Lisa Messenger is on a mission to remind us all that anything is possible. Three years ago while running her own creative agency in Sydney, Lisa launched the Collective Hub magazine, a 176-page monthly now distributed in 37 countries globally. Built to inspire creative entrepreneurs with thoughtful storytelling and gorgeous design, the magazine has defied all odds and brought together a growing community of game changers, rule breakers, and thought leaders. Meanwhile last year, Lisa penned and published three books to tell us all exactly how she went from knowing nothing about magazines to taking a meeting with Anna Wintour. I had the pleasure of speaking with her recently to find out more about her incredible journey, and her philosophy on being a strong woman entrepreneur who dares to dream big.
Tell us a bit about your journey. What led you to founding the Collective Hub magazine?
I started my first business fourteen years ago. It’s been a massive entrepreneurial journey, and also a big personal journey. I worked on my self and on my business for so many years. I got to a point where I was really confident and had a huge self-belief. And I was kind of sick of myself! I thought—I want to give something back to the world! I looked at all the existing media out there at the time, and saw so much negativity, salacious gossip, and vacuous content, and I thought—I want something really inspirational, and aspirational, something that tells the story behind the story. Often when you read about someone amazing in a magazine, it’s all about the success, but you don’t hear, how did they get there? It makes it completely unattainable. I wanted to tell those stories in a way that felt relatable and achievable, so that’s how I started nearly three years ago.
I love that. So for all the women out there thinking the same about you—how did she do that?—what do you say? How did you create your success?
I truly believe with every cell in my body that we overcomplicate things. I believe that life and business can be quite simple. For me it has just literally been putting one foot in front of the other, and asking a lot of questions. I had no experience in magazines when I started Collective Hub. I had never worked for one, and I had three staff all under the age of 25—none of whom had ever worked for a magazine either.
People often ask me, how do you find your purpose or your passion? And I think it often comes from a pain point. When you’re feeling uncomfortable with something, that can be the best place to start. For me it was literally that simple—I was sick of the media out there. I thought, I’m an entrepreneur, and there’s nothing that tells me how to do it, nothing that inspires me—so I’m just going to create it!
I cannot emphasize enough how much I had no idea what I was doing. I had no money and nothing behind me really, and I was going into a business—print—people said was dead or dying. However when you truly believe in something passionately, it just starts to unfold! I literally started Googling: how would you start a magazine? It sounds so basic but that is as basic as it is.
Naiveté has honestly been my friend. For example, in Australia we have a big supermarket chain called Woolworth’s, and I thought—well magazines seem to be in there, so I’ll call them and find out how to get ours in. It worked, and afterwards people were asking me, how did you get in there? Magazines don’t get into big supermarkets for at least 7 years. Well luckily I didn’t know that. As long as you’re inquisitive and curious, with a big passion and self-belief, and you just keep asking questions, then doors keep opening. I don’t want people to think it’s unattainable, and that’s why I’ve written and published three books over the past 12 months, to share with people exactly how I’ve done it.
Amazing. When I first saw you on TV, I was struck by how open and generous you are. The title of the magazine seems so spot on—what is it really about for you? How did you come up with it?
Well I threw around so many different ideas, and ultimately went with “collective” because it felt all-encompassing of exactly what we stand for, which is that we’re all in this together, lifting each other higher. I don’t believe in competition, my whole philosophy is around supporting other people, seeing how we can work together, collaborate, and share audiences.
It is a generic name and interestingly now it seems every second person is calling something “colletive”—which is great, however we are looking to create a broader visual mark that allows people to identify us, especially as we’re starting to form more and more extensions, events and products etc. At this point being well-received in 37 countries, doing a complete rebrand would be a bit difficult. I bring it up because it’s something entrepreneurs should be aware of when launching—imagine you’re going to get so huge and think how you can protect and distinguish the brand, not to knock anyone out of the market place, but just so the difference is clear.
With everyone saying print is dead, why was it so important to you from the get-go that the magazine be printed?
Such a good question. The main reason is that I had no idea how to do anything digitally! I had been producing books for a few years, so I knew about print, and I understood the tactile value of something people can pick up, touch and feel. It seemed like the logical thing to do, even though it was so illogical. In Australia there are over five thousand print magazines—so we were going into this completely saturated market people said was dying, knowing nothing about it! And it is expensive. In Australia alone it costs me over 350k AUD every month just to print the magazine. It has been tough trying to fund that, and yet it has been the most valuable thing I have ever done.
The digital landscape is pretty cluttered, so I think if we had launched digitally we wouldn’t have had the same impact. We were able to partner with like-minded creative and entrepreneurial events, and put a magazine on the seat of everyone who attended. Because people could touch it and feel it, that added legitimacy. It was something they could immediately relate to. It’s become one of our strongest, most tangible selling points and marketing tools. However at the moment our print magazine is sitting at around 20% of our overall offering, and in the next 6-12 months that will drop to 10%. So we’ll always make more money digitally and have a far greater reach, however the print magazine will remain an imperative of our community building piece.
Looking at your books and the content you’ve put out, we hear a lot of phrases like: Anything is possible, be daring, be a rebel, create a movement, make an impact. We’d love to hear more about your working philosophy behind these phrases as a strong woman entrepreneur.
Every single day I’m pushing the limits to the absolute edge. My accountant, who has been with a firm for 24 years said to me, “I’ve worked with a lot of risk takers but I’ve never seen anything like this.” I use the phrase a lot—“Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” When we’re in our comfort zone not a lot happens! After 10 years of therapy and personal development, having various businesses across various industries, I knew what my limits were and I knew I could push them pretty hard.
I don’t believe we can make a change in the world by being a wallflower or not having a voice. By nature I’m actually an introvert, much happier at home with my dog on the couch. I like being behind-the-scenes, but these days I’m not behind-the-scenes at all. Confidence doesn’t come naturally to me, but I’ve decided I’m strong enough to have a big place in the world. To be able to empower others and help them along on their journeys, I had to step into that. You have to push yourself to do it. Every day I love as much as I hate. Every day is freaking hard, every hour is freaking hard, but also every hour is extraordinarily exciting and I’m so fulfilled.
I think you might officially be my soul sister! Being in the magazine business, we’re curious—how far out do you plan your content?
Pretty close in actually. We have so much content across so many platforms now. In each physical print issue, we do between 50-60 original stories from scratch. We’re continuously working on it and often it’s pretty close to the wire. There have been three issues where I decided on the cover three days before we went to print. And one where I changed the cover after the proofs came back!
As we’re growing we are becoming more systemized and process-driven, but I love that we can be nimble and flexible and move quickly—I love the craziness of being able to throw things in. Most print magazines will conduct interviews months in advance and then when they finally come out you’re like, oh my god, so much has changed. So it’s nice to keep it fresh and close to the deadline.
We can totally relate—your story is going to be incredibly fresh!I have to ask about your meeting with Anna Wintour. I was so happy to see this for you and I’m also completely dying to know the details. What’s the scoop?
I actually have the email hanging directly above my desk—I’m looking at it right now. What happened is the print magazine has been in the US since launch, and our footprint keeps increasing (we’re in all Barnes & Noble stores and Hudson News). So I managed to secure a meeting with the then-CEO, now Chairman of Condé Nast, which was amazing to start. Then just as I was about to get on a plane to fly to NY at 6am in Australia, I saw an e-mail with the subject line “From the Office of Anna Wintour,” saying “Anna would love to meet you when you’re in New York, is it possible you can make some time?” And I’m like, uh yes—I think I could fit that into my schedule.
Before I went I had posted about it on social media and the question that came back from everyone was, “what are you going to wear!?” And I thought, I really don’t care! So many people get caught up overthinking, what will I wear, this person’s so much better than me, so much more accomplished. But I just had to screw my head on and remember—this is a serious business meeting. And it was an amazing meeting! She’s an extraordinary woman. We’ll see what happens and I shall keep you posted but all I can say is I will be spending a lot more time in the US this year.
Beautiful. So now that the magazine is here and it’s larger than life, what does the next era look like for you?
It’s very big. Before I launched the magazine I didn’t tell anyone about it! My three staff knew, and we went out and pre-pitched to partners. All I kept saying to my mum was, “I’m doing something and it’s going to be really big.” I had a sense that it would be, and I have the intuition now that the next phase is going to be so off-the-freaking-charts big I can’t even explain it. We’re diversifying into a number of other platforms, with a number of other deliverables. Ultimately everything is about empowering people to be the best versions of themselves.
So for the women entrepreneurs reading this right now, what advice can you leave us with?
Fail fast—that’s one of my biggest things. Be unafraid to just knock something on the head really quickly. And have an unwavering, insatiable self-belief. Things will hit you so freaking hard, and if you don’t have the self-belief you’ll get knocked over and curl up into a ball. So keep going!
And one of the most important things I can say is that the actual platform is irrelevant. Get really clear on what your vision is, your values, and your belief system. For me my vision until the day I die is unwavering—it is to be an entrepreneur for entrepreneurs, living my life out loud and showing that anything is possible. That will never change. But as for the delivery mechanism—it can be anything. So one of my strongest lessons to everyone is get clear on what your overarching vision is, and be able to move and morph and pivot so that you can deliver what people want in the way that they want it.
Learn To Live Out Loud
Want to know more about how Lisa created the life of her dreams? Pick up her latest tell-all books for some major inspiration.
Daring & Disruptive
Life & Love
Money & Mindfulness
For more from Lisa Messenger & the Collective Hub, visit: collectivehub