Elena Joy: [00:00:00] [00:01:00] welcome to Out of Queeriosity, the podcast from Pride and Joy Foundation. I am your host, Elena Joy, pronounced she, her. So glad you are here and joining us today because we have kind of a star in the Instagram world. Not going to lie. A little bit of a queer celebrity happening here. We have Travers Johnson of Queerency, the founder and CEO of Queerency.
Thank you so much for being here, Travers.
Travers: Elena, it is such a pleasure. I am so honored to be here. I'm such a fan of yours. I'm a fan of the Pride and Joy Foundation and I'm also just like, so grateful for the work you do and your support of me from like, day one of Queerency. So this is just like, Something I've been looking forward to for a very long
Elena Joy: time.
I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner, right? But I, I feel like this is perfect apex timing, and this is going to [00:02:00] be just a wonderful conversation. So can we just get right into it? Let's get into it. Let's do it. Okay, so what I know, here's my perspective, and then I want you to define Queerency. So what I know of Queerency is, it was this great little social media account on Instagram.
I feel like I discovered it kind of during the pandemic when I was spending a lot of time on Instagram. Every time it popped up, it was telling me a story that was focused on a queer person, organization, or business that I wasn't hearing about anywhere else. And I, at that point, was dripping in rainbows.
Every social media account I followed was queer. But , consistently. Queerency was giving me stories and information I wasn't hearing about from anywhere else. And for some reason, there were these videos that I wanted to listen to the whole way through. There was a cadence, there was a beat, like it just brought me along on [00:03:00] this little one minute journey and I loved it.
So I think that's how it started out for me. And now I see Queerency as really a hub of information and resources all around the queer economy. I mean, quite frankly, you coined that phrase for me in my head, queer economy that had never existed before. And now I get to teach corporate about queer economy in large part, because you opened my mind to the existence of it.
All right. So now Travers, you tell us, what is Queerency?
Travers: Oh my gosh, that's amazing. Well, thank you for, I mean, I don't have to say anything else, you hit it on the head, but no, I'm so grateful that it resonated and resonates with you the way it does. So Queerency is an LGBTQ business news website, , where we cover The queer economy with joy, dignity, and depth.
I started it, you're right, back in the pandemic, early in [00:04:00] the pandemic, height of the pandemic on June 16th, 2020. I started it because I didn't see any representation for LGBTQ plus entrepreneurship, , or business news in either mainstream. Business media or LGBTQ general interest media, right?
, that's more focused on like the news of the day or pop culture or just entertainment. Yeah. And so I have a background in digital media. Um, and publishing and also I've just always been fascinated by business media. So I grew up reading black enterprise magazine that my dad would have, and I would see myself represented as a black person there.
And then as a cisgender man, I can see myself represented in literally any mainstream business publication or outlet. But [00:05:00] as a queer person, I never saw that consistent representation, and I would always be pleasantly surprised, but surprised nonetheless, when I would learn things that like Sirius XM radio was founded by a trans woman or that.
Prezi have gay co founders or that like, if you want to look at it from a historical perspective, one of the, the funders biggest philanthropists of the civil rights movement was a closeted gay millionaire, right? And I thought that if someone like me, who like you mentioned earlier, it's kind of dripping in rainbows.
For me, it was like dripping in rainbows and like dollar sign media, right? Business media. If someone like me didn't know that. Who a person who's obsessive about this sort of content and information. I know that other people who are less obsessive don't. And what does [00:06:00] that say about the artificial ceilings that we're putting on who we can be and what we can achieve in business and beyond.
And so that's why I launched Queerency and have just been growing it. Ever since, , it started out as an idea for a newsletter in 2020. This was sort of like the era of. I'm not sure if you're familiar with these newsletters, like the skim or morning brew or the hustle. And so like, I thought that Queerency was going to be like the skim for queer business or morning brew for queer folks.
But what I realized was that in order to have a newsletter, you have to have people sign up for it. You have to have subscribers and people, subscribers only know about your newsletter. If they know about it. Right. And so many queer folks or, [00:07:00] or just our allies primarily get their information on social media.
And so that's where I, why I leaned in so early to Instagram because that's the platform that was most native to me. That's the platform where I knew most of my community was at. And that's where we met and where it's really grown from there.
Elena Joy: Mm hmm. Wow. So do you feel like you knew social media was kind of your zone of genius at the time?
Or do you feel like you had to grow and develop into that?
Travers: Not at all. My zone of genius, I thought, was just like writing, you know, like writing newsletters, because I had done other Like lots of copywriting work. I had a black owned business newsletter a couple of years prior. And so like, I knew how to do it.
, but like social media was not my zone of genius. And in fact, like you probably remember this [00:08:00] because you've been there. From the very earliest days of Queerency and social media for, like, the first year or so, Queerency was a nameless faceless social media profile, meaning it was just a brand, right?
No one who was behind it. No one had ever seen my face before. Didn't know my name. I just posted content. , as Queerency and then what I realized in 2021, once tick tock had become the sort of rising juggernaut that it is now that Instagram was starting to mirror tick tock. With its algorithm and that I could not only if I wanted to not only thrive, but to survive at all, I had to start doing video content because Tik TOK was prioritizing.
I mean, Instagram was prioritizing Instagram reels over photos and [00:09:00] texts. And I thought that if I'm going to do Instagram reels, I might as well try out TikTok, right? Ooh,
Elena Joy: you got your foot in that
Travers: water, didn't you? Yeah. And I went kicking and screaming. I was not trying to twerk on TikTok with the, with the junior high kids and stuff.
But what I realized is that That was an advantage. That was a zone of genius because when everyone else is doing dances and skits and comedy stuff on TikTok, there's a whole market open, a blue ocean of Opportunity for news content, specifically LGBTQ business news. And so once I joined Tik TOK in early 20, 22, Queerency, just like catapulted, like I gained, um, like 50, 000 followers on Tik TOK within [00:10:00] just a matter of maybe three or four months, which is insane.
And the most important part about that is that. The TikTok trickled down to Instagram growth, which also trickled down to my newsletter, right? Always the goal was to build a vibrant newsletter because I actually own that platform as opposed to like, I don't own TikTok. I don't own Instagram that I can be shadow banned.
I can be banned. I can, you know, all sort the algorithm and I can't control it, but I can control my email list. So. To your original question, social media was not my zone of genius. I had to really learn it through trial and error. And I found a format and a platform that worked for me, but that could also inform the other platforms and get people through like that sort of [00:11:00] marketing funnel, which is social media.
TikTok is at the top. Instagram is right below that. The website is next. And then the newsletter is at the bottom.
Elena Joy: Got it. Got your classic funnel happening. Yeah. And I'm sure the audience is wondering, how do you monetize that?
Travers: Originally, like, because I was still, it took me a while. So when you, um, before we started, you mentioned a bit about like, kill your darlings.
Elena Joy: You want to
Travers: go there? The newsletter was a darling for me, right? Like, and I, it was very hard for me to like, and it hasn't like, I still have the newsletter, but it was hard for me to even get out of the. Mindset of like the newsletter being the primary product of queer and see, right, right. And as a newsletter being the product, that would mean that that would be the primary way that I monetize.[00:12:00]
Right. Push a newsletter once a week, have sponsored advertisements on the newsletter. I actually did this sort of incubator for media startups last this time last year. And during that process. It was right after tick tock and Instagram and start to take off for me and my coach was like, you're you have it all wrong, right?
Like, you shouldn't be trying to monetize your newsletter. You should monetize your social media following, right? Because that's where these brands are wanting to, , reach is like the people that you have on social media. And that's where, , brand. Partnerships can come more easier, easily for you right now.
And so the way I monetize so far is through sponsored posts and partnerships on social media, primarily on Instagram and TikTok. , I've played, I have done some newsletter [00:13:00] advertisements, but, um, you know, my newsletter List is just not big enough yet. It's really engaged. It has a 50 percent open rate, but now it's at like 1300 subscribers.
That is still monetize a bowl, but nowhere near Instagram and TikTok
Elena Joy: got it. Tell me a little bit about that incubator. Cause it sounds like it was quite the pivot point for you. How did you access that? And was it good for you? And tell us a little bit about
Travers: that. Yeah, so it was called the Google news initiative startups lab and, I learned about them in 2020. I did a boot camp with the Google news initiative. Shortly after I started Queer See, and that was really helpful in helping me, like, really hone the idea for Queer See, um, find out who my audience was. I literally used you in that boot camp on one of my presentations because [00:14:00] I was like, this is an example of like a segment of my audience, right?
So you're part of like what I call The entrepreneur audience, and then I have the wantrepreneur. And so you are a small queer owned business owner and a nonprofit director. And then we have another segment of the audience who don't own businesses, but may want to own a business. Right. And so with that bootcamp, I was able to really figure that out, right, like, and figure out who are the people that are part of this community in this audience.
And what do they need? Because a business owners needs for news and content are a little bit different than that sort of side hustler entrepreneur. And they're also a little bit different from my third segment, right? which is just supporters, right? So people who, you know, don't own a business, don't want to own a business, but just want to be just [00:15:00] like with the content that we do.
And so that, that bootcamp was really helpful. And then two years later, they had like a, A spinoff of it, which was called the startups labs. And that's how I learned about it. And it was specifically focused on revenue, , for news companies. Right. That was really helpful for me. It was a pivotal moment because it helps me get out of my own way.
Helped me kill my darlings as far as how I was going to monetize. Queer and see at this stage and really opened up a lot of opportunity when it came to revenue generation that would allow me to eventually grow my team and
Elena Joy: lEt's go to that topic. We, we had talked about how every business owner that makes it for any amount of time.
Has to figure out a way to kill their darlings, their projects that they love. They feel passionate about, they might even feed their soul, but at the end of the day, they don't generate revenue and they're [00:16:00] sucking up time and capacity. And so it's that concept of killing your darlings, right? To really pursue that goal.
And it sounds like you didn't have to kill the newsletter at all, but you did have to kill all the attention and focus you were putting on it so that you could open up to the revenue generating possibilities. With the social media, were there any other darlings that you were like, Oh, it was a great idea, but couldn't go there.
Travers: wEll, I've done so many like ideas and experimentation thus far, one of them was. This, like, idea of a downloadable gift guide, . Like I would do like the big book of queer business.
As a PDF downloadable right or holiday queer as a PDF downloadable and that kind of like was a throwback to my like my years and book publishing loving tangible hold a book and all that sort of stuff. So I was trying to create that [00:17:00] sort of. Thing vibe in digital form. And I had to kill those in those formats because one, they're just a lot of work.
To curate the content and then design it is a lot of work. Yes. Do the thing that I didn't realize I was sort of shooting myself in the foot because a PDF is a static. Document, right? , once you download it, it cannot be updated and the content in it can't be found by search engines.
I was publishing these amazing, these. A hundred page documents full of queer owned businesses, sending the people or downloading them and getting them via email and they would go there to die. Right. It wouldn't be picked up by Google. It wouldn't be picked up by any other form of way to.
, find the information and so I had to kill [00:18:00] the kill those darlings in order to open it up to be able to be found via Google search and social media. And so I still am doing, , versions of that. Big Book of Queer Business, Holiday Queer, but they are, they live on a website, they live on social media, so people can actually find them and share them and access them.
And they're easier for me because I can, you know, if I spell a name wrong or a link is broken, I can just fix it, right? It doesn't live incorrectly forever, so.
Elena Joy: Right. Now, how is that playing in with LGBTQ plus business week?
Travers: Yeah. So firstly, like LGBTQ plus business week is a seven day celebration of queer owned small businesses.
, the pride and joy foundation. I was so honored that you were and are one of our founding partners. So you saw [00:19:00] the vision for it last year when we piloted it. And we're doing the 1st annual version this year. It's bigger and better. , and the goal here is there are multiple goals here. The 1st are just to raise awareness for L.
G. B. T. Q. own businesses, particularly leading into the holiday season, but also just to show support for queer own businesses. as safe spaces. And not just businesses, but nonprofits as well, because I think for In our communities, businesses are more than just like a capitalistic endeavor. They can be home in some places, right?
They can be home, , in a physical way. They can be home in a sense that, , the gender affirming products as a company is creating makes someone feel more comfortable in their, in their body. Right? And I wanted [00:20:00] to create a way to celebrate and honor that. , and so that's what the business week is.
There will also be a virtual summit on December 1st, full of panels and, , Resource sharing on everything from the queer economy to the creator economy, from politics and policy to art and advocacy all under the queer business lens and LGBTQ plus business week was a spit like was a culmination of what I've been doing with holiday, queer PDF, big book of business, queer business, PDF, and now it's not only a website with, Great resources and discovery opportunities for businesses, but it's also events to really help activate and inspire, , people when it comes to queer owned businesses.
Elena Joy: I love it. I love how there's [00:21:00] this global perspective with the Queerency brand, right? It is queer economy, which is the world over, but then there's also a very grassroots boots on the ground. Let's gather together in a virtual room and share what's going on and where we want it to go. And how do we create that vision for actual day to day lives, right?
Not just this global perspective. Like, I really love that, that balance of it. And I really feel like that's part of. Queer lives and the queer economy is breaking down these binaries of are we a global organization? Are we a 1 to 1 localized boots on the ground organization? Right? We can break down that binary.
Can we be. Living in late stage capitalism, turning a profit and have social impact, right? Does that binary get to be broken down? And I feel like if anyone's going to do it, it's the queer community.
Travers: 100%. Yeah. Yes.
Elena Joy: Yes. For some [00:22:00] reason we have that ability to walk both sides of that.
Travers: Absolutely. Yes. And we have a history of doing it. Right. So like, that's the other thing that like is actually really inspiring about our community is that like queer folks have been have been doing mutual aid and all of this sort of stuff. They didn't call it that, but they've been doing it for generations because it was a necessity.
Queer folks have been had to be creative in the ways in which we Yes. Produce things right or just like the ways in which we live our lives and out of that creativity has often create grown like real life tangible innovations right that could be like sold or they could be used in a less like capitalistic way in a more mutualistic way, right?
And so you're 100 percent right. , LGBTQ folks, I [00:23:00] think, are the answer to late stage capitalism in many ways, because so many of us , are like, anti capitalist as it is, right. But we live in a capitalist society. And so the answers to how to navigate a capitalist society in an anti capitalist way The answers to that I found primarily through queer folks, not to say that other people aren't doing it well, but , the people doing it the best that I've seen have been in our community.
And I think that is so inspiring and just awesome.
Elena Joy: Can you tell me one, like off the top of your head, who is a queer leader that we need to know about, whether it's in history or current daytime, that has been able to straddle that line of both, I can turn a profit and I can be like a socially good person.
Travers: That's a good question. I think there are multiple ways to answer this. So , the [00:24:00] 1st is that the 1st people that come to mind are Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. So they're a lot of people always think about them when it comes to stonewall and, whether or not they threw the 1st brick, but the organization that they created star, which stood for street.
Transvestite at the time. Action revolutionaries, I believe. Forgive me if I got that acronym wrong, but it was called STAR. They had , a multi point plan of what they were doing. So it was not just like gay rights. It was very focused on trans rights as well, but also it had an economic message, right?
So one of their planks was that All people and specifically queer folks deserve, , that their work is valid and should be appreciated. Right? And, , that's not verbatim the way that they said it, but they had a very [00:25:00] important economic message. They were very, , supportive of, , sex workers and, , The dignity of that work and how it should be protected.
So they had a really important economic message. , I think also someone else that comes to mind is Martine Rothblatt. , so Martine Rothblatt is the founder of Sirius XM radio, and she's a trans woman. And she created Sirius XM radio, which is You know, what it is, just the main thing that it is, but then went on to create this company, it's called United Therapeutics and it creates artificial organs. , her daughter was diagnosed with a terminal illness. She dedicated all of her time and went back to school to study how to , solve this, , cure this disease, essentially.[00:26:00]
Figured out a way to do it and created a company around it, right? Yeah. And it's called United Therapeutics. So this is her second billion dollar company. So that's the capitalistic part. But then the human humanitarian part is that it's literally saving lives. It's, , creating life saving organs and all this sort of stuff for all other different types of diseases as well.
And it all came from a place of just wanting to save her daughter's life.
Elena Joy: Wow. Thank you. I didn't know either one of those stories. Yeah. That's incredible.
Travers: Isn't that amazing? Yes. And that stories like that is why I started Queerency, right? , I was telling someone the other day, if the only thing that anyone ever knows from my work with Queerency is that Sirius XM radio was founded by a trans woman, that would be enough.
But I'm being facetious when I say that, , I [00:27:00] want people to know much more, , when I first heard that story, I. iT was like the breath was knocked out of me in the best way, because I was like, why have I never heard this before? I've never heard that it was that this thing that I listened to all my life was started, was created by a trans woman.
I've never heard this trans woman's name period ever. And I had never heard the story about United Therapeutics and why it was started. And we need those stories, right?
Elena Joy: We absolutely do. I will not remember the name at all, but I do distinctly remember early starting my business following Queerency.
There was a story that you did about a woman in the Pacific islands who I believe is trans who like beauty pageant winner, maybe even, and then went on and bought this company and then. [00:28:00] bought an adjacent industry company. And then, right. And it was so, I want to say horizontal movement, like breadth, you know what I mean?
Versus the very typical career that I had watched my husband do for 20 years. Right. Just very vertical. Right. Instead I saw this woman. Take over industries. And it was that story that really made me feel like, Oh my gosh, if she can do that and wherever she was, I can do this here. Right. And, and I, it's not going to be vertical.
It's not going to look like my husband's rise to power. It's going to look like my success, which is probably going to be very wide and widespread and touch a lot of different people. And that just like, it gave me a path. I Agree. The visibility opens those windows to even be able to dream about
100%. And I think the person you're talking about is Anja Krojatyp. , so she is the owner now of the Miss [00:29:00] Universe pageant. , but prior to that, she basically owns a whole slew of media companies. In, , what country in Thailand? Think that's the 1 that you're yeah, I think so too. Yeah, but you're right.
It was horizontal. It was not it was, the norm. . So it wasn't just like start at the start in the mail room at a company and CEO. No, it was very, , unique to who she was and her experience, but it's not unique because like you said, we can through that example in that model, we can all find something as well.
Elena Joy: Absolutely. Well, this has been awesome. I do have one last question for you. Yes. Where do you see Queerency in five years? What is that life
Travers: going to be? [00:30:00] So this is, um, I'm a, this is not the best answer as a CEO because the CEO should always have your plan. But what I will say is that one of the things I've learned the most thus far is that.
Plans change and you have to pivot with it. And some of it has to do with like internally, as the company and then other things are external factors. , so when I, when I think about my five year plan for Queerency, I think less about like specific. Things about how it will look and more about a North star and the North star for Queerency is just always going to be, , producing smart, queer content.
Right now we're focused on business news. , and the queer economy, but I [00:31:00] could also see us. Creating smart content and robust journalism in other sort of categories as well. , and doing so that smart queer content in a way that. Is done with dignity and depth and joy and does not lean into the lowest common denominator or the easiest clicks, which are often rage and fear driven.
, so that's my North star. , whether that will look at look the way it currently does, , with a heavy social media presence and a website and a newsletter, or whether it will evolve into something different, um, time will tell. And that has a lot to do with, , sort of external factors and, who knows a tick tock will exist in 5 years.
We never thought that Twitter would not be super, , political anymore. And [00:32:00] then within a couple of years, it started to, change. So those sort of external factors I can't predict or control, but I can stay focused on the North star. And, , that is just like I said, to provide smart queer content with dignity, depth, and joy.
Right now it's focused on business news and the queer economy. And how we take that model and expand in the future is to be seen.
Elena Joy: I love that, , retaining the ability to be nimble, but focused on that North Star, focused on that impact that you want to have. And that is what creates that sustainable momentum, right?
That is, that is how we stay authentic to who we are while sustaining our success and not burning out. That is
Travers: absolutely key. And that's, I see that in your work as well, right? Because from your documentary to the foundation to like your speaking [00:33:00] and consulting work, like those are all different ventures or businesses or organizations, but they all lead to the same place.
Right. And , but when I think of you, I can. It's all, it all makes sense because it's towards this same sort of North Star of creating a world in which we're protected and, educated about how to protect each other and be safe, , all that sort of stuff. Despite the fact that you have different ways of delivering that information, and it manifests in different ways.
Elena Joy: Yes. As you were saying that it reminded me of, , I took a class with Arlen Hamilton. I know you're also a fan. She's absolutely incredible. And I remember she was teaching that concept of the, the idea that multiple sources of income is so vague in so many ways, right? And so how she taught it was you have, you're like [00:34:00] a tree, you have your very strong trunk and that is your core, right?
And then you have branches that branch off of that. And you might have three or four or five. And she listed, right, her venture capital company, her book, her speaking, those are all these multiple sources of revenue, but they were all feeding into that core trunk of the core values and what she's pursuing.
And that really helped click it in for me for sure. And it helps me kill my darlings
Travers: because that's a great analogy. I love
Elena Joy: that. Isn't that great? Yeah. Anytime I can learn from Arlan Hamilton, I try to. Try to do it because she's pretty incredible. Well, this has been amazing. So you have, when is LGBTQ plus business week?
Travers: So that is November 27th through December 3rd. , essentially cyber week. So the week after Thanksgiving. So we start on cyber Monday. , and go through giving Tuesday world AIDS [00:35:00] day on December 1st, and then end on December 3rd. So that is LGBTQ business week. You can learn more about it at LGBTQ business week dot com and that.
Username on Instagram and TikTok. And then for Queer See, um, you can follow us on Instagram and TikTok. At Queerency, so like currency but queer.
Elena Joy: It's the best name, Travers! It's the best! YEs, yes, definitely. We will have the links in the show notes. If you're not following Queerency on your favorite social media channel, you will be. Queerency on Instagram and on TikTok and lgbtqbusinessweek. com. Definitely check it out and join us for that week.
I'm excited. That's going to be a great time and I hope to see everyone there. That will be fabulous. And is there anything else?
Travers: No, except just want to thank [00:36:00] you again for being who you are doing the work that you do. And also just on a personal level, just the support of me and Queerency from the very beginning, like you have been so is one thing to be supportive, but you have been like vocally supportive of.
Queerency see, and that makes a huge difference. It really does because it makes a difference in a personal way of like, wow, I'm the, somebody cares about the work I'm doing, but in a practical, tangible way too, like I can put a quote from you on my website, right? Like those are the things that business owners really need, you know?
And it wasn't something that I realized until I. Started this entrepreneurship journey and realized just how important that was. And that [00:37:00] level of credibility matters to someone who's new to Queerency, however they find it. So just thank you again. , I really appreciate you.
Elena Joy: Absolutely. Absolutely.
And that is something that , I feel is very important and thank you for bringing it up because I want to remind the audience when I am sharing with parents or with my corporate audiences and part of inclusion is learning about the community. You're trying to be inclusive of right? And so let's give people tools to do that.
And one of the tools that I share . To learn about the LGBTQ plus community is queer and see, is it, you know, your basic vocabulary, one on one information? Absolutely not. But is it absolutely relevant to the day to day lives of LGBTQ plus individuals? It definitely is. And how cool would it be if every parent of an LGBTQ plus child Followed queer and see right to be able to see that vision for their kids that they could go [00:38:00] on and found something like serious or something like currency, like that is pivotal to this next generation of queer leaders.
So please everyone, if you do already follow, make sure that you're sharing it with the allies in your life that want to know more and want to be supportive in a really authentic way. A great way to do that is to follow the content at Querency. So yes, that's my soapbox. Thank you, Travers. This was lovely.
And we'll talk soon.
Travers: Thank you again. I appreciate you.