It’s the nature of the modern, so-called Gig Economy that any place of business with tables and chairs, and a somewhat reliable WiFi connection, doubles as a co-work space, hosting meetings brainstorming sessions, and sometimes even the fruition of an innovative new idea. And so it is that Bold Bean’s Stockton Street coffee shop is also the HQ of Babes Who Hustle, a Millennial-minded digital-based publication that, since its founding in 2015, has grown into a sprawling, diversified New Media platform with seven employees and a burgeoning, devoted national reach.
When I meet BWH founder Chelsea DuDeVoire, the 20something publishing executive is hard at work at her desk (AKA a picnic table) in her corner office (AKA Bold Bean’s courtyard). Having read many of the interviews with hard working women that DuDeVoire publishes to her platform’s website, babeswhohustle.com, I find it apt that DeDeViore herself could easily be described by the publication’s namesake—that is to say; she works two day jobs, and moonlights as BWH’s CEO. Every day DuDeVoire is hustling.
“Looking back, we’ve decided that ‘Babes Who Hustle’ simply means hardworking women,” she says of the platforms catchy name. “The words babe and hustle are certainly buzzwords that I think a lot of people my age can identify with. But, I think [the name] can be confusing to older people. We mean babe in an empowering way. And hustle has nothing to do with that one magazine.”
Aside from the interviews, BWH publishes essays from a national cadre of 15-plus editorial contributors, a weekly advice column, and a daily newsletter, which currently boasts a few thousand subscribers. DuDeVioire has parlayed the platform’s popularity into a smattering of events—networking meetups, a hugely popular book club that has satellite clubs in dozens of cities across the country—and branded merchandise like mugs, t-shirts, totes, and stickers featuring the cursive lowercase BWH-logo, which nowadays you’re as likely to spot in an urban environment as a fix-geared bicycle.
In many ways what DuDeVoire’s created with BWH seems like a model that many of the niche print publications who were casualties of the digital age could have adopted in order to adapt to changing demographics and media appetites. But as fortuitous as DuDeVoire’s creation appears now in light of BWH’s success, she’s the first to admit that it wasn’t the result of a grand design.
“Originally, it was selfish in that I wanted to figure out what I wanted to do,” she says of the early version of BWH, a blog that she started after interviewing a number of women she knew personally, and who she felt were “doing cool stuff.” At the time, DuDeVoire was fresh to Jacksonville, having recently graduated from Florida State University’s Editing, Writing and Media Program, and taken a corporate copywriting gig.
“I didn’t know anyone here so I decided to start my own community,” she says. Aside from the topics she was interested in covering, namely hardworking women, DuDeVoire says she knew the tone that she wanted her publication to take.
“It was the middle of the election cycle in 2016 and all the media outlets that I followed, there was just so much negativity,” she says of the lead-up to the last Presidential election, a period she said left her feeling very upset, but very motivated to affect change. “I knew that I wanted [BWH] to be women-specific because I wanted to make a space that felt empowering and positive. I wanted it to be a place where I could share all voices and not have it become political.”
As BWH has grown in popularity, DuDeVoire and her staff are now trying to figure out how to continue to increase the reach of the platform, while maintaining its integral voice and mission. There are advertising opportunities and other partnerships beckoning. But DuDeVoire, while not completely at ease by the task ahead, sees her position as both enviably and wildly surprising.
“We always talk as a team about how people don’t want to read anymore. They like to watch videos and listen to podcasts,” she says. “So just to see how many people are reading the things we put out is so encouraging.
“But we do get emails daily saying, ‘Hey, you should do a podcast”,” she continues, laughing. “Yeah, we’ll probably do a podcast eventually.”