Thriving cities depend on the adventurous among us, who alter the urban landscape when they forge their own successful paths.

Each month, we ask an influential Pittsburgher: What was it like for you in the beginning?

Zach Cole  Founder,  Southern Ladies,
Live: Manchester •  Work: Downtown  •  How Long: Five Years

Tell us a little about Southern Ladies? How did it start and how did it evolve?

The Southern Ladies Party is just a little event I put together every year, where the basic premise is throw on a dress, some heels, and have a few day drinks. A fun little side effect of that, and it’s become the foundation of the party, is that once people put on these outfits, so much of the social anxiety that tends to permeate the gay world seems to melt away, and all the sudden people are talking to new people, making new friends, and enjoying a new experience out of their comfort zone.

My friend Dan Byrd and I actually jokingly conceived it senior year of college, and decided to make it a reality by inviting about 20-30 of our closest friends – and wouldn’t you know, it was a huge success. From there, it’s just been growing – with new faces and new outfits every year! Luckily, at year 3, the fine people at 5801 graciously opened their doors to us, which has allowed the party to grow in some exciting ways. Now at year 6, expecting the largest attendance ever.

What challenges have you faced in creating and growing Southern Ladies?

Honestly, it’s all been relatively easy. I think it’s due to the format of the party itself. So many people just want an excuse to let loose and have fun.  Every year it gets a little bigger, which has meant more work – but thanks to 5801 and our generous sponsors at Central Outreach Wellness Center and Northwestern Mutual – we’ve been able to keep the event free, and I haven’t gone crazy trying to over plan the afternoon!

What are you most excited for this year?

The turnout! I think we’re not only going to have a really interesting mix of people, but I think everyone is really going to step up their game this year, so I’m really quite excited to see what kind of looks these “ladies” turn out!

In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where Southern Ladies is today, what is one thing you would change from day one and one thing you are glad you kept through year six.

I mean, is it wrong to say I wouldn’t change a thing? Each year it’s been amazing to watch the party grow, and I think I’m glad the party started as humbly as it did, as everything has sort of been a natural progression to the fabulousness we’re at today.

As far as what I’m glad I kept, at least for now, I’m happy I’ve been able to keep the party free. Whether this will evolve into a ticketed fundraiser type event or not in the future, I love being able to bring so many people together for free, so anyone who wants can participate!

Kenny Gould  Founder,  Hop Culture,
Live: Shady Side •  Work: Pittsburgh •  How Long: Almost 2 years

What projects have you worked on in the past?

When I lived in Manhattan both my co-founder, J. Travis Smith, and I worked for an online men’s lifestyle magazine called Gear Patrol. I’ve also free-lanced for Thrillist, Time Out New York, Paleo, Organic Life, and a variety of Pittsburgh-based magazines, including Table and Local Pittsburgh. In my free time, I teach yoga at Yoga Flow in Shadyside, and I’ve spent time volunteering as a creative writing instructor in the Allegheny County Jail.

Tell us a little about Hop Culture and what sets you guys apart from other beer publications?

My co-founder and I started Hop Culture because we were frustrated by the state of beer writing. We were tired of clip art, low quality articles, and biased, subjective reviews. Worst of all, we didn’t feel like we wanted to drink with any of the writers. Beer is supposed to be fun, informative, down-to-earth, inclusive, and educational. If you don’t finish one of our articles and say, “Wow, I want to drink with her,” or “Gee, I’d love to shotgun that,” we haven’t done our job.

We also have an incredible team with over 30 years of combined experience in digital media. This includes my co-founder, a Boston-based senior editor, a Pittsburgh-based art director, a Pittsburgh-based videographer, and five fantastic interns. I can’t speak more highly of their hard work and dedication. Our interns especially—I know that all of them have bright careers ahead.

Hop Culture is a new platform. What struggles have you faced in creating and establishing Hop Culture?

As the new kid on the block, it’s difficult to make people take you seriously. However, at the end of the day, the site speaks for itself. Whenever we can, we use original, high-resolution photography, and our beer journalism far exceeds anything else on the web.

The other problem we’ve faced is from people who have closed minds about the industry. We champion democracy and writers from all walks of life, be they gay, straight, white, black, or brown. Currently, we have a pregnant writer working on a ten-part series about drinking and pregnancy, and we think that’s awesome. Thankfully, the majority of our audience celebrates diversity in craft.

What personality traits must someone possess in order to launch a company like Hop Culture and be successful?

Beer is a social substance—if I didn’t have a personality, I wouldn’t be good at my job. Not only because interviewing people requires making connections and teasing out stories, but I’m frequently traveling, which often puts me outside my comfort zone. I also work a lot. That’s fine for me, because I love work, but someone who prefers a better work-life balance might not like the position.

Because we’re having so much fun, it’s easy to forget that Hop Culture is a startup. Most days, I wake up at 7:00 AM and don’t get to bed before 11:00 or 12:00 PM. Between those hours, it’s meetings, emails, phone calls, and beer.

If you were stuck on a desert island and had one beer you had to drink for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Oh man. What a question. I think my favorite go-to beer is Allagash White. It’s the first craft beer I ever tried. We don’t get it in Pittsburgh (listen up, Allagash!), but every time I travel, I try to grab a four pack. To me, a cold bottle of Allagash White tastes like drinking autumn, which I imagine would be especially pleasing on a desert island.

Urbanist is so excited to announce a year-long partnership with Hop Culture. Stay tuned for their quarterly insight to beer centric events and news in Pittsburgh! 

Wendy Downs  Owner,  Moop,
Live: Mt. Lebanon •  Work: Downtown •  How Long: 10 Years

What projects have you worked on in the past?  I am a formally trained artist and photographer. When I finished graduate school, I had moved to western Massachusetts where the landscape is incredible, the space I was living/working from was inspiring, the area is fiercely independent & very academic…but there were no jobs. I had moved there at a time when I was unsure of what my life direction would be and had to find a way to define and create that for myself. I worked odd jobs while trying to get my footing, all the while continuing my practice as an artist. I made it a point to work in my studio (which was in my house) every day.

This was over ten years ago, when the climate of e-commerce was gaining a lot of traction, especially for independent makers of things. There were several tools in place that would allow you to make and sell things with very little overhead…and they were new and exciting. I had made bags for myself in the past but, they were strictly utilitarian. I had never really considered that I could also sell them…let alone build a brand out of them…until I did. In early 2007 I tried out Etsy, a new fledgling website for people who make things, to sell things. And, it was amazing! So amazing that I began to see the potential of what I was building and wanted to hone it to be something specific. So, I set up my own site within my first year and have been building it ever since.

What struggles have you faced in creating and growing Moop Bags?  Building a business is full of challenges, exciting ones and ones that remind you there is always more to learn. I did not have a background in business when I was starting Moop. I learned everything as I went, very transparently online as I was growing and selling and making and learning. But, my biggest challenge to date has been a failed manufacturing experiment. I had wanted to grow our production by shifting from an in-house team to a team of like-minded manufacturers in another part of the country. It turned into a very expensive endeavor…one that led to many cross country trips, visiting, troubleshooting, moving equipment back and forth.  Ultimately I found the bags could not come close to the quality of what we make in-house. It was an expensive lesson to learn but one that has helped me to re-focus on the value of making our product in house.

We recently moved to a new location right in downtown Pittsburgh. My goal with setting up a storefront space, which lives right in our manufacturing space, is to make manufacture visible. Everything around us is handmade…but, more often than not those things are made by hands that are underserved, overworked and underpaid. We are trying to create a new model of visible production within our studio.

What personality traits must someone possess in order to launch a company like Moop and be successful?  Building a business takes a lot of perseverance and patience. A willingness to look at failures as learning opportunities. And, a willingness to put a lot of sweat equity into your business…long hours are a given! But, I find a lot of satisfaction in succeeding when I’ve put the right amount of work into something. I love what I do and feel proud of where I began and where I am now. Lots of good things happening here!

In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where your work is today, what 3 words describe how you might have felt?  How about four...hard work pays off!

And the hard work has paid off for Wendy.  Her bags have landed her in publications such as The Atlantic, Cool Hunting, Refinery 29 and more.  Make sure to check out her shop and bags Downtown in 2017.

429 First Ave
Suite 100
Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Tyler Haak  Creator/Owner,  Yinzstore,
Live: Downtown •  Work: All Across the Area •  How Long: Five Years.

What projects have you worked on in the past?

My first project was the blog, Yinzster, which moved from the original aim of describing a 20-something’s life in the city with words to celebrating everyone else’s with their pictures.  Photo projects with Yinzster like “Pixburgh” and “May Days” led me to work with @steelcitygrammers on Instagram and where I am today.

What  propelled you to start Yinzstore?

From the consumer side, I thought it would be really valuable to have a marketplace that gathered together Pittsburgh-themed products (starting with unique street photographs) that are typically disparate.  From the contributor side, I am just aware of the talent that’s out there and I think the city should be excited about all the unique things the people I’m partnering with are doing.

What struggles have you faced in starting Yinzstore?

This is a passion project, so the trend from the original blog through the Instagram page and now into the e-commerce end of things is that I have had no clue how to do any of it until I threw myself right into the thick of it.  That’s what’s made it so fun and fulfilling, but also super difficult and more than a little scary at times.

Why launch this project now?

Lifers, newcomers, visitors, and ex-pats are enthusiastic about the direction the city is taking right now, as they should be, so interest in quality content is high.  And there’s just so much talent running around – with a unique interest in their city’s betterment – that I believe different photographers, bloggers, vendors, artists, etc can all benefit from collaborative marketing.

What personality traits must someone possess in order to launch a project like Yinzstore and be successful?

I guess if you look around town, Urbanist is a great example but so are things like Handmade Arcade or Keep Pittsburgh Dope or what have you, the most important thing is probably that you have a belief in what you’re doing and you are ready to stand behind what you’re creating.  I find the best things for that have been confidence, flexibility, and patience.  And for Yinzstore in particular, it’s important to be able to work with really inspiring people you can trust.

What are you looking most forward to with this project?

I’m playing matchmaker.  I get to share a place where Pittsburghers can purchase things they otherwise may not have found and that they’ll own and cherish for a long time, and I get to help super-talented artists and creative people move their work into the lives of their target audience.  Thinking of making those connections a reality is pretty damn cool.

Lauren Goshinski & Quinn Leonowicz  Co-Directors,  VIA,
Live: Undisclosed locations •  Work: Venues across Pittsburgh •  How Long: Five years

Projects: VIA Festival, events & special projects including music booking, curating, developing & commissioning special art/tech projects, event production

What was the defining moment that propelled you to start VIA?

It was made up of a bunch of moments between 2008 – 2010. It may be more important to note the defining moment when we decided to continue VIA which was after our first festival in 2010 where we were blown away by the reception.

What struggles did you face when starting VIA?

The unknown of creating a model that works for what you want to do and then explaining that model to the general public to gain support for funding, organizing things like venues, etc.

What was the riskiest move you ever made?

Trying to roll out the first festival in 2010 in 4 months.  The same work now is about a year long endeavor to give you a sense of reference.

If you could change the past, is there anything regarding the festival that you would do differently?

Not really. Maybe not eat all the leftover tortilla chips the second the festival ended in 2012.

What personality traits must someone possess in order to do what you do and be successful?

Patience, both long term and short term.

In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where your work is today, what 3 words describe how you might have felt?

Hungry, Proud, Humbled.

Eric Christopher Sloss  Principal/Co-Founder,  Shift Collaborative, UpTo, WordFabric,
Live: Pittsburgh •  Work: East Liberty •  How Long: 2 years

Projects: Shift Collaborative, a creative firm helping nonprofit organizations and tech-start ups with brand strategies in earned, owned and paid media channels; UpTo, a social enterprise that uses popup strategies to provide small businesses access to creative services, deployed in select, niche main streets across the U.S.; and WordFabric, a web-based language algorithm that assists marketers in identifying key terms and concepts to strengthen their marketing efforts.  

What was the defining moment that propelled you to start your own business?  

For many years, I was the director of communications for the college of fine art of a local university. I had to be truly entrepreneurial and experimental in the creative tactics I deployed to raise awareness of college.  We were in competition with Ivy League schools; I needed to create my own systems and media channels to gain the most visibility. While I was there, I completed my master’s degree, which has given me a practical and theoretical view of my profession.  I also teach earned, owned and paid media strategies at two local universities.  Teaching forces me to continually refine the way I articulate professional strategy and tactics, and therefore continues to inform my understanding of the profession.  The confluence of these factors gave me the courage to start my own business. The opportunity was really about pursuing my own creative endeavors and defining a pattern of work where I can be creative and design social change.  I was lucky to have some of the most progressive thinkers around me to partner and launch new ideas. Foremost among those is my business partner, Sarah Mayer.

What struggles did you face when starting your own business?  

I have countless crazy ideas. On top of that, I have many artist, writer, engineer and designer friends who are always game to cultivate new projects.  It was truly a challenge to define which ideas to pursue first. For instance, we have expanded our service business of Shift to include two new companies in UpTo and WordFabric.  It was tough to decide to develop these particular ideas over others, and tough to figure out the right time to pursue them.

What was the riskiest move you ever made?  

Of course, there are many risks involved in starting your own business. We applied two different ideas to the same business incubator. They are both fantastic ideas but we took a risk by submitting two ideas, knowing the incubator may think we do not have the capacity to manage the ideas. We knew deep down that the products were stellar and were going to make a difference in the market place, but we took a risk.

If you could change the past, is there anything involving your career that you would do differently?  

Probably, but I don’t like to dwell on lost opportunities. I will say that I would have liked to have started my education as a studio artist.  I think having a Masters of Fine Arts degree is more important than receiving a Masters of Business Administration certificate.  Creative problem solving is radically changing the way we think about the world.

Could you ever go back to a “normal job,” working for someone else?  

I don’t like the term “working for someone” else. We put the term “Collaborative” in the name of our service business for a reason. I find that people work best when they work together.  Everyone has an agenda, areas of expertise and specialties. It’s the vision of a true collective to solve problems together.  At Shift, Sarah and I are inspired by the research of Claus Østergaard from Aalborg University in Denmark, who theorizes that innovation is a social process. We believe that innovation comes when people and businesses interact across multiple disciplines and networks.

What personality traits must someone possess in order to do what you do and be successful?  

Once, when pitching a product, an investor told me, “I’m not interested in learning your five year plan. I want to know how fast you can get it to the market, what my equity is, and how much money I will make – tomorrow.”

It is important to be to be patient.  Your product or service will come to fruition when the timing is right.  Also, be forward thinking and inspirational when articulating what your product or service will be in the future. If you don’t have those skills take an improvisation class or an acting course. Be passionate about your product or service, and be sensitive to mission creep. Stay focused to what is important to you.

In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where your work is today, what 3 words describe how you might have felt?

Enlightened, inspired, and invigorated.

Matthew Ciccone  Partner,  The Beauty Shoppe,
Live: Mt. Washington •  Work: East Liberty •  How Long: 5 years

Projects: The Beauty Shoppe’s coworking model was inspired by our experience starting GTECH, a social enterprise here in Pittsburgh. As young entrepreneurs reasonably uncertain about the future, there was no 3rd option between signing a 12-month minimum office lease (and buying things to fill it) and squeezing into an less-than-desirable free option. As real estate developers, coworking is something of an industry innovation that made sense given our own entrepreneurial and business experiences.

What was the defining moment that propelled you to start your own business? I had left a job working for a larger commercial real estate developer to start my own boutique firm, Edile, in 2010. This left me in a similar situation as when we founded GTECH, in terms of bouncing between office options. Coworking was an idea that had bounced around Pittsburgh for several years without a real space emerging, and as I was collaborating with on other projects in East Liberty – and found a great partner in ELDI Real Estate – it wasn’t too far a stretch to launch The Beauty Shoppe. It’s concept was much more of an experiment than plan… activate a space, see who showed up, and hopefully learn something in the process. Its been fun, plus we’ve helped serve a broad range of freelancers, small firms, start-ups, projects. Now we’re super excited to expand the business and serve a much greater community.

What struggles did you face when starting your own business? Focusing on less. Getting an idea off the ground, it made sense to chase every opportunity, particularly in a place like Pittsburgh. With so much potential, its difficult to really focus on the ideas the hold the fastest potential to make it. A partner told me recently that pumpkin farmers tend only the strongest stems and kill off the rest. Its a good analogy to business.

What was the riskiest move you ever made? The easy answer is leaving a stable job to do something uncertain and entrepreneurial, but I’ve never viewed it that way. In my mind the downside of everything I’ve chosen to do over the past few years was broader relationships, valuable experience, and the satisfaction of pursuing projects important to me. While its naive to think this path doesn’t demand sacrifices and support, I didn’t necessarily see it as risky. Maybe this lacks perspective or is short-sighted but I haven’t had too much time to reflect.

If you could change the past, is there anything involving your career that you would do differently? I try not to dwell too much on past decisions. Everything I’ve done has led me to today, and I’m very happy with that.

Could you ever go back to a “normal job,” working for someone else? Absolutely… sometimes preferably… but it would need to be the right job, right inspiration, assuming I had the luxury of options. It would be fun to use some of the perspective and experience I’ve gained to help launch or scale a more established business.

What personality traits must someone possess in order to do what you do and be successful? In my experience, its helpful to be a humble self-evaluator and to understand when to seek help, and its necessary to deal well with uncertainty.

 In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where your work is today, what 3 words describe how you might have felt? Be well rounded.


Kimberly Musial  Owner,  The Yoga Hive ,
Live: Highland Park •  Work: Garfield •  How Long: 3 years

Projects:  Yoga Hive has brought new and unique events to the Pittsburgh yoga community, like our October and February yoga challenges that we’ve been holding since we opened and our Yoga Basics Bootcamp. We also partner with some amazing teachers to bring unique workshops to our clientele, like an entire workshop based on the classic yoga poses chaturanga (low push-up) and down dog. This year we’re hosting “40 Days to a Personal Revolution” a program based on connecting meditation, yoga and diet into everyday living.

What was the defining moment that propelled you to start your own business?  In May of 2009 I was in Mexico at a vipassana meditation retreat that included ten days of silence and about ten hours a day of meditation with no reading, writing or eye contact. By day eight, I had an epiphany and knew that I absolutely had to leave my corporate job to open a yoga studio. I don’t think most people have such specific realizations, but that was definitely a divine defining moment.

What struggles did you face when starting your own business?  Where to begin? For one, the Yoga Hive went on and off of the shelf because I couldn’t find the right location, rent, etc. And I decided to buy a house so that took over my life for awhile. Dealing with commercial contractors was challenging, the landlord was going into bankruptcy and there were rarely any straight answers, deciding how much money to spend on marketing and how to market a yoga studio and how to find really strong and well-trained yoga instructors were all difficult.

What was the riskiest move you ever made?  Leaving a well-paying job for the pursuit of a dream.

If you could change the past, is there anything involving your career that you would do differently?  Surely, but the past will always taunt us with “should’ve, would’ve and could’ve.” I’ve learned so many lessons that I’m grateful to still be kicking.

Could you ever go back to a “normal job,” working for someone else?   Yes.

What personality traits must someone possess in order to do what you do and be successful?  Tenacity, perseverance and gratitude for each person who arrives at yoga. While not a personality trait, the unwavering support of my friends and family must not be overlooked.

In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where your work is today, what 3 words describe how you might have felt?  Surprise, joy, gratitude.