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Beth Pagano Kneebone, Patti Smith Barrett and Heather Powers McBride of ‘The Ladies of The Pickup Line’: “You will have to pivot more than once”

You will have to pivot more than once. Know that you will make mistakes and that you’ll learn a lot from them. Have we launched features that didn’t resonate with most of our subscribers? YES. Have we done that more than once? ABSOLUTELY. Will we list them? No thanks! Speaking only for myself (Heather), I’m as […]

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You will have to pivot more than once. Know that you will make mistakes and that you’ll learn a lot from them.

Have we launched features that didn’t resonate with most of our subscribers? YES. Have we done that more than once? ABSOLUTELY. Will we list them? No thanks! Speaking only for myself (Heather), I’m as proud of the features that took off as I am of those that felt flat. We continue to put our hearts in our work and I believe that’s where our subscribers’ loyalty lies.


As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Beth Pagano Kneebone, Patti Smith Barrett and Heather Powers McBride of The Ladies of The Pickup Line.

Beth Pagano Kneebone worked in the magazine publishing business for 15+ years, heading up marketing and promotion departments at numerous magazines including Glamour, Mademoiselle, Ladies’ Home Journal, Fitness and More. She is co-founder of The Pickup Line — a national, daily newsletter for busy moms. She and her husband reside in New Jersey where they’re raising their tween and teen-aged daughters, Grace and Emma — along with, Tucker — their flat-coated retriever.

Patti Smith Barrett is a former broadcast journalist who spent nearly 15 years in the business and earned her master’s from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She was part of the FOX News and MSNBC launch teams before jumping on camera as a reporter and anchor. Patti is co-founder of The Pickup Line — a national, daily newsletter for busy moms. She and her husband reside in New Jersey where they’re raising their four kids ranging in age from 5 to 14.

Heather Powers McBride worked in news for twelve years — starting as a production assistant in the same newsroom as Patti! After graduating from Columbia journalism school, she worked at a few small TV stations as a reporter and anchor, finally landing at News 12 The Bronx/ Brooklyn. After leaving News 12, Heather started teaching journalism at a local college. She joined The Pickup Line as a partner in 2018. Heather lives in New Jersey with her husband and four children ages 8–16, plus — her cat, dog and bunny.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your childhood back story?

Heather:

I’m a New York City-born and bred Gen-Xer who grew up jaywalking, eating amazing bagels, rarely riding in our own car, and barely knowing our neighbors. So… the exact opposite of my life today in the NJ burbs!

Beth: I grew up in northern NJ (Jersey Girl!) and always loved to write. When I was ten, I created a newsletter called “Family News” and then “branched out” to a daily newspaper called the Pagano Times. My “beat” was basically our house. 🙂

Patti: Grew up in the NJ suburbs of NYC. The earliest award I remember receiving was “Miss Magpie” in 2nd grade. My mom made me look up the definition of a magpie — it was something like “inquisitive” and “loud.”

What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah-ha” moment with us?

Patti:Kids and family life aren’t really a hobby, but for us, having them and creating our own lives as moms literally prompted us to take what we’ve always loved (our passion for news and “being in the know”) and marrying that to our lives in the ‘burbs! All three of us were passionate about our careers in our 20s and 30s. We were drawn to careers in television and magazines because learning, creating and fact-finding IS our passion. We were the friends who filled our friends in on current events and trends that they missed because they were just simply too busy. Just because we walked away from our conventional jobs didn’t mean that our zest for information quelled! We talked for years about how we could make a business out of our own lives. It was a feeling — a hunch that we had so much in us to share with other women just like us! And we had some awesome ideas along the way. The Pickup Line really hatched one day on the beach during our annual family trip to Nantucket. It was like a lightbulb went off. The Skimm newsletter (for younger, working women generally without husbands or kids) was getting lots of traction and buzz. We were fans but definitely felt that we skewed outside their demo age-wise and life-stage-wise. What if we wrote for OUR peers? It was SO obvious and invigorating. Not like work at all. It was what we already knew how to do and what we LOVED doing… all wrapped up in one, daily, national newsletter for MOMS!

There is no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?

Patti:We knew what we didn’t know. We did a lot of research and asked for advice from people we knew who had successfully transitioned from an idea to a business. We knew we were lean on funds and that we, initially, had defined hours that we could dedicate to work. We started small and deliberately controlled the size and scale of our growth to meet our resources and our time. Working from home has also always been a necessary component. We knew we were going to have to balance “momming” and work. That aspect has always been and continues to be a challenge but we’ve been vigilant about our priorities. Our families and kids come first — but we are lucky enough that our respective three husbands and collective 10 kids all feel like The Pickup Line is a part of the family!!!

What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?

Beth: Don’t be afraid. Believing in your idea and having a passion for and interest in it are key factors in making a business succeed. You have to understand what you are creating and selling and believe in it. You will be spending a lot of time working on your new business/idea, so you better like what you’re doing — that’s always been a huge part of what’s kept us going. We truly enjoy what we do.

It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?

Beth: We rotate duties and responsibilities regularly to keep what we’re doing fresh. We take turns handling social media, writing each section of the newsletter (hard news vs. light news), and working on partnerships, etc. We’re lucky that there are three of us so we’re able to this — it helps each of us put our own stamp on each area of the business, constantly bringing fresh ideas to each area and also ensures that we never get bored.

What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business?

Beth: Flexibility in terms of schedule and making our business fit into our lifestyles and also being in charge and being able to make decisions that we believe in.

What are the downsides of running your own business?

Since this is our own personal investment, we are definitely taking more of a risk. Also, you’re never actually off or on vacation.

Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?

We cover for each other and rotate schedules so we make sure that if one of us is away, you get somewhat of a break. We also have limited financial risk and investment and come up will alternative ways to to offset investment costs.

Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

Heather:I assumed my background in various newsrooms and going live from the field meant that I (along with Patti and Beth and their similar achievements) could knock out our daily issue with ease. But what I hadn’t realized was that learning how to stay true to our brand, developing partnerships, enterprising new features and then discovering whether or not they will take off, and maintaining our focus on growth was going to challenge all of us. We can all write in our sleep, it’s the business development that takes much more time.

Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so, how did you overcome it?

Heather:You can’t start a business or project without feeling discouraged. So I would say that when I’m feeling overwhelmed and doubtful about our future, I take that feeling in. It wouldn’t be such a strong feeling if we hadn’t invested our time, money and our reputations here. Just knowing that it’s part of the roller coaster ride of getting a startup off the ground is reassuring. It also never hurts to go into our general email box and read kind messages from our loyal subscribers. That sucks you right back in!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Heather:We were putting together our first holiday gift guide and Beth had sent me a lot of links to items we’d be featuring. Because she knew it was a tedious job, she included a link intended to make me laugh — an apron that had a provocative message on it. She assumed that I’d know it was a joke but I included it in the gift guide because I didn’t want to insult her picks! When we figured it out, it reminded me that it’s okay not to be so ‘polite’ and ‘validating’ all the time — which can be a struggle for women. Over time, I’ve gotten more comfortable speaking my mind, knowing that agreeing all the time isn’t good for the creative process.

Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?

Heather:I’m a sucker for Marie Forleo. She’s an entrepreneur and motivational business leader and life coach of sorts. She popped up on my Facebook feed YEARS ago — back when I was still a reporter. Her big thing is sort of about ditching what you “have to do” and making your career or job and extension of what makes you happy and what IS your passion. I started watching her videos and then signed up for your on-line “B School” well before the idea for The Pickup Line came along. She just motivates me…

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Heather: I’m most proud of our “Pickup Puerto Rico” school supply drive. It was a year after the devastation of Hurricane Maria and we knew of a school in Puerto Rico that was still rebuilding. We created a wish list on Amazon and our subscribers were so very generous! I think as moms, we and our subscribers spend a lot of time in late August outfitting our kids for the school year, and we could all relate to the idea that children shouldn’t have to show up at school without the basics — backpacks, notebooks, pencils — things we take for granted. Today, we’re focusing on being a reliable resource for moms during these uncertain times. Our goal right now is to help make our subscribers’ lives easier with valuable information and tips, without any hyped-up speculation about what’s about to happen next.What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Heather: This will take up more of your time than you think.

The three of us spend a great deal of time meeting and brainstorming. You can’t rush the creative process! And because we’re all involved in all aspects of the business (we rotate most duties), we try our best to all be on important calls. From time to time, we also need to jump at unexpected opportunities.

While fun and exciting, the preparation is time-consuming!

Overnight success is rare. Be patient.

And as a follow-up to that statement, expand your definition of success. Full disclosure: we expected to start sending out our newsletter and grow our subscriber base exponentially each day! That would have been nice, but as we’ve learned, sharp growth in our space does not happen organically. We’ve found growth through partnerships, cross-promotions, giveaways and unexpected endorsements, which all take time, effort and careful consideration. In the meantime, we were touched by all of the positive feedback from our subscribers (and are proud of our open rate, which is consistently above 40%). That’s the real success right there

You will have to pivot more than once. Know that you will make mistakes and that you’ll learn a lot from them.

Have we launched features that didn’t resonate with most of our subscribers? YES. Have we done that more than once? ABSOLUTELY. Will we list them? No thanks! Speaking only for myself (Heather), I’m as proud of the features that took off as I am of those that felt flat. We continue to put our hearts in our work and I believe that’s where our subscribers’ loyalty lies.

Social Media is a full-time job in itself, and somehow, on top of everything else you’re doing, it’s important to stay on top of it.

Not one of us would be accused of posting on our personal social media accounts too often. But best practices for Instagram, for example, recommend a daily post to stay relevant and be on the right side of the algorithms. So we try to post a variety of content. Our biggest likes come from pictures of ourselves, but we don’t have that many group shots! We keep talking about doing another photo shoot for that purpose, but other work always seems to take precedence.

This is a marathon, so find your work-life balance early on. You can’t do everything at once so prioritize. Your family will thank you.

Now would be the time to quote Sister Sledge: “I got all my sisters with me!” Burst pipes, family emergencies, kids (of all ages) raging for a little TLC from their mom. Each of us has had to ask for a little help from time to time and we wouldn’t have it any other way. We built this company. We wouldn’t want to work anywhere that didn’t respect our home lives.

What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Patti:Tough one. Being in the news and being a trained journalist, the gut is to always REMOVE your own wants, needs and views from public answers!

That said, I think it’s safe to say that the three of us are MOMS before anything else these days and that’s the filter we’ll you to answer this question.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Beth:“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” Milton Berle. Patti gave me a tray with this quote on it for Christmas right after we launched and I honestly look at it every day and think it couldn’t be truer. We thought for a long time about business ideas and when we didn’t find a niche that was right for us, we basically built one.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Patti: I’m going to back to Marie Forleo. She has NO idea, but she helped get this baby off the ground! Actresses Jennifer Garner and Reese Witherspoon also deserve some TPL thanks — for their willingness to show themselves and their struggles as REAL, working moms.

Bio: https://www.thepickupline.net/about-us

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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