When one already finds himself or herself at the peak of their career, especially as an A-list, multi-awarded, highly in-demand and recognized actor in Hollywood, it’s quite unlikely one would even consider venturing into managing a tech business. But an Iron Woman knows that running a company was neither an opportunity nor an option – it was the “calling” that Gwyneth Paltrow always wanted to take on when she started goop back in 2008, and making it a multi-million dollar media tech company that it is today.
With PLDT Enterprise wrapping up the latest installment of the Philippine Digital Convention (DigiCon 2020) recently, its first virtual convention invited leading Hollywood celebrity and beauty tech mogul Gwyneth Paltrow to share the story behind her highly recognized tech company goop to more than 3,000 subscribed viewers during the stream.
In the one-hour interview with PLDT-Smart FVP and Head of Corporate Communications Cathy Yap-Yang, Paltrow recalls the hardships of starting a business and the challenges along the way, market expansion plans, and recalibrating strategies and mindsets to cope with the changing economic environment amid the pandemic.
Being the CEO of a leading contextual e-commerce platform for ‘clean’ beauty, wellness, and healthy lifestyle products, Paltrow admits that jumping into entrepreneurship and starting her brand wasn’t really an expected move for her Hollywood stature. But growing up in New York, she always had the inclination towards the prospects of being a businesswoman.
“I just always was very intrigued by business and the kind of chess game of business. I grew up in New York City and so many of my friends’ fathers were these big businessmen and running private equity and running these big investment banks and I was just fascinated by it," she candidly shares.
"When I got the nerve to ask them questions at the dinner table, I was always fascinated by the answers. But of course I became an actress and I thought this is great too but I really always secretly wanted to be in business."
With her celebrity status, she remembers how she questioned herself in the process, “I just felt like how I could start a business? I'm an actress people are going to make fun of this or not going to understand why I'm doing this. I had a lot of trepidation about it and it took me a long time to do a bit.”
“I fought against it for a while. I thought I have this great career and everybody knows me as an actress and how am I going to start a business and no one's going to take it seriously. But I just kept following it like I was holding on to the tail of a kite and it was just pulling me towards the business.”
Despite the hesitations and the possible criticisms from the public, her overdue desire to start a business finally swayed her to press that “send” button which most start-ups find hard to get past. It was in 2008 when she finally took the plunge and humbly introduced goop, a simple newsletter focusing on 'nutritional' content for the body and mind.
goop’s first few years was primarily building a community and getting the credibility of the digital brand in the space of contextual commerce rather than just an upfront transactional e-commerce platform.
“That time I was building this amazing following and that is how contextual commerce really starts. That you have people who really believe you, believe what you're talking about, are aligned with your values, are very explicit about what those values are, why you're offering certain things you’re offering. If we were writing an article about something and we said here are all the products that we love it became almost a service to the customer as opposed to leaving with a transactional frame of mind and so I think that's why it works so well.”
Through the years Paltrow’s business acumen grew with the huge following and success of goop. In 2012, just barely four years after it started, goop raked in over 400,000 subscribers growing to more than 8 million subscribers today and one of the most trusted and go-to sites for beauty and wellness.
As with any business, the challenges that came with building goop were hard but lessons to be learned, nonetheless. She remembers how technology was really a challenge at the start where they deployed unreliable e-commerce platforms, adding on widgets they didn’t really need, and hires who didn’t really have a sense of what they were going for as a company.
She shared how “this business has been so interesting. It’s such a steep learning curve for me and I have learned on the job. I have made so many mistakes, have wasted millions of dollars. I look back and think ‘my God’ I wish I had known X, Y, & Z before I had made this mistake or that mistake.”
Having gone through navigating the business, Paltrow recognizes how the team she’s worked with and the people in goop are the part and parcel of their company’s current success.
“But I think I've come to the place where I'm very philosophical about it and I'm proud of myself for taking the risk. I'm proud of myself for all of our failures because we'd learned so much in the process. I can only expect to be as good of a leader as I am today, as long as I being very accountable with myself and how I operate and have a very honest relationship with my team I can only be as good as I am today so kind of the way I would be looking forward as well.”
Thanks to technology, goop and most businesses today have more opportunities to reach global markets and grow their economic potential. She also mentions how such opportunities in investing in technology have equipped businesses with the means to continue surviving, and operating despite global lockdowns imposed.
Having grown its market in the US, Canada, and Europe, Paltrow reveals how goop is already looking at tapping the Asian market and Australia – a welcome move for most women and the growing health and ‘clean’ conscious consumers for wellness products.
“Having the courage to do it and to keep doing it in the face of people criticizing us or trying to poke holes in what we are doing and to just staying in the course and really keeping the bull's eye in our sight and knowing why we’re doing this because we really wanted to show women that they can be whatever it is they want to be, they have the right to ask questions about whatever aspect of their life if they want. Every woman deserves agency she deserves to feel powerful so we just kept going.”
The success of goop, especially in the online space, is the aspirational business case of a digital company staying profitable, credible, and relevant given its more than 10-year presence in a very competitive industry and volatile digital landscape.
With goop having been managed by former CEOs before, Paltrow is now at the helm of her media company. Despite her limited knowledge on how to build a media brand or challenged with navigating the technological know-how of an e-commerce platform when she started, she’s confidently taken the challenge full-on, and very successful at that.
“I need to fully embrace the idea that I know how to do this so I kind of just took the leap. I think it was the right decision for the company. I don't know that I'm the appropriate person to stay CEO for the rest of the trajectory,” she shares.
“I know my journey in this role will come to an end that will evolve into something else but I just know that my priorities are what’s best for the business and I think right now I'm probably the best person for the job.”