While most startups today rush to find investors and seed funding, the two founders behind Refinery29, never even thought it was a possibility. And looking back, they’re glad that they waited to bring in outside money.
Inc.com's Diana Ransom hosted a live chat on Wednesday with the co-founders, Justin Stefano and Philippe von Borries, and among the many interesting topics that came up was the fact that Refinery29 didn't really get any significant funding until 2010. Stefano and von Borries founded the company in 2005.
"When we launched the business we didn't even know you could raise money," von Borries said.
The first investor in Refinery29 came from a new feature the site was doing called Neighborhood Watch, where a designer or artist would take Stefano and von Borries around their favorite restaurants and stores in a particular neighborhood. One day, the co-founders were doing a tour with Steven Alan, and he liked Refinery29 so much that he decided to invest $160,000.
That lasted the company about two years.
Stefano and von Borries were scrappy and thrifty, living out of cheap apartments in Brooklyn ("back when Brooklyn was still cheap"), and they thought of creative ways to generate money, hosting sample sales and pop-up shops.
If they had started out with tons of funding, Stefano and von Borries might not have had the incentive to come up with these revenue channels, and Refinery29 wouldn't be what it is today.
"Not pursuing venture funding was improtant learning for us because we were left to our own devices without someody breathing down our necks and telling us what to do," von Borries said.
During the live chat the co-founders also discussed how the company has evolved over the past decade, as it turned into a media hub for millennial women.
"The core has remained the same, which was producing content for our audience every day," Stefano said. "We've just followed our users and what they respond to and what they want."
Stefano and von Borries spoke about what it's like creating a company with a friend, as well.
The co-founders have known each other since they were in high school and came up with the idea for Refinery29 while at a friend's concert at a bar.
Looking forward, Refinery29 is focusing on video, news and culture content, and expanding into international markets.
"The mission is to build the most important media company of this generation for millennial women," von Borries said. "Making sure that we’re producing content that is the topic at dinner conversations throughout the country."