We’re All Ears: How Co-Founder Of Mags Creative, Hannah Russell, Bootstrapped Her Business To Audio Success

The Stack listened in to hear how Hannah Russell built her company with no external investors and how having a one-year-old has helped establish boundaries

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By Hannah Connolly

12 October 2021

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ast year, 15.6 million tuned in to podcasts across the UK - a growth of over 9 million from the year before. In fact, over 50% of UK adults have listened to at least one podcast and as we grow more screen fatigued after so much time spent indoors, the demand for top quality podcast content only continues to grow.

The Stack was all ears when learning how Hannah Rusell - alongside her sister Faith - built their business through trust in their vision, authenticity and creativity. Here is the journey in her own words as well as some advice:

Finding The Right Channel

I (Hannah) had a background in tech start-ups and my sister had a background in TV, press and talent - we started in a slightly different guise than what you see today.

We were making all types of content at first, video content and social assets, we were this jack-of-all-trades marketing agency. We realised very very quickly that it was a really difficult market and actually audio was the route for us.

We were both really screen fatigued and I had suffered from a burnout after selling my last business and Faith was up to her eyeballs in screen time. Audio, felt at the time, three years ago, like a breath of fresh air. This revolutionary way for people to genuinely listen to each other and since then we have focused the business solely on audio and podcast and we haven't looked back.

Mags Creative is now a leading podcast company here in the UK and we make shows that reach millions of ears every month and we do that in a couple of different ways. One way is we partner with brands to tell their stories in audio. We work with the likes of Facebook, Google and Puffin children's books and create really innovative and interesting podcasts that people actually want to listen to but also happen to be branded content. We also work with commissioners, so we have a show that is exclusively available on Spotify with Munroe Bergdorf and we also have a show that is exclusively available on Amazon with Ovi Soko.

We also make and produce our own shows, so we have Mags Creative Originals such as Cast Away with Laura Whitmore. Basically we: concept, develop, produce, distribute, market and grow each podcast.

Bootstrapping A Business To Success

We are now a full-time team of ten. We have some amazing clients and we have all bootstrapped to get to this point, we have taken no external investment and we have grown the business organically over the years.

I feel very strongly that the profile of businesses that make money needs to be raised. I think there is a huge reason for people to raise capital whereby, you have a vision that needs capital to be realised and you know there is this ambitious goal here or an ambitious problem that can be solved. I see that and I think that way is served in multiple ways.

Raising money is often a marker of success and so lots of people want to do it because you get in tech crunch or wherever you feel validated by and that is great but it really doesn't mean that business is successful yet. It means they have convinced people to raise some money and that is amazing but it is one step and it can mean very little about a lot of the rest of the business.

What is less sexy, less high profile is bootstrapping. Ultimately bootstrapping means building a business that typically makes more money that it spends. It is not a revolutionary idea, but it is sustainable. For me, I think that sustainability in all of its forms is a really interesting focus for us as a business.

Raising capital is about excess, it is about raising more money than what you need in that particular moment, which there is nothing wrong with but I I think there is something very empowering and exciting about doing something sustainably. Maybe it requires a little more patience sometimes but it builds something that you know has really strong legs because you are doing it day by day. It can be tougher, you are making some very difficult decisions about hiring for example because you don't have any sort of flexibility. You are really relying on the income that you have and the buffer that you have but I think this way of doing things really deserves a bigger platform. I am really passionate about that.

Authenticity In Collaboration

Every starting point for us when we are working with a brand is: what is your unique reason to exist in the podcast space? Because yes, it is really cool to make a podcast at the moment and yes, that is great business for us. But if we churn out really bad shows, we are not going to be a business in one year, three years or five years from now.

That reason to exist in this space for a brand or an individual is really important. It does come down to authenticity. It does come down to understanding the landscape. What else is out there if your idea is already being served by someone else and how can we make it different? How can we make it better?

I think podcasts ask a lot of people because it is not scrolling culture, it's not a three second video, it is not whatever. It is often 30-40 minutes of people's time and we take that very seriously. Podcasts are really like the creme-de-la-creme of content.

You know if you can really build an audience you are retaining people's attention, you are getting them to come back time and time again. So the content has to be good; you can't just churn out lackluster reels and get loads of likes - it sort of matters more than anywhere else where you find content.

This is a real gift you know - you are giving a podcast company your time and your enthusiasm and I think podcasters can't take that lightly, it is a real responsibility.

Listening Out For The Future

Ultimately making really great content is always the goal.

We are in the business because we make really great shows, we engage people, we build audiences and listenerships. The vision for us is to really embrace everything that audio can be. Audio communication is a huge part of the next five years of tech, it is going to be about people really starting to suffer from screen fatigue. Particularly as we are all working from home or have been for a long time so the rise of audio content in all of its forms, podcast and beyond is really really interesting for us.

Also, for us, being a really brilliant place to work is very important, finding, hiring and retaining the best talent always. We work with some incredible people in our team and I couldn’t speak more highly of them. That is an ongoing big vision focus for us, always being an excellent place to work and attracting people who are super passionate, super hard working and really value the vision and the ideas that we are building at Mags Creative

Managing Your Time When You Manage Your Business

Managing my time is a constant learning curve as a business owner for me. I had a baby a year ago and that has been the best time management tool I have ever found because I know I have essentially a pretty hard cut off at about half five every day. I do bedtime and bathtime with her and then she goes to sleep at 7. Sometimes I go back to work in the evening but that half 5 is a hard stop. I want to spend an hour and a half with her and then yes if it bleeds into the evening you are sort of restarting again. Whereas sometimes if you don't have that hard stop you just sort of keep trickling into the evening and so that is something that has changed the most.

Also having a really good team helps with time management. Being able to know what needs you involved and actually what doesn't and being a bit brutal about that. I think I have had to be more okay with saying do you need me for this whole meeting? If you don't, great I am fine with that, I am just stepping back as and when I can.

I live by my diary so if I put a walk in there at whatever time then I will really try to do that and stick to it, but I do struggle. It is a constant struggle to get away from the laptop and prioritise reading a book that is probably going to spark an idea but doesn't feel like work. Or to go for a walk with a friend and have a conversation that ostensibly has nothing to do with the business but might give me a new idea for a vertical we need to look at. Or a podcast that they have listened to that I haven't listened to yet.

Comparison Is Your Biggest Waste Of Time

I still give this piece of advice to myself all the time, but comparison is the thief of joy. I just compared myself to everyone else non-stop when we first started our business and it just took away so much of the fun.

I really believed that everyone else had all the answers and that everyone else was smashing it and there was this whole club that I wasn't a part of that was this instant-success.

It is just so pointless. There are some “negative” emotions that I can lean into, you know a bit of anger, a bit of fire in my belly, maybe I can get something from that but comparison drains you. It makes you into a lesser version of yourself and lesser than the thing you are comparing to actually. It is such a useless feeling/thought. I have to remove it.

So I had to really tell myself to stay in your own lane, focus on what you are doing and be really confident about your business. You are the expert in your own business, no one can really tell you the answers. Stop looking over the fence and comparing yourself to other people.

The Short Stack

From bootstrapping to managing your time Co-Founder of Mags Creative Hannah Russell shares with The Stack how she made her podcast and audio content creating company thrive.

By Hannah Connolly

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