This week, we catch up with Angelica Malin — Founder and Editor of About Time online magazine, and About Time Academy. In today’s interview, Angelica discusses life as an introverted entrepreneur, the need for curated content in a time-poor world, and the three most important tasks when setting up any new business. Here’s her story:
Newnham: What were you like growing up? How would your friends and family have described you?
Malin: I was a happy, if slightly strange little kid. I had all these funny habits; I couldn’t sleep facing the wall, because I thought it would swallow me up, and I was convinced that my dressing room would become magical, if I could only find the secret door.
I come from a very loud, colourful family — full of artists and big personalities — and we were always clambering over one another to be the loudest voice in the room. I think that’s why I’ve found solace in writing; I love the peace of it, hearing my thoughts clearly and translating them into words, is a very calming, meditative process — and one that’s far removed from my crazy, boisterous childhood.
My friends would say I’m the sensitive one. Not caring what others think is something I’ve found very hard in business, as I’m naturally very thin-skinned. I’d always look for the introvert in the room and be worrying about everyone else constantly. Sensitivity has been a theme that’s run pretty consistently through my twenties.
Newnham: When did your entrepreneurial flair first reveal itself?
Malin: I’ve always been a dreamer. As a child, I would hide in said magic dressing room, and fill my notebooks with ideas for new inventions, like a hoover that doubles up as a mop. I still think that one is quite useful. But the real turning point for me was at university. Bristol (University) was a really nurturing, encouraging place for me to spend those valuable years.
They used to offer an entrepreneurship scheme during the summer holidays, where you could get a £2,000 grant to start your own business. My best friend and I won the grant; so whilst our friends were in London drinking Jägerbombs and doing corporate internships, we spent the summer in Bristol running a “conceptual bakery” taking inspiration from literature for the cakes (Matilda’s triple-chocolate cake, the Fantastic Five lemonade sponge — you get the idea!).
The business didn’t work out because we were terrible bakers — Mary Berry has nothing to fear — but the experience was so valuable. I learnt how to market your product, how to sell to consumers, how to talk confidently about your own ideas and, most importantly, I learnt to believe in myself as a businessperson. So I’m so grateful to Bristol for the opportunity, and I’m sorry we made our business coach taste such god-awful cakes.
Newnham: So what led to you launching About Time?
Malin: I think the best businesses are attempts to solve a problem. After university, I was working at a fashion and travel magazine, and would spend hours online before the weekend trying to find things to do. I realised that for a time-poor Londoner, the online content available was really overwhelming — all these long lists, with loads of ideas — and the tyranny of choice stopped me ever booking anything. I felt that a bossy, authoritative voice; one that could cut through the noise and tell people exactly how to spend their time and money would work well. “This”, I wanted it to say, “this is worth your time”. Time is such a precious commodity.
I set about creating a website that would curate the very best of London, and hand it to you on a plate. I met with hundreds of PR agencies and freelance writers, and jumped into it full-time just before Christmas 2014. We launched in March 2015 and, honestly, I haven’t really looked back since!
Newnham: There are many facets to About Time — can you tell us a little about the different elements of the business and why you wanted to expand?
Malin: Well, as you know, the landscape of digital media has shifted massively in the last few years. Things are forever evolving, as publications try to work how to monetise online.
There’s a key element for me, in the words of Ross Geller: “Pivot.” Being flexible in your mindset and unsentimental about your business plan is really important if you want to be an entrepreneur in the digital space. I could see that marketing budgets were changing, away from advertorials and sponsored content, and towards paid social media and influencers. So, we had to tweak accordingly — focusing more on our social channels and adding in new revenue streams into the business. We run an agency, where we produce white-label services for brands, such as copywriting, content creation and recipe development, and we use our amazing network of writers and photographers for this.
And, crucially, we moved things from digital into physical, through our reader events and activations. Last week, we launched the About Time Academy, a home for London’s best panel discussions, masterclasses and events. We’re hosting around five events a month, with experts, authors and entrepreneurs; it’s basically a whole other business, with a nice synergy between content and community. I think live events are the future for digital media — readers are increasingly looking for new ways to interact with brands, and it’s a great, authentic way to engage your following.
Newnham: What are some of the obstacles you have faced growing the business and how did you overcome them?
Malin: The biggest challenges have always come in the form of people — knowing who and when to hire, being let down by staff, managing expectations, the spectre of payday! There’s so much pressure on a founder to make it all work, so remaining positive is a constant challenge. We’ve had some amazing highs, such as selling out festivals, and some crushing lows, like web design companies going bust halfway through a build, but I think that’s part and parcel of being an entrepreneur — you can’t have one without the other, and I remind myself that when things are tough. “You chose this life” is a mantra that I keep in my head, and it’s a reminder to me to persevere.
Support networks are everything; whether it’s friends, family, other founders, just having someone to call at 11pm when you’re in tears is so important. I’ve found real comfort in other founders who understand what you are going through, and have advice to share. Try to find people on the same journey as you, it will make a huge difference.
Newnham: As you grew the business, what have been some of the most important leaderships lessons you have learned?
Malin: Firstly, learn how to delegate. It’s no use to anyone if you’re looming large over their shoulder, micro-managing. A huge part of growth is about letting go — of control, of fear, of perfectionism. Hire people that you feel you can trust with your vision and goals, and then give them the space to be creative. Remember, as a founder, you are part of someone’s career trajectory and play an important role in their professional development, so give them the room to grow.
Secondly, there is no correct way to be a boss. If you’re naturally introverted, be introverted; if you’re sensitive, be sensitive. People say we need to “grow” into a role, but I say it’s the other way around. If you feel like you’re putting on an act at work, something’s wrong. Being your authentic self is the best way to be a leader, and being likeable doesn’t mean you won’t be respected.
Newnham: You recently launched About Time Academy — can you tell us more about it?
Malin: The Academy is a natural progression for us. We’ve been hosting reader events sporadically for the last few years, and it’s a part of the business that really excites me, so I wanted to dedicate more time and energy to it.
The About Time Academy is here to ignite new conversations, inspire, provoke and equip you with the tools you need to navigate the world today. At each event, we invite experts and industry leaders to share their insights and wisdom on topics spanning food, arts, business and entrepreneurship, health, wealth, happiness, and everything in between.
The mission of the Academy is to inspire, provoke and equip millennials with the tools they need to navigate the world as it is today. We want to start new conversations, resolve the unresolved, and lay to rest the myths and fears that no longer serve this switched-on, savvier-than-ever generation.
Our Spring/Summer 2019 line-up has been curated to highlight the work of writers, experts and speakers (and their newly released books) in inspiring author events, keynotes, and panel discussions. Topics covered will be as diverse as the business of food, pregnancy and motherhood, designing and building a personal brand in the social media age, how to live a more joyful life (by having less stuff!), harnessing the power of hormones, and building a business with soul.
Newnham: And where do you see the About Time business going from here?
Malin: For years, I would try and second-guess the business — thinking it was going this way or that — but I’ve learnt to go with the flow a lot more. People will always try and tell you what your business is, and only your gut knows what you really want it to be.
I really love hosting events and would like this to become the mainstay. I would love to have magazines in other cities — New York, LA, Tel Aviv — and replicate the model we have here. But, for now, I’m focusing on building our community with more events and engagement — and I feel really good about that.
Newnham: What practical advice do you have for others looking to start their own business? What are the first three tasks someone should complete before they launch?
Malin: Put yourself into the shoes of your ideal customer or users. Who are they? What do they look like? How do they spend their time? What are you trying to say to them? Understanding, who, exactly, you’re talking to with your business is so important — otherwise it’s all just guesswork.
My three tasks would be firstly to focus. Don’t try to do too much at once, at the start. Focus in on a few things that you really want to achieve with your business and make a list of actionable steps. Secondly, build a team — whether that’s freelance, part-time, interns, you need people around you to make things happen. If you’re on a tight budget, look at a skill-swap or offer your time for free, in exchange for support and advice. Thirdly, work out your profit plan. Make it simple and clear-cut. If your business doesn’t have a profit plan, you’re pretty stuffed, so get those numbers down from the start!
Newnham: Finally, if you could go back in time, what advice would you give a younger Angelica?
Malin: I think I would try to enjoy the journey a bit more. For years, I was set on slightly arbitrary goals — numbers, profit and loss — and forgot to actually appreciate running a business for what it is. Which is taking action on creative ideas; coming up with something in the shower, and building into an actionable plan, with an end goal. That’s the beauty of running your own thing. You’re totally free, creatively, without a line manager or a boss, to put your ideas into action. So I think I’d tell myself to relax and enjoy it a bit more, rather than stressing out over all the details!
Thanks to Andy of Sonder for coordinating this interview.