Konstantin Vulkov: It is somehow obvious that print could be kept alive by smart concepts, which are not compromising its quality. When launching, what were the few principles that you stuck to in order to create this wonderful product?
Serena Guen: Quality of paper is really important to us. We distinctly split the magazines into quarters – half glossy and half matte. We were very picky with the stock, determined that the the glossy paper was not ‘too glossy’ separating us from the other monthly magazines and that the matte paper was thick enough. I think having mixed paper stocks also keeps people’s attention. Using a matte cover also puts us more in line with a book than a magazine. t’s nice – even people that don’t know a lot about magazines will comment on it.
Together all these little nuances are sending subliminal messages to our readers saying: “SUITCASE is something to keep on your shelf or coffee table book. You don’t want to throw it away. You want to collect it and show it to your friends.”
Konstantin: Is independence – I mean that you are not part of a big publishing group – of a great value these days?
Serena: I think so, I think it gives us the agility to adapt quickly to the ever-changing media landscape.
Konstantin: SUITCASE is basically a travel magazine, a high quality one, you probably travelled as much as you can in order to came up with the idea of such kind of magazine. What’s the travel for you? Tourism? An idea-generating tool? Something else?
Serena: Funnily enough I’ve never been asked this question before! Travel for me is a porthole into other cultures. It is the best and most enjoyable form of further education.
Konstantin: You are so young and many must have expected you to start first with a website and not think about magazines at all? Why this love of print?
Serena: I do love print as a medium for non-disposable information, but so do a lot of other people. When we first started we conducted a survey and 98% of people preferred a printed magazine!
Konstantin: What’s your work regime like now compared to the first months after the launch. Now you are based in London, right?
Serena: My work regime is definitely a lot more balanced. I have a wonderful team who can actually allow me the time to think and develop the company efficiently. The initial stages (despite a very long-term vision) were hand-to-mouth and very stressful. I think I’ve become immune to most stressful situations now!
Konstantin: Do you trust your instincts or do you believe that research is king?
Serena: I think it has to be a mixture. I think that laying the initial groundwork for any plans with research and analysis is key but trusting your instinct is actually often under-appreciated. I always tell people that especially when starting a business, there’ll come a time when they’ll just ‘know’ it’s right. I think instincts are also very important when working with other people.
Konstantin: Are you thinking about any other extensions of the brand? I’ve been working in media (for 20 years probably), but I suddenly decided to start a small brand with my wife, inspired by our travels, and started producing high-quality linen beach towels and cosy wool winter blankets. You must be inspired by even more things working for a magazine like SUITCASE. What will be the next stop for SUITCASE as a brand?
Serena:I’m not sure yet but I know that tech will play a big role in it. Our mission is making travel as accessible, exciting and easy as possible so it seems that developing the website and a proper travel app (or several) would be the key to this. That being said I am often tempted by business opportunities that are not relevant to the brand at this point in time and have to turn them down...for the moment.
Konstantin: What do you think made SUITCASE a successful venture? Can you define – let’s say – three main things?
Serena: I’m very reluctant to say that SUITCASE is successful yet – we still have a huge amount to grow but I am proud of what my team have achieved to date. I’d say drive (the ability to work long hours in adverse conditions), adaptability (I’m not sure that’s a word but essentially being able to see that something is not working and change very quickly) and non-linear thinking (to win the race you have to find a different path to the finish line than the people before you).
Konstantin: Next personal travel plans?
Serena: Philippines on Friday – it’s my first time and I’m very excited. I love the sea and can’t wait to go surfing.
Konstantin: Finally, choose a song that you like to listen to now?
Serena: Fly (FKJ Remix) by June Marieezy. She’s playing at our party in June and is incredibly talented.