Marfa Monthly Muse

Marfa Monthly Muse

Amy Parker & Gina Pell

Co-Founders, The WHAT

This month, we interview not one but two veteran female entrepreneurs. Meet Amy Parker & Gina Pell, the powerhouse partnership behind The WHAT.
The WHAT connects likeminded women to the products, people, ideas and solutions they need, through their content, private communities and annual retreats.  Amy & Gina are together transforming the way women discover and share wisdom.
Georgia is proud to be a founding member of The WHAT herself and is delighted to spotlight Amy & Gina’s inspiring dedication to build uplifting and supportive communities of women.
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Tell us about your career backgrounds

I started my first company in 1999, which was an early woman's portal back when there were barely women's sites on the web, let alone people using them. Amy was hired as Director of Biz Dev and six months later, after the dot com bust, I was forced to lay everyone off. Amy convinced me to keep the company going on a skeleton staff and she eventually became my business partner who helped me build the company into a pioneering women's portal focused on fashion and lifestyle. I got my start as a producer and associate creative director at a multimedia company that built software and CD-ROMs for the insurance and entertainment industries. Amy had a background in textiles and then pivoted to publishing when she made the move from New York to San Francisco. There she worked in advertising sales and moved into BD consulting for then early stage start-ups like Wedding Channel and BabyCenter. Our backgrounds provided great training for the fledgling internet industry--combining our skills of digital content creation with marketing and advertising.

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What led you both to start The What?

Honestly, we started The What so we could work together again. After we sold Splendora in 2011 and helped shape the new company that bought us, we went our separate ways professionally and missed working together. We also missed the culture we created around content and community. When we started The What in 2016, we felt there wasn't any media company out there that really spoke to us. Most hip outlets were devoted to Millennials and the publishers who wrote for women over 40 seemed to focus on all the problems of aging and not possibilities. We didn't want to create an age-specific content company but rather a source for curious, relevant people of all ages (Perennials) who don't see life as a linear track and are always pushing up on their growing edge. Thus, The What was born. We write about what's interesting, what works, and what matters in life and work.

Talk us through the journey so far...

We started The What in an environment that was hostile to independent media companies. Unlike the early 00's where online niche pubs and blogs could monetize their content fairly easily, we started seeing a major shift in advertising. Brands began to funnel all ad buys to the big three: Facebook, Google, and Instagram. We couldn't compete with the billions of consumers these companies gave access to and so we had to explore new revenue models like brand sponsorship, in-person events, and becoming a hybrid of a PR/Marketing consultants with the added benefit of a platform of 100,000 women to gain insights, test messaging, and sample products.

Amy, what is the key to your ongoing success as a partnership?

The key to our partnership is love and respect. We also both put life before work. We agreed early on that family comes first but with that said we work obsessively. What keeps us together is our ability to dream big and maniacally execute every step until it comes to fruition. We are both list makers and get a deep sense of satisfaction when we've checked everything on our list.

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Gina, tell us more about the term Perennials you coined?

I wrote a blog post called Meet The Perennials as a response to the media and market's obsession with Millennials back in 2015. The piece was immediately picked up by Fast Company then went viral all over the world and translated into 11 languages. The premise of my article was that if the most powerful technology companies in the world (Amazon, Google, Apple, and Fb) judged people based on their behavior and interests (what people click on) then why should we continue to judge and be judged by our birth year? I coined the term Perennials to describe a mindset of curious, relevant people who understand that they can continue to bloom long past the due date prescribed by society, age, or expectation. I wrote the piece after a sales trip to NYC to drum up sponsorship for our then brand new content and community company, The What. Back then the KPIs (key performance indicators) of almost every brand, particularly retail, were focused solely on the Millennial generation who were on track to outnumber Boomers, the previously largest generation, by the year 2019. If you were a publisher who had a younger or older audience, brands simply weren't interested in sponsoring or supporting you. As a result, many publishers (ironically whose founders and executive teams were GenX or older) started retrofitting their content to appeal to a younger audience. We found this practice shortsighted and alienating. The Sisyphean task of chasing a demographic and constantly rebranding one's image and mission seemed futile, as another generation would come along and the process would have to begin again. Seeing the world through a Perennial lens--blooming where you are and choosing when to do so, knowing that everything comes back (nobody knows this better than the fashion industry) is a more confident stance for a brand and person to take. I find that a Perennial attitude is also helpful during this pandemic. To approach problems with curiosity rather than panic and dread and to know that with hard work things will grow again is a lifesaver.

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What are you each most proud of?

We are most proud of the female community that we have created by modeling the love and respect we have for each other, not to mention fun. Our motto is Curiosity, Generosity, Reciprocity and to see that we have not only built a Perennial audience with readers ranging in age from 17-92 and who treat each other with kindness usually reserved for friends makes us feel that all the sacrifice--the lean start up years and hustling--is totally worth it.

What advice do you both have for other female entrepreneurs?

Be honest, be open, and be generous. Find your people early on and create a network of open-minded compassionate leaders and thinkers who have your back and share ideas. It's impossible to create in a void.

#MYMARFASTANCE | @marfastance