Forget what you have heard about not mixing business with pleasure. In the age of startups and passion projects, work means abandoning the office cubicle, kicking it on the couch with your friends, and launching your own company.
Amadeus Magazine’s Alex Khatchadourian, 28, founder and editor-in-chief, and Samantha Grad, 24, managing editor are the harmonious example of business partner BFFs.
Upon stepping inside Khatchadourian’s apartment, which doubles as Amadeus headquarters, the young entrepreneur turns off her vinyl record and plunks down into her living room chair.
Grad sits on the couch, seemingly reserved as she confesses that she is used to being the interviewer, not the interviewee.
“We’re just super connected, we have a lot of similarities and mutual friends,” Grad says of her business partner turned friend, Khatchadourian. “Honestly, we do everything together.”
The pair giggle about a shared and undying love for food, art galleries, and smoking pot.
“We go to art shows together all the time,” says Khatchadourian. “She’ll just come over here and kick it . . . honestly, when we’re not working, we just want to chill.”
“We get faded and talk shit,” Grad says laughing. “We’re also just stoner kids.”
Silliness aside, the self-proclaimed “stoner kids” hustle to print Amadeus, a Los Angeles-based arts and culture magazine, four times a year, and publish digital content almost daily.
“Each issue, we feature 11 artists and it’s not artists in the traditional sense,” says Khatchadourian. “It’s any creative type of person. Anyone doing anything interesting and inspiring us just in our creative community.”
“It could be a photographer, sculptor, painter, skater, surfer, whoever we think is creating cool stuff,” says Grad.
As creative partners, Grad and Khatchadourian are always hunting down and sharing new ideas for the magazine.
“Sam and I have really good curators’ eyes,” says Khatchadourian. “We see things online, we see stuff when we go to galleries and stuff and we just know something stands out to us and then we usually put them in the magazine.”
“I think Alex just has a natural eye for it, I have more of a trained eye just because my background is in fine art,” says Grad. “I think that when I approach anything from a curatorial perspective, it’s usually from a very academic point of view and her, it’s just from more of an emotional gut.”
On the rare occasion that logic and emotion clash, the pair say tension can be solved easily.
“We really balance each other out. We agree probably 99 percent of the time,” says Grad. “When we do disagree, we usually resolve it in a few minutes.”
“I’m just a very passionate person, so I can get wound up in like, my initial gut feeling, but I need someone like Sam to be like, ‘That’s awesome, but let’s think about this,’” says Khatchadourian. “We bring different things to the table, which is really nice. There’s things that I lack that Sam has and then things that Sam lacks that I have as well. It’s a good team thing.”
Before Amadeus was a team effort, it was Khatchadourian’s project as a graduate student studying magazine publishing and design at Emerson College in Boston.
“I didn’t know a single soul in Boston,” says Khatchadourian. “I just started going to shows, music shows and art shows, and just talking to random people . . . I chatted everyone up at the bar.”
Through the graduate program and bar chatter, Khatchadourian found opportunities like writing for Metro Boston and The Boston Globe.
“I was busy, I was just writing a lot back then,” says Khatchadourian. “Then once the magazine started, I was— I just wrote a lot, all the time. I was writing a piece a day to get online and they weren’t just like fluff pieces, like press release type pieces, they were full blown interviews every single day. It was nuts.”
Khatchadourian says the graduate program was the fire she needed to start Amadeus.
“When I was over there, I was just determined. You know what it was? It was the looming-soon debt that I was getting myself into and I was like, if I’m going to be here and I have all these magnificent resources like these professors, this option for a grant, I had computer labs I could go into and use photography equipment if I really needed to and video equipment and I was like, I have these resources, why am I not doing it? So, I just did it. I wanted to do it when I was in LA, but I just didn’t have the fire yet.”
After graduating, Khatchadourian returned to LA with no intention of leaving behind the magazine that began inside a classroom.
“I was giving myself deadlines like, I’ve got to get another piece up tomorrow or else no one’s gonna come to the site and at that point, there was like 200 people coming to the site a month, compared to now where it’s close to 20,000 a month, which is insane,” says Khatchadourian. “Just seeing that growth over these three years is insane, but I think it’s because I worked so hard in the beginning. I’m unwilling to give up everything that I’ve done so far.”
Amadeus lasted as a solo side hustle until the eighth issue when Grad joined the team.
“When I got back to LA, I started getting very comfortable. I started being like, ‘Okay, I can crank these things out on my own,’” says Khatchadourian. “I did eight of them on my own, so I knew I could keep doing it, but when Sam came on, she was like, ‘Dude, you can do better than this.’ I needed somebody to tell me that. Ever since then, I think the magazine has continued to elevate itself more and more each issue.”
While Khatchadourian settled into working full-time and running the magazine as a side project in California, Grad was earning her BFA in photography at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
“I first discovered Amadeus through my ex, he was actually featured online,” says Grad. “At the time I read the piece, we had actually broken up, but I remember reading the piece and thinking, ‘Wow, I want to hate this piece right now,’ because we didn’t leave things on good terms.”
Despite her efforts, Grad enjoyed the feature and kept Amadeus in the back of her mind until she had two more run-ins with the magazine.
“One of my best friends, Aaron Jupin, was featured in issue eight, so I was invited to the release party and picked up issue eight and read it and was like, ‘Wow this is really interesting work,’” says Grad. “Then it just happened to be several weeks later, we [the gallery Grad worked at] were having a show with an artist who [Khatchadourian] also featured in issue eight.”
Grad invited Khatchadourian to hangout and talk about cross promotion for the magazine and gallery. A week later, Khatchadourian asked her to work with her on the magazine.
“[We] had coffee, didn’t talk about anything that we showed up to talk about, but really hit it off,” says Khatchadourian.
“We became best friends pretty instantly too,” says Grad. “Even in our own personal work, we’re still partners.”
That individual work Grad refers to? Yes, the two women balance full-time jobs outside of their work on Amadeus. Apparently, it’s possible.
Khatchadourian works as an online editor at Havoc TV, a multi-platform network dedicated to action sports and independent music, and Grad manages social media for LA artist Shepard Fairey.
“I’m also a photographer and I have side projects that I work on technically without Alex, but even through that creative process, she’s still involved and always the person I send things to and vice versa,” says Grad. “She has a full-time commitment somewhere else and whenever she needs something, needs me to look at something, I give her my full attention. Our creative partnership is also outside of the magazine.”
While Amadeus pays for itself in sales, Khatchadourian and Grad cannot afford personal expenses without their jobs, but they are working towards the magazine being a full-time commitment.
“The magazine pays for itself, but we couldn’t live off of the magazine at this point,” says Khatchadourian. “I think that ultimately, Amadeus is going to grow into something larger than just the magazine, whether that be some type of agency model or like management model of the artists or something like that, the Amadeus artists. We haven’t decided yet, but it’s definitely something that has potential to be much, much more than a magazine.”
“We have goals far beyond where the magazine is now,” says Grad. “Right now, we’re in a place where we have commitments to other people and other people rely on us and give us purpose and we have to sort of continue those relationships now, but obviously in the future, we’d love to just give everything to Amadeus. Just right now, that’s not really feasible for us.”
Growing Amadeus beyond a print and online magazine is a goal Grad and Khatchadourian have shared since the beginning of their partnership.
“We always looked at the magazine as an ancillary product to Amadeus the brand and that’s something we really connected on when we first met,” says Grad. “I told her, I said, ‘Listen, I’m happy to help you build this magazine, but I have a lot of different creative interests and I want to pursue something much larger and let’s work together and go in that direction.’”
The two entrepreneurs are in no rush to change Amadeus’s business model and they believe they will know the right business opportunity when it hits them.
“We both have our things, but when we do it together, it’s just better and so much stronger,” says Grad. “We’re just lucky that we both support each other’s dreams and are finding ways to make this happen together.”
Amadeus Issue 12 is now available for purchase at amadeusmag.com.