It’s hard to know where to begin when listing Serena Guen’s accomplishments. I could start by telling you that she’s been described as the “Mark Zuckerburg of publishing” by Bloomberg, or perhaps by telling you that at twenty-six years old, she’s the world’s youngest magazine proprietor. Or maybe I’ll just lead with the wildly unexpected fact that she started SUITCASE magazine whilst she was still a student, somehow juggling launching a magazine with her third year as an undergrad at NYU.
In the four years since its launch, SUITCASE has grown into a fully-fledged travel platform, with the print magazine distributed in over 35 countries and complemented by a slick digital offering - not to mention a forthcoming expansion in the form of a separate magazine launching early next year, focusing specifically on destination weddings and honeymoons.
Still, being the boss of a travel magazine isn’t all jet-setting and awe-inspiring Instagrams (although there is plenty of that). Over the course of our conversation, it becomes clear just how much hard work - and how many late nights - it’s taken to translate the wanderlust inspired by Serena’s international upbringing into a cutting-edge travel brand. Over cocktails at The Hoxton (a stone’s throw from SUITCASE's Holborn office) we talked about how she’d successfully launched a print magazine in a digital age, the challenges of managing a team, and how she manages to stay one step ahead of an ever-changing industry.
ON WHAT INSPIRED HER TO LAUNCH SUITCASE
There just wasn't a travel magazine for women of my generation, and I spotted a niche for that audience when I was studying in Paris [and looking for recommendations]. I wasn't a backpacker, I wasn't going on my honeymoon, I didn’t want to eat at Michelin starred restaurants every night. I wanted something in between and a bit more local… and just fun! Part of the reason I wanted to launch SUITCASE as a print magazine is because there's so much crap out there on the Internet. I wanted to cut through all the noise and make a statement – that this was the travel source you come to.
Fashion is so creative and exciting, and it's such an easy access point to any culture, so I decided to incorporate that by doing shoots on location. I thought it was a cool angle because part of the problem with travel magazines is that a) they weren't representing cultures properly, and b) they’d become so boring.
HER BIG BREAKS
I talked to everyone that I knew, asking if they had any contacts that worked at magazines, and if I could talk to them. I also cold-emailed a lot of people. One of the people that I cold-emailed was Anna Harvey (then VP and Editorial Director of Condé Nast, and responsible for launching Vogue in new markets) not expecting anything back.
I sent her quite a concise email, which I think is really important - I get a lot of emails now from people starting things, but they're often very longwinded. The idea behind SUITCASE was quite different - there wasn't a travel magazine for women of our generation, so she responded well to it and emailed me back two days later saying “I think what you're doing is a great idea. This is what you should do”. She gave me advice for the first issue about advertising, airlines, people to contact – and said I could use her as a reference, which was amazing.