Jesse Draper is creator and host of “The Valley Girl Show” and CEO of Valley Girl Inc. She has produced and distributed over 200 interviews with some of the greatest minds in business, entertainment, government and technology including; Ted Turner, Mark Cuban, Sheryl Sandberg, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, MC Hammer and Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google. Valley Girl has been called “Must see startup TV” by USA Today. After six successful years hosting her Internet talk show online, Jesse is expanding her influence with a new television series on KTVU-FOX 2 and KICU-TV 36 in Northern California.
Previously a Nickelodeon star, Draper has used her comedic and acting talents to bring an approachable feel to the business world. Through Valley Girl, she has helped pioneer the way in the digital media world and has created a new distribution model for online shows. Recently named “The Tech World’s Queen of Networking” by GENTRY Magazine, Jesse recently founded a women in business organization in association with Valley Girl which holds exclusive quarterly events across the country for cross industry networking and support of women in business. Draper is also an angel investor through her fund, Valley Girl Ventures where she does early stage seed investing in startups that have a female in the founding team.
Jesse is also a regularly featured speaker on digital media, women in business and entrepreneurship at business conferences around the world, and is a regular contributor on Mashable, Forbes.com, Huffington Post and Glam.
We caught up Jesse to find out how she found success and her top tips for building a fan base, as well as discussing her personal struggle with body dismorphia, and her advice to other women facing the same.
You have achieved so much for someone still in their twenties. What career aspirations do you have for your 30’s?
I don’t think of it that way. Frankly, I wish I had done more by now. I keep postponing my book among other things because I am trying to get the show to a place where I feel satisfied but then I realize, I may never be satisfied with it because I am constantly trying to climb new mountains. In my 30’s, I want to have a daily network television talk show like Ellen Degeneres for business and technology. I want to do my small part in changing the numbers of women in the workplace and encourage as many women in their careers as I possibly can whether that is through my show or my angel fund for women. I also want to have children at some point. My mom had four kids and is the most incredible role model – I hope I can create a big and wonderful family like she did one day while balancing my career. So…that said, I mean…I want it all I guess?
You have said you wanted to create the Ellen Degeneres show of business – how was your show received when you first launched?
When I first launched I didn’t know what my show was. We called it ‘The Valley Girl Show’ and painted it pink and over time have rebranded (less pink, less ditz) and it’s truly evolved like anything. I think it will continue to evolve also. When I started the show, I was coming off of starring on a Nickelodeon show. I played a ditzy nanny and in a lot of ways, I think that character came with me to the first season since I had been playing her for 4 years. The show was received well but I think I was still figuring out what it was.
How did you drive awareness of your show and build up a fan base in the early days?
I am still trying to figure this out. I was just figuring out social media so I definitely did a lot of that but also, I was constantly networking and trying to find great partners and collaborators. Networking is key in any profession. Go to events. Show up. You never know who you are going to meet. I try and meet AT LEAST 3 new people before I leave any event, even if I am in one of those ‘shy’ moods.
Many women aren’t comfortable with how they look on camera or in pictures and so shy away from presenting themselves as the face of their brand. Being an actress has obviously helped you in that respect. What tips can you offer women in regards to this?
I am so insecure about my body. All these questions make me think about my big butt, my fat thighs and every other piece of my body I despise. I actually try not to look through the video camera lens or even on Instagram photos too closely because I will find everything wrong with how I look. My husband will tell you that. I recently learned I have body dismorphia so I am just like these women. I don’t know what it is about women that we feel the need to put pressure on ourselves to look a certain way.
To these women: First of all, you are beautiful and don’t believe any different. I recently started thinking about my body in a different way. My husband and I went on a date to this place that does ‘Dining in the Dark’ where we were waited on by blind people in the dark and couldn’t see anything from the food on our plates to the setting around us. It’s an experience I highly recommend for everyone to have once. Some people feel like they lose control in this situation and don’t like it. I, however, loved it. I loved it because no one could see me and I realized that this made me incredibly relaxed. I realized how much stress I put on myself and my body by being in the light and thinking people can see me and how ugly I look. So now, I try to eliminate those feelings of stress like I did when I was in the dark. The more you think about it, the more you realize you judge yourself so much more harshly than anyone around you is and you need to figure out how to eliminate these feelings.
Sheryl Sandberg has said “I still face situations that I fear are beyond my capabilities. I still have days when I feel like a fraud.” Women do have a tendency to think they are not good enough or are not up to a job and pull back – you seem so confident; have you ever felt out of your depth or intimidated by any of the guests you are interviewing?
I am never intimidated by the guests I interview because I love learning about them and hearing what makes them tick. I don’t get nervous before interviews with them. I do agree with Sheryl though and I constantly feel like a fraud and feel like someone is going to call me out at any minute or already has behind my back, but then I think ‘How can I work harder and prove them wrong?’ and that motivates me. I also think it helps to surround yourself with positive people. Take an assessment of who you have around you regularly and if they don’t make you feel your best, spend less time with them. You want to surround yourself with only the most positive resources and personalities.
You have such a unique approach to interviewing and often do silly fun things that your high profile guests go along with. You must have strong powers of persuasion. How do you get your guests to agree to the fun and games?
Growing up, my Dad always called me a silent leader. What he meant by that was that I wasn’t super loud and obnoxious about it but I could get people to follow me and orchestrate elaborate pranks, productions or plans without people knowing what they had gotten themselves into. That said, I never want to make people feel uncomfortable but when it comes to getting guests to participate, I have to say, once they are on set, they are usually pretty game, especially since I am positive press and not trying to scoop them or anything.
Who was the first high profile guest you interviewed? How long had your show been running when you started to get the bigger names?
I think Eric Schmidt, former CEO was the first big name guest I had on my show and that was the first season. The second season I had Elon Musk and since then we have had most of the big names in technology. I am still dying to get Zuck. Although, I think my husband is worried I might leave him if I ever have him on the show. I am obsessed.
Your online show has been running for 6 years and has been hailed as ‘must see start up TV’. Do you think moving to TV is the natural progression for online shows?
I will let you know when I figure it out. I have gone from YouTube to apps to close captioned networks like in restaurants and hotels and back to TV where my career started and I think we are all trying to figure this out. I think the answer is going to be a little bit of every medium.
One of our main challenges at the moment is finding time to drive the business forward and not get bogged down with all the other elements involved in running a business. How do you manage this with all the many ventures you are involved in?
You need to pick your priorities. I have two, the show and my angel fund. When I start realizing that I am falling behind in those two areas, I cancel all my meetings and refocus. When I started the show, I tried to do everything, but for now, those are the most important and I believe everyone needs to find their priorities and focus on those. If you are doing too many things, you aren’t doing any well. Its really hard to say ‘No’ but I have started saying ‘No’ to a lot of opportunities that don’t make sense for me at the moment.
You are also an investor through Valley Girl Ventures – what do you look for in a company you are investing in? Is it true that investors invest in people not companies?
I definitely invest in people. I started Valley Girl Ventures in order to invest in female founders because I quickly learned through my show that there were not enough women out there and I try to interview 50% women which is difficult when there aren’t so many. I look for a female in the founding team. I look for a great team with a technical co-founder. I mostly like consumer focused startups but I have invested in a bitcoin company and I have invested in a candy company, so I am open. Right now I am excited about Move Loot, an on demand furniture marketplace that will pick up your stuff and sell it, an e-commerce company called Vida with a social tie in that I love and also Laurel and Wolf, a great interior design startup that makes interior design affordable.
What have been the most valuable lessons you have learnt over the last 6 years since your show first began?
Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. You will have some high highs and some low lows as an entrepreneur but regardless, you need to keep moving forward. If you work hard and believe in what you are doing people will see that and you will inspire others to get on your bandwagon, however crazy it might be.
Many of our readers have told us that their main concerns are not having enough fans and followers and not making enough money. What are your top tips for success in these areas?
1. Brand deals are how people make money in digital.
2. Have something tangible to sell (a product or service) that can be another revenue stream.
3. Be authentic with your audience and it will continue to grow. Listen to them.