How This Founder Turned Her Newsletter, Girls' Night In, Into a Full-Time Job
Step one: Identify an underserved audience. Step two: Serve it really well.
Alisha Ramos, 28, knows that the cool kids stay in on Friday night. She is the founder of Girls' Night In, a newsletter-based lifestyle brand and community that helps hectic young women make the most of their weekend downtime by recommending the best in culture, lifestyle and self-care. In just over a year, Ramos has built her weekly newsletter from 150 to 60,000 subscribers with an open rate of 50 percent -- about five times the industry average. Through native advertising and affiliate marketing (and a click-through rate of 23 percent), she has quickly built a sustainable business, which enabled her to quit her full-time job. Now she's growing an events arm, including a Girls' Night In book club in eight cities and events with brand partners.
Entrepreneurs often start companies because they identify a gap in the marketplace. How did you realize that homebodies were being underserved?
I’m in my later twenties, and going out to bars and loud house parties didn’t really speak to my soul anymore. They once did. So, I thought, "What do I need in my life?" And I realized that I was passionate about the intimacy and meaningful connections that I build with my friends in a cozy setting. I wanted to help women enjoy their nights in, recharge and find the same community.
When did you realize that your instincts were correct?
Before I actually launched the newsletter, I started with an Instagram teaser to create mystery about the company and sent that out across my social channels. That got about 150 people to sign up. After I launched, Girls' Night In grew rapidly. I’d get texts from friends: “I was in San Francisco this weekend, and this girl was raving about newsletter.” I can’t tell you how many stories like that I still get. I thought: "I’m sitting on something huge if it’s already catching on."
You left your job as a product design lead for Nava six months after launching Girls' Night In. Was that a difficult decision?
I didn’t grow up with money. My parents are first-generation immigrants from Korea and the Dominican Republic. I grew up with a lot of financial struggle and that had an impact on me emotionally and mentally. So leaving a stable job was incredibly difficult. It’s something I still struggle with. But before I quit, I looked at my finances. I had enough savings to support myself for six months. I decided that if I didn’t make anything from GNI after that, I’d throw in towel.
Creating community is very important to your success, so how have you managed to monetize in an authentic way?
We rely on brand partnerships—but we turn down 90 percent of the brands who come to us. Our main product is editorial, so we create custom content for brands that we think will resonate with our audience. For example, we partnered with Urban Stems, a flower delivery company. Instead of creating content that pushes products to our audience, we brainstormed what stories would resonate with them. So we interviewed their lead floral product designer. It wasn’t overly pushy about buying the product.
You say that your main product is editorial and yet so many editorial platforms are struggling. One change in Facebook’s algorithm can make or break a media company.
A newsletter is direct access. It’s one of the greatest assets a business can have. It doesn’t rely on algorithms or feeds. You know exactly where the content is going and you can look at the analytics and data and adjust. But it’s also about having a very clear mission. You have to really put your stake in the ground. If you do, people will be loyal to you. I also read and respond to every single comment on social media.
But you’ve also recognized that engagement can’t just be mediated through screens.
That’s why we have an events arm. We sell tickets for our monthly book clubs. Those routinely sell out, but we limit them to 35 people. We could sell out an event of hundreds, but we don’t want you to step into stressful networking environment. We hold them at bookstores and cafes. Intimate and cozy venues. We’re also holding our first event with a brand partner next month. I can’t say too much yet, but the event will be activity-based.
Now that you’re just over a year old, how do you continue to build momentum and grow your audience?
For much of the first year, readers who referred new subscribers got various levels of swag. If you shared Girls' Night In with 10 people, then we would send you a branded tote bag or T-shirt or key chain. We built a custom back-end to power the system. Our referrals drive 60 percent of new subscribers, so it’s key to our growth. We actually had to put a pause on the referral-swag deal a couple months ago because we couldn’t keep up with the demand, but we’re bringing it back soon.
You call yourself an introvert, but you're successfully building a community. Do you ever feel a contradiction?
It’s something I struggled with when I knew I wanted to launch a company. When you’re building a business, you have to get out there, talk to people, share your personal story. That was really hard for me. I didn’t even put my photo or name on website until a few months ago.
What finally changed your mind about the photo?
I don’t think I had aha moment. When I look at companies I resonate with, it usually does have that human factor. I love reading founders’ stories. And I wanted our readers to know that we’re coming from an authentic and real place. There’s a story behind us. We want other women to see that and say, "I relate and I want to be a part of this." And I think they do.