First Fridays: Liza Darwin and Casey Lewis, Co-Founders, Clover

Q+A with the newsletter editors challenging the teen media industry

For this month’s edition of First Fridays, we connected with Liza Darwin and former Cassandra staffer Casey Lewis, who together founded Clover, a newsletter for teenage girls that has caught the attention of The New York Times and thousands of young readers eager for quality content amid a sea of click bait. Read on for their take on why newsletters are a booming business, how to grow a brand sans web traffic, and how teen media can tackle body image issues without adding to the problem.

Please tell us a bit about your roles at Clover and what inspired you to found the company.

Since we’re co-founders—and, at least for the time being, a company of two–it’s not an exaggeration to say we do everything. We’re writers and editors, first and foremost, but we do social media and marketing, as well as coding and design (or, more accurately, we Google our way through coding and design stuff).

We started Clover because we felt that teen girls were being woefully underserved, and because we believe they deserve more. After 12 years of combined experience working in digital media, we felt the current media environment was ripe for change. When we had the idea for Clover, we decided to go for it.

Why do you think email newsletters are experiencing a renaissance?

Email feels a little more thoughtful than much of the Internet—it’s a nice break from the relentless pace of the social web. Clover, in particular, is reminiscent of the experience you’d have reading old-school teen magazines back in the day. You can come back to it, re-read it, save it for later. The Internet can be exhausting, hitting you over the head with headlines you don’t care about; emails offer a perfect reprieve. Email also allows a writer to have an intimate relationship with the reader in a way that a website doesn’t. It’s direct and special.

How are readers discovering you?

Nine times out of 10, they’re finding us through their friends. We’re four months in right now and have relied solely on word of mouth (although scoring press from The New York Times and Wired help a bit, too).

How do you plan to grow without resorting to “click bait” and similar tactics? 

We have no plans to have a website (aside from a place where people can sign up for our newsletter), which allows us to entirely sidestep the pressure for traditional web traffic. Email newsletter metrics are quite a bit different, which works in our favor. Beyond that, we’re expanding into an app. This app will not only host our archives (hundreds of feature stories, all at the tap of a button) but will also allow comments and offer an easier way for our readers to share their favorite pieces on social media.

In a recent Cassandra study, 70% of teen girls reported that their weight or appearance causes them stress. As a hub for young women, how do you plan to address these concerns without exacerbating the problem (e.g. featuring stories about Kylie Jenner’s lips alongside articles on body image issues)?

Covering issues like body image and self-esteem is extremely important to us. It’s a confusing time to be a woman, regardless of age, but even more so when you’re a 16-year-old girl constantly comparing yourself to fancy-clothed, Face-Tuned Instagram influencers. We address these issues by talking with experts (like psychologists and nutritionists) as well as providing a platform for our own readers to air their concerns. We’ve found that girls have a LOT of thoughts about body image and appearance, and we want to give them a place to share them with their peers. 

What’s next for Clover?

World-wide domination? But first, app!

Finally, why do you think entrepreneurship has become so aspirational for young people? What words of wisdom would you offer to those hoping to go down this path?

Doing your own thing has so, so many benefits. Granted, for every big benefit, there’s an equally big hurdle to overcome, but it’s always worth it. It’s hard to find balance, no matter what you do, but when you’re starting a business and working for yourself, you don’t really care, because you can’t help but feel so much more invested. That said, don’t start a business because you want a break from the grind. When you start a business, the grind is so much harder than you ever thought it could be. Because of that, you have to really, really, really care and be willing to do anything (within reason! mostly!) to make your business successful. So long as you’re working on a project that you’re passionate about—and willing to devote every waking moment thinking about it—entrepreneurship is 100% the dream.