In only three and a half years, Brit Morin went from a Google employee to a bona fide Silicon Valley “it” girl.
Last week, she announced that her startup, Brit & Co, raised $US20 million in funding.
Her home/fashion/crafts site, which combines a blog with e-commerce and online learning, is now serving 12 million people a month.
And on Friday, she launched the #IAMCREATIVE foundation, which will offer grants of $US2,500 to $US15,000 to people with worthy creative project ideas. The foundation expects to give away between 15 and 20 grants annually.
Morin is also an A-list in the Valley social set. She’s married to Dave Morin, an early Facebook employee and former Apple employee and founder of Path, a messaging app that was just bought by Kakao Talk for an undisclosed sum.
She’s also friendly enough with her old boss, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer (whom she worked with at Google) that Mayer became an angel investor in her company, a couple of times over.
Morin will tell you that all this began when she was a little kid who loved to make stuff. She says that she got side-tracked with tech when she was a teenager and later had the idea of marrying the two together … and Brit & Co was born.
But the truth is her success is a combination of hard work, serendipity, and a gut feeling that led her to “break up” with former friend and another startup.
Serendipity: Apple recruits on Craigslist?
Morin’s stellar career really started when she answered what she thought was a phony ad from Apple on Craigslist, she told us.
“I started at Apple with an internship. I saw an ad on Craigslist. I didn’t think Apple would ever advertise on Craigslist, so I didn’t even think it was real,” she tells us.
But she answered it anyway. And it was real. She got the interview, and then the internship and then went on to work for Apple in the iTunes unit in 2006.
(By the way, we just checked and didn’t see any more ads for interns for Apple on Craigslist.)
She wasn’t at Apple long, not even a year, before she was hired away by Google to work on Google Maps and Google Search. That’s where she met and worked with Mayer. She was recruited internally to join the YouTube unit and, later, worked on Google TV.
All of that made her realise: “This generation of millennials really looks up to people more than it looks up to brands. That was evident by all the YouTube celebrities during my time at Google, as it was on Twitter and blogger platforms and so on,” she said.
This insight would become a big deal a few months later.
‘Obsessed’ with TechShop
During her nearly four years at Google, a few things happened to Morin that would change the course of her life.
She caught the entrepreneur bug and decided she wanted to start her own company. She got married, and took a few months off from Google to plan an elaborate wedding, have the ceremony, go on a honeymoon.
And she became “obsessed with” this new workshop club called TechShop.
Before her wedding, “I was actually close to starting a company in the health and fitness space. I even had a co-founder,” she told us.
“After I got married and came back from my honeymoon, we were going to start fund raising. We had built an alpha version of the app and everything at that point,” Morin says.
“While I was working on my new health and fitness company and I was preparing for my wedding and it just so happened that the first-ever TechShop opened in San Francisco. It’s like a gym for making things. You pay $US100 a month and you have access to all these types of machines ranging from wafer cutters to 3D printers,” she describes.
“It opened in 2011 and I was one of the first members. I think I literally spent every day there. I thought it was like a hobby of mine, like, ‘Oh this is cool, I have this new hobby, I can just like make things.’ Then I became obsessed with it,” she describes.
She says she didn’t know how to use all the tools in the shop, but her background in tech — albeit software — made it fairly easy for her learn.
She was making decorations her wedding, as well as a bunch of other stuff.
“So I got married and at the wedding, the women were coming up to me and raving about how cool all of my decorations were. They kept telling me they wished they were creative, that they weren’t creative. I started getting that more and more, after I would show more people the stuff I made outside of my wedding,” she says.
“I came back from my honeymoon thinking how wrong this was. What happened from that time when we were all three-year-olds who loved to colour and build LEGOs, to the time when we’re 25 or 30 years and we’re really insecure about our creative skills?” she adds.
Breaking up is hard to do
Something in her gut told her that the company she really wanted to build would be all about helping people find their lost creativity.
“I ended up breaking up with my co-founder of the health company. I told her it wasn’t her, it was me,” Morin tells us.
It was a painful time.
“We were friends. It was hard. We could have gone out and raised a good seed round and I could be a CEO of a health company at this point. But following my intuition and my gut was the lesson I learned,” she says.
In the meantime, “I also had to start from scratch. I didn’t even know what this thing was I wanted to go do, I just knew it was a problem and I wanted to go figure it out.”
Having quit her job at Google, she set up shop in her dining room and launched a website that catered to women with do-it-yourself projects.
“I was by myself for a month or two, pretending I was a big media company, trying to create a lot of content. Ultimately my next hires were an engineer and another editor, an artist to help create content,” she recalls.
That first year was a struggle,”as every startup kind of struggles through that first year of what are we going to be? How are we going to hire people that want to take a risk on a three person startup?”
So how did she convince people? “Being very convincing … and equity packages,” she jokes.
But having gone through her own creative rebirth, she truly believed the whole “maker” trend, was about to take off.
She didn’t recruit through Craigslist, but “we recruited a lot of engineers through AngelList and sold them on the long-term opportunity,” she says.
She explained this was a tech company that would sit between an ad-supported media company and the $US34 billion crafts market dominated by stores like Michael’s and Joanne’s and Hobby Lobby.
The unique thing she was bringing to the table: online education to teach “maker wannabes” how to make stuff, complete with “kits” that included everything they needed to take the class. Eventually, she wanted to help them sell the stuff they made, too.
“I was convincing VCs and employees: This is a real thing that’s happening. Please trust me. Get on the board when the wave is coming, I promise you it’s going to hit,” she says.
“The challenge for me in the early days was getting people to believe me. A lot of people would totally raise their eyebrows when I said I wanted to start a company that was a hybrid of DYI and tech. No one understood how those things go together. Now it’s really clear.”
Today, the “maker” thing is a bona fide trend, complete with an annual Maker Faire at the White House, which launched last year.
And Morin is considered one of the female leaders of the trend.
The 2015 faire is taking place this week starting Friday. As part of that launch Morin did fireside chat with White House CTO Megan Smith.
$US20 million more and an acquisition
Morin is frequently called the “next Martha Stewart” or “Martha Stewart 2.0” and the two do know each other. Morin has appeared on Stewart’s radio show, they see each other at social events and their companies generally run in the same circles.
In fact, Morin just added Susan Lyne to the Brit & Co board. Lyne was previously a CEO at Martha Stewart’s company and was later CEO at Gilt Groupe. Today she runs AOL’s BBG Ventures, a fund focused on women-led tech startups.
With the new $US20 million investment, Morin made also her first acquisition for an undisclosed amount: SnapGuide, a free iOS app and web service that allows users to create and share step-by-step “how-to guides.”
SnapGuide has amassed 100,000 of these guides, everything from recipes to make-up tips to techie-projects to automotive hacks.
Brit & Co has raised $US27.6 to date. Beyond Marissa Meyer, her investors include Jim Fielding, head of Consumer Products and Retail at DreamWorks Animation; Intel Capital; DMGT (the corporate arm of the Daily Mail media company); VC Fred Harman at Oak Investment Partners, (Demand Media. Huffington Post, aQuantive) and other big names.
Morin has achieved fast success
In under four years, Brit & Co has become a phenom and she’s become a personality regularly appearing on the Today Show.
Her site now hosts about 15 classes with plans to host between 60 and 70 by year’s end. Classes include kits of all the materials you need and so far, Brit & Co has sold a combined 15,000 classes and kits.
Brit & Co has 12 million visitors a month, between its website, email lists and social media channels. It has about 100 advertisers, with a 74 per cent retention rate, Morin tells us.
Although she wouldn’t share a revenue number, we’re told that the “company is doing millions in revenue annually” and in the first half of 2015, hit its revenue grew two times over the year what it was in the first half of 2014.
Brit + Co currently now has 50 employees, 70% of which are women, including much of the company’s leadership team.
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