Tue, 4 June 2019
253: How Refinery29 Defied Critics and Became a Digital Media Pioneer, With Co-Founders Christene Barberich and Piera Gelardi
“I think about how little we knew, but how—I believe—how courageous we were,” says Christene Barberich, reflecting on the early days of Refinery29.
Before she and co-founder Piera Gelardi were the women at the helm of one of the fastest-growing digital media companies in the world, they were new entrepreneurs working tirelessly on a vision (first sketched on a napkin) that outsiders failed to understand.
The Refinery29 founding team formed in 2004, and in those early days (before Twitter had even launched), people struggled to grasp even the concept of digital media. The co-founders’ pitches were met with skepticism.
“We would go talk to people, and they would act like we were trying to sell them a carpet or something,” Gelardi says. “They thought it was a scam.”
Potential advertisers and brand partners also didn’t think customers would ever want to buy something online. “I just remember thinking, like, ‘I don’t think that’s true,’” Barberich says.
That skepticism gave them an advantage, though: It gave Refinery29 the freedom to operate and experiment without the pressure of competition.
Today, Refinery29 has an international audience of 550 million and has earned multiple distinctions, including Webby awards and Inc. 500 list mentions.