don't like this idea so were not going to do it. Cut to two years later and

  • now there’s a billion people on Pinterest and that was a terrible business decision

  • to make. But it’s a good example of like there are gonna be some times where you don't

  • join something and it doesn't matter at all.

  • Yeah.

  • Then there will be times where you do join it and you have to play catch up to get back

  • there. But it doesn't mean that your business ends. It just means that you might have to

  • play catch up every now and then and if that’s the worst thing that happens then, by all

  • means, you should be following your gut. And then also just accepting that there will be

  • bloggers and podcasters and whoever that are younger and have more energy and more time

  • and it doesn't mean that your voice is no longer relevant, it just means that there

  • are new voices that are part of the community and we were all those new voices at some point.

  • So I’ve sort of gotten to the place where I’m very excited that there’s a newer,

  • younger generation of people online that can sort of take over that space that I used to

  • love and now I can operate in a different space where I talk less but sort of talk about

  • a different type of thing.

  • Yeah, let’s go there next too because there’s so many lessons you must have learned over

  • these 10 years of doing what you do and all of the evolutions. And one thing that I read

  • that you said was about, you know, just because youre doing what you love doesn't mean

  • that sometimes it doesn't feel like a job.

  • It does. Every day.

  • Yeah.

  • It’s a job. But it’s the greatest job ever and I think that’s… there’s a weird

  • thing where people don't wanna say, especially if theyre doing something like we do. We

  • get to talk about what you love every day. You don't wanna sound like that you don't

  • appreciate it or that youre not grateful for it. Because I think all of us are incredibly

  • grateful not only just to have a job right now, but to have a job that we really love.

  • But there are still parts that are difficult, that aren’t fun, and that you have to struggle

  • to make an easy part of your day to day schedule. So that’s something I always go back to

  • is that it’s ok to be honest about the things that are difficult. Sometimes I think just

  • saying things out loud and admitting what youre struggling with, that’s half the

  • battle. You feel so much better when you just get it off your chest and say, “I’m having

  • a really hard time dealing with this type of ad right now and dealing with sponsored

  • posts is really stressful and doesn't feel natural to me. How are you guys dealing with

  • it?” Having that conversation is both vulnerable, but also incredibly liberating.

  • Do you do that both within your team and some of your, like, treasured friends that are

  • in the same space?

  • Absolutely. I mean, I think everyone has a core group of sort of colleagues and even

  • competitors, in a sense, where you feel comfortable to have these conversations sort of within

  • reason and I think the more people that you have that you trust to talk about those things

  • with, the better. And for me if I have 4 or 5 people I can talk to about that, that’s

  • kind of all I need to just stay calm and grounded and not go completely crazy when things feel

  • overwhelming. But I think we allwe all need that core group of support.

  • I definitely do because, you know, it can get so insular and even in my own head I’m

  • like, “Wait, I am so close to this I can’t see anything clearly.”

  • And there are moments when it’s good to be detached a bit because I think if youre

  • watching what everybody else is doing all the time it’s such a comparison game and

  • it’s, “Oh, this person just did X, Y, Z. They opened a store. They are teaching

  • classes,” whatever it is. And we think, “I should do that same thing now.” That’s

  • not always the right thing for you, so it’s good to kind of go back and forth between

  • being incredibly engaged and sort of plugged in and then pulling back and listening to

  • what the voice inside of you says you should be doing right now.

  • As someone who loves design, I love design. You know, the websites that we have that are

  • kind of like our digital homes. You know, over 10 years youve had a few evolutions

  • not only in how the actual website looks but also your own personal taste, what you want

  • things to feel like. Walk us through a little bit of that process. I know any time we change

  • something like if we change something on the set, which weve changed MarieTV sets several

  • times, but it’s like people are like, “Oh, no. I miss the brick wall. I miss…” and

  • it’s just like oh goodness. But I keep having to come back for me going like, “Ok, well

  • what do I wanna see? What’s gonna please me?” And knowing were gonna get the comments,

  • and that’s totally ok. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion and this is what we like,

  • but I’m just so curious about your process and how making visual transitions, especially

  • in the design space, how that’s gone for you over the years.

  • You just described everything that I’ve gone through over the last 10 years. It’s

  • difficult and it’s a weird thing because you have to talk to people whove been like

  • blogging or on theon the internet community for that long to sort of understand the same

  • thing. Weve been through I think 6 or 7 different incarnations of Design Sponge now

  • and I think visually we have made this sort of progression from being like a 23 year old

  • when I started to being 33 now. And the way that I dress and decorate are completely different

  • than the way I did when I was 23.

  • I have a question, because I experience this. Do you ever cringe when you see some of your

  • stuff?

  • All the time. And I also cringe… I mean, there’s a certain amount of compassion I

  • have for, like, my 23 year old self because I sort of had a big personal journey as well

  • over the last decade and I think you look back at that 23 year old and I’m like, “Oh,

  • God.” I was trying so hard to fill everything in my house and my sort of online life to

  • be perfect.

  • Yeah.

  • And there was just a lot of stuff, so much stuff, and the site looked like that. There

  • was a button and a banner in every section of the site. There was a ribbon and, like,