We sat down with The Wing’s Community Director, Marianna Gose Martinelli, to talk about building a home base for women in NYC and gathering IRL (in real life) stories into a URL (online) chorus so loud that it can no longer be ignored. Later this month, she’ll appear at SXSW in Austin, TX. #IRLandURL
According to American Express, there are 114% more women-owned businesses in the U.S. than there were 20 years ago. Chief among these is The Wing, a “home base and social club for women in New York,” which opened in October of 2016 (just a month before the first female president was not elected). The Wing’s coveted in-person experience married with a biting, clear-eyed online presence has yielded a waitlist of women in the thousands.
“The impetus and the realization of the need for something like The Wing was this idea that something was missing from the IRL experience,” says The Wing’s Community Director, Marianna Gose Martinelli. “So many things are a digital experience these days. The idea of a committed physical space to have conversations and have the physical space be a safe space for women was a thing that didn’t really exist before.”
Build Your Digital Audience
In anticipation of the opening of their original Flatiron location, The Wing had grown an impressive Instagram community, a “discovery channel,” according to Martinelli, who worked previously at Knotel and Neuehouse, for potential members. But for The Wing, social media isn’t simply a tool to generate interest and buzz.
“By the end of this year we are going to be launching a Wing app, which will basically be a chic Wing-ified LinkedIn for Wing members,” says Martinelli. “Our vision with the app is to bottle up the IRL experience and take that digitally. The app is for the woman who is a member but is unable to come to the physical space to work as much as they would want.” Whether these obstacles are work travel or limited childcare, the app ensures that these otherwise indisposed Wing members are “still able to get some of those wonderful benefits to membership that are happening in a digital way.”
Though no app could replace the signature offerings of The Wing, which is a women-only shared — and impeccably designed — physical workspace, with pumping rooms for nursing mothers, curated food and drink, a library, showers, and a place to steam a wrinkled outfit, the app will, Martinelli explains, bring digital versions of Wing events to members who are temporarily remote. “We do some really interesting community-focused events like bringing together women from particular neighborhoods or bringing together female entrepreneurs and the app would reflect those experiences digitally.”
“One of the things that’s interesting about our business,” Martinelli notes, “is that it’s like a little cycle. The IRL experience supports the URL. And the URL supports the IRL.”
By harnessing all the connective benefits of digital and social media but, at the same time, maintaining an actual floor of a building for women to go to, to work, to connect, and then, at the end of the day, to blow out their hair, Martinelli and her team at The Wing have more interest than they have spaces at the table. “Our first location was at the Flatiron and that space filled up within two months. And we had 10,000 people on the waitlist. So when we opened in Soho, we were able to let in another group of women.”
Connect Your Offline and Online
The Wing recently raised 32 million dollars of investment money in its Series B round of funding, with the largest piece coming from The Wing’s competitor, WeWork, amplifying a hunger for both IRL experiences and for female-run, female-focused endeavors. It’s worth noting that one of the co-founders, Lauren Kassan, was pregnant during that Series B funding, as was Martinelli herself last summer. The Wing’s ability to not only accommodate working mothers, like Kassan and Martinelli, but to cater to them (see the heretofore mentioned pumping room) is likely to garner the trust and loyalty of future and current members, many of whom may go on to have children.
Meanwhile -– or, perhaps, as a result –- The Wing added a space in Dumbo last month and, coming this spring, another in D.C. “It’s been really exciting to build up the spaces,” Martinelli says, “to watch them fill up with these incredible women, and come to life.”
Own Your Niche
Because The Wing grew out of a profound need on the part of women in New York for a place to call their own, Martinelli has a detailed idea of exactly the women she’s working with at The Wing. “We know who our woman is, that she’s brainy, she’s unruly, she’s got some rebellion in our heart, she’s a woman who’s ready to take up space. So with those ideas in mind, we try to reflect that through all of our programming events and through the digital imagery and the storytelling that we’re doing online.”
Though co-founder Audrey Gelman has said that The Wing refers to a part of a house, a part devoted solely to women, this writer sees it at this particular moment as a refuge under which women can take cover, be it IRL (at a shared desk) or online (in an Instagram photo’s comments), with their bodies and bodies of work protected, even nurtured, by their proximity to one another…and by what we’ve heard are really, really good snacks.