Sunday, October 16, 2011

Wellness site's CEO seeks to aid women

When Arizona entrepreneur Michelle King Robson had her own bout with illness, she read books, consulted doctors and scoured the Internet for answers.

But she said she found an absence of useful women's health information.

The experience prompted the Phoenix woman to create, a fast-growing website that focuses on women's health, wellness and advice.

"I was looking for women to say, 'You're going to be OK,' and to validate how I was feeling," said King Robson, chair and CEO of EmpowHER. "I would have felt a million times better, and that's why I started EmpowHER. I didn't want another woman to suffer, not on my watch, not if I could help it."

Since launching the site in 2007, the Scottsdale-based company said its traffic has grown more than fourfold, reaching 1.75 million visitors last month.

The company employs 25 people and 61 independent contractors.

Women who visit the site are encouraged to pose questions to each other and directly to the site's staff, who respond within 24 hours. Moderators route users' questions to a team of more than 450 medical experts or a "peer to peer" community of women who offer advice based on their own experience.

While the privately owned company did not release financial details, EmpowHER has recorded double-digit growth in advertising revenue each of the past three years, King-Robson said. The company also is shopping for venture-capital funding to grow the business as it seeks to bolster its standing as a site that provides original and clinically sound advice to women.

King Robson started her career as an entrepreneur in her 20s, then moved to Arizona and worked in real estate. About eight years later, she moved into the non-profit sector.

After 20 years in philanthropy, she said she couldn't imagine starting a company focused on women's health that could be profitable.

"It was one thing to start a site that would help women," said King Robson, who has funded the website since its launch. "It was another to allow myself to think that we could actually do well (financially)."

Alan McCann, EmpowHER's head of business development, said he has been with the company from the start and helped her execute her vision.

When he met her in 2007, her enthusiasm for women's health was just one reason he decided to work with the company.

"My wife had had some women's health issues, so Michelle's passion was something I already understood," McCann said.

King Robson has evolved as the head of EmpowHER, McCann said, learning how to grow a startup company and stay focused with limited funds.

McCann said King Robson doesn't just focus on women's health as a job. It's part of her daily life.

"There are many stories of people that have been helped by her but that aren't going to be known or publicized," he said.

EmpowHER Executive Vice President Thom Brodeur remembers one staff meeting where he was distraught over his mother's recent health issues. King Robson stopped the proceedings to ask if he was all right, and when he told her his mother was hospitalized and the doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong, she walked out of the office so they could go see her.

"She went straight down there and got my mom a different medical team," he said. "Within hours, we started getting answers. How many jobs have a boss who would do that?"

This month, King Robson shared her story as part of the 100X100 Project by SmartGirls Way in Seattle, which is featuring videos online of 100 women entrepreneurs every business day for next 100 days.

Jean Brittingham, a founder of the project, said the women were chosen based on their passion to make a difference.

"From the minute we were told about Michelle and started doing research about her, we were so impressed," Brittingham said. "There's nothing more empowering than realizing you are personally in charge of your own wellness."

The business has represented a personal transformation for King Robson. Among other awards, she was most recently named Chairman of the Year in the American Business Awards' 2011 Stevie Awards.

"As I sit across the table from people with MBAs and Ph.D.s . . . I wish I had that brain power," said King Robson, who does not have a college degree and joked about not knowing how to turn on a computer when she first started.

But having to learn as she went has not stopped her from reaching her goals.

"Now I can say I know way more about the Web than I ever thought I would, and I'm very proud that I am able to be the CEO of this company and learn it all," she said.

by Yvonne Gonzalez The Arizona Republic Oct. 14, 2011 03:28 PM

Wellness site's CEO seeks to aid women

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