Young Entrepreneurs: A Conversation With Crystal Gentilello of Rue Magazine

by Dea Surjadi on February 2, 2011

Crystal Gentilello is the founder and editor in chief of Rue magazine, a digital magazine focusing on home entertaining and interior design. At 27, Gentilello launched the magazine of her “dream” in the Fall 2010 with executive editor Anne Sage of The City Sage. She refers to social media as a “powerful tool” that helps build her network and the branding of the magazine. She has been blogging for Plush Palate since 2008.

Tell me the story behind Rue. How did it get started and what inspired you? Most importantly, what made you decide to take a leap and publish your own magazine?

The idea for Rue happened last April on my 27th birthday. I had one those epiphanal moments where I thought to myself, “It’s time I take my passion to the next level!”

The magazine came to me as the perfect way to do that by marrying my two loves: magazines and interior design. I’ve always been one to lead with my instincts so once I had that in my mind, there was no stopping me.

Admittedly, I had no idea at the time that it would involve as much work as it has required, but I’m lucky in that I love the challenge and have an amazing team around me!

When taking a leap, it’s important to really think out your long-term business plan first. Make sure you’re making calculated risks, not crazy ones.

Have you always been interested in design and home decor? Tell me a little bit about your background.

I’ve always loved interior design, I just never really articulated that to myself growing up nor did it dawn on me that it could be a career.

That realization only happened about two years ago when I started my design blog, Plush Palate. That was my way of exploring the passion that had always been inside me but with no real outlet to develop it. The more I got immersed in the design community, the more I became enamored with interiors. Soon enough, I just knew design had to be part of my career.

Another lifelong love of mine has been writing. I was an English major in college and after graduating I pursued that track and did editorial work in Rome for two years Then I worked for a big trade publisher when I got back to the States and before starting Rue.

Upon starting Rue, it seems like you really see the value of a great network. Is this something that you have cultivated over time or did you just happen to be lucky being surrounded by such talent?

My network is something I’ve been fortunate enough to cultivate over time. As my design blog grew, I started to come into contact with more and more industry people and designers via various events and online communities.

When starting Rue, they were the first ones I reached out to for support and many of them either contributed to the magazine or were featured in the premiere.

My cofounder, Anne Sage, had also built a strong network through her own blog, The City Sage, so together we pulled our resources and went from there.

We think of Rue as a community effort and we’re so fortunate to have the contributions, love, and support of so many.

What were the very first things you did after gathering your team of support and talent? Anything you found most challenging?

It all happened so fast, sometimes I can’t even remember! The first thing we did was start contacting people we wanted to feature in the magazine and book photo shoots with them.

Simultaneously, I was working on the business side of starting the magazine (getting a business license, accounting software, advice from people I looked up to and trusted, etc.).

Then after all the shoots were wrapped we started writing the stories, and pulling together all the loose ends like product round-ups, etc.

Looking back on it now, it all feels like such a whirlwind – I don’t know how we kept the pace we did! I guess that’s when passion and adrenaline kick in. We’re much more of a well oiled machine now, even just two issues in.

What differentiates Rue from other up-and-coming home decor publications? And also, why a digital magazine over print?

I believe one of our strengths as a magazine derives from the fact that a core value of ours is community.

We play close attention to the feedback we get from our readers, engage in online design conversations via our blog, Facebook and Twitter, and look forward to nothing more than going out and meeting our readers at events and conference.

We also have a lot of fun with our editorial and enjoy having a few highly stylized features (i.e. “Jingle Girl Rock” in the second issue), which readers have responded to really well.

“Why digital?”

We love our online platform because it provides a very interactive experience for Rue readers. In addition to the magazine itself, we also provide click through links to shopping sites, behind the scenes videos from shoots, playlists to go along with our entertaining features, and printable stationery you can download.

In short, we hope Rue is an “experience” beyond just a magazine.

As a new magazine, it seems like it is crucial to make your brand stands out from the crowd. How exactly are you doing this? Any marketing/public relations strategies that have worked for you?

We’re so honored to be part of such a vibrant community when it comes to shelter publications. We’re big fans and supporters of so many of the magazines out there, but don’t really get bogged down by trying to stand out from the crowd.

Instead, we focus on bringing the best magazine we can to our readers. At the end of the day, we compete only with ourselves and strive to make each issue more inspiring and beautiful than the last.

When you have a strong belief in your team and in your product (the magazine) matched with a lot of hard work, the brand naturally sustains itself.

It terms of marketing and public relations strategies, we approach both by asking ourselves, “What partnerships can we cultivate that will best support our partners, the community, and our readers?” When you strive for a win on all sides, you really can’t go wrong.

Good marketing and PR is about mutually supporting each other, and when you hold that fundamental value in mind, you’re much more likely to succeed.

I can see that you’re a big fan of social media. Tell me about how you approach it. What do you hope to get out of it?

What we love about social media is that it allows us to have conversations with our readers and community. It’s a place to take part in dialogue, share ideas, and build relationships.

It’s a massively powerful tool and one that every business should be utilizing in my opinion.

We’ve made new friends, found people to feature, and booked photographers all through Facebook or Twitter. It democratizes the world of publishing and for that, we love it!

What’s in store for Rue for the next few years?

For one, our team is growing and growing so we’ll be even more equipped to dish out the best stories and features with each new issue.

You can also expect to continue to see us on the road and in different cities for various conference and events (come say hi!). The new year also has a move in store – we’re moving our headquarters to the beautiful city of San Francisco!

Anything you’d like to share with #wgbiz readers about running a start-up? Is there such thing as “the right time” to make the leap?

My best advice is to hire people who have talents that complement your own.

Many business people are Type A personalities and dislike delegating and giving up control, but I’ve learned that if someone can do something better than I can, it’s in the business’ best interest to let them.

I’d also recommend having a strong support system around you. Talk to as many people as you can about your business – you never know when you’ll find that invaluable piece of advice or a new mentor. Inevitably there will be some difficult and scary moments, but keep your focus, faith, and humility, and you’ll be fine.

In terms of the right time to start a business, I think each person has to make this decision for themselves. For me, I was in a place in my life where I had the ability to give the magazine my all (no one will work harder for your business than you have to).

It was also important for me to make sure I had a good financial footing and people in my life who would be there for moral support before starting Rue. But yes, there is always that element of fear.

My personal antidote to that comes in the form of my favorite quote: “Leap and a net will appear.”

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Images © Crystal Gentilello, used with permission

Dea Surjadi is a freelance public relations professional specializing in media relations and social media. Having worked in various newsrooms including television, radio, and the web, Dea applies her journalism and marketing background to the PR industry. A graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, you can reach Dea through email: dea[dot]surjadi[at]gmail[dot] com, or connect with her on Twitter.

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