Professional SpotlightSpotlight

As young professional women, we have read more Levo League articles than we can count and have watched all of the Office Hours videos. While watching Office Hours, which is a series of conversations with extraordinary leaders, we were fascinated not only with those being interviewed, but the woman doing most of the interviewing. Freyan Billimoria is the host of Office Hours and the Director of Strategic Partnerships at Levo League, and we had the pleasure of interviewing her for a Professional Spotlight.

Freyan has worked in luxury marketing, managed donor relations at Teach for America, and has been the Director of Development at The White House Project. Freyan now spends her time managing partnerships, engaging influencers and leaders, and producing and hosting Office Hours at Levo League. Freyan’s ambition, organization, and work ethic are truly inspiring. Read on to learn more about how Freyan has learned to be a leader, what a day in her busy life looks like, and her latest favorite books!

Name: Freyan Billimoria
Education: B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies and English Minor from University of California, Berkeley
Follow: Levo.com / Twitter: @freyanfb / Instagram: @freyanfb

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define “Seizing Your Youth?”

Freyan Billimoria: Exploring your world, trying new things, and learning every day.

CJ: You created your own interdisciplinary major focused on globalization with a minor in English for your undergraduate degree. How did you determine what to study and why create your own major?

FB: I entered Berkeley interested in the impact of globalization, but every time I took a course – whether in political economics or development studies or English – I felt like I was missing a part of the story. In order to understand the full picture, I thought it was important to draw upon many disciplines. Plus, I always got to take classes I was passionate about!

CJ: You are the Director of Strategic Partnerships at Levo League. You also host and head production of the video series, Office Hours. What do your roles entail and what skills do your roles require?

FB: My role at Levo is a total mix of things – true startup style! I manage partnerships with corporate clients, from startups to Fortune 500s; help engage leaders and influencers as they get to know Levo; and produce and host interviews with folks like Natalie Morales and Ariel Foxman for Office Hours. This entails a lot of relationship management, the ability to oversee multiple projects, communication skills, a clear head under pressure, and a healthy dose of caffeine.

Freyan 2

CJ: You’ve done many interesting things throughout your career such as organizing concerts in college, luxury marketing, managing donor relations at Teach for America, and being the Director of Development at The White House Project. What have you learned from these experiences and how have they influenced you with your current job?

FB: The importance of working meaningfully with people has been a huge thread throughout every role I’ve had. I’ve really learned the power of forming authentic relationships rather than operating transactionally. This mentality has been hugely helpful whether rallying community support for expansion, raising funds, navigating internal teams, or interviewing experts.

CJ: One aspect of your job entails producing events. What advice would you give to a young person who is interested in event planning?

FB: Event planning is one of my favorite activities, both in my personal and professional life! I think it’s vital that you have the ability to think strategically about the big picture – What is the purpose of the event? What do you want people to get out of it? How should they feel? – and to get incredibly micro when it comes to the details. And, of course, never underestimate the power of feeding people!

CJ: In your various roles, leadership has been important. How have you learned to lead and what does it mean to be a leader?

FB: I think leadership is always an evolution: no one is born a leader, and no one is ever finished with the process. I see it as the ability to move other people to collectively work towards an objective, especially in the face of uncertainty and changing conditions.

CJ: What has been one of the most unexpectedly interesting parts of your career to date?

FB: My second role at Teach For America was working on a growth strategy team helping to launch new sites. The opportunity to deeply understand communities in places like Ohio, South Carolina, and Appalachia was incredibly exciting and rewarding. To say no two days were alike is an understatement – no two hours were alike! We developed relationships, formed partnerships with school districts and universities, raised funds, and changed laws – sometimes all in the same day!

Freyan 4

CJ: Every day in your life must be different depending on your projects and the time of year, but what does a Monday look like for you?

FB: An average Monday starts with a quick breakfast of oatmeal with walnuts and dried cherries while powering through the news, emails… and, let’s be honest, my horoscope. Then it’s out the door I go. Once in our Union Square office, I set myself up with a cup of tea and dive in.

Mondays are chock full of meetings with our entire team, the editorial team, and occasionally the sales team. In between, I’m speaking with clients, working with our content team to plan for upcoming features, orchestrating future video shoots, navigating corporate requests, and wading my way through emails. In the evening, I head back to Brooklyn, where my partner and I convince ourselves to do a quick workout with varying degrees of success, and then give up and pour ourselves a glass of wine, sit down to dinner (favorites at the moment are homemade mushroom ramen and roasted eggplant with couscous and harissa), often with a friend dropping by. As it gets late, I close out a bit of work, take an old-lady constitutional around the neighborhood, and then it’s five minutes of (incredibly low-level) yoga before reading in bed.

CJ: What are your time management tips? How do you stay organized and efficient?

FB: I’m obsessed with email organization and my Google calendar. The only things that remain in my inbox are open items that require action – everything else is filed, whether it goes under a client’s name, or strategic planning.

My calendar is my baby – I believe in including everything you need time to do, from meetings and personal appointment to reminders and general “work time.” I color code so at a glance I have a sense of where my energy will go throughout the day.

CJ: What are your favorite books?

FB: So many! Latest favorites include Americanah, The Paying Guests, The Cuckoo’s Calling, and at long last, I finally read the entire Harry Potter series… and am so ready to start over again!

CJ: Any favorite news publications?

FB: The Week, The Daily Beast, NY Times, The New Yorker, NY Mag, and in very serious food news: Bon Appetit and Cherry Bombe.

Freyan 1 -a

CJ: What is an area, either personal or professional, that you are working to improve in and how?

FB: Learning to say no! At Levo, we’re lucky enough to have a lot of opportunities come our way, and part of my role is knowing how to graciously decline when the match or timing isn’t right. The same is true in my personal life – I’m learning to say a big YES to things that excite me, and a guiltless no when I find them draining.

CJ: What is a cause or issue that you care about and why?

FB: Ensuring women have opportunities to succeed is close to my heart. At Levo, we’re working to offer women the connections and resources they need to build careers and lives they’re passionate about – in turn, creating happier, healthier outcome for all of us.

CJ: Having a loaded schedule can sometimes be overwhelming. What do you do when you’re having a bad day and need to unwind or reset?

FB: Some combination of walking around the neighborhood, shaking up a cocktail, planning an amazing Friday, and sleeping a whole bunch usually does the trick. The key is to get out of your head and remember that work is only one part of your life.

CJ: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

FB: It’s all going to work out. Maybe not how or when you think it will, but amazing things are always around the corner.

Freyan B Qs

Images by Freyan Billimoria

SpotlightYouth Spotlight

It’s one thing to watch TV and enjoy it. It’s another to watch TV, enjoy it, AND write awesome articles about the shows. Samantha Rullo does just that. She spins television shows and celebrity topics into articles that are spot-on and too much fun to read. Yes, her job requires her to watch television shows and write about them. So, how does one become an entertainment journalist and acquire cool internships like this? Read on to find out!

Name: Samantha Rullo
Education: B.A. in Journalism and Cinema Studies from New York University
Follow: Bustle | Twitter

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?

Samantha Rullo: I would define it as both taking advantage of youth in the sense of having fun and trying new things that you probably couldn’t experience later in life, but also taking steps to set yourself up so you can seize the rest of your life and have the foundation you need to be happy and successful.

CJ: What did you major in at New York University and how did you determine what to study?

SR: I’m double majoring in journalism and cinema studies. My freshman year I went to USC where I was a PR (Public Relations) major, and then I had some experience at a PR internship and I also had experience writing for USC’s online newspaper, and I really liked writing, so when I decided to transfer, NYU didn’t offer PR but they had journalism, I figured I would do journalism and I fell in love with it. I picked cinema because I want to do entertainment writing and I figured it was the best compliment.

CJ: Where have you interned and how did you go about securing those internships?

SR: I have had four internships. My first one was for a PR company based out of New York that I found through a USC alum who was my supervisor there. She had sent a posting to the USC journalism school’s career advisers and I was always looking for anything that was in New York and I applied and got it. I attained a lot of press research experience and skills that I still use.

By the time I applied for my next internships, I knew I wanted to do journalism and I started looking for a magazine internship because I like magazines and digital writing. I also really like weddings, so I interned at The Knot, which I believe that I found either through NYU or ed2010.com. That internship was half writing and half fashion so I did research and put together lists and did stuff for the website, as well as some fashion closet stuff which involved a lot of wedding dresses.

Once I knew I wanted to do entertainment, I applied to TV Without Pity, which is an NBC brand that does reviews, interviews and other news about TV and movies. I think I found that on ed2010.com, too. There I wrote a lot and did some social media. I also did some of their daily features and slideshows. I learned a lot and it was a really great experience.

For this summer, I found Bustle.com, which at the time didn’t even have a name, it was just listed as ‘journalism internship.’  I applied and said I wanted to do entertainment writing, and I sent them samples of my writing and an edit test. I had an interview with my now-supervisor, and I was able to start there in June and I stayed on in the fall because it’s been an amazing experience.

CJ: You are an Associate Entertainment Editor at Bustle.com. What is your writing process and how do you come up with story ideas?

SR: Since I’m in entertainment, a lot of it is pegged to entertainment news. For coming up with ideas, I go through Twitter, Tumblr, and I follow all of the media I read so I can see all of the headlines. If someone got engaged, I’ll do my own take on it, or if something in general is being talked about a lot, I will come up with my own story based on it. For example, when Breaking Bad was a trending topic, I came up with my own spin that no one else has covered. I wrote a piece called “How to Watch Both ‘Breaking Bad’ and the Emmys,” so I try to tie my stories with topics that are being talked about a lot.

Or, I come up with a story in my mind and hope something happens with a celebrity so I can write about it. My writing process has a pretty quick turnaround. I do at least three articles per shift, up to five sometimes. I find all of my media first, so if I’m including images, GIFS, or video, I’ll find those first and make sure those are pulled because that’s going to shape what I’m writing about. If I want to say something but I can’t find the GIF, I can’t write about it. I pull any media and sources confirming what I’m saying, and then I start with a lead and pull my unique angle together and then fill it in and edit and make sure it all works.

CJ: Where does your interest in entertainment journalism come from?

SR: I’ve wanted to work in the entertainment field for a while. I really like television and film, but I don’t necessarily want to make TV or film, and I realized journalism and writing was a good way to combine the two. I started doing TV reviews for my school’s newspaper and I got good feedback so I took it from there. When I got into my second major I got really into it, and it was a great way to combine my interests.

CJ: What advice do you have for youth who want to be entertainment writers? What can they do now to get a head start in journalism?

SR: Try to write as much as you can to start. It’s really important to have writing samples because if you don’t have samples for some internships, you can’t even apply. Published samples are really good, so get your writing out there – through your school newspaper or through your own blog or website, for example. For journalism, I would never let an opportunity pass because of school. I’ve had situations where I worried I couldn’t do as many internship hours while taking classes and homework, but I still ended up doing it and you figure it out along the way and your experiences with your internship are usually just as worthwhile as whatever class you were also taking, and you just might have to stay home some Saturdays to make up homework. At the end of the day, having internship experience on your resume is best.

b

CJ: How did you balance interning and being a college student?

SR: Like I said, stay home sometimes. It’s tough sometimes. I try not to take too many hard classes at once. I try to have a mix of classes I really enjoy and classes that require a lot of reading and papers. I take a class that is more hands-on so I’ll have more free time. I had to stop doing a club at school because I couldn’t attend the meetings. Just prioritizing is important.

CJ: What three traits have helped you succeed as an intern?

SR: I try to be really friendly always. I try to have a friendly relationship with co-workers and my supervisor, so that they get to know me and get to know what I’m most interested in. Just being driven and offering to do something that other people don’t want to do and taking advantage of every possible opportunity. I try to be honest about things. If I need help with something, I’d rather ask for help and have the project turn out well than not ask and have it turn out bad.

CJ: Where did you study abroad? What was your big takeaway from studying abroad and do you think it was worth it?

SR: I didn’t have time for studying abroad since I transferred. I would have liked to if I had the chance. I would have liked to go to Italy, but hopefully I can go on my own, eventually.

CJ: What was the college transfer process like for you?

SR: It was like applying to college again so it was annoying. But I’m from the East Coast, so I just had to get readjusted and figure out NYU.

CJ: What activities were you involved in throughout high school? Were there any experiences that were most memorable or life changing?

SR: I wasn’t super involved in high school. If I had known I wanted to go into journalism I might have done more activities related to journalism. We didn’t really have a big school newspaper. My senior year we had to do a service project, so my friends and I helped kids with special needs and it was really memorable because it was rewarding and I’d never had the chance to be as involved with charity work before. I hope I do again because it was very rewarding.

In college I have been very involved with Washington Square News. I went to a meeting my first week at NYU, started as a writer and now I’m a senior editor. I wouldn’t have gotten internships if I didn’t have the writing samples that came from working on the newspaper.

CJ: What was your experience like going to college in New York City?

SR: Expensive. But I like it, and I wouldn’t have had any of the experiences I’ve had if I weren’t in New York. I’m so lucky, because if you’re in the middle of nowhere, what can you do? There are a lot of opportunities here. It’s also really fun just to be around everything and I have a chance to go to events and report on them and interview cool people, just stuff I could never do anywhere else.

CJ: What do you wish you had known before attending college?

SR: I wish I had known less because I feel like I went in with super crazy expectations. People will give you their own opinions and advice, and I would be thinking, “Oh, am I supposed to do this because that’s what they did?” I eventually became open to it and just made my own experiences, but freshman year I struggled with what I’m supposed to be doing and how I was supposed to handle things, so I wish I didn’t have any preconceptions and that I just went into college not knowing what to expect.

CJ: Who is your role model?

SR: I’ve worked with a lot of women who have been great role models and I’ve always had someone I could talk to and whose career path I’ve really admired. They still love what they do and I hope I’m like that when I’m older. I also really like Tina Fey and Giuliana Rancic, especially the journalism side and she uses it to be a breast cancer advocate. I’m reading Lean In right now, so currently Sheryl Sandberg is a big role model.

CJ: What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

SR: I do wish I had known I was going to get into journalism. I do it more now, but I would tell myself to not be afraid to try new things, such as a broadcasting class. At 15,  I was too afraid of what people thought to step out of my comfort zone, so I would say to not be afraid and try new things.

Sam Rullo qs