I am so excited to share this inspiring interview with Jeanne Lewis, CEO and founder of Creativebug. If you’ve ever stepped out and taken a leap of faith to follow your creative passion, you’ll instantly recognize that it takes determination, and many 80-hour work weeks, to see your dream come to fruition.
Creativebug is a website where you can sign up to watch instructional craft videos in sewing, yarn crafts, quilting, jewelry making, paper crafting and more. In a sense, it’s like Netflix for crafters. For one low monthly fee, you have unlimited access to all the craft videos you can watch. I was really excited when I heard about Creativebug and their wide array of sewing instructors including Heather Ross, Anna Maria Horner, Gretchen Hirsch, Natalie Chanin and Liesl Gibson. The list of classes I want to take just goes on and on!
Jeanne, how did you come up with the concept for Creativebug?
I spent several years working as an art director for Time and Fortune magazines. I live in San Francisco now, but when I lived and worked in New York, I would go to a pottery studio some nights just to shake off the stress of the day. I spent time doing pottery in college and loved throwing bowls on the wheel and shaping the clay. I was searching for a way to get back to doing things with my hands since I spent so much time working on my computer. Back then, I wasn’t experienced in knitting or sewing, so pottery was the perfect outlet for that.
I had the initial inspiration for Creativebug in April 2011. I went to New Orleans to visit family and friends and on that trip, I was riding bikes with an old friend who is a very talented artist. She was telling me about her mom and how she had spent up to $160 on an online art class, to learn a specific technique – and it was only available for 3 weeks. I thought, wow, I would like to take classes online but I would never be able to be available for 3 weeks straight. If I could access a class when it fit within my schedule (3am even) and at what I considered an affordable price, since I wasn’t fully passionate about one art discipline, then I might try it. I had subscribed to a site in the past which offered tutorials in the tech space and I liked that I could try many different things and pay one price. I also liked that I could take them over and over again until I “got” it. Being a designer, I started to think about what that would look like, if I created a site for someone like me, with a hectic schedule and a wide interest in art in all forms. After meeting with friends and bloggers, I felt confident there was a market for this. I was buzzing with energy when I met my friend Sam, for tea. He was a web designer/developer and decided he would help me with the project as long as we were giving back to non-profit art programs. The idea took so many twists and turns – from having it be user generated to just being an app – and then we started to see the site come together and evolve into a more mature design.
How did you take your idea from a dream to a reality?
Those initial planning days of the business were crazy, and I was working 24/7. I’d go to work, come home and hang out with my kids for two hours, say hi to my husband and then get back to work. In order to raise money to launch the business, we shot a pilot video of a friend that was a painter, and got ready to pitch to a room full of financiers. I looked around the room and told the investors, “If you watch this video, and afterwards, you feel like you want to paint or do anything creative, I’ve done my job.” They gave me the money. There was no turning back.
On December 20, 2011, I resigned from my publishing job, and on January 9, we started filming for Creativebug, with the intent of launching with 50 workshops. We launched with 60.
The launch itself was really difficult. I was out most nights until 11:30pm talking business. We might as well have moved our beds into the studio—it was insane. And then we had to work out some kinks in the website, like streamlining the signup process, etc. We learned that the summer is a slow time for crafting since kids are out of school and it was almost a blessing in disguise since we were still feeling our way through this new and exciting adventure.
What is unique about Creativebug and your instructors?
The subscription model introduces all of our instructors to fans of our other instructors. For instance, someone may come to find us because they are really inspired by one of our instructors, and come to find out that they really love another artist’s work as well. I loved that crossover and process of discovery for our users. It’s the idea that we’re stronger together than we are individually. We are committed to proving that that is true, even if it takes time! For those who want to take us for a test drive without the commitment, we just launched an a la carte offering on some of our workshops. This allows you to purchase a single class and watch it anytime, without expiring.
We release two new workshops each week, filmed either in our studios here in San Francisco or on location in our instructor’s environment. The entire crew flew for a week out to Nashville to film Anna Maria Horner, and then again to Northern Alabama for the Alabama Chanin shoot, because we really wanted to film those workshops and tell their stories in an authentic way. We have quite a few amazing instructors in New York as well, like Liesl Gibson, Heather Ross, Gretchen Hirsch, Debbie Stoller, Melanie Falick and Rebecca Ringquist.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
They often say that if you’re the CEO of the company, you’ll take out the trash. That’s absolutely true. Though we did get a new intern who just washed the dishes and I almost cried (thanks Matt!).
What’s the best thing about your job?
People who believe in what you’re doing. In the first 6 months, there were days where I’d wake up in the morning, and the first thought in my head was ” WHAT did I do?!! I gave up a perfectly good job which is like laying on the beach compared to this. It’s too hard. Rewind! ” And then you capture an artist’s story and seeing their passion for what they do gets infused in you and it’s a tremendous gift to witness that. Their stories are so incredibly inspiring. This has been the most fulfilling job of my life, on so many levels.
One of our teachers Rebecca Ringquist said she was determined to have her embroidery hanging in museums (and it is!). We heard from many female crafters/designers speak about how the art we create may have been born of a domestic need, but the time has come for people to recognize that it is true art and innovation in it’s purest form. So many of our instructors have dedicated decades to honing their skills and building their brands. Having them on Creativebug is a responsibility we carry with us every day and something that gives us great honor.
The unlimited membership includes access to all Creativebug workshops for as low as $16.99 per month, and single workshops can be purchased a la carte. There are also lots of free mini workshops you can enjoy if you’re not quite ready to start your membership yet.