Journalist as entrepreneurs or how to get rich & famous in 3 easy steps (or a few more)

Deepa Fernandez - Success
©Nina Zacuto photography

By Jessica Habjan

Panelists: Deepa Fernandes, correspondent for Southern California Public Radio & Co-founders of start-up media company IlluminUs and Michelle Holmes, Director of Business Development at UpStream, former newspaper editor and co founder of IlluminUS.

Moderator: Dawn Garcia – managing director of the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford University

What is an Entrepreneur?
An innovator shattering the status-quo with a desire to build capitol with risk and innovation, one who is will ensue risk in pursuit of financial gain.

Less than 5 years ago, journalist and entrepreneur would not have even been in the same sentence. Today they are one and the same.

Through the John S. Knight Fellowship both Fernandes and Holms launched the Fernandez and Holmesnews start-up, IlluminUS. They recounted experience of Knight Fellowship and their interaction with the typical male entrepreneur experience. Their experience within this particular class were often demoralizing, degrading, and not so helpful or supportive environment for women trying to launch a start-up.

One example they gave was for one special class period, they were surprised and told they were going to be on the Pit Crew for a NASCAR race car, keeping in mind the typical weather is rather warm in Silicon Valley. No one thought to tell them not to show up in skirts and flip-flops. Of course that’s what they wore and were then told to now bend down to change that tire.

The professor of class made a comment to the effect of, “ I hope this is not intimidating for you.”
Fernandes’s response, “Once you have two kids nothing is intimidating!” Lesson learned…Grow a thick skin! On the positive side, through this class thought they developed and launched IlluminUs, a media app designed to help people tell their own story.


Lessons learned :

1. Act on what you think

  • Learn through trial and error.
  • Act fast. Daily news is fast….this is faster!
  • As journalists we want everything to be perfect, clean, packaged and neat before we show it to anyone. Get past that! “Let go of that perfectionist that we all are as journalists. Put stuff out even though it ain’t so pretty.”

2. Start out drawing, creating, making! When you tell people, “I HAVE AN IDEA!” they are going to say, “Great! I want to see it!” Have something to show them. It can even be on a napkin. People are going to want to see your idea!

3. Talk to people. Show everyone your idea.

4. Name it!

  • Having a name gives your idea credibility.

5. Build a team.

6. Be integrated. Collaboration is key


What to know:

1. Learn your pitch. Boil down your idea.

  • Be able to spit it out. It may be different depending on who you are talking to but have integrity in your idea and stick to your core principals.

2. Meet your users and know who you are developing for.

  • Start with a refined target audience and then build out to everyone. In the end you will have a better stronger tool.

3. Learn the lingo. Be able to walk the walk and talk the talk.

4. Build a team. This is the most critical thing. Own your idea together. Everyone is a collaborator and brings something different to the table.

  • Find a tech-co-founder
  • Resources: blogs, the meet up world, or the university computer science departments
  • Hacks&Hackers which pairs Journalists (the Hacks) with Techies (the Hackers)

5. Prototype quickly; Fail quickly.

  • You need to have something you can touch, see, feel. Have something that others can interact with even if it is just pipe cleaners or cardboard.
  • “If you believe in your idea YOU bring credibility to it and others will believe in it to.”

6. Build a network.

  • Get people around you that can help you.

7. Sell yourself!

  • When you pitch don’t just say “ Oh…I’m just doing this little thing…”. Make it big! Make it important!

8. Believe in yourself!

9. Forget boundaries!

  • The typical idea of who should start a start-up normally is a hacker/techie, 23-38, and wants to make a lot of money in one shot. This is only one idea…and in fact if it was the only idea neither Fernandes and Holms would be where they are today!

10. Be honest with yourself!

  • Where does life fit?
  • Are you ready to unleash on Elmo’s nuts is need be? ( A picture of a small boy smashing a Elmo pinata in the groin accompanied this comment)

How does it apply to your idea? What to do when you get home?

1. Write down one person who can help/ make you idea happen.

2. Write down 5 people who could benefit.

3. Draw your idea. Start showing it. Listen to what people have to say and learn from their feedback

  • As journalist we tend to hold our ideas close to us…break away from that. Tell your idea. Share it with others and in the process find people who can help you.

4. Give it a name or description in 10 words or less.

5. Start saying you are building this! OWN IT!

6. Start doing it! Build it! Ask people to fund it.

7. Learn something! SUCCEED! Even if it doesn’t become your vocation…you are going to learn something.