I took the plunge I always said that I wouldn’t take: this week, I got business-married. I created a digital strategy agency, Lux Digital, with my longtime collaborator, Sonal Bains, after a decade of happily swimming through the life of being an independent consultant. Becoming a company was something I flat-out rejected for years–I valued my freedom too much to load myself with the burdens that a company would surely bring me. But then, last summer, I saw a new light. Here’s the story of how I’ve made this journey.
Lux has been a long time in the making. Ten years ago, I finally admitted to myself, and eventually to my boss, that I wasn’t cut out for a corporate, 9-to-5 life. After years in telecommunications, advertising and finance, I struck out on my own as a freelancer. At that time, freelancing was just starting to come into the cultural consciousness as a Real Job™, and no longer one just for writers and designers. Freelancing life has been good to me: While the hustle for the next paycheck comes with a certain amount of stress, that stress has been much more manageable for me to deal with than living within the constraints of everyday office life. I’ve built up a wildly successful practice over this past decade. I teach my clients how to use digital tools to accomplish their goals, I’ve written a book, Share This!, about how we will all change the world with our social selves online, and have been blessed with an expansive network of co-conspirators, mentors and just deeply lovely people.
Along the way, I met a fantastic young activist and strategist–Sonal–at a party in DC. We connected initially because my necklace matched her earrings, and then she shared a bizarrely funny poem that had catalyzed the breakup with her then-boyfriend. (Happy ending, though: They got married last year.) Sensibility synchronicity–especially around humor and taste–is one of my keys to finding connection in this world, so when Sonal started freelancing as a digital strategist a few years later, we started working together almost immediately. We found our greatest successes in the clients that we shared centered around helping them feel their way through and share the emotional content of their work, and thus be able to deeply connect with their communities.
People often asked us why we didn’t form a business together, and like the partner who wasn’t willing to get married, I’d often answer, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But by last summer, freelance life had finally started to wear on me: Being in charge of every single detail all the time left me no more energy to pursue other kinds work that make me feel passionate and alive. I have another life as a graphic artist and storyteller, as well as life of performance that I had dropped around the time I started writing my book.
I shared my feelings about my digital work with Sonal, and she said, “I’ve been thinking about the bigger picture, too. We should make it official and finally team up. Let’s make an agency.” We spent several hours in Ft. Greene Park in Brooklyn hashing out just what that meant, and by that evening, we had a plan. When we shared the idea with a few close friends and advisors, they were thrilled. “[You’re] combining your awesomeness into Voltron-like immensity,” said author and comedian Baratunde Thurston. It was like getting business-engaged, and we started planning our business-wedding.
Three months in, we found that our day-to-day lives weren’t allowing for the space we needed to really make a launch happen. Sonal suggested that we sequester ourselves someplace warm and beach-y to dig deep. It hit me that visiting Ruth Ann and Bill Harnisch in the Bahamas might be the perfect setting: brilliant advisors close by, aforementioned warm beach requirement, a gorgeous and comfort-filled home, and the ability to be as connected or disconnected with the rest of the world as we saw fit. (Sonal chose the former, I chose the latter. We complement each other well, often. There are plenty of chocolate-and-peanut-butter jokes in this partnership.) We chose mid-February for our retreat, and set up a series of goals and exercises to complete while we were there.
First order of business was branding, and obviously, a name for our agency. The ideas of sun, fire and light resonated deeply with both of us, and on the first morning of our retreat, we started exploring that resonance. At that moment, a flame-colored butterfly flew into the room. She fluttered around through the house for a minute, but then became clearly stressed as she didn’t know how to get back outside. Sonal and I jumped up, and, barely even speaking to one another, we guided the butterfly back outside. It hit us: This is what we do. We guide our clients, in fluid concert with one another. We love working together for our clients’ joy and freedom.
We were also visited by a pair of hawks that live near the house; the first visit came as we were just about to begin a Skype session with Thrivable’s Jean Russell, who facilitated exercises that helped us identify our network of collaborators and others. Hawks and butterflies. Insight, clarity, beauty.
Later, after a run on the beach, Sonal came to me with her discovery of our name:
Lux. Light. Yes.
Thus, Lux Digital has been born. We’re looking forward to the many collaborations and manifestations that this endeavor will bring.
About Lux Digital: We’re based in New York, and we provide leaders in the public, private and social sectors online strategies which create measurable impact and deep engagement. A myriad of targeted services comes in that package: campaign-based and organizational strategy development, online/offline social event integration and implementation, as well as workshops, webinars and training on tools, content and analytics/measurement.
It’s worse that you think in New York. Much, much worse.
On Saturday, when I got to the Rockaways, a peninsula community in Queens near JFK Airport, my stomach dropped. I had heard about the flooding, and seen the fires in Breezy Point on TV. But nothing prepared me for the immense loss of property that we saw up and down the peninsula.
I’m taking a break from my usual beat here to share my experience with Hurricane Sandy, and how thankful I am for the powerful love and support my online community offered me through my harrowing ordeal.
BlogHer, that fabulous and conveniently named network and conference of women who are bloggers, hosts a yearly day long career development day called Pathfinder Day. This year, on August 2nd, I’m leading the Change Agent track with Cheryl Contee. We promise, one way or another, your life will be changed if you come spend a day with us. Hee.
Normally the registration is $79 ($79!! What a bargain!), but BlogHer knows that that’s steep for many women who could really use this time to figure out their next steps in their online careers. So, they’ve given us each 2 passes to give away– if you’re interested, leave a comment on this post below, and I’ll pick 2 women at random. You don’t have to leave your life story or anything, but if you’re not someone I normally travel with in my circles, it’d be great to learn a little about why you’d like to attend, and why a free pass would be extra useful for you.
Otherwise, if you can swing it, and you’re ready, join us on August 2nd.
That’s right! Me, who never wins anything! Planned Parenthood awards all kinds of designations each year, and for my work on Planned Parenthood Saved Me, they’ve given me their first-ever 2012 Social Media award. I’m honored!
Here are the remarks I shared at the award luncheon today:
First, thank you Planned Parenthood, not only for your health care and advocacy, but for championing women without fail, with what seems like without compromise. That’s rare in our political climate. Planned Parenthood has successfully negotiated that emotional connection we all feel to the work they do, whether that’s through their clinics or their advocacy, and turned it into a relationship. They’ve embraced social media, both their own properties and the wider world’s conversations.
But also, I’m sharing this award with all the women who shared their stories on Planned Parenthood Saved Me. It’s a crying shame that we live in a world where this is an act of bravery, but that’s what it was. The women that said, “I would have bled to death if it weren’t Planned Parenthood,” or “Planned Parenthood’s staff were the only people who understood me after I was assaulted,” or “Planned Parenthood found my cancer.” That’s what you do. That is your work, and we thank you.
Which is the last thing I want to share– I really want people to understand that PP Saved Me blew up not because Rachel Maddow read from it on her show, or that it was in the Washington Post and a dozen other major major outlets. More than half the traffic to the site came before any major media mention, and that traffic came from Facebook, Twitter & Tumblr.
Women sharing their stories with one another made the difference her. Our stories matter, more than ever.
If you want to learn more about how the Planned Parenthood Saved me campaign worked, check out this 10-minute talk I gave at Personal Democracy Forum: “Don’t Mess with Our Boobs: Ad-Hoc Networks and Online Power.“
There is no such thing as a pure meritocracy.
Every few months, it seems like, when the Internet gets its big knickers on and does something righteous, invariably, someone somewhere gets up on a stage and declares that anyone, if the idea is good enough, can be successful on the Internet. Whether that’s a business plan, a political campaign or a cultural meme: you, too, can make it big. It’s our American rugged individualism, intertwined with what looks like an open digital frontier, all packaged up into an utopian bliss for the new century.
What’s true is that more people than ever have access to information, tools and networks that make things happen. And while the news often covers the darker sides of connective technologies like the Internet and mobile devices becoming mainstream, there’s plenty of good to celebrate. Look at just this past week in Internet do-gooding: A video showing a school bus monitor being gut-wrenchingly harassed by 13-year-old boys until she cried sparked a fundraising campaign for her, one that’s now reached over $650,000.
Where things go awry in the analysis of these kinds of situations is two-fold: one, that there is a secret to making something “go viral” (short answer: there isn’t), and two, anyone can create explosive story at any time if the story has merit. If you’re good enough and smart enough, doggone it, people will like you. And you will win the Internet.
I’m super excited to announce that the (very successful!) pilot of my Social Media for Social Justice workshop is expanding to two new locations in the coming weeks!
Here’s what we’ll be covering:
You know about social media. You know that you’ve got to get on board with it for your organization, or for your own activist work. You may have even signed up for Twitter or Facebook already, but you don’t know where to start. What are the right tools to use? What do I say? Why are other people doing this? And, perhaps, most importantly: how the hell do I know if it’s working?!
In this introductory intensive workshop, we’ll cover everything from the culture and politics of social media (and why that’s critical to understand), to the essential elements of a social media strategy, to some tools to manage your presences efficiently, to metrics and analytics to keep you on track.
This workshop is designed for social media beginners who work with social justice movements, labor unions, community organizers, and media makers who want to know how and why to incorporate new tools into their practice.
If that sounds like what you need, use the links to the cities above to register. Group discounts and scholarships are available! And if you want to bring me to your town (or to your organization or event), just get in touch with Jen at Aid & Abet and we’ll work it out.
My segment starts at 38min 37sec; I come on at 41min.
I went to the West Village on June 24, 2011, right after same sex marriage was passed in New York State.
I arrived at about midnight. Walking west on Waverly from the West 4th Street subway stop, the celebration was rising. Amusing to watch the obvious tourists get caught up in the excitement. Empathetic joy.
Then I arrived at Sheridan Square, just outside the Stonewall Inn.
There were several hundred people in the street. I decided to wade through the crowds; a big decision for me, since I’m normally pretty crowd averse and I get a little panicky. But the mood was jubliant, and not overwhelming, so I felt safe.
“Joy” was certainly the main emotion in the crowd, but there was another feeling just underneath that.
I wandered back through the crowd, taking some pictures and tweeting a few thoughts. (I clearly had no other word available but “joy.” Heh.)
I poked around for a few more minutes and decided to go home. So glad I had the opportunity to go and share in person the empathetic experience of a whole group of people finally getting the rights they have been owed for a long, long time.
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In case you’ll be at SXSW Interactive this weekend, and in case you want to see me and some pretty amazing folks doing some killer speaking and workshopping… Monday is the Day o’ DZ: