The Wing CEO Audrey Gelman: ‘We want to create a storytelling arc’
Since its inception in 2016, the women-focused co-working space and collective, The Wing has continuously grown its presence. But this year, it had its biggest growth spurt yet, with new spaces opening in Brooklyn, Washington D.C. and San Francisco. According to The Wing’s CEO Audrey Gelman, there are no plans for the social club to slow down anytime soon with plans set to open spaces in Los Angeles and Boston, as well as their first international location in London. And as of Dec. 19, The Wing secured an additional $75 million in funding from backers including actress Kerry Washington, Time’s Up co-founders Robbie Kaplan and Hilary Rosen and former White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett.
While The Wing has mainly focused on its physical presence and locations thus far, it’s shifting focus next year. Below, Gelman discusses The Wing’s quick growth, tackling diversity and its plans to focus on digital in 2019.
What were some of the challenges for The Wing in 2018?
For us, we’ve just grown tremendously quickly, so going from a team of four people to a team of over 100 in a span of a year, scaling to five locations, opening up our first space across the country on the west coast — I think for us, the ability to realize we were onto something and we had proof of concept and had to move quickly to mobilize towards scale is one step and actually beginning scale is another step, so then I think that was the most challenging stuff for us this year, but also exciting.
How do you plan to grow The Wing’s membership in 2019?
We have grown our membership from 200 members to 6,000 members, and we’ve grown totally organically — through word of mouth, organic social media and things like that. I think we’re excited to open new spaces and accommodate the demand we’ve had. Our spaces are really at capacity. Opening new spaces that will allow us to accept new members is obviously going to help us expand our membership base. In addition to growing the number of members, it’s also about deepening the offering that we’re giving to our members, whether that’s The Little Wing, which is babysitting and childcare services for parents that we’re going to be opening in January to things like our digital presence. We have an iOS app we launched this year. Really, what The Wing has been is an offline social network, and what we’re hoping to innovate on next year is taking so many of the interactions that are happening between members in real-life and in our spaces and translating them into digital spaces where they can access connection and community without being inside the four walls of The Wing.
With regards to membership, do you have any plans to introduce any tiered pricing plans or additional scholarships in the next year?
We’re going to be at minimum doubling the size of our scholarship program and expanding it to every new market we open in. We’re looking at additional tiers of membership as well. Right now, the cost of joining The Wing is one-third of the cost of joining most co-working spaces in the cities we’re located in, and you get access to an unlimited number of really incredible events, a workspace, community, all of the amenities like showers and beauty rooms as well as free drip coffee. We’re looking at a lot of different ways we can expand that but first and foremost is our scholarship program.
A lot of media brands are struggling at the moment. How will your print publication No Man’s Land fit into the brand strategy in 2019?
We’re not a media brand or digital media brand. We’ve always gone physical first. At the time when we opened a physical space, it was very counterintuitive. Our magazine is a way for us to tell women’s stories, it’s a way for us to extend the kinds of incredible women that you get to hear from at The Wing every night as part of our events to people who are not necessarily one of the cities we’re located in. We want to create a storytelling arc for The Wing and the way that has manifested is through our physical magazine and our podcast. [The purpose] is to find new creative mediums to tell women’s stories. The magazine is something we’re incredibly proud of — the caliber of women who have been part of it and the design — it’s something that’s a real pleasure and joy for us to work on. I think the spirit of The Wing is a big part of it. Similarly, the podcast Women’s History has really been at the core of the original idea for The Wing and the inspiration, so getting to work with Alexis Coe who’s The Wing’s historian and who we worked on with for the original idea for the business to tell different women’s stories, has been rewarding. It’s not the core business, but it’s a way to introduce people to The Wing, the brand and to do that through storytelling. We had our first ever camp No Man’s Land this past summer, and for us, everything we’ve done with No Man’s Land has been taking The Wing out of our physical space. For us, that was an amazing experience to create for our members. It was really a test of how the brand traveled outside of our physical spaces.
Considering how much The Wing has grown this year, what are your plans for expansion in 2019?
We have a bunch of cities we’ve announced that are on the roadmap. We announced Boston this morning and we are also opening in Los Angeles, Chicago and London and looking to continue to scale both domestically and internationally.
You’ve had a lot of notable guests at The Wing this year. Will you be changing anything with regards to your events and programming?
Not really. An average month at The Wing is totally mind-blowing. I don’t think we ever could have imagined that people like Jennifer Lopez, Kerry Washington, Maya Rudolph, Stacey Abrams or Hillary Clinton…we just had such an unbelievable year in terms of events and programming and the caliber of events we’ve had, and we’re just going to continue to keep that up. The one thing I’d emphasize about our plans next year is to double down on the digital experience and digital offerings for members and continue to innovate ways that members can continue to connect with each other, not just in our physical spaces.
In terms of diversity, how will you be making that a focus in 2019?
Absolutely. We have a full-time team that works on diversity and inclusion, civic engagement and impact, so that team works on both diversity and inclusion from a membership perspective in terms of our events from the products we have in the bathroom to making sure that every panel we do has diverse representation. Also making sure We’re doing partnerships with HBCUs and interest groups to spread interest about The Wing and bring in a diverse cross-section of members. The internal team is incredibly diverse, and we will continue to hold ourselves to super high standards. I think diversity is contextual – it’s very rare that a company is all women anywhere. But even with an already diverse team, we want to continue to hold ourselves to high standards and make inclusion a cornerstone of what we do here.
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