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DailyCandy's Dany Levy on Taking Initiative

Dany Levy
DailyCandy Founder Dany Levy
Photo courtesy of the company

Growing up in Manhattan's hustle and bustle, Dany Levy delighted in discovering new things. Armed with sheer curiosity and an apparent love of show and tell, she became that girl you turned to for advice on everything from birthday gifts to restaurants. It's a talent Levy would ultimately bank on when founding DailyCandy in 2000 as an email newsletter that dishes up witty bites of insider information on everything from fashion to food.

Levy, now 38, started out as a mostly "goofy" kid, until entering the ranks of the "cool-girls clique" as a teen. She loved to write and has boxes of diaries that served her need for self-expression over the years. Her passion for writing continued at Brown University, where she studied creative writing.

After graduation, she landed an internship at New York magazine and went on to write about style and bargains. But she was miserable.

Giving Back

While DailyCandy has organically been a launching pad for small businesses, Levy took it a step further by starting the Start Small, Go Big contest in 2010 – marking the company's 10th anniversary. Four startups receive an opportunity to be mentored by notable entrepreneurs.

"Arming those trying to make it with the key insights, knowledge and advice from successful business men and women is critically important," Levy says. "I credit many successes to those who helped guide me through the early days."

The deadline to enter this year's contest is August 5, 2011.

"I was being edited so heavily," Levy says, "I had a total crisis of confidence and I quit [in 1998]."

After freelancing and brief stints with other magazines, Levy's voice finally found a home when she founded DailyCandy. The New York-based email newsletter was ultimately sold to Comcast in 2008 for a reported $125 million. Levy, who lives in Los Angeles but expects to move back to New York this fall, remains chairman of the 115-employee company that now reaches 3.5 million subscribers through 26 editions worldwide.

In an interview with 'Trep Talk, Levy spoke about her effective bill-collection technique, a curious contradiction, and a "gene" she looks for in new hires. Edited interview excerpts follow.

On thinking big: I definitely took the initiative to do my own thing early on, but I wasn't entrepreneurial in a black-and-white sense. In third grade, my best friend and I decided to write a screenplay and spent an hour every day working on it. My stepmother typed it up, and it was 15 pages. Barbara Walters was in it, that's what I remember.

On creating a character: I realized soon after launching DailyCandy that people did respond to my voice. It was a nice moment because I found a place for it. I was developing a voice with its own personality: It was the DailyCandy girl. It was like character acting.

Vintage viral marketing: When I first started promoting DailyCandy, I put postcards in every restroom I went to, put stickers in airplane bathrooms. I almost got arrested for putting a sticker on a mailbox in New York City. I would chat up my company in elevators. I was shameless.

Low Point: In 2000, around the time of the dot-com bust, it was a crunch period. We'd call [past-due advertisers], be transferred around and never get anywhere, so I made a handful of collection calls in person. I'd show up and sit in the waiting room until they cut the check. Some were fairly large corporations making small ad buys, so I knew they had the money.

I'm inspired by… Tina Fey. I love her take on life, her attitude, her voice -- it's funny, wry and intelligent. She's got just the right balance of self-deprecation and confidence. And she's a creator.

Hiring tactic: I always joked that I look for people who have the 'figure it the f--- out' gene. There are people you can throw a task at and they figure it out, then there are the people who ask a million questions. I like people who are good at problem-solving.

Stress-taming tune: Public Enemy's 'He Got Game.' It puts me in a really great mood, lifts my spirits.

On staying competitive: People said, 'You should do DailyCandy for men.' I said, 'Why? We're really good at speaking to women and so why try to be something else.' It's the pure focus that I think made DailyCandy the clear leader.

Three people I'd most like to shop with: The late Coco Chanel for her impeccable taste, 'Snooki' [Nicole Polizzi] for her lack thereof and the DailyCandy editors because they surprise me every day.

Curious contradiction: For someone who writes about all the new hot spots, I have just my handful of restaurants I go to over and over again – and order the same thing. When I come in they'll say, 'The usual?' They just know.

My usual (dining) suspects: In and around L.A., Sunset Tower Hotel'sTower Bar, Capo, Chateau Marmont, Angelini Osteria and Dominick's.

Startup tip: Don't spend money until you have money. When we used to put candy in our media kits, I would go to the Duane Reade store the day after Easter because the candy was on sale. Of course, it's important to spend on certain things in the beginning. You need good servers but you don't need Aeron desk chairs.

Advice I follow: 'It's not a sprint, it's a marathon.' I can be impatient, so that's good to remember.

Favorite book: 'The Giving Tree' by Shel Silverstein.

Latest candy crush: Caramel Apple Pops by Tootsie. It's green apple on the inside and chewy caramel on the outside. It's like a Sugar Daddy meets a Sour Apple Blow Pop.