We talk to New York native and travel editor, Jerayln Gerba, about how she turned her dreams into reality, preparing to raise a child in New York City, and some of her (very awesome) favorite places in NYC.
You were born here; so I’m sure you won’t have the answer to our usual question … do you remember your first week in New York?
Yes, I don’t remember my first week [laughs], but there are a lot of amazing memories that stick out. My family is from New York, and my grandparents always talk about growing up in Brooklyn and Astoria. My parents were in and out of all the boroughs, but I distinctly remember a trip we would do around the holidays where I was allowed to wear a tiny pocketbook just like a grown up would. We would go to 5th Avenue and go shopping together. We would see all the sights and I really felt like what I thought posh uptown ladies were like. I had a very distinct idea of how I wanted my New York to be.
I grew up in Whitestone, Queens. It’s a cute, Italian neighborhood. I moved into Manhattan when I went to NYU.
What did you study?
Rhetorical Criticism, which is in the communications vein, but it’s pretty much speech critique and speech writing. You can go down a very academic track with it. One of my professors there loved publishing, and convinced me to look into magazines and online journals. That’s how I got into it.
Tell us about your path to where you are now …
I started working in magazines with small independent publishers and design publications. A friend introduced me to a job at DailyCandy.com, and I was the New York editor for about 6-7 years. I really grew up there. It was awesome because it was all young people trying to really figure out how people were going to be using email. It was pre-blog popularity, but in a way it was kind of like a blog. I would go out every night and then I would write about it, and send it out via email to half a million people.
The founder of Daily Candy really invented that style of emails, which everyone gets a million of now. Daily Candy really grew from word of mouth. The articles were anonymous, there was no by-line. It was a very specific voice and style. We would hunt out restaurants before they opened, trying to find things before anyone had heard of them. We would send out an email in the morning, and the places would be flooded. It was an interesting pre-cursor to everything that’s happening now.
How did it make money?
Advertising. Sometimes in the emails, or sending out an email that was dedicated to a sponsor that was separate from the editorial we were creating.
Then a colleague of mine who was the executive editor at the time left Daily Candy and she approached me about doing something in the travel space. We brainstormed on that for a while and then launched Fathom.
Dream job! What does that involve? Do you get to travel all over the world?
It’s funny; we built the company while we were both travelling. I’d gotten married to my husband, who is a DJ so we thought it would be cool to be based in Berlin for a while. The other Fathom co-founder was living in London. We met up together in London and started dreaming up what a really good travel sight might look like. We were kind of selfishly serving our own needs by making something that really reflects the way that we travelled and wanted to find information.
At the time there wasn’t really anything we’d seen online that was fulfilling that goal. There were beautiful travel magazines, but they were very aspirational. Then there were hideous booking engines online. There was nothing for cool women who like to spend their money on travel, and want to know about great things that are going on.
We started talking to our friends who were from somewhere they really loved, or had travelled to places they had come to know really well. We would ask them for their ‘list’, what they would tell people to do when they went there. With travel in particular, if you have a good trip, you want to share it.
We started compiling all the information, and then we would fill in the blanks where we needed to. We ended up both moving back to New York, started an office here and created a network of great photographers, writers, and filmmakers. We also started reaching out to advertisers we thought we could collaborate with. We knew we couldn’t compete on the level of something like Conde Nast Traveler but that we could provide something unique that people could trust.
How many people are on the team?
There are 4 of us in house. Our developer is based in Poland, and we also have a very small design team who have their own company. Then there is a bevy of writers, some who come and work from our office, and others remotely.
That’s awesome; the site really doesn’t look like any other travel site.
We’re always trying to think of ways that people can both come to the site to be inspired and to also take away practical travel information.
What was the goal when you started the site? Was it something you hoped you could work on full time?
Sustenance is the dream of course. It’s tricky to have a small business, and it’s stressful to employ people and feel like you have to make it work so you don’t let anybody down. It’s very humbling on a day-to-day basis.
It’s a steep learning curve. Something will come up and all of a sudden you have to devote yourself to learning about it. It’s all you; there is no one you can delegate it to. Still there are many days where I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, but then if somebody asks me a question I can really help them out in a way that I never thought would be possible.
What’s your next trip?
I’m 7 months pregnant, so I’m just under the wire for travel. I’m cramming in a lot of trips. On Monday I leave for my last trip, my sister and I are taking my mother to Sicily for her birthday.
How are you feeling about having a baby in New York?
I have family here, and a network, which is a big advantage.
And you have the experience of growing up here. Living in New York is so different to anywhere else in the world. What about approaching parenthood in general?
It’s a big adventure. Theoretically, I’m like “yeah, I want children”. When it actually happens though you’re thinking “how did we get ourselves into this?” [laughs]. There is a lot to think about … reorganizing to fit this into your life. Particularly in New York where so much is about doing what’s best for you, making the most of your time and schedule. To think that you have to shift all that for somebody else is wild. I’m really excited about it.
Does everyone give you the subway seats now?
I have a new stance now, so people can see I’m pregnant.
Because you never want to assume!
In general, the subway is one of my favorite scenes. All levels of humanity are in the train car together. It’s the best people watching and I feel like I meet the best people on the train. Almost every day I have a really quirky conversation with some great New York weirdo. Last night I was on the train and there was this really nice older lady. We started chatting and it turns out she’s a watercolorist on the Queen Mary!
Magda: I just go to sleep on the subway.
I’m sure you have a million favorite spots in the city, any ones you want to share in particular?
We live in Fort Greene, it’s an amazing hub. Everything that you’re looking for out of your New York experience is here. BAM is right down the block, there are historic brownstones everywhere you look, and there’s also a really cool Caribbean vibe here. In the summer there are block parties, everyone is hanging out of their stoops and there’s always music playing.
My husband’s new bar Nowadays is open! He is also runs Mister Sundays. It’s an incredible way to get friends to come out and do something different. Everybody is welcome; it’s a great scene. That’s how I spend a lot of my Sundays in the summer.
Spumoni Gardens in Bensonhurst is amazing. A great old school Brooklyn hang.
Greenlight Bookstore is a tiny store here. It’s amazing, they get the best writers to come and speak there. I also see a lot of shows and lectures at BAM.
There’s a tiny museum in Tribeca called MMuseum. It’s the size of an elevator shaft, just one room. They show a lot of collections, for example tiny lunchboxes from Japan, or old drug bottles. Only about two people can fit in at a time, and they have the world’s tiniest gift shop where you can get a tiny coffee and buy a postcard. It’s such a trip!
What’s the best piece of advice you can give?
Be way nicer than you think you have to be. You can really go down a rabbit hole of bad news on any given day, and so much of it stems from people not taking other people into account. Treat people with a little more respect and compassion. It would all build, and there would be less people who are angry, or maybe vengeful.
Do you have a favorite New York moment?
My everyday great New York moment is the subway ride. Specifically there are so many things that have happened here that I’ve felt very lucky to experience. For example, when the blackout happened. It was such an awesome day, the whole city turned into this great block party. It could have been a situation that turned into mayhem and it didn’t. People took huge bike rides, or opened their bars so people could eat and drink for free before the food went bad.
What does New York mean to you?
A shared common experience from the most diverse group of people.
Visit Fathom to satisfy all your travel cravings.