Refinery29’s Christene Barberich

on Starting a Small Business

According to Christine, “Refinery29 is the world’s place for discovering, empowering, and celebrating personal style. Founded in 2005, Refinery29 has grown to more than 4 million monthly readers and over 700,000 subscribers to its daily newsletters.”

Christine’s Tips:

  • Commitment and patience. I think specifically with internet companies and the dramatic highs and lows we’ve seen in the industry over the last decade, we (myself, our two founders, and our creative director) were sort of conditioned to expect extreme success or failure really quickly. In fact, our success has been about the long-haul, staying focused and committed over time, and keeping each other motivated as a result.
  • Be bold. I know this might sound cliché, but the internet is like an instant global broadcasting mechanism for everything you do. Everyone’s watching (or seems to be) 24/7, so that occasionally made me and our other core team members hesitant about moving too quickly on a hire, a project, or producing content that was maybe too risqué. We learned however, and fast, that it’s those big pushes and occasional leaps of faith that really propelled the company forward and got us noticed amid all the competition. Plus, it’s absolutely energizing. You definitely want to contemplate growth and change seriously, but it’s also important not to get stuck in the “what ifs” and circumstances you likely never have control over.
  • Divide and conquer. Recognizing each others’ specific strengths and allowing each other to run with what we knew and liked best about our business was a key stepping stone. It made it possible for us to focus and hone every part of the company and ultimately, get a better understanding of where the holes were in our structure. It also empowered each of us to properly lead and nurture that leadership, knowing that we were always being cheered on by each other from the sidelines.
  • Change…constant thoughtful change. We’ve redesigned our site (and major aspects of it) about 5 or 6 times since our launch. And every year, we take a close look at our content and other products, both top performing and the clunkers, and really examine what’s working for us as a team, an evolving brand and content leader, as well as for our readers.”
  • Be savvy, financially. There’s this belief or myth that internet start-ups are born in crappy garages but very quickly transcend to these glamorous loft spaces with cool, crazy expensive seating and gadgets everywhere. It may sound old-school, but don’t spend what you don’t have, and make the most of the resources you DO have…find the right people that can help you invest, bring in the right champions who truly believe in your vision, and spend your money wisely… as a start-up, you never, ever, ever want to live too far beyond your means… no matter how cool it looks.
  • Less is often more. In an age and industry where we’re constantly being bombarded with information and innovations, it’s very easy to get distracted and sidetracked from your path. For us, being steadfast to constantly streamlining and curating to only the very best (for us!)—both in content and product development—has helped us to have a super sharp focus, voice, and identity in the marketplace.
  • Have fun with the fantasy. Starting a business is really hard and it can be a marathon in terms of keeping spirits up and staying positive. For me, it was really helpful to spend time imagining Refinery29’s success and the fruits of all our hard work. When obstacles or frustration would creep up, I would just sort of go to that happy place and dwell for a minute in that feeling and image…the excitement, the gratification, the actual space. The fantasy is part of the reward—at every stage of the process—and it can be an insanely powerful tool for manifesting what you really want.

I wish I had known…

That it sometimes takes a lot longer for the rest of the world to catch up to what you knew all along. Fortitude and plain old faith is everything at the very beginning.