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iVillage founder, eBay executive say Web helps level field for women

Wednesday, March 15, 2000

By Rona Kobell, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Nancy Evans, co-founder of iVillage.com, has just discovered Kmart.

 
  Nancy Evans, co-founder of iVillage.com. (Tony Tye, Post-Gazette)

Her eyes light up as she spots the red K outside the penthouse window of the Radisson in Monroeville, where she has come to network with other women entrepreneurs as part of Seton Hill College's National Education Center for Women in Business conference.

Manhattan doesn't have a Kmart, she laments. But the other day, she did hit Target in New Jersey and found some great bargains.

Nancy Evans loading up a wagon full of toys and T-shirts in a superstore? It seems so ... everywoman. Which is exactly what Evans -- and iVillage -- want to be about.

Evans is a successful, polished businesswoman, but she is also a soccer coach, a mother, and, apparently, a Kmart shopper. Like many women, she is trying to balance those roles while slavishly following the grueling schedule of a start-up. Like many women, she drinks a lot of Diet Coke.

Evans, 49, admits to having been something of a village idiot when she and her partner, Candice Carpenter, talked about launching iVillage in 1995. At the time, Carpenter was consulting for America Online. She called Evans, whom she'd met at a New York board meeting, and asked her to check out the site.

"I didn't get it," Evans said.

 
  Janet Crane is a Pittsburgh native who is now vice president of eBay and CEO of Billpoint, an eBay subsidiary. (Tony Tye, Post-Gazette)

But she would. She studied AOL, and kept a notebook of her every frustration. She clicked to The Motley Fool, a clever personal finance Web site. She liked the Fool's approach, and eventually she and Carpenter visited its offices to find a model for setting up an office.

"I began to see signs of intelligent life in what this new medium could do," she says. "I saw it as TV was in the 40s, without sound, without moving pictures."

Evans and Carpenter saw no signs of anything for women, child care or parenting on the Internet. The last time Evans saw such a void, she founded a magazine, Family Life, which Time Warner now owns.

The two women thought they could fill the void online with an interactive women's community to chat about issues, from talking to teenagers to hiding dark circles under eyes.

iVillage developed from a tablecloth-sized paper in the women's New York apartments. With $2 million in seed money from AOL -- and the founders' drive -- it has grown to 430 employees.

That drive has led some in the media to describe Evans and Carpenter as the wicked witches of the Web. Last year, The New Yorker magazine detailed Evans' tendency to scream at her employees. Upside.com, an Internet daily covering the technology industry, reported bad blood between the top managers and several ex-employees over promised but undelivered stock options.

Evans says neither she nor Carpenter pay much heed to the reports. Both have endured it for decades as heads of corporations.

But she does believe the media skewers women for the same qualities it admires in men.

She keeps in mind the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, who said women in the public eye must develop the hide of a rhinoceros.

As for last year's IPO, when the stock climbed 234 percent before settling at 81 (it closed yesterday at 27 7/64), Evans spends much of her time explaining stock price was "so not the end game." The goal, she says, is connecting with women.

The crowd of 350 businesswomen connected with Evans yesterday.

Many saw her as the actualization of their online dreams. They laughed at her jokes. They admired her pepper-colored pantsuit, her slender face, shaped much like the oval of iVillage's logo. They listened to her advice: Pay attention to consumers. Don't be afraid. And don't let what you don't know stop you.

"I design Web sites for celebrities, and I never get star-struck. Meeting Nancy Evans, I was star-struck. This is the first time I could really identify with a role model," said Melissa Burke, director of e-commerce solutions for Stargate Industries LLC, a local Internet service provider.

Burke helped develop e-magnify.com., which the National Education Center for Women in Business launched yesterday in conjunction with its conference. The developers leaned on iVillage to create the site, but while iVillage is all-encompassing, e-magnify focuses on women's businesses.

E-magnify is hoping to attract women such as Anne Bombulie of Greensburg, who recently quit her job with Hershey Foods to start a home-based clothing sales business. Bombulie, wearing a fire-engine-red dress and a 3-inch long rhinestone lapel pin proclaiming "Business is Great!", said logging on to iVillage every day has helped her grow her business.

Bombulie isn't sure how large her business will grow. Evans said she never expected iVillage to grow as fast as it did. But, she warns, the Internet accelerates everything.

And how. Who could have predicted that an eccentric collector of Pez dispensers would spawn the mega-flea market eBay?

Certainly not Janet Crane, a Pittsburgh native who's now vice president of eBay and CEO of Billpoint, an eBay subsidiary. Crane, 45, worked for those most conservative of businesses -- banks -- before moving to Silicon Valley and joining the 1,000-employee eBay.

The business has grown, Crane says, because its Web format offers what stores can't: an even playing field for all merchants that never closes. Like many places on the Web, it also offers community.

"It's not just a place to buy and sell," Crane says. "It's a place to get to know each other."



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