Header image by: Tim Singleton.
Philip Villeneuve and Armand Digdoyo give a whole new meaning to “entrepreneurs by day and night.” As DJs who have been involved in queer arts and culture for over a decade, they’re no strangers to nightlife, and by proxy… a good party. So much so that they started Yohomo to curate listings of them in their home city of Toronto. Eventually, they also started throwing their own parties––big, queer, inclusive ones. Then came weekly playlist curations, artist features and interviews, brand campaigns, and a merchandise line.
Today, Yohomo has thrown over 25 events, curated approximately 16,000 party listings, appeared in a billboard campaign, created multiple merchandise lines, and accrued thousands of subscribers across various social platforms.
The duo started Yohomo in 2016 when they found no easy way for Toronto’s 2SLGBTQ+ community to find out what was going on in the city. At the time, parties were more likely to be organized by promoters. There was less of a grassroots approach and events lacked a good feedback loop between venues, organizing community groups, and attendees. Events were hard to find or keep track of.
And just like the quintessential entrepreneurship story: Phil and Armand found a gap, so they solved for it with their event curations––and eventually their own parties.
Five years later, it’s safe to say the duo has gotten the craft of throwing a party down to an art and science. When I asked them what makes a good party, they immediately say: “Vibes.”
“It’s about the family you work with to create the night. From the security who greets you at the door, the carefully curated DJ lineup, the performances, the hosts, the photoshoot promoting the party, to the artists creating the display artwork: all these elements come together to complete a good night,” says Phil.
Phil and Armand also like meeting with venue owners and working with their own security to ensure a safe night for all attendees, even when it’s in someone else’s club.
For Phil and Armand, nightlife and building community go hand in hand. “Nightlife has always been a place where our community creates family and pushes cultural norms past conventional boundaries. Whether it’s drag, styles of music, visuals, or venues, queer people, and most notably queer people of colour started it, pushed it, and continue to do so today,” says Armand Digdoyo.
“A dance floor filled with folks in your community, dancing and connecting with the music is a magical thing.”
Event listings were just the start. Just as fast as Yohomo became a go-to destination for people planning their weekends and evenings, it grew into something bigger. Phil and Armand started using their site to shine light on the city’s queer creatives, movers, and shakers. In the process of amplifying community voices and advocating on important issues, Yohomo has solidified itself as a trusted voice for Toronto’s queer community. This reputation was followed by sponsored events, merch, and playlist curations.
Phil and Armand are creating a movement by connecting a community.
When asked whether they’d consider themselves entrepreneurs, Phil and Armand gave a hesitant yes. “I think we more so consider ourselves hard-working queers who just get shit done because we want to. We’re still learning and growing, but it all comes from such an honest place that it’s sometimes strange to think of ourselves as entrepreneurs,” says Phil.
With multiple endeavors on the go, I think Phil and Armand are the quintessential definition of entrepreneurs. They found a gap, and are forging their own path to solving it while wearing multiple hats––from event planning to finance, marketing, and branding.
I interviewed the duo to pick their brains about the journey that has blurred the lines between nightlife and entrepreneurship.
Ibrahim: Tell me about Yohomo’s foray beyond event listings.
Phil and Armand:
It happened naturally and we’ve loved this journey. For us, it’s about creating the Yohomo experience, and these are all things we love: events, art, culture, music, and fashion. The playlists and merch are just more ways to connect with our community. We had to jumpstart these verticals when we went into lockdown in March 2020. We had our last late-night event at the end of February 2020 and with no new events in sight, we knew we had to put more energy into designing new merch and creating fresh new playlists to keep our community entertained during a time where many folks couldn’t be with their chosen family.
For sponsored events and content, we’ve only collaborated with sponsors and companies we like and align with, without ever compromising our beliefs and standards. We like to collaborate on real things like editorial blog posts, playlists, and parties in a way that hopefully doesn’t feel like “sponsored content” to our followers. To this day, we’ve managed to stay true to Yohomo and write the rules when it comes to working with others. We’ve turned down some partnerships purely because it took away from the Yohomo brand and didn’t feel right to share with our audience.
Tell me about the early days. What was the hustle like?
The hustle was REAL (still is really!). Uploading events all day and night to try and keep up with this city’s vibrant culture. Things took off really quickly because there was a gap in the city, and we filled it. With our previous experience in nightlife we already had personal ties to most promoters, DJs, and drag folks, so we were able to gather all the information we needed.
It was a family affair, and everyone has been on board since day one. The support was just what we needed to push through with no financial backing or help from sponsors. While we pay our contributors honorariums, we still run Yohomo on our own time and any funds from our shop sales and events go back into running Yohomo.
Things changed in a big way when our Digital and Finance lead Mathieu Bellemare joined the team and helped kick the tech and digital marketing side of the site, our blog, the shop, and our calendars into high gear. With Mathieu’s help we became a registered business and we were able to grow with a steady foundation.
What was the hardest part about starting Yohomo? What’s the hardest part of running it today?
The hardest part was probably starting from scratch, making our own rules, having no successful model to follow… We knew what we wanted, but it took a lot of time to take shape and find a clear direction and process to make that happen. To be honest, it was also time, energy and effort. Pushing through those times is always challenging, especially when we’re not being paid like a regular job.
Today the toughest part is balancing gigs that make us money in our personal lives, and Yohomo. It’s our world, our baby, and we love it, but self-starter ventures almost always come with financial challenges at the start. It’s a lot of our own doing in the way that we are very picky with who to partner with, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. Our community, the writers, photographers, and creatives we work with inspire us to never stop.
For a business whose bread and butter started out as nightlife, the pandemic lockdowns must’ve been an interesting time for you. What was that like? Did you have to pivot?
It was scary for sure, and at the beginning we were walking around in circles about what we should do; what our role was without events… but very quickly we realized our voice was still very much needed and the platform was still a great place to connect with the community.
We continued to publish content, with a close eye on what was happening with our community in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement, our trans family and our Indigenous family. Giving voice to folks and letting queer people know we were still alive and out there was important and we felt it from the feedback we got from folks.
When we went into lockdown in 2020 the ecommerce side of Yohomo was the only way we could raise funds to keep our content going since we couldn’t hold any in-person events. We also knew we had to find a way to give back to community organizations that relied on fundraiser events to sustain themselves. We created our Stay Homo shirt series in collaboration with a local queer artist. This was a cheeky nod to working from “homo” and staying safe inside… and looking good while doing it. These shirts also had a give-back component where we donated proceeds from every sale to local organizations like The 519, Foodshare, Youthline, and Breakaway.
Your merch game has always been on point. Tell me about using that to foray into ecommerce.
Well we knew we always wanted to sell merch at our events and eventually online.
Streetwear-inspired graphic tees and tote bags are a great way to promote the brand and have the upside of being sizing versatile. In true streetwear fashion, we take inspiration from what we see from more luxury brands, and we’re also inspired by the City of Toronto and vintage tee styles. From a personal perspective, we wouldn’t wear graphic tees or logos from brands we didn’t support or were aligned with so we wanted to bring that aspect into our merch.
Armand has an ecommerce background so it was an easy transition to make. While there’s still so much to learn and some styles either do really well or not so great, it’s key to keep learning what our followers will be drawn to.
Where does ecommerce fit into your business model today?
As we follow and hope to grow the Yohomo community, the ecommerce side is becoming more and more important since it’s a way to connect to folks outside of Toronto and beyond. We also hope to grow our collection and increase the frequency of our merch drops. Since we don’t have a brick and mortar space we’ll exclusively feature items online.
We’re also challenging ourselves to grow this side of the business through learning about the user experience of the shop, digital marketing, and to continue to help raise money for 2SLGBTQIA+ organizations.
With our background in IRL events and parties, we want to bring that same sentiment behind the events to our website and shop by making it feel like a big ol’ gay party!
I love that you use Shopify for your online store. What’s your experience been like with the platform?
We chose Shopify because of my previous experience in ecommerce. I was already familiar with how it worked, plus, like, doesn’t everyone use it? It’s been great and easy to use and know that there’s support if we ever need it.
How has starting Yohomo impacted you?
It’s kept us connected to what’s going on, it’s kept us young, informed, and on the pulse of our community. Without Yohomo we also would have no idea what’s going on, who to follow, how to help, who to work with… it’s kept us gay in all the right ways.
What keeps you going?
Our community. Hands down. Everyone we work with and everyone we party with. They are brave, inspiring, weird, wonderful, creative. They work their butts off. They’re funny, smart, beautiful, freaky, lovely, and generous.
“Sometimes we feel like mom and dad driving the big gay camper van, and the community is our fuel.”