Lyss Stern is the Founder and Chief Executive Ofﬁcer of DivaMoms, one of the most inﬂuential platforms in the motherhood market. Started 14 years ago, her company now offers marketers access to moms in NYC and now across the globe through the ﬁlter of Lyss’ funny, honest and highly relatable voice. Married to her husband, Brian, for 17 years, she is the mother of three children – sons Jackson, 14 and Oliver, 11, and daughter Blake, 4 – and runs her company from her home in New York City.
A native of Long Island, Lyss inherited her entrepreneurial spirit and instincts from her father, David, who started the Olde Brooklyn Soda company. She went on to college at Syracuse University, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communication and followed with a master’s in communications from NYU. Straight out of school, she landed one of the most sought-after jobs in media: working alongside legendary Manhattan publicist Peggy Siegal. She received a crash course in publicity and event planning, staging movie premieres, Broadway openings, press junkets, celebrity interviews and media campaigns for the hardest driving force in media.
Having survived one of the toughest jobs in New York, Lyss switched careers and began teaching kindergarten while simultaneously starting a family. Soon after the birth of her ﬁrst son, Jackson, she felt she was losing parts of her life before becoming a mom. She wanted to feel vivacious, sexy but all she found were classes on breast-feeding and other child-rearing tips. And so, while home taking care of her then-6-month-old baby, Lyss started www.divamoms.com and began writing about her experiences. Within months, the site attracted an audience of women like her experiencing the same life circumstances.
A community soon developed, and so did an opportunity; ever the entrepreneur, Lyss realized she could make a business from this and offer to her audience invitations to events – openings for stores, gyms, restaurants, Broadway-Off Broadway Shows, films, hair salons, and everything in btwn reach out to Lyss to get to her moms. Two years in, she was able to leave her job as a teacher and work on her company full-time, developing a coveted database of mothers who ﬁt the “DivaMoms” proﬁle.
With her talent for writing and PR, she started using local media to build a public proﬁle for herself. She was the lifestyle correspondent for Conde Nast’s family publication Cookie. She then went on to become Editor-in-Chief of Observer Playground, a supplement published by then-owner Jared Kushner, and also continues to contribute a “SummerLYSST” column for Social Life Magazine and “FabULyssFinds” in Manhattan Family.
With demand growing, Lyss was approached by local businesses and even national companies to help promote their products and brands. She’s credited for helping Random House launch E.L. James’ best-selling trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey before it became a worldwide sensation. The publisher enlisted Lyss to invite her audience to a New York event, and within two hours, the books sold out.
Lyss also began hosting events, including her annual “Mom Mogul” breakfast, which has become a popular social occasion for career moms before Mother’s Day. Panelists in the past have included handbag designer Rebecca Minkoff, jewelry designer Jennifer Fisher, celebrity stylist June Ambrose, Gilt Groupe co-founder Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, Flywheel Sports creator Ruth Zukerman, GLAM4GOOD inﬂuencer Mary Alice Stephenson and television personality Veronica Webb.
Now a full-blown “mom-preneur,” Lyss has expanded her audience through media. In addition to appearing on TV and radio as a parenting expert, she has authored two books, Motherhood Is a B#TCH!10 Steps to Regaining Your Sanity, Sexiness and Inner Diva, co-authored by Sheryl Berk, and If You Give a Mom a Martini, co-authored by Julie Klappas and featuring contributions from celebrity moms like Kelly Ripa, Christie Brinkley and Jill Kargman just to name a few.
And she was one of the ﬁrst “inﬂuencers” to embrace social media. Every day, she posts and engages with her audience through Instagram, Facebook and other emerging platforms, as well as by text and email. Moms actually reach out to her privately. “It’s ‘Dear Abby’ but ‘Dear Lyss,’” she laughs, proudly. “All day I will get messages like, ‘Hey Lyss, where did you ﬁnd your nanny? Who’s the best pediatrician? Facialist? Eyebrows? best stroller? SAT Tutor? Nutritionist” Lyss continues to further grow the DivaMoms brand through television – she is the co-creator of the NickMom short-form series “Story Time for Moms” as well as the co-creator of the Scripps Networks short-form series “Bad Moms in History.” She and her husband and sister Samantha are working on a script loosely based on her mother titled “#NANADOLL for TV (“Dark comedy at its ﬁnest!” says Lyss. “No one has met a character like #Nanadoll.”) She won’t open up, however says she has some other exciting television projects in the works.
In one sentence, what is DivaMoms?
Lyss: We are a direct marketing company for moms everywhere.
What is the broader purpose?
Lyss: Companies – brands, publishers, events, products – hire DivaMoms because I have
a quality audience who are inﬂuenced by what I say, approve of, suggest, comment on. My followers are known to engage and also spend. What I say is honest and relatable. Companies that hire DivaMoms – in essence, me – have to ﬁrst get my seal of approval. For example, if it’s a food company, it has to be something that I’d eat ﬁrst or feel comfortable serving to my kids. I get approached by everyone – ﬁtness studios, coffee brands, tutoring services for kids, etc. They have to pass the Lyss test.
What is a DivaMom?
Lyss: A woman who feels even sexier, stronger and more gorgeous after she has a baby. She is a woman who understands that loving your child doesn’t mean losing yourself, and that being a mom is the most fabulous time of your life.
Why is you audience so important to brands?
Lyss: Because these are direct eyeballs who are a target audience for many brands. A company can spend $100,000 on an advertising page in some magazine, and they might not get a return on investment. With DivaMoms, you get a direct targeted audience. I don’t guarantee anything, however I have enough examples that show my audience is incredibly valuable to their efforts. The mom market as a whole is a huge, audience.
And they rely on your recommendations?
Lyss: From an early age, I was a trend-setter. I had a good sense of what the next “thing” would be, and I still do. But now I use it for a different audience – moms like me who are raising kids but don’t want to give up on their own needs and wants. I have my pulse on what’s out there because I am out there. Every day I’m running around with three kids, and I observe and take moments in. I know instantly if it’s something my audience would be interested in knowing about.
Your personality is very much a public part of you online. Where’s the separation?
Lyss: I do put a lot of who I am out to my audience, but I recognize there is business time and there is personal time. The outside Lyss is more business-minded. Sure, I have fun with it and engage my followers with humorous banter, but it’s still a business. I’m a trusted conduit between marketers and a very big audience. But at the end of the day, or when my kids and family need personal time, I won’t hesitate to put down the phone and be “present” so they get the best of me. Our kids – and I think that applies to everyone in my community – come ﬁrst no matter what. Through DivaMoms, I’ve built a community of women who I love to hear from. The beautiful thing about this group is that when we do come together at events, we meet and bond because we are like-minded. There is something very special about that.
You do portray a very realistic window into the world of a busy mom.
Lyss: I never portray anything as perfect in my life. I don’t want anyone to ever think it is, because it’s not. I don’t have a team of people taking selﬁes of me around town – what I post is real. And I’m annoyed with the overuse of the “blessed” hashtag. You’re not blessed if you have a big private plane. You’re blessed if your children and family are happy and healthy. I like to keep it real. I’m married 17 years, my husband, Brian, and I have three kids and a dog. And I talk about this every day. I even wrote a book about it, Motherhood Is a B#TCH!. Not every day is rainbows and unicorns. It’s real life and it’s a roller coaster. Putting it out there online and offline lets people know that I am real. We are all going through something every day. I always say we are juggling 101 balls at once trying not to let one drop.
Can moms have it all?
Lyss: I really despise this question! I never portray anything as perfect in my life. I despise the word perfect. Just read my newest book Motherhood Is A B#tch (Lyss giggles). Would they ever ask a dad this question? If I have to answer the answer is everyone’s deﬁnition is different. To me, having it all is having your health. I lost my father four years ago; he was sick throughout my childhood and teen years. So, having it all to me means having a healthy family, a happy family and loving what you do. But in a practical sense, no, I don’t think you can have it all. When I started out, I thought it was possible. But when you try, you’re depleted. Balancing kids, a husband, home is enough. Throw in a career or starting a business? It’s a lot. Moms are allowed to ask for help. And that’s what I try to instill in DivaMoms: Life isn’t perfect, and you’re not a bad person or mom for admitting it. There is help. We have a thriving community of people who are experiencing what you are.
How did you get your start?
Lyss: My background is in public relations and special events. I worked for Peggy Siegal after college and then decided I wanted to go back to school and become a Kindergarten teacher. I went back to school, to get a Master’s in education and taught kindergarten in a private school for six years. I loved every minute of it. When I started out, there were just a few mom blogs that spoke to me and the experience I was going through. The only thing I really found was a group meeting in the back of some dingy restaurant on the Upper East Side and some woman saying, “This is how to breast-feed.” I had gone with Jackson and said, “I can’t do this.” And then a light bulb went on in my head: There has to be something more than this. So, I created a blog called divamoms.com, and it was me talking about my experiences.
It was the time of “Sex and the City” when women were celebrating being glamorous, sexy, social.
Lyss: Yes, and I didn’t want to lose myself just because I was now a mom. I wanted to continue to be fabulous. I wanted to wear stilettos. I wanted to have fun with my friends and have fun with my husband. I put my thinking cap on and said, “I’m going to go for this.” Sippy cups and high heels can go hand-in-hand. High chairs and high heels are not mutually exclusive. You don’t have to have one and not the other.
What was the reaction?
Lyss: Well at ﬁrst, everyone laughed at me. My friends had a big intervention. My husband was concerned because I never took a business class. I majored in communications at Syracuse! But I said to myself, “The worst thing that will happen is that I will fail.” Alright, so I fail. And the best-case scenario is that I will succeed. But I need to try this.
In a way, you were a trailblazer.
Lyss: When I started, there weren’t many mom blogs. My company grew into a business ㅇover time now almost fifteen years. It wasn’t just me taking ridiculous photos of myself because people were paying me. Companies, brands and stores got wind of me because the audience grew organically, mom-to-mom. I never advertised, and I won’t to this day. I truly believe in building the mom community through the word of mom. Marketers and publicists started asking, “Who is this Lyss? Who are these DivaMoms? We need them! We need this audience!” That’s how it started.
How are you monetizing this?
Lyss: Companies can buy different packages – email blasts, sponsored social media posts, events. But, again, they have to pass what I call the “Lyss Test.” It has to be something I believe in and use myself and family-related.
Twitter @divamoms, website