Christene Barberich is the cofounder and CEO of Refinery29, a media firm targeted on empowering girls by beginning conversations about physique picture, politics, and careers. Refinery29 stated it will join with 425 million folks this yr throughout its web site, social media, movies, and dwell occasions.

Earlier than founding Refinery in 2005 — with Philippe von Borries, Justin Stefano, and Piera Gelardi — Barberich spent her profession in media and helped construct the scrappy Metropolis journal. The teachings she discovered there gave her the arrogance she wanted to tackle Refinery 29, which might change into a extra formidable challenge than anybody anticipated.

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Transcript edited for readability.

Christene Barberich: I all the time knew I wished to be concerned in storytelling, whether or not that was going to be in magazines, books, movie. It was necessary to me. I really feel deeply enthusiastic about serving to folks, at present even, to craft a story round one thing that was actually necessary to them, they really feel will actually be helpful and resonate with different folks. Nothing beats true tales. When the chance got here as much as probably take the lead-editor position at Metropolis, I simply felt it was precisely the best alternative the place I might determine this out and see if I might do it beneath the radar with out fully humiliating myself and show to myself that I might run {a magazine}. I might craft a perspective. I helped rent a inventive director. We staffed the entire staff, we received an ASME [American Society of Magazine Editors] award, we acquired nominated for basic excellence. It was actually life-affirming in plenty of methods.

Richard Feloni: What did you be taught from that have that you just delivered to Refinery?

Barberich: Actually, if I needed to distill it, it will be confidence, as a result of I had labored at Condé Nast for almost a decade earlier than that, and I acquired unbelievable expertise there being an editor, working with extremely proficient writers, collaborating with totally different groups, and crafting nice tales. However I actually all the time knew that I wished to run one thing. I used to be in my early 30s. It was actually about proving to myself that I had the instincts and I had what it took to run one thing and make it profitable and create a model that was precious to folks. I miss that journal.

Creating a brand new means of issues

Cofounders Justin Stefano, Barberich, Philippe von Borries, and Piera Gelardi on the guide launch get together for Barberich’s and Gelardi’s guide “Type Stalking.”
Theo Wargo/Getty Pictures

Feloni: And in the event you loved this expertise of making one thing a lot, why was there initially some reluctance to assist construct Refinery?

Barberich: As a result of I knew how laborious it was. And likewise there was plenty of concern on my half as a result of we did not know what was occurring in digital media at that time. There wasn’t plenty of proof at that time that this type of medium was going to actually turn into the spine of all the pieces that each enterprise is. I believe we had a sense that there was that potential, however at that time I used to be in my mid-30s and plenty of my buddies have been getting married at that time, having youngsters. And right here I am principally forgoing a wage, shifting in with my boyfriend to save cash, and determining learn how to make this work so we will truly get this up and working. I believe that it is laborious as a result of at a sure level in your life you do crave safety, you do crave somewhat bit extra permanence, and although I did crave these issues, what I’ve all the time craved extra is alternative. I believe that I can’t say no to an thrilling invitation to do one thing I really feel must be performed. I can’t say no to it … I used to be, like, “Oh my God, I’ve to do that!” That is in 2004 once we all began speaking and beginning to hatch a plan for Refinery29. There was plenty of curiosity and dialogue about whether or not or not folks would purchase issues on-line if e-commerce was going to be a viable technique of retail.

Feloni: It is humorous how that was nonetheless a query again then.

Barberich: Oh — it was such a query. I do bear in mind having plenty of conferences with very huge established nationwide shops. They usually have been, like, “Yeah, effectively, we do not actually suppose we’ll do that e-commerce factor. We do not actually suppose that is the best way folks need to store.” Everybody had cell phones at that time, however folks weren’t actually utilizing them in a means that was facilitating their on a regular basis life in the best way that it’s now. So that they have been actually concerned with doing one thing I believe was actually revolutionary on the time, which was so thrilling to me. They have been pondering at that time they wished it to be virtually a search engine for unbiased boutiques in huge cities as a result of these have been actually companies that did not have the assets to have the ability to attain a much bigger viewers.

However once we launched, in 2005 — simply offer you a way of the panorama at that time and digital — Twitter wasn’t round. I really feel prefer it was Fb and Internet-a-Porter, and I am unable to actually consider anyone else at that time, not less than in our area, that had this actually large presence that have been succeeding and that basically gave us encourage about what it was we wished to perform.

So after we launched in 2005 in June, it took us about six months to get all the pieces up and working and to construct the positioning and to design the preliminary execution. It was very clear to us very early on that it was the storytelling that folks have been responding to. They usually have been shopping for issues. However I believe what we have been seeing was actually thrilling and actually rewarding, was the storytelling that we have been attaching to the folks, the developments, the merchandise, and avenue type was a very fascinating phenomenon at that time.

There was only a actually deep and passionate curiosity in actual folks, not simply fashions, not about this magnificence ideally suited that we’ve got seen for many years in conventional magazines. And that was one thing Piera and I actually cherished and recognized with.

We did not actually really feel like we recognized with conventional girls’s media, did not actually communicate our language. Each of us learn music magazines and males’s magazines and totally different sorts like The New Yorker and stuff like that, as a result of girls’s magazines … the sense of instilling these guidelines in folks, issues you are able to do and you’ll’t do, wasn’t actually our perspective. And it nonetheless is not and people preliminary ideas actually have pushed Refinery29 ahead and knowledgeable so most of the selections that we have made and it is actually on the seat of our basis and I believe has been an infinite a part of our success. I believe that having a very robust, sincere and energetic mission you could not simply discuss however you’ll be able to truly dwell and observe in your work and in your on a regular basis life has been the game-changer for us in plenty of methods.

Feloni: It was a means of connecting with an viewers in a means that earlier magazines hadn’t.

Barberich: Yeah.

Feloni: Extra private.

Barberich: I believe that plenty of these magazines have one thing particular to supply, for certain. However I believe it was extra that Piera and I have been actually within the likelihood to speak with folks on-line. At that time, plenty of content material makers on digital weren’t turning on their feedback. I do not know in the event you keep in mind that, when The New York Occasions did not have feedback and there was … This was a very long time in the past. However I believe to start with, it was useful for us as a result of we acquired to mine all this unbelievable info and assist actually steer us to plenty of the content material and the tales that we pursued within the years to go. So it actually was an necessary aspect of how we truly developed our content material technique and constructing that connection to our viewers and our neighborhood continues to be such an necessary a part of our success and our longevity, and I believe for anyone it’s.

Feloni: And in setting the muse on the very starting, was there any distinction to having two male cofounders for a girl’s model?

Barberich: Effectively, I believe to start with we weren’t even certain it was going to be a girls’s-media firm.

Feloni: So it advanced.

Barberich: I believe what was occurring, and we have been all being attentive to this, we actually wished to be of use to folks. We nonetheless have a small male viewers. They’re there. Actually not as sizable as our viewers of ladies, however it was the ladies that have been actually responding. They have been those that felt we’re filling a void, and that was actually satisfying. Philippe and Justin has all the time been extremely receptive to my and Piera’s opinions, and we do not all the time agree. It is laborious to have 4 founders, particularly after 14 years, subsequent yr. To be nonetheless collectively at this level is a testomony to our dedication to our viewers and our prospects and positively our staff, however it’s tough. It is actually tough to compromise, particularly for somebody like me who has very robust opinions about issues. I believe whenever you’re an editor, you see issues. You see them in your head in a distinct sort of means and that is the best way you need to apply them. It has been an incredible life lesson over the past decade actually studying learn how to compromise creatively and likewise compassionately, as a result of I believe that your success relies on it.

Feloni: Are you able to give an instance of possibly a dialog that was a major choice for the corporate, the place you needed to be taught to try this compromise you are speaking about?

Barberich: Effectively, I believe an enormous one is once we employed our chief content material officer. I used to be all the time the lead content material individual within the operation, and when video actually started to be an necessary aspect of any sturdy worldwide media firm’s imaginative and prescient, and on the time, I did not have expertise in video and originals.

Amy Emmerich, she was our head of video, and we have been assembly with individuals who might be our chief content material officer. At that time, you actually need to set your ego apart and actually take into consideration what’s going to be greatest for the corporate. I am very safe in my expertise and my expertise and in my skill to make nice work, however I used to be additionally actually excited in regards to the alternative to be taught from any individual and to essentially develop my very own toolbox. And Amy was any individual that had a totally totally different background than me. She labored at Vice; she’d performed documentary movies. She was actually simply an fascinating maker. It was laborious to search out any individual who did not simply have the potential to drive content material throughout all these totally different mediums, however who was actually superior, who actually cherished what Refinery29 stood for.

I beneficial her for the chief content material officer position. And I used to be tremendous enthusiastic about it. However when she was shifting into this position — I nonetheless say this to her typically — I used to be reassured by the truth that if she was in a room making huge selections in regards to the route of our content material and I wasn’t there, I knew that she was talking on my behalf. I knew that she had one of the best of intentions when it got here to defending and preserving and nourishing our model and ensuring that we didn’t lose sight of the mission that all of us felt so dedicated to.

Feloni: In order core to this concept of compromise, was it studying learn how to put aside ego and learn how to belief extra?

Barberich: Yeah. It is completely that. I believe that whenever you’re constructing an organization, for higher or for worse, you’ve gotten blinders on in some methods. Individuals have blind spots, and I believe that since you’ve performed one thing a sure means and it is labored. However I believe that, particularly within the local weather that we’re in proper now, it is just like the business is altering so quickly. How issues are monetized, how issues are distributed, how issues are packaged and you’ve got to have the ability to adapt actually rapidly. You’ll be able to’t actually let your ego get in the best way of that. In any other case you lose. And I knew that not solely had I fought for that title on the time, it would not have been proper, I wasn’t ready for it, I’d have needed to be taught on the job which might have been very disruptive and I additionally would not have had a mentor. Someone who might actually educate me about learn how to combine these new strategies into our infrastructure, and Amy actually did that.

Going international

Barberich, her cofounders, and their government staff at a company occasion in Could.
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Pictures

Feloni: At what level within the very early days did it go from looking to vogue scenes into turning into extra of, as say, this life-style model, the place it was far more broader in scope? When did that shift occur?

Barberich: All of it occurred within the first 5 years. And as I stated earlier, it was actually about trying on the efficiency of what tales have been doing effectively and what folks have been sharing, what they have been commenting on.

We did this piece that we ended up getting sponsored. It was one in every of our earliest sponsored packages, and it was the month of hair. We forged it ourselves with people who we knew, and we let these girls do their very own hair. So, every single day we simply featured a brand new girl with a distinct sort of hair, frizzy hair, curly hair, straight hair, shaved hair. It was each sort of hair, pure hair. It is such a easy concept, however it was so revolutionary and other people cherished it. I believe that was actually one of many keys to us understanding the place content material, storytelling, and assets have been actually heading.

We knew that we wished to be downside fixing for folks. We wished our content material to be of use, not simply inspirational, but additionally important to their on a regular basis lives. So once we began to experiment throughout meals, throughout magnificence. That was an enormous second for us as a result of, once more, it was shifting away from this conventional magnificence ideally suited and sweetness requirements that we felt as if girls had actually outgrown, and actually chatting with a brand new technology of ladies that basically wished to see themselves mirrored again. And that is how we acquired into physique positivity in range, and simply actually ensuring that the face of our model and the content material and the headlines in each means the place we have been current in our viewers’s lives, that it mirrored what actually put us on the map within the first place.

And now, with all the pieces that is occurring with our present administration, politically and culturally, it is turn into such an necessary second for us to have a very huge impression in information and breaking information. I believe that we’ve got an unbelievable staff that is led by our government editor, Anne Cohen, and the sort of alternative we’ve got to even simply to get girls out to vote within the midterm elections is simply enormously necessary. And simply offering, once more, assets, info that is helpful to them that we actually really feel enhances their lives.

And plenty of instances, what we’ll discuss on the positioning is absolutely controversial, and typically not all people loves it and that is OK. However I believe it is necessary to begin to broach these delicate subjects and actually opened up a dialogue about them, as a result of I believe it’s the issues that folks do not learn about that they concern essentially the most. We actually see that as an enormous duty and alternative to have the ability to responsibly report out a few of these subjects.

And I am certain you and your staff know this. You hope that you just principally get it proper. I really like the thought of getting it proper on a regular basis. I believe that whenever you’re publishing this a lot content material this quick, it is laborious to get all of it proper, however I believe that you’ve to have the ability to be taught from the errors and the instances when your tone is off, or, , the headline is somewhat insensitive.

Feloni: Or it does not register with the viewers.

Barberich: Yeah. And I believe typically you’ll be able to’t see these issues till after it is on the market on this planet, like residing a life and persons are reacting to it, and also you’re, like, “Oh, I did not actually see that.” And once more, you will be in your personal bubble in a means. That is why it is so necessary to have these open conversations together with your colleagues, and positively an ongoing dialogue with the viewers.

After I was first interviewing editors for our UK workplace, I used to be listening to about how a lot Refinery29 meant to girls within the UK as a result of they felt like plenty of the ladies’s media retailers have been so conservative there. The identical with Germany. Realizing, whenever you get out of your typical, on a regular basis world and also you understand, “Wow, this web site has actually meant one thing to folks.” And truthfully that is what issues to me. I hate disappointing folks. After I really feel like I’ve disenchanted an worker, once I really feel like I’ve disenchanted a section of our viewers, after they have felt ignored or missed or misunderstood, I take that personally. I in all probability should not, however I do, as a result of I actually, actually care. And there are lots of people like me in our firm that care and actually take the job residence with them due to that mission.

Feloni: And what’s your final imaginative and prescient for Refinery? Is it preserve getting larger and larger, as huge as it will probably get, or is there some extent the place you need to preserve it inside like a sure sphere?

Barberich: Effectively, I believe that the imaginative and prescient is all the time to essentially unfold the gospel all over the place we will, the place we actually really feel like our viewers wants us. It is simply having an opportunity to merge our viewers with different folks’s audiences, and attain much more folks with necessary types of storytelling that we actually really feel do not simply change our business however change different industries, and actually assist to maneuver society and tradition ahead.

Classes in confidence

“I believe that is an enormous duty as an government in an organization, definitely as a founder, is to essentially take heed to the contribution that you just’re making.”
Craig Barritt/Getty Pictures

Feloni: Wanting on the entirety of your profession, what would you say was the largest problem that you’ve got needed to overcome?

Barberich: On this state of affairs, at this scale, it is confidence. It is having the arrogance in myself that I’m an necessary piece of this operation, and that the people who I select to affix us in that mission are additionally the best folks to be doing these jobs. I believe that, when issues get to be at this scale, it is like being on the roof or the highest flooring of the Empire State constructing. It is like, “Whoa, what is going on on right here?” You begin to actually really feel the gravity of success and failure. If you’re making {a magazine} that is circulated to 35,000 folks, you are feeling like you’ve gotten your arms round all the implications that might probably like blow up in your face.

Feloni: And in the event you’re in a second the place you are coping with that nervousness or the gravity of some selections you are making, how would you cope with that as a pacesetter? Does that turn into a hazard sooner or later, in the event you’re feeling nervousness when you have to be reassuring to everybody in your staff?

Barberich: Certain. I’d like to suppose that I’m essentially the most composed individual on a regular basis, even in essentially the most irritating moments, however I am not. I am certain that I’ve reacted in conferences or lead a gathering or had a dialog even, and other people have been, like, “What’s up along with her?” Or possibly even stated worse issues. Who is aware of? What’s the reward is that I am conscious of it. I am very self-aware. I believe I am actually open to suggestions. I haven’t got an workplace. We’re shifting to a brand new flooring in our constructing, and it will be the primary time in all this time that I’ll have an workplace and I am actually tense about it as a result of I actually like being in touch with all people on my staff. So I truly had them create this type of sliding door so I can open it up, so I can nonetheless sort of really feel related to what’s occurring.

However I believe that I actually take note of how folks react to the sort of suggestions that I give, to the sort of route that I give, to the sort of criticism that I give, as a result of I understand how I really feel when it is given to me. That is the factor that makes me really feel good once I go residence at night time, is feeling like I wasn’t an a–hole and I wasn’t being indignant about attempting to get my means, and I was that means.

Feloni: How did you be taught that?

Barberich: I believe you simply hearken to your self. It’s a must to type of be outdoors your self, not simply inside your self, and whether or not it is a one-on-one otherwise you’re in an enormous government assembly with 25 folks. There have been conferences the place I’ve stated one thing and it is actually like lifted all people up, and I’ve seen moments the place I’ve stated one thing and it is actually introduced the assembly down. I believe that you just all the time need to do the previous. You all the time need to be enhancing, additive, to what’s occurring. I believe that is an enormous duty as an government in an organization, definitely as a founder, is to essentially take heed to the contribution that you just’re making. Am I shifting issues ahead? Or am I turning into a roadblock? You might have to have the ability to ask your self these questions.

Feloni: How do you outline success?

Barberich: I believe that, to me, I am the happiest and really feel essentially the most in steadiness and profitable once I really feel like I am listening to my internal voice and that I’m truly current in my life, I am not simply on this treadmill churning stuff like and never feeling any private connection to it. I believe the fact is, in lots of companies, is that there is plenty of instances that you just’re on that treadmill and also you’re simply getting out the door, and also you’re simply shifting sh– off your desk, and answering emails, and caring for plenty of the housekeeping. However success to me is feeling like I’m not taking part in small and that I’m actually absolutely current in my work and in my life. Ensuring that I’m consistently accounting for these selections that I’ve to make.

I believe it was the late [self-help author] Wayne Dyer that stated it, however it was all in regards to the surge of vitality that you just get when you decide. It is dwelling too lengthy within the place of indecision that basically brings you down. It is like when folks cannot transfer ahead, after they cannot similar to decide and transfer on, whether or not or not that call is the best choice, however it permits them to only forge forward into the longer term and to start out doing new issues. That’s the place the vitality comes from.

I believe that, to me, is success, is feeling that you’ve momentum in your life and that you just’re not caught. And that if you’re caught, that you’ve the braveness and also you’re in a position to type of entry the nice counsel that you just want so as to get unstuck as a result of I believe that that is additionally a actuality of working a enterprise, is that there are locations whenever you’re caught. It is like a division that is caught, it is a chief who’s caught, or it is a staff that is caught. I believe that it is our jobs to essentially assist folks get unstuck.

Ideally, we need to make all the best selections, so we do not have to come across these tough conversations and moments, or need to take tough measures to do one thing to make a change. However inevitably, you are not doing job until you are f—ing up somewhat bit. It is such as you sort of must be on the market. You have to get your arms soiled somewhat bit. It’s a must to simply see what you are fabricated from and what the staff is fabricated from and what’s doable, as a result of in any other case it simply turns into this very generic, very secure, very predictable sort of timeline, and that does not curiosity me in any respect, and I do not suppose it pursuits lots of people who’re drawn to startups and drawn to constructing issues.

Feloni: And what recommendation would give to somebody simply beginning out who would need to have a profession like yours?

Barberich: Effectively, I imply, I believe that it actually begins with placing your ego apart. I believe that I had very, very huge ambitions that I used to be going to be an editor proper out of faculty. I needed to be an assistant for a really very long time. I did not get my official editor job till I used to be 26. That felt late to me. I used to be actually scared that I used to be falling behind, however the best way that my trajectory actually unfolded was that I ended up working for different publishing executives in a supportive position, studying in regards to the enterprise till the best alternative opened up for me, which occurred to be at Connoisseur journal.

To me, I believe it’s a must to be prepared, and open-minded, and sort of do something. And like I stated, when it got here to Metropolis Journal, when it got here to beginning Refinery, I’m very a lot a proponent, a supporter of, believer of trusting your intestine. Interviewing, once more, is rather like relationship. It is like actually being attentive to, “Can I see myself right here?” “Is that this one thing I’m going to essentially really feel remorse if I do not get this job or if I do not exit for this job?”

I believe the opposite factor is when somebody comes into your midst who has expertise that you just actually admire, like simply exit of your solution to ask, like, even in the event you can have a 20-minute dialog with them. That is simply what it’s a must to do. I can’t inform you how many individuals I’ve cold-emailed or cold-called over the past 25 years, folks I’ve admired, a lot of them by no means responded, which is completely tremendous, however a few of them did reply. I believe that these are the type of encouraging moments that remind you that you just’re on the best path and that it’s a must to preserve tapping these sorts of individuals so as to propel your self ahead as a result of we do not do it alone. I imply, I suppose in the event you’re a novelist or one thing you do it alone, however for many of us, we want different folks. We rely on one another. If you keep in mind that, you actually turn into tremendously respectful and appreciative of what different folks deliver into your life and what you, in flip, deliver to theirs.

Feloni: Effectively, thanks a lot, Christene.

Barberich: You are welcome. Thanks for having me.