Podcaster, blogger, bestselling author, motivational speaker, conference guru, media mogul and mom Rachel Hollis is inspiring women everywhere with her unapologetic confidence and authentic approach to embracing life’s chaos.
By Shelley Seale, Photos by Keith Trigaci, Hair and Makeup by Tiffany Taylor, Styled by Lindsey Granberry, Shot on Location at Central Standard
Rachel Hollis might be a newcomer to Austin, but the native Californian feels like she grew up in the Lone Star State’s twin.
“Bakersfield is like you picked up West Texas and dropped it in Southern California,” she laughs. “Everyone wore Wranglers and boots.”
Although Hollis was born and raised in Bakersfield, Cailf., she couldn’t wait to get out of the town.
“I loved the idea of living independently. I felt like if I could be in control of my surroundings, then I could be in control of my life,” she says.
Throughout school, she was heavily involved in theater, an activity that bolstered her and hinted at a potential future elsewhere.
“It was my favorite thing,” Hollis admits, “and the [performing-arts] industry was something I saw as a way out of Bakersfield.”
One thing anyone learns about Hollis within 10 minutes of speaking with her is this: When she has a goal, she sets her mind to it and simply makes it happen. The teenage Hollis, stuck somewhere she didn’t want to be, began researching performing-arts schools and working to graduate early from high school. She earned her diploma a year early, at 17, and promptly moved to Los Angeles to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
“I set my sights on where I wanted to go,” Hollis recalls. “I auditioned, got a scholarship and got accepted.”
Although she enjoyed the school, after one year, she was offered an opportunity she couldn’t pass up: an internship with film-studio giant Miramax. At the time, in 2000, it was one of the most successful production companies in the country, producing movies such as The Cider House Rules, Shakespeare in Love and The Talented Mr. Ripley. When her internship ended, Hollis was extended an offer for a full-time job, and she jumped at it.
“I’m someone who learns and grows best by doing,” she says. “I thought I could skip three years of college and go straight to the real deal. Once I was able to join the workforce, I really started to find myself.”
The goal she had been striving to reach was right in front of her, at only 18 years old.
“I turned that job at Miramax into what would become my career. I was working on events, movie premieres, press junkets with celebrities,” Hollis says. “I thought it was the most glamorous thing I’d ever seen in my whole life, coming from a small town. When you grow up doing theater and production like I did, you’re doing all this prep work for just one night, and that’s what event planning felt like to me.”
Although her Miramax experience was a good one, the next job at another production company was regrettable. She had what she calls a “horrible boss,” and the entire experience was demoralizing for her. So, once again, Hollis took matters into her own hands. She decided to start her own company.
“I quit my job on a Friday and started my event-planning company, Chic Events, the following Monday,” Hollis remembers. “I thought, ‘I’m just going to start my own thing and see what I can do.’ ”
By this time, 2005, the 21-year-old was newly married to her husband, Dave Hollis, a Disney executive she met while at Miramax. Rachel Hollis had a simple goal with her new venture: replace the $38,000 salary she had been earning. She started out coordinating small events for people, including weddings and parties, on a nonexistent marketing and advertising budget. But she felt if she worked hard and did a great job, people would recommend her and word would spread.
That is exactly what happened. Within a few years, Chic Events had become one of the largest personal event-planning companies in the Los Angeles area. Rachel Hollis, however, had been nearly working herself into the ground to accomplish that.
“I was doing all these huge celebrity parties and working really hard, but I was miserable,” she says. “The challenge of building and scaling a small business was exciting and I loved the challenge, but I started to feel stressed out with it by the end of 2007. I was super proud of what I had built, but I was killing myself to make it happen.”
CULTIVATING THE CHIC LIFE
As an outlet for herself personally, and as a way to market her services, Rachel Hollis began taking advantage of a relatively new model in 2008: blogging. She started a blog called My Chic Life, writing about event planning and aspects of her daily life, everything from fashion and style and what she made for dinner to her struggle with anxiety. One day, she opened an email from a company offering her payment for a sponsored post, and an idea clicked in her mind.
“I realized there was a way to monetize this blog,” Rachel Hollis says. “There was a business there, and I just had to figure it out.”
If she could do that, she could move away from the stress of event planning and into her new love, blogging.
“If I could be successful at doing this thing I liked better,” she says, “I wanted to take that chance.”
Rachel Hollis became focused on growing the blog. It took several years to build into something financially viable, during which time it morphed into thechicsite.com. As the site’s traffic grew into the thousands and then the hundreds of thousands and then the millions, more advertisers and sponsors came knocking on her virtual door. Other clients looked to her to create white-label content for them (basically ghostwriting for their own websites and brands), and Rachel Hollis began hiring staff writers for the increasingly lucrative business, which operated under her company, Chic Media. Although the term didn’t really exist at the time, Rachel Hollis was quickly becoming one of the biggest influencers on the internet.
“We had these front-row seats to what we’re seeing exploding now,” she says. “Every single day for the past 10 years, we’ve interacted with women online. We ask ourselves, ‘What do women want? What do they need? What do they find entertaining?’ We really knew how to dial in to that audience and speak to a specific type of reader.”
Part of this success came from the way Rachel Hollis herself wrote and connected with her readers. By then, she was a mother, and the challenges of juggling a high-pressure business with parenthood caused her to seek professional counseling to deal with her increasing anxiety. She was candid about her personal struggles, and it resonated with the women reading her words.
“The reaction was incredible. People were so interested in that,” she says. “Someone was speaking authentically and sharing their experiences in a real way, and it struck a chord. People really related. I was on a journey to become a better wife, mother and woman for myself—and I took the audience along for the ride.”
It was that writing, and her readers’ reactions, that led Rachel Hollis’ company to become the titan it is today. As a businessperson, she is someone who is constantly evolving and adapting, both to the marketplace and her own needs and goals. Her new mission for the company became to equip her readers with the tools to make positive, lasting change, to help them become better versions of themselves, whatever that might mean.
THE RISE TO MOTIVATIONAL MAVEN
By early 2017, Rachel Hollis made the decision to stop employing influencer marketing, sponsored posts and
advertising, and instead, commit fully to her authentic writing and relationship with readers.
“That was a big leap for us because that was how we made money, and we didn’t even know if there was a way to make money in the arena we were going into,” she says. “We weren’t really sure how we were going to do it; we just knew we had to.”
As someone who loved personal-growth tools and motivational speakers like Les Brown and Tony Robbins, Rachel Hollis had one major question about the field: Why didn’t she ever see any women on those stages?
“I thought, ‘Can someone please tell me what this looks like, becoming a better version of you when you also have three children to go home to and take care of?’ Surely there were many women who would love to hear this from another woman,” she says.
Chic Media began hosting events such as two-day personal-growth conferences full of loving encouragement and additional health and wellness components. She called these events Rise, with herself and other women featured as the speakers—and the first one took place in Austin in June 2017. Rachel Hollis calls it her aha moment.
“It was a live personal-development conference with 250 women in attendance,” she says. “You saw only women onstage, and there was something in the air. If you were in that room, you felt it; you just knew. It felt like this was the future, and we were just going to walk in faith in that direction.”
Rachel Hollis also began work on a book chronicling her self-improvement journey, waking at 5 in the morning to write for two hours before her children rose at 7 a.m. Her husband, Dave Hollis, left his job of 17 years at Disney to take over as CEO of the couple’s company, while Rachel Hollis took the role of chief creative officer. Chic Media was rebranded as The Hollis Company, with the belief that everyone can benefit from a personal-growth mindset and tools.
“It was impossible to manage the team, be onstage and write the book,” Rachel Hollis says. “We wanted to know what it would be like to work together and decided to just jump for it. Dave really helped bring the vision to life.”
A COMMUNITY OF KINDNESS
Part of this change, the couple knew, included moving out of Los Angeles. They began looking at their favorite cities, including Austin, the town where the new concept had all begun. By fall 2017, the book manuscript was at the publisher awaiting an early 2018 release, and Rachel Hollis felt like she was on the precipice of something really big.
“I didn’t know what was about to happen,” she says, “but I had a sense we were onto something. I didn’t know how to monetize it or scale it or grow, but I knew there was something there.”
Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be was published Feb. 6, 2018. Initial organic growth came slowly but steadily as the book grew more popular within a few weeks. Then, Rachel Hollis says, it took off like wildfire. Within six months, the book had sold 1.6 million copies and was a No. 1 New York Times best-seller.
“What’s amazing to behold is how much people wrap in community around this book,” she says. “It’s been so cool to watch the community of women rally around something that they love and push it out to the world.”
Dave Hollis echoes that sentiment, noting the satisfaction in doing work that feels like a calling, and doing it with his best friend.
“We don’t tire of hanging out every day,” he says. “We are equipping people with the tools to make lasting life change. We leverage each other’s strengths in a way that maximizes the business and helps us get to that mission faster.”
The Hollis Company and the Hollis family make their home in Austin now—a change the couple says they couldn’t be happier about.
“It’s been such a gift to be here, to get outside of LA and slow down, to be in a place where everyone is so nice,” Rachel Hollis says. “Austin is a community of kindness, and it’s so refreshing. We are really excited to be part of this town and call it home.”
The couple began co-hosting a podcast series called Rise Together, and established The Hollis Foundation as the philanthropic arm of the enterprise. Rachel Hollis and Dave Hollis are both on the council of Austin Angels, a local nonprofit that offers support and mentorship to children in the foster-care system and their caretakers. As the parents of four children, including an adopted daughter, and foster parents themselves, the Hollises have a special place in their hearts for the needs of children.
Susan Ramirez, CEO of Austin Angels, says Rachel Hollis is passionate about empowering women and children who come from hard places.
“She has devoted her life to equipping and giving women tools to reach their fullest potential,” Ramirez says. “Rachel has made a point to carve out time in her busy schedule to make sure that Austin Angels has the resources it needs to continue to reach children and expand nationally. In fact, this year, she has helped to raise over $50,000, allowing us to reach more children than ever before.”
Ramirez has been featured on the Rise podcast and was a speaker at the 2018 Rise Conference, which more than tripled attendance to include 800-plus women. These appearances have enabled Austin Angels to connect with more than 200 people who are interested in establishing an Angels chapter in their own cities, and to raise enough money to cover a case manager’s salary.
“It is such a big deal for Rachel to lend her name to Austin and National Angels because she does not lend her name unless she believes in it wholeheartedly,” Ramirez says. “When you are an influencer at this level, you get asked to promote stuff every single day, and Rachel does not. She only promotes what she believes in, and that is why it is so special for her to promote us.”
Ramirez adds that a big part of Rachel Hollis’ success is her relatability.
“She is unapologetically herself and gives all of herself to the world,” Ramirez says. “I think Austin women are looking for a pillar in the community to look up to, and she is just that.”
With 18 employees, a brand-new office that they own and a new book (Girl, Stop Apologizing: A Shame-Free Plan for Embracing and Achieving Your Goals) publishing in early 2019, Rachel Hollis says 2019 is going to be an epic year. The Rise Conference, scheduled for June 13 through 15 in Minneapolis, sold out all of its 3,500 seats within 27 minutes, so Rachel Hollis is planning to add a second event to meet the demand.
“Everything is so divisive right now,” she says. “It feels like no one’s getting along, but this feels like something that brings us together.”
LIFE TIPS FROM RACHEL HOLLIS
On practicing self-care with a busy lifestyle: “I try and take care of my body the way an athlete would. I workout daily, drink water like it’s my job and eat healthy. But, dang it, sometimes you just need some queso! I try really hard, though, to take care of myself for both my work performance and for my family. It’s important for me to succeed in the business sector, but also to come home and play with my daughter and go see my son’s baseball games.”
On finding time to fit it all in: “I get a lot of questions from creative writers or entrepreneurs who say they don’t have time. I never have the luxury of time either. Truthfully, I just get it in where I can. Sometimes that’s 20-minute increments of writing or time to myself. It’s a gift when I can have a whole hour. If it was a matter of waiting until I had the time, I would never be where I am right now. I don’t know any other way to do all these things simultaneously. There’s also a team of people who are counting on me to perform well and take care of them. It’s their families too. I take that really seriously. There are no excuses here. I just do what I’ve got to do.”
Shot on Location at Central Standard, a bar and grill on South Congress Avenue featuring nostalgic classics as a tribute to America’s culinary roots. Offering large-format pastry and bar programs, Central Standard accommodates both group and private dining. Central Standard is home to a wraparound patio, private dining room, four TVs and an outdoor foosball table. Please visit centralstandardaustin.com for more information and follow Central Standard on Facebook at facebook.com/centralstandardaustin and Instagram @centralstandardaustin.
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