As the daughter of a Puerto Rican mother and Yugoslavian immigrant father, Elisa A. Schmitz knows what it means to be an “outsider” learning to use her “differentness” to make a difference.
As a child, she lived in Puerto Rico, war-torn Lebanon and Evanston. All along, she looked for and created what she needed to survive and thrive.
Schmitz’s new book, Become the Fire: Transform Life’s Chaos into Business and Personal Success, shows how to transform obstacles that can block the progress of women and Black, Indigenous and people of color into the unstoppable fuel of fulfillment and success.
In addition to detailing her entrepreneurial journey, the book includes interviews with 10 diverse and successful women with 10 actionable lessons to help readers put the real-world power of the book’s message to work in their own lives.
“’Become the Fire’ means not allowing yourself to be in the fire, getting burned, but instead using the fire to ignite your motivation, passion and grit,” Schmitz said. “It means not focusing on what you don’t have or can’t do, but instead leveraging what you do have and what you can do. It’s about seeing life’s fire as fuel to propel your success.”
The RoundTable asked Schmitz about her career and first book, which goes on sale Oct. 11, in this edited email interview:
Q: Tell us about your Evanston roots.
A: I lived in Puerto Rico and Beirut, Lebanon, when I was young, but we settled in Evanston by the time I started kindergarten. I went to grade school, high school and grad school in Evanston. I raised my kids in Evanston and built my first business in two different offices in downtown Evanston. [Schmitz now lives in Glencoe.] My parents and dearest friends still live in Evanston, so it will always be our hometown.
Q: How did you start your first business, iParenting?
A: It started with my curiosity about my first pregnancy. Having recently graduated from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern [MSJ, 1995], I was looking for information about pregnancy in magazine format, and just couldn’t find what I wanted or needed. I did some market research to see if other pregnant women also wanted this type of information, and it turned out that they did. So, I took the entrepreneurial leap and decided to create a pregnancy newsletter. That led to moving it online, and everything flowed from there. It was all about answering questions and providing solutions and creating community for expectant and new moms, like me. Using technology, we were able to not only share timely information and inspiration but also connection. Our platform enabled us to build a thriving community of parents around the world.
Q: How did you expand the iParenting model?
A: The foundation of the business was great content created by experts, journalists and parents. We grew the business by working with great brands who wanted to reach our target audience of moms. With 4 million births in the U.S. alone, and with moms influencing most household purchases, brands need to establish a relationship with moms as early as possible. We partnered with companies who understood the power of the mom market, through advertising and custom marketing programs. We also partnered with magazine and newspaper publishers and broadcast stations to amplify the reach of our content. That all propelled our growth.
Q: Then in 2007 your company was acquired by Disney.
A: It was exciting to have built a company that offered so much value that it attracted the attention of the world’s greatest media companies. It was a dream come true to sell the business to Disney, a brand that meant so much to me. … As Director and Executive Editor for the Disney Interactive Media Group, I led the integration of iParenting into the Disney Family Network. Over time, everything got absorbed under the Disney umbrella. Bittersweet, but an exciting culmination of years of hard work that I could not be prouder of.
Q: Tell us about your second business, 30Seconds.com.
A: I started to realize what was happening with the evolution and proliferation of mobile phones, and how they were impacting moms’ media usage. Whether I was at school pickup or in the grocery store checkout, it was clear to see that moms were using their smartphones almost like personal assistants in the little bits of time they had here and there. I saw the need for information and inspiration and connection for on-the-go moms. I realized that I could use technology to provide a solution that would be a win for moms and a win for the brands that wanted to reach them on their mobile devices. So I got to work on building a platform that would make life better in just 30 seconds, the same amount of time it took to watch an ad on TV. Now, 30Seconds inspires its millions of unique users each month via amazing articles, expert insights, tips and recipes.
Q: Your latest passion project is Become the Fire: Transform Life’s Chaos into Business and Personal Success. What inspired you to write this book?
A: It was while serving as a mentor with the Council of One Hundred, a mentoring organization made up of Northwestern’s leading alumnae, that I first started to realize the need for the book. At a mentoring event, I was hosting a table of female students and alumnae. After listening to my story, it was time for Q-and-A. And the first question was, “How did you do it?” The others nodded in agreement and leaned in to hear my answer. I ended up talking about ideation, passion, hard work and perseverance. But I realized that to really answer the question, I would have to spend a lot more time thinking about it and putting together a comprehensive, actionable answer. That’s how the seed for Become the Fire was planted. Over the years, I thought about the question “How did you do it?” and how what they really wanted to know was, “How can I do it?” And to answer that question would require much more than just telling my story. It would require understanding the skills and breaking them down into lessons, so that anyone could do it. So, over about four years, I created this “road map” to help others follow in my footsteps yet chart their own path to success. Writing the book was way harder than I ever could have imagined. But through all that blood, sweat and tears, I grew and evolved, and I’m grateful to have done it.
Q: Tell us about the 10 female executives you interviewed for the book.
A: I was curious to learn and share the skills that guided other successful women on their paths. That’s why I also tell the stories of 10 other women who have risen to the highest ranks of their careers. These are women at the top of their game whom I have connected with or befriended over the years – and they are all as inspiring as they are unconventional. Whether because of their ethnicity, religion, health challenges, sexual preference, socioeconomic status, lack of connections, lack of direction or something else – in one way or another, they are outsiders. They achieved extraordinary success even though they may not have known the right people, or been the right gender or color or creed. I analyzed their revelations and formulated mindset shifts and skills that I then integrated with my own experience. I put it all together to create 10 comprehensive lessons to help readers manifest the life they want, no matter their circumstances.
Q: What are your top takeaways from Become the Fire?
A: I believe that the very things you may think of as weaknesses – your differences, chaos and fires – are actually the superpowers, strengths and fuel you need in order to succeed.
1) The women featured in this book are living proof that success doesn’t come just to insiders. Success is something you make yourself; and if we can do it, you can too.
2) Outsiders are uniquely positioned to achieve success because they have been made strong by their experiences. They just need to learn how to leverage the skills they already have. Become the Fire provides mentorship and an actionable road map for readers to step into their power, embrace their differences as strengths and define their own success.
3) We can’t just wait for the system to change. We need opportunities and strategies for success, right now. Become the Fire shows readers how to use the strengths and skills they have learned to their advantage and to shift the power dynamic in their favor.
Q: Tell us what’s next for you.
A: I’m continuing to grow 30Seconds.com so it can inspire even more people around the world. At the same time, my new vision is to grow Become the Fire into a thriving resource and community to support, motivate and inspire leaders of all kinds to achieve their own success – however they define it in their own lives. Because as more women succeed, it paves the way for even more of us to succeed. As more women from all walks of life manifest the lives they dream of, the world becomes a better place. And making life better is what drives me more than anything. Please feel free to connect with me at elisaschmitz.com or becomethefire.com.