Lena Gershkovich '11BUS currently serves as the COO of CultureHorde, a private arts club that makes accessible New York culture via partnerships from leading cultural institutions. At CultureHorde, Lena helps run the day-to-day business, focusing on event-curation, business strategy and partner relationship management. Before joining CultureHorde, Lena worked as a marketing professional on the agency, brand and media sides of the industry with companies such as Coca-Cola, L'Oreal, MetLife and Viacom. Lena's engagement with Columbia is not new; when Lena was pursuing her MBA, she was a member of the Columbia Business School community, served on the board of The Marketing Association of Columbia and Follies, and served as a Peer Advisor and Hermes representative. Along with her MBA from Columbia, Lena received her BA with honors from New York University.
You graduated from the Columbia Business School in 2011 and have worked in marketing with MetLife and Viacom ever since. Now you're the COO at CultureHorde. What made you join CultureHorde, and why this sudden switch in company size/focus?
Throughout my marketing career on the agency, brand, and media sides of the business, I noticed that I always gravitated towards sponsorships, activations, and events, specifically when they had to do with cultural experiences. There was something special about the ability to create and mold unique moments that people remembered and cherished for a long time. Once I noticed this pattern, I realized that my motivation lies in bringing people together around something they're passionate about. Until that point in time, I had spent my whole career in the corporate world and decided I needed a change. I wanted a more intimate, hands-on environment, in a role that allowed me to take ownership of something I loved and connected with. I started looking for jobs outside of traditional marketing and media, focusing on companies that create meaningful, customized experiences for audiences, communities, and brands.
CultureHorde fit everything I was seeking. The model is incredibly innovative: Every NYC cultural organization has some amazing events and access, but they're usually reserved for top-level donors. CultureHorde created a consortium model, whereby our members get into 1-2 of each organization's top events. So you get huge diversity (music, art, theater, etc.), plus amazing access (behind the scenes meet-n-greets, backstage tours, opening nights), and the convenience of not having to search for events. We have funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to our arts partners so far, and our members like supporting that. As COO, I'm helping to run the business day to day, while also building our brand, increasing membership, and strengthening our arts partnerships. Not to mention, I get to follow my passion of supporting and promoting the arts.
How does your Columbia Business School degree help you in your new role and what can business minded individuals bring to the art world?
My business school degree is helping me in my current role more than ever. Every aspect of what I do on a day-to-day basis has an element of something I learned in school. The jack-of-all-trades expression is clichéd, but true. In a big corporation, I had a specialty that I was an expert in. In a start-up, I'm accountable for every business decision and action.
As an entrepreneur, most business challenges you face do not have a clear-cut solutions or someone who dictates the marching orders. I have to rely on my own logic and strategic thinking to make business decisions. Business school has given me the ability to think through problems on a higher level and in an actionable way. I've noticed that I often find myself referencing what I learned in operations, marketing, and strategy classes—everything from market sizing and pricing strategy, to supply/demand and overall people management.
CultureHorde is an arts club that works as a consortium—getting members into events across the artistic genres...What potential do you feel art-experiences have in the art/business world today? Is this idea modeled after anything you've seen? What is your vision for the club five years from now?
CultureHorde was built on the foundation that art and culture should be more readily available to those who want access to great experiences, but may not have the time to filter the vast array of options out there, or don't have the discretionary income to become a member or donor at all the major institutions. We're looking to democratize the arts and culture space, making it easier to experience New York for both cultural enthusiasts and our arts partners.
From a business perspective, CultureHorde complements and supports New York's arts and culture institutions. We cater each event to the needs and business goals of our partners, ensuring that we're helping to build awareness, grow their donor base, and support them financially. We do this by bringing the right target audience directly to our partners and introducing them to a large and influential base of patrons, many of whom are already committed to supporting the arts and can be funneled up the donor pyramid. We also pass along a majority of ticket revenue to these institutions. This is a far more attractive option to them than selling tickets through a discounting site.
Recently, we've also started meeting the needs of corporate institutions in the client entertainment space. Research consistently shows that unique experiences forge stronger brand affinity and relationships. Though budgets have tightened over the years, the need for out-of-the-park client entertainment remains. CultureHorde plays perfectly in this space, because it allows companies to do something different and special for their clients or employees. This is especially true in industries that routinely entertain clients through dining or sports. CultureHorde acts as an alternative for female clients, who are rapidly taking up positions of power, and any clients who prefer a cultural experience. It helps that no two events are ever the same, and that we customize each one with additional perks they couldn't access on their own.
Over the next five years, our vision is to expand in New York, nailing the balance of individual and corporate memberships, and then launch into other cities.
For Columbia Alumni hoping to move into the art-business/art-experience space, what advice might you have for them? Any opportunities you see opening up in the field?
With the boom in technology, specialized websites and apps have opened the floodgates to find just the right cultural experience for any occasion and price point. At the same time, this accessibility has created an overabundance of options, and an oversaturation of communication. This can be overwhelming to audiences. So there is a great need for curation—cutting through the noise to find quality events that stand out amongst the rest.
This is also true in terms of shifting purchasing preferences—people have started prioritizing buying experiences over buying things. Recently, an abundance of research has shown that experiences bring people more happiness than do possessions. This is because you can attach an emotion and memory to a positive experience. From the anticipation of its arrival to the nostalgia of its passing, that feeling of happiness lasts much longer. This shift reveals an opportunity to create experiences that matter—the more unique and special, the more of an impact they'll have.