Verena Von Pfetten is the co-founder of the lifestyle brand and magazine Gossamer. Before starting the cannabis media brand, Verena had spent years working within the industry dating all the way back as an intern at the global media company, Conde Nast. After experiencing a moment of burn out from seeing multiple companies fold, Verena decided to take her experience and start her own media brand. As Gossamer continues to expand it develops new and exciting ways to form a meaningful relationship with it's readers which Verena knows is absolutely vital in today's market.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:00:00] Welcome to Wellfed, a podcast for hunger creatives. I'm your host, Jon Sorrentino, a designer based out of New York and on this podcast, I speak to some of my creative heroes to learn from their experiences and discover the ingredients to grow within the creative industry.
On this episode, my guest is Verena Von Pfetten. The co-founder of Gossamer, which is a lifestyle brand and publication for people who also smoke weed. Prior to launching Gossamer, Verena had spent a majority of her career working within the media industry, learning the ins and outs of what it takes to grow and run a meaningful media brand. In my opinion, since Gossamer is launched and has become one of the standout brands and not only in the cannabis space, but also in the design industry and for this, I knew I had to have her in as a guest.
Before we get into the episode. I just want to share a few things with you. First, if you want to stay up to date with the podcast, you can head over to wellfedpodcast.com, where I have all the episodes as well as videos and articles with tips for creatives, just like you. Second for this season, I just launched a Slack group that you can join by going to wellfedpodcast.Com/community.
There you can share work and connect with other designers, illustrators, and photographers from all over the world. Last, but not least I'm doing free one-on-one portfolio reviews over zoom for anyone that signs up for the newsletter on the website wellfedpodcast.com. I've already had a few of these with listeners and we've talked about things like getting more clients, ways to present your work on your website and a bunch of other topics.
All you have to do is sign up for the newsletter over at wellfedpodcast.com.
Now that we got that out of the way, I hope you enjoy this episode.
Verena thank you so much for joining me today on this episode of wellfed. Um, I'm really excited to talk to you because one Gossamer has inspired me so much since you guys have launched and also, um, having spoken with Verena Michelitsch for the podcast as well, and learning about the design process and the relationship that you two have formed over time has been, um, something that I've loved to kind of get to know a little bit more about.
So, um, Verena before we kind of get into the episode, uh, With every guest this season, I am starting off with what I'm calling five questions and 50 seconds to kind of get to know you a little bit since we haven't met before. And obviously now we're, especially in this time everything is virtual. So if you're ready, I'll go ahead and ask the first question.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:02:13] Got my sweat pants on. I'm very ready.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:02:16] You also have a great background. I love it. So we'll go ahead and imagine there's a timer here, 50 seconds. And, uh, first question is if you had to give up bread or cheese, what would it be? Oh, fuck.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:02:29] I know, uh, I cheese, cause I would not be able to give up sandwiches. Very true.
And that, yeah. And I feel like I could survive without having cheese on them, but I'd need the bread
Jon Sorrentino: [00:02:42] Verena. What's your sign?
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:02:44] Gemini.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:02:45] Is that like a, do you find like there's a lot of qualities that you align with?
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:02:49] I live for horoscopes. This is going to go longer than 10 seconds, but that's okay. The house that had like Linda Goodman's, sun signs and love signs, like on our coffee table.
If anyone remembers this, she was like a 1970s, like horoscope afficionado expert and like there, you couldn't come into my house without like my mom pulling it out and being like, what is your sign and reading you um, like whatever Linda Goodman said, or like any guy that came home, my mom was like, we gotta check the love signs.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:03:19] I think I might know the answer to this next question, but cat or dog?
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:03:22] Not even a question. I can't are fine. Also like severely allergic. Um, so maybe if I wasn't an allergic I'd like them more, but dog.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:03:31] I was doing my research. I saw some pictures of your, of your little doggo.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:03:35] like my animals to show on adulterated affection.
I do not want to have to fight for it.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:03:42] If you could eat one thing every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:03:46] Spaghetti bolognese.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:03:48] Nice. Um, and final questions. Spotify or Apple music.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:03:52] Spotify. I literally don't understand how Apple music works. I think that's probably like bad for the artists all around, but Spotify.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:03:59] What was the last thing you listened to on Spotify?
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:04:04] Well, literally right before this happened in between the conference call that ran long and this, um, my sister texted me, she was on set, she's an actress and she was like quick, I need, what is the saddest song you can think about? I need to cry. So I was like pulling up my Spotify to think of songs that would make someone cry.
And I think I suggested SIA brief me, which I just listened to to make sure, um, Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley, which I just listed or that rendition, which he just listened to to make sure. And one other one. So literally right before this call, I was listening to some very depressing songs.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:04:37] I will keep those in mind.
There's nothing wrong with having a good cry every once in a while. Everyone needs it.
Verena, you mentioned that you grew up sort of in a household with horoscopes, I guess, in the family, or that was really a thing. What was, you know, what was young Verena? Like? Where did you grow up? Are you originally from New York?
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:04:54] I am not. I am originally from Vancouver, Canada. And, but my parents are both German. Um, my parents immigrated to Canada in 1969. Um, so I grew up, uh, in a very German household. Um, my parents are also a lot older. There's a big gap between me and my older sisters. So I'm the youngest by 10 and 14 years. Um, same parents.
But it meant I had, yeah, very conservative Herman and Heidi, um, with like thick German accents and, you know, a lot of like liverwurst. Um, and we had to wear like dirndls, which are like traditional German dress for holidays and what no joke.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:05:36] Very cool.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:05:37] Um, but yeah, the horoscope thing, I mean, my parents split when I was three. So I grew up in like an entirely female household, which I think is maybe more where the horoscope thing comes in. Um, like I've got two sisters, so there's three girls, my mom, and then my grandmother would live with us six months out of the year. She would come from Switzerland and live in our house. So it was a lot of ladies, a lot of big personalities.
Um, I was cripplingly shy as a small child. Um, I don't think I like really spoke properly to people until I was, you know, in to junior high. Um, which is just interesting because it's something I, I, I think I'm still somewhat shy, but I'm just very comfortable. I think I've just come to the conclusion that everyone feels deeply uncomfortable all the time.
And so. That has given me comfort in it. But generally, if you had met me like as little Verena, I would've probably been silent and walking around holding this book that I am still trying to find like a copy of on the internet. It was, it was something like the big book of dog breeds or something. Like, it was like a hard cover.
And like each page was like a different dog breed and all the attributes. And I swear to God, I just like walked around. And if people tried to talk to me, I would just tell them about my favorite dog breeds and like fun facts. I remember like bringing it to PE class in like fifth grade and sitting on the bench, like reading my big book of dog breeders so.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:07:04] So the passion for dogs was, was ignited at a very young age.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:07:09] Yes, long, long, and deep seated and will not go anywhere.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:07:13] I grew up the same way. Lots of dogs in the household always had big breed dogs and things like that. So, um, I share, I share your passion. Um, you know, I guess you mentioned you grew up in Vancouver and at what point did you sort of make the move to the States? Was that way later on?
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:07:32] So I moved to New York when I was 18 for college, um, which was in 2001. I moved, um, I think my first day in New York was like August 27th, 2001, um, which was a weird year or weird time to move to New York. Um, but I've been here ever since. So I have now lived in New York longer than I've lived anywhere else.
And certainly longer than where I'm from. I've lived here, I guess, 19 years. Um, Which is wild to think about the, the handy benefit there before my mom immigrated to Canada, she actually came through the U.S. So she has American citizenship. And so I was born with both, which is how I've been able to stay here that long.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:08:11] Gotcha. And I guess prior to you going off to college, did you, did you have any idea of like what you wanted to do?
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:08:20] A little bit. Yeah. I mean, I think I spent a chunk being like, I'm going to be a lawyer or something just cause like that was a job that seemed fancy and important. Um, but I think when I went to college, I went to Columbia.
I went thinking I was going to, uh, study journalism. I didn't understand that journalism was a master's program at Columbia. Um, also in Canada, the education system is slightly different. It's a lot. Um, so I'm more trade focused. So when you go into undergrad, you go straight into like, I think what would be considered here more of a master's program.
So if you're going to go, you would go into journalism, journalism, undergrad, you would go into communications program. If you wanted to work in PR you go into a commerce program, if you want to work in business. Um, and I didn't really register that it wasn't like that in the U.S. So I, I came thinking I was going to study journalism and I was like, Oh, I guess I have to major in English.
And that's what I did. And I minored in creative writing. Um, I interned at Conde in college. Conde Nast, I was, uh, I I've told this story before, but I was probably like the world's worst intern. I didn't understand the point of, I didn't really understand internships as like a professional, um, stepping stone.
This goes back to, again, like in Canada or at least this when growing up, it may be like this now, but certainly when I was in college, internships were not a thing. My friends in Canada were not doing internships. You didn't like work for free somewhere. You just like did your program. And then you like hope to get a job.
And, uh, I remember. I think it was the, you know, maybe the first day of junior year or maybe the first day of sophomore year, my roommate was like, so where are you interning? I was like, what is an internship? And she was like, you don't have an internship. You have to go get an internship. Like you're never going to get a job.
You're a failure. Um, so I ended up applying, got an internship at Conde that was split between modern bride magazine, which is now defunct. And, uh, what was at the time the floor that housed like the international Vogue offices. Um, and I, I just didn't really know what I was doing and I didn't understand the point.
And I was just kind of a flake. Like I, I say this not as like any sort of humble brag as like I just went in totally unprepared, um, and wasted that opportunity in a huge, huge, huge way to the point where I got, uh, very deservedly goofed by the rest of the interns. Um, somewhere around halfway through the program, I was sort of like, Oh, does anyone know when this ends?
Um, you know, when the last day is, and most of the other interns were second semester seniors, um, or first semester seniors, like vying for real jobs like in the coming months. Um, and I, I wasn't, I was still in school and I, I just, again, was an idiot. And so they told me that the last day, you know, was someday like two weeks later.
And so I came into the office. That last day and it was empty. It was a ghost town cause everyone was out on some big shoot or there, there was some reason I swear to God, I was the only person in the office and I kind of wandered around trying to find something to do. Um, and like at the end of the day left and then I went back. And that, that was that. And that was my last day of the internship until it was probably like in March or April. And then sometime in July, I was walking a dog in the West village for like money. Um, I was on the crosswalk and I hear someone go Verena and as I'm crossing it. It was the internship coordinator.
And she like stopped me in the middle of the street and was like, what happened to you? Like you, you literally just stopped showing up and we never heard from you again. Um, and I, you know, in the middle of a crosswalk had to try and explain, like I fucked up and whatever, but I will say to this day, I am astounded that no one at Conde called to ask if I was okay or alive or.
I sent an email. Um, so anyways, that that's, uh, I thought I was going to work at magazines. Um, I was a terrible intern. Didn't love the experience and sort of like swore off them altogether, which is hilarious because, um, now I have a magazine. Like almost 10 years, I think to that day, because that was 2013 or 2003 in 2013.
I started back at Conde, um, as the digital director of lucky magazine. And I remember I took a photo of myself in front of the Conde sine and was like, yeah.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:13:10] Yeah. Did you feel like you mentioned that you felt sort of like, just totally lost as an intern. Did you feel like other, like the other interns at the time were just like way more competent?
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:13:22] Like I just, they felt, they felt like they were on another planet. I think I was like deeply immature. I didn't, I. Yeah. I mean, I think I am now at an age where my college is wasted on the young, uh, really feel that way. I would do anything, go back and be an undergrad again.
You'd crush it.
Oh God. I would re I would go to every fucking class, but I would go to every class.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:13:45] I had a, I had an internship the same way where like the first, very traditional graphic design internship, I've almost every day fell asleep at the computer. And one day they like gracefully and gently, let me go. They, as they were saying, like, Hey, we're actually not going to hire interns next semester.
And instead like everyone that I was in class with that was also interning, there were still entering the next semester. And I was just like, yeah, but Hey, look at me now.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:14:14] I know, I, I really like, I struggle with like entirely how to tell that story because the only thing I, itwas entirely my fault. It wasn't like I just.
I, I felt like I was, I felt like everyone had read some manual that I didn't get, and I felt that way going to college too. Like, I remember even like the first couple of weeks, I just sort of felt like everyone had had some, I dunno, some like different high school experience or a different like pre college experience that they all had like liner notes on stuff.
But I, I just didn't understand. Um,
Jon Sorrentino: [00:14:48] I imagine Columbia is also like very competitive as well, right?
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:14:52] Yeah, I think it's not, it's not a great, um, I didn't know any better. Right? I didn't go anywhere else, but I have come to understand that it really doesn't hold your hand. Show up and that's that, you know, like I think a lot of, um, smaller, like Columbia is a university and the college, the undergraduate is like the smallest population at that school.
And I think it's very much like a school in New York city where you come and you're a self starter. And I think in many ways I am that I'm just not like I just. I just sort of assume things are going to work out and I go do it. I don't necessarily do the, like the, the research in advance, which is, um, something I've learned to do, but certainly in college I did not do.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:15:39] What was, what was next after, uh, the internship, you know, let's say that you graduated, you made it through Columbia.
What was sort of you, I guess you stayed in New york, right?
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:15:50] Um, I did. I mean, I also never interned again because I realized I wasn't great and I needed money, like working for free was not an option for me. Um, so I spent a lot of time at work. I worked as a hostess. I worked as a code check girl. I worked, I did bottle service at like clubs and like, yeah.
So, uh, You know, I was, I preferred making money to interning. Um, so that's kind of how I spent college, um, in terms of like outside of school. And then when I graduated, it was kind of a similar thing. Like I, you know, I remember a lot of friends were like, Oh, you know, we're going backpacking. Or, you know, we're going to go do this before, before we figure out what's next.
And I was like, Okay. But you know, like, what are you doing with your with what are you doing with your stuff? And they were like, Oh, I'm sending it home to my parents. I was like, well, my parents live in Canada, so I have a bunch of shit in New York. I can't send it like, and I can't afford to store it. Or, you know, I was like, what about your student loans?
They're like, Oh, I don't have any. I was like, okay. Okay. I need to start making money immediately. So I basically just took the first job I could get. Um, and that was working for a jewelry designer. A small one that doesn't exist anymore, but I worked in sales, which meant a lot of times. A lot of time spent in front of Excel sheets and sending faxes, using a fax machine to send like orders back and forth.
Uh, and then eventually traveling and visiting stores. And I worked, um, Sacks ended up being one of my clients and, you know, traveling with like no joke, like a million dollars worth of jewelry in like a little bag through airports to go do trunk shows and things like that.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:17:31] No big deal.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:17:32] Yeah. I, in hindsight, I like they.
Absolutely insane that I did that or that they want like a 23 year old do that. I assume they must've had some sort of like fancy insurance, but I have no idea. Um, and I spent a lot of time at that job reading the internet. This was 2005. Um, I graduated in 2005, so it's like 2005, 2006, like sort of the rise to the peak of like blogs, you know?
Um, and. When I graduated at the time, like getting a job writing for the internet, that that was like not a thing, you know, Gawker, I think had launched the year prior, um, pop sugar was like Lisa Sugar's personal blog, um, that I read and. It was about a year into that job where I was just kind of finding myself deeply bored.
And I thought I would be writing a lot more on my own time. And I really wasn't. I was just reading blogs, like reading the internet and the Huffington post had just launched, um, maybe like six or nine months prior. And they were starting to expand into other coverage at the time. They were just. Uh, homepage, this was back in websites for just a homepage, just a flat page.
Um, and they, uh, were looking for content or blog blogs, uh, blog posts for the, uh, living section, which was a newly launched section for them. That was meant to cover like lifestyle. And, um, and I guess in many ways, wellness before wellness was a term. Um, and, uh, I. Remember that a friend of my sister's like had some connection there and I just like email.
It was like, can I write something? And then she was like, sure. And I thought this was a really big deal. But of course, like the whole thing was, I was like, anyone can write for them. And it was free and they didn't pay. So this was not a big deal at all. I just happened to email someone and say, can I do this?
Jon Sorrentino: [00:19:30] Totally.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:19:31] And I started doing, I wrote a post and I guess it did relatively well. And then I wrote another one and it did. Relatively well, and then, um, a couple of weeks later, I got a phone call from Ariana asking if I would like write a consistent column, um, for this section. And
Jon Sorrentino: [00:19:47] Was that paid?
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:19:48] Nope. Um, and she was trying. She was trying to, you know, expand the audience from like super wonky political male.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:19:58] Yeah.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:19:59] Um, you know, sort of coverage into what, you know, if you, anyone has followed her career, which is now like thrive, which is, you know, all wellness and lifestyle and spirituality, like that's always something she was more passionate about than anything else.
And she said, I want someone to write about spirituality and, and. Exploration in that, but I want, she was like, are you religious at all? I was like, no, like not at all. Like I could not care less about this stuff. She was a great, um, that's what I want. I want like a super cynic, because I want you to sort of like come at it, probably from the perspective of a lot of our male readers.
I think she also thought it was shrewd to have like a young woman writing for a bunch of men about like something they were ready to hate on.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:20:44] Ironically, very funny.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:20:46] So I did that for, uh, almost a year and a half, probably for free. Um, right. I ended up probably writing close to two pieces a week. Um, often just my boss get work.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:21:00] And this is all while also holding down like any kind of side job or main gig really.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:21:05] Yeah, I actually have to think I had a second job. I think I was still working in restaurants at the time too, to make extra cash here and there. Um, like as a hostess and stuff and uh, yeah, cause I mean, my starting, so I think my starting salary was like $28,000 or something, which is not livable in New York.
Um, But then when she was finally expanding and hiring, I got offered a job. So, you know, 18 months of that is how I landed at the Huffington post in 2007, um, which I am. So, you know, Eternally grateful for, in terms of just pure timing. Like it was the best professional experience I could have ever had. It was absolutely the right time, right place.
Um, there are things that companies are still trying to figure out how to do that. We all. And I say, we all, it was a bunch of 20 songs, but it was about 20, 20 somethings in like a loft in Soho glued to their computers being like, figure out how to, you know, write for the internet, figure out how to get people to go read a website and not just people like millions and millions and millions of people.
Um, and that's what I did for probably 18 months there. Um, before I left, it was. I have met some of my best friends. My co-founder on Gossamer, David and I met working at the Huffington post. My best friends to this day are from there. Um, I was miserable most of the time. It was like.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:22:35] That's media for you, right?
Yeah. You just kind of get into it.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:22:39] Um, but that, that's kind of how I got my start. And it was like, just again, I I'm so grateful for that timing because when I was ready to leave in mid 2009, it was like, magazines were turning around being like, Oh, we need a website. You know, like turns out we need one of these things.
Like who do we know how to, who knows how to make one? Um, who knows how to do it.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:22:59] At that point, you were armed with like everything you needed to kind of like. Sort of keep you going and climbing up in your career. In that sense.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:23:07] Yea, it was just, you know, being fortunate enough to be like part of the earliest generation of people who graduated.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:23:17] And at that point as well, right? Like it starts to actually feel, you start to feel a little bit more comfortable because like, you know, I've, I have friends and I've met people where they don't even put that degree that they've def, you know, just kind of graduated with, to work necessarily. But, you know, and that's fine.
Some people like I I've met people who are amazing graphic designers, who I admire so much that went for creative writing and language. And, um, they, the work that they create is amazing. But at times, you know, if, depending on who you are that can sometimes feel like, you know, a little bit diminishing or you become sort of lost, but now you're sort of putting that to work.
Where do you go after Huffington post, after you sort of gained all this experience, you know, and you don't have to kind of go into too much detail of each of them. Cause I know there's a bunch of them, right?
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:24:04] Yeah. I mean, basically from there, I went on to either launch or oversee websites for different companies is like the shortest and way to put it.
Um, almost a hundred percent of which no longer exists
Jon Sorrentino: [00:24:17] Media it's just a, it's a bloodbath.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:24:19] Yeah. I mean, I honestly think that if you. Yeah. I mean, I just started thinking if you've worked in media for as much time, obviously plenty of people I've worked for far longer. I've worked in it for like 15 plus years, but particularly digital media, like I sort of was there at the beginning and like, You know, we are watching just the continued, absolute, like trash fire.
That is what is happening to media. And I feel in some ways, like partially responsible for some of it, like, I do feel like the, the sort of the clickbait, you know, eyeballs over everything. Um, philosophy is part of the problem although advertisers should be holding a lot more of the bag, but, uh, yeah, that's what I did.
Most of those websites no longer. But I love them dearly.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:25:09] No, totally. And I know you, you eventually make it to Lucky Magazine at Conde Nast as the digital director there. Um, you go on to be a partner in RJK, which I'm not sure.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:25:21] Yeah. And that was a consulting firm that also founded by, um, former Conde'er, um, Ramon Kia. Uh, he and his wife Jess Kia, uh, are two of the smartest people um, That I've met and they, yeah, that, that was Ramone's consulting company that I spent a few years doing projects for, uh, after I left Lucky, um, which I left right before it folded. Um, I stayed on as long as I could. Uh, I can say that that was also. My favorite, favorite, favorite job, other than Gossamer that I've had to date.
Um, the team there are like, and are they exist, but were as people that all worked together, just some of the loveliest human beings and like going into work every day. It was a goddamn delight. And then to watch the slow dissolution of a publication like that, that was also like really, really beloved by readers.
And it was fundamentally also a kind one, which I think is really rare. And, um, often not something people talk about when you talk about. A companies, but also B specifically publications. Like it was just fundamentally kind and warm and friendly. And that was true from the people that work there. And that was true from the magazine and the actual like output.
And so then to watch that dissolve bit by bit and just people every single day in a steady stream lose their job until there was no one left. Absolutely excruciating. Um, and it burned me out. So, so, so hard. Uh, I did nothing. I left lucky and did nothing for about six months. Um, and except watch my savings dwindle.
I watched a lot of golden girls. I laid in bed, I was like, I really did nothing. Um, because that was all I could do. Like I mentally could not do it. I just was so, so, so fried after like 10 years of, of digital media. And then, and then watching this beloved publication fold then eventually started consulting, started working with Ramon at RJK also did some of my own projects. I spent some time at Man Repeller. I spent some time at ASOS. I worked with Spring, the shopping app, uh, Teen Vogue, Instagram. So
Jon Sorrentino: [00:27:38] this entire time. You know, even though you had that burnout, it was kind of a signal to you. Like you need to change it up completely.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:27:45] I was like, I'm never going back to a full-time job again, basically was my answer.
Um, and I feel very fortunate and probably one of the reasons I did nothing as long as I did, um, that I did have opportunities coming my way and, and sort of like offers, um, you know, again, it was timing like far less now, but at the time it was sort of like I was coming off of, you know, a full decade of.
Digital leadership at, um, publications. And I, at Lucky, I oversaw the first, um, attempt at a wholly owned like content or commerce platform. Like we had warehouses and we held inventory and we were selling physical product. And I think no publication had done that yet. Um, but the everything that kept coming.
I was just so, so, so uninspired and everything was like, particularly on the women's magazine side was like, the solution was like, and we're putting Gigi Hadid on the cover or like, and we're putting a Kardashian on the cover and don't get me wrong. Like I follow all of them on Instagram. I get it. But it just felt like they all lost what they stood for in this like desperate race to try and like.
Reach eyeballs instead of saying like, no, no, let's really just engage meaningfully with our readers and. Even if that's smaller, like make sure they actually care about what we're putting out. I just felt like everyone, like, I can't remember who said this to me, but I, I, I quoted every time cause I think it's a really interesting thing way to think about what you do, but wherever you work or wherever you're putting out, like imagen it disappeared the next day. And would people miss it or would other things just like fill that vacuum because they're already kind of doing it. And I, I think it is so important for me at least to feel like what I'm doing. Like if, if it went away tomorrow, like, would people miss it? I don't care if a lot of people, but like, would people be like this.
This is not replaceable. Um, and I just looked around and felt like absolutely everything was replaceable because it was all the same. Like it was just, everyone was doing the same thing, but with like a different logo at the top of it. Um, yeah, so, so that's sort of, I think where the idea of starting my own company with, um, my former coworker, David came from.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:29:59] Yeah, I was going to say like everything in that, in sort of what you just said, right. Is I would say that I look at Gossamer as like very unique to the space. Now I'm not familiar with necessarily the marijuana space. I know a few publications, I know a few outlets and things like that, but, you know, in terms of the brand and the appreciation for design and sort of all those details that you put so much focus and attention to, I look at it as very unique in that space and the way that you write stories or tell these stories is very kind and in a way, you know, it's, it is very different from the kind of stereotypical publication about weed. And I think that what was sort of what drew me. So, you know, I know there's probably a long story and I'm sure there's a lot of information out there.
What's sort of the spark notes. I know you mentioned that you co-founded it with a friend of yours that you had through Huffington post.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:30:50] Yeah. So David and I, um, David Wiener is my co-founder. Um, he and I were working on a couple of consulting projects together. Um, and at the same time, I think we're both just sort of lamenting how like uninspired we were by.
What was out there, um, specifically media, but just in general, like we, neither of us, we were just sort of like, there is no job I want, you know, like, even if someone said, like, say your dream job and you could have it, I just sort of was like, ah, I don't know. None of, I don't know nothing. Um, and I was feeling more and more like I wanted to start something.
I also, you know, the experience I had at Conde and watching this publication fold, um, I will say. Also just lit this fire under me that I, I feel like this is true of most corporations, but that everywhere I looked in, every place I've ever worked was like super, super successful. High powered efficient, incredibly brilliant women like working their ass off and executing.
And then like one level above them, a bunch of dudes in suits doing nothing and then making all the money like that. I just like that uniformly felt like corporate structure and that Conde that translates to female editors and chief who are powerhouses and, you know, running what are. Truly like standalone businesses, but then like the sea level above them until more obviously recently it was just like a bunch of white dudes in suits making like the business decisions.
And I just said, I'm not, I'm not doing that again. I'm not going to go work somewhere and make someone else a lot of money. Um, if I'm going to do it, I'd rather do it for myself, even if it's no money, but I'm just like, I'm not going to do the work and have someone else like reap the benefits. Um,
Jon Sorrentino: [00:32:44] And I'm sure at that point, you, you kind of knew that you could kind of like do it, right.
Like, I, I feel like I've sort of shared a similar experience where, you know, all through school, working tables, gasoline stations, stuff like that, it's like, you know, you'll make, you'll, you'll do what you have to do to make ends meet. And like you keep on working towards that.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:33:02] Yeah. I mean that's a hundred percent and I think that's something that like, I admire very much also on other people, but like there is, you know, for me the worst, the worst case scenario, and this is what I said when I was like, am I going to do this was what's the worst case scenario?
The worst case scenario is that it fails miserably and it is a total flop. Um, and maybe worst case scenario I'm in debt, right? Like, I guess like if I'm trying to fund this and I'm, whatever. I'll get a fucking job. Like I will go get a job somewhere. I don't, there is no job beneath me. Like, I was like, I'll go, I'll work in a restaurant.
But like, if the worst case scenario is I'm, unhireable like, everyone is like, that person was terrible at this thing she tried to do. Um, I just was like, I will get a job and I will go find a way to pay my bills. Um, so I think that that feeling made it. Okay. Um, you know, I think. That's been, I guess we launched, um, in 2017 and it's now 20, it's been about three full years.
And I would say, you know, it's still tight. Like we are still largely, you know, we did a very, very small friends and family round. That's not a real thing to like, help us get this off the ground. We have no venture capital. The company in terms of full-time employees is still David and I, um, though we work very consistently with people like Verena, um, her co-creative director with Gossamer, Kristina Bartosova, um, and like a rotating crew of like people we just really love to work with all of whom are paid, but are not full-time employees.
Um, It's slow going. Look, I was like, this is not like a, you know, a, this was not a quick four year exit multimillion dollar business,
Jon Sorrentino: [00:34:52] especially as the industry is continuing to develop like so much.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:34:56] I was far more interested. Um, I think in just patients and built again, building something that had longevity and sustainability and that look don't get me wrong.
I still want to get, make money. Like I I'm, I love. I, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing if I didn't think that there was like a, long-term sort of like prosperity plan behind it. Um, but I think watching, you know, even HuffPost, which was a venture funded business and then beyond, and everything that we have seen is that like venture funding too and, and the, the hamster wheel that, that puts you on is not real. Um, you know, it works for, I think in some. It is a business model that works for certain industries and tech specifically more than others. The application of it to media and consumer goods is absolutely insane.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:35:47] It doesn't really translate.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:35:49] It doesn't translate you can't, money does not make a relationship with a reader or an audience or a customer, and you need that in order to survive. And one thing I always point to. Again, it's been three years, which feels like in some ways like an eternity and in some ways, like three years is, is a very, very young business.
And, you know, people I think have short memories. Um, I think this is an example I always use with people don't realize like with Glossier, which I think has been held up as, you know, it's a unicorn, right? Like Emily Weiss has a $1.2 billion valuation on Glossier. Um, and by all accounts, wildly successful and I think is and deserves all of the accolades.
What everyone forgets is that before Glossier into the gloss existed as a blog that Emily Weiss ran by herself for five years, Five years before she raised money. And then a year after that launch glass Glossier. So six years before Glossier actually started. And when people talk about glossy, they talk about this like meteoric rise, but everyone forgets that there was six years of work that she did to build an audience and a community before that.
Um, and I think that. You know that, I don't know. That's just something I think about a lot when, you know, you look to your left and right. And see people moving faster or growing faster or doing bigger things. And I think it's just important to remember that stuff takes time. Um, and the stuff that takes time, I think last longer too,
Jon Sorrentino: [00:37:21] I struggle with that constantly.
I'm so such a result, uh, I guess yeah, a result of, of, you know, getting that immediate gratification at times and it. It's something I constantly struggle with. Um, you know, knowing that you, you mentioned Verena, um, working with her, I'm curious, like when you decided to launch Gossamer and as you're kind of developing, have you always had this sort of idea of what it should look like, what it should feel like, like being a designer myself.
I know it's a relationship. So at times a designer might say that they're lucky and they're given all of creative realm, but I think. I've always enjoyed working with someone that has that sort of idea or has that feeling or something that they want to communicate. So I'm curious if that was sort of a situation for you and how that relationship has kind of evolved over time.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:38:09] Yeah. I adore her, David and I both do. I think she is.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:38:13] She's really great.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:38:14] She's so talented.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:38:16] Hi Verena.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:38:17] Yeah, we started, so we started working with Verena, um, on volume two. So we had. This sort of Gossamer was in the world. We had worked with another designer, um, Indhira Rojas, Red indhi studio. She was also the founder of Anxy Magazine.
If, if you remember that we worked with Indi on the, um, sort of brand direction of Gossamer. And then we worked with, um, uh, Colin Smite and Brian Okarski who I still also adore on volume one. And so Verena didn't come into the picture until, you know, there was like already a little bit of Gossamer. I think one thing I always caveat, like I am not a designer.
Not at all. I'm not a creative director. I'm not an art, like an artistic director. I am not a photo editor. Um, but David and I both, I think. Starting where we did it at huffpost, and then working the way we did at all of these digital publications that were, you know, woefully, understaffed. Um, you had no choice, but to figure out how to do a little bit of all of those things.
So the only thing I can say for us is that like we, don't the way gossiper looks, I like give. All of that credit. Um, I think David and I have, like, we have tastes like we have a sense of what is and is not Gossamer, but within that framework, it is really, um, you know, I think Verena Michelitsch's execution on the creative direction and the packaging and.
Yeah, I think sometimes we're opinionated for sure. Um, but of course like it, but I, I don't think we've ever fully like stymied her. Like, I don't think we've ever been like, you cannot do that. We hate it. I think it's more like this, this is the vibe we're going for and she really translates that. Um, so yeah, I, I really it's a super, I think symbiotic relationship, but as far as I'm concerned, like.
She has almost all of the freedom in the world. Like we were like, she's never, she's never, never done us wrong. So, you know, more and more we're like, okay, go with it. We trust you.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:40:20] Let's do this. So Gossamer is a website. Um, I remember the first few magazines that came out and, you know, again, The designer being a designer, the appreciation.
Absolutely. Um, but you've also expanded into doing your own sort of product line with some CBD tinctures. Is that that's the correct kind of wording, right? Like, and, and you've done collaborations with other brands I saw. I don't I'm forgive me. I saw like the big oversized robe here. Yeah. I think it looks like the most coziest thing and I love the color palette.
Um, You know, how, how do you sort of approach these collaborations, these product launches, and I guess, is that sort of the, the new way as you sort of talked about, like into the gloss with Glossier, like, is that sort of the way you continue to grow that audience and build that connection? For
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:41:14] sure. So we, I guess I haven't said so much, but the idea behind Gossamer was that David and I both have smoked weed.
For a very, very long time, um, and smoked a lot of weed together when we were sort of looking around and thinking about what we wanted to do. I was originally thinking something more in the BD space, which is something I've always loved and cared about. And David was the one who sort of like, if you ever thought about cannabis, this was in 2016, maybe early 2016.
I was like, you are nuts. You know, like, yes, I've thought about cannabis. And then I'm probably going to go smoke a joint when I go home. But like, Working in it? No, you know, um, I think I was actually even consulting back at Conde at that point. I was like, I'm starting like a weed company. Like they'll never let me back in the building.
Like, and, and I think that's also an example of how the conversation has already changed in the last four years. But, um, the idea was that we looked around and every. And, and there's two things. One, I realized that cannabis is one of the most consistent things in my life. Um, on and off, sometimes I go months and I don't smoke, but like I have smoked weed since I was 13 in some framework.
Um, and I have no problem saying that. And. I care a lot about the things that I surround myself with both from like an aesthetic perspective perspective. Yes. But also like the brands and the mission and the people, um, and the, the sort of like what is being put out into the world. And when I looked around and I thought about what my relationship to weed looked like.
None of that was true. Like, it was just whatever the guy had that showed up at my house once a month. And I was still smoking out of like a pipe I bought on St. Mark's in 2001, my freshman year of college, of course. Which I still have, um, and I just. It's a huge opportunity there. Um, the second piece was, you know, the initials sort of terror I had about working in cannabis and the idea that it would be career suicide.
Um, and. That if I felt that way, as someone who has a really strong professional network, um, I would hope a lot of Goodwill, um, and experience and like trust. Um, what, what does that mean for someone who doesn't have that same network, that same professional background? Um, also frankly, for someone who doesn't look like me, you know, I sort of was thinking about in the launch.
You know, and as you start to think of an idea, you're immediately like, okay, what is this going to look like when people cover this? If we launched it, like, would people care? Um, and you know, I I've worked at magazines and publications, so I immediately, it was X fashion editor, like ex-con day editor launches, Weedmaps whatever.
Right. Like, I, I saw that you saw the headline. Yeah. And I was sort of like, God, that is, you know, that's fucked up, you know, that's, that's not okay. Like, and, and. And David had also spent some time volunteering and in a maximum security prison, his senior year of college and afterwards, and he has always been very passionate and active in social justice and criminal justice reform, particularly in New York state.
And so he very early on was like, I think there's a real opportunity here as well, um, to not just, you know, de-stigmatize and change the conversation around weed with like, In terms of like design and aesthetic, but to hopefully do some good from a social justice and a, um, prison reform perspective, which is deeply, deeply important to us at Gossamer and something that I think is the reason I ended up doing this in the first place, because it wasn't just, okay, this is cool and interesting.
This could be beautiful and fun and creative. Um, this is something I care about it. Was also like, wait a second, we can actually do something good. And I just was like, I'm not going to be able to get out of bed and like fight tooth and nail to build this company. If I don't feel like there is some genuine value that we can add.
And some of that, you know, we're still small. Some of that is offering a platform to, you know, voices who typically don't get that platform. I can't speak to experiences that. I have not lived, but I can offer Gossamer to the people who have lived those experiences and can help educate the rest of us. Um, you know, part of the idea was like a beautiful cannabis lifestyle.
Cool. That's great. I support that. Um, money makes a big difference. And so if you're someone who can afford, you know, a couple hundred dollars to spend on a beautifully designed, hand-blown bong by some hippies in California, like, okay, right next to them that I want you to know what it means that there are still, you know, 40,000 people in this country in prison for low-level cannabis, offenses, um, and millions of which who have been disenfranchised, who can't vote. Whose families have been destroyed, who, um, cannot participate in this industry that is now flooded, flooded with millions and millions and billions of dollars in venture capital for white people to sell weed. You know, you got to know that you got to know that your money talks right now. And so don't go to a dispensary that doesn't have a social equity program.
Don't buy weed from a company that isn't giving back. And so that that's really, I got so off-track to your question?
Jon Sorrentino: [00:46:28] No, no, I think, I think it's great.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:46:31] Um, you know, I want everything we do to. Reflect the larger community and that community cuts across racial gender and socioeconomic clients. Um, All of which is to say, we started this company with not a ton of money and the only way for us to grow, to do it as efficiently cost-effectively as possible.
And so yes, collaborations and ways that we can put cannabis in front of people in places that they feel comfortable with it, um, was, and is a strategy for us. So the idea of doing this home coat, which is, you know, a wearable dovey that. You know, a company called off-hour is founded by friends of ours.
It's, there's nothing inherently weed about that. Like, we don't sell weed in the pocket of the coat. Um, but the idea is you could stash, you know, you, you smoke weed. And yeah, like I would, I put that coat on and I sit on my couch and I melt into my couch and I will watch a bunch of TV or I wear it to like go to the bodega to get my like Stoney snacks.
Um, and so I'm like you getting to that like larger lifestyle that is less about weed itself and more about the before, during and after, like, what are you doing? Why are you consuming? What are you doing while you're consuming? What is the experience you want to have? And that's our approach in terms of everything we do.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:47:57] I love that. And I think everything, all the peripheral activities experiences around just in, you know, just the act of smoking weed is really building that relationship and strengthening it, um, sort of a little off topic from design and Gossamer a bit. But, you know, I know that the cannabis industry is constantly growing, you know, being myself a designer and working in CPG, you know, I see new brands and new products coming out.
Um, some of which I can sometimes say, or feel like they're a little bit of snake oil and stuff like that, but you know, like what's your sort of 2020 vision on the future for the cannabis industry. Like, you know, what are you kind of predicting or hoping happens as it develops.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:48:39] I mean, I would love for it to be federally legal.
Um, I think that will come sooner than we think for a variety of reasons. Um, not the least of which is money. Um, this is a huge financial opportunity for the country as a whole, especially in light of what we're all going through. Um, That said. I, I hope it's clear. I do not want legalization to come unless it comes with some severe, like severe reparations and, um, a full like social equity program that actually means equal participant participation and equal benefits.
Um, particularly for people who have been harmed by the criminalization, but, um, My hope vision for the industry as a whole, is that like, it should feel as normalized as anything else that we have in our day-to-day as coffee. Um, people have been smoking weed or engaging with the plant in a variety of different forms for literally as long as there have been people.
Um, we have a system in our body called the endocannabinoid system that was discovered in the two thousands in Israel, that responds not exclusively, but dominantly and most effectively to the plant. So the idea that it was criminalized, um, and has become something that is taboo and stigmatized that we're not supposed to talk about is absolutely insane.
And what I would love and look forward to is to an industry that treats cannabis like a natural part of people's lives and not a gimmick. And what I think we are seeing in an attempt to put it front and center and sort of remarket this relationship to the plant is that it feels like a gimmick, you know, and, and something that David and I always say with Gossamer, With everything we do, whether it's the visuals, whether it's like deciding on a story to run, whether it's a product, like the question we ask ourselves is if you take wheat out of this, is it still interesting?
And if the answer is no, then it's a gimmick. Like, then all you're doing is like, Oh, cooking, but with weed, you know, or like it's a drink, but with weed. Um, and so I think removing that sort of like novelty, because at some point the novelty is also going to wear off right now. A lot of the industry is coasting on the fact that this is still fresh and new gossip included.
Like I get it, you know, the idea that like talk that's really public way. Um, That drives traffic to websites. Like it's something people click on, you know, you look at like GQ, there's a reason they keep doing weed stories. Like it's still a novelty, but at some point when it becomes available and is a comfortable thing for people to talk about, it's not going to be that interesting.
You know, coffee's not that interesting for most people. Um, and, and so my hope is for it to get to that point, and then we can start to also be like, really thoughtful about what we want. These products to do and how we want them to inform the decisions we make.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:51:53] I look forward to that cause I think, you know, as you said that there's a lot of, there's a, a lot of like, I guess sparkle around, you know, the idea of, Oh, it's this product, but with weed or, you know, like there's a lot of, again being in CPG.
I see so much of that, a lot of the time. And it's like, I don't understand.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:52:14] You know, mascara, but with CBD that like that's not doing anything. Um, uh, and I think the reason that gossamer to which products have always been in our, our, our roadmap, um, you know, I think part of that is like my own experience.
With the idea of like content to commerce. The other part is the industry as a whole, like media is not a sustainable business. Um, you know, advertising was never going to sustain what we wanted to do. So we said, how can we build like a whole ecosystem around Gossamer that can support all of the things that we want to do and want to make for people?
Um, We only have two products out in the world. We have some, we've done some collaborations. We have a third collaboration product that's out right now. We have two products. Um, part of that is yes, capital. Like I'm sure if we had millions of dollars in the bank and a bunch of team members like dedicated to thinking of nothing else, we might have more, but it also like.
We don't want to make something to just make something like, I'm really only interested in making products that genuinely work and that I feel don't already exist in the market. Um, and I really wish other companies would have think a little bit more like that. And not just because it's noisy, but because it is an absolute waste of people's time and money and resources.
Um, and I think we're starting to see that and feel that more and more. I mean, I've said a few times, like I'm not. That I'm 37. Like. You're trying if you want to build a CPG business right now, and you're trying to build it off the backs of a younger consumer, which we all know is where like the money and the audience and the customer growth comes from, like you better stand for something and you better make products that actually work, because I think there are a lot smarter than, than we all were, and their eyes are a lot more open to like the capitalist system that we live in. So yeah, I feel really strongly that less is more and just making the best possible version of the thing is what we want to be doing.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:54:16] No, totally. I, um, Yeah, I feel like I've just absorbed so much knowledge and so much wisdom out of that. And I I'm so appreciative to have you as a guest before we wrap up.
Um, you know, I've been kind of asking this question to guess, if you can kind of give yourself some advice today to your future self, what would that, what would that be? Or sort of, not necessarily advice, but maybe, you know, like something onto your future self.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:54:45] That's a great question. I feel like it's always to your past self, but I really love so your future self.
Um, well, the first thing that popped into my head, I don't know if it's advice, but was like, it's all, it was all worth it. Which is interesting. So I actually think that's probably something my future self would say to me right now, but it's something that I really, really, really believe. I really, really believe that everything I do and like how hard we work, how hard Verena works, how our team at works, um, you know, the like blood, sweat, and tears that goes into this company.
Like I do feel like it's all worth it and it certainly will be even more worth it. Um, so I guess, I don't know. Yeah. I don't know if I answered it backwards, but that was the first time.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:55:28] I think that's great. Um, Verena, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast and being a guest. Um, where can people find more of you find more of Gossamer and, uh, you know, kind of pick up a magazine if possible, or read the website.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:55:44] Yeah, thanks. Um, well you can find us at gossamer.co some, get the gossamer.com. That's a funny story. Um, and on Instagram you can find us at gossamer. Um, I am @vonverena. Um, and you can pick up the magazines and products through us or our stockists keep small businesses in business through all of this. Stockist on the site and I want to support them as well.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:56:10] Verena thank you so much.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:56:12] Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.
Jon Sorrentino: [00:56:20] This podcast is produced by me, Jon Sorrentino, out in Jersey city, New Jersey, editing, mixing, and music are all done by my friend, Kevin Bendis and Greenpoint Brooklyn. Definitely check them out. You can find out more about wellfed and where to listen wellfedpodcast.com or on social media at @wellfed.podcast.
Verena Von Pfetten: [00:56:36] Thank you so much for listening and we'll see you soon.