“I get emotional every time I talk about this,” said Necole Kane.
Standing in front of an audience of 200 women on a rainy Saturday morning in downtown Dallas, Necole Kane appears shier than her previous alter ego would suggest. As Necole Bitchie, the gossip queen who shared celebrity stories online for seven years, Kane earned a reputation as the go-to person for exclusives and photos of glitzy parties from Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles and around the world.
In 2015, Necole unexpectedly announced the closing of the site that made her an industry name in an essay titled “It’s Time for Me to Move On,” citing unhappiness with running the site and not living in her purpose.
Three years later, she is in a completely different place: her second site, xoNecole, which launched in 2015 and focused on empowering women and giving them a platform to share their stories, was acquired by Will Packer Media in late 2017.
During her visit to Dallas to headline the Boss Women Who Brunch “Ultimate Vision Board Workshop,” Necole sat down with Launch DFW to discuss her journey, not one but two low points, the acquisition of her site to an international multimedia company and her next steps as she moves from behind the keyboard to the keynote spot.
(The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Veleisa Burrell (Launch DFW): You’re having a big year, which is fantastic for you, congratulations. I think a really important part of what you said earlier is that in the span of a decade you’ve gone for what you call rock bottom to this now successful acquisition…
Necole Kane: Rock bottom twice!
VB: So rock bottom twice: 2008 and…?
NK: 2015, 2016. When I left the celebrity gossip site, I felt like… I don’t know if you remember but in 2016, I released a video of what I wish I’d known before I left a successful celebrity gossip site.
VB: I read the letter but I didn’t know about the video.
NK: There was a video to it and that video went viral. It made headlines like, one of the headlines from Essence was “Necole Bitchie, From Boss to Broke.” So it was making those type of headlines. I remember I saw that everywhere. The story was that I went from celebrity gossip blogger to now everybody’s story is going to be that I failed. That’s the last thing they’re going to remember. They’re not going to remember the success; they’re going to remember the failure. They’re going to remember all the headlines that my life is totally a mess, Necole is having a meltdown. She’s broke. She did all this after she left her site. And so to have that happen in a year, it took me to a deep dark place because there are young women watching. I left the site because I wanted a better life for myself, and I wanted to show that you could rebrand. But now I’m the face of failure. Yeah, that happened. I released that video, but the acquisition happened exactly a year later. And for me, at first I was like, I should have never made that video, but it was important for me to make that video because they remembered me at my lowest. Then they saw the result of me still working hard for my dreams, and then I got to win the next year.
VB: I think in the age of social media people like to put their high points only on social media so people think life is a series of steps up, and no one really talks about the challenges, the struggles, the moving back to New York and having three or four roommates. The actual real ins and outs of building your brand. Do you feel like there needs to be more authenticity in discussing how it actually is when you’re building?
NK: I do, but not everybody’s brave enough. You know like I said I put myself out there in a video and I made headlines, and everybody was talking about me and everybody was telling me what I should have, could have, would have did. Not everyone is strong enough for that; I barely was strong enough for that. So it takes an extreme amount of courage to paint a picture of you that’s not what people think it is. My last Instagram post was about me talking about my depression. A lot of people wouldn’t do that because they’re scared someone will look at you like there’s something wrong with her or comment she has mental issues. You know, that’s all part of my brand and who I am. And I think that’s going to be a part of my success, that transparency.
VB: I appreciate that.
NK: I mean, I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m tired of seeing picture perfect everywhere. Everything looking flawless, and it’s just like you know that’s not real. It’s not real to be picture perfect. That’s just not life. Anybody can paint a picture perfect life, just hire a photographer and have them follow you around, wear some nice outfits, go on a couple vacations.
VB: What does acquisition one year after you hit that second low point, what does that mean to you personally and professionally to have such a shift in your life to where you are now?
NK: First of all, the acquisition meant a lot to me because it was a black man who invested in me, a black woman. Anyone could have come and bought my site but to have it still be black-owned meant a lot to me. And for me, for it to be someone I can grow with and that I love his movies. People don’t know that I went to school for electronic media and film television production.
VB: So this is in your sweet spot.
NK: That’s opening the door for me to learn and produce my own things. He [Will Packer] has a first-look deal with Oprah, so possibly us taking things that I produce and have them make it to TV. It opened up a whole new world for me outside of just running a website. I said that I don’t enjoy running a website. I’ve done it for 10 years, but I don’t enjoy it anymore. It’s not the aspect of my business that I enjoy. I enjoy doing events; I enjoy meeting women face-to-face; I enjoy creating content. I don’t enjoy running a website.
VB: Is it that you focused on this one area of multimedia for so long and your vision has grown? Is it your vision has gotten bigger or the opportunity has gotten bigger or both?
NK: You’re just different over a 10 year period. It’s a long time. I mention subconscious patterns sometimes. I had a website, and then I created a new one. You know, that’s not really a new challenge for me. When I realized that, I started bodybuilding, bikini fitness competitions. That was a new challenge for me because now I have to learn about food, and how it affects my body. Even learning that broccoli makes me hold water. I learned so much about my body during this journey and I almost went “Let me close this website down and just do fitness and nutrition.” I was studying holistic nutrition when Will [Packer] called. I was adamant that I was definitely not going to run the website anymore. I was going to shut it down on my birthday, which was September 2nd.
VB: And then in September, you celebrated when the deal was closed. A little bit of a different birthday celebration.
NK: They were like “Necole, I know you might not enjoy different aspects but you’re going to have help now. You’re going to have an ads team, you’re going to have people to help you with all these different things that you’re doing yourself that it burned you out. It’s going to be different.” That was a selling point.
VB: Going back to your self-care. It’s crazy to think that after a decade, you said “I discovered self-care.”
NK: Yeah, I never really took a vacation. You can’t when you’re chasing breaking celebrity news. You can’t take breaks.
VB: So what does your self-care look like now? You had your time in Arizona where you focused solely on that, and now you’re back [in New York].
NK: The fitness competitions help a lot. Fitness helps a lot, and eating right. When I had a celebrity gossip site, I probably would eat one time a day. Two if I was lucky. You know I’m eating five [times] now because I’ve got to build muscle. I remember, I went to the doctor, and they couldn’t even take my heart rate because I was so malnourished. That’s when it kind of clicked for me: you have got to go take care of and love yourself. Self-care means being able to say no. I got a text from one of my bosses on the way here, and he wanted to talk about financials or something like that. I said we can do that on Monday. I need a day of self-care. I’m flying to Dallas right now, and I need a day of self-care after I get home. I need to breathe for a second. I can’t think about anything business-like. Being able to let people know I need time. I told him recently I need the next few weeks off. I can’t be flying everywhere; I need to focus, regroup, recharge.
I like the fact that I’m not afraid to say no now. I wanted to say yes to every opportunity, or I would just do it. Even today I was antsy; I didn’t know how I’m going to get through this speaking engagement because I just came from Atlanta, flew to New York, and I didn’t think I was going to get through this speaking engagement because I was so worn down. I said today I get on a plane at 3:30. I don’t want to get on a plane.
VB: I have a couple more questions for you. One thing that you brought up is in your acquisition process. You didn’t have a network that you can reach out to. What advice would you give to someone who’s making a shift from either a 9 to 5 and they’re adding a 5 to 9, or they’ve done their 5 to 9 and they’re transitioning to that full-time, or someone who’s excelled at what they’ve done and they’re going into those higher level business deals? What advice would you give them that you wish you could have given yourself a year ago?
NK: Don’t be afraid… do you know Myleik Teele?
VB: I do.
NK: So I did her retreat recently. During her fireside chat, I got emotional when I was talking about my acquisition and she said “How has going to this new level affected your friendships? What kind of friendships do you want?” I said “I want a friend like you.” And I go bawling crying because she had helped me so much from afar, just being a virtual mentor. She asked me why I hadn’t called her and I said I didn’t want to bother you, you’re helping all these other entrepreneurs.
Afterward, her assistants came up to me and said girl why didn’t you call her? They said everybody else is trying to start a business, you were trying to sell yours. I wasn’t confident enough that, even though I knew her, I didn’t know if I knew I was worthy of her friendship, like a close friendship. I know people are looking at me like girl you have massive success, who wouldn’t want to talk to you if you call them? But I have the same insecurities as the regular girl.
I wanted so bad to tell her “I’m about to go through an acquisition.” But I went through that process alone and it was so isolating, and I cried so many nights. I didn’t know what it meant my brand. A lot of people don’t know, but I called off the acquisition like three months into it. I said I can’t do it. He [Will Packer Media COO Alix Baudin] called me, and I said to him “there are young girls watching. I need for this to be a success.” I said I cannot sell my brand, and it be a big news story, and then it fails because I could have failed on my own. If I go through with this, it has to be a success. I decided to push forward, and they acquired my brand three or four weeks later.
VB: Knowing your background and knowing this opens you up to those bigger multimedia opportunities, what do you want to do with the new landscape that you’re in now?
NK: As much as I’ve been behind the scenes over the last two years, kind of living in my life not in the public eye, you know not doing a lot of Instagramming, I know for me to get to the level and have the impact I want to have on young women, I have to be more forward-facing. They have to see more of me. I would hire someone to do my interviews all day, but they’d rather see me sitting down with whoever and interviewing. I want to push past my fear.
“I used to think that I just had a fear of like doing these things; I think I have a fear of how great I can be if I applied myself and how big I could be if I really did these things.” -necole kane
I said on the last Instagram post of me in Atlanta talking about depression and how I have lived with depression for a long time. And I got an inbox full of 300, 400 DMs on both pages. My social media girl was texting me right before my speech telling me there so many messages in here for you, and I don’t want to respond back because they’re so personal. But look at the reaction when you share pieces of you when you’re forward-facing. And I think it’s the only way xoNecole will grow is if I pump more Necole into xoNecole. So that’s my focus over the next year, to be really forward-facing, to push past my fears, to do those interviews I’m scared to do, to go on those shows I might be scared to do as a guest, a feature, and to keep getting my story out there. Because at the end of the day, I feel like what I’ve accomplished any woman could have. You know I didn’t have any talent. I had the internet, and I had hustle. I didn’t have any money. You know, I barely had a roof over my head.
VB: Hustle will get you far though.
NK: Right. And it’s crazy how much hustle I used to have. I used to look back at my earlier self in the Necole Bitchie days. It was like I was so fearless. I wasn’t scared to fail. I wrote it down: when you have nothing to lose you have you have everything to gain.
That was the first thing on my paper that I never looked at in my speech. I had nothing to lose back then, so I had everything to gain. I’m going “I don’t care what y’all have to say, this is this has to work for me because this is the only option.” I promised myself in 2007 that I would never send out a resume. I’ve not send out a resume since 2007. Like, how cocky of me to say, but I was like I’m tired of getting no. I’m tired of interviewing. I’m tired of proving myself. I’m not sending out another resume. And I have not sent out another resume.
VB: That’s amazing.
NK: And yet I got Will Packer coming to me offering me a job. I’m like I don’t even have a resume. Don’t ask me to send over a resume and a cover letter cause I haven’t done one in 10 years.
VB: Well I know you have a flight to catch, so I want to respect your time. Thank you so much!
NK: You’re welcome!
A special thank you to Marty McDonald and the Boss Women Who Brunch Organization. Learn more about this incredible group of businesswomen here.