Entrepreneurs in the Know: Kelly Virella, Dominion of New York, Editor

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MIJE Staff
January 9, 2013

This is the first in a series of conversations we'll be having with entrepreneurs of color. We will discuss their accomplishments, lessons learned, and advice for budding entrepreneurs. If you have suggestions for people people you'd like to read about and learn from, please contact us at features@mije.org

First up, Kelly Virella! She is the 2011 recipient of a UNITY NewU entrepreneur fellowship and founder of Dominion of New York.
-MIJE Staff

Kelly Virella

Q & A with Kelly Virella, editor, Dominion of New York

Virella: Dominion of New York is a digital media brand that discovers and examines urban tastes, culture and ideas in New York City. We are 18 months old, publish an online magazine and plan to launch a tablet and print edition in March. We publish literary journalism, short features, blogging and multimedia journalism and have been linked to by thousands of news organizations and blogs, including the atlantic.com, Mother Jones and Forbes.

The Awl picked us as one of its favorite new magazines of 2011. So far, we’ve had 350,000 unique visitors, averaging about 20,000 unique visitors per month last year and peaking at 66,000 unique visitors per month. We are in the pilot phase of our development, trying to find a sustainable business model.

Q. How did you get your idea?

I’ve known since childhood that I wanted to be a magazine writer and editor because I really enjoyed reading The Atlantic when I was a kid. (Strange, huh?) And I got myself into a pretty good situation as a magazine investigative reporter with a small magazine in Chicago and later as an editor at another small magazine in New York.

But after doing that for a few years, and even winning the Sigma Delta Chi Award for magazine investigative reporting last year, I realized that I really wanted to tell stories that were about me, my friends and family, and my community. And not seeing an opportunity in the mainstream or black media to immerse myself in that experience, I realized that I’d need to create it.

As I began casting about for an idea, trying to figure out if there was anyone else who might be as passionate about my interests as me, I couldn’t help thinking that some of the 4.3 million black people living in the New York City area might want to read a regional magazine chronicling our experience. It was a huge untapped market, so I decided to dive in.

How did you go from idea to action?

Slowly! It took me 2-1/2 years to get up the nerve to quit my job. During that time, I researched everything under the sun and wrote numerous crappy business plans. I also polished my Web development skills, saved money and talked to people about my idea. So the time I spent was somewhat useful, but mostly I spun my wheels until I finally quit and started devoting myself to this full time. My last day at my old magazine was July 14, 2011.

How did you raise the seed money?

Penny by penny. I just saved everything I could for 2-1/2 years.

How did you keep going after exhausting the initial seed money?

I’m still working through the seed money and trying to raise more in case I need it.

Describe your typical day.

Last year, my typical day was 12 hours long, seven days per week and heavily focused on editorial. Because that’s a recipe for insanity, I’m paring my typical day down to 10 hours of active work, five days a week with four-hour days on weekends and focusing on different things. I’m doing less editorial work and more strategic planning and networking.

Last year, my typical day started at 6 a.m. with blogging about the news. I spent six hours per day on that and then turned my attention to recruiting in the afternoon. Now that I have found a good group of writers and photographers, I focus on finding strategic partners.

What is your greatest concern?

Finding the right talent. A mentor told me this would be the biggest challenge, and he was right. Clearly, there are tons of awesome people out there. But it’s hard to find people who can afford to work with me and my shoestring budget. Many of those who do come aboard for the opportunity to learn. I’m very devoted to helping my writers grow and get better freelance gigs. But Dominion of New York is as much a labor of love for them as it is for me.

What keeps you up at night?

The gap between our potential and our achievement. I think we could be really great, and we’re not yet.

What surprised you most?

How long it takes to make progress. I thought it would take us about 18 months to reach 100,000 unique visitors per month. Now I’m thinking it will take 24.

If you could do one thing differently, what would that be?

I would have networked more and built more support for this project before starting it.

What is one thing you think every entrepreneur should know?

Business is all about relationships, so 80 percent of your time should be focused on building them.

How do you think your project is helping the greater good?

We’re helping our fellow New Yorkers see an accurate reflection of themselves, make good decisions and connect with others in their community. I feel really good about that.




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