“Aries in the house!”
Colin Bedell, author and Cosmopolitan magazine’s wildly popular planet wrangler, is cheerfully punching data points about me into his computer as we chat over videoconference. His C.G.I. background is, suitably, the galaxy.
“O.K., so Judith is retrograding Capricorn right now,” he begins. “Venus, the planet of love and romance, is transiting Capricorn, the ruler of your relational sector … ” I’m not really astrology-literate, so Bedell might as well be speaking Mandarin.
But he is so upbeat and charming. And after all, I’ve already made so many bad decisions lately, how could taking the relationship advice of a world-renowned astrologer be any worse than listening to myself?
A half-hour into this conversation I learn that I am impatient (typical Aries), that I charge into situations when I should reflect (typical Aries), that I shouldn’t let sex cloud my judgment (typical … everyone). I will not know whether I’m in my current relationship for the long haul until February 28.
Bedell is coming to me through Intro, the new advice Web site that links you to the leading lights in wellness and entrepreneurship. You may not be able to afford interior-designer media star Nate Berkus to design your home, but for $199 for a 15-minute session you can show him the wall you’re thinking about, hold up a few paint swatches, and go, “This one or that one?”
You can also ask stylist Rachel Zoe, as I did, how to stop dressing like it’s 1978 and, while we’re at it, how to put an outfit together after spending two pandemic years in my pajamas. (“With Zoom, everyone has forgotten how to get dressed from the waist down,” she says empathetically.)
You can ask Nicole Mangrum, Oprah’s personal hairstylist, whether you’ve made a fatal hair mistake. You can even get a plastic surgeon to squint at your face on camera and tell you whether you’re ready for that face-lift or can subsist on Botox and filler. (At least, that was my plan until the plastic surgeon rescheduled several times and then went poof. As a start-up, Intro still has a few kinks to work out: it could use an organizational session with Marie Kondo, who also might help them chuck a few experts who do not spark joy.)
I’ve already made so many bad decisions lately, how could taking the relationship advice of a world-renowned astrologer be any worse than listening to myself?
We used to keep a respectful distance from our idols. We worshipped them from afar, in fan magazines and newsreels. But social media allowed a more up-close-and-personal relationship, encouraging virtual stalking and making it possible for our heroes to monetize our devotion.
Today, thanks to MasterClass, we learn at the feet of professors Serena Williams, Gordon Ramsay, and Martin Scorsese. A few clicks on Cameo, and a needy C- or B- or D-lister (or Rudy Giuliani, who lacks a letter to designate his “lister” status because our alphabet has only 26 characters) will send you a personal greeting.
And now here comes Intro, the next step in influencer engagement: talk to a well-known person, and they talk back! Those in search of enlightenment (or some such) can book their time for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour or more, at a cost of between $35 and $900. Right now the site features more than 90 experts—with new ones added weekly—who specialize in pursuits such as beauty, fitness, fashion, entrepreneurship, and tarot reading. They will give you hot takes on wedding planning or ab development or brand-building or, as mindset expert Jason Gorskie explains, “how to see, hear and feel your world from a new perspective.”
There’s almost something a little prurient about it, which makes me feel guilty. Intro founder Raad Michael Mobrem calls them “knowledge workers,” which in no way made me instantly think of “sex worker.” And the way your screen starts to shut down after 15 minutes unless you slap down your credit card for some extra time with them, well, what kind of deviant would ever think of a Times Square peep show?
Intro’s origin story started long before Mobrem, a 35-year-old Silicon Valley whiz, made his first fortune creating and then selling Lettuce, an operating system for small businesses. As a young man, he recalls, he ran into the founder of Kinko’s one day, “and in the 15 minutes I spent with him, I learned more about entrepreneurship than I had ever learned before.”
So, Mobrem thought, what if there were a Web site where you could get key questions answered by some of the biggest experts in the world? I mean, you could ask your cousin Morty about that inspired app idea you have. Or, for $200, you can ask Alexis Ohanian, the founder of Reddit, and he’ll tell you whether it should be relegated to your brain’s dustbin—which it probably should.
Quick access to an expert of your choice “can accelerate your journey,” Mobrem continues. “You’d be surprised at what you can learn in 5, 10, 15 minutes from the right person, and how in a blink of an eye, someone could have an epiphany and take a totally different path in life.”
Optimistic? Yes. Unlikely? Maybe not. Rachel Zoe tells me about a woman who booked time with her to discuss a fashion business she was starting with her teenage nephew. “She was very chic, and she wanted a bit of advice on how to get the brand out there, this line of bespoke couture. I will be very candid with you. I was not expecting cute…. But (her nephew’s designs) were so beautiful, so extraordinary.”
The two women extended their session, and Zoe gave her entrepreneurial advice, such as how to launch a brand and get it into stylists’ hands. Zoe is completely convinced the young man will be a name everyone knows within a couple of years.
The financial model for Intro initially doesn’t make sense. How is Spencer Rascoff, the co-founder of Zillow and Hotwire, making the kind of money he’s used to, even if he’s charging $940 for an hour-long consultation?
But then I discovered that many of the marquee names have equity in the company. The real windfall is expected to happen when the company licenses its technology to local entrepreneurs, who can program it into their Web sites and use it to engage with customers.
We all live in hope of a Rachel Zoe/Star Search moment, for isn’t that the promise of this kind of advice? That we will be touched by the angel of their success and glamour?
Meanwhile, I’ve got till the end of February to see if my relationship works out. Ever the hard-hitting investigative journalist—and, O.K., with a little bit of a sense that Intro, like porn, could be addictive—I decided to confirm Bedell’s advice with another renowned astrologer, Rose Theodora, Byrdie Beauty’s resident expert. Rose says something something Venus in ascendence something, and now I have to wait until April 29 before I know my true fate.
But why stop at two? I needed more clarity. I check the section on Intro for astrologers and psychics.
Two down, 32 to go.
Judith Newman is a New York–based writer and the author of To Siri with Love