From Design Director to CEO & Founder of Girls’ Night In – Alisha RamosFeatured

I'm the the Founder and CEO of Girls' Night In (GNI), a new self-care company helping women relax, recharge, and cultivate community through monthly book clubs, events, and a Friday newsletter that reaches over 150,000+ women across the globe. GNI raised its first round of venture capital funding in 2018.Prior to founding GNI, I worked in the technology industry as a designer and engineer. I served as a Design Director at Vox Media, helping build products and platforms for millions of passionate readers. I also worked as a design lead on with Nava, a public benefit corporation building better government services. One of my passions is helping women of color and underrepresented people pursue careers in technology, and I've previously given talks on inclusivity, diversity, and privilege in tech. I graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Sociology and History, and live in Washington, D.C..Ask me about taking a side hustle into a full-time gig, fundraising and pitching investors, management and building an early team, building a community and brand people care about, launching a newsletter or other editorial product, jumping into entrepreneurship from a product design background, or anything else!
I am a major fan of what you’ve built, Alisha. I came across your brand through Naomi (The LifestyleEdit) and was really impressed with how you’ve gone about growing GNI.I’d love to know the strategies you used in building your newsletter subscription. Also, for someone building a community do you feel it is important for the founder to be the face of the brand and what tips would you give them to get started. Thank you for your time and looking forward to seeing more growth over at GNI.
Just to add to my Qs, what were the things investors were looking at? Why did you feel the need to raise funding and what was the process of raising like for a digital brand?
Hi @ElizabethOgabi, thanks for the kind words! So happy you're a fan.First, my tips on building and growing your newsletter subscribers: For GNI, much of the early growth (and even still today) was word-of-mouth growth. If you've built a passionate early audience, remember to *ask* them for help! In the early days, when someone emailed me saying how much they love the newsletter, I'd ask them to please share it with 5 friends or their Slack channel at work. We run the newsletter on MailChimp, which has a built in "Forward to a Friend" feature that I'd also recommend for the early days. Beyond tapping into your existing community, I'd try to look for aligned communities that are equally engaged and passionate, and find creative ways to co-market to those communities, whether that's swapping a newsletter takeover, or swapping links one week.Second, I think it's helpful to be the face of your brand because it breeds trust and authenticity, especially if your brand and business is tightly linked to *your* personal experience of moving through the world. That was definitely my case — Girls' Night In was borne out of my personal passion for hosting cozy nights in with friends, and my interest in finding ways to better take care of myself. I don't think being the face of a brand is an absolute necessity though, and I'd caveat that there's a weird gendered pressure on female founders especially to "perform" and be an influencer of sorts. Here's a recent article about this phenomenon:, I want to share that I think we had an unfair advantage of timing for that initial growth spurt. I launched the newsletter shortly after the presidential election and inauguration. Around that time, there was so much anxiety (and there still is) and uncertainty, and I think the "self care" movement was just beginning to pick up. I think the idea of taking care of yourself and taking a break from hard news was just what people needed at the time. We had a bunch of early press pick-ups because of that alignment in timing!
Thanks so much, Alisha!
I hadn't thought about the timing with the election - but that's totally spot on. :)
Hi Alisha!What were your methods for fundraising and pitching GNI to investors who could not personally relate to the audience that you have designed your product for? Do you think pitching to men was more challenging or were many investors quickly receptive to your product?Thanks!
Hi @amazzocchi! Great question. We have almost a 50/50 split of male and female investors at GNI, so ultimately we were able to find fantastic partners of both genders. I actually think pitching the big vision and problem (that people are becoming more anxious and lacking a strong community focused on self-care) resonated with both genders. I had a lot of male investors tell me they want something like GNI but for men. On the flip side, having a woman-focused business, and on top of that, having a name like "Girls' Night In" invites naysayers and people who underestimate you. :) I did come across investors who maybe didn't quite understand the big vision or how big of a business this would become. Women founders are often told that what they're building is a lifestyle business. At this point, I'm used to being underestimated and I love proving people wrong. You have to move on from the no's and find the investors who understand your vision. That takes time and will be frustrating (it certainly was for me), but you can do it.The last piece of advice I have on this is something Jenn Hyman of Rent the Runway shared about pitching a woman-centric business to male investors — you have to "show" not "tell." Do you have real testimonials from people who love your product and what you're building? Take screenshots of emails, fan love, videos, anything! That type of data will resonate so much more than simply saying you'll build something great. Showing that you have a bit of traction can go a long way.
Thank you so much Alisha for responding! I'm surprised that men were so receptive but that's great and your advice "show" not "tell" seems great for so much more than just selling a product.
This is great advice! Thank you, Alisha!
Hi Alisha 👋🏾 I’d love to know: what was the “big vision” you pitched to investors? And how did you help investors understand how your mailing list could get you to that big vision?
Hi @krystalelainescott! Great question. I can't share specifics, but the pitch was to extend our editorial platform into a brand and community. This was the original vision for GNI - it was actually not supposed to be simply a newsletter, but an e-commerce company that helped you have or host a girls' night in. (Little known fact!) The newsletter and media company that we've now built was a happy accident, but it ended up giving us a great launching point for what's to come. Can't wait to share more soon. :)
Ooooh. Can't wait to hear more about this!
Sounds awesome, Alisha! Congratulations—looking forward to what's to come (I've been subscribed to GNI for a while :)
Thanks so much for joining us, Alisha!Hi Elphas – this is part of our ongoing series with experts from the community. Please share your questions for Alisha in the comments below and she'll pop on line next Wednesday, May 1 to answer them. She may not have time to answer them all, so emoji your favorites.
Thank you so much Alisha ! I would love to hear the story of the progression of your project from a side hustle to a fulltime business that was ready to raise venture money. Can you also tell about how you started to build a community from scratch, and what your marketing strategy looked like to get there ! thanks :)
Hi @alexespa, thanks for your question. The progression of Girls' Night In from a side hustle into a full-time business happened over a period of about 6 months. I launched it in early 2017 as a side project - I didn't have a business venture in mind and didn't necessarily think it would ever become a full-time job — it was more of a creative outlet. Soon after launching to about 300 subscribers (mostly friends and friends of friends), the newsletter quickly caught on. It grew exponentially from there, and was starting to take up a lot of my "brain space." I couldn't concentrate at work because I was so excited to work on this passion project! I knew I had to make a decision - go all-in, or shut the newsletter down, because it was causing me to work a "second shift" after work, sometimes until 1 or 2am, which wasn't sustainable.Ultimately, I decided to take it full-time and go all-in. It was SUCH a difficult decision, considering I was leaving my salary of $142,000 to a salary of essentially $0. But my decision was based on a few factors, but mostly:1) I had about $20,000 in savings, enough to last me 6 months plus if the newsletter brought in no income2) I had a business plan in mind with some early tests to prove out monetization3) I'm not the type of person to do something "halfway" — I really commit and go for it, and this project was so exciting to me and I could see myself dedicating 5, 10, 20 years to our mission.Of all these, I think the financial cushion was the most important in giving me that final push. I highly recommend ensuring you have this type of I hope that helps!If you're interested in more of the financial details of me quitting my job to pursue Girls' Night In full-time, I recommend a podcast I recorded with Refinery29's Money Diaries. It goes into more details about my anxieties and the realistic impact of quitting. Definitely not an easy decision!
Thank you so much for the response ! I love your product and can't wait to see what you continue to build. Great advice, and super helpful !
Hi Alisha! 👋🏼Thanks for being here. I'm starting a digital expert-led course platform for women starting businesses (like Masterclass for female founders) and a big component of that will involve community so I'm excited to hear more!My questions are around testing and fundraising in the early stages.1) Did you develop an MVP and if so, what did that look like given so many options for initially executing on the vision?2) What was the timeline from idea to fundraising like, including any milestones?2) What were some of the key challenges or objections you faced from VCs when pitching the vision for Girls' Night In?Thank you!
Hi @dulma!1) By the time I went out to fundraise, the newsletter was running for over a year, had built up a sizeable audience, and we were generating revenue, so that was my "MVP."2) I launched the first issue of the newsletter in January 2017, left my full-time job to take Girls' Night in full-time in June 2017. I started talking to investors in April 2018, and we closed our round in September 2018. I hired our first full-time employee in December 2018.3) So many challenges or objections! Including: someone is already doing this, you have great traction with the newsletter but we want to see traction around this next thing you're pitching, this is a lifestyle business, and people won't pay for this. At a pre-seed stage, you have to find the investors who believe in YOU. Those are the investors who ended up investing - not because they thought my idea or business plan was necessarily flawless, but because they were impressed with me as a founder and put their trust in me as an individual to execute.I hope this helps!
Super helpful. Thank you!
GNI subscriber here, thanks for creating a newsletter worth opening and a great community that embraces something we all need much more of! Would love to hear about your experience fundraising. We hear lots of stories of struggles females face, what was your approach? Any learnings to share with other female entrepreners??
Hi Corinna! I answered this question above, but another piece of advice I have is to develop a trusted circle of maybe 3-4 fellow female founder friends who are either going through what your current stage or have just surpassed it. (For example, if you're raising a pre-seed round, maybe you have a friend who just raised their seed.) I had 3-4 women who I had on emergency dial and text for all types of questions, big and small. Fundraising was such a big learning curve for me, and if I'm being honest, even after reading ALL the books, blog posts, talking to other founders, etc. there were parts of the process that left me feeling like an idiot. Just know you are not alone and ask for help. When you're getting close to closing out your round, especially lean on your lawyers for untangling legal language, creating your cap table, etc.
Thanks so much for this helpful context! Will be very helpful for our early female founders here at Moxie. Keep up the amazing work!!
I know I'm not alone when I say we could all use more relaxing, recharging and community!How does community/ feedback impact your brand evolution and how do you see GNI evolving over the next year?
Hi @whitneycaneel! Thanks for your question. Community is at the center of absolutely everything we do. From the beginning, I've had a focus on our readers - I tried to respond to every single email we get (now, not as much, and I have a great team who helps!). We're currently developing some new initiatives and we keep a tight feedback loop with our readers/users through things like surveys, meeting them IRL, chatting with them over DM's, so many channels! I love feedback and think it's a gift. When you're launching something or building something new, it's better to hear feedback sooner rather than later so you can iterate. I'm a big fan of the lean startup methodology and I don't think you have to perfect products before putting something in front of people and getting real-time feedback. I really love how vocal our readers and our community is.
Thanks so much for your response!
Just went to your site, read, subscribed, shared and now am patiently waiting for the newsletter :) I love what you're doing!I would love to learn more about how you got your community off the ground in terms of number of subscribers and the people you have been able to interview. In one of your Medium articles, you talked about how the majority of your subscribers have been referred by a friend- is this through the "You're at 0/10 referrals - share to become a GNI Insider" message you have after people subscribe?
Hi @taylorthurlow! I answered the question about subscriber growth above, so I'll answer the one about how I started interviewing great people. Honestly, it was all about learning how to write really good cold emails. It was also about tapping into my existing friends and network who I admire and had really great stories to tell. A really good cold email can go a long way! Do your research, make sure you mention specifics about the person's recent work/talks/writing, keep it concise, and make a very specific ask that decreases the amount of work or mental labor the other person has to do.And re: the referrals question - we have a referrals system we've built in-house that hooks into the MailChimp API. But when I first launched (which is when I think I wrote that article), it was simply asking our subscribers to share. If they are excited about what you're doing, and you put forth a very personal request, they will!
I've been a GNI fan for a while, thanks for being here, Alisha! I would love to know how you define product market fit moment for GNI, and what are the top 3 things that looking back, you see their clear contribution to the goal? Thanks!
Thanks for having me! For our newsletter, product-market fit happened when we reached 10% MoM growth and higher, and we hit a specific subscriber threshold. We have yet to hit product-market fit for our next product we are launching!
Thank you for sharing! Super helpful to keep in mind for our product, too. And can't wait to see what you're building next. :)
Hi Alisha! I would love to know how you decided on a business model for the newsletter and overall brand. Also, any insight on how long you worked on the specific model before you knew it was "the one"