Jen McNeely is the brains behind She Does the City, a website for vibrant women in Toronto that are never afraid to speak up. Born out of her own experience as a 20-something lass who wanted to discover and explore her hometown with no holds barred, the site was launched in 2007 long before she settled down and had her little with Jamie Drummond, a seasoned sommelier and writer whose past life includes being wine director for Jamie Kennedy Kitchens (he’s also a pro foodie behind Good Food Revolution).
She admits within the first few months of baby Elliot’s life, she was ready to pack it all up. “I thought I would pull the plug on it. I couldn’t figure out how to reconcile my business about bustling city life with motherhood. It seemed impossible,” she says. “I could barely leave the house and I was in such a fog that I couldn’t have the active social and cultural life my website needed to carry on.”
Don’t mistake her for not loving motherhood though. “I loved being a mom from the get-go. It was just hard for me to figure out how my old life combined with my new life.” Today, Elliot is 2 years old and in full-time daycare so Jen’s caught up on her sleep and sees a future for her business that works.
How this entrepreneur mixed business with becoming a mom
She didn’t give up during those first few, long, hard and sleepless months of bringing up baby. “Listen, the business did take a financial hit in the first 9 months and I was even thinking about walking away from my entrepreneurial company and getting a stable 9-to-5 job, but so many of my friends told me to wait until he was a year old before making any major decisions. They said I would be able to get back on track.”
She had to break up with her brand and let it change. “The brand was my first baby and it was so tied into my personal life and day-to-day existence. I felt pressure to keep it youthful and reflective of life before kids, which ended up alienating me as a reader and as a result, my peer group and original audience. The demands of motherhood forced me to loosen my grip, which in turn ended up being a positive thing. As a new mom, what I had a difficult time seeing was that the site was organically moving in a direction that naturally made room for stories about motherhood. I began to realize that it could reflect this new chapter of my life while still maintaining its edgy youthful voice.”
She added more voices. “It has been very important to maintain a broad spectrum of writers, including a strong cohort of twenty-something voices, who bring their personal stories and experiences to life so I can stay true to the roots of the brand. Being 37, I don’t always relate to a lot of the content, but I know it has a place and will resonate strongly with so many readers. I also changed the Instagram account to reflect our audience instead of just reflecting me. It represents many different women now.”
She introduced moms and (gasp) women into their forties. “I have several moms also contributing, so there is engaging content for a much wider demographic, including many stories that reflect my stage of life. Admittedly, the team was resistant to adding stories that appealed to moms, but we’ve shown we can tell stories about motherhood with the same verve and real talk that the site was founded on. By expanding our audience, our revenue and client base has broadened too.”
She’s finding her true voice again. “I think all moms go through a stage where you feel so uncool; when it’s all about making milk, changing diapers and pushing a stroller. It takes a long time to feel like yourself again, but this time with a baby. And I have a new Instagram handle, @readingwithkids, that reflects this next and amazing stage in my life that doesn’t compete with my brand.”
STEP INTO HER OFFICE
Jen’s bulletin board combines everything that’s in her life since having Elliot, without losing any of the bold-faced bravado She Does the City is known for.
Photography from the Toronto Star archives chronicling the women’s liberation movement in the city during the 60s fires up Jen’s vision. “This photo and others I have of girls and women standing up for what they believe in always remind me of who I’m writing for.”
“Eva Markvoort is a young woman with cystic fibrosis from B.C. whose life and health were documented in the movie 65 Red Roses. I was fortunate to meet the film makers during a screening when it first debuted. It’s a story touched with the power of gratitude and I keep the poster up [top left] to remind myself of Eva’s amazing spirit during her short life.”
“Today I visualize the site as a river. In those first few months of motherhood, I felt like I was trying to steer a rowboat upstream in a fast current with a baby in my arms. I’ve learned to relax and let the current guide me. It’s a smoother ride and I always end up in interesting places!”
“I love these polaroids of my friends and I when we were younger and so much freer. They capture the spirit of the site when I launched it and I keep them close by while I work.”
HOME TOUR An eclectic mix of vintage and family hand-me-downs
This family home was full of energy even before baby made three. “We’ve always been into colour and collecting things like art work, vintage posters and retro toys and Elliot’s crafts and books are as much a part of the house as our stuff. From top to bottom, it really is a family home that reflects and brings together everything each of us loves.”