Daring & Disruptive

This week I will have the absolute privilege and pleasure to interview the wonderful Lisa Messenger at her very special event: In Conversation with Lisa Messenger. Today’s post is part in readiness for that event; but also to provide a shining example on someone who was not given a silver spoon but has been an extraordinary disruptor her whole life.

From the low benchmark of ‘Veggie English’ at a school in Coolah (910 people in the entire town), to a successful author (14 books and counting). From a script reading, paralyzed, petrified public speaker (who once was not invited back to her own National breakfast keynote series) to one of Australia’s most sought out keynotes. From a successful intrapreneur within corporate (sponsorship, conference & event management etc.); to going solo & setting up the Messenger Group (an integrated, sponsor hungry, marketing services firm), in the midst of 9/11. From setting up a book publishing company on the back of writing her first book in 2004, “Happiness Is…” (leading to 400+ titles for other entrepreneurs) to setting up a global magazine business (Collective Hub is now in over 37 countries) with no print experience in an industry that people said was either dead or dying.

The Collective Hub has since grown into an international multimedia business and lifestyle platform with multiple verticals across print, digital, events and, more recently, co-working spaces – all of which serve to ignite human potential. Amongst the many books that Lisa has written, we will also be delving into her latest book PURPOSE. Lisa is a true disruptor and more importantly a beautiful soul.

Lisa’s secrets:

1. Know Your Why

Lisa’s lifestyle is purposefully big. It is not an accident. It is designed for purpose. Having a ‘why’. As the former US President John F Kennedy once said: “Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” When it comes to purpose, it’s important to consider your values as things can quickly deteriorate if you don’t. I explored this theme with a previous blog xxx

The two times that Lisa has felt totally aligned was when she wrote her first book (ironically when initially very unhappy) and when she launched The Collective (nearly a decade apart). After ‘ten years of therapy’, Lisa’s purpose is to ignite human potential and she does this by being an entrepreneur for entrepreneurs. Every decision, every action must resonate with this purpose. Accordingly, Lisa has built a community of like-minded people who are clever, informed, creative and world changing. It has led to a magazine that is sold in 37 countries (and half a million copies per month). Knowing intimately her ‘why’ has meant that Lisa has been able to morph, adapt, pivot and change numerous times.

Questions to ask (yourself and the outside world):

  • Why do you want to be daring and disruptive?
  • What are you passionate about right now?
  • What is the last thing you think about before you fall asleep?
  • What is the first thing you think about when you wake up?
  • If money were no object, how would you love to spend every day?

2.Fail Fast

“Allow people to refute you, but never allow them to dismiss you. Look at failure as education.” Lisa maintains that you need to move quickly, adapt, think on your feet, be proactive and fail fast. “If I am going to fail, then I want to do it well – fast and with minimum risk.” This is in difference to the traditional mindset that writes laborious business plans, a zillion focus groups, with every conceivable box ticked. To take that approach there is a huge investment of time, resources and money required, and you have to go deep into the project’s lifestyle before you even know if someone is going to buy what you are selling. And by the time you launch, you’ve perfected your idea to within an inch of its life, so when the market gives you feedback it’s often too late to change, move and adapt.

With The Collective magazine, Lisa didn’t do any business plans and only a little market research. Once she confirmed there was nothing like it, Lisa kicked into high gear and began taking action towards making the magazine a reality. As Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg says: “The biggest risk is not taking any risk…In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”

Questions to ask (yourself and the outside world):

  • What is your idea and the words around it?
  • Is there anything like your idea already out there?

3. Leverage it All

Lisa is all about creating and facilitating value exchange (her favorite two words). Money is not the only currency. This unique way of building connection was born from her days working for a sponsorship agency where Lisa had to broker deals (where strategic alliances and ‘non monetary’ deals were just as important as money). In Lisa’s view, negotiating beneficial value exchanges is at the core of every successful enterprise.

These partnerships are particularly relevant for businesses and start up that don’t have resources of its competitors. As a result, they simply must do more with less. It means that they are able to play in the same field, but a different game. It means that at times, you need to become a master of leverage, which is simply the art of doing more with less (“you scratch my back, I will scratch….”). Rather than have thousands of touch points, it makes sense to have one, where possible.

Saying that, value exchange is not just limited to start ups. One of the best ‘brand partnerships’ was when Coke Zero partnered with James Cameron’s film Avatar. No money was exchanged yet enormous value was exchanged. Coke benefitted from the association with ‘augmented reality’ and a new way for its target market to interact. Avatar received serious word of mouth prior to release.

In Lisa’s world, value exchange can be brand alignment, media opportunities, exposure, access to customers, access to data, in-kind support and so forth. The value comes from the benefit that both parties can derive. Within her book business, Lisa pre-sold titles in the thousands to corporates and organisations who were looking for a product to align with, or who simply wanted a quality product they could give away to clients, customers and staff – something more meaningful than a hat or a branded stress ball. As for the magazine, its success – and the reason for its rapid global expansion – has been built on a plethora of deals structured in just about every way possible, always with like-minded, non -competing parties. Lessons learnt in publishing, leveraged for Lisa’s foray into magazines. And for being platform agnostic.

Questions to ask (yourself and the outside world):

  • What is the business model for your Big Idea? How does this com- pare to similar products in your industry?
  • Are there other revenue streams or other sales approaches that could be applied to your new business?
  • Who sets your pricing? How much pricing elasticity can your business model handle? How important is competitive pricing?
  • What marketing channels already exist for your target audience? Can you leverage someone else’s sales channel or sales force?
  • Have any of your competitors tried a different business model in the past?
  • Does your business model capture the most value from your product?

4. Disrupt

“You are the person who jumps off a cliff and learns to fly on the way down.” Whilst this shouldn’t be confused with someone who is reckless, it is an apt phrase to describe disruptors such as Lisa. A ‘leap first, think later’ attitude can also complement one that is a careful planner and strategic as it is all about taking calculated risks.

A disruptor can also be one who thrives in corporate. The rise of the ‘intrapreneur’ is a direct response to individuals who have the desire to upstart the status quo and have the resources of ‘big brother’ to bring it to fruition. More so, savvy companies are providing the environment for these revolutionaries to flourish.

Disruptors are successful because they are not afraid of change. They are not so embedded in an industry that they can only see one way of doing things. They are forward thinking and open-minded and often start moving well before they fully understand the market they’re entering or trying to change. When you’ve been in an industry for a while, it’s easy to think you know it all, have seen it all and have tried it all. Disruptors disagree. There’s always another way, another approach, something untried may just work.

Lisa has been a disruptor in the book publishing industry (authors actually make money) and most definitely in the magazine space (where she, nor her staff had any previous experience). In both instances, she entered an age-old industry (her preference), flipped it on its head and implemented a plan that is what is totally counterintuitive to what is expected. This is where most entrepreneurs thrive: looking at industries that are stuffy, struggling, conservative or old hat and throwing a dose of business mojo their way. Kickstarter, Spotify and Airbnb are just three emerging tech titans who have approached business in the same way.

They are as Lisa’s mentor Richard Branson says, the ones who “passionately believe it is possible to change the industry, to turn it on its head, to make sure that it will never be the same again.”

Questions to ask (yourself and the outside world):

  • Who do you admire for their daring ability? (family, friend, business)
  • If you could shake up one industry what would it be?
  • How could you disrupt the status quo at work?

So how do these learnings fit into our 6D disruption model

a) Dare

“Do not dare, not to dare” – C.S Lewis

Being a disruptor is simply a state of mind. It is the ability to look for opportunity in every obstacle, to respond to every setback as a new beginning. It is being in the silver-lining business. Every successful person who has skillfully transformed a business or social organization started with a personal problem and then noticed how many other people shared the same problem. What sets disruptors apart from other people who merely experience problems are that disruptors see themselves and their worlds differently. That unique viewpoint enables them to become agents of change—and to reap the rewards. Disruption isn’t about what happens to you; it’s about how you respond to what happens to you.

The one question Lisa is asked more than most is “how did you do it?” How do you launch a business in a completely new industry? How do you forge ahead when others are retreating? How do you find a ‘yes’ when everyone is saying ‘no’?

To succeed in business – hell, to succeed in anything in life – you must have unwavering, insatiable, tenacious self-belief. You have to be able to back yourself in; to harbor that kind of unbridled passion for winning that will stop at nothing until you reach your goals.

What stops us in our tracks is fear. Fear of succeeding. Fear of failure. Fear is technically, by definition, an “unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain or harm”. For Lisa, unpleasant does not cut it: “horrific, gut wrenching, sickening, crippling is more like it.” Fear in business is commonplace.

The brain is a truly powerful thing and if we let it, we can ‘think’ and ‘project’ fear until it paralyses us. But if that is the case, then surely we can ‘think’ and ‘dare’ the opposite? As Brene Brown once told Oprah: “We’re all afraid. We just have to get to the point where we understand it doesn’t mean we cant be brave.”

Some of the best ideas come from experiencing a pain point, or seeing a problem for yourself or others that needs a solution. The easiest and most simple thing to do is to jump into the shoes of the customer and genuinely put yourself in their position, by thinking, “What do I need?”

 Committing your aspirations, priorities, resources, and deadlines to paper gives you a personal business plan to measure your progress against. The difference between successful and unsuccessful people is that successful ones know that the most unprofitable thing ever manufactured is an excuse.

Questions to ask (yourself and the outside world):

  • What am I great at? What am I terrible at? What am I passionate about?
  • What do I value?
  • What am I currently known for?
  • What are my hidden talents?
  • How would my friends / boss / colleagues describe me?
  • What is my ideal day? (and worst?)
  • What achievements do I look back on with pride?

b) Decide

This stage explores the ways disruptors think about their professional selves and how they approach the business world, pinpointing opportunities for disruption to help build their careers. One can either reside in their current state, upset the status quo in Corporate (intrapreneur) or in a start up (entrepreneur)

Lisa believes that we create our own sixth sense, based on our ability to draw on all the pockets of information we have stored inside our brains and hearts to make clever, intuitive decisions at every turn.

Lisa did not ‘decide’ to get into publishing. After her first book ‘Happiness Is….’ She was flooded with requests from others to publish their books. And seeing a huge gap in the custom-publishing market, Lisa decided to throw herself into an antiquated industry to shake it up.

Questions to ask (yourself and the outside world):

  • Describe yourself in one sentence as if you were a brand.
  • Make a list of five people you would like to emulate in your career.
  • What is the biggest challenge facing your company or your industry?
  • What new competition is threatening your company?
  • How have new competitors stolen market share or challenged your company’s products?
  • What would be the one thing your company could do differently that would most positively impact its future?
  • Who in your company would gain the most from implementing your ideas for disruption?

c) Design

As I searched for work, a valued mentor who had made his living in lingerie gave me a piece of advice that continues to serve me well all these years later: “Be the best at what you do,” he said, “or the only one doing it.” Everyone will tell you that uniqueness and authenticity are two of the most important traits in business. But when you are coming straight out of university, without a work history or specific skill set, “unique” doesn’t translate to valuable or employable.”

The key to finding a big idea is first finding a problem in need of a solution. Every disruptive idea makes use of new technology to solve a big problem. The next step is to kill your big idea. If you can find a problem that will derail an idea, so will the marketplace. The quicker you can eliminate the business roadkill, the more capital you will have left to focus on the one idea that can’t be killed. I learned later in my career that the faster you can kill the bad ideas, the quicker you can pivot to the successful one. “Speed to fail” should be every entrepreneur’s motto. When you finally find the one idea that can’t be killed, go with it.

Lisa has been known to run her business on 95 per cent gut feel and five per cent “other”. She believes that as an entrepreneur you build up a very healthy functioning gut instinct by being an insatiable learner who pulls together every morsel of information from everything experienced.

Questions to ask:

  • Start looking for problems. Over the course of one month, write down three things that can be improved in your world every day. They can be big or small; personal or global.
  • Review your ninety problems. Which are you most passionate about? Which problems do you believe bother the most people? Which problems have the least viable available solution?
  • Select the three problems for which you would most like to find a solution.

d) Develop

“Commitment unlocks the doors of imagination, allows vision, and gives us the “right stuff” to turn our dreams into reality.”

—James Womack

In the twenty-first century, the accelerating pace of advancement in technology continues to disrupt value chains that were once perceived to be as permanent and unmalleable as a diamond. With each disruption, wealth shifts from the entrenched to the innovator. To the disruptor, every threat to the status quo is an opportunity in disguise. Deconstruct the problem and solve for the new opportunity.

Whilst The Collective has its main income from print magazines, Lisa has diversified total income across 18 different revenue streams.

Distribution has been a channel where unique development has taken place. With the Collective magazine Lisa thought she would pre-sell copies to corporates, as per the book model and that newsstand sales would compromise three to five per cent of the market. It wasn’t until Lisa met the distributors that she realized how excited they were for other options.

Distribution channels are multi-layered and complex. Historically there was an over reliance on advertising dollars. Traditionally, magazine revenue streams are comprised of primarily advertising, newsstand sales and subscriptions. Advertising is often the biggest slice of the pie. But Lisa relied on past experience, brought lessons from other industries and tried different revenue streams like pre-selling to corporates or coming up with multi-faceted partnerships that brought together a range of saleable units, where the magazine was just one component. The Collective then launched into 11 countries immediately, instead of starting out small and slow.

Questions to ask:

  • What is the best business model for pricing and consuming your service offering? Is your target audience best suited for subscription, rental, sales, or an ad supported model?
  • How can you compete or defend against the major players in distribution today?
  • What data can you gather to better target successful prospective consumers and reduce your customer acquisition costs or customer churn?
  • Is your audience using computers or mobile devices to consume content? Where should you first spend your development dollars?
  • Have you found an unexploited niche for disrupting distribution?

e) Do

The Seven Steps to DO (i.e. the accelerants that will move you along the curve)

  1. Take the Right Risks
  2. Play to Your Distinctive Strengths
  3. Embrace Constraints
  4. Battle Entitlement
  5. Step Back to Grow
  6. Give Failure its Due
  7. Be Discovery Driven

When Lisa started the Collective magazine she approached over 100 corporate head honchos with marketing materials created for something that didn’t exist (she called it vapourware). Not only did Lisa think she was on to a killer idea but more importantly an epic mission.

So how do we get self-belief embedded deep into our souls, into the very marrow of our bones? Because saying we need it is one thing, but building it is an entirely another matter.

It’s almost as if you subconsciously build a file of intelligence on yourself that proves you’re capable and clever, then your gut instinct can be trusted and your ideas can stick.

Questions to ask:

  • If you are not meeting your projections, is the cause internal, external or both?
  • What would it take to achieve the original plan?
  • Do you have the financial and personnel resources to stick with the plan?
  • What unexpected obstacles did your business face?
  • What new opportunity do those obstacles provide for you or your competition?
  • What are your actual customers telling you? How does the data differ from your initial assumptions?

f) Dream

Do I dare? Do I dare?

“Do I dare to disturb the universe”? T.S Elliot

Dreaming is an inalienable right. We knew this as children. We believed we could be or do anything we imagined. Astronaut, Egyptologist, prima ballerina, mother of a dozen children, President of the United States—sure, why not? Unfortunately, as adults we often put our dearest dreams away, as life hands us unexpected challenges or circumstances and the harsh realities of economic necessity whittle away at our energy and our hopes. Dreaming truly becomes a dare.

On a Moroccan holiday in 2007, Lisa sat and scribbled down initial ideas (read a sketchy business plan) for a series of magazines she could develop. This was years before she started The Collective, which was clearly an idea that had been bubbling away for some time. “There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world” says Victor Hugo “and that is an idea whose time has come”. Lisa launched her magazine empire six years post but the seeds were well and truly planted. What is important to note is that The Collective is completely different beast to the one conceived in Morocco and that is testament to the power of simmering and momentum.

A year after Morocco, Lisa was extremely busy with her book business, which was really thriving, she decided to register a business name around magazines. Two years after that, Lisa bought a book entitled, “How to start a Magazine”. Clearly while the idea came to fruition in 2013, the ‘dream’ was bubbling through these three events and had been subconsciously brewing for a while. That in a nutshell, is the magazine’s journey: from the speck of a dream on a rooftop in Marrakesh many years ago, to now being a global force, distributed in over 30 countries and growing.

Dreamers see ideas in everyone and everything. As entrepreneurs, we must let ourselves dream – even if everyone else around us (sane or otherwise), think they are ridiculous, too simple, too complex, or too boring, that we are too young or too old to achieve them and on and on it goes. Spend some time teaching yourself to dream with your eyes open, even in the room you are sitting in right now. There will be hundreds of opportunities for inspiration if you look hard enough.

When it comes to ideas, you also need to give yourself permission to dream big. Really big. Get your idea and make it as big as you possibly can in your mind, not worrying about money. That’s one of the secrets to really taking the lid off the pot, you need to absolutely remove the ‘lack of money’ barrier from your head if you want to truly create a game-changing, market disrupting idea. Instead, you must completely go into the mindset of “If I had all the money in the world, how would I do it?” This way, you can get really clear on where you want to go – and once you get excite about that, more often than not, the money has a way of coming.

Always go the big, visionary, dreamy picture first, and then work back to figure out how you are going to make it happen. By approaching it this way, it removes all barriers and eliminates concerns about the infrastructure you’ll need. That’s where you should be taking it and that’s where you need to let your mind wander.

Lisa is an entrepreneur for entrepreneurs who isn’t afraid to let herself dream, and more importantly, do.

Questions to ask (yourself and the outside world):

  • If money was no object, what problem would you like to solve?
  • How would your dream improve someone else’s life?
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