Steph is one of those renaissance women who is as beautiful and warm as she is articulate and bright. I’ve never known anyone to be more succinct in their ideas, or considerate in their thoughts, or more genuine in her approach to life.
She’s the kind of girl who just makes things happen. We have been friends since we were teenagers and much of our friendship has been bicoastal which is a bummer that we don’t get to see each other super often, but fortunate in that I have this big part of my heart on the other side of the country who experiences amazing things, makes big contributions, and is always there to share ideas with.
Over the last few years I’ve seen her work at some creative and respected companies and then transition into passion projects as well. She challenged herself and started boxing (and is a bad ass at it too, making it a part of her life and developing an awesome community around it) and kick started an amazing endeavor- Call Me Ishmael. As a bibliophile myself, I was so proud and excited to hear of this awesome project of hers!
If you are literature connoisseur, you’ll know the title was inspired by Moby Dick. Call Me Ishmael is a platform of sorts connected to a phone line where you can call in and share a book or reading experience that really resonated with you. Connecting people at it’s finest!
What was your first job out of college? I wrote video game reviews for Macworld Magazine! It sounds nerdy (and it was), but I learned so much about the media world and how to tell a story during my time there. It’s also where my obsession with Plants vs. Zombies started (which still lives on to this day).
Where have you worked since and what is your career now? Oh man, I’ve had a lot of jobs. I worked at the TED Conference, The Wall Street Journal, and for a few startups. Along the way, I discovered that I really love having a lot of different projects going at one time, so I made the leap into freelancing. I’ve been working as a freelance writer and media producer for almost two years now. I also co-founded a company, a bookish website called Call Me Ishmael.
What skills do you think are most necessary to freelance? You have to be brave to make the leap — it’s scary not to have a regular paycheck or an HR company or coworkers to lean on! Being organized and entrepreneurial are important skills, too, but you also need to kind of trust in yourself and the universe… There are ebbs and flows to freelance work and sometimes you have to just put your head down, keep working, and trust your hard work will pay off.
What made you start Call Me Ishmael? Call Me Ishmael started when some friends and I were in a bar in the West Village, talking about books we love. The conversation turned to our favorite opening sentences in literature. We were all gushing over how perfect “Call me Ishmael” (the opening line of Moby Dick!) is. Someone made a joke about Ishmael having a cell phone, and my co-founder and I sort of fell in love with the idea of starting a bookish project with that name. We set up a phone line where people can call and leave us messages about their favorite books and we turn our favorite ones into videos. We’ve received thousands of calls from all over the world and invented a real, physical phone installation (The Call Me Ishmael Phone!) that bookstores and libraries can use to share stories about books with their readers.
What has been the biggest success so far? One of our Call Me Ishmael Phones is the New York Public Library. As a lifelong bibliophile, the NYPL is basically sacred to me. And as a New Yorker, I love and respect how the library is able to serve and educate and inspire a city of millions of people. The idea that something I worked on can contribute to that history — even in a small way! — really makes me smile.
What do you find most difficult? I think the hardest part is that when you work for a company, you usually get hired to do work that you thrive in… When you work for yourself, your not-so-strong-suits are front and center, and there’s no one else to jump in with their expertise. For me, learning about the finances was way outside my comfort zone… But with a startup, you’re forced to learn new things as they come up. So it’s hard, but ultimately really rewarding.
What advice would you give to those who want to start their own business or creative venture? Do it! I think everyone should have their own project, whether profitable or not. It forces you to learn about yourself and there are so many tools and resources for learning how to spread word of your work. I think it’s the best education someone can get, launching something of their own.
What has been the biggest learning experience? Talking to our audience always teaches me a ton about the work. With a startup, it’s very easy to be head’s down in the work and sometimes you feel like you’re in a bubble, and out of touch with the actual people in your audience. Whenever I meet one of our callers or visit a bookshop that has a Call Me Ishmael phone, it’s sort of like a reality check. It shows me how the project is functioning (or not functioning!) in the real world beyond my laptop.
What was your favorite message on Call Me Ishmael? That is impossible to decide 🙂 I love all our calls! It’s so magical to hear someone’s voice get full of emotion when they’re talking about how much they love to read. I like to guess where they’re from based on their accent or the places they mention in their call. Some of my favorite ones are when people call about a book they’ve read more than once, or the ones where people share what book made them fall in love with reading. We have one about The Little Prince that breaks my heart and puts it back together again.
Inspiring right? Haha well check out the book club we started a couple years ago… digital and bicoastal status! haha