Like many college students, Jackie Gebel struggled to choose what to major in, let alone what career to pursue. It was her roommate at Syracuse University who got Gebel thinking about her future. “She started taking cooking classes; I tagged along, and I loved it,” Gebel says.
She decided to major in hospitality management, in part because it involved cooking classes, and added communications as a double major. “I was passionate about a lot of things, I just didn’t know what my job would be,” says Gebel.
Eventually those passions — food, cooking, and social media — led her to turn a simple blog for friends into No Leftovers, a guide to the best restaurants, bars, and culinary happenings in the New York City area. Besides posting photos and comments about her favorite food and travel spots, Gebel videos herself cooking in her kitchen and posts the clips on Snapchat. Her snaps have gotten Gebel attention in foodie bibles like Bon Appétit, features in national ad campaigns for Urban Decay and Samsung, and collaborations with hotel companies and tourism boards.
But it didn’t just come together like a well-written recipe. It took boring jobs, a bad breakup, and a leap of faith for Gebel to take the entrepreneurial plunge. But since then, she hasn’t looked back.
“The best move of my life”
Gebel first explored entrepreneurism in college when she started designing T-shirts in her dorm room. That led to her first job at a home-furnishings company in New York City, helping to design a bedding line targeted at college students. But it wasn’t quite connecting with what she really wanted to do. Gebel then landed various jobs at social media agencies, where she saw how social media and personal passions could blend together. She had a blog for fun in college, and the work inspired her to revisit it, taking photos at restaurants around town and turning the blog into an online food guide. “I was always cooking and wanted to share my love of food with friends, but never had the intention of it being anything else.”
But that passion couldn’t make up for other not-so-great parts of life. Her day job wasn’t fulfilling, she was breaking up with her boyfriend, and her apartment lease was ending. So Gebel made a bold move: She quit her job and bought a one-way ticket to Tel Aviv. “I didn’t know anyone there, but I wanted to have an adventure and figure out what to do. It was the best move of my life — all the good things that have happened since were due to a breakup.”
Gebel spent three months in Israel, working at a social photography startup there, and came back to New York to help launch the venture in the U.S. She also decided to turn her blog into a brand and take it beyond just a hobby, creating the website NoLeftovers.com.
Her focus: Give Millennials restaurant recommendations they can trust. “There’s a void in New York City for foodies my age,” Gebel says. “They’re on a budget, but they want to experience the best. I give them that mix. I started my blog because I was looking for the same things and couldn’t find it. I’m true to my recommendations — everything I post, I’ve tried before.”
Now with 225,000 followers on No Leftover’s Instagram page, Gebel says her focus on quality over quantity — and witty photo captions — is what keeps her brand growing at a steady pace. And it’s working: Each week she gains approximately 2,500 new followers, has 1.6 million impressions, and reaches 400,000 visitors. “My photography and captions show who I am as a person, and that’s how people connect and relate to my blog. The more popular food blogs all look alike and blend together at the end of the day, but I’m always looking for the next thing — that’s what makes me different.”
Don’t copy anyone. Stay true to what you believe in, and make that the focus of your brand.Tweet
— Jackie Gebel
More for love than money
Because of her growth and focused approach, big brands are now approaching her for partnerships, but Gebel has to weigh any offer with her desire to continue to be authentic in everything she blogs about. “I’ll consider one if it’s a product I use anyway, if it’s a natural fit, or if they give me an opportunity to try something new or work with their team.”
Those efforts are letting Gebel learn about creating videos, which she’s now doing on Snapchat. That’s melding her personal life and professional brand more, she says. “When I turn the camera around the room, people get to know about me beyond my photo captions. They’re seeing my humor and personality.”
No Leftovers also helped Gebel score her dream job. She works for Becca PR as a senior digital media executive and photographer, helping chic lifestyle brands with events and social marketing. Ironically, Gebel had applied to the firm right out of college, but never heard back. Then after running into a Becca PR staffer at a food event, she easily scored an interview. “Because I had proven myself, I knew what new ideas I could bring, I positioned it that way in the interview, and they built this job for me.”
Be true and passionate about what you do
Gebel is in a sweet spot, but she stresses that her success didn’t come on a silver platter. “People think I’m lucky to get invited everywhere,” she says. “It didn’t come easy. While I was jobless and lived in New Jersey with my parents, I’d go into the city just to get photos of cool things and connect with people. I did that for free, because I wanted to be a part of it.”
To build a great brand, she suggests focusing on what you’re passionate about. “Don’t copy anyone. Stay true to what you believe in, and make that the focus of your brand. I could pretend to be a beauty blogger to get free lipstick but it’s not my expertise or passion, and that would show. It’s really clear to people when your true passion is shining through.”
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