THE FAT JEWISH: BECOMING BEDFORD’S BODACIOUS BANKER

May 7, 2021

 

For the Instagram-less, who have no idea who The Fat Jewish is, or that his phenomena even exists… He’s got over TEN MILLION FOLLOWERS and has managed to parlay his top influencer status into millions of dollars of sponsorships, placements and promotions…He recently sold his Rosé company, Babe, to Anheuser Busch, for many millions more… He’s about to open a bank – intending to revolutionize banking for the technology-enabled…And, his office is on the Bedford Green!

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The Fat Jewish, an influencer persona that’s part P.T. Barnum, part Cpt. Lou Albano, part Kardashian, and part Rodney Dangerield, is actually two people! First, there’s the guy pictured on the canary yellow Harley, with the two-tones-of-red hairdo, on the B&NC MAG May/June 2021 Cover – that’s Joshua Ostrovsky, 38, who is indeed Jewish, the son of Russian immigrants, and who grew up on Riverside Drive in Manhattan, went to Dwight, and Camp Eisner, and whose wife, Caitlin King, who he met on Facebook, gave birth in February to Josh’s first child, Buddy Kobe King. Then there’s Josh’s usually-off-screen creative partner and BFF, David Oliver Cohen, 40, also Jewish, who grew up in Washington, D.C., went to camp at Frenchwoods Performing Arts, studied Acting at N.Y.U., and who moved to an equestrian estate in Bedford at the beginning of Covid, with his wife, Cristi Andrews, and kids, Penelope and Hal. They were weekenders in Bedford before the Pandemic but now have the kids at Rippowam Cisqua School, and are happily making Bedford home base.

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Josh & Caitlin do an eccentric pregnancy photoshoot

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David & Cristi outside their Bedford home

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Together…they’re a pair!

 

In their comedic two-part synchrony, and even physically, Ostrovsky and Cohen are reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello. And in their ability to happily share the contribution and profit, maybe something like Ben & Jerry, Hewlett & Packard, or Levi & Strauss. Over the years, David has taken on more of the strategy and more of the corporate affairs of the business, but he’s completely involved on the creative and ideas sides as well, and Josh is obviously the ‘face’, but is a diligent and keen businessman, who’s focused in many details of the business. As The Fat Jewish, they jumped on the first tidal wave of influencers. They had already garnered about 3 million followers by 2012 – when large advertising dollars really started to shift from traditional media to influencer spending. And they’ve since grown the following to its current 10+ million behemoth, and have a substantial roster of clients paying thousands for the privilege of including their product in a Fat Jewish post.

 

Josh and David were both destined for fame – or whatever it is that has enabled the multi-billion dollar influencer business – from the get-go! In 2010 the United Talent Agency, which was representing each of them, introduced the two separate clients – without a specific plan, but with the suggestion that the two might do something big together. David had already starred in a Nickelodeon Sitcom, Taina; done a year in the Broadway musical Rent; been in some movies in L.A., and; acted as Kip Lonegan on the soap opera As The World Turns – when he met his wife, Cristi Andrews, who was hosting Bet The House, a game show, ironically, on Nickelodeon. Josh had already been a correspondent, doing celebrity interviews on the E! Channel, and gained some notoriety in a rap group called Team Facelift, where he went by the name ‘The Fat Jew’. When David and Josh first got together, as writing partners, they developed a drama called ‘Mazel Tuff’, about a family of Hasidic Jews and their criminal behavior – think The Sopranos but with black hats. They went on to sell that and three other shows to TV Networks, but quickly realized that their work together growing their social media audience was much more interesting and much more lucrative.

So they launched BABE Rosé – served in a can – and it simply blew up the market!

After being acquired by Anheuser Busch in 2019, the two are now consulting AB on the brand.

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In 2014, the pair realized that if they owned the content, and they also owned the audience, they should consider launching their own product. So they launched BABE Rosé – served in a can – and it simply blew up the market! After being acquired by Anheuser Busch in 2019, the two are now consulting AB on the brand.

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Josh & Madonna on a spa-day shoot for babe

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…And they’ve used their time in Covid to, incredibly, and with the Fat Jewish character only peripherally involved, conceive of and build a new business: a BANK – intended to do nothing short of upending the way Millenials and Gen Z do their banking! They’ve already completed a $12M seed-round to get FUTUREBANK going! 

        

The two are just a couple of pretty regular and real, really smart and very funny, extremely affable, young guys…who’ve turned their influencer shtick into an empire!

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I scheduled to meet Josh and David at David’s house in Bedford, before going down for photos on the Bedford Green and an all-afternoon schmooze at Bedford 234.  Josh pulled up David’s driveway on his very noticeable, canary yellow Harley Davidson, and wearing pink leather chaps and a leather vest, with no shirt – revealing the tattoos all over his body, such as: Obama on a $5000 Dollar Bill, on his arm; Anna Nicole Smith, on his back, and; The New York Magazine Logo, on his chest.

Me: So, you’re not as fat as you look in all your pictures.

Josh: Yeah, I recently lost 60 pounds. I never want to be in shape, but I wanted to look less like Shrek. I’ve got a kid coming soon, so I decided it was time to slim down to a mediocre ‘dad bod’.

David: I’m a bit concerned. Not about his health, but, like you say, ‘where’s The Fat Jew?’. I’m not sure if The Dieting Jew works. The Svelte Jew definitely doesn’t really have the same ring to it, but I am proud of him for treating his body less like a trash can. 

Me: And, to get it out of the way, what’s with all the tattoos? What do your parents have to say about it? My Dad didn’t even want me to feature you in the magazine because his immediate reaction to hearing about a character called The Fat Jewish raised his generational sensitivity to the anti-semitic reaction you might cause, and his concern about the negative stereotypes you might be perpetuating. As my Russian Jewish immigrant ancestors might ask: “Vat do you have to say for yourselv?”

Josh: It’s a bummer to me that you, or your dad, or anyone gets anything negative from me. I get that it comes from combining ‘fat’ with ‘Jewish’, and that Jews in America don’t normally shout about their Jewishness, and that my look doesn’t fit the stereotypical image for ‘my son, the Jewish doctor’. But I’m proud of my Jewishness, I created a persona around who I really am, and we think joking around about some of the funnier aspects of modern Jewish culture and sociology is ‘good for the brand’ and, hopefully, funny. I think, at least in the social media world, we actually help make Jewish culture more a part of mainstream culture. I may be irreverent, but we make it OK for Jewish kids to be a little more proud and open about their identity. I get posts that are like, ‘I live in Iowa, thank you for making it cool to be Jewish’, so I guess I’m basically the Millennial Sandy Koufax? My parents didn’t love the tattoos at first, but they understand that it makes me happy, and they’re proud that I am changing the way traditional ‘success’ looks. I’m not in a rock band, I’m not a starving artist, I own a bank and get to go to work every day in sweatpants if I so choose…with tattoos of all kinds of incredibly stupid things. My folks get that my life is cool. …I will say that one thing they actually hated…was the stand-up ponytail I’ve had sticking straight-up on my head for the last few years, that I’ve called the ‘hairection’…and my folks are pleased I just cut that off in favor of this new two-tone crew cut look.

David: Fat Jewish is what I call ‘palatably edgy’, but we try really hard to never be offensive. We’ve always been mindful that we have to be ‘corporately acceptable’ if the brand is supposed to be a business. We try to keep it kosher.

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Me: Then how did you – or The Fat Jewish – go from being just another zany and irreverent Jewish character, to the SuperJew of Social Media, the Moses of Marketing, the Einstein of Eyeballs and the Rabbi of Digital Response – and worshipped like the Idol of Influencers? What was the path, and what are your secrets for building an enormous following, and turning that following into a business?

 

Josh: Those are very strong, well played sir! Over the years I’ve favored Jewther Vandross, Whitney Jewsten, and The FatJew of Liberty. But seriously, I think what we’ve focused on is accessibility and community building. I am The Fat Jewish, I live the brand, it’s my real life, I’m never faking it, and despite all the notoriety that comes with being a provocateur, I like to be approachable, welcoming and friendly, and I love meeting people. I think our followers can sense that they’re getting a genuine look at me and my world, and unlike almost any one of the other people with large social media platforms, I answer every single message I receive. My schedule is too hectic now, but for a long time I had a policy that if you invited me somewhere, I’d go. Not for money, just to make memories. I’ve officiated like 10 weddings (yup, I got certified on the internet), gone to proms, on camping trips, went to a bris once – that was weird…all types of places and events just to meet people. I’m not a corporation running a funny Instagram page, I’m a real human being who will actually hang out with you, and maybe make some questionable drunk decisions, and that type of community building has taken the brand to new heights.

David: What we’ve worked hard to do – that’s maybe a bit different – is to use the audience as our guide. Social media provides a constant focus group with instant response to your every word. We listen. Over time, we became experts at Millennials. A lot of businesses talk about listening to the customer – our business is listening to the customer. The audience has grown and grown pretty steadily over the last decade, with about 10 million followers, currently. We have a read on a large portion of a highly desirable target audience, so when we decided to make a product for that audience, we were able to reverse engineer the development of that product. We basically asked them what they wanted – and, at least indirectly, they told us. Going back to what Josh said about being ‘accessible’, that’s the secret ingredient. We have interactivity with our followers and there simply aren’t too many influencers with our size audience who have that to offer to advertisers. I think we both recognized very early on in the game that The Fat Jew had to be, or become, more than just a look. Let’s face it, Josh is no Brad Pitt, and we both knew the shelf-life of The Fat Jew’s celebrity would not last forever. Our value is in the community of, and our communication with, our audience.

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Me: How did you get into the rosé business? And how did you make that work? Being an influencer can be totally virtual, but selling and distributing rosé requires operational ability and scale.

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David: We listened. It was early 2015, we had around 9 million followers, there’d been a rosé shortage in the Hamptons… which was a very scary time indeed…and we decided that we didn’t want our kids growing-up in that kind of world… In all honesty, we wanted to start taking what we’d learned from the whole experience of the brand and the influencer business to another level. We didn’t know anything about the beverage business other than what we liked, but we saw a huge surge in demand for alternative and more drinkable alcoholic beverages. We noticed that Millenials had very little brand affinity when it comes to wine. Whispering Angel’s Summer In A Bottle rosé was already a thing, but it was very Hamptons-exclusive, with a price point that’s aimed at only the upscale consumers in the category, and wasn’t the kind of category-buster we imagined. We did a lot of market research…and then a lot of product and packaging testing – and decided to do rosé in a can. Back in 2010, separate from and before The Fat Jewish, my brother and I had created a Twitter account called @whtegirlprobs (White Girl Problems), featuring a fictional female Millennial that called herself Babe Walker, who attracted millions of followers. That character was kind of emblematic of our target market for the rosé, so we called it ‘BABE’. So, Josh, my brother Tanner, and I, contracted for the first 10,000 cases of wine and started selling it. Summer 2015 the wine went viral on Instagram. We quickly learned the supply and distribution parts of the business, and we managed to bring in $1,000,000 in revenues in our first year.

Josh: I think being outsiders in the wine industry really helped, because we got to think ‘out of the crate’ about establishing and building the brand. We utilized our marketing abilities to leverage sales – without having any of the credentials of a known winery or vintner, or the sophisticated pallet of wine snobs that usually gives credibility to a new offering. After we had scaled the company from the three original founders to a huge organization with millions of dollars in sales, we started to get approached by potential acquirers. Being perceived as naive or green was definitely an advantage. We met with some huge venture capital firms and a couple of other commercial giants, but eventually we went with Anheuser Busch. They really get it, and we were huge fans of their brands, because we’re actually not really wine guys and are actually fans of their beer. We only made wine in a can because consumers were demanding it!  AB said, ‘We’re buying this company for you and your brains’. They understand that there’s a new world of brand loyalty out there. And it’s really working, AB sold millions and millions of cans of BABE Rosé in 2020! We’re actively engaged in the marketing and biz dev, advising them on how to keep it fresh and interesting. BABE is now the Official Wine Sponsor of the NFL – so there will be a guy at a Packers game in camo overalls crushing rosé in a can. It’s absolutely incredible to make wine accessible to so many new types of people.

Now what?

David: Well, again, we’ve listened to the audience to find our direction. We’re really pretty purposeful about everything we do. We looked around for the biggest white space we could find. Where is Millennial and Gen Z demand most unserved? And what we found is a massive gap between the way Millennials handle, or want to handle, their finances, and the practices of traditional banks. Millennials and Gen Z-ers hate their banks.

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They view banks as uncaring corporations with outdated tech who don’t care about their needs. They have no connection or loyalty to any particular brand. The perception and reality is that traditional banks charge outrageous fees and penalties, lend money to nefarious industries, and have some of the worst customer service in the history of the world. 11,000 Americans turn 18 every day – and they’re going to need a bank account. Robinhood quickly became the go-to app for Millennials and Gen Z – and it’s already worth $11 billion! Chime is a banking app that addresses some of the needs of lower income bank customers with advanced tech, and it’s already worth $15 billion! 30 million Americans now run their own business, and that number will double in the next five years! 67 million Americans consider themselves freelancers and earn income outside a W-2! The digital age of the entrepreneur is upon us, and there are no banks that address the needs of this rapidly expanding and evolving workforce, or the new businesses they start. We’re going to build the bank that meets the Millennial and Gen Z demand.

Josh: Millennials and Gen Z are focused on quality and authenticity. They’re not easily swayed by marketing, as they’ve been on the Internet their whole lives and have been marketed to since birth. But when young people find a brand they connect with they become loyal devotees and enthusiastic advocates. We understand them – and they trust us. FUTUREBANK is going to be the bank for them.

Me: But starting and operating a bank is a gargantuan task! How can you two guys pull this off?

David: First, we’re building a great team. My father-in-law, Frank Newman, is a former Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Treasury and seasoned banking executive, including having served as CEO of Bankers Trust and Shenzhen Development Bank and CFO at Bank of America and Wells Fargo. He’s a co-founder of FUTUREBANK and has been instrumental in helping deal with the regulators. Halle Madia, formerly the Chief Experience/Talent Officer at SoulCycle, is another co-founder and will serve as our Chief Culture Officer. We’ve got the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, IBM’s Promontory, and a team of top-notch advisors in our corner. And we’re now completing a seed investment round – at an extremely healthy valuation – with a who’s-who of strategic investors and famous folks who are also going to help with our marketing.

Josh: The thing is, FUTUREBANK is revolutionary. We have two goals. The first is to elevate and democratize the experience of banking for everyone in this country. We are the first ever membership bank, which means you pay a monthly fee, and everything is free. No fees, no penalties, world class customer service – you literally can speak to someone on video almost 24/7 – ridiculously awesome tech, complete integration of all the financial apps, like Venmo, that you currently love, the list goes on and on. The big dusty legacy banks are built on antiquated technological platforms, and they don’t provide people with great customer service unless maybe if they keep a ton of money in their account – and then the bank lends to causes that are objectionable to a lot of Millenials and Gen Z. At FUTUREBANK, everyone pays their membership fee, so everyone gets the same awesome stuff. Think less Chase, more Netflix.  The second goal of FUTUREBANK is to address the shift in how America works. In the next five years, over 50% of the people in the U.S. will be freelancers. There are millions of new small businesses and disruptive start-ups formed every year. We are shifting away from a W-2 based economy, and nobody is addressing the fact that people, regardless of age, don’t know how to do any of the financial stuff associated with the new financial lifestyle. Whether you’re fresh out of college and starting a sneaker company, or you’re a 50 year old massage therapist, you need tools to run your operation. That’s why FUTUREBANK will offer a suite of services designed to accommodate the demands of our audience and the necessities of the new economy. You’ll be able to do your invoicing, bookkeeping, payroll, and taxes, and rely on us to provide all kinds of business literacy and tools in areas including business formation, intellectual property, and operations. FUTUREBANK is literally the future of banking!

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Me: Does FUTURE BANK signal the end for The Fat Jewish?

David: No, not at all. We still have more than 10 million followers who are actively engaged. The Fat Jewish will not be the ‘face’ of FUTUREBANK, but we’ll certainly tap our audience, and experience as influencers, to inform and support every facet of the bank’s mission, marketing and operation. 

Me: OK. Well I often conclude my interviews with the question: Who are the four people, dead or alive, who you would have to a fantasy dinner tonight? You two guys are so zany, I’m almost afraid to ask, but…

Josh: I’ll handle this one. First, George Washington – because he really went hard his whole life, with wooden teeth, and was in the booze business like us, but went beyond to do bigger things – like us. Second, Martha Stewart – the original influencer, and because she’s a model of both female empowerment and how to upend an industry. Then, Malia Obama – who I heard has been DJing, and who’s really cool and a great representative for her generation. Oh, and Pamela Anderson – for so many reasons. The real question is, will Washington like the blintzes and latkes, washed down with some BABE Rosé?

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