Deborah Fine – President of iVillage

Deborah Fine

It Takes iVillage: After addressing 750 PINK readers last week at the opening event of PINK’s third annual conference series, Deborah Fine talks leadership, Life/Work balance and delivering content to one giant village.

By Rachel Kellogg

At the helm of the No. 1 online destination for women, Deborah Fine knows it takes more than a village to connect and support a virtual world of subscribers. It takes 280 employees, 16 million unique visitors – and one savvy leader. Since becoming president of iVillage (a division of NBC Universal) last year, she’s driven innovation, adding new features like iVillage Connect (which uses technologies similar to MySpace), iVillage Cares and iVillage Weddings.

Fresh from Atlanta, where she helped kick off PINK’s annual fall conference series, Fine talks to PINK about her successful career path, her son’s health and her successes as president of the world’s largest village of women.

PINK: How did you grow your website’s traffic to 16 million?
Deborah Fine: We’re really seeing the marketplace respond to the power of this community. We’ve delivered 13 months of consecutive growth in Web traffic. It’s no small feat to do that. For the first half of the year, our advertising revenue is up 43 percent at a time when the industry is only up 26 percent. In running five different businesses, I’ve always subscribed to the theory of a hybrid team. And it works. Combining the best of legacy talent along with a fresh external perspective is the fastest way to win. And what’s great about consumers in any field is that they respond naturally to the product you’re giving them. It’s all about the user – and giving her content and tools that are really relevant to her life. And mostly it’s all about the power of community, for which women have a deep need.

PINK: How do you decide what’s relevant to women’s lives?
D.F.: We’re very tuned in to what the community is concerned about. Often we’ll see a particular topic getting a lot of traffic and generating a lot of interaction, so we make it a priority to support their needs and interests with relevant content and experts. We monitor news and current events as well to ensure we’re a source of information in these areas.

PINK: What’s hot at iVillage right now?
D.F.: iVillage Connect is the next generation of social networking. We give our users the ability to share photos and stories, form profiles and form groups in a way that’s very organic and that reflects their lives. And we recently launched iVillage Weddings. It was very obvious for us in the early days that weddings would be an enormous opportunity. I have a huge affinity for the loyalty bred when you capture the attention of a bride. The content on the site helps people at this time in their lives, then other sections enable them to grow through the rest of their life stages.

PINK: Who is your hero?
D.F.: My 10-year-old son, Jake, who was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes three years ago. I’ve watched him give himself 5,000 shots a year and still preserve his normalcy. We’re about to put him on a wireless insulin pump, which will give him more freedom. Of all the life lessons I’ve learned, the ones I’ve learned from watching my son have been life-altering. Jake has embodied the spirit that “failure is not an option.” There was no choice but to learn about diabetes, the daily management and the emergency procedures. I can no longer doubt myself. If I do, I’m reminded that if my kid can conquer this, I can conquer anything.

PINK: How did Jake’s illness prompt you to launch iVillage Cares?
D.F.: After his diagnosis, I quickly redirected a lot of my philanthropic efforts to raising money to find a cure. A good friend of mine directed me to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and I was elected to their board three years ago. Our family formed a team called Brotherly Love, which has raised more than $300,000 to go directly back to the JDRF [for research]. It’s one thing to be philanthropic, but it’s a very different feeling when it hits close to home. So we formed iVillage Cares, our platform for advocacy. We’ve had the privilege in the past couple of months to interview Condoleezza Rice exclusively and to chronicle Laura Bush’s travels to Africa. Also, we’ll be launching a click-and-donate functionality in the next couple of months.

PINK: What other things have you done to make women’s lives easier?
D.F.: When I was [publisher of] Glamour magazine, I felt it was really important to take the Do’s and Don’ts section and elevate it to making women’s lives better. We created “Donate Your Don’ts,” a clothing drive that involved eBay and Goodwill. It was an extraordinary way to help women clean out their closets in a really branded way. Last year, I joined the board of the Girl Scouts of America – not just because I had been a Girl Scout growing up in New Jersey, but also because I’m a true believer in what the Girl Scouts do for young women. I’m really excited about the entrepreneurial achievements they can muscle through the sale of cookies.

PINK: What’s the most difficult career decision you’ve ever had to make?
D.F.: Leaving magazine publishing. I was a content junkie from the time I was 7 years old. That’s one reason why iVillage appealed to me; the opportunity to leave what I had done for 25 years was both extraordinary and daunting. I joined Avon first and then The Limited – and finally came to NBC a year ago. I would encourage women who are thinking about an industry change not to fear it. You know more than you think you know.

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