Doni Belau, Girls Guide to Paris and beyond, Woman Entrepreneur
Our family spent the month of July in Paris a few years ago. It was one of the most memorable trips and the aftermath is that we all now have an ongoing love affair with Paris. It was that summer when I met Doni. I connected with her immediately. Her passion for politics and France was inspiring as well as her vision of Girls Guide to Paris. That vision is now up and running and I am a huge fan.
Doni grew up in Nebraska as the youngest of three girls by a long shot. Her sisters, Bobbi and Dale, were 20 and 16 when she was born. Her father was a judge and her mother taught dance. One of her sisters owns a house in France and that was the beginning of her continued journeys to explore France.
After graduating from high school Doni went to UCLA to major in theater. Theater in Los Angeles, particularly at that time, was pretty minimal so she ended up not finishing as she found an agent that moved her to NYC to seek her fame and fortune. She was 19, living in NYC, doing modeling and temp jobs before falling into the production side of the film business.
In Doni's twenties, she worked for a bunch of the top companies doing the production work for television commercials. Figuring the freelance work would be the key to be able to have kids and work at the same time. She was 26 when she had her son (first kid) and found herself getting jobs in Florida and California so the dream of freelancing and being a Mom wasn't working too well. It was time to pivot and stay home for awhile. Her husband, Robert, was working like a dog so to have two people in that mindset was something that she didn't want to do.
As most women who are driven organized producers and home with the kids end up finding themselves entrenched in the school world to keep their minds going. Doni decided to take on the school system. It was there that she got into the political game. She met someone through her volunteer work at the school who said that Doni should go work for Hilary Clinton in her campaign to become a NY Senator. She did and a new career was born. This goes under the label: disrupt.
Around 2001, she got a job working for Bobby Kennedy at River Keeper. Doni worked on the campaign to shut down Indian Point. Although they raised a lot of money, they never closed down Indian Point. Her next job, always as a freelancer, was to work on Howard Deans campaign and then John Kerrys and then Spitzer as well as two Congressional county races in Duchess County. Always involved in fund raising. Doni has a great instinct for people and what is going to work and not work. I know because she gave me some smart advice about a candidate that I was doing work for.
Doni is also a big believer that you are only human if you can help other people. Her son headed up community service at his school and on one particular day she went with him to hear a woman speak. It was Teens Aid Day. The woman who spoke had gone to school at University of Cape Town and volunteered to help kids who had been orphaned because of their parents having AIDS. There were 200 kids in the room and she didn't even know where to start. She started changing diapers, giving kids medicine, anything she could get her hands on. It was a metaphor for doing something, one person at a time. The woman was Whitney Johnson and said she wanted to create something of her own in the area. Doni went up to her afterward and said she'd do a fundraiser for her.
The organization is called Ubuntu. They started out as an after school program for teens with HIV hooking up with Doctors without Borders to save peoples lives. The organization provides programs for kids 7 - 18. Ubuntu has been the most rewarding thing Doni had ever done next to politics. Yet while she was helping with this organization she kept thinking about Paris. She wanted to create a book but realized that really didn't make any sense but an online platform did. This was the summer of 2007 and we met the summer of 2008.
Doni launched Girls Guide to Paris in 2009. There are now 30,000 uniques a month and 200,000 a year. There are walking guides, lead gen to hotels and they are in the process of creating an app. Not only will the content continue to be free they are going to also offer a membership program for tours, hotels and different experiences that one can get as a member. Hand selected value added opportunities. As everyone else who is figuring out content businesses, so is Doni.
Not surprisng that the success of Girls Guide to Paris caught the eyes of book publishers. So in the end, Doni is going to do a book not only on Paris for also Girls Guide to New York and Girls Guide to London.
As a rule I find that people go to travel sites when they are about to travel but as someone who loves Paris, I find myself going to Girls Guide to Paris at least once a week to check in and see what is new and happening in the city...just to keep connected. Like I do in NYC, I like to keep on top of Paris too.
I love what Doni has created and I am looking forward to see the next move in the Girls Guide to beyond and more...