Fernanda Paronetto is the founder of Behind The Scenes NY, a digital publication and concierge service focused on helping people discover New York City like locals.
Before Paronetto spent her days sharing the coolest off-the-beaten-path spots in NY, she built her career experience in Brazil. But she always dreamed of living in the city that never sleeps, and she always knew she would make it happen — she just didn’t know how.
In this essay, Paronetto walks us through what it took to go from 20-year-old student to successful entrepreneur — despite going through health issues and immigration struggles in the process. Let her journey inspire you to hustle and grow.
I’ve always been a very resilient person, with a lot of perseverance to reach my personal and professional goals, and a few big dreams to check off my bucket list. Plus, I never really took into consideration what other people said that I could or could not do. After going through my teenage years, and entering adulthood, I truly didn’t give a damn.
I started my career asking my dad for a job at his company during my studies. But little did I know at 20 years old that working with your dad can be harder than working at any other job!
After a while working for my dad, I decided to leave and work for another company in the same import and export field. Nine months later, I understood that my dad wasn’t the problem, but the industry as a whole didn’t interest me that much.
From there, I started focusing on marketing positions. Even though working in marketing had always been what I wanted to do, I went to business school because I thought it would give me a much better background in terms of being good with numbers. (It did in fact end up helping me throughout my career.)
Back in college, I told everyone that after graduation I would move to New York City. I always explain that I just had (and still have) this indescribable passion and curiosity for New York and all that it means. I just HAD to live there.
Besides this dream, and I’m a huge dreamer in general, I dreamt of one day working at the biggest luxury shopping center group in the country (I am from Brazil). Time went by, and I told my mother I wanted to quit my job as a marketing assistant at Kimberly Clark, where I had been for over three years after leaving my dad’s company. I was hired full-time before leaving college and was definitely thriving, but I wanted to get into fashion (like countess other girls in their early 20s, right?).
What did that mean? A 60% salary decrease, neverending hours of work, having to deal with uncontrolled egos, and entering a universe I had absolutely no experience with.
I “just” wanted to work at Vogue magazine. The best fashion magazine on the planet. I wanted a job that would give me a global view on the industry while helping me network and make valuable contacts, and I thought that Vogue would be the perfect place for that.
When I told my parents I wanted to work at Vogue, they obviously thought that I was capable of getting the job, but they also asked: “Fê, before working at Vogue, why don’t you try a smaller magazine/publishing house to build experience? That will help you get a job at Vogue.” Their suggestion made sense, of course, but I just said: “Because they are not the best.” Case closed.
But, that did not mean I really knew what I was doing or whether it would really benefit my journey on the long run.
What did I want? I wanted the contacts. I wanted the priceless networking possibilities it would bring me. Why? Because my goal was go to back to the corporate side of the fashion world, working for “sharks” like LVMH (the luxury goods company behind Louis Vuitton). Why? Once again, because I considered them the best.
Little did I know that this experience would actually take me somewhere completely different in the long run.
My parents always supported my decisions, so when I explained my reasons for wanting to work at Vogue, leaving a promising career at K-C and taking a huge pay cut, they understood and backed me up.
I had started to build my own network already, so I was actually referred to Vogue by an influential friend in the fashion world. My resume was sent to the corporate director at Vogue’s publishing house in Brazil. He was interested in my experience, even though it had noting to do with fashion, so I met with Daniela Falcão, the editor-in-chief. I left the interview, called my mom and said: “I’ll never get this job. I answered no to everything she asked me about.”
To my surprise, a week later, I received a congratulatory call saying I got the job! My jaw fell… I resigned at K-C, had two weeks to organize things and started at Vogue immediately.
A week later, I remember getting inside my car after work to head home, and just breaking down and crying compulsively. I has a terrible first week and couldn’t believe I had quit my promising career at a renowned multinational company. All in all, my first year at Vogue was very, VERY painful. I worked longer hours, had to be on stand-by for weekend calls, had no idea what I was doing, which was all fine fine…but I had to deal with the uncontrolled egos I mentioned above. That was the toughest part.
Conclusion: After my first year, I woke up one morning with a massive psoriasis flare-up all around my eyes and face. I freaked out, called in saying I had to go to the hospital and the doctor literally said: “Your body is just reacting to exhaustion and you’re having a breakdown.” I obviously heard about people having breakdowns, but never thought I was even close to having one. Remember: I’m known for being very resilient.
I left the hospital, headed straight to Vogue and called in my editor-in-chief to talk. I told her I had decided to quit. I hadn’t received the type of education I had from my parents and studied where I had, to have to deal with big egos. After a long, amazing talk, she convinced me to stay.
The two years that followed were great. We surely had very tough and stressful times, but then again, who doesn’t? It’s hard to explain, but things changed. My boss was now engaged in my future career plans and helped pave the way for what was to come, gave me interesting side projects to lead and invested into coaching me.
The opportunity of locally spearheading a global luxury concierge startup that was entering the Brazilian market came to my knowledge. So after exactly three years at Vogue, I left to pursue it.
I worked for this company for a little over two years, and absolutely all the networking and contacts I had made at Vogue gave me the possibility of working in corporate marketing and business development. My plan had worked out! As is the case with any startup, I did much more than what my role entailed.
I did work from writing the newsletters and producing content for the global website to planning events, doing sales and even member assistance.
Once I felt that my time there was over and that I had gathered all the experience I could gather, I decided to put the thought that I was ready for my next chapter into the universe.
In no time, a bunch of unexpected “coincidences” (FYI: I don’t believe in coincidences) happened and one of my two biggest dreams came to life! I had scored a super coveted position as a tenant mix manager at Iguatemi, a huge Brazilian shopping center group I always wanted to work for. Plus, it was in the department I aspired, being coached by the Vice President and company stakeholder I had always wanted to work for: Erika Jereissati. It was perfect!
My three and a half years there were fantastic! It was very hard work, but it was super fulfilling.
Back then, I was in a serious three-year relationship that was heading straight for the altar. But I still had New York City in the back of my mind. I even had a picture of Central Park on my table, and I looked at it every day during work hours, just thinking about what I would do once I got there.
I couldn’t understand why I, who apparently had it all, still felt there was a gap to be filled in my life. A gap called New York City.
The department I worked for was focused on the strategic growth of the company, and we were always doing market research in other areas of the world. I decided to create a new position and job description and present it to my bosses. After a few months of work, I presented this awesome and perfect project that would make them want to expat me to NYC! Ha! I would be an external consultant, based in New York City. It was the perfect plan. My VP truly enjoyed what I had put together, but, for a few reasons, it didn’t work.
I let the conversation fade, but I was still trying to work it out on the side. Just because this specific plan didn’t work, it didn’t mean I wasn’t going to move to NY.
So, in April 2014, I visited New York City during the Easter break, and started this “silly” Instagram account about off-the-beaten-path places to visit in NY. I had been to the city countless of times, had checked the touristy attractions off my list, and now craved exploring as a local.
It was during that trip that things fell into place I was having lunch with my sister in Williamsburg, in a Polish spot that had just opened, and out of the blue, looking outside the window, I had this thought and told her: “I’m going to be living here in a year.”
She knew about my eternal love for the city, thought it was all fantastic, but asked how I was going to get a job, pay the rent, get a work visa, manage a long-distance relationship again (for I had done that once), etc.
I had absolutely no clue, but I just told her I knew it would happen.
After the trip, I received so many positive responses to the ambitious little Instagram account I created, that I decided to take it more seriously and dedicate more time to it. While thinking about what a social media account talking about behind-the-scenes brands, events and places in NY could be called, the name of my brand came to me: Behind The Scenes NYC
I worked on it during the few free hours I had left in my day, from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m., since I woke up at 6:30am for work and only got back home around 10 p.m. — every single day.
When mid-September rolled around, I went back to New York and hired an immigration lawyer to start my visa application process. We went over every possibility I had, and I was able to leave the meeting with a concrete plan.
Most of my friends said that I was delirious to throw away this fantastic job in one of the best companies in the country and, in addition, break up this “perfect” three-year relationship, to move to another country at 32 years old, unemployed and single. I literally looked at them expressionless, not really understanding why they thought that…
Fast forward a few months, December came and BOOM! I suddenly had this massive health problem and had to be immediately hospitalized. After countless tests and literally 45 days lying in bed, in a dark room, I was back on my feet. Back to rock’n’roll and finishing the visa application process.
My whole plan had been put on hold and delayed, but during these 45 days, instead on suffering because of something I had absolutely no control over, I decided to start mapping out everything that I was going to do in New York, from companies I would reach out to to the neighborhood I would live in. I visualized it all so much I practically just teleported myself to New York during these 45 neverending days.
This was around January 2015. At that time, another popped in my head. It just told me to buy my one-way ticket to New York for April 19. I didn’t really understand why that specific date came to my head, but I just told my parents and my lawyers that I had purchased this one-way ticket.
My lawyers were very clear and said that due to the delay caused by my health issues, the earliest I would be able to be in New York would be June. Well, not in my head. I knew I would leave on April 19.
Everything worked out just as expected. 780 pages later, we filed my petition in early February 2015, right before Carnaval in Brazil. My lawyers informed me that I’d have to wait a 60-day period to get approved, without counting the rest of the process. I still firmly kept April 19 in my vision.
Around 10 days after filing the petition, I received an email from my lawyers that read:
“Congratulations Fernanda! You Visa has been approved!” I literally jumped up in excitement! Not even my lawyers could believe how fast that happened. We finished the process with so much spare time and, on April 19 2015, at 11:30pm, my plane left São Paulo, Brazil, and I was hours from fulfilling my lifelong dream of living in the bustling, crazy, weird and beautiful city called New York City.
But wait! The story isn’t over!
Behind The Scenes NYC had now grown to a little over 10K followers and took a big chunk of my day to maintain. I decided to turn it into a bigger platform. I wanted to build a space where people could trust that everything was meticulously curated and everything there was truly good. These days, it’s hard to know whether a publication or a blogger/influencer is writing about something they honestly believe in, or if they’re just doing it for monetization purposes.
I also wanted to engage with the local community, and independently owned businesses that have outstanding products or services, but that don’t have huge marketing budgets to get the word out about their business.
I wanted to share the New York City I knew a bit about and was keen to explore more, teaching my audience that New York is much more than what is found between Central Park South and SoHo.
The state of New York is surprising and so…green! There is just so much more to this place, and I was eager to show this to the world, and help foster the economy with unique experiences and content/information for locals and visitors alike, as well as disrupting the status-quo of the tourist scene.
Today, my team and I have grown our audience, we’re networking with these community-driven and independently owned businesses, and showing the world what living in New York City really means.
We’ve expanded the company from an online media platform to a brand with an offline presence, providing corporate concierge services to assist groups of executives and companies coming to NY for work and/or leisure. This is where most of our revenue comes from. Companies are reaching out to offer their team this “behind the scenes” experience, and we cater to their needs.
We’ve slowly grown our community in an organic and truthful way, always sticking to our mission and values and never selling out for money. Yes, we do grow at a slower rate, but we are really able to plan and think things out.
Do you want to know what I also figured out through my Facebook memories?
One year after moving to New York City, it showed me that on that same day in 2014, on April 20, I was having lunch with my sister and telling her I would be living in New York ity in a year. Then, on April 20, 2015, I literally landed in NYC.
Remember how that April 19 date popped into my head and I had no idea why? The Universe made that work out perfectly, didn’t it?
Along with the photo of Central Park I kept on my desk, I also had a picture of a New York City building that just felt like home. That’s where I’ve been living since my big move.
So what’s the bottom line in this whole saga? I once read and always say that you don’t need to know how you are going to do something you dream about. You need to know what you want and have that clear in your head. The how is the Universe’s work, not yours.