There are stereotypes…we’ve all experienced them before and tried very hard to bust them. But there are some that just need to be owned. Danya Shults, a Jew by birth and a lover of all-things-Jew-ish by choice is doing that and more via Pop-Up Shabbat, The Ish and soon to be launched, ARQ.
Originally from New Haven, Danya graduated from Washington University in 2007. Although she studied music and anthropology, her first official job was with Teach for America as a staff recruiter. Four years recruiting at college campuses and a short gig at a startup later, she decided to quit and work on a creative project of her own. And so her journey to creating three different platforms that made sharing the Jewish culture easier began.
Pop-Up Shabbat is the commercialization of a Shabbat dinner hosted at unique venues in New York. The Ish is an online digest that shares with the Jewish and non-Jewish folks happenings, events and community updates across the globe. The latest edition to Danya’s plate will be ARQ, a lifestyle brand of events, products and content stimulated by the Jewish culture in a modern way. Watch out for its launch this Thanksgiving holiday!
Danya had always dreamt of moving to New York, having a desk job and wearing a black trench coat (apparently that’s how the world perceives fashion in NY!). Yet, when she quit her day job at Skillshare, she convinced her then boyfriend now husband, Andrew along with their friend, Melissa to join her in creating Pop-Up Shabbat. Over the next two years, they hosted pop up dinner events every two months with tickets ranging between $50-$90. Soon enough, they realized that events wouldn’t be the way to make bread and butter. “It was great for community and brand building - a true passion project.”
Then, life happened and Danya and Andrew got engaged. While planning her wedding, she started The Ish, which still spoke to the audience’s needs and was a lighter load to take on. It was originally a Gmail email to friends and family with a roundup of cool Jewish things happening around the world. Side note: at this time, she was also working at Spark Capital with fellow Maker, David Haber.
Finally, after feeling the energy at the dinner events and the response to The Ish and understanding the macro-context of what was going on in the society, Danya decided to build a consumer brand that appeals to people in a more relevant and inclusive way. Now, dipping her toes in ecommerce, Danya hopes to introduce products that are aesthetically elevated Jewish products that already exist in the market. Think Menorah, seder plates, etc. that are neither too traditional nor too DIY, they’re just right!
What has motivated Danya over the years was the chatter around a national study that had been published around the time Pop-Up Shabbat came about. It was the first study that was done by a non-Jewish organization, noting that most Jews were not keeping kosher or wanted the synagogue anymore. “I saw this as an opportunity. Although my projects were the result of an inkling of passion, the business side in me knew there was more to it.”
Indeed, she was right! The immediate demographic for her platforms are Jewish American Millennials who care about where they come from but they’re not proactively engaging in the conversation. Then, there are partners of Jews and friends of Jews. “My real aha-moment was when I was talking to a friend who was about to attend a Jewish wedding. She asked me for gifting ideas for the couple because she didn’t know where to look or wasn’t aware of the ‘traditional wedding gift.’ Plus, a search for ‘chic Jewish wedding gift’ on Google wasn’t helpful.”
“I am a big believer in less is more, especially in the content realm.”
Like any company that has genesis in digital, there is a question of ‘but how will we make money?’ Danya was in the same boat and realized that content creation doesn’t always lead to revenue generation. Hence, she is experimenting with sponsored content, an editorial where single individuals can be featured (think niche matchmaking) and metric driven activities.
So, what metrics are useful? “First priority is always the quality of the content that is being pushed. Then, I look at open rate and compare it to past issues; the call to action is the subject line and what attracts people to open it. I also look for patterns in top links to see which ones have been clicked on in the newsletter that gets sent out.” Besides these, Danya also looks at growth in subscribers week over week. Ultimately, her goal is to have evergreen content, for example travel guides from a Jewish lens or field guides for Jewish holidays and lifecycle events.
“I try to find peers who are steps ahead of me or at the same stage. I learn best from them and by spending hours researching on Google.”
As Danya works towards launching ARQ, she has had to learn about ecommerce and how to sell products without actually holding the inventory. “I originally thought of having ARQ be a website with image galleries with affiliate links to vendors. Then, after speaking with a few vendors and testing the idea, I found out that no one actually uses affiliate links.” Thanks to Shopify, the beta version of ARQ will be a platform where consumers can purchase specially curated products but the vendors themselves will ship the products out (aka drop ship).
Through this platform, Danya hopes to reclaim the term “Jew” as she thinks it has become derogatory in today’s world. “I’m all about taking back stereotypes and owning them!"
Subscribe to The Ish here for updates on ARQ or follow @popupshabbat on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram for all your Jew-ish needs.
Photo courtesy of Danya Shults.