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Refinery29 Social Media

What co-CEO of Refinery29 Philippe von Borries thinks of the publisher's evolution


By Minda Smiley, Reporter

February 26, 2016 | 4 min read

At Social Media Week in NYC, Refinery29’s co-founder and co-CEO Philippe von Borries spoke about how the women’s lifestyle site has evolved since it was founded more than ten years ago and why he thinks the “power of niche” is going to be the next big thing.

During his talk, von Borries gave audience members some insight into how the media company operates in today’s 24/7, multi-platform world.

He also discussed why he’s not concerned with engaging with just millennials but rather anyone who holds a “millennial ideology.”

Find out more in the below takeaways:

Refinery29 was originally supposed to be a destination for independent artisans and makers

When Refinery29 was founded in 2005, von Borries said his initial vision was to create a digital outlet for designers, artists, and other creatives looking for a place to connect.

Ten years later, it has evolved into a go-to site for young women who are looking to consume articles ranging from politics to fashion to body positivity.

Von Borries said although it started as a site for both men and women, “women were the ones who cared.”

“I had no idea that what we launched ten years ago would be what it is today,” he said.

The site was founded before both Facebook and Twitter

When Refinery29 was founded in 2005, Facebook was still restricted to college students and Twitter wouldn’t come along until one year later.

To spread the word about Refinery29, Von Borries said he and his colleagues literally went door to door to find people they thought would be interested in the site and would ask for their e-mail addresses.

Von Borries noted that this was during a time where there “certainly wasn’t a 24/7 flow of content.”

Real-world experiences still matter

Von Borries said that he thinks it’s important for digital publishers to create experiences for fans to enjoy in the offline world.

Recently, he said Refinery29 put on an event in a Brooklyn warehouse where fans could visit 29 different rooms that all had different themes related to the site’s coverage. Over the course of three days, he said 8,000 people showed up and waited in line for 3-4 hours to get in.

“People showing up in the real world, especially for those who work in digital, is sort of an eye opening moment,” he said.

Everyone’s obsession with millennials is misguided

It’s no surprise that brands and publishers are obsessed with connecting with millennials. But von Borries said it’s important to not get “caught in a web of 18-30 year olds” since a lot of people outside of that age group actually hold a lot of the same beliefs and values as millennials.

He instead advised publishers to focus on engaging with anyone holds a “millennial ideology,” and noted that a lot of the traits that millennials have come to embody – like aversion to hierarchy, inclusivity, and passion – have actually spread to different generations all around the world.

‘Niche’ reporting might be the next big thing

When Refinery29 first started, von Borries said it “launched with this niche, tiny, almost impossibly small mission” of connecting artists around the world.

Even though it has grown into much more than that today, von Borries said that Refiney29 still focuses on providing in-depth coverage to niche topics like body positivity and the wage gap.

“The power of niche is sort of going to become a big thing. Watch for it,” he said.

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