We are all works in progress; even the successful women you see owning it on Instagram faced stumbling blocks along the way and continue to work hard to stay at the top of their game. In this series, we're sitting down with the people that inspire us to find out: How'd they do it? And what is success really like? This is "Getting There."
In 2017, Alisha Ramos was tired and anxious and overwhelmed, so she tried to think about all of the things that made her happy. A self-described introvert, Ramos immediately thought of a small and intimate girls' night where she could have a handful of her girlfriends over for a night of relaxing and hanging out. That was how her newsletter, Girls Night In, which now reaches nearly 200,000 paid subscribers, was born. GNI exists to be the “cozy feeling in everyone’s inbox.” We caught up with the founder and CEO to ask about her journey to success.
TMRW: So tell me a little about Girls Night In — the quick elevator pitch of how it all started.
Alisha Ramos: I started this newsletter as a side project back in 2017 when I was personally feeling very burnt out and overwhelmed and kind of just brainstorming like, OK, I feel anxious and I’m an introvert, what are the things I love doing that restore me? My No. 1 was a girls' night in, hosting one with my friends. That’s what this newsletter was born to do. I wanted to create that cozy feeling in everyone’s inbox once a week with what I’m doing with my night in. Over the years it has grown into an amazing community of other people who are interested in self-care, taking care of themselves and their friendships. Now we reach over 180,000 people with the newsletter that I started in my apartment in my pajamas.
When did you decide that this was not just a side project? When did you realize that it was going to be a business?
When I started hearing from strangers that I had never met or heard of who were emailing me and telling me just how much they loved the newsletter, that was a big sign. In one specific story, I was sitting in a coffee shop in D.C., I had a Girls Night In sticker on my laptop and this young woman who was around my age gets up and walks over and says, “Are you Alisha from GNI? Because I am obsessed with that newsletter.” This was just a few months after launching. I didn't know her at all. It was amazing and made me realize like, wow, this reach is big, it’s getting around. More than that, people are having such a strong emotional reaction to the newsletter. They not only say they like it, they say they love it.
The old adage: Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. Did you have any fear about turning something you loved doing in your free time into a job? Were you afraid it was going to lose its fun and become a chore?
Yes, I definitely expected that to happen knowing that I was going into this as a one-woman show with no team and no funding. So I went into it with the expectation of, like, well I am going to love doing this full time but on top of that I have to figure out how to pay my bills through this thing. That was certainly a grind in the beginning. It still is, even several years down the line. I love what I do but now I am starting to hone in as a leader and think, you know, what do I love that I’m really good at and what’s on my plate that I’m terrible at and how can I get that off my plate? I think I’m finally at that stage. Before this, I was HR, I was responding to all our advertiser requests, our PayPal requests, etc. Now I can relinquish duties to team members.
How did you get the ability to hire people and make a team? Did you go after funding?
Yes, I did go after funding. After about a year of doing the newsletter by myself I realized, oh, you know, this is not sustainable for me. I was ironically not taking care of myself and working impossible hours so at that point it had enough traction to be able to go out to investors and say, this is going to be really big. I raised half a million dollars in September 2018. Since then, we’ve grown and hired.
You have to surround yourself with people you trust. Trust is something I think about now, all the time.
What was the first job that you handed over to someone else?
The revenue and partnerships side! Brand partners, advertising ... I knew I wanted to be writing and thinking about the brand and the community. I am not so good at sales. I wanted that off my plate. The next full-time hire I made was on the content side to help me step aside from the day-to-day of writing every single piece of content.
Even though you were happy to pass off tasks, was it hard to relinquish control?
Definitely. You’re so enveloped in your project. It’s all you. Your style, your writing, your aesthetic. It was the first lesson I learned in growing and scaling: You are doing a disservice to yourself and your team if you can’t let go of some of those day-to-day items. You have to surround yourself with people you trust. Trust is something I think about now, all the time.
How many people are on the team?
Seven full-time and at least five or six part-time.
This newsletter was meant for a community of people who liked staying in. Now everyone’s staying in! Have you seen a shift in the community since the start of the pandemic?
It definitely took us awhile to find our footing in a landscape where everyone is staying in, not as a choice, but because they have to to keep themselves alive and others alive. That’s a grim backdrop. The ways we’ve shifted — and it changes every week — is really thinking about the small products, rituals and activities that we can incorporate to making this time as joyful as it can possibly be.
We’ve been trying to be more careful about the economic circumstances in which some of our readers are finding themselves in. Some have lost their jobs, some have lost their loved ones. Some have uprooted their lives and moved for one reason or another. It’s impacted our content and our editorial perspective. We addressed our subscription pricing. We wanted to provide an extra level of accessibility for people who are just struggling right now. Everyone has different needs, and people really are processing this moment in time in really different ways.
Do you have any regrets when it comes to the business? Something you did or didn’t do?
I really think a lot of the regret is around my own leadership. As I said, it’s really important for me to be cognizant of how I am spending my time as the founder and CEO. I think in a lot of these areas I could have stepped away from the day-to-day a little sooner. Also, hiring! I am cautious about hiring and I hire very slowly and I think in certain areas I could have hired a little bit faster.
Has the pandemic changed any of your goals? Is there anything you have changed in response to this year that you'd want to keep around even after the pandemic is over?
I definitely think we’ll do more virtual gatherings. When we launched The Lounge, a members-only events platform, it was really focused on meeting in person, but of course that was no longer an option so we made it all online. Now we have a much more diverse membership, not only in background but in geography. Being virtual has helped us be a more accessible place. Our goal has always been to build a safe space for readers to connect, but now we are able to explore it in different ways because of how 2020 shook out. I have also just learned that not everything under the sun has to get done in a year. You can grow a company slowly and sustainably on your own terms with your community. When you rush things, it will show. That’s the lesson I am taking with me into 2021: Not everything on your to-do list necessarily has to get done.
You had a big year in 2020. What are you hoping for yourself in 2021?
A lot of sleep. A lot of rest. The simple things. I am a homebody, and I am enjoying having our new home and making it into our home. I have projects I want to tackle, like my new garden. I am excited to plant things.
On a fun note, what are you watching/reading/listening to?
"Dash and Lily" on Netflix, I love it. It’s so cute and perfect for the holidays. I am re-reading "Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel, and I am listening to a podcast from Rachel Wilkerson Miller and Sally Tamarkin called “Oh I Like That,” which is so fun and soothing.