Happy 5th Birthday Clickin Moms! Today’s interview is with founder Kendra Okolita and CEO Sarah Wilkerson!

Clickin Moms found Kendra Okolita and CEO Sarah Wilkerson

One of the most common questions asked in regards to Clickin Moms is how/why it became to be.  Kendra, would you share with us why you started CM?

KO: When I was first starting out, I read books from cover to cover and combed the internet for information on how to use my fancy new DSLR. I managed to teach myself the basics like exposure triangle, shooting in manual, and basic composition. I was left feeling like I wanted so much more. I yearned to connect with peers, but with 4 small children at home, in-person classes weren’t really an option for me.

Clickin Moms was born as a private, online forum, mostly so that my photographer friends and I could explore and learn together. It was a safe place for us to ask each other questions, offer critique and inspiration, and
push ourselves to be the best we could be. Over the past five years, our small circle has grown into something miraculous. I am still surrounded by the most genuine, sweet, and giving photographers on the planet, but now
there are whole lot more of them! They continue to inspire and push me every single day.

Kendra, did you ever imagine that CM would grow to be the online community it is today?

KO: Oh goodness no!  CM has truly taken on a life of it’s own and has grown beyond anything I could have hoped for.  That is truly because of all of the amazing photographers who continue to share, inspire, and give back.

feeding the ducks by Kendra Okolita
*image by Kendra Okolita

Sarah, you joined the forum during the first year of its life.  What drew you in to CM?

SW: I had gotten to the point in my journey when photography felt all consuming; I thought about it all the time and practiced as much as I could, but it was a pretty lonely hobby. A friend told me about CM, and it was just what I needed. I found myself amidst a friendly and enthusiastic group of women who understood the desire to talk about photography all day long and the hunger to consume every bit of information I could find. I felt understood and at home.

wrapped in a red blanket by Sarah Wilkerson
*image by Sarah Wilkerson

How has CM changed your life over the course of the last five years?

KO: Aside from helping me on my photographic journey, It has given me an outlet that is all my own.  It’s so awesome to be able to check in with all of these incredible women who share similar interests and face similar struggles.  I have met some of my best friends here – something I never imagined possible!  It has also given me the opportunity to work from home and be near my children, while doing something that I love.  I am so incredibly grateful.

SW: Oh goodness. I’m not even sure where to begin. CM has enriched almost every aspect of my life. I have met some of my very best friends here (and as a military wife, the continuity of online friendships has been particularly invaluable!); the women I have met through CM – and come to know well in “real life” as well – have given love, support, and advice during some of the most critical personal milestones in my life these last few years, including my husband’s yearlong deployment in Afghanistan. And, of course, I work from home in an extraordinary job that is enormously satisfying professionally, socially, personally, and intellectually; I can build a lego tower with my two year old during a teleconference about new educational programs and have the freedom to take on my own academic, artistic, or philanthropic initiatives with the support of a boss and colleagues that I truly respect and admire. Who could ask for more?

How has CM changed your photography over the course of the last five years?

KO: I wouldn’t even know how to change a lens if it weren’t for CM.  I have learned so much from the incredible women around me.  I am still very much on my journey, and I am thankful for the encouragement, inspiration, guidance that I continue to receive here.

SW: I credit my technical and artistic development entirely to CM and the information, inspiration, motivation, and opportunities it imparts; the personal and artistic support from amazingly talented photographers on CM and the CMpro Daily Project have really driven my artistic journey.  Teaching CM workshops has also played a huge role in my growth; my students consistently challenge me with their questions and inspire me with their skill, vision, and commitment. Writing student critiques is also an extremely intensive exercise and really helps me to develop my own eye and advance my exploration of the way photographers communicate story and messages.

lulu in black and white by Kendra Okolita
*image by Kendra Okolita

tilt shift tree by Sarah Wilkerson
*image by Sarah Wilkerson

Other than the physical appearance of the forum, how has CM changed and developed in the last 5 years?

SW: When Kendra founded the forum in 2008, it had 103 members; there are now over 15,000 Clickin Moms members, and they have enriched the forum with 3.5 million posts that include images, tutorials, business discussions, critiques, and lively conversation among photographers. We also serve more than 2,000 students each month with our photography workshops and breakout sessions, offer eLearning and gifts for photographers in the CMstore, bring together hundreds of very advanced photographers through CMpro, have two extraordinarily popular blogs (the main CMblog and CMpro Daily Project), hold several major events throughout the year, and publish a beautiful bimonthly print magazine. Whew!

Originally CM was simply a private forum but has now expanded to a blog, store, university hosting workshops, and most recently a photography magazine.  What was the purpose for expanding CM to multiple divisions?

SW: Quite honestly, virtually all of our development has been a response to the needs and requests of our members. We are thankful to have a very engaged membership base that communicates with us thoughtfully and openly. Sometimes they directly express to us particular programs or events that they’re looking for (such as CMpro, our mentoring program, and ClickinWalk), and other times we’re able to develop innovative programming for them (such as our workshop structure, breakout sessions, the Glimpse project, and numerous forums) based on more general conversation and activities we observe.

family by Kendra Okolita
*image by Kendra Okolita

CM has an incredible staff over over 30 team members.  Why is there a need for such a large team and how has having this team changed CM?

SW: The CM team brings extraordinary energy and innovation to their work behind the scenes at Clickin Moms. The amount of time and coordination that it takes to keep running CM smoothly, generating new content, and developing new programming is intense. We’ve expanded our team steadily to meet our growing needs, most recently expanding in the area of publications, sales, and marketing. We are thankful every day to have such talented, intelligent, and hardworking people who truly believe in our members and our mission.

When discussing CM, what are you the most proud of?

KO:  The people.  I can’t really take credit for our amazing members, mentors, instructors, and staff, but I really am proud of the vibe they create here at CM.  I love watching the beginning photographer develop into a skilled photographer – especially when they turn right back around to guide and inspire more newbies.

SW: That’s a big question! At the end of the day, I can’t pick a particular product or program, because what really makes me most proud is the kindness, enthusiasm, and commitment that has come to define our membership. Forum moderation is minimal, growth to date has been almost fully organic thanks to word of mouth recommendations by our members, and program development has stemmed greatly from the thoughtful feedback and ideas that our members have contributed simply because they view CM as home and are endlessly invested in making that home something even more lovely and fulfilling today than it was the day before. In short, our members are genuinely part of our team, and there is a mutual affection between us; nothing makes me prouder than the relationship that we have with them.

self portrait maternity photo by Sarah Wilkerson
*image by Sarah Wilkerson

Where do you see CM in 10-20 years?

SW: I know that we will continue to grow in membership and subscribers, and that alone will greatly enrich our community with new perspectives, styles, and conversations. Continuing to expand our educational programming is certainly a priority, as the exchange of information and desire to learn and progress will always be at the heart of what our membership come to us for here at CM. I’d like to think that owning a DSLR and valuing beautiful photography will have become much more pervasive among the global community of women, and we’ll be right there to embrace those women, whether they are just beginning their journeys as photographers or have been on the road with us since the beginning (or even predating us!). As to numbers or greater specifics, though, I think it’s almost impossible to say – by then our team will undoubtedly be much larger, and with that will come lots of new ideas and possibilities. I truly believe there are no limits here!!

superman by Kendra Okolita
*image by Kendra Okolita

lounging around by Sarah Wilkerson
*image by Sarah Wilkerson

Thank you for the great interview ladies and for all you do and have done for CM!

Would you like to join us in the Birthday Week festivities?  Head over to the photography forum now to participate in the games, contests, and perhaps grab a prize while doing so!  Not yet a member?  Use the code CMIS5 and get a trial membership for free here!  And to top it off, we’ll be choosing one random blog commenter a day to receive a surprise prize.  So make sure and leave some comments throughout the week and we’ll announce each days winner on Friday!