Mamamia may have started in my lounge room but that was the boring bit. That was me sitting in different places around my house connected to my laptop working 18 hours a day and failing to teach myself how to code while navigating comments, resizing images and writing stories fuelled by tea, ambition, adrenaline, passion, naivety and fear.
Things only ramped up once we (my husband/co-founder and I) decided we had to invest in hiring people to help us.
More about that in a moment. But there was a period in between. The bit between me being entirely alone and us hiring people.
I’m not very good with remembering exact dates or even inexact dates. Working in digital media 24/7 blurs and warps your sense of time. What day even is it? But somewhere around the 18 month mark, before Jason was officially involved, when it was still just me, Mamamia had begun to build an audience. They were a passionate, smart, funny bunch of readers and commenters. Highly opinionated. Very, very loyal. And supportive. They believed in what I was trying to do – make a place for women to come and discuss things and express their opinions, in posts, in comments… to make women feel seen and heard and understood and mentally stimulated and like they belonged in a media world that made them feel like shit a lot of the time.
These women (and a few notable men) had high expectations for what Mamamia should be – sometimes higher than my own.
Like this one time when I posted a deeply embarrassing paparazzi photo of a celebrity. Within seconds of me posting it, MM-ers told me in no uncertain terms via an avalanche of comments that it was an appalling thing to do. I listened and I took the post down right away because they were right.
Anyway, that’s the kind of mistake I didn’t want to keep making. And I was so lonely! After the initial relief of not working in an office after 15 years of workplace politics, a gaping hole had opened up where my work happiness used to live. I’ve always been my happiest when surrounded by smart, funny, feisty women. The warmth and camaraderie. The chats in the kitchen while making tea. The stories you share and the investments you make in each other’s lives, getting to know each other’s mothers and children and partners and shopping habits and pets through conversations at your desk and while gathered around the microwave waiting for your turn.
This is a classic photo that represents how I worked in the early days of Mamamia.
I missed that. Desperately.
I'd become familiar with some of the more regular commenters and somehow, we began to communicate in private away from the public Mamamia comments. Via email. Three of them, Lana Hirschowitz, Kerri Sackville and Amanda Whitley (known as Bugmum on the site!) were whip-smart, talented, funny women who were also very committed and loyal readers. These three women gave me feedback and offered to moderate comments and let me bounce ideas off them. Lana, Kerri and Amanda were incredibly generous with their time, their energy, their input and most importantly their support when I had nobody else I could trust.
I called them The Circle and one Sunday they came to my house and we had afternoon tea and met IRL.
I have no photos of that day but I do have some photos of me with Lana and Kerri (who both lived in Sydney and I started to see regularly as friends).
And this is Amanda back then:
The fact is I will be forever grateful to them. Lana went on to become my right hand for many years on the site as Editor. Kerri and Amanda were among my first contributors before going on to focus on their own blossoming careers. Kerri as a hugely popular author and columnist and Amanda as the founder of the #ladystartup Hercanberra, an online magazine for Canberra women which looks beautiful and reads like a dream.
Within a few months, we began hiring people. I can't remember exactly how this fabulous group of women (and man) came into my life but thank God they did.
From left: Rick Morton, Lana Hirschowitz, Nicky Champ and Natalia Hawk.
Rick Morton is now at The Australian newspaper where he wins all kinds of journalism awards and is one of the most talented young writers in Australia. Nicky Champ is the editor of Business Chicks Australia and has two beautiful kids. Natalia Hawk has been living and working in Canada as a writer and comms specialist for the past few years and is about to relocate to Japan. And of course Lana who is a writer, consultant and (I'm thrilled to say) has recently returned as a Mamamia columnist which is exciting because her writing has always lifted my heart (you can read her columns here).
In 2010 Bec Sparrow walked into my life like a sunbeam of wisdom and in 2011 I hired her as Mamamia’s Deputy Editor - a role she did from Brisbane (Bec has returned this year to be a Mamamia columnist and I couldn't be more thrilled - you can read the wit and wisdom of Bec Sparrow here). That same year Lucy Ormonde moved from Melbourne after we met when I gave a speech there and she came up afterwards to introduce herself. Lucy also went on to become an invaluable Editor at Mamamia and another right hand as she stayed with us for many years - now she's also doing amazing things at Business Chicks. The glorious Kate Hunter was also part of the early gang adding her trademark wit and wisdom to the site. She has also returned recently as a columnist (you can read Kate Hunter here - she's the most sensible parent I know).
Listen to my incredible No Filter interview with Bec Sparrow below. Post continues after audio.
They were crazy times. We all worked around the clock, moderating comments and creating content and tweeting and hosting Prime Ministers in the office and building IKEA couches, and planning the site with post-it notes and sharing desks and making it all up as we went along.
The commenters were like part of the family, their names were well-known to us and we looked out for their comments. Many I went on to meet in person.
We’ve tried so many things over the years. Being anchored to ‘what women are talking about today’ has meant that we’ve evolved with the changing wants and needs of women. We’ve gone through phases of being too political, too outraged, too click-baity, too gossipy, too young and every time we’ve pulled ourselves up and reset our course. I’ve personally had times over the past decade when I’ve held the reigns too tightly and times when I’ve handed them over too easily. The best thing about digital media is how quickly you can pivot and that’s always been something I’ve been grateful for. In a matter of days you can change the direction of content noticeably.
Which brings us to today.
You may have noticed we’ve pivoted again recently. Or maybe you haven’t. Maybe you haven’t visited Mamamia for a long time because you thought it was no longer for you. Well, the thing is that we publish so much more content than we used to because there is demand for it. We also make podcasts and videos - dozens per week. And so by definition of being a website for women, not all of the content we produce will interest you. Unless you have a very, very wide area of interests and are many different ages at once and are going through multiple life stages simultaneously.
It's also worth pointing out to those who might not realise it that if you get your content primarily via Facebook because you follow us there, Facebook only surfaces a fraction of what we publish into your feed. Nobody understands exactly how the Facebook algorithm works but it tends to favour the most 'clicky' content and pop that into feeds. So you might want to check out our homepage instead to get a more real view of what Mamamia looks like in 2017.
Mamamia's core purpose - the reason we come to work - is to create content that makes the world a better place for women and girls. Content that makes them feel heard and seen and understood. Content that makes them smile or laugh or nod or fist pump or feel smarter or better informed.
I’m more confident than I have been in a long time - years - that when you visit Mamamia on any day, you’ll find something you will want to read or watch or listen to.
And to the original team, the original readers, the original commenters, thank you for your hard work and your passion that provided the springboard to get us to where we are today. I will never forget or take for granted those times.
I love you guys.
Scroll through to see photos from the original Mamamia team and office.