Fernanda Paronetto always wanted to move to New York City. It was something that was constantly on her mind, even as she danced between a variety of different professional pursuits at home in Brazil. She made frequent visits to the Big Apple, but it wasn’t until 2014 that she made the resolution that in a year, she would be a resident of the city of her dreams.
Prior to visiting New York in April 2014, Fernanda started an Instagram account to highlight local haunts out of the spotlight — a tourist guide for those who wanted to experience NYC in an non-touristy way, so to speak. Although under a different name, Behind the Scenes NYC was born, and quickly picked up traction gaining nearly 60,000 followers in the following two years.
Although Paronetto is now a full-time resident of Fort Greene, her first year of BTSNYC operation was run from her bedroom at her mother’s house in Brazil — 5,000 miles away. And this was on top of a full-time job.
What distinguishes Fernanda Paronetto from others in the booming Instagram category is her commitment to delivering top-notch content, uncontaminated by monetization. That’s right, since the beginning, Paronetto has built BTSNYC into a thriving platform without selling out. Rather, she has expanded upon her original vision by monetizing offline with concierge services — corporate and private travel planning and management, art tours, private event organization and relocation services to name a few.
With a website launched this March, Paronetto has given anyone — from tourists to natives — the opportunity to discover a unique restaurant, rooftop bar, beauty salon, day trip or other miscellaneous finding that they never knew existed. Not to mention, each recommendation is packed with enough additional information to serve as a mini-brochure for the respective spot.
Below, we talk with Fernanda Paronetto about her “Aha” moment, the value of collaboration and how she has built a business without compromising her values.
How would you describe BSTNYC in a sentence?
Behind the Scenes NYC (BTSNYC) is focused on curating the best off the spotlight places, events, brands and stories in the State of NY, away from the touristy scene, engaging with the local community and offering rich experiences while you uncover New York.
What inspired you to start BTSNYC?
Since I graduated from college, I knew that I wanted to live in New York. I had visited several times before, and NYC was just always very attractive to me — the energy, the people, the hustle, everything. On April 20, 2014, I was visiting New York with my sister. We were in Williamsburg at Dziupla, a newly opened Polish restaurant. And out of the blue, I looked at her and said, "I'm moving to New York in a year". And she looked at me, stunned, and asked, "What do you mean? How?" And I said, "I don't know, but I'll be living in New York in a year". I just felt it was going to happen. When I got home, I decided to gather everything I had learned from my previous experiences — and after thirteen years of having a fixed salary — I left my secure job to become a freelancer. I applied for an O-1 Visa as a writer. I wanted to come to New York, and be able to work for any person that would like to hire me, in any industry, and legally earn money. And my lawyer said to me, "Well, you and the world want that". But, I was so sure. I started telling everyone, "Next April, I'm moving to New York". I even had a date in mind. Want to hear something crazy? You know Facebook “On This Day”? This April, “On This Day” showed me that I had landed in New York on April 20, 2015. Exactly a year before — on April 20, 2014 — is when I told my sister at Dziupla that I would be moving in New York in a year. So, there’s definitely something to be said for the power of words.
Was your Visa process difficult? Did you ever think that you might not make it to New York?
I verbalized my intention to move to New York to the universe on April 20, and on September 14, I went into the lawyer’s office to start the process. My petition was 780 pages, and since I was applying for the O-1 Visa, I needed to have a three year business plan for the company that I wished to start. This worked out well because I sat down, and actually did a business plan for Behind the Scenes NYC. I needed eventually to do a business plan anyways, so why not now? In January, before handing in any of my paperwork, I had already bought my ticket for April 19, 2015. I got my Visa approved on February 15, 2015. But even when I received the approval, I still had to do the interview, the digital prints — there’s a process which often takes 60 days. My lawyer told me that April 19 was unrealistic, and that the earliest I would arrive in America was June or July. The approval, instead of coming in 60 days, came in 10 day. My lawyer wrote and said, “I’ve never seen this before”. And on April 19, as planned, I hopped on a plane to begin my life in New York.
Why did you choose Behind the Scenes New York City (and not another city)?
I always dreamed about living in New York. So, before I came to New York in 2014, I had actually already started an account where I was posting about places that I wanted to go to when I visited, or spots that were referred to me by my friends, or even cool places that I had already gone. After working on it for a few months, I received a message from a woman. She told me, "I love the place that you suggested yesterday. I live in New York, have lived here my whole life, and I've never heard of that restaurant. I went the other night, and I loved it!" And I thought, “I’m in Brazil, in my room, in my mom’s house, giving tips to New Yorkers, and they’re thanking me? Oh wow. There’s something right there.” So, I started Behind the Scenes NYC because I wanted to come to New York. But, I eventually do want to scale, and I do have other Behind the Scenes handles frozen — Behind the Scenes London, Behind the Scenes Paris, etc — I have them already. They’re just frozen because it’s literally impossible for me to do it on my own. I barely have enough time to do New York.
What was the process of starting Behind the Scenes NYC like?
Behind the Scenes NYC started as an Instagram, and it grew completely organically. I actually just started the website this March. But, I am a writer by nature of things I love, and so that’s why the captions on my Instagram posts are pretty lengthy. It's cool to visit these places out of the spotlight, but it’s even more amazing to be able to hear the stories behind them — when you go and talk with the owner of the store, you learn that the father made the table, and the sister painted the walls. I knew I had a good concept because the look of the day becomes a bit saturated. I’m dying to give people great content.
You ran BTSNYC from Brazil for a year before moving to New York. How were you able to manage that logistically?
When I was in Brazil, I had a lot of friends in NYC helping me. So finding places wasn't too difficult. But, my day — that's a different story. I worked full-time until 15 days before coming to New York. I woke up to work at 6AM, left work between 6 and 8PM, went to the gym every-single-day, got home, had dinner, took a shower. And then, at 11PM at night, I did anything I needed to do for my Visa. After that, I would do the write-ups for Behind the Scenes NYC posts until 1 or 2 in the morning. I posted content four times a day. Each post takes at least 45 minutes to write. And I did this every day for a full year. Now that I’m here I sometimes can’t even post four times a day. I’m like, “How did I do it in Brazil?”
Have you raised any outside capital? What was the experience like?
No. My initial business model is not monetizable because I don’t charge for posts. The thing is, people don’t know today if a blogger is writing about a dress because she likes the dress, or because she’s being paid? So, I decided not to do that.
What is the curation process like?
I do have a weekly agenda — though I’m not always able to follow it — so I can provide something for everyone — "I need to write about two restaurants, a gallery, a place upstate, one health and wellness studio, a beauty spot." I try to cover as many different categories as possible. The posts with the beautiful shots of New York City receive the most engagement. I'll write about a little tea shop in the Lower East Side, and get 350 likes — which is awful. Not everybody wants to learn about a little tea shop in the Lower East Side. It depends on who you're talking to. But, the idea for Behind the Scenes NYC is talking about places in New York that people don’t necessarily know about. So, I really try and mix it up.
You started BTSNYC as an Instagram account. What can you share about how to grow that channel?
The most difficult part is starting off. When I started out with BTSNYC, I had one follower. It was my personal account following Behind the Scenes NYC — so embarrassing. But, people start following an account because other people are following it.
Yes. So when I started, I reached out to every single blogger and influencer that I knew in Brazil. And I found a fitness blogger — at the time she had 600,000 followers, now she has 2.7 million followers. I gave her content by sharing tips on the best healthy places in New York. When she wrote about the recommendations and mentioned Behind the Scenes NYC, I got 5,000 followers in one day. Just like that. Once you reach 10,000 followers, people just start following you more organically.
I noticed on your website that BTSNYC offers concierge services. Can you tell me a little more about this? Was this a part of the original vision?
Because I don’t monetize, I do concierge services for individuals and companies coming to New York. Sometimes I host visitors myself, and sometimes I hire others to host them, but I always organize the entire agenda. When I do go around the city with visitors, I'll take them to these places and talk to the owners. I'll say, "Look, I’m going to your store — can you be there?” Or even, “I’m coming to you restaurant, the names of the guests are “blank”, can you please call them by their names?” I make it a more customized and personalized tour. Even though these tours can take up a whole day, I do get something out of it — in the sense that it’s research, and I always find somewhere new to write about. At the moment, this concierge service is word-of-mouth. This wasn’t part of the original vision for Behind the Scenes NYC, but since I didn’t want to monetize on posts — because I really want to provide original and true content —I decided to monetize offline.
How do you determine who to work with? What has been your favorite collaboration to date?
I work with several different companies. Car services, event planning services, even real estate services. It’s all outsourced, but it’s under the Behind the Scenes NYC umbrella. It’s a way for me to monetize without selling out. It’s commission-based, but it’s my name on it, so I really do take it seriously when making decisions about Partners. I try to see how they work — if they’re more commission-based and after the money, or if they’re more like me, and concentrated on providing a amazing experience. The partners that I work with need to have the same mentality. They can’t be after the money. They need to be after offering a good service, and money is a consequence. When I do partnerships, I need to make sure the partner has the same mission and vision and values as I have.
What has been the most rewarding part of starting BTSNYC?
The people I’ve been meeting, for sure. I really like to meet new people. And I meet so many people — usually five to ten new people every week. My brother is a very good graphic designer, and I told my mom one day, “Dani has a gift — he does this so well, what is my gift?” I never knew what my gift was. After a few years, my mom said, “You still don’t get what your gift is?” I said, “No, what is my gift!?” And she said, “You’re very good at networking and that is priceless”. So, I do that well — and I like it. So, the networking for me is the most valuable — and it really is the most valuable thing in the world today. You could have the best idea, and the most amount of money, but without people and connections, you have nothing.
What is the one piece of advice that you would give to someone looking to start their own business?
Build up your resiliency.
5 favorite independent businesses in New York:
1. Ascari Bicycles: They have the most beautiful handmade bicycles, with unique design and definitely made out of Love. Is was founded by Helio Ascari and his wife, Maria Thereza.
2. Dziupla: This is the Polish restaurant in Williamsburg that I was at when I verbalized "I'm moving to NYC in 1 year". I was sitting at the window, watching people walk up and down Bedford, and out of the blues I said this. I definitely have a special love for this place.
3. Troost: Located in Greenpoint, they have a great place with a beautiful out door garden full of plants and flowers. At night they get pretty full with very good music, a great crowd, a full bar, coffee till 2am and a very relaxed outdoor area with lots of green. It’s a very unpretentious low-key place, with lots of charm where you’ll have great bites and drinks!
4. Whisk: When I moved to NYC, I had to furnish and buy everything for my home from scratch. I love the kitchen stuff at Whisk. They have everything you can possibly imagine, and very unique products too.
5. Artists & Fleas: This flea marketing in Williamsburg has amazing vendors selling home stuff, jewelry, art and design work, clothes, shoes, accessories, food and an infinite range of unique products! It's is a quite touristy spot, but they have a great curation of vendors!