It started with a tip about a secret spirits distillery behind a flower shop in the Bastille.
For the last eight years, a weekly email called “My Little Paris” has been revealing the city’s hidden gems to millions of Francophiles. Initially self-published by avid flâneur Fany Péchiodat for friends who constantly called asking for her favorite spots, the newsletter has evolved into a €40 million ($42 million) enterprise—without any startup funding. The company, headquartered in an old carousel factory on the edge of Montmartre, now has 130 employees working on various My Little Paris-branded offshoots—from themed subscription boxes to a newly-launched English language newsletter.
In the spirit of Péchiodat’s initial idea, My Little Paris’s success hinges on word-of-mouth referrals. During a Dec. 2 tour of their well-decorated offices, Péchiodat and co-founders Céline Orjubin and Anne-Flore Brunet explained how obsessively they deliberate each newsletter’s content in an attempt to inspire readers to forward it to their friends. “We only wanted contagious ideas. Our metric for the newsletter is not the open rate but the share rate,” says Péchiodat. Their subscriber base leapt from 50 to 10,000 in the first six months, to 3 million readers today, all without any advertising.
Indeed, My Little Paris’s insider tips deviate from the usual tour guide fodder, teeming with pointers only gregarious and well-connected locals would pick-up on. The Dec. 6 dispatch for instance, featured an Italian woman who transforms a private apartment to a restaurant once a month. Another newsletter featured an engineer turned kebab seller who designed the perfect wrapper for mess-free eating; yet another issue profiled two women who changed careers to start what sounds like the most sympathetic plumbing service in Paris.
Every issue is written in a succinct and genial tone, like a note from a good friend. “We can spend 10 hours on a single word,” says Orjubin, and they try to convey a sense of intimacy in every sentence. Each newsletter is accompanied by a charming drawing by staff illustrator Kanako Kumo who still does all her doodles and paintings on paper. “Sometimes we have to use a hairdryer to dry the watercolors, as we wait to send this newsletter,” laughs Orjubin. Kanako now carries around a mini scanner in her purse, ready for any illustration emergencies.
In 2013, digital media publisher Aufeminin acquired My Little Paris for $90 million. This has allowed its founders to continue funding new experiments like My Little Box, a monthly surprise cache of French beauty products and trinkets shipped to 130,000 fans in the UK, Japan, and France. It’s now the company’s biggest money earner, generating 60% of their annual revenue. (The rest comes from advertising.)
Coming to America
This year, My Little Paris is testing its formula across the Atlantic, with “La Parisienne,” their first newsletter in English written for a global audience. Aside from offering insights into French culture, the bi-weekly dispatch hopes to challenge some prevailing cliches about French femininity. “This obsession about the French woman can be a little problematic. Sometimes it’s like ‘we the chic Parisians and you the tacky everyone else,'” observes Danielle Courtenay, an American writer working on the newsletter.
Topics will include the art of French conversation, interviews with rabble-rousing activists, profiles of young designers, and, of course, the company’s métier: secret addresses for one’s next visit to France.”We want to focus on the entrepreneurs of Paris, maybe talk about failures and be more fun,” says Brunet, La Parisienne‘s editor in chief. But there will be room for traditional French wisdom too, she adds. “We’ll also have the best French grandma advisers sharing their beauty tips.”