Industry Leader Interview: Chris Perez With Citygram

Three years ago Chris Perez found himself at a crossroads where he had to choose between continuing on the safe path or taking a leap of faith and starting his own digital magazine.

Today the founding editor of Citygram steps out of his perfectly Austin office with a huge smile. He is beaming with pride as he introduces his team of writers and photographers. We walk through the shared work space where trees hang from the ceiling — it perfectly embodies the creative community.

He notices that I’m intrigued by the eclectic decor and begins telling about the origins of the building. It becomes clear that he chose the right path.

Describe Citygram in one sentence.

It’s an Austin lifestyle magazine designed to read on your smart phone and tablet.

What was the inspiration behind it?

I was an engineer at IBM when I started doing photography for Apartment Therapy on the weekends. I needed a creative outlet so I took this random position and didn’t know where it was going to lead me.

I met a lot of people and got connected to the creative culture in Austin when I was doing photography for this national design blog. It was just so energizing. Everyone I met had a story and they were all doing something that they were passionate about. But I was just doing this on the weekend and still worked my full time job during the week. Eventually it became the whole “Do you work for money or do you work for the joy of life?” But I had a home, car, and family to support, so I knew it would be tough.

I needed a business idea out of it.

I knew I wanted to layer all of my skills so that I wasn’t just writing or taking photos. I needed to take advantage of my engineering background too. I loved media and digital magazines, and the ones I liked the most were the ones that were really well designed for a tablet. Austin had nothing like this at the time so that seemed like an opportunity for me. I downloaded the software, I made some concepts and showed it to the people I trust. There was an overwhelming response telling me to go through with it. So that was the start of it.

Why Austin?

It started in Austin because I was connected here through my past media work. It’s a small town where you have less than six degrees of connection, so that really helps you gain traction. And so many people here read media online already, whether it’s a blog or social media, so that also made it easier to punch through.

I got some of the top writers in all the sections that we cover: fashion, arts and culture, design, everything. We gained leverage right away when they used their following and trust to speak on my platform.

What is the best part of your job? What excites you the most?

The best part of my job is that I get to help people. There are a lot of facets to that.

First, I feel like the stories we write highlight people that may be under the radar and don’t get the same attention from other outlets. While many outlets are just pushing out content like a list or short summary, we try to write long stories and do these people justice. This is one of the reasons that we launched in the app space – we don’t have to compete for Google clicks with those sites.

The other part of helping people is all about the team that we’ve developed at Citygram. I love being able to transfer knowledge and feel like I’m helping my team. Today everyone is so multi-talented so I like to challenge my team and have them do multiple things and watch their confidence grow. It’s so rewarding.

What aspects of your job do you find most stressful?

The most stressful part is running a business. It’s figuring it out and then going somewhere with it but not knowing exactly where that is.

You host events and meet-ups. What is the goal with them?

We’re a digital magazine that can be downloaded or deleted at any time so we have to live not just by our space on social media, but also a physical space. Events are one way for us to do that. And the whole brand loyalty aspect. If they like what we do at the event, they will respect what we do as a company too.

It’s outreach. It’s marketing. It’s connection building. It’s brand loyalty.

What has been the highlight event so far?

The last event we had was our biggest one. It was a 3-day festival called One by One Texas that featured 100 Instagram artists and their work. That was very successful.

Instagram is our most popular platform so that’s where the connection was. Everyone spread the word on their own accounts whether it was the food truck catering the party or the artists. Then when the guests showed up, it was even more than they expected. This is the experience I want people to have within our app. It is getting people to check you out and then having those conversions whether it’s at an event or within the app.

How do you select the location and vendors?

At Citygram, we try to be tastemakers of the city and tell you about things that we really love. This works the same with our events. We choose what we would want, so with One by One event it was a lot of barbecue and beer. We choose what we think is the best in town and would make a fun experience.

What about the smaller events like the one where you had a bartender teach guests how to make craft cocktails?

Some of those are pitched to us. We are a media company so restaurants and bars will pitch ideas to us. Sometimes it’s organic and we find each other and other times it’s them asking us to be part of it, but we wouldn’t agree if we didn’t think the event would be cool.

How do you promote these events?

Social media mostly. We post it everywhere but we get the most reach and feedback on Instagram. It’s the media platform of the moment.

What makes an event successful for you?

The amount of people who show up. I always have a number in mind and if it meets or exceeds that number then it’s successful for me. We were hoping for 1,000 people at the One By One event and ended up getting around 3,000 throughout the weekend so that was a success.

In what ways has Citygram changed the way you look at Austin? Has it at all?

It has. There’s good music, art, and design everywhere… but there’s something about the people in Austin. We try to tell interesting stories about people through our app so now when I go around Austin I’m trying to find those people and those stories. When I look around I don’t just see another building, instead I think, “Who is behind that? Who is developing it?”

And then on the business side, you start seeing the linkage and network behind everything. Before Citygram that wasn’t something I looked at. It’s about seeing who the influencers are and realizing things like “oh that restaurant is there because of that person.” You start seeing where those people planted their seeds and how other people are growing from them. It’s really cool to see the lineage and how it all works.

What is the ultimate goal with Citygram?

I want to tell stories. I want to bring back some of the joy that people had with print, whether it is the photos or the long stories that you can spend an afternoon reading. We want to bring that into the digital world. In this fast paced world where people are just pushing out content at such a high frequency, we want to be the breathe of fresh air. I want to give people who are proud of their craft a digital platform to showcase their work.

Anything else that you want people to know about Citygram?

Check out our new issue and let us know what you think. We’re always interested in feedback and respond to everything we receive. Be part of the conversation.

You can download Citygram in the app store (iTunes, Google Play) or check out their site:

Photos courtesy of Citygram.