VentureOut – Highlighting LGBT leaders in business.
Powered by StartOut. Written by Adam Sandel.
Heidi E. Lehmann is a digital media entrepreneur whose professional life, personal life, and passions have merged in a way that most people only dream about. Currently a mentor in StartOut’s Lesbian Entrepreneur Mentoring Program, Lehmann’s professional focus is also dedicated towards the success of other women entrepreneurs.
The New York based dynamo is the Founder and CEO of MoxieQ, a cross-media network that promotes celebrity lifestyle experts and tastemakers, in partnership with U.S. mobile carriers and Bravo TV.
Lehmann is currently preparing to launch “Smart Women. Smart Ideas” with Co-Founders and producers Suzette Cabildo and Marci Weisler. She describes the project as “a reality competition show to take women with product companies to the next level.”
Their goal is to discover more entrepreneurs like Bethenny Frankel, who parlayed her visibility on Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of New York” into her multi-million dollar Skinny Girl beverage brand, in addition to best selling books and a syndicated talk show.
“The show will combine the challenges of ‘The Apprentice,’ the mentoring of ‘The Voice’ with the crowdfunding of Kickstarter,” says Lehmann, who has already raised more than $25,000 for the pilot on the female focused crowdfunding platform Plum Alley. The goal is to complete and air the pilot in March or April of 2014.
Lehmann has a history of being ahead of the curve and first to market. While still in her native Boston, in 1997 she joined the first automotive research-to-buy site AutoSite.com as Head of Advertising, introducing the potential of technology to advertisers. The company was sold to Autoweb in 2001, which was then acquired by Microsoft.
In 2004 Lehmann co-founded Third Screen Media. “We were the first to deliver ads on mobile phones, when markets were high and knowledge was low,” she says. The company was acquired by AOL in 2007.
While at Third Screen, Lehmann collaborated with a woman named Kim who worked at Sprint headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas. “We met in 2005 and started dating in 2006,” she says. “The nice thing about the first part of our relationship was that it was all expensed!” she laughs.
The early challenges of coming out as a couple were both professional and regional. “Neither of us talked about being together since we were working together,” she says. “It wasn’t a big deal for me since I was from New York where everyone is Jewish and gay. But she was in the corporate world in Kansas, which is more conservative, so I had to dial it down a bit.”
Yet Lehmann’s Third Screen Co-Founder Tom Burgess was supportive of her coming out. “We had lots of business dinners and socializing with clients. As I started saying ‘I’m gay,’ it started to get easier, like flexing a new muscle.”
Once Third Screen sold to AOL, and her partner left Sprint, the two began living together. “It felt good, like the natural evolution of things.” They currently divide their time between homes in Kansas City and New York.
Lehmann’s company MoxieQ initially began as a mobile site promoting products and services to the LGBT market. With Sprint as a distributing partner, they built an audience of half a million subscribers, many of whom were straight women who liked gay content – like the Bravo TV audience.
“You never build the business you think you’re building,” says Lehmann. “The market tells you.” The market told Lehmann that promoting celebrity designers, lifestyle experts, tastemakers and their brands with digital platforms was the way to go.
While her professional path has guided her towards ways to support other businesswomen, Lehmann also remains passionate about supporting the LGBT community. “It’s a really important priority for me,” she says. “If you belong to a minority group, it’s your responsibility to do everything you can to support each other.”