Jaclyn Johnson, Founder + CEO and Neha Kumar, COO, Photo Credit: Justin Wilczynski
Create & Cultivate, the modern media company for women led by founder and CEO Jaclyn Johnson, is announcing that Los Angeles based private equity firm, Corridor Capital, has acquired a majority stake in the company.
In a year where COVID-19 caused many event-based businesses to close its doors for good and shut down IRL conferences and events, Create & Cultivate doubled down on the brand’s digital audience.
Johnson, who founded and self-funded Create & Cultivate in 2015, saw exponential growth since the beginning of the pandemic, as a result of hosting monthly summits and virtual events that welcomed tens of thousands of global attendees, with brand partners including Mastercard, Madewell, Apple TV, and Amazon.
Create & Cultivate hosted over 50 events in 2020 and currently has a valuation of $22 million — no small feat for a self-funded brand whose business model was primarily built on the experiential.
“As an events-focused business in the middle of the pandemic, we were one of the few — if not only one, in our space — including those who were venture backed — who survived this past year,” Johnson shares. “And not only did we survive, we actually grew exponentially.”
Create & Cultivate thrived — closing out 2020 with 7-figure profitability.
For Johnson, who is a former Forbes 30 Under 30 in the “Marketing & Advertisement” category, this marks the second business she’s selling by the age of 35 (she sold her first business in 2016, to Small Girls PR).
Create & Cultivate’s leadership team inclusive of founder & CEO Jaclyn Johnson, COO Neha Kumar and Samantha Ouellette as general manager, will remain on board.
I spoke with Johnson about the exciting announcement, the most important lessons this past year of unpredictability taught her, and what the future looks like for Create & Cultivate.
Karin Eldor: You and your team pivoted a business that was primarily driven by offline events, to a digital program, successfully and quickly. C&C successfully managed to take the experiential live feeling of events and managed to remain profitable, in an unpredictable year. How did you manage this?
Jaclyn Johnson: Last year was a challenge for anyone in a leadership position — and their teams — as it was a completely new experience and landscape to navigate. We were fortunate in the fact that we already had digital offerings in place — we had launched our membership in 2019, our podcast in 2018 and were building out more e-comm offerings for our audience. We have always had a content piece of the business but I would say about 70% of our revenue was events, and 30% digital products and services.
In 2020, we simply flipped those numbers and were able to move quickly because we had the infrastructure and teams in place to make it happen. We were able to make decisions quickly and move fast. In going through it together, and having had the ability to be flexible, a solid core foundation, unified vision, and trust in one another, we were able to not only survive but thrive as a business.
Eldor: I’d love to hear more details about how you maintained top-level sponsors, such as Express and Mastercard.
Johnson: We have had strong relationships with our sponsors year over year, and when the pandemic hit, they all doubled down on the importance of supporting women-owned small business owners during this time, ourselves included. We always approach partnerships as collaborations, and we were all willing to be flexible to work with what we had and the situation we were in. And as such, we were able to create some really unique and compelling campaigns that broke through the noise and delivered real value to our audience, which is always our goal.
Eldor: Can you share more details about the contactless, pop-up shopping event you held? How did you successfully segue-way into retail with contactless pop-ups?
Johnson: Yes! We had planned to host a pop-up at Platform, Culver City during the summer to support the launch of our vegan leather goods line. But when the world changed, we had to pivot quickly and that no longer felt like the right use of the space. We conceptualized and created a completely contactless pop-up shop, bringing in partners such as Postmates and Square, where consumers could shop remotely for pickup or delivery, or via QR code from the store’s windows. We also integrated WOC-owned small businesses into the shop and made it a more curated experience with a focus on products needed during the pandemic such as self-care and wellness.
Eldor: You also saw the opportunity to become the expert in the digital event space, and created bespoke digital events for retailers such as Express and QVC.
How did you identify this opportunity?
Johnson: We are, at our core, experiential producers. We love creating events that feel truly dynamic, educational and fun — and we knew we wanted to bring that to life with our online events as well. We experimented with ideas and integrations early on, like hosting a Slack channel for comms and networking during the event. Creating an event that was interactive with a roadmap for the event sent to you in advance, and making the content available after the event to continue the conversation and allow ample time for our audience to view and engage with the content, was key for the attendee experience. These all feel so commonplace now, but when we launched our first digital event in May 2020, Money Moves Summit presented by Mastercard, we were really first-to-market in creating a digital experience of that kind. And, we have been innovating on this concept ever since.
Eldor: I love that Create & Cultivate has grown from an experiential, IRL event-business into a media platform!
What are two of the biggest lessons that 2020 and this past year taught you?
1- Cash is king — or rather, queen. Having a strong balance sheet and cash flow for your business is crucial. Had we not run such a tight ship with a strong reserve I don’t know if we could have weathered the first few months of the pandemic. This is why it’s so important for women-owned small businesses to have access to capital.
2- Be flexible. We were fortunate in that we had multiple revenue streams and we were able to move in a different direction, quickly and effectively. Last year was a challenge for anyone in a leadership position given it was a new collective experience we all have now gone through together, and I think flexible companies and leaders prevailed.
Eldor: Congrats on the exciting news with Corridor Capital! I know this means you are able to fast-track your plans of becoming the largest media company for working womxn.
Are there any details about your vision for this media company, which you can share?
Johnson: Thank you! Create & Cultivate has quickly propelled itself into a media company and the category leader within the space for women in the workplace. Currently, we reach over 1 million women monthly through our site, social media and newsletter alone. We have expanded online, through podcasts, our membership, at retail with our products, and soon enough, will be back with IRL events. Our mission remains the same — to inspire, educate and entertain women while providing them with the tools, resources and community they need to create and cultivate the career of their dreams.
I’m the host of the Share Of Voice podcast, which is about the power of discovering your voice and sharing your truth in the process. Hosted by journalist Karin Eldor,