By GREGORY ZELLER // Lyss Stern was a decade ahead of her time.
Twelve years ago, the Woodmere native was a new mom facing the issues new moms face: isolation, professional limitations, unprecedented responsibilities, the loss of self. Unlike today, online resources for rookie mothers were sparse, and Stern – a Syracuse University graduate with a master’s in communication from NYU – felt trapped.
She also felt inspired. Sensing a meeting of need and opportunity, in 2003 she launched DivaLysscious Moms – part promoter, part events planner, all heart when it came to moms trapped between their child-free past and their new parenting duties.
In the 12 years since, the Internet has caught on. “Everyone is a mom blogger today, or they’re starting a mom business,” Stern noted. “There are a million of them.”
But few can overcome the innovator’s decade-plus head start. Shortened now to DivaMoms (“nobody could spell DivaLysscious”), Stern’s startup is a bona fide blockbuster. There are 500,000 email subscribers and global fan mail, write-ups in Crain’s New York and The Wall Street Journal and numerous TV stints featuring the founder, including guest shots on “Entertainment Tonight” and recurring Fox News contributions.
Not bad for an idea that barely made a ripple back in 2003.
“People definitely laughed at me and talked about me and said I was going to fail,” Stern recalled. “I didn’t have the business background, moms aren’t looking on the Internet and blah blah blah.”
A dozen years and some impressive numbers later – more than 16,000 Facebook friends, 9,400 Twitter followers and 2,600 Instagram followers, plus those half-million opt-in subscribers – Stern is a maternal folk hero. She authored “If You Give a Mom a Martini: 100 Ways to Find 10 Blissful Minutes For Yourself” (Random House, 2008) with New York City marketer Julie Klappas, and is now working on a second book. And perhaps most significant to her bottom line, she’s inked “branded partnerships” with major-league retailers including Lexus, Target and Ann Taylor.
DivaMoms doesn’t produce its own products – though stay tuned, Stern hinted – but “companies hire us to launch their products for them,” everything from baby strollers to best-selling fiction.
It’s a marketing power Stern calls “word of mom.”
“These companies know we work with an excellent group of moms,” she said. “If our moms are walking down the street with a particular stroller, all the other moms will ask about it. These moms are tastemakers. They’re influencers. What starts out as a trend through DivaMoms really grows into some amazing direct marketing.”
Now dubbed “the mom whisperer,” Stern takes the success in stride, not surprised the mom industry has blossomed.
“I knew in my heart of hearts there was a huge need for this,” she told Innovate LI. “A need for fun, exciting, chic events for moms and kids.”
While both DivaMoms and Stern’s family – now three kids with husband Brian Stern, a producer of the off-Broadway, Jerry Seinfeld-directed “Colin Quinn The New York Story” – are now based in Manhattan, she maintains strong Long Island ties. The Sterns still visit Atlantic Beach regularly and the CEO counts a high percentage of subscribers from Nassau and Suffolk: Of the half-million-plus she says opt into DivaMoms membership, 75,000 come from the Island.
Stern credits both her upbringing and the socioeconomic makeup of the modern Long Island mom.
“A lot of my friends are still there or have moved out there,” she said. “And a lot of Long Island moms come to a lot of our city events, because it’s very easy access into the city and they look forward to the things we do.”
Stern’s own mom was a Long Island homemaker and most of her friends were stay-home moms, but that was then, she said. Today’s Long Island Mom is harder to define.
“There’s a good percentage of Long Island moms who stay home,” Stern noted. “There’s a good percentage that works, or works part-time, and a good percentage who want to work when their kids get older.”
To cater to these varied subscribers, DivaMoms membership includes save-the-date alerts for exclusive in-store shopping events, access to fashion shows and film premieres, “VIP pre-RSVP for fabulous, must-attend events” and other exclusive trend tips and sponsor offers.
There’s also the DivaMoms Book Club, which hosts events around Greater New York, including several on Long Island. In June, Stern hosted a launch party/book-signing with author E.L. James at the Garden City Hotel to welcome the fourth book in the “Fifty Shades of Gray” series, bookending the launch party DivaMoms arranged in 2011 for the first “Fifty Shades” at Farmingdale’s Carlyle on the Green.
Stern also recently completed her eighth straight turn as head of the kids’ entertainment area at the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund’s annual Super Saturday event, held July 25 in Water Mill. Dubbed Camp DivaLysscious, Stern’s efforts were designed to keep kids safe and distracted – face-painting, magicians – while Mom shopped at the OCRF fundraiser.
Of all the opportunities DivaMoms has brought her, among Stern’s favorites is the annual Mom Mogul Breakfast, which she co-hosts with a panel of business owners who are also mothers. Held this year just before Mother’s Day at Manhattan restaurant Urbo, the event gives future businesswomen a map from here to there – and a chance, Stern noted, to see “they’re not the only one looking for direction.”
“They’re looking for information on how to start a business, how to be a working mom,” she said. “It’s very gratifying to help give them that. I truly believe in helping other women – probably because I didn’t get that help myself.”
Therein lies the secret of the former New York Sun columnist’s success – not the feature spread in Shape magazine or the “Today” show spot, not the fan mail requesting DivaMom events in Paris and London and Dubai, but the support system that wasn’t available during her crisis of faith 12 years ago.
“Whether you’re a working mom or a stay-home mom, being a mom, period, is an extremely hard job,” she said. “My message to moms is whatever you decide to do, make sure it’s the right decision for you.
“This isn’t about judging women for working or judging women for staying home,” Stern added. “What works for one person might not work for another.
“At the end of the day, nobody can speak for you but yourself.”