With a hemorrhaging business, the sudden death of her father and the prospect of making much of her team redundant, founder of The Collective Hub magazine, Lisa Messenger knows what it’s like to break daringly, pivot resiliently and grow gracefully.
March 2018 saw the 52nd and final issue of the magazine go to print since its inception in 2001, marking the end of an era, but more importantly the start of a whole new journey for the entrepreneur who has a whole new appreciation for breaking a business in order to pivot and grow.
“I had very real data in front of me that was saying I had put on $700,000 of new hires, and we’d only returned $100,000 of money. I was investing in people and not seeing the returns. I was hiring sometimes eight people at once thinking, hopefully this will work. And it didn’t,” Lisa confesses.
But The Messenger Group CEO was focused on fixing her business despite the magazine not returning anywhere near the financial gains it required to stay afloat.
“At the beginning it’s like denial and you just keep hustling and thinking, this is my baby this is my everything and I’m going to do what it takes. So I sold two properties and used that as bridging finance to prop up the business.
“I made $1.3 million from selling those two properties and that got eaten up in about 11 months.”
After selling two properties with the intention to repay herself, (which never happened), the warning signs couldn’t be ignored any longer.
“I’m out there hustling my a*se off trying to do partnership deals, advertising deals and everything else. I put in a co-working space and other different things to diversify and create additional revenue streams but I wore myself too thin and things started to give,” Lisa says.
In mid 2017 Lisa enlisted an extraordinary financial adviser to dissect the business and give her some targets to help turn things around.
“Then he wanted me to take a three week holiday for two reasons, one – I needed it, and two, to see if The Collective Hub was sustainable, and if it was sustainable without me. After the three week holiday he told me it was definitely sustainable… but not without me,” she said.
Now feeling overwhelmed, Lisa engaged a mergers and acquisitions firm and took the magazine to market to get investment or potentially exit.
“One very big Australian media business wanted to buy it for a relative amount of money, but wanted me to stay on for three years and ‘we’ll find somewhere to squash you in the corner.’
Unsurprisingly, neither the corner nor the money were appealing options for the vibrant game-changing CEO.
Lisa admits that it was time to face facts. It was time to break her business, pivot and grow.
“When you start as an entrepreneur, you’re so excited and passionate. You want to change the world, break things, disrupt, and that’s exciting and juicy. About three years in it becomes about operations, systems, processes, HR, IT and finance and that’s not my sweet spot. Suddenly I felt like I was drowning, I was in survival mode, and that’s not a fun place to be.”
It was time to slowly wind down the mag.
But if that wasn’t enough to deal with, Lisa was stopped in her tracks when she got a call that her father had suddenly died of a heart attack.
“So now I was dealing with my hemorrhaging business, I was executor of my dad’s estate and dealing with his lawyers, and probate. I also suddenly inherited Dad’s Marine insurance business. He’d been there on the Friday and then not there on Monday. So now I had his business and all his staff to care take also,” she says while taking in a deep breath.
“There were people pulling me in all directions, and I was thinking, could this get any frickin’ worse right now? Aghh! I just put one foot in front of the other,” she says.
Lisa’s entrepreneur boyfriend was a huge support, and she recognises that leaning on people during that tough time was key.
“The thing is, we can’t do it alone and it’s about surrounding ourselves with people that can help when things get tough,” she says, adding that her boyfriend ended up selling her father’s business for her.
But there was no time to stop for Lisa, who knew she had to get her team up to speed with the imminent changes
“So I was literally explaining to my team, this is the bottom line, this is what is going on. This is dollars coming in and this is how much it costs to run the company. For me, it was about humanizing everything, being authentic and open. I became very transparent and that was really important,” she said.
“In 16 years I’d never made anyone redundant and suddenly I had to make a lot of my team redundant. I love people, I’m friends with all my team, so that was very difficult.
“I think one of the biggest things is to very quickly remove your ego. Sometimes CEO’s withdraw when things get tough but I actually gave my team more information. Once I saw the crunch happening we had charts all over the walls, the whole team became accountable and everything was more KPI driven.”
Lisa’s self management strategies were essential to continue to show up as the best person she could be during this difficult time.
“It became a lot about routines and rituals. When you’re in that position you actually have to look after yourself. There were a lot of times when I would just go home and cry. You don’t feel like exercising or eating well but by exercising and nourishing myself, it was a) a way to get out of my head, and b) a way to ground myself in really difficult times.”
And the day finally came when the last issue went to print.
“I went through various iterations of grieving during that 18 months but I feel good now. By the time the last issue came out I was okay with it. That was the first time our community saw it (the announcement), and it’d be a shock to people.”
Lisa was frank about the benefits of making this call and the upsides of choosing to break, pivot and grow.
“Now I’m out on the other side, finally I’m now equipped with the smarts to come back in a sustainable way, I don’t need to have the answers straight away, I can surrender and detach from the outcome and seek and educate myself before I step into the next big iteration. Now I just want to sit with it for a while and let it percolate. My next iteration will be much stronger and sustainable because I’ve been through that journey.”
The determined business woman says her purpose is her driver to make a strong come back.
“The Collective Hub brand stands to ignite human potential. As long as we’re igniting human potential, inspiring people to be the best version of themselves, it doesn’t matter what the delivery mechanism is.
But the big lesson for Lisa is learning to break things.
“Freedom and choice, time and space are the upsides of breaking, pivoting and growing.
And while most business owners would retreat to a quiet place after 18 months of business and personal challenges combined, in true Lisa style, the entrepreneur is bucking the trend.
“That’s one of the main reasons I started Collective Hub, was to share the story behind the story. It’s only by sharing the difficulty and the adversity that we become relatable and attainable. Then people go, she’s just like me, if she can do it I can too. It’s really important to share every part of the journey.
Lisa reports, “Year one to three you’re running on pure adrenaline, ‘Oh, I didn’t pay myself don’t care…’ Year four resentment hits, year five and six you start to hit your stride. If you only start reporting on year six, you’ve missed the entire journey. It’s important to tell the whole story.”
And that’s why we’re so blessed that you do Lisa.
Lisa’s next very gritty book, ‘Risk & Resilience,’ is out now.
Pop questions for Lisa.
Q. What’s your take on ‘Messenger’ the name?
A.Interesting. Yes, Messenger is my real name and I guess, Messenger is who I am.
Q. What advice would you give your 15 year old self?
A.Just believe in yourself.
Q.Advice for entrepreneurs thinking about breaking or pivoting?
A.Just do it!
Q. What’s your next thing?
A.I’m exploring to the nth degree an entire new way of working.