Among other things, Audrey Gelman is the Co-Founder and CEO of The Wing, a women's co-working space and social club with two locations in New York, and more on the way. If you haven't heard of The Wing (or if you aren't on the waiting list yet), it's basically a badass co-working space for really cool people who identify as female to meet and support each other in all their pursuits. It's also incredibly gorgeous, stocked with delicious snacks, and constantly has amazing panel discussions with the likes of Diane von Furstenberg and Kirsten Gillibrand. Founded just last year, read on to hear all about Audrey's journey to starting The Wing!
Where does your self-declared obsession with politics stem from?
I come from a very politically engaged household. Very left-wing progressive, supportive of labor, and engaged with local politics. My family was taking me to picket lines when I was young. There was a local democratic club in my neighborhood and I used to go to meetings and hand out flyers and stuff like that from a very early age, in, like, middle school and high school.
I got a bug for falling in and participating with what was, essentially, local politics. I was very into New York City politics and my generation [lived through] the Florida recount and it was like a very crazy time in politics and things are even crazier now. But yeah, I just turned into one of those people who, the first thing I did in the morning, was read the entire newspaper and debate the hot button issues with my family. So it was encouraged by my parents.
You used to be the Senior VP of PR at SKDKnickerbocker. How did you learn the art of communication?
I think when you get in politics, you decide like, “Okay, am I the person who’s going to do the ground game and organize all the volunteers? Or am I the person who’s going to raise all the money? Or am I the person who’s going to do the technology?” And I was definitely drawn to the idea of telling stories and helping to tell the story of [...] why a politician was running, the stories behind why their policies were so important, and try to make politics more vivid through storytelling.
And that really [happens] through public relations and communications and having reporters amplify those stories. So, I was definitely drawn to that angle, that sort of lane in politics, and so I got the chance to work under a few people that I really looked up to. One person’s name was Harold Wolfson. He was the communications director in the Hillary campaign in 2008 and very talented at PR. So, I was always very drawn to storytelling, and the narrative around why politics was important, and why it impacted people’s lives. And why, especially, young people should pay more attention to it.
Have you ever considered running yourself?
I feel like...I don’t know. I have tattoos and, you know, I’ve dated some jerks and so I don’t know if I’m candidate material. But I feel now anyone can run now that Trump’s elected. So yeah, if I was ever to do something like that I’d probably join my community board, or run for city council, or something like that. Because I think I’m always really interested in the impact that can be made on the local level rather than running for Congress, or Governor, or one of those things, you know?
What was it like moving from that world of politics and PR to the world of business with The Wing?
It was hard, it was definitely bumpy. I think working on campaigns you kind of develop the skills to do anything because your job is really to put out fires and surpass obstacles and never take no for an answer, so you can definitely apply that to starting a business. But there were a lot of new things. I didn’t go to business school or have a background in Economics. So, figuring out how to tell a great story and build something, that was meaningful, but also having a solid business model behind it where it could grow, and thrive, and self-sustain rather than having to downsize or even close…that was definitely an adjustment for me.
You know, I was googling, “How to write a business plan.” I was really coming from a place of Startups for Dummies, so I think when it comes to the sort of hustle and resourcefulness of figuring out how to solve problems--which is a lot of what starting a business requires--I took a lot of that from working in politics and on campaigns. I think for me, starting this business has been like getting a very accelerated business degree.
Now, as CEO and Co-Founder of The Wing, what are your top responsibilities? What stays consistent?
Right now, my main job is setting a vision for how to grow The Wing and how to bring it to more places and that means...basically, my job is to help empower our very quickly growing team to build the company. That means finding and building new spaces, curating really awesome events, finding ways to connect all of our members, and working on the brand because that’s something I’m really passionate about.
At the beginning it was just our Instagram and we were kind of expressing the personality of the brand and what the brand was. Now we’re excited to introduce new ways of doing that. We’re doing a magazine, which we haven’t quite announced, but it’s coming out in November. And it’s amazing, it’s awesome. And working on that has been a really fun project because it’s a way for us to capture the spirit and the essence of The Wing in a new form, in content and in print that can be sent all over the country and internationally, too.
So, if someone’s not in New York and they’re into what we’re doing at The Wing, they can experience more of what we stand for and the kind of stories that we’re telling through the magazine. So yeah, my main job is to help find new and innovative ways to grow our footprint and to build our audience and amplify our message to more and more women.
In creating The Wing, how did you go about finding and building a team to help you do so?
One of the really cool things is that we’ve actually hired a lot of our members. There’s so many talented women that are experts in their field, and so we’ve hired a number of them. So, we actually have this really amazing new staff because we have this community of awesome, talented women. I feel like very lucky, I don’t think a lot of companies can say that.
What’s been your most meaningful accomplishment in this role and how did you make it happen?
I think just pulling off opening one Wing. Sometimes I just step back and look at this unique ecosystem where women get to exist without the structure and baggage of interactions with men and it’s really beautiful. And, you know, it was really hard to pull off, and not a lot of people thought it was a good idea. But when we step back and watch it in action, I feel very proud.
What’s the hardest thing about being a CEO?
I think the hardest part is that there’s a lot of pressure and the people who work for me are not mind readers. I have to really set them up to do a great job. And sometimes, when you’re a CEO, you think people can read your mind. But they can’t. I was definitely the kid who wanted to do all the projects myself in school--all the group projects--and take them over. When you’re a CEO you can’t do that. So delegating, not saying “I can do it better,” and just doing it yourself.
What’s been one thing you didn’t expect you’d have to do in this role but you do?
I think the construction side of things is really interesting and not something I had any experience with. There’s a lot of really unglamorous stuff that people don’t see, like our HVAC and, you know, insurance and managing a construction team, which my co-founder leads. I think those are things I had zero experience with before, and it’s not the things people see on the outside but they’re super necessary to create the end product.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
I would still be working in politics and doing public relations.
Okay, but what do you do? Please write your answer as if you're talking to your ten-year-old self.
Thank you so much, Audrey! You were so much fun to talk to and it was awesome to hear first hand about everything you're doing to make The Wing so successful. Readers, come back next week to learn her wisdom on how to craft an elevator pitch! (Photos courtesy of The Wing and credit for headshot to Laurel Golio)