Lesley Jane Seymour had fabulous success in the high-glamour world of magazines, working at Vogue and holding the top spots at Redbook, Marie Claire, and More. But when the latter folded, hit by the decline of print magazines and the reluctance of advertisers to talk to our age group, Lesley started something new: She’s CEO of CoveyClub—an online and real-life community for her former More readers (and more!), a network of smart, sophisticated women reinventing themselves at midlife. Here, she shares her journey.
Our target is women 40-plus with managerial, c-suite experience.
Looking back, what are you most proud of during your time at More magazine?
Making history with our August 2015 issue edited by First Lady Michelle Obama. It was history-making because no sitting First Lady had guest edited a magazine. It was the biggest event in Meredith’s and More‘s publishing history: it made 8.5 billion impressions around the world. She was a delight to work with and learn from.
Why did More cease publication and how did that feel to you at the time, being an over-40-year-old woman yourself?
More died because print is dying, and also because there is still a lot of prejudice among advertisers against older women. They believe, as they told me, that if a 40-plus woman uses/adopts/loves a product then the 20-somethings they are chasing will avoid that product. This fundamentally misunderstands where we are generationally today. Yes, when I was growing up I didn’t want to share products with a mother who wore a girdle. Today however, my daughter and I share every product we have—and we learn from each other.
What was the genesis of the CoveyClub?
I went to a crowdfunding site just for women, ifundwomen.com, and raised $28,000 there.
When More closed, hundreds of readers came to me and asked me to do something else. SIx-hundred and twenty-seven of them took a 54-question survey to the end! I made the map of Covey from that. I went to a crowdfunding site just for women, ifundwomen.com, and raised $28,000 there. It’s not so much the money, it’s knowing there are others who buy into your concept and help make it come to life.
Tell us more about CoveyClub—who it’s for and what it does.
Our target is women 40-plus with managerial, c-suite experience. They are active business-wise and have no interest in slowing down or becoming invisible. We call ourselves an online/offline platform for lifelong learners. Learning is what stitches the Covey crowd together. That is why we offer original content, live and virtual events, and opportunities to connect on Lesley’s List which is my high-end networking program. I find that many women gravitate to us when they are in transition and need inspiration and collegiality.
We also talk a lot about reinvention: I do a podcast called “Reinvent Yourself”, where I interview women 40-plus who have reinvented themselves from every direction imaginable. The concept is: if they can do it—if they can reinvent after domestic abuse, after losing their job publicly, after going through a horrific health crisis—then you can do it, no matter what your situation. We are here to inspire women to reach beyond what they think they can do and maintain their place in the world no matter what their age.
Did you feel that 45-plus market is difficult to reach? Why do you think you will you be successful with this venture?
This market is not difficult to reach. The hard part is figuring out a new financial model that will support a club for women 40-plus for many years. I am trying to create a new model that asks the consumer to step up to something better than clickbait and advertising peddled as editorial. Consumers want everything for free of course, but there are pockets of intelligent women who know you get what you pay for today and want something better: I’m looking for those women.
This is an identical moment in a woman’s life to the teen years. But in reverse. Hormones going wacky. All kinds of things becoming unmoored.
What makes this time in women’s lives special? Difficult?
This is an identical moment in a woman’s life to the teen years. But in reverse. Hormones going wacky. All kinds of things becoming unmoored. You may be wobbly in a job for the first time or have gotten your first pink slip. You may be struggling with a health issue, a divorce, widowhood. You may be pre-empty nest or empty nest. You are in transition. You can’t make it to 40 without some kind of change coming to your doorstep. My questions are: Who is going to support you in this next half? Who is going to help you through these transitions? Who are the friends for your second half? Where do you meet them? CoveyClub is the answer.
You shared that you’re currently pursuing a master’s degree in sustainability. What motivated you? How does it feel to be back in school at this point in your life? What do you want to do with the degree?
The reason the CoveyClub tagline says it’s “where lifelong learners come to connect” is because I am a huge learner and seem to attract those types of women around me. I feel learning is a great leverage point for changing your situation, improving your chances, and fostering reinvention. When it was clear how challenged the publishing industry has become, I did what I tell my members to do: I reached back to a thread in my life that I had abandoned. I asked myself, “What kind of work did you want to do at some other point in your life that you could pick up now?” I went to Duke University at age 18 as an aspiring marine biologist but never made it there because my writing took center stage. I can now pick up that thread. I have to research electricity in Cambodia when I’m done with this interview. How is that for a next act?
We talk a lot about career pivots and supply information on personal branding and tips and tricks on reinventing yourself personally and financially.
But I love being in school as an adult: It’s a revelation. I can totally concentrate on the work and the professor instead of worrying about dating the guy next to me. I do all the extra reading. It is a joy to be learning about the international political economy at Columbia while I’m writing about reinvention for Covey. I feel that stretching your mind in many different directions makes you better at everything you do. I’ve always liked to get out of my skin into challenges that make my stomach flutter. I don’t bungee-jump physically but I do it intellectually.
What kind of advice do you have for someone who’s thinking about a career pivot at this stage in life?
Many women I know are forced into a career pivot. They have huge salaries that place them on shaky ground in businesses that are being disrupted by technology. They may be the oldest person in the office and are nervous for that reason. Or they may simply be bored with what they’re doing and want a challenge. This is a great time to pivot. We talk a lot about that at Covey and supply information on personal branding and tips and tricks on reinventing yourself personally and financially. We want to be the Google for women 40-plus who are in transition. We have the information, inspiration, and support. They just have to click and come get it.