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How She Got There: Rachel Hofstetter, Author & Co-Founder of guesterly

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Name: Rachel Hofstetter    
Age: 29—and this close to 30!
Job Title/Description: Co-founder of guesterly, author of Cooking Up a Business and former O, The OprahMagazine food editor…It’s been a wild ride!
College/Major: Miami University (in Ohio)/Economics
Twitter Handle: @rachelhoffy and@guesterly

What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it?

Rachel Hofstetter: I was the assistant to the (amazing) editor-in-chief of CosmoGirl magazine, and I LOVED it. The best way to see how an industry works is to be the shadow of someone who’s involved in the big-picture planning and execution—and assisting an EIC meant I got to see how editorial, advertising and production all came together. Sure, I managed a crazy calendar and did the normal assistant duties, but being a top executive’s assistant also means you get to meet and work with a lot of the top talent at a place. It was the best first job I could ever imagine. And I got it after interning at CosmoGirl— the most classic way for both sides to know that it’s a good fit.

How did you make the transition from editor to author?

RH: I went from CosmoGirl to O, The Oprah Magazine, where I was able to transition into food (which I’m obsessed with!). I even did a stint at culinary school. Part of my job was to know everything new and cool in the food world, which meant I met with a lot of chefs—and a lot of people who had started their own food business[es]! I became fascinated by these food entrepreneurs’ stories of how they had turned their love for something like chocolate chip cookies into a multi-million dollar company.

I wrote a story about some of my favorite food entrepreneurs for O, and it turned out that lots of people dreamed of starting a food business! Soon I had a book deal with Penguin, and I spent the next eight months writing about fascinating companies like Hint, Vosges Haut-Chocolat, popchips, and Justin’s [Nut Butter]. I was still working full-time as a food editor, so I’d write during the early mornings and on weekends; definitely a lesson in discipline!

Tell us about the even bigger transition: from editor/writer to entrepreneur!

RH: Writing Cooking Up a Business was an incredible learning experience; I say it feels like getting a master’s degree in entrepreneurship! And all that time listening to these inspiring stories definitely made me start to experience the itch myself. But I had no immediate plans to start something; I already had a dream career!

But then, a concept my husband and I had created for our own wedding—a mini printed lookbook featuring fun photos and bios of all our guests—started becoming a hit. Soon our friends, and then friends-of-friends, were asking us to create our so-called “guesterly” books for their wedding. Wait, we had something that people loved and were willing to pay for? In fact, something people were begging for?

The light bulb went off. This was exactly how so many of the entrepreneurs in my book got started! Their friends and family would beg them to sell their special product. So, about a year ago, my husband and I decided to give guesterly a try. We first opened with a high-end custom version, similar to what we’d been doing by hand for our friends. And after a successful first six months, we decided to get real with the technology. This spring, we launched guesterly.com, where anyone can quickly and easily create a guesterly book for weddings, birthday parties and all sorts of reunions and social events.

The transition from editor to entrepreneur has been exhilarating, and it turns out that running a team that produces beautiful stories is actually quite similar to running a team that produces a beautiful product. Except now, instead of working nine hours a day I usually work about 14 to 20!

What is one thing you wish you knew about your industry when you first started out that you know now?

RH: In all things—magazines, books, startups—it’s the people and your network that matter just as much as the quality of your work. My first year in New York, I made a group of friends and colleagues, all of whom were magazine editors at the Hearst Tower. It wasn’t about networking; we just said “yes” if someone asked if we wanted to head to happy hour or grab a group lunch. But as we’ve all “grown up” and moved around jobs and industries and tried new things and met new people, that core network has made almost every introduction that’s led me somewhere amazing. I was lucky, and now I realize that “making friends” is one of the absolute best things you can do for your career.

Who is one person who changed your professional life for the better?

RH: I’m going to give a big shout-out to Chandra Turner, the founder [and president] of Ed2010 (the best site and community for want-to-be and junior magazine editors!). I had no journalism experience (I think I was the first econ. major who ever landed in her inbox!) but I had a passion for magazines, and she took a big chance on me with the world’s best internship. Everything changed with that. Today, in magazines, there’s no one I admire more than Chandra, both for her mentorship to lots and lots of editors [and] for the great magazines she runs!

And then I’m going to cheat and say another person: my best friend Tammy Tibbetts has always made me think bigger. When we were roommates, she started a non-profit called She’s The First, which eventually grew so large that she left her magazine job and now runs an organization that helps hundreds of thousands of people a year. The joke was always that Tammy was awake when I went to bed at night and awake when I woke up in the morning, but I saw how that hard work and dedication paid off. It definitely gives me the inspiration and strength to build guesterly (We even believe in She’s the First so much that we donate to their girls with each guesterly sold!)!

What is the best part of your job?

RH: Creating something I love and am proud of, every day. And when we meet randomly meet someone who’s been to a guesterly wedding and they’re all enthusiastic... Well, I usually start jumping up and down with excitement. And I love hearing from entrepreneurs who learned a lot from my book; that’s my ultimate compliment!

What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?

RH: Learn everything and create your network of superfans; I believe there are lots of advantages to doing this in a more traditional corporate setting. But think like a startup! Seeing new opportunities, win-win partnerships and challenges makes your world bigger than you could ever dream of.

And order a box of 100 personal note cards and spend a few minutes each morning to write a note. All of the great women I know send handwritten notes for congratulations, appreciation and hellos. It’s classy, classy, classy.

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