Women-only social club The Wing launched just a year and a half ago, but it already has thousands of members, four locations (with others in the works) and the clout to raise over $42 million in funding. So it’s not surprising South by Southwest would want Audrey Gelman, co-founder of The Wing, to speak at the festival this year.
Adweek caught up with Gelman ahead of her SXSW talk with former Obama staffer and current A+E president of global communications strategy and talent Alyssa Mastromonaco to find out what Gelman has planned for The Wing and what brand marketers can learn from its success.
Adweek: Tell us about the progression of The Wing.
Audrey Gelman: It’s been quick. It’s really only been a year and a half. We’re going from one to four locations in [that time]. Our team has grown tremendously. Number of members have grown. There’s been growth in every area. … It’s not a concept that really existed before. We’re really charting our own path, which is thrilling.
Has the growth been organic?
It’s been 100 percent organic. We haven’t spent a dollar on any kind of advertisement.
You raised over $42 million in funding. How did you do it? Has it been easier to get funding now that there’s proven interest?
At the beginning, raising money to get the concept off the ground was really challenging because, again there wasn’t precedence for it, and people didn’t believe it was going to be successful. Once there was a lot of interest and excitement around the concept, it became a lot easier. We’ve had a lot of inbound interest to invest in The Wing to help us scale.
What’s the relationship with brands like? Has that changed?
It’s still a very carefully curated group of brands that we partner with, a mix of larger and small indie brands. Through our perks program, members get discounts [to brands like] Outdoor Voices and Glossier. We also just had a big partnership with 20th Century Fox around Red Sparrow, like the one we did for Hulu and Handmaid’s Tale last year. There are product partnerships and partnerships with entertainment and media companies who have products out that would be of interest for our members.
Why are you talking about women and the power of community at SXSW?
Obviously, it’s been a huge year for watching what happens when large groups of women gather together and the kind of impact they can make, [just look at] the Women’s March, Time’s Up, the Me Too movement. Communities of women can be powerful forces in culture and politics. The Wing is a permanent space for women where community building activities are happening every single day and friendships are being made. It’s an example of what it looks like when you dedicate and create real space for women to build community.
Is there anything new coming from The Wing this year?
A thing we are excited to be rolling out this year is a mobile app that will allow members to message with each other and be part of groups. So it will allow women to extend the community they experience at The Wing to their lives even when they are not physically there. We’re building it, and it’s going to be coming out later this spring, early summer. Part of what we raised capital for was to be able to build out the digital experience of the Wing.
What should brands and marketers learn from The Wing?
The most successful partnerships we’ve had have been with brands and marketers who are willing to take risks and be experimental. You have to feel a little bit uncomfortable to create something that people are going to remember. People who are sort of following an old, more traditional playbook or are still rigid in their approach are not going to be able to innovate with the pace of how quickly the culture is moving and changing.
Last fall, you launched a biannual print magazine, No Man’s Land. What made you want to create a print product?
We’ve done everything physical first. In a time when everyone was creating digital platforms, we created a brick-and-mortar space, and it was counterintuitive. We’ve done the same thing with No Man’s Land. It’s biannual, and the next issue will be out in late spring. Print isn’t dead. Physical spaces aren’t obsolete. It’s really important for people to put down their phones and computers and enjoy things that they can actually experience and touch.
But then why create a mobile app?
Of course, our belief in physical spaces, forms and mediums like print doesn’t mean that we can’t use technology to increase the value of what we’re offering, [which is to] connect women more with each other.
What’s your long-term goal for The Wing?
To have locations all over the country and all over the world. We believe that women need and deserve spaces of their own, and women are able to take more professional risk in spaces like The Wing. The mission of The Wing is the political, social and economic advancement of women. We believe that we achieve that mission and contribute to that mission by giving women spaces of their own.