Juliette Brindak, AB ’11, started doodling when she was just 10. She drew girls that were simple, with clean, smooth lines, yet sophisticated with their chic outfits and stylish hair.
When Brindak was 13 and leaving the awkwardness of middle school behind, her mother turned Juliette’s doodles into party favors for her sister, Olivia’s, 10th birthday party. She transferred the images onto a computer, made them resemble Olivia and her friends (in size as well as looks), and then mounted them on thick foam core.
All of Olivia’s friends fell in love with the doodles, and Juliette knew others would enjoy them, too.
“I thought, ‘Middle school is a rough time for girls,’ and I want to create something for my sister and her friends,” Brindak says. “So I decided to make a company to do just that.”
Her parents supported the idea of creating a special space for tween girls, and when Brindak was 16, www.missoandfriends.com launched.
The website looks like a tween heaven with its flashing pink cartoon girls and pop culture images. It’s a site for girls, by girls. Rated the third-best girls-only website, it’s been hailed as safe, wholesome and parent-approved.
Tweens can write on a “girl2girl wall,” in which girls can talk to each other, play games (ranging from crossword puzzles to dressing up the Jonas Brothers), enter into Taylor Swift tickets sweepstakes, and take personality quizzes, among other activities.
The site was estimated to be worth $15 million by Procter & Gamble in 2008, and 250,000 girls subscribe to a monthly newsletter. In mid-June, the company launched a companion site, www.missomoms.com, where mothers of tweens can talk about anything from raising children to where to take their husbands out to dinner.
“What makes us authentic is that we listen to our user community, and we ask the girls what they like and don’t like,” says Brindak, a native of Greenwich, Conn. “I think girls feel that their opinions and voices are being heard and valued.”
And while girls post about light topics like Justin Bieber and favorite books, they most often write about their friends.
“A big issue is girls being cliquey and mean and leaving each other out,” Brindak says. “That’s why I started this company: because girls can be really mean in middle school.”
Administrators at the company screen every comment on the site before it’s posted. The Brindak family wants to make sure that the site maintains a safe and positive environment.
“It’s a way for girls to communicate with each other and realize they’re not alone and realize what other girls in the community are thinking and feeling,” Brindak says.
Her favorite part of the company is the feedback she gets from girls. They send her emails thanking her for helping them with problems, giving them concert tickets, or being there for them. She also enjoys meeting different people while she’s networking for the company.
Currently, Brindak is the co-founder of the company, its spokesperson and contributor. She writes advice columns and contributes to some of the web features. Of course, she also drew all the characters on the site.
Being such a large part of the company has not always been easy. Brindak had to work hard to balance school and work — not an easy task for someone who travels all across the country for business meetings every few weeks.
But Brindak did her best and found support in her peers and her professors. She majored in anthropology at Washington University, thanks largely to the inspiring professors of that department.
“I loved the department and the professors in it,” Brindak says. “I took one anthropology course and thought, ‘I have to do this.’ It was something I was passionate about.”
Her first anthropology class, “Female Life Cycles” with obstetrics and gynecology Professor L. Lewis Wall, made her excited to enroll in other anthropology classes. Among her favorite professors were Peter Benson, assistant professor of anthropology, and Geoff Childs and Bradley Stoner, both associate professors of anthropology.
Despite her educational track, Brindak says she is entirely focused on Miss O & Friends for now.
“It’s definitely been exciting, and it’s definitely changed my life for the better,” Brindak says.
For all her contributions to the company, Miss O isn’t even named for her, but rather her younger sister and first doodle-appreciator, Olivia.
When Olivia was young, she was one of many Olivias on her soccer team. She never knew when her family was cheering for her, so they nicknamed her Miss O, shouting “Go Miss O.”
And now, thanks to Juliette Brindak, girls across the web can feel like someone is cheering for them, too, as they battle through the tough times of puberty.
Michelle Merlin, Arts & Sciences Class of ’12, is a summer writing intern in University Marketing & Design.