Category: GEMA, GEMA Alumni Spotlight

Title:GEMA Alumni Spotlight – Founder and CEO of Mischief Management, Melissa Anelli (C ‘01)

Melissa Anelli (C ’01) is the founder and CEO of Mischief Management, which produces conventions for fans (including BroadwayCon, Con of Thrones, PodX, and the Harry Potter convention LeakyCon). She is a COL ’01 graduate whose love of Harry Potter led her to run the website The Leaky Cauldron, write a New York Times Bestselling book called “Harry, A History” chronicling the Harry Potter phenomenon. She started at Georgetown pre-med.

What was your first “big break”? Or, what is the most significant experience you have had that has made your success possible?
Harry Potter created so many “break”s for so many people, but I also think that breaks don’t tend to happen until there’s first a ton of hard work and a ton of luck. So, I had the great fortune of caring a lot about something that at the time, wasn’t really being covered or treated in the way I wanted objects of my cultural passion to be.

It was 2000, the Internet was still pretty new, and I had no idea what I was going to do with it but I knew I wanted to just keep living inside the community and using the Internet to do that. For the next seven years, as the books were being slowly released into the world, and the staff of The Leaky Cauldron Web site (of which I eventually became owner) was using the Web to test all the many ways we could act as a community — through our early podcasts, games, a site that collated all the book release parties that were happening all over the world, craft depositories, message boards, and more.
Nothing seemed to come from a place of existing Web structures yet: it was all from a place of “here’s how we want to connect with this community…how can we twist the Web to make it happen?” The combination of the Web being in a really malleable state at that time, and the relative youth of the Harry Potter phenomenon— and a titanic amount of work — really made all those breaks come through.

What is the most challenging part of your job? What is the most rewarding?
What’s most challenging right now is continuing to innovate and stay ahead of trends in the live event space. The general con landscape has tightened a bit, but niche conventions (Mischief Management’s specialty) are and can still flourish; still, finding out how to best communicate with people and craft innovating and interesting new content, year over year, keeps us on our toes. The most rewarding parts for me are always at the events themselves. I always take a moment to take a stroll around myself and really take in what’s been created and look at the friendships and connections forming over shared passions. It’s been my experience that some pretty amazing stuff comes out of that, and I love to see it up close. It really does fuel us.

What is a current project you are working on that you are excited about?
We are having our first podcasting convention in two months! PodX is for podcasters and those who love them, and it’s really shaping up to be something special. I’ve been a podcaster since before iTunes recognized them, so it’s been pretty amazing to bring it into the real-world space. This is a place for fans to have fun interactions with some of their favorite podcasters and it’s a place for podcasters to learn more about their craft and make connections in the industry. We’re really excited about it.

Are there any ways that you feel Georgetown especially prepared you for your career?
So, I almost went to NYU — deposit in and everything. I’m so glad I changed my mind; I had been waitlisted for Georgetown but pelted the admissions office with updates, letters, new information for my file, and additional recommendations, until they relented. While NYU is an amazing school, I often say that if I had ended up going there I might have gone through with being a doctor, like I originally intended. Being at Georgetown exposed me to so many interesting people and stories that it challenged me to rethink my own; my time at The Hoya definitely showed me that my life was going to revolve around culture whether I made it my career or not. Finishing the entire pre-med group of classes at Georgetown also confirmed that I wasn’t afraid of hard work!

What is your best advice to those who are starting out in your field?
Take any job you can get even marginally related to your field, then make yourself very useful to the people around you; be someone who helps with whatever they can and understand you don’t know what you don’t know, at first. Keep reading/watching/learning, and watch what you’re doing in your spare time: it’s often a really big context clue to the direction your life should take if you get the opportunity.

How is the ever-changing media landscape affecting your industry?
It changes daily. We need to connect with audiences via various social platforms, Web sites, and press, and so keeping up on how to best leverage all of those outlets is key. Also, the biggest challenge coming to the digital world is the wave of GDPR-esque protections that are going to essentially be in place in America once California enacts their legislation at the beginning of 2020. Customers have a right to control over their data and privacy, but it’s undeniable that it’s not the way the Internet was built at inception. We have to go backwards and recreate the pathways to digital safety, which is going to cause a bit of disruption for awhile. It’s hard work worth doing, though: the next big thing is an Internet that people can trust, if we can get there.

Best Business Advice Received:
The best business advice is the oldest, most predictable business advice: show up, work hard, and in certain circumstances don’t take no for an answer. I am lucky to love what I do, but I also don’t call “love what you do” good business advice; not everyone has the privilege. I will say that if you are lucky enough to love what you do, don’t take it for granted. Wring everything you can out of it, and work to keep it.

Trait You Most Admire in People:
Courage, tenacity, and honesty — with a healthy dash of self-awareness. Getting this mix right is one of the main objectives of my professional life.

Favorite App, Website, Podcast, or Social Platform:
App: I love the Overcast podcast app, as well as Telegram for chatting, I think it’s at the very top of the field of all the other messaging platforms.
Website: I only really visit Web sites in a utilitarian way these days — looking something up, reading a news article, booking a flight. (I can’t remember the last time I was on a Web site just because was fun and cool, which is indicative of a hole that all the young entrepreneurs out there should get into!)
Podcast: RadioLab is the best podcast on the web. It makes you a better person.
Social Platform: Right now I’m really into learning how to Instagram. One day I’ll get it right.

Favorite Georgetown Professor:
Paul Betz was an English professor who really encouraged me and believed in my writing talent and I’ll always be appreciative of that. (On that note, don’t let anyone tell you an English degree is useless. The ways it helped me develop my ability to communicate have been applicable — and still are applicable — in every aspect of my life.)

Favorite Georgetown Restaurant or Bar:
Booeymonger’s taught me to make cinnamon-flavored coffee by tossing cinnamon right in there with the grounds. Literal life-changer.

Favorite Georgetown Memory:
I’m not sure about favorite, but the most memorable is this: at the end of my last semester, the night we finished our last print edition of the paper, we took a couple of really old, big, non-functioning computer CPUs up to the Leavey rooftop. We also took a couple of baseball bats, and our pent up aggression at all the lost files, crashed editions, and hard work that had to be redone, from the previous few months. Microchips and motherboards flew against the Georgetown landscape. It was amazing.