By David Gelles
As an actress, Gwyneth Paltrow was embraced by fans and critics, winning an Oscar for her leading role in “Shakespeare in Love.” As a businesswoman, Ms. Paltrow has received decidedly mixed reviews.
Many deride her lifestyle brand, Goop, as little more than an overhyped e-commerce platform peddling pseudoscience and baubles. California regulators secured a $145,000 settlement from Goop last year after suing the company for false advertising, including claims that a $66 vaginal jade egg could balance hormones, increase bladder control and regulate menstrual cycles.
Ms. Paltrow is unbowed. Goop is now worth some $250 million, revenues are growing and Ms. Paltrow is looking to Disney for inspiration, visualizing a company that makes money through online retail, offline experiences, ad partnerships and more.
Ms. Paltrow grew up around show business. Her father was the producer Bruce Paltrow, who died in 2002, and her mother is the actress Blythe Danner. This pedigree makes it all the harder for some people to accept that she is now a chief executive fully engaged in running her own business. Sometimes, she told me, people ask, “Who’s the silent male person who’s helping her?”
There is no secret man running Goop. Instead, Ms. Paltrow herself is fluent in the intricacies of her business, speaking in detail about the tech stacks, contextual commerce strategies and email service providers that power Goop.
And still, G.P. — as she is known to friends — remains every bit the celebrity. On the day we met, she started the day on “Good Morning America” promoting a new cookbook, and ended it singing karaoke on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon.
When our interview was over, she exited the building into a crush of paparazzi, before being whisked into a waiting black S.U.V. This interview, which was condensed and edited for clarity, was conducted in New York City.
What was it like growing up around show business?
I would see my mother on stage as a little girl, and she looked like a superhero. She looked like she was channeling the forces of the universe. And I just wanted to do that. So I followed in her footsteps. Acting is a very entrepreneurial career. You have to sort of connect to that level of self belief that entrepreneurs have to have. This abject, sometimes naïve, occasionally stupid amount of self belief.
How did your mom feel about you wanting to follow in her footsteps?
She always said, “Oh, please don’t be an actress.” She was pleading with me to leverage my intellectual self more than my artistic self, and I think she was just trying to protect me from a lot of rejection. It can be a heartbreaking career.
So what was it like trying to get started as an actor?
My first purview of management was on set, because — and I think other female actors would agree with me — part of your role is just to sort of maintain culture.
What do you mean?
We’re female. So we are kind of channeling the energy for the set and correcting imbalances. If there was ever any discord, especially between men, I felt it was my job to sort of balance the energy a little bit. Also, as in most industries, it’s predominantly male. Sometimes you would be the girl in a male cast, and could bring femininity and temper some of the male stuff.
Does that hold true in business as well? Is it the same at Goop?
Oh, completely. I think it’s both intentional and not intentional. The provenance of the company is such that when I went to go monetize it, the people who were drawn to it were not Silicon Valley males. So the great talent that I attracted was female.
O.K. Is there any analogy between either the producer role and the C.E.O. role?
My dad was a benevolent, tough Jewish boss. He was very loved for the most part, and he gave me a template for how one leads, consciously or unconsciously.
So what’s the balance that you try to strike as the leader of the company?
With every iteration of the company, I have to start completely at square one again.
When you’re in the family stage and your company has just nine people or whatever, it’s much different than trying to manage and maintain a culture of 250 people. I have no experience at this. It’s almost like I have to unlearn things, relearn things, start over.
What have you had to unlearn?
When a start-up starts, it’s full of feminine energy, even if it’s an all male start-up. Right? Because it’s collaborative, it’s emotional, it’s passionate, it’s instinctual. Those are all feminine qualities. And then as it scales, you have to put some rules in place. And so that’s where the masculine comes in. And you have compliance and H.R. and all these things that are putting structure to the business, which is super important. So unlearning some of the old kind of feminine ways, trying to apply the right kind of masculinity, and seeing if it’s possible to really still lead from that feminine place, is what I think about.
What is Goop all about?
We want to always be moving culture forward with what we do in the content and in the offerings and also create conversations and forums to help eliminate shame. I think a lot of women experience a lot of shame in their lives. The more we talk about things that are sometimes uncomfortable, that are sometimes unknown, it might resonate with somebody. And then we might help them shed a little bit of that feeling.
Is Goop just a brand for women?
It is right now. But I don’t want to eliminate men. And more and more, to tell you the truth, men tell me, “We really need that same kind of content, and we want the same kinds of products.”
How is your thinking about what product and service you recommend evolving? There have been some well-known flops.
When we talk about something that is incendiary, I always see in six months other people starting to write about it, and 18 months later, businesses popping up around it. It’s always confirmation to me that we’re on the right track. I mean, when I did my gluten-free cookbook in 2015, the press was super negative and there were personal attacks about what I was feeding my children and what kind of mother I am. Now the gluten-free market is huge.
Or conscious uncoupling. People were like, “This is insane, you’re crazy.” And now it’s sort of talked about as a thing that people think might be possible for them. And I’m always fascinated by why talk about female sexuality or female genitalia makes people so angry. The idea that a woman might have autonomy around her own sexual health or her own feelings, why is that threatening?
But some of the things on your site stray into the realm of pseudoscience that may be not only unproven, but potentially dangerous.
When we were young and not even monetizing the business and just sort of creating content, we didn’t necessarily understand anything about claims. We just thought, “Oh, this is a cool alternative modality, let’s write about it.” Of course we’ve made some mistakes along the way, but we’ve never been prescriptive. We’ve never said, “You should try this,” or “This works.” We’re just saying, “Wow, this is interesting, let’s have a Q. and A. with this person who practices this.” And then that somehow gets translated into, “Gwyneth says you should do this.”
Do you see yourself as an actor who developed a career as a lifestyle entrepreneur, or a lifestyle entrepreneur who happened to have a career as an actor?
I was masquerading as an actor.
You must get requests for all sorts of things all the time. How do you say no?
I am still very much in the “yes” phase of my life, probably to my detriment sometimes. But having the platform that I do puts me in this position to be able to share whatever lessons I’ve learned over time. I think I have some maturing to do before I get to the “no” phase.
How have you learned to become a C.E.O.?
Predominantly by making mistakes and talking to mentors. You can’t know what you don’t know, and I certainly was never in a position to understand, like, 99 percent of the things that I had to learn from an operations standpoint. So I made mistakes left, right and center.
Can you give an example?
Our whole e-commerce technology has been so problematic from the beginning because I had no idea about technology whatsoever. Our original tech stack was this Frankenstein.
Some people have accused Goop of being an elitist brand, but you’ve pushed back. Can you explain your thinking here?
A lot of people hear, “Hey, you could eat a bit better or exercise a bit more.” But they don’t want to take responsibility for themselves. So it’s easier to be critical of an entity or a person who is suggesting that, than it is to start making small, perhaps uncomfortable shifts in their lives.
The true tenets of wellness are all free. Being in nature, meditating, eating whole foods. If you told our grandparents that eating whole, natural foods was elitist, they would have thought you were crazy.
Have you ever gone on a meditation retreat?
I have. I went on a silent meditation retreat at a monastery in the Catskills a long time ago. There was chanting in the morning with all the monks, which was heaven. And a matcha tea ceremony at the end, which was the best part.
How was the experience for you?
I found the prison of internalization really hard. It was more than just the silence. I had a lot of stuff resurfacing.
Stuff comes up.
It was nuts.
So what’s the next big thing? What’s the next gluten free or conscious uncoupling?
I think how psychedelics affect health and mental health and addiction will come more into the mainstream.
Have you used psychedelics?
I’ve never done it. I’m terrified. Did you?
When I was younger, yes. It led me to meditation.
I mean there’s undeniably some link between being in that state and being connected to some other universal cosmic something.
It changes your mind. It changes the way you think.
Yeah, and how do we do that as a culture? How do we evolve? What is the next iteration of the culture as it pertains to the way we think about things, the degree of openness to which we think about things and process things?
What about ibogaine, that shrub from Gabon?
I don’t know about this. Is this the next big thing?
I don’t know. Don’t take my word for it.
Well, I’m going to read about it on Goop.
Yeah, you sure are.