Don’t believe what they say—you can start over and win again. You can reimagine your eternal footprint and choose to rebuild. It’s allowed, and most times, it works out. Just ask Necole Kane. The media maven launched the uber-successful Necole Bitchie brand at age 28, in the early days of celebrity blogging, and went on to dominate the space by way of unconventional marketing. She built a brand of integrity—an uncommon find—leading to exclusive interviews, name drops in television scripts, and Necole Bitchie becoming a household name.
In 2014, after announcing that she would be dismantling the brand that she’d built for seven years, some wondered what her next steps would look like and how she’d get there. Most, though, questioned why someone would walk away from a career that, by all intents and purposes, is thriving. For Necole, success came with a burden that, over time, diminished her love for media. She chose to separate from and rebuild a platform that aligned with her values and allowed her existing audience to grow together. Five years later, xoNecole has grown to be a sounding board for sisterhood and vulnerability, bringing together hundreds of thousands of women daily. The lifestyle brand was acquired by Will Packer Media in 2018, with plans to expand into television, film, and in-person events, turning xoNecole into a diverse digital-media platform.
Necole spoke to Her Agenda about her journey from pop culture blogging to xoNecole, walking away from success, and more.
[Editor’s note: This interview was originally published 9/28/2020.]
Her Agenda: I remember in 2013, after the passing of Lee Thompson Young, you wrote a post on Necole Bitchie (NB) explaining that you were going to scale back from covering stories surrounding death and overall sadness because of the toll it was taking on your mental health. Fast forward 7 years later, you have a successful platform centered around sharing positive stories and celebrating sisterhood.
Necole Kane: A lot of people don’t know, but I started Necole Bitchie the year that I turned 28. I like to call myself a late bloomer in terms of success because people were looking at where I was in life when I gained popularity and thought I was in my early twenties. They would compare where they were in life—or where they weren’t—to me and feel like they weren’t doing enough when I slept on couches for most of my twenties. By the time the site started popping, I was almost 30.
I slept on couches for most of my twenties. By the time the site started popping, I was almost 30.
You start transitioning into a new person between the ages of around 28 to 32. There’s something called Saturn return, where your whole world shifts, and the things that you thought that you wanted out of life, changes. You’re becoming more self-aware as a person, and I think that’s what happened to me. I thought I loved reporting on celebrity news and blogging, but when I crossed over into my thirties, I started wanting to chase purpose and intention. I started thinking more about my legacy, self-care, and my mental health. That’s when I knew I was going to have to shift my brand to become the person I always wanted to be. I don’t particularly remember that post, [but] that was me being more self-aware and realizing what I needed, and the changes I needed to implement to live a positive and joy-filled life.
I had such chronic deep-seated depression for many years of running that site. I wasn’t aware that it had a lot to do with the negativity I was in taking every day. When you add the Black men that were being killed, we felt like we had a responsibility to give you guys all the facts. We’re reading the news at a deeper level than the average person because you have to dig for the facts. It wasn’t until I went to a therapist was told that I had secondhand PTSD that I was like, “okay, I have to find a new career path because I can’t do this anymore.” My biggest thing is to measure what something will cost me. If it costs me my peace, it’s too expensive.
Her Agenda: There’s a Toni Morrison interview where she says that Chloe Wofford is who she is, and Toni Morrison is the writer who does interviews and documentaries. You’ve mentioned the disconnect you felt from NB and Necole Kane—having to ‘suit up’ to attend events and other things. Are you able to just Be Necole Kane these days?
Necole Kane: I feel like I’m just able to be. I now run a brand that’s reflective of who I am as a person. Before when people would ask me what I did for a living, I would pause and be embarrassed to tell them that I was a gossip blogger. I felt like I was going to be judged or they would look at me as a bad person. I felt like, if you’re so embarrassed about what you do, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. If you’re not proud of what you spend your life doing, you shouldn’t be doing it.
Her Agenda: When you allow yourself to Be, things that are aligned with your purpose will come. I think of that in terms of Tabitha Brown, who has gained popularity simply because of who she is, and is getting so many opportunities to her front door as a result.
Necole Kane: I saw her telling her story on Instagram Live. When she was trying to be an actress, she tried to change her hair and hide her accent. They said that she would never get jobs with her heavy southern accent, and now she’s able to wear her hair the way she wants, and her southern charm is a part of her appeal.
I started thinking more about my legacy, self-care, and my mental health. That’s when I knew I was going to have to shift my brand to become the person I always wanted to be.
Her Agenda: You’ve now founded two successful new media spaces. One when blogging was fairly new, and the second after it had gained popularity and established itself as a respected media. How were those experiences different?
Necole Kane: The experience was different for me personally because when I look at some of the marketing tactics and things that I did to grow Necole Bitchie, the person I am today would never. Even though I started late, I was very naïve. Sometimes you have to be naïve to chase your dream because when you’re naïve, you don’t think of all the ways you can fail or what people will say. I had one alter ego shoot that played off of rumors between Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and Rihanna; there was me dressed up as Amber Rose and Nicki Minaj. I would never do that today. Anytime I had an idea, I would go for it. Every dollar I made, I invested back in the brand. I had no idea about sponsorships or advertising, so I paid for every award show that I, or my team, covered.
Building xoNecole was difficult because my biggest competitor was my old self. We were going to do relationship, wellness, and self-care, and people told me it wouldn’t work because I was a gossip blogger trying to be empowering. To constantly be compared to the old you was stifling to me. I went from living with depression in my Necole Bitchie days to living with anxiety for xoNecole from wondering what people would say. I was so much more aware of the noise on the internet and what people were saying about my transition because the way I chose to exit made such a big splash.
I failed a million times when I was trying to launch Necole Bitchie, but nobody cared. Trying to launch something else when you have already dominated a lane is difficult. Once you have that success, you feel guilty for not wanting to continue. Who am I to walk away from this when I came from nothing? I didn’t realize the magnitude of it then, but I do now. Taking the risk of going broke and back to sleeping on couches was probably one of the most monumental things I probably have done, and will ever do, in my lifetime.
Her Agenda: What do you miss about the early days of blog culture in comparison to now?
Necole Kane: I miss celebrities giving exclusives to bloggers or news outlets, or doing cover stories for magazines. I couldn’t wait until the new magazines dropped to read a cover story with Rihanna or Beyoncé. Now, celebs don’t need the media to get their word out or to craft their story. They have social media with direct access to fans, so quality exclusives have gone down.
Her Agenda: When I think of xoNecole, and even NB, I think of sisterhood. How important was sisterhood and representation in your upbringing and road to entrepreneurship?
Necole Kane: The xoNecole member community has about 1500 women. The sisterhood within that community is just phenomenal. Someone recently had surgery, and I text her to see how the surgery went.
I launched the member community because I had all of these followers across social media, but I didn’t know anything about them. I’m in this community atmosphere and sisterhood now where, when I see someone’s name I know that she lives in Florida or California because we’re connecting on a deeper level than what’s possible on social media. Right now, where I am in my life, sisterhood is super important, but I didn’t know the concept of sisterhood outside of my real family until I created a site like xoNecole.
Her Agenda: What xoNecole does really well, especially in this climate, is balancing web and social media. Lots of blogs are only able to occupy one space…the value of the content doesn’t translate well from one to the other.
Necole Kane: When I go to a website and they’ve hooked me with a title, the post better be good. I remember when I left Necole Bitchie, I took a detox from the internet for a while, but when I got back into it, I would have to go to so many different websites to find the information. That’s why Necole Bitchie became so popular. We didn’t half-ass stories for our readers. It may have come out later than everyone else, but we were going to find out everything you needed to know.
With xoNecole, I felt like if we were going to have a website, it should be informative and add value. We approach stories by asking what we would like readers to take away from them and how we can inspire them.
Her Agenda: Let’s swerve to your team’s involvement in day-to-day operations and the overall success of your business.
Necole Kane: My managing editor and social media manager were with me when I had nothing. They were with me when I ran out of money to put resources into my site. Writers bailed because I couldn’t pay them, and they stuck it out with me. Our managing editor was our sex writer. I found her from a personal blog post and now, she’s the managing editor for xoNecole with no experience. We have a very young and inexperienced team but they’re so passionate about the brand, audience, and work in general. That’s why we’ve been able to be successful.
Her Agenda: How do you deal with being stagnant? Getting through the wilderness and coming out on the other side.
Necole Kane: I’ve had a passion for media for a long time, but I could see it fading as years went by. I look back on my grandparents and think of them staying in one career their entire lives. I couldn’t imagine that because I become a new person every second. Give yourself permission to fall in and out of love with what you thought was your passion. I believe that people are going to know me for four or five brands by the time I’m 60 because I’m always evolving. Even in my next venture, and my next one, I’m giving myself permission to fail. You have to find your voice and stride.
[Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Photographer credits: Tailiah Breon, Derek Blanks, J Patrick Photography, Soraya Joseph. Graphics: Miguel Puello.]