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Last year, when Connecticut sisters Laura and Danielle Kosann started The New Potato, a site that melds food and fashion, they managed to do the seemingly impossible: fill an internet void. The sisters left their daytime jobs—Danielle, 27, an art director in fashion and Laura, 24, in production at Showtime—with their hearts set on becoming the Coveteur of food blogs.
While the sisters were no strangers to the world of high fashion (their parents are behind Monica Rich Kosann, which sells its luxury accessories at Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman), they can claim the early success of the New Potato as theirs alone. The pair solely funded, ran and promoted the site from the start.
Racked sat down over coffee at the Soho House with Danielle and Laura to learn about the New Potato's inception, why some of Hollywood's biggest names love talking about what they eat for breakfast, and what it's like to run a business with your sister.
Party panning via The New Potato
Why did you launch The New Potato?
Laura: "We just thought there wasn't anything in the food realm that approached food from design editorial. There was no Into the Gloss or the Coveteur for food, there was no way to see what Jessica Alba likes to eat or where Karlie Kloss dines, or where there is the best maître d' in Brooklyn. We wanted to have all that in one destination and didn't think it was out there. Rather than just have eight pages of butternut squash, we wanted to create a place in the industry for people who love food, fashion, design."
Danielle: "We were always interested in the lifestyle of food, from food to travel, and restaurants, the whole experience of food. I'd say we are the anti-foodie site. We're not interested in talking about cheese all day; we want to hear about the lifestyle."
Where did the blog's name come from?
D: "We definitely knew we wanted the 'new' in our head because we liked the idea of 'the new black' concept, but we didn't want something that was pretentious or uber foodie or uber style. We wanted something light and one of us just said it. It's kind of like a play on words."
The New Potato shoots Cynthia Rowley.
You have featured some amazing, high-level actresses and models. Was it hard to get that access?
L: "Well, not anymore. It's gotten easier after who we've gotten. One person gets the next person. When we first started, we were really persistent and then it just became a domino affect.
D: "Now we're lucky, most of our stories come from pitches to us, but if we really want someone, we'll go after them."
Do you find that the people from Hollywood are honest about their eating and food habits?
L: "I think in general, people are pretty open about it. Food is a topic that people are itching to talk about. They don't really get to talk a lot about what they have for breakfast and they like sharing their favorite restaurants, or the fact that they have a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar every day."
What about all the original photography on your site? Celebrities can be really controlling about photos, is it hard to get them to collaborate?
D: "We do only original photography on the site and are very proud of that. It allows us control over how the site looks, and we love that part of it. We find that people are receptive and it's not that hard. Part of it is that when we shoot, we don't make it a full-scale production. It's natural and quick."
L: "I think it's good because we've set the precedent now. We have lost interviews with big people because they didn't want to do original shoots. But we think, long term, setting that precedent will give us an advantage."
The New Potato shoots Rumi Neely.
Why do you think original photography is so important?
D: "It sets us apart. You'll see questionnaires done with people on other sites but they'll use one stock image that's on every site. When we do people, we have six or seven original photos that are part of a photo shoot. That's what sets the site apart from a lot of others."
L: "Yes, it's hard. It's difficult to shoot Jennifer Lawrence at the site of her favorite restaurant but how many website have used a stock image with a Q&A? It's not as effective."
How did you fund the site?
D: "In the beginning, we funded it to get the site up. We put a little bit of our own money in for the programming part of it. But we kept it super lean. Now it's self-funded, we make money through advertising and brand partnerships."
How do you decide who gets featured?
D: "Well, we have to gauge ourselves with out readers. We started the site because we felt it was something that needed to exist. So obviously, when we think about featuring someone, we think about if this is someone we'd want to read about and if they are relevant."
L: "There is stuff we did in the beginning that we learned from because you watch the traffic, you learn what's relevant. When you have a website, you figure out what doesn't work. And even if some of your readers might like something, you may be forced to move away from it if it doesn't work. We've learned a lot from that."
The New Potato shoots model Hilary Rhoda. Image via TNP.
Who are some of your inspirations in fashion and business?
D: "Eva Chen from Lucky is a huge inspiration. We did an amazing interview with her, I think she's just super intelligent, really understands the way the web is moving and social media and she's a really great role model. Christene Barberich also, has been really supportive of us and is a really smart, cool person and what she's done with Refinery 29 is amazing."
L: "Also, Laura Brown. We did a video with her and she is such an inspiration in fashion because she's such a personality. People like that are what editors really should be and are people that we look up to. Also, in food, our favorite restaurant is Barbuto and I think the amazing thing about [chef] Jonathan Waxman is that he's really dedicated to one restaurant and perfecting it. There's something amazing about it."
What's it like to run a business/website with a sister? Do you ever want to kill each other?
L: "We are really lucky that we have complimenting strengths. Danielle's strengths are my weaknesses. It's so obvious what the two of us can do, and we split it up. Of course there are days that we bicker, but we're best friends and so it works out. Most people are like, 'oh my god, I could never work with my sister.'"
D: "I think you either have it or you don't, in that sense. Either it works out or it doesn't. We're lucky that it does. But we respect each other immensely."
The New Potato joins designer Whitney Port in the kitchen for grilled cheese.
How do you delegate the responsibilities? Who does what?
L: "I'm Editor-in-Chief and Danielle is Creative Director. They're just titles to divide tasks."
D: "I do all the photos and when it's a larger scale shoot, Laura and I always art direct together."
L: "I do all the writing and it's a lot of editorial calendar, doing reach-outs and deciding who to do when. But we conceptualize those things together."
D: "There is a lot of overlap too, and we both wear many hats, but that's the best to describe it. I designed the site when we launched and I maintain the backend and little things about how it looks. But it crosses over a lot."
Was it hard to build a following from scratch?
D: "Well, the most obvious challenge was getting people on the site. That evaporated quickly because we were very persistent and launched with some big names."
L: "I think I wrote one press release to PR Web when we launched but I didn't know that much. But we had a good insider network of people that we spoke to. I emailed it to them, they emailed to their friends. And I was emailing to every editor and sent it around and it trickled down that way."
The New Potato shoots designer Rebecca Taylor.
What challenges do you face now?
L: "One thing we're finding now, which I guess is a good challenge, is when we're dealing with all these actresses, like Jessica Alba, or the cast of Scandal, actors and actresses are hard fields to get into and we're getting more into that. What we want to essentially be is the place to find out where the biggest person—like Jennifer Lawrence—is eating. You go to the New Potato and see what that is. It's a challenge to get to that tier. It's a challenge, but it's good because we're working towards it."
What are some of your goals for The New Potato?
L: "Well we know that there is no Vogue or Vanity Fair for the food world. So what they are to fashion and entertainment and what Rolling Stone is to music...we want to be that way with food. We want to move towards being a media company with a lens on food."
D: "And in that, we have some smaller goals, like producing more videos, making an app, things like that."
The New Potato's shoot with model Karlie Kloss. Photo via TNP.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
D: "Fostering relationships is so important. When you meet people, you shouldn't always think about what they can do for you. You should think about what you can get just from having a friendship with them and what you can learn from them."
L: "And if you're sitting every day, staring at your computer, dreaming about an idea to start, stop dreaming about it and just start it."
What's important to highlight when starting a new site?
D: "I think when starting any new site, you need an original voice that sets you apart from other sites. Without that, it'll be difficult to compete with a site that has a voice and a brand. There still needs to be a reason people will come to your site versus all the others. You need to show your voice through photography, or writing, or clever interviews. There are a million different ways to have a voice but that originality needs to be there."
L: "When we did a Lucky Fabb [conference], we had an really interesting conversation with [senior digital editor at GQmagazine.com, previously at Lucky] John Jannuzzi and he said when you start something, you don't just do it because you want a style blog or a food blog. You do it because see a void in the market and you want that space to be filled."
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