Cover Story: Mommy Mogul

Lyss Stern, the effervescent founder of divamoms.com, created the ‘DivaLysscious Moms”’ luxury lifestyle brand for mothers who want to maintain their pre-baby joie de vivre. “I started this endeavor because I wanted to help other moms feel fabulous and special,” Lyss reflects. “I wanted to give them a permission slip to still wear their stilettos, go get their hair and nails done or have a spa day.” True to her mission and passionate about her call to transform the lives of mothers, Lyss has taken charge of disseminating all things ‘DivaLysscious’ and now helps mommies live happier, healthier and sexier lives.

When Lyss started her ‘DivaLysscious Moms’ business 9 plus years ago, with $3,000 from her own savings account, she was working full time as a teacher.  “Nobody believed in me and they all thought I had postpartum depression,” she quips. Through the ups and downs, she managed to build her dream into a hugely successful business that is considered a leader in the mommy industry, all while raising her 2 children.

Ms. Stern grew up in a loving home in the five towns on Long Island, but when she was 3 years old her dad was diagnosed with cancer.  She then spent much of her early life running to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center for his treatments and had a rough childhood dealing with his illness. After graduating Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Arts degree, she went on to work for Peggy Siegal, a major public relations figure, where she learned much of her marketing and event planning skills. However her love for children and teaching led her back to college where she received her masters in communications from New York University. Then she went on to Hunter College in NYC, where she completed her masters in early education and started teaching at The Rudolph Shalom School in Manhattan. “Soon after, I got married, had my first child and entered into the mommy world and I couldn’t believe what I found,” recalls Lyss. “At that time there was one older woman who had a new mother’s luncheon in the back of a dark dingy restaurant, where she showed us how to breastfeed,” she said. Lyss was appalled that this was the only organization for new moms in NYC. “It was neither chic nor sophisticated and I said, ‘I have to do something for new moms.’ So I started the business with six of my friends.” Now they reach out to half a million of the most influential moms in NYC and beyond, such as Kelly Ripa and Marishka Hargitay, throwing uber fabulous events, promoting the latest baby gear or launching a new kids store or restaurant. “We make our revenue on the events, sponsorships, endorsements and advertising on the website and I have just published my first book  ‘If You Give A Mom A Martini’,” This ‘how to’ book with a forward penned by supermodel & supermom Christie Brinkley has been optioned for a movie and currently Lyss is in the process of writing two more books. She has also  dedicated much of her time to another deep passion — giving back. “We also do a tremendous amount of philanthropic work with charities like, Super Saturday/ Ovarian Cancer: Camp Divalicious and the Albert Einstein Carnival in East Hampton.” She has also appeared on “The Today Show,” along with serving as a media correspondent and mommy expert for the CNBC and MSNBC networks, which has been a an invaluable marketing platform.

Although Lyss has always worked, many of her moms are having to return to work due to the economic downturn and subsequently are juggling the stresses of both work and family. “Women are all of a sudden finding themselves having to go back into the workforce after taking time off to raise a family,” says Lyss. “Either they are getting a divorce or their husbands have lost their jobs or their kids have left the nest and they are bored.” Whatever the reason, these women are asking questions. “They want to know; how do I start a business or what kind of business or where do they get the money from?” Her response is always pragmatic: “Whoa! Slow down,” she says. “I don’t think most of these women understand what it really means or takes to be a successful entrepreneur.” She strongly advise that anyone considering going into business do a tremendous amount of research beforehand, particularly about the competition. She also suggests that they study the business climate, have a business plan, learn what makes the business unique and learn what are the available resources both monetarily and strategically. “They look at me and say,  ‘you’re so successful and it looks so easy,’ but it’s not.”

Although Lyss gets calls on a consistent basis from moms all over the world that want to be ‘DivaLysscious’ she is hesitant to expand. “The format that works in NYC may not work in Paris, Dubai or Kansas. And I have to be careful to know the audience in each area before we enter into that market,” she says. She prefers to expand the brand through products, like a “DivaLysscious Mommy Timeout Kit,” a DivaLysscious Must-Have Kit, and a “DivaLysscious Martini Kit.” Also on Lyss’s wish list is a plan for a clothing line for moms and kids, possibly to be sold on the QVC or HSN networks, “And of course I would love a reality show, as what better way is there to market? I would like to be the Martha Stewart of the mommy world!”

Lyss is adamant that she must like and believe in any product or service that she endorses. “I care, unless I know that it is something I or my moms will use and have a positive experience with, I can’t put my Divalicious stamp of approval on it; because my integrity and reputation would go out the window.” One such endorsement is in her “Diva Lust” and “Diva Must” products. For instance the “lust have” $1,000 limited edition diaper bag, versus the “must have” version, which resembles the uber expensive diaper bag, but costs $75. “We give our moms the options to satisfy their shopping needs,” she says. Another endorsement category is the wildly popular Diva Mom’s Book Club. “We launched the author E.L. James who wrote ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ last year and it was bought by Random House through a mom who came to a ‘DivaLysscious’ event,” she recounts.

As for whether she received a piece of that deal, her response is simple: “Unfortunately not, but I believe in karma,” she says. “If you do good works, good things will come back to you and when Random House threw other events for E.L James they hired us to throw them.”

Through the process of building her business, Lyss says she’s learned a great deal, including some lessons gotten the hard way. “I am not as naive [anymore] and it’s hard because I want to be more giving and trusting, but I have learned that people will suck the life out of you if you let them,” she says. She suggests keeping business relationships intact by clarifying all intentions in writing and surrounding yourself with good people. Lucky for Lyss, her husband Brian Stern, a talent manager at Brillstein Entertainment, negotiates most of her deals and gets his percentage up front. Although in the beginning of her quest for ‘DivaLyssciousness’ he was one of her naysayers, Brian is now super proud of her accomplishments both in business and as a super mom to their sons, Jackson and Oliver.

By Lauren Clarke-Bennett

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