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As half the team that co-founded Refinery 29, Philippe von Borries and Piera Gelardi have spent the past 13 years building the brand from a cool-hunting blog for young women into a multimedia and events empire. A lot has changed since they launched in 2005, and in an era where new media brands come and go (or pivot and die), it is a testament to Refinery29—with north of $125 million in funding in the bank—that it has survived and thrived.
It helps to know your audience.
"Some interesting things we're seeing are the values-driven consumer," says Gelardi on this episode of the Ad Lib podcast. "We're seeing consumers want to spend their money and spend their time with brands that match their values and are really walking the walk. It's an interesting trend and one that really aligns with us as a brand—because we have been so mission- and values-focused since our inception."
Gelardi and von Borries, along with fellow co-founders Justin Stefano and Christene Barberich, have used their pro-women, taboo-breaking ethos to build a behemoth catering to the interests and cravings of young women that reaches an audience of upwards of a reported half a billion globally across platforms. It is an audience that brands loves (and to hear Refinery's founders tell it, an audience that loves brands back).
The couple joined the Ad Lib podcast as their 29Rooms event packed up in New York and prepares to head to California in December. The touring live event features 29 different artist and brand installations to give visitors' friends FOMO and, at least according to Gelardi, reaches up to half of Instagram's monthly audience.
The two of them—who have also spent the last 13 years as a married couple—discuss the journey, working and living together, and what comes next for them as the events space gets more crowded … including a call for their plugged-in audience to start putting their phones down.
"We're also seeing an interesting trend towards a tech burnout, where consumers are feeling less and less connected even though we're technically more and more connected through our devices," says Gelardi.
"There's a vacuum of meaning that's happening and as a result we're seeing our audience even more interested in experiences and also interested in spirituality and ways to tap into themselves and each other and the world around them."