Industry Insiders: Rachelle Hruska, Guest Star

After only a few years spent navigating the social waters if Manhattan, Rachelle Hruska left her cushy job at a mutual fund company to work on her hobby: social media. Her website, Guest of a Guest, not only deciphers New York’s social hierarchies, but, as Hruska puts it, provides “a guide for what is going on among the young and influential tastemakers shaping the collective culture.” Hruska’s pluck and insight keep her focused. “After identifying an open niche in social media that I thought I could fill, it was necessary for me to venture into the unknown”– a leap that propelled Hruska into hosting her own events, sussing out the newest hotspots and basically showing face on a nightly basis. “I see us taking Guest of a Guest to other cities around the world,” she says. “I have met a lifetime’s worth of interesting people in the past two years.”

You went through quite a transitional period when you moved to New York, you weren’t involved in the media industry- what were you doing, and how did you come to decide to run GuestofaGuest.com full time? I was working at a mutual fund, happy and content with my job. I was able to study and learn how companies worked and became interested in starting my own. Naturally, living in the city, it’s nearly impossible not to be exposed to New York media, and as I began to read and follow different blogs and media outlets, I marveled at the seemingly low barrier of entry to that world. For fun and as an experiment, I began to chronicle young Manhattan on a daily basis at nights, after work. After seeing consistent growth, I started to became more and more convinced that there was a market for this kind of website. In May of 2008, I left the security of a wonderful job to take on the risks and challenges of trying to make this a successful company.

How was Guest of a Guest conceived? Was it a passion, a hobby? At the beginning it was totally just a hobby that got my mind off finance. And we got to a place where we saw a niche; these young, twentysomething group of tastemakers, who liked going out and wanted to know everything about it, and we went with it. But it took us a while to get there. When we started, we had writers cover lots of things, from food to fashion, and everything else. It was like a Gothamist more than a Guest of a Guest. After becoming more and more interested in the online media world, and kind of seeing all these print publications crashing — we had to figure out how we were going to survive and expand. We had to figure out how to manage SEO, and basically everything that made a blog work. I started meeting with people like Lockhart Steele. We started talking to people like Nick Denton, and kind of just getting an idea of how they started.

And they just offered up their help? Well, Lockhart found me. At the time I kept my identity a secret. The New York Times picked up a story because we had talked about 1Oak opening and now one even knew 1Oak was in existence. I had just heard through the grapevine and put up a small little post. So, the Sunday Times did a piece referencing us, and once you have a mention in the Times like that, I think that was probably when we made it on the radar. Lockhart started talking to me through email, as I was very nervous about giving away who I was. Since I was working in finance, I didn’t know how my peers would feel about it. So I put some trust in a couple people that I felt could be helpful. Lockhart was one of them from the very beginning. I started this two summers ago. I didn’t quit my job until last April.

You’ve just passed your four year mark as a New Yorker; do you find you’ve lost some of that wide-eyed wonder that you initially had? I’ve tried to not let that happen. I think that being naive, in some aspects, is a blessing. You don’t know what’s not possible, you’re kind of just starry-eyed. I think I’m much smarter and much more aware of agendas, but I also think that it’s important to work at it. Just yesterday I went running with my friend Danielle, who is the Danni behind Dannijo Jewellery, over the Brooklyn Bridge, and we’re both like little kids on this bridge, taking pictures of ourselves with the Manhattan skyline in the background. It was silly how exciting it still is, and maybe those are the kind of things that don’t happen every day, but you gotta work for it. You have to try to not become jaded. New York does that to you, right? And it’s going to do that to you, especially when you’re going to all these events. Obviously, an event is not the same as the first time I went. But you have to learn to appreciate the little things in life. And especially when you’re removed from the city, it’s such a blessing to come back and experience those things all over again.

You cover a lot of charity events, and you’ve launched a charity initiative. Do you have a specific cause you are passionate about, or do you try to give them all a fair chance? VABC: Voices Against Brian Cancer. I lost my grandmother to brain cancer and my friend’s brother is running in the marathon for brain cancer support. Anything close to cancer is close to home. I also do a lot with The American Heart Association because I’ve had a lot of family that have had heart issues. I don’t have much free time or tons of money to give away but I do hope to bring exposure to great causes through GofG

When people get snarky on the internets, call you out on things, or try to pick fight, how do you deal with that? Do you think it’s important to fight back? Yeah, I do. Those dialogues, even though they are tedious and worthless right now, I think they’re fun. It’s always good to have people challenge you, always. It makes you work harder, try to do better, and be more fair. I welcome all of it. I have had people that have put me in a bad light, but if you know you are doing everything you can and are in the right then the open dialogue can only help the situation for other people. I don’t pick fights with people. I never do. It’s not interesting to me, and it’s not something I enjoy doing. But if there is something that I think, then I am going to spend some time trying to retaliate — I’ll do it on my personal Tumblr. It’s important to have respect for your peers. I don’t want to just be a fighter that people look at but don’t take seriously. Page Six and Gawker already do it … it’s fun to read … people like reading it. But there is also room for a nicer and more positive spin. That’s what we are going for.

Do you have a hit list? Maybe not in a personal way, but with the knowledge that your readers have a lot of interest certain names? Well, you have to be aware of everyone. Obviously there are people that you see over and over again at parties, and people might share rumors, and suddenly you have an understanding of who people are talking about. I think that you can also create people that I personally think are interesting — you can do that on your own. I don’t know about the hit list, but there are definitely characters that people are always on the lookout for. And you know, if we’re writing a post on an event and, let’s say, someone’s there and something happened with them the week before, we might add that name to the event.

Have you felt like you’ve been able to be supportive to people who are now big hitters in the industry? That’s the goal. And I think that was for me too, that was really the goal, to give interesting people who were trying to do something good or trying to build and create something in a time when, I mean, let’s face it, we are in a major recession, and people don’t need to be worked down, they need to be built up. I think you can do it without sounding too Pollyanna. I said this to the Times reporter because, one of the things he said was, “you shill for Surf Lodge.” Well, I actually really like going there! It’s not like we’re going to write about things that we just think are cool because we want them to be happy with us or on our good side. We generally only write about things that we like and that we want our readers to be aware of. There are designers and people in nightlife who are trying to bring something in an industry that is bringing our city so much revenue. Of course, I want to try and support that. I really feel it’s helping our city by doing that because it’s making people aware and raising interest for these businesses. Charities, especially in a time like this, are huge. These events are always giving back and built around philanthropic causes. They get young kids excited about giving back. Even if they can’t afford a ticket, maybe they can help out by being on the committee. Our interns, for example — whenever they go to an event, they really take it as their own. When I am invited to a charity, I try to see who from our team is best suited to cover it and really get personally involved and help give it space online that really has eyeballs coming to it. We can try to sell tickets, give free tickets to newsletter readers, and just generally raise awareness to it.

Where do you like to go out in New York? Do you have a favorite restaurant? My favorite restaurant is Blue Ribbon. I got introduced to it a year ago, and I have been going back a lot. I tend to stay by my neighborhood. I love Raul’s. I am starting to get into the Diablo Royale. Barrio Chino — I love Mexican food.

Any favorite bar? I like Rose Bar. I am not into clubs, but Rose Bar is my go-to. I like the Cooper Square Hotel. I like the rooftop of the Thompson Hotel, the Jane Hotel, and recently I’ve been going to The Standard Grill.

Favorite shops? I hate shopping. I hate it. I haven’t been shopping since last October. I don’t even know what to say about shops; I don’t know anything about them. If I need something I’ll go to Topshop or Bloomingdale’s in Soho. Being a blogger now, I don’t need to dress up during the day. I am running out of clothes. I should start online shopping.

Who do you admire in your industry? Do you have any mentors or anyone you’ve tried to emulate? It depends if you’re looking at media people, writers, or tech people. The thing about my industry is that there are not many females in the tech world so it’s really interesting to get to meet them. It’s cool. I met Caterina Fake, who did Flickr and is now doing Hunch.com. She really impresses me. And other women, like Arianna Huffington, who really changed the way we get our news. But Caterina’s story really impressed me. And I admire a lot of my peers who are working really hard to try to do their own companies. I look up to them. I always admire people who go to the beat of their own drum.

Do you love your job? I love it. I absolutely love it. There are definitely days where I have a lot of trials, and some days you’re pulled in so many directions. But it’s just like anyone who has a company. You’re wearing so many hats that they all come crashing down at the same time. You have to put things in perspective and realize it’s not the end of the world. I’ve never worked harder for anything, but sometimes it doesn’t even feel like I’m working all the time. Even though I am working day and night, I am passionate about it. It doesn’t feel like work. I get to meet such great people in the industry, really interesting people. And that wasn’t available to me in finance. I really enjoy it.

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