Lisa Messenger Founder & CEO of Collectivehub.com & LisaMessenger.com talks with Emma Franklin Bell about Breaking a Brand, Personal Brand, Culture & The Future of Collective Hub
Emma F. Bell: I’m so thrilled to be able to bring you this interview with the fabulous Lisa Messenger. Now Lisa Messenger is an Australian entrepreneur that no doubt you have heard of, or come across, or read one of her books. But if you haven’t, I’ll just give you a quick background. Lisa Messenger is the vibrant, game-changing founder, CEO, and editor-in-chief of Collective Hub. She launched Collective Hub as a print magazine in 2013, with no experience in an industry that people said was either dead or dying. Collective Hub has since grown into an international multimedia business and lifestyle platform, with multiple verticals across print, digital, events, and education, all of which serve to ignite human potential.
Emma F. Bell: Five years and 52 issues into the print magazine, Lisa made the courageous move to break the very thing that she started: the print magazine, enabling her to take time and space to evolve into the next iteration and again disrupt. Lisa has written a book: Risk & Resilience, which is absolutely riveting. It is about what I just explained there.
Emma F. Bell: Okay, Lisa, hello. Welcome.
Lisa Messenger: Good to be here with you. It’s been a while.
Emma F. Bell: It has. It has, and it’s really great to pop back in, after 18 months or something, and again on a book launch. Same situation.
Lisa Messenger: Same same, different day, different location. The same, but…a lot can change in 18 months.
Emma F. Bell: It’s amazing. And so firstly, I suppose I want to say: what a masterpiece. Collective Hub was, is…
Lisa Messenger: Is. I have to correct you there, because it’s like a dagger to the heart when people are like, “Was.” I know I made a rather loud statement recently, but we can dig further into that.
Emma F. Bell: We can. Yes. So what we’re talking about today is Lisa’s book Risk & Resilience. Breaking And Remaking A Brand. I read the whole thing over a weekend.
Lisa Messenger: Oh my gosh, I need to take a photo of that. It’s like tagged everywhere. And you’re officially the first person to have read it in the world, so…
Emma F. Bell: Oh, wow. Yeah.
Lisa Messenger: It’s not officially out for another five weeks, so…
Emma F. Bell: So, it’s totally fascinating to read this book, and I’ve read all your books. And this one was sort of different, and really real and raw and you really get in there. I mean in all of them, you get real and raw, but this one, I don’t know, it’s about sort of the figures and the real story of what went on.
Lisa Messenger: I know. Well, this is the sixth, which you would know, the sixth book, which is kind of crazy, in four and a half years. So I’ve been writing in real-time since I launched Collective Hub, which was March 2013, and my first book Daring & Disruptive came out in October 2014. So I guess… I mean I consciously choose my life every day, but you never know quite what’s going to happen. And because I write the books in real-time, to share my life and my experiences out loud in the hope that I’ll be a conduit to help other people… Yeah, I thought Risk & Resilience would have a different ending, but hey, it is what it is, and actually…
Emma F. Bell: It is.
Lisa Messenger: … I couldn’t be happier or more on purpose.
Emma F. Bell: Yeah. It’s fantastic. So, we have to sort of give people an insight into what happens in it. It’s the journey of the magazine, specifically, as part of Collective. Which has now come to an end.
Lisa Messenger: For now
Emma F. Bell: For now. So, I want to dive into some key pieces that you talk about in the book.
Lisa Messenger: Or scrape yourself off the floor as you read it. There are some fairly hairy moments in there.
Emma F. Bell: Yes. So, in the beginning, you talk about…on page 22, we’ll just dive in, you talk about…
Lisa Messenger: Wow. This is scary. This is the first one of these interview, where I’m like wow, let’s like rip it apart. Go for it.
Emma F. Bell: Yes. You talk about how you were focused always on, “The growth of the brand, our community, and the big picture. And I sidestepped some of the detail.” So enlighten us a bit there, the listeners, as to what you mean by that and how that was starting to show some of the cracks, possibly.
Lisa Messenger: Yeah. So it’s kind of interesting. I started my first business on 22 October 2001. And so for the first 11 years, prior to launching Collective Hub (so it’s like an 11 year ‘overnight success’), I always had a relatively small team. I couldn’t scale beyond three. I couldn’t work out how to grow. And in those first 11 years, data was my friend. Every single day I sliced and diced everything and I was acutely aware of the figures and exactly what was going on. And also for the first probably three years of Collective Hub, that was an absolute imperative. And I think it’s important to recognize what you are. And I’m definitely a creative, a strategist, a visionary, a leader. I love moving forward and creating all the time.
But what happens as a brand grows, and I didn’t know this until I was right in the thick of it, suddenly I found myself with 32 full-time staff, almost 3,000,000 dollars in salaries alone, on an annual basis, plus about 80 freelancers. It was suddenly a very large global business. And I wasn’t prepared for that high growth. And so here I was in my sweet spot, growing new things and so many opportunities presenting themselves, and I just kind of dropped the ball a bit on the operations.
The financial, the HR, the systems, the processes. IT, finance. And it’s been an extraordinary learning, and I believe the universe only throws me as much as I can handle, and because I’ve chosen to live my life out loud and be a conduit to help other people, I’m kind of very grateful, although it certainly wasn’t fun at the time, it was hell, that I’ve been through it. Because I know now how to grow a sustainable business, and in the future, I would always hire a 2IC from day one…
Emma F. Bell: From day one, right.
Lisa Messenger: You know, people say, “Hire your weaknesses.” So absolutely, someone operational and data-driven. You know, people were like, “We need more staff. We need more, we need more, more, more, more.” And suddenly I was just like, “Okay, all right, yes, yes, yes.” And actually, I should have been saying no a lot more. And what happened was I went from being acutely aware of data, and everyone having KPIs, key performance indicators, and every unit of the business having its own budgets, and everything being accountable, to suddenly like, “I don’t know.” It just grew so fast and was so out of control. And it became very fat and very inefficient. Grossly inefficient, very, very quickly. So, yeah. Not a mistake I wish to repeat again.
Emma F. Bell: No. And it’s interesting because you mention a couple of times in the book how, you say it yourself, that you’re a people pleaser. And that you just wanted everybody to be happy. How do you get around keeping that lightness of your personality, and that’s you, and also…
Lisa Messenger: Yeah. So, I mean we can skip forward, but maybe we want to dig into that later, as to what I’m doing now. But, essentially, what I did is I had to break everything in order to remake it, which is what the book is largely about. Although that would be the next book, how I’m remaking it. But now it’s about having a largely decentralized team, using specialists, not generalists. And I’m creating project by project, and having it all very siloed. Having more fun than I’ve ever had, but everyone working very much to their own KPIs and own output and deliverables.
Because I think, and this is true for any business, Collective Hub is, essentially, a media and content brand, but every single one of us, you included, here we are, sitting making content for you, we all have output with regards to content. Whether it’s on social media or our websites, or whatever it is. And I think there are two sides to that. There’s the creative, exciting, “Let’s make stuff,” and, “Wow, this is so much fun, and I’m getting to connect with amazing people, and I’m getting to shoot great photos or write amazing stuff and make it look beautiful.” And that’s the fun stuff, and that’s what excites me.
But, unfortunately, there’s the commercial reality on the other side, which is we have to actually sell things to make money to employ more people to do the stuff. And, unfortunately, I got the equation kind of wrong. You know, everything, every single touch point across every single platform for Collective, was fun, and amazing for our community, but unfortunately I was saying yes and doing way too much of the fun stuff, and took my eye off the ball a bit with the “This is what we actually need to do.”
So, I suppose I’ve had to learn to be a bit more of that ‘no’ person, a bit more of, “No, actually we need to do this.” Yes, you can have the fun, but the other side of the equation is we have to actually have the output. If you put in the work there, then you can do more work on whatever you want to do. So, yeah.
Emma F. Bell: And you also say that you noticed a couple of things, obviously some alarm bells were that personally, you felt, emotional and psychological shifts, which showed up in your life and outside the office. And you also noticed staff morale drop. You talk about, on page 34, how we had empty desks at 10:00 AM, which never would have happened previously.
Lisa Messenger: Oh, awful. Yes.
Emma F. Bell: So those two things, as well as the data stuff and all of that, but you were personally feeling those alarm bells and then seeing things around you, was that when you were really… Talk about that.
Lisa Messenger: It’s horrible. And people might relate to this, although my languaging will be slightly different.
So, a few things. Prior to that, and people might relate to this, when you’re in, I call it flow, and that’s just a word, I’ll describe that a bit more. When I started Collective, it was about a feeling. That’s as complex or as simple as it gets: to ignite human potential. So I started with that. I had no idea how I was going to do it. So often it’s about the why, but the how just takes care of itself. So the serendipity and the synchronicity and the people that start to surround you, are quite extraordinary. And even though things are hard, and a lot of the time you have no idea what you’re doing, and you’re making it up as you go, it just all seems to flow. And it’s kind of relatively easy.
As soon as you have no money, and suddenly you’re in survival mode, it stops being about the fun and the growth, then I found myself, almost like wading in mud. And then I’m trying to control a situation because I had to. Because suddenly my CFO, chief financial officer, was like, “We need a 100,000 dollars,” pretty much every day. It was like, “We need another 100,000 dollars.” And this was now a very, very serious business. And I had some very serious responsibilities. And so the shift was from, “it’s fun and it’s just flowing and it feels great,” to, “Oh my God, I’m in survival mode,” it’s just not fun. And it became very, very difficult.
And so then I started to see things show up in my health. My non-negotiables like having a green smoothie every morning or doing some exercise every single day. Suddenly I’m in this horrible quagmire of, “Oh God, I’ve just got to keep turning up. I’ve just got to keep trying to do the thing.” And that’s the worst possible thing you can do in that situation. It’s like, don’t let your routines and rituals go, that’s when we need them the most.”
And yeah, the staff morale, I think people started to worry about, “Is my job safe? What’s going on?”
Emma F. Bell: But why do you think they were coming in at 10:00? That sounds like a bit sloppy.
Lisa Messenger: Very sloppy. And people listening will possibly relate to this as well. And, as I said, I’m so glad I’ve been there, and to the size and the magnitude. I mean it was a very good business. The print magazine was in 37 countries, that was just one of multiple products. And when you start… and it’s interesting, when I had three staff at the beginning of the Collective, it was the most fun ever.
We would just…you know, everybody is on $32K or whatever the lowest salary you can pay is, but they’re not there for the money. They’re there because they’re part of something amazing, they can see the vision. And so you don’t actually need to ask people to come in at a particular time. In fact, the opposite was true. When I started, I was like, “Can you go home?” Or I’d be getting emails at 10 o’clock on a Saturday night, and I’d be like, “Get off your email.” And almost forcing people to take downtime, because they were so passionate.
And what happens is, and I think this is warning bells for everyone, and what I would say is, bigger isn’t necessarily better, be careful of what you step in to. I think we hired in the middle, a whole lot of fan-girls, probably.
Emma F. Bell: Yeah, because I was going to say: fan-girls. This is something you mention.
Lisa Messenger: People from the inside, culturally. What happened was, I think it’s quite different people seeing the perception of a brand. And I really hope that we embody that, from a community interfacing perspective, but also within the closed walled of the Collective. That’s very, very important to me. But I think the perception is, they’ve seen all this great, glossy stuff, these fabulous events, these amazing interviews. And then they came into the Collective walls, and it’s like, well, actually we need to work our asses off.
Emma F. Bell: Do some work.
Lisa Messenger: Do some work. And they’re like, “What? It’s not all champagne brunches?” And so, unfortunately, I noticed a cultural shift. And because I was having to be out there every day, dialing for dollars and trying to help grow the brand and keep it afloat, I probably let…I mean the buck always lands with the leader. And so I probably let the culture slip a bit, and wasn’t as attentive and didn’t spend the time training them into the mindset at that point. And so we suddenly had quite an ugly patch in the middle, where it sort of became a bit, I don’t know, bitchy, which is horrible. So we weeded that out quite quickly. But culture, you know, I think probably for the first 11 years of my business pre-Collective, and then for the first three years of Collective, so let’s call it 11, 12, 13, 14 years, I hadn’t had a blip in my culture. Not one. Like I prided myself so much on it.
Emma F. Bell: And you were still having team meetings and all that sort of stuff?
Lisa Messenger: Still having team meetings and all sorts of things. But it just, you know, it just takes one bad egg to decide that they’re going to come in late, or whatever, and then, I think, it sort of can seep quite quickly through the culture, and people are like, “Oh. Well, they came in at 10:00, so I’ll come in at 10:00. And yeah.” To be honest I just had too many balls in the air. I had a lot of inexperienced but amazing people, a lot of them, but I didn’t have the right kind of people alongside me, with the experience to keep it all in check.
Emma F. Bell: Yeah. Because I can imagine a lot of listeners who have a brand that’s known or has a lot of influences or something, they would think hiring the fan-type person is good, because they love the brand so much.
Lisa Messenger: Absolutely, sometimes. Because they understand. Depends what role it’s in. Like they understand the brand so much they can communicate in the voice of the brand. So yeah, absolutely. Some of that is amazing. But I think it was some of… potentially some of the people who’d not really ever had a job before, it was their first job, so they had this, I don’t know, sense of entitlement, “This is how it should be.” It’s interesting. Since some of those people have left, they’re the ones who have begged me for a job. Because they go out and into other jobs, and they suddenly realize, “Oh, actually I had it pretty good there.”
Emma F. Bell: Yes. Now I want to talk a bit about money, because a lot of listeners of mine, and in my community, follow people like Denise Duffield-Thomas, and I’ve interviewed Denise as well, and she’s just incredible and doing a lot for women and their mindset. So, therefore, when I read this, where it said, “I found myself signing a five-year lease on a 600-square meter office space for $236,795 per annum.” I thought…
Lisa Messenger: Plus, plus, plus.
Emma F. Bell: Lisa ain’t got no money blocks. A lot of people would be like, “Well, that’s a lot of money.” So, what happened with you, and money like that, and then you obviously signed that…
Lisa Messenger: Everything’s relative and I talk a lot about this in my first book, Daring & Disruptive. Because it’s all relative, and some people listening to that will but like, “Whoa, that’s a lot of money.” And some people will be like, “Well, that’s nothing.” I remember the first year of my business, 2001. And I remember, I think it was someone couldn’t pay an invoice for $80 or something, some ridiculously small amount, and I was like, “This is a nightmare.” And I look back on that and laugh. But the thing about it is I think as we push ourselves further and further beyond our comfort zone, our propensity for risk greatens. But also I believe a lot in gut feeling and intuition. And I knew intuitively that that was the wrong thing to do, and in fact, the day that we moved in, and my team were all drinking champagne, I nearly vomited.
Emma F. Bell: What…
Lisa Messenger: I felt so ill, and I knew that day I’d made the wrong decision. It wasn’t so much about that money, the $236,000 or whatever, because that actually was a blip in the ocean in terms of turnover. But it was more so the five-year lease and the longevity around that. And I want to talk a bit about that because I think it’s no coincidence there are so many co-working spaces and things popping up. The reality is, when you grow if you listen to what I said before, through 11 years I only had three staff, and I couldn’t work out how to scale. So I could have the same size office, pretty much for 11 years.
But with Collective, I started with those three, and then very quickly we had 32. Now, I didn’t know if I was going to scale back from 32 back to three again, because it was more sensible to do when you use freelancers, or if I was going to scale quickly to a 100 or 200. And so the problem about signing a five-year lease on 600 square meters is probably that space could fit 100 to 150 people quite comfortably. And so then I had to come up with other creative ways to pay the rent and things. But it’s kind of crazy, because we don’t know what we don’t know, and we have to be able to adapt quite quickly.
Emma F. Bell: And you would have had to end that lease or broken it, or something.
Lisa Messenger: Well… which is almost impossible to do. So luckily…part of my dream from the get-go had always been to have a co-working space and have a hub where our community could come and work. So I actually did that as part of Collective, and it was very exciting and it was actually beautiful having people in our space. Luckily for me, and I am the ultimate deal maker so one of my tenants, who was amazing when I decided this is too much, I need to get out of this and start to break things quite consciously, luckily he said to me, “I’ll take the lease on.” I mean, talk about serendipity, synchronicity, and thank you, God and the universe and all of the powers above. So he actually kindly took the lease on. Which was a godsend, because that was certainly an ongoing expense and a way to burn a lot of cash that I really didn’t need at the time.
Emma F. Bell: And you talk about woo-woo in the book, a bit.
Lisa Messenger: Woo-woo. I’m always woo-woo.
Emma F. Bell: And you talk about synchronicity and signs and serendipity.
Lisa Messenger: Yes.
Emma F. Bell: So how do you think, you can use signs and that sort of thing to help you a bit, especially when things are really going to shit, and you’re sort of like, “Anything.”
Lisa Messenger: In fact, the second book in the series, Life & Love, is all about signs. That’s my most woo-woo book. And that’s more the behind the scenes book because it’s about a lot of my routines and rituals and that, the little things that I do every day to check in with myself and keep that pulse check and know what’s going on.
I guess, yeah, in terms of signs along the way, it’s about honing your gut and intuition. And people say, “Well, what does that mean?” And I guess it’s, for me, it’s just been about starting something, being courageous enough to push the boundaries a bit, realizing I didn’t fall flat on my face, pushing the boundaries a bit more, realizing I didn’t fall flat on my face. And, unfortunately, this time I just pushed a little too far. But I still managed to wind out of it, and it is my proudest, proudest moment to date. I got myself in a bit of a pickle, and a lot of people would have really collapsed around that, and it’s not to say that I didn’t collapse and cry a lot on the bathroom floor through that period, but I did it in the most perfectly ethical way with dignity and grace, the entire thing. So yeah, I’m very, very proud. And as I said, I feel I’m in a stronger and a better position than I’ve ever felt now.
Emma F. Bell: It’s fantastic how, yes, how you…because you describe in the book how you pulled it back and you were breaking even then.
Lisa Messenger: I had to make some very tough decisions. Yeah. And that’s not my nature. I’m the fun person.
Emma F. Bell: You’re the fun.
Lisa Messenger: I’m the creative. And when you have to make some not great decisions, like making people redundant or actually starting to say no on things… It’s tricky. It’s not my natural default.
Emma F. Bell: Yes. And on page 87 you talk about the four pillars. So at this point, I think, from memory, from reading it once, you sort of get the brand back together or something. You pull together and say, “Okay, we’re going to…”
Lisa Messenger: What do we stand for?
Emma F. Bell: “What do we stand for?” And I was curious, are these the same as your values? Or something different? And why do you think it fell away and you then had to come together and look at the pillars again?
Lisa Messenger: You know, that was a kind of a sense of urgency and necessity, I think. Because, as I said, when you start to see, as I did, the culture sort of falling away, and you’ve got to remember, what’s my why? What’s my purpose? What do we actually stand for? What are we here to do? Because it’s very easy when you’re in survival mode and it’s just horrible every day, to go, “Oh God, this is really hard, we’re sinking.” So I needed to remember why are we here? What did we come to do? And bring us all together to strengthen us and be able to communicate that to the community. It’s very easy to forget that.
As an individual, a lot of people talk about lack of self-esteem or lack of confidence or feelings of unworthiness, or, “I’m not good enough,” and all that kind of thing. And I think as a business entity, as well, we can start to fall victim to that. So it was really important that in that time of existential crisis, we came together.
Emma F. Bell: Were you having therapy? I was afraid you would say we all need to be in therapy.
Lisa Messenger: Oh, I got a lot of therapy over the years. But, no, not through that period. Not therapy per se. But I did go to India twice so that in itself was kind of therapy. To the Osho Meditation Center, which has since been all over Netflix.
Emma F. Bell: Oh, yes. And so you say your four pillars were: One: fuck the rules. Two: honesty. Three: intellect and style. Four: Better as a collective. So is that what you see moving forward now, as you’re moving into the next iteration?
Lisa Messenger: Yes. And I talk about this a lot, and in fact, the book before this was Purpose. My whole life is books now. I really, really, really believe that probably your purpose in life, once you land on it, doesn’t really change too much. But I think the delivery mechanism does, 100%. And I kind of love that. So, yeah, Collective is those four pillars, and essentially it’s to ignite human potential. And for me, Lisa Messenger, I have to talk about myself in the third person, it’s to be an entrepreneur for entrepreneurs, living my life out loud, showing that anything is possible. I think those two overarching themes, and then the pillars that you’ve just described, until the day I die, will probably remain consistent. However, the delivery mechanisms around it, it actually doesn’t matter if it’s a print magazine, or a podcast, or a speaking gig, or writing a book, or a multitude of other things. And I think that’s a really, really important lesson and insight.
And certainly I speak to pretty much every corporate across every industry about this. Because they always say, it doesn’t matter if it’s a pet food company or if it’s fashion, or if it’s beauty or tech or finance, I speak across all industries. And they all want to know: how do we remain relevant? How do we stay ahead of the game? How do we innovate? And it’s like, “Well, as long as you know what you stand for, then stay fixed to that, and your pillars. And what’s the feeling that that conjures up? What do you want to deliver to the marketplace?”
But then to completely forget about the delivery mechanism. So that you can morph, pivot, iterate, change. As long as you’re delivering that value, and what you stand for and your purpose and your why, then it enables you to play a game and keep moving and keep fluid and keep exciting yourself, and keep seeking new adventuring. So, yeah.
Emma F. Bell: And I think also, what I love about that, is that therefore if you do have a patch where the delivery mode or whatever isn’t your favorite, or something, there’s a more meta thing that’s driving you.
Lisa Messenger: 100%. And, you’ll know this, as an entrepreneur, so many people say all the time, “How don’t you get bored?” Because we see opportunity everywhere and bright shiny things. You can suddenly be like, “Oh my God, I’ll just try that, I’ll try that, I’ll try that.” So having my overarching commitment to what we stand for and our values, that’s my litmus test every day, and I go, “Well, does it ignite human potential? Does it fuck the rules?” You know, all the other things. “Ah, no, it doesn’t. Okay. Let’s not.” “Ah, yes, it does. Okay, we can try that.” I think that keeps things exciting, but it also keeps us having a very precise focus.
Emma F. Bell: Yes. And also, in the book, you then go on to talk about sustainability. And you talk about how you went to Italy. And I remember that actually, because that was only, what? Six months ago or eight months ago.
Lisa Messenger: I know. Actually, it was August last year.
Emma F. Bell: And, anyways, so when you were there you said that you wanted to test two things. Number one: is it sustainable? Number two: is it sustainable without me? And so, moving forward, as you move into the next iteration, which you can start to talk about now, if you can, how are you incorporating this sustainability element, which you discovered?
Lisa Messenger: Well that was tough. And I think a bigger and interesting conversation around that is I never meant to be a brand or a public or a recognized figure in any way. And it was from my very first editor’s letter, so five years, 52 issues ago, I wrote something like, “This is my dream, this is what I want to create. But I have no idea what I’m doing.” Which I didn’t, I’d never worked in media, I’d never worked for a magazine. And I think because I was so honest and vulnerable and authentic from the beginning, and then it really took off, the print mag was in 37 countries and blah blah blah. And so what happened was I kind of became this pinup child for, “She’s got no idea, but it works.”
And so along with that my brand kind of accidentally, which was never the intention, grew. So, when I looked at, “Is Collective sustainable without me?” It was unfortunately, a no because my personal brand was so intrinsically tied into the brand. So that can be a plus and it can be a minus. And in my case, in this particular incident, it was a bit of a downfall, because I think, like so many others, at some point, there are parts of that business that I just wanted someone else to run. I wanted someone else to take over. I was exhausted. I wanted to continue to create, but in other ways. And there are parts of the business that really should have been systemized and process-driven, and someone else should have just been running them by then. And unfortunately, because I was so intrinsically linked, that was almost impossible.
So, moving forward, I’m creating things that are much more sustainable, and as I mentioned, everything is project by project. There are specific teams working on each of the projects. Everyone has ownership over those. And I’m kind of the brand architect, I’m across the top of it all and I’m creating, which is what my sweet spot is. But I’m not more grittily entwined than I need to be. If that makes sense.
Emma F. Bell: And what do you think about personal brand? Because a lot of people, there are quite a lot of mentors who will say, “Be the personal brand, that’s what you want to be.” And then others who say, “Well, if you want to sell, or you want to do anything like that…”
Lisa Messenger: Well, there are two, probably equally balanced, arguments for both. And it’s very much an individual choice. Some people…I mean Samantha Wills closed this week. She started her jewelry line in 2004. It is her namesake. And she says she consciously decided not to sell, because, again, she’s a personal brand that’s so intrinsically entwined within her brand, that if she sold it and someone wasn’t doing exactly as she would, and she’s such a beautiful perfectionist in what she does, then it would be really hard when it’s her name to watch that turn into something completely different. So that’s a tricky one. But also an incredible brand, and something that works very well because she’s the face of it and so involved in it. And then there are other brands that you would never even know who the founder was, and you wouldn’t really care and they can have an exit, and it’s just not even a blip. They sell it and the next day it’s business as usual. So it very much depends.
But what I would say to people is: try to make a relatively conscious decision around do you want to be involved? Do you want to be the face of it? And if so, what are the driving motives behind that? Is it ego tripping, or is it actually that you personally want to make an impact on the world, and that’s the best way to do it? With everything, I just get people to get kind of quite gritty and personal, and just keep questioning. But why, but how? Why is this right for me? Because if it’s around ego, ego and, money…the very worst reason to do absolutely anything.
Emma F. Bell: Yes. And so going forward, what are you thinking? Are you thinking that you will leverage on the personal brand?
Lisa Messenger: At the moment, it kind of makes sense, for this reason: part of what I do moving forward is some of my own stuff, but then I’m working on some quite big tech players in the background, which won’t necessarily be attached to me. My personal brand though, it’s interesting, for example, the six books that I’ve now written, five of them, I really didn’t do PR around. I did nothing around them, I just kind of dropped them into the marketplace. And they’ve all done extraordinarily well, and I’m very grateful for the people who read them, but it’s sort of funny, I was so busy running Collective that, I talk about it in the book, whilst a lot of my personal brand brought in a lot of the money to boost Collective, I actually gave it no attention. So it was kind of an accidental by-product that actually then fed the Collective machine.
So I’m kind of like, “Oh well. There’s something in that.” You know, I could have quite a nice life, actually, just speaking and writing, which I love. I love speaking, because I freaking love connecting with people face-to-face as much as I possibly can, and that gives me the scale and the ability to be able to do that. And I love writing books, because, I find it so cathartic to get all of the crap out of my head, but also I know that everyone says, “Oh my gosh, you’re just like me.” Or, “Gosh, I went through that too.” So I really enjoy those things. I’m enjoying just taking a little time to actually go, “Oh wow. That’s what it feels like to do that when I’m not running a huge business as well.”
Emma F. Bell: Yeah. And when we’re running businesses or leveraging the personal brand, or whatever we’re doing in the marketplace, we’re are also dealing with incredible levels of, not disrespect, but sort of, I don’t know, you said, page 137, “After meeting with a big Aussie media company, who wooed us with talk of podcast, TV show, they then emailed, they didn’t even call.” And then they said something about, you know, “We might be able to fit you in somewhere,” or something.
Lisa Messenger: I’ll never forget it.
Emma F. Bell: How do people deal with that? Because they take it to heart and all of this.
Lisa Messenger: Well, what was interesting about that…so what we’re referring to is that last September, so September 2017, I engaged an M&A, so a merger and acquisition fund.
Emma F. Bell: And that’s fascinating, by the way, in the book. That whole M&A section, it’s really just…
Lisa Messenger: Yeah, and amazing to have gone through it, really.
Emma F. Bell: There’s actually a shit load in this book.
Lisa Messenger: Yeah. So I engaged them, because I thought, “I’ve never taken Collective to market.” I’d had a lot of people wanting to invest, from year one. I talk about someone wanted to put a million dollars in year one for 10% of the business, and I said no. Anyway, blah blah, all the reasoning around that is in the book. But, yeah, it was interesting, the M&A firm. So I engaged them to look at investments or a potential exit. And it taught me something amazing about myself because we really didn’t have a lot of interest. Because a lot of people still saw the print magazine as the main pillar of the business. When I say we didn’t have a lot of interest, again, personal brand, a lot of people were like, “Oh, we won’t invest or buy this, but whatever you do next, we’ll do.” And I was like, “Okay. Well, got to let go of stuff sometimes.”
And I was open to an exit if I was still going to be involved and if it was a sexy brand that was non media related. Like an Uber or a WeWork or an Airbnb, or something like that which would allow me to scale, or us to scale globally, but fit within the resources of an amazing company. Anyway. A very prominent Australian media brand made an offer, and it was quite a big offer. But they did, they said, “We will find a way to squash you into our…you know?” And I just had this vision of, “Oh God, I’m going to be in like a beige boardroom with no natural light, no animals, no plants. Everything I’m so opposed to. “We will squash you… we might squash you in somewhere.” And then the next thing was, “And we probably want you for about three years.” And I’m a very visual person, I just had this image of me withering and dying in a beige boardroom corner somewhere. And I was like, “You know what, I don’t even care if it’s 10 million, 20 million, whatever the figure is, no figure on the planet will have me squashing myself into a tiny closet somewhere.” And, in essence, therefore, squashing the entire brand, everything we stand for, and our community.
So that was a great lesson. I want people to really, really look at that and go, actually, everyone that’s listening, go away and I want you to go, “Someone offered me 10 mil to take my life out, away from me, and squash everything I believe in and every bit of passion that I have for three years, would I take it?” Because I think people would be like, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll take 10 mil.” But I’m like, “I know. I feel super strongly in every single cell in my body that I haven’t even got started yet.” So I’m like, “Why would I do that?” I’d rather walk away with nothing, having bled myself dry and actually stayed true to my passion and my vision, and that of the community.
Emma F. Bell: Yeah, and that will also determine how strong your drive is, and where your values really are. Because you happen to be an afterthought, for 10 million bucks. And then just not the courtesy to call either in your situation.
Lisa Messenger: Oh, and an email. That then also left a trail of someone else’s email.
Emma F. Bell: It was really interesting. Incredible. And then you also do this open letter to corporates, on page 166. In a nutshell, why do you think they didn’t cough up the money, really, when they appeared to be all over you and in love with the magazine? You talk about countless people, and then there’s just nothing in return and all of that.
Lisa Messenger: Yeah. So I think what you’re talking about here, and a lot of small businesses and any business will probably relate to this, and this is a hard pill to swallow. On the one hand, I was a part of and had created, along with my team, probably the most loved brand I’ve ever been a part of. Well, definitely, in my entire life. Like I’ve never been a part of something that people loved so much.
And I literally would have very, very senior people running at me, going, “Oh my God, Collective is my Bible, like it’s my everything.” And these are people with serious, they’re reporting billions of dollars of revenue or profit even. And I would say, “Oh, could you take an ad out, for 10 grand, or could you buy some subscriptions?” “Oh no, we don’t have any money.” And I also found that there were certain brands, some of which we showcased in, I don’t know, maybe 20 or so of the 52 issues of the print mag, like we continuously gave them love from a PR perspective, and then when we turned around and said, “Can you support us, we’re kind of bleeding.” They were like, “Oh no, no. We like free PR, thanks.” And I was kind of like, “Well if we’re not around, there won’t be anywhere to put your free PR, so you kind of got to come to the party a bit, and support us.” So that I found frustrating.
What I will say, and this is probably a good opportunity to say this now, what’s interesting is, sometimes breaking things gives you a real opportunity. And this is any crisis in life or any adversity or hardship you’re going through. You really see who sticks by you when they think there’s no upshot for them, and who actually disappears. And on the 29th of November this year, I will be bringing Collective back. The print magazine.
Emma F. Bell: Wow!
Lisa Messenger: Just a couple of issues per year. Sustainably. But bespoke issues. And it’ll be interesting to see all the incredible people who’ve stuck by me. And then there are a few rather large brands who dropped me like a hot cake, and I’m sure they’ll be swimming back rather quickly. And I may not be quite so rapid to give them space within our pages. But, yeah. So it’s been a fascinating experiment and look at human psychology and, you know, people who really stick there because they love you and they love what you stand for, and people who stick by you purely because of potentially what’s in it for them. Honestly, talking about it all, I just feel so grateful for so many lessons.
Emma F. Bell: And incredible lessons. Absolutely incredible. And so will that be like a once per year kind of…
Lisa Messenger: I’m not sure yet. The thing is, now that I’ve broken a lot of the brand, and I realized where we were hemorrhaging cash, it’s really funny, the print mag actually wasn’t really the issue. It was actually doing fine. It’s just that I had so many staff, and I think we were duplicating so many tasks. So we were grossly inefficient. And that’s no one’s fault except my own. Because I was the leader and I didn’t put the right systems and processes in place to capture that. But now that I’ve broken it all, I’m like, “Oh. You know, I love the print mag, the community loves the print mag, I can do it a couple of times a year.” So I’m not going to commit other than the 29th of November 2018, to other ones. But I’m sure, a couple of times a year would do. Some one-offs. Look, WH Smith, Coles, Woolies, 3,506 news agencies that we’re in, they’re all like, “Any time you want space, it’s yours.”
Emma F. Bell: Super supportive.
Lisa Messenger: It’s been extraordinary.
Emma F. Bell: That’s fantastic. And when you look at how your life looks, moving forward because on a personal front you’ve mentioned a couple of times in the magazine, number 52 in the letter and also in here, you talk about IVF and you talk about motherhood. So is that something that you’re interested in as well, moving forward in life? Like if you’re looking at, you say here, you got serious about how you wanted the rest of your life to look, your health and your ambitions. So as part of this new iteration, you also see motherhood on the horizon?
Lisa Messenger: Yeah. I do. I won’t go too much into that, because my current partner, who I’ve been with for two years…
Emma F. Bell: He sounds amazing, by the way.
Lisa Messenger: I know, I really know.
Emma F. Bell: We don’t see him.
Lisa Messenger: We don’t see him. But we’re very, very, happy. And that is all I will say about that.
Emma F. Bell: Yeah, awesome. I can just imagine people reading that and thinking, “What’s that about? I want to know.”
Lisa Messenger: Well actually, I mention that quickly because we talk about personal and public, and I think I’ve made the mistake in the past, and there are two books to document that, Life & Love, followed by Breakups & Breakthroughs, yeah. So I consciously choose now not to bring my partner into my very public life.
Emma F. Bell: Yeah, because people would have noticed.
Lisa Messenger: Because it’s nice having something a little bit secretive. He occasionally appears on Instagram, but he always…I’m like, “Head down.” And cover his face.
Emma F. Bell: Yeah, and I think that’s a really important lesson too, keeping certain things private and public. And it’s hard when we all get told we need to be all authentic and vulnerable all the time.
Lisa Messenger: It’s nice to keep a couple of things to ourselves, I think.
Emma F. Bell: And so, just in a final question, I think I’ll take one from the community because they had a few, I’ll go with this woman here, just so to end it off. Jackie from Miss Jackie’s Ballerinas…
Lisa Messenger: Oh, I love it.
Emma F. Bell: She says, “How do you let go, and switch off?” No matter how many things she puts in place, she still feels the need to be needed. And so how could she switch off and let go when business is so consuming, as we all know.
Lisa Messenger: It is. But, and this is actually what my next book will be about, because I’m always writing. So, I always decide on the topic of a book. It’s interesting, a lot of people become the guru of something and then they write a book about it, but I decide on the topic, and then I decide to step into living that life. So my next book is going to be about working from wherever. That is the life that I’ve consciously chosen to step into for the next year. And I really want to test it. So, Amy, my editor of the print mag, has been living in Kiama for the last two and a half years. So two hours south of Sydney. Yet she’s been running the entire print mag from there, and we have an extraordinary relationship.
So, when I broke Collective, I thought, “I really want to step into this.” And so all of my team now are completely decentralized. It’s the first time in 16 and a half, nearly 17 years, where I’ve not had a physical office. So we’re sitting at home on my couch now, doing this. And I have no full-time staff. So a lot of my team are still working for me, but they’re all freelance, and they all work from wherever they want to. We come together when we need to. Helen is sitting beside us at the moment, who does digital marketing, for example. And after this I have a meeting with Kate, my bookkeeper, and Jody, who looks after all my distribution.
So to answer the question, I’m very consciously now creating a life with more space for me. Because what I realized was, when I had 32 staff, all sitting in the same office, even though it was only maybe two of those people’s job to create a cover of the magazine for me, all 32 would be involved. That’s where a lot of the inefficiencies came from, and a lot of me feeling overwhelmed and things because everyone weighed in with an opinion. Everyone was involved. There was so much duplication. But now, because I’ve got people working, like my events and touring manager is based in Perth, my publicist…
Emma F. Bell: Georgie?
Lisa Messenger: Georgie.
Emma F. Bell: She’s fantastic. Hi, Georgie. You’re amazing. She’s great.
Lisa Messenger: She’s amazing. Helen is based in the southern suburbs of Sydney. Amy’s in Kiama. Who else? We’ve got so many people, there’s about 17 of us on the team now. Kate, who’s coming, stays in the Blue Mountains. So I’m kind of using specialists all over the place. And what’s beautiful about that is we come together, we’re really, really efficient, and it’s a great use of time. But then we all go and do our own thing it actually enables us to get on and work and get what we need to do, done. And also for the first time in 16 and a half years, I took myself to a movie at four o’clock in the afternoon the other day, just because I could. And I would have felt so guilty about that before. So what I will say? I say this about everything in life, is just learn to do life on your own terms, you know. If life is overwhelming, or it’s not structured in a way that you currently want, be unafraid to break what you’re currently doing, and hit the reset button. So that’s what I’m doing.
Emma F. Bell: Love that. That is so good. If people want to buy the book or know about all the adventures that are coming next, what do they do and where do they go?
Lisa Messenger: But you can also go to collectivehub.com or lisamessenger.com which we are currently in the process of relaunching.
Emma F Bell: Thank you so much Lisa for talking with us so generously today.