NYLP: Welcome to the New York Launch Pod podcast highlighting new start-ups, businesses and openings in the New York City area. I’m Hal Coopersmith, and in this episode, Rachelle Hruska, founder of Guest of a Guest, joins us. Welcome to the podcast, Rachelle.
Rachelle: Hi, I’m so excited to be here. My very first podcast.
NYLP: Thank you for coming.
Rachelle: Yes, thank you for having me.
NYLP: I’m surprised it’s your first podcast.
Rachelle: I know, especially because it’s so in my line of work and I enjoy them so much. I guess you can’t be good at everything.
NYLP: There’s no Guest of a Guest podcast?
Rachelle: No, but maybe after this, I’ll just steal you away and have you come run it.
NYLP: I’d be happy to. So when did Guest of a Guest start?
Rachelle: Guest of a Guest got its start as a blog. In 2007, I believe…it’s so far to think about how old I was. And it was never intended to be a business. It was really a fun way for me to express myself. I had just moved here prior…from Nebraska and if you can believe it, the iPhone didn’t exist. Smartphones didn’t exist and everyone was on the BlackBerry. And I had a Treo phone and I was going out in downtown Manhattan, and going to these really cool parties and clubs, and Bungalow 8 was having this big moment and you just couldn’t read about it anywhere.
So all of these new things were happening but it would show up in the New York Times six months later. And so I started taking photos with my Treo phone and then a Blackberry, and of course, they’re very grainy. Social media didn’t exist yet, so I put them up online and I was using just standard Word Press and I started getting a little following. It was in no way meant to become a business of mine.
I was actually working for Ron Baron at the time, who runs Baron Funds, so I had every intent to go onto business school and run some kind of financial institution, at some point. And as I was applying to business school, my then boyfriend at the time was Cameron Winklevoss and he said, “Do not go to business school, you have a business here waiting to happen.” And it was true, we had a pretty big following.
In hindsight, it’s nothing, but we had 50,000 unique visitors, which at the time I was just like, “Oh my gosh, this is incredible.” The New York Times was citing us in different stories and it was all really exciting, but without any sort of plan. And so I decided maybe I won’t go to business school. Maybe I will take the leap and try this, and so that’s what I did.
NYLP: You talked a little bit about the start, but for people who may not know, what is Guest of a Guest?
Rachelle: Guest of a Guest is a digital media company that focuses on events. Our tagline is “People, Places, Parties.” And we cover the influencers, tastemakers, places that are happening in New York City and beyond.
NYLP: What was the moment when you realized this is something?
Rachelle: Well, ironically, I don’t know I’ve had that moment yet. We’ve had a lot of big wins. So, last year we sold really big ad campaigns in one week, we sold to Dolce & Gabbana, Cointreau, and then Off!, the bug spray and I was bummed about it. I was like, “I don’t really want to work with Off! the bug spray, that’s so un-glam.” And then my husband pointed out there’s not that many brands out there that can actually sell to that wide a range of people, so I realized we had this great millennial reach and that was really cool. I don’t know that I’ve had this moment where I feel like, “Wow, this is something. We’ve made it.” I still am always feeling like there’s so much more, and we’re still the non-corporate entity on the block that has to really work.
The New York Times covered us in the Style Section in 2010 and it was…no 2009, or maybe 2008, I don’t know what it was. But it was 2009, and it was the day after my then boyfriend had broken up with me. Not Cameron, another one. And I was just devastated so I had no chance to even soak in the fact that I had been profiled in the New York Times, which is really hysterical. And then my local newspaper did a profile on me and that, of course, was so much more fun and just such a bigger moment for me because the kids that I grew up with actually got to see me. But other than that, there hasn’t been one seminal moment, that I can think of.
NYLP: You don’t think you’re a hit?
Rachelle: I think that as long as I’m a hit with the people that matter, so my kids and my husband, I’m happy. I don’t know that we’re hit. It’s changed so fast. I just had lunch with Man Repeller, Leandra Medine, and it’s so interesting that these new, I guess what are called bloggers but now they’re new media, are really huge names in Instagram. I never really got social media until later.
I was really before that time, so I’m really struggling to keep up with some of the things that are happening. Podcast is a great example. So no, I don’t I necessarily feel like I’m a hit. I feel like I’m working very hard to stay…just to keep my head above water in this industry, to be honest.
NYLP: But even in the beginning, you were getting 50,000 unique visitors.
Rachelle: Yeah, and it’s so oggy. I guess one can never see themselves, perhaps, in the moment as others see them. But I’ve always felt like I was this really outsider. I didn’t grow up in Manhattan. I came from the middle of nowhere so I never could see myself as fitting in. I think all my friends who went to these fancy New York Schools, I just never fit into that. I guess I don’t see myself that way.
NYLP: Why did you move to New York?
Rachelle: That’s such a good question. I’ve no idea. I mean, truly, I have no idea. It’s one of these things that so many people have asked me over the years. I moved here without a job, without knowing a single person and I took a job as a nanny through an agency that I happened to connect with on Craigslist. And I can’t tell you what it was that my inner…maybe an inner voice that just was pushing me. I had gotten into medical school, and I was young and I thought, “Well, maybe I’ll defer for a year and travel.” At that time, I was running a blog called “Brain Spillage.”
And I don’t know, there was something about what was happening in the media. I read Gawker religiously and I just wanted to be in New York City. And I can’t even tell you…there’s no good reason except it was this internal push that said, “You should be in New York.” And it was really difficult at first and in hindsight, I’m not sure what I was thinking. It was crazy.
I moved month-to-month with people I didn’t know that I had found on Craigslist, which is totally not the way to move to New York City. It’s totally not the chic way to do it but at the time, everything was so exciting and I was so green that I’d never thought of it as this hard work. It was such an adventure and I was having so much fun, and then after six months, there was no way I was going go back to Nebraska. There’s no way I was going to pursue medical school, I was here.
And I think part of it is truly, since I’ve been little, I’ve been very social and culture has always been my religion. It’s always been the thing that has interested me the most and really the thing that I’ve sought out, even through pre-med. So I think the fact that New York was, to me, the epicenter of this cultural movement, past and present, it was just the place that I knew I had to be.
NYLP: But you didn’t come to New York saying, “I’m going to start a blog. I’m going to start a business. I’m going to go to all these places.”
Rachelle: No, no, definitely not. I really do believe that I am an example. I didn’t really ever think this way until recently, but kind of a true example of an American “you made it” story. I think there are very few countries where one can do what I did. I don’t come from anything. I’m very proud of my parents, but it’s not like they were big names anywhere.
So the fact that we live in a country that I can move to New York City, start a business and become successful…obviously, there’s a lot of hard work involved. And I had a lot of great assets going for me. It still is pretty remarkable, when you really think about it. So I really like that about our country and our city.
NYLP: And at what point did you realize, “Okay, this is getting momentum”?
Rachelle: I think when the New York Times…we are still an anonymous blog, I still have my day job. And the New York Times, one or two times, started referencing us and they started quoting us. At the time, I was totally anonymous and Nick Denton actually emailed me. Lockhart Steele was running Eater at the time, emailed me, but they didn’t know it was me. They had no idea who it was. That’s when I was like, “Hmm, this is really happening.” And it was exciting; it was so exciting, but I still had no idea what it was going to turn into or that I was going to quit my real life for it.
And then once I did quit my life and get going, there was a moment when David Carr from The New York Times, who was just one of the best writers and best people on the planet, did a profile on a party that we had thrown with College Humor. And so many people gave me a lot of attention after that and were saying, “That’s so cool, David Carr spent time and wrote about it.” And I was like, “Huh, this is really cool.”
But to be honest, at the time, I was hanging around people…my best friends were the people that have gone on to found these companies that have become billion-dollar companies. So Jack Dorsey and David Karp, who was doing Tumblr at the time, and Ricky Van Veen and all these people, it wasn’t like they were my homies. That’s who I was spending all my time with, so it’s really weird to think about it because at the time, we weren’t giving thought to the fact that these are companies that were going to become big deals.
We were going to South by Southwest before it was a big thing, and I don’t mean that as like a brag. I just mean that it’s really remarkable, to me even, that this actually happened. I was testing Twitter when they debuted at the South by Southwest, I think it must have been in ’08, and you had to text in. You were given an eight-digit code to text in to send a tweet. And I thought, “Well, who in the world is going to use this?” This is like, “I’m just going to stick to BBM for now.” So, I obviously missed out on that one and it just keeps going on.
I’m very fortunate that I’ve had a seat at this table, and I feel like these moments happen in time, whether it’s these musical movements. The bright eye scene what’s happening in Omaha when I lived there, or you think to the Hip Hop scene, which my husband grew up in the 80s in L.A. I think that I feel very lucky that I happened to be part of this movement that came out of New York, really in the 2005 era, with Gawker being one of the first digital media companies and all these social media things really building a lot of them out of New York City, not Silicon Valley. So I feel like it was just perfect timing and placement for me to be part of it.
NYLP: What was the hardest part, in terms of building the company?
Rachelle: Oh my gosh, every day there’s a new problem to solve, which is exciting but also frustrating. For me, I find real pleasure in solving puzzles and I think in the last, I guess eight years, I’ve really had to change. Our business model has changed significantly over the years, so has industries like advertising. As these industries have changed, we’ve had to change along with them.
I think the hardest part for me is having the weight of the responsibility of my team. So knowing that, “Okay, if we don’t, if we don’t bring in this revenue, I’m going to have to fire somebody,” or, “This person is not performing well, we have to get rid of them because I have to think of this as a whole entity. I have to treat it as such.” You learn a lot of things quickly, but it has been…it definitely ages you.
You definitely have to learn lessons that I don’t think I’d have to learn if I weren’t running a company, and firing people is always my weakest point. And I struggle also with management. So those are the two things that I’m not good at. So yeah, I think that’s probably been the hardest part for me, is to let go of people.
NYLP: How big is the team now?
Rachelle: We’re at 15 full time, but then we have 60 photographers on staff, which work as independent contractors. And then we have some independent contractors within different cities. So they almost work as little…I always called them…if you think at McDonald’s, it’s like a franchise. We have people that we vet that have opened up Guest of a Guest in L.A., D.C., Miami and Chicago, who basically run it as their mini businesses in those cities, with guidance from us and direction, but that’s the current team so far. We’re looking to hire right now, if anyone out there…we need one new engineer and we’re looking for two writers right now.
NYLP: When you are hiring people, what are you looking for in a writer, in a photographer, in one of your team members?
Rachelle: So, I have learned my lesson the hard way that sometimes spending more on someone that’s very experienced and good at managing other people is worth it. For entry level positions, I spend a lot of time assessing if an individual is willing to take responsibility and make mistakes. I think that has been a key for me.
So a lot of mistakes happen, I mean of course they do. We don’t know what we’re doing. Nobody does. We’re literally running an industry where it’s changing so fast and some things work really well, and some things just totally don’t work at all. And mistakes happen frequently and so when I get people that I can just tell don’t have the maturity to take responsibility for their mistakes and own up to their mistakes, that’s the first sign that they’re just not right for our team.
I also like to hire from within and promote from within, so we do an internship program with NYU. So, you can build your own course load there and a lot of those students get credit for coming and writing for us. I think all except for one of our writers right now, we have four, have come out of that program. So it’s a really great way for us to test the individual.
We’re a small team. You have to be able to fit your personality with the other members of our team, and someone that doesn’t need direction. I like people that take on their own projects, and see them through, and gauge the results and can come to me and say, “I tried this out, here’s what’s happening. Here’s why it worked, here’s why it didn’t work. What do you think?” So it’s a long answer, I’m sorry.
NYLP: We have plenty of time. As far as the writers go, and your content, how do you come up with some of the stories? Because some of the New York stories are certainly very fun and they’re kind of all over the place.
Rachelle: Yeah, this is a good question for me to answer right at this very moment because I just had an editorial meeting before coming here. So I think what’s happening now with digital media is there’s two kind of strategies. So you have this strategy to use all of these tools available, and algorithms to create the most traffic a la BuzzFeed, or Bryan Goldberg went from zero to 40 million uniques in a year with Bustle.
And then there’s the strategy of building a really niche brand that people know, but it doesn’t have these amazing traffic numbers coming to it, but it has a real brand that people resonate with and that you can move people to do things with and you have a core niche that you’ve filled, and we’re obviously the latter one. And so, when we do editorial, we definitely want to do pieces that we know are going to perform well. We definitely…and that, I have to admit, is not my strong suit because I don’t come out of this thought process or even this feeling that I want to be writing just to get traffic, which is kind of what you have to do to exist in the world I’m in right now.
So it’s kind of a really hard place for me to be in, to be honest with you because on the one hand, we want traffic, obviously, and we want to buy traffic. On the other hand, that’s so not me. It’s so uncool and it’s so not what I would want to read. I don’t want to read another list. I don’t want to read some bullshit article that I know is just click bait. And so I think every publisher is probably struggling with this a little bit and some do it better than others. I love Man Repeller. I think she has a great eye for what works and resonates with her audience.
And so right now we’re in this phase where we decided, “Listen, let’s kind of do a mixture of the two, but let’s do it smartly. So let’s throw some things out there and see what resonates with our users and be mindful of the traffic, but not obsessed about it.” And so, that’s kind of in our strategy and I’ll never forget, in the early days, Lockhart Steele was a mentor to me, and he always said…because I asked him, “How did you build the traffic on Eater? And he basically said, “Get people talking and also sometimes the weird factor is all you need.”
And so sometimes we’ll put something up and I can’t believe that it went viral. I’m just like, How the hell…? Why did that piece perform better than one that we had this beautiful set up for and we spent a week preparing and producing? And it didn’t do so well as this one little post that we put up about… who knows? But that’s kind of the thrill of it and that’s kind of the excitement of it, is that you never really know and so when it happens, it’s spontaneous, it’s fun, it keeps you on your toes. It keeps you engaged with culture, which is why I think back to this thing of my passion. I’ve been forced to be totally engaged with culture on every level, from the art world to the fashion world.
Basically, everything that’s happening that people are doing culturally is fair game. And so it’s been really fun, and we also…we don’t want to be the Daily Mail. We don’t want to be Page 6. We want to do something that’s different and fresher and like your best friend talking to you, if that makes sense, not some gossip that you’re going to read about and throw out. We want to build people up; we don’t want to tear them down.
NYLP: That’s a great mentality.
Rachelle: Well, yeah. I mean, I believe in karma, so…
NYLP: What’s your target demographic?
Rachelle: Our demographic is 18 to 35. It’s split evenly, male to female, which is surprising to some people because I think most people sometimes think we’re a female site. A lot of what we do is an events calendar. Thirty percent of our traffic goes to that and to date, we’ve covered 60,000 events with photography. Millions and millions of the images we’ve taken. Hundreds of thousands of profiles we’ve created. So we’re more than just an editorial site. We really are a fully-functioning photography studio. It’s just exciting. It’s like Getty for the average person.
NYLP: Thirty percent to the calendar, where does the rest of the traffic go?
Rachelle: It’s split evenly. I think at this point, we’re…50% is search engine coming into articles. But yeah, the rest of it’s going to our articles that we do.
NYLP: What about the articles that go viral?
Rachelle: Besides the weirdness factor, there’s no theme. This is why it’s so hard to do this job because we don’t rely on algorithms like others. Some sites do, and they can tell you, “Hey, Pretty Little Liars is coming on tomorrow night,” and people are going to be searching for it, so you should be writing about it now so that Google picks it up in news.” We don’t do that. Our viral posts have come…I’ll tell you some of them that come to mind.
We took the first photo of Katy Perry when she was playing in Brooklyn, years ago, and then of course, she became famous. And that served as a significant source of traffic for some time because we had one of the only images of her online. Obviously, anything that you or I would read…there was this scandal at, I think, Dartmouth that somebody accidentally sent around to all of the staff and student body, and it was about an affair this professor was having and we posted it. Which, in hindsight, I don’t know if I would have done now but this was years ago, and that just sent a significant amount of traffic to us.
Guides always do very well for us. So telling people anything that’s exclusive or should be on their radar, “The 10 best places to take your date.” Bachelor posts always do well. So our audience is this young, urban professional, mostly New York-based, and we really want to cater to what we think that they’re into, which is they wanted to go out and party. They want to know where the hottest places are; they want to know what to be doing. And they’re working in their desk jobs all day long, we want to give it to them on a platter. “Hey, you should be going here and doing this.”
NYLP: And you mentioned Lockhart Steele as a mentor and the New York Times article, and he had this quote in it which says, “Wasn’t the social blogosphere jammed with similar sites? Everything seems crowded until someone comes in and shows you how to do it right.” Which I think was a great quote.
Rachelle: It’s so flattering.
NYLP: How are you getting what people want? What’s the technique?
Rachelle: Honestly, I hope this isn’t…I don’t know what this sounds like. It’s a feeling, it really is a feeling and it’s to the disgruntlement of my CTO who really is the best. He’s a significant member of our team and he comes out of engineering and numbers and statistical things, as do most people running these sort of businesses. And I come out of nothing like that and I really do think I’m more creatively minded.
So for me, it’s kind of a…it’s not just kind of. Everything I’ve done has been, “Does this feel right?” And I’ve made some choices that felt right and then turned out wrong, but I feel like I have gotten really good at just listening to my inner voice, the same voice that told me, “Move to New York City,” the same voice that guides any part of my personal life I’ve used to guide what I do on the site.
I’m very proud of the fact that we haven’t gone the traditional route of businesses in my position. So, we don’t have any big money behind us. I really feel like more money, more problems, at this point. We’ve never significantly raised any sort of big round, which allows us to be very nimble, but also have control over what we’re doing and it’s a really great place to be. It’s a good life to have where you don’t…you have the autonomy. So I feel like a lot of our writers do have autonomy and when you take autonomy away from people, I don’t think that they’re going to produce for you.
Our offices are at the Jane Hotel in the basement and they’re really fun. It’s like hanging out in a coffee shop, and that’s all on purpose. We have turntables in there, and couches that everyone works on, and a coffee bar, and I feel like we’re doing without being trendy. That’s how we just are because we’re not a corporation and I feel we have to fight to be corporate, every single day, but it’s a fight that I’m willing to take and it’s something that I think comes out in the site.
And so we’re not corporate and we are the underdogs, and people really like that. People dig that. They want to read the underdogs. They don’t want to read the big urban daddies of the world. And so I hope we can continue to grow and see significant growth, but still always maintain that “can do,” underdog spirit that we’ve started with.
NYLP: Who would you say your competitors are?
Rachelle: It’s odd because if you asked me this question five years ago, I would say any of the sites that we name. I don’t feel like we have competitors, but I’m not saying that as like, “Oh, we’re just the best out there.” I really do think that the World Wide Web is so…there’s no end to it. There’s no cap on it.
So any competitor is actually great, as Lockhart taught me. He was one of the first people to really help us drive traffic by putting us on his site. His audience is completely different than mine and there’s obviously some overlap, but anytime we link to each other, that’s just helping both of us.
And so I suppose we could say some of the sites that we compete for RFPs in the ad world, but I really don’t feel like…I feel like what we do is so different that there’s no real competitor, per se, to what we’re doing and I feel that way strongly about every other site, too. Man Repeller is so distinct. Refinery29 is so distinct, there is no competition which is great because we can really all be friends.
There’s a lot of business where I feel like you do have this competition. I don’t feel that way amongst the new media…digital media of New York City. I really am friends with these people and we really do help each other. My lawyers came from people that told me, “These are great lawyers for you.” And if I don’t hire someone but I know someone else is looking and they’re great candidates, I’ll send them their way and vice versa.
I could be totally just a complete idiot and everyone is behind my back telling me what an idiot I am, but I don’t feel that way at all. I feel like it’s a really big open family.
NYLP: How has the site changed over time?
Rachelle: So much. How much time do you have?
NYLP: We have as much time as you have.
Rachelle: Okay, the ethos has always been people, places, parties, the culture, and it’s always been driven around our banks. However, we have significantly, in the last two years, made real revenue through advertising that hasn’t been traditional digital advertising. So before, nobody wanted to deal with bloggers. This is 2007; no one even knew what a blogger was.
It was a four letter word. And now, bloggers are front row at every single fashion show. So, the industry has changed so significantly that it’s been great for us. The photography business started because we weren’t making enough revenue to sustain a company through advertising because no one knew what a digital property was.
There was no…I guess Digitas is probably giving different type of things, but nothing to small, little websites like ours. Now it’s significantly changed because besides being a digital property where we’re selling digital advertising, we also are almost like a PR Agency where we’re going brand direct to a company like Cointreau, and we’re saying, “Listen, give us a deal for the whole year, and we’re going to produce five events for you and they’re going to be amazing. And on top of this amazingly produced event, we’re also going to give you all of this digital for free, and all of the social media and all of these influencers, and we’re going to package it all together for you. And we’re also going to get press.” And so that’s been a huge, new significant source of revenue for us.
We’ve always done photography, and that’s changed too, as people in other cities. D.C. has become a big market for us. People want to feel famous everywhere, but we never really…we’re always stationed at New York, and now we’re really looking internationally, not even nationally, which is an exciting change. And as we’ve mentioned on email, we’re launching weddings, which is the event that I think everyone goes to at least once in their life. And weddings is a way for us to highlight people that have no other entry point into our site, from all over the world.
So, we’re going to be launching 200 wedding albums. Anybody that’s listening to this or that reads us is able to apply to get their wedding in our gallery, and then that means that anyone that’s in your photos can make their own profile page on our site. And we’re aiming at doing 50 galleries a week from weddings. So that’s really exciting to me because I come out of Nebraska. And in Omaha, Nebraska we don’t have…and Lincoln, Nebraska, which is actually where I come from. We don’t have anything like Patrick McMullan or the New York Social Diary. But people want that.
People want to have their respect of people in their home communities. They don’t care about people outside. So people in Lincoln, Nebraska don’t care about what we’re doing in New York and vice versa. So as local media has kind of shuttered in a lot of these cities that I’m talking about, I’d say cities are in a million, we hope to fill that void. We really hope to get on people’s radar in a digital way and say, “Listen, we want to promote your taste makers in your own communities and give them this feeling of fame,” if that make sense.
NYLP: So, I’m glad you brought up the wedding’s launch which is why you’re here. So talk a little bit more about what it is. It’s people uploading photo albums from weddings. They have to be chosen or anyone can do it?
Rachelle: Well, they have to apply and then we’ll choose, but we’re really looking for volume here. So as long as you have a cool wedding, we’ll put it up. And then we’ll be featuring higher end weddings on the site.
So we’re treating the weddings section much like a city site, or like our Hampton site, so it’s going to have its own gallery section and it’s going to have its own calendar of wedding events. And it’s also going to have its own content, much in the same way that our L.A. site has content specific to L.A. So the content pieces will be features of people. Putnam Flowers is one of my favorite florists, so here’s a feature of them and a huge photo shoot of that.
But the gallery section is really going to be our readers’ chance to really shine and send in readers. And what’s great about this is a lot of the photographers, you have to get the releases to use these photos. But we actually promote the photographers too, so anyone that sees these photos and says, “Oh this is in my city. I can search for my city and I like the style, the look of this wedding. I wonder who shot it.” It will link directly to that photographer so they can actually go directly and hire him to do their wedding.
I really like the idea of weddings because there’s so much of this…I’m a girl, okay? So I’ll tell you right now, girls are crazy, like total crazy and they stalk people online, and I’m sure a lot of guys do, too. And it’s always this voyeuristic thing where your ex-boyfriend, you want to see who he’s hanging out with on Instagram or on Facebook or if you Google someone, you want to know who’s their friends. What is their life like? Images always say more. One image is a thousand words. A wedding image really tells you like, “These are these people homies. If they’re at the wedding, they’re really…they’re close, they’re tight.”
So I think it’s a really…it’s a good way to be crazy, spy voyeuristic for people, but more than that, it’s a great way for us to get event photos and hopefully new profiles out of it.
NYLP: And how did you come up with the idea for a wedding section?
Rachelle: I had been wanting to do weddings for the last four years and it’s just finally…you asked me why I don’t do a podcast. I feel my life consists of just getting through the day by putting out fires and hoping I don’t get sued. That’s my day.
NYLP: That’s a very stressful day.
Rachelle: Not every day. So it’s just this thing where I’ve always wanted to do it, but I wanted to do it right. And to do it right, I think you really need someone full-time running it and I’ve finally found the team. So we have someone full time that’s going to be working on it and it was just right. It was finally…we didn’t have this giant project that we are launching on top of it. So, the timing was just right but it’s been four years in the making.
NYLP: So, walk us through what the site will look like. People will have……
Rachelle: Well, yeah. It’s just like it is now. So right now, the site works that in our gallery section, if we’ve covered your event, you can go in and tag your name and then we approve it and you get a profile. It’s like a LinkedIn for social meets Wikipedia page. A lot of times, I ask people how they found our company and it’s that, “Oh, I was Googling for somebody and your photo came up for them,” and I love hearing that.
That means we’re their very first taste of fame and so we’re going to be with them for life. If we give you your very first Google search result, I know that that’s more valuable than an email. I can’t tell you why and I can’t give you this monetization strategy for it, but it’s a feeling and I know it’s more valuable.
We also have a daily newsletter that tells people what’s going on. It’s very popular. We have, on average, a 30% open rate which is very high and I think it’s because we’re actually giving people information for free that they can’t get anywhere else, which is, “Here’s what’s going on this week.” And not these stupid events, you can find everywhere else, but really insider-y cool things that we have access to.
NYLP: How would you characterize the Guest of a Guest brand now?
Rachelle: In terms of…?
NYLP: What the brand means to people. You mentioned the first Google result and that’s how you get people hooked. What do you want people to associate with Guest of a Guest?
Rachelle: I like being the guide, the cool kids guide. So it’s the non-corporate, this is what the cool kids are doing. And I think people use us for different reasons. I think that some people probably do use us as the, “Who is this person and what kind of events have they gone to?” But that’s a very small niche, a New York City social group. I think for the broader audience, we’d like to be your guide.
We’d like to be your friend, but your cool friend that knows information before the New York Times Style Section does and is talking about things that you’re going to be seeing on your Instagram feed that day. Instagram is a huge source of inspiration, not just for me personally, but also for me as I direct our content on the site, because so many of the artists…everyone’s been forced to become a curator and I think I take pride in having a well-curated Instagram list of different people to get inspiration from and also get news about culture from.
And so I think every digital media company has to be a great voice and also has to be really good at curating the new cycle. And so if we can get the new cycle and our voice to you, and also give you something extra, something like, “Here’s the five best new places to try that you’ve never heard about, that’s a win for us. We want to be that friend.
NYLP: So how are you going to stay cutting edge?
Rachelle: Stay relevant, oh my gosh. It’s exhausting.
NYLP: How are you going to stay ahead of the New York Times?
Rachelle: It’s exhausting. I think that for me, personally, it’s been a challenge. I now have two children who are two and four and I’m not going out like I used to. I’m not outside Beatrice Inn. And Beatrice Inn doesn’t even exist anymore so it’s a totally new generation.
Part of my job and responsibility is to find editorial talent that really is the same ethos as I was, which is, I hope, a cool young thing that’s really engaging with culture. And specifically, I would say the downtown scene in New York. Personally, for me, I keep up with Instagram. I finally joined Snapchat.
I think my husband gave me good advice. He said, “I fought it, I fought it, I fought it.” And he said, “The people that make it in life are the ones that move forward, and you can fight it and you can stay stuck in the past. And I just always thought of that. It really resonated with me that I have to move forward and I have to keep up, but it’s difficult.
A lot of stuff not only in culture happens, but in the digital media world is just changing so quickly, but it’s exciting too. And like I said before, just to have a seat at the table is really exciting. And there are days where it’s just like, “Oh my God, I’m never going to make it. This is way too much. This is like overload. I can’t do all of this.” But then there are some days where it’s really great.
It is up and down, as every entrepreneur tells me. But I think the line between work and play has become very blurred for me, and I like that. I actually really enjoy that. So this, for instance, this podcast that I’m doing with you, one could say, “That’s work.” I could go back to my team and say, “I’m on a work meeting right now,” but I don’t think of this as work. This is fun.
NYLP: This is a blast.
Rachelle: I mean, I’m drinking rosé in a coffee mug with a handsome guy across from me, and I like that. I have another saying that 80% of what I do is to get to the 20% of things that I love to do. So you have to do stuff that you don’t like to do so that you can have this ability to spend time doing what you love, and I am so fortunate and lucky that I get to do what I love. And I do love it. I love connecting with culture, and it’s given me just such a rare opportunity to continue to do that.
NYLP: Since you’ve started this, what’s been the most memorable moment or experience that you’ve had?
Rachelle: Oh, there’s many but just because it just came to mind, there are so many. I remember when I quit my job, I was really, really unsure about it because I had such…I had a great salary and I had such a stable road ahead of me. I was like, “This is crazy, what am I doing? And the Boom Boom Room had just opened, which is at the top of the Standard and it was this amazingly groovy club.
And I went there for some Fashion Week event that I was covering and I ended up dancing next to Madonna, who is just my everything. And it was one of those moments where I was just really content with my decision. Even if it doesn’t work out, this experience is not average. And I’m very happy with that not being average experience.
NYLP: That sounds cool. When was that?
Rachelle: Oh my god, way before marriage and kids. So I’m really bad at math, but probably ’08 or ’09, right at the beginning.
NYLP: Did you say a word to her or you were just dancing next to her?
Rachelle: No, I was just dancing next to her, but really getting it on with her. It was great.
NYLP: Most Interesting person that you’ve met?
Rachelle: Oh my gosh, that is so tough, too. I meet so many interesting people, but I will say when I met Sean, my husband, which inadvertently was due to business reasons. We sat next to each other at a digital food company that no longer exists, that Ben Leventhal was running. And it was a small dinner, upstairs at The Spotted Pig. And I never thought twice about meeting him and then we met again and ended up drinks for six hours sort of thing. And that was six years ago.
And I do think that Sean is one of the most interesting people I know, and he just has this ability to be the most creative, intellectual, feeling and soulful man, but also very good at business, which I just admire and respect because that’s so hard to do. It’s so hard to find someone that’s good at both, and I’m very fortunate that I guess the company that I started, led me to find the great love of my life. So I guess that’s my answer. I hope he’s listening.
NYLP: That’s a great point to wrap things up. How do people find out more about you and Guest of a Guest?
Rachelle: Well, I would say that the easiest thing to do to find out more about me is to follow me on Instagram, which is Rachelle Hruska. And I also recently started Snapchatting, which I’ve now finally got and I love. So same name, follow me on Snapchat. And Guest of a Guest, just follow us, be proactive.
I love criticism. I’ve learned so much about what’s happened with the site. We can’t be on top of everything; we’re a very small team so I encourage people if they see something that they want fixed or that we should be doing better, email me. My email is on the site but it’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
NYLP: Well, thank you for stepping out to the New York Launch Pod and sharing your time with us.
Rachelle: Thank you so much. I had so much fun.
NYLP: And if you want to learn more about the New York Launch Pod, you can follow us on social media @nylaunchpod or visit nylaunchpod.com.SHARE THIS: