Justin Stefano and Philippe von Borries are the co-founder and co-CEO’s of Refinery29, Inc., a transformative media and technology company. Justin and Philippe have known each other for almost 20 years and originally met in high school in Concord, MA. Passionate entrepreneurs, they launched Refinery29 from a kitchen in Brooklyn in 2005 as an independent site for finding new designers, and have since grown it to a full-fledged media brand, cornering the millennial market.
Justin leads the company's revenue, finance and business development functions and has helped drive the innovation behind the marketing solutions platform that has led to Refinery29's hockey stick revenue growth. Before Refinery29, Justin worked for the New York City government investigating complaints of police misconduct. He is a graduate of New York University where he studied philosophy and politics.
Philippe leads the Refinery29 product, marketing and commerce teams as well as oversees strategic direction of its content strategy. Philippe got his start in digital media working at The Globalist, a DC-based international affairs startup. He graduated with a degree in history from Columbia University.
How did you get into the media/publishing industry?
We came into media largely as outsiders. Our vision for Refinery29 was to create a place to discover new and emerging designers, brands and boutiques; to highlight and tell the stories of independent creators and makers who weren’t living in the spotlight and weren’t being featured in the Vogues and Elle’s of the world. There was a high degree of usefulness and service built into Refinery29 as well as constant narrative; we were content producers from day one. At the heart of Refinery29 was a vision for curation and story telling and growing an audience around a unique and coherent point of view (celebrating personal style) and that was our entry into media and publishing.
What do you believe has been your most successful decisions and biggest mistake and how did you learn from your mistakes?
Among our most successful decisions was investing in a world-class sales and marketing force. This was back in 2010 when we had raised very little money, less than $500,000, and we confronted a pivotal moment of allowing large faceless networks represent us to brand partners in the marketplace or taking a bold step and hiring more senior headcount at once than we had in our entire history. It was a huge decision back then and it proved to be incredibly successful because it gave us control of the conversation, control of our most important assets, and allowed us challenge the biggest media brands on their own turf.
As for mistakes: not making a decision fast enough. That could be anything from a person who’s not working out to a part of your business that’s not working. The moment you have doubts, you need to start a quick and efficient decision-making process. Is this going to work out with a few corrections or do we need to make a tough call?
What strategies does Refinery29 employ to stay ahead of the competition? Partnerships or co-branding?
Media and publishing is more exciting than it has been in the past ten years. Things are moving at rapid speed. Audiences are growing faster than ever, content is everywhere and business models are being challenged and reinvented. There’s disruption happening at the fringes everywhere. But at the end of the day, creating irresistible content and programming, investing in your brand and nurturing a community and audience that is truly and deeply engaged will always keep you ahead of your competition. Always know what you stand for and always make sure that your brand is bigger than your business.
What traits do you believe contribute most in your becoming a successful media entrepreneur?
A killer blend of right brain/left brain.
What’s next for R29?
A lot. We feel like we’ve only scratched at the surface of what’s possible. Video is a big part; next-level programming and entertainment for creative, stylish, smart women that builds and expands on our roots in fashion and style. Building on our network of best-in-class voices and contributors. Great tools and service to make R29’s content actionable, addictive and always useful. Our mission is to be the #1 global media brand for smart, creative stylish women everywhere.
Most visited websites on your browser?
Justin: Business insider, Re/code, NYT
If there were one food and type of drink left on earth you could have, what would that be?
Philippe: Shrimp Tacos and an icy cold stash of Pacificos
Justin: BBQ pulled pork sandwich and a Six Point Crisp
Philippe: Find the good in everything.
Justin: I love the Sartre quote - “Genius is what a man invents when he is looking for a way out”
Refinery29, the largest independent fashion and style website in the United States and the fastest growing media company on the 2013 Inc. 500 list, delivers nonstop inspiration to live a more stylish and creative life. In addition to its global and local newsletter editions and 24/7 original editorial content, Refinery29 connects readers with content, commerce, and community, giving them all the tips, tricks, and tools they need to live a more beautiful life – and share it with the world. For more information and to browse content, visit www.Refinery29.com.