Martha Stewart Is Way More Into Tech Than You Ever Realized
For a woman who built a business empire on her image as a happy homemaker, Martha Stewart is quite the tech nerd.
“Oh, I love my drones! I don’t know if all my neighbors love my drones,” said Stewart, speaking at the Social Media Week conference in New York City last week. When one of her drones got stuck in a neighbor’s tree, she had to dispatch a crew with a long ladder to free it.
Stewart, who got her first drone for her birthday two years ago from a friend, lives on a 150-acre farm and she says that she uses her drones to take pictures of her property. She flies them anywhere from 50 to 200 feet in the air and also enjoys using them at the beach.
Stewart has long been an early adopter of front-running technology, having bought her very first desktop IBM computer in 1982, shortly after it had come out. She remembers the first generation machines as painfully ugly and with a teeny, tiny screen. And thanks to a collection of all of her old computers over the years, she can compare those itty-bitty early screens with current versions. “I have a whole library of computers,” she said. “It is so much fun to just look at them and wonder.”
Technology is more than whimsy and wonder for Stewart, though. It’s also a serious business matter. When digital photography was emerging, she made sure her staff embraced it -- even if they didn’t want to.
“I remember, it was not long ago that the photographers that worked for my magazine refused digital cameras. I mean refused them,” she said. Chris Baker, one photographer whom she takes credit for discovering early in his career, before he was well established, was adamantly against the transition from film to pixel. “And he said I will never use digital photography. He is not making movies and he is doing all kinds of things in the digital world and it is extraordinary.”
In addition to embracing new technologies in her play and work, Stewart has invested her own money in the tech industry. In some cases, she says, it’s paid off big time. In other cases, as with any early stage tech investor, there have been some pretty epic flops.
Meanwhile, she invested even more money into an online grocery shopping and delivery service called HomeGrocer.com. Unlike her investment in Google, she lost the money she invested in HomeGrocer. “That was a total flop,” she said. “If HomeGrocer had held on like Amazon held on, they would be Fresh Direct now.”
While Stewart is captivated by new and emerging technology, she says humans are not yet in a mature relationship with computers. We are acting something like teenagers in lust. “How many hours do each of us spend in front of our goddamn computers?!?” Stewart bristled, scoffing at an audience member of the panel who was using his smartphone during her presentation. “Look at him looking at his handheld thing right there. We really are not using them to best advantage yet. It will happen.”
Stewart may fly drones and be a cutthroat tech investor, but she is also a master of the home and lady of manners.Related: 4 Secrets for Lifelong Success From Martha Stewart
Catherine Clifford is senior entrepreneurship writer at CNBC. She was formerly a senior writer at Entrepreneur.com, the small business reporter at CNNMoney and an assistant in the New York bureau for CNN. Clifford attended Columbia University where she earned a bachelor's degree. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can follow her on Twitter at @CatClifford.