Terms like ‘influencer’, ‘blogger’ and ‘vlogger’ are part of mainstream vocabulary nowadays but when Alice Audley launched her company that wasn’t the case.
With the exception of a few (now-household) names, influencers and talent management companies were near non-existent in 2013; marketing departments world over didn’t have to think about their ‘influencer strategy’; and it would take mainstream media a further year to cotton on to the blogospheres ever-growing power.
Suffice to say Alice chose the right time to launch.
With some of the worlds most successful influencers gracing her publication’s cover since day one and corporate giants including Google and Facebook amongst its loyal list of subscribers, when an email from Blogosphere HQ popped into my inbox a few months back, the decision to interview its Founder was an easy one to make.
Having first met Alice when she spoke at the launch of The Midweek Mingle’s in April and to be frank, admired her story and candidness ever since, over coffees and juice around the corner from Blogosphere HQ, the two of us caught up so I could ask her more…
She can. She did. Right, are you ready?
Alice Audley. I’m ready!
SC.SD. Good! Let’s start with what your business is all about! Give us the spiel!
AA. Ok I’ll give you the spiel! So Blogosphere is a media company that is rooted in the world of social influencers and by that I mean bloggers, vloggers, content creators, Instagrammers… anything that falls under that umbrella. We run events, we run an influencer network and we’re most known for our quarterly print publication that is internationally distributed, Blogosphere Magazine. Former cover stars include Lydia Millen…
SC.SD. Woop woop!
AA. I was waiting for that! Zoella, Dina Tokio, Casey Neistat…
SC.SD. The big dogs then?
AA. Yeh but the thing about Blogosphere is that it’s supposed to be a snapshot of the community as a whole, so even though we have the macro influencers on the covers, we cover all different levels. There are so many interesting stories to tell, no matter how many followers you have and I think it’s nice that we get to share those voices.
SC.SD. I couldn’t agree more! Where did the idea come from then?
AA. I suppose it was born out of the fact that I was overwhelmed by how many voices are out there…
Alice’s interest in blogging began in 2012, when one of her tutors on her postgrad in journalism, mentioned that she’d need to start a blog if she wanted to break into the world of media.
SC.SD. I quickly became obsessed and was uploading something every day. Then after a particularly terrible interview after graduating that had taken seven rounds to get to the last one and at the last minute they changed the role from editorial to PR, when I got home, the first thing I did was read my favourite travel blogger to unwind.
I remember reading through her entire archive and still wanted to read more and it was through that process that I started to think about this because 1) I’d gone to blogs to relax instead of other forms of entertainment and 2) I remember having loads of tabs open which was actually very stressful and I didn’t trust loads of the recommended blog lists. For every good blog there are loads that aren’t good or are out of date so I remember thinking, ‘why not put the control back in the hands of the bloggers and ask them to recommend other bloggers?’ Then it became a question of, ‘how are you going to get lots of people online to come on board with an idea?’
Bloggers are writers and there is an element – as a writer myself – of print that is different and exciting! We’re humans and humans have lots of senses so it’s not just sight; it’s smell and touch and a publication is tangible and feels real so yeh… I went out with that idea and everybody came on board!
I mean, I’m talking now retrospectively like it was easy, which is so easy to do now it’s working but it was so hard at the time…!
SC.SD. Oh don’t you worry, we’ll dig into that in a bit!
After blogging about Bryony Gordon and receiving an email from The Telegraph communist shortly after, Alice was quickly offered an internship at the newspaper in April 2013. Given that the first issue of Blogosphere Magazine came out that October however and at The Telegraph, she was quickly promoted from intern to editorial assistant to Commissioning Editor by the age of twenty-four; I was interested to find what the early days of the business looked like…
SC.SD. That’s a very impressive role to have at that age!
AA. It is isn’t it!? I remember telling my parents and they were like, “are you sure it’s not junior commissioning editor?!” and I was like “no, look at my contract!”
I think they kept me on because I could monitor the stress levels and knew when to make tea! When someone’s stressed, tea goes a long way and I think when you’re being asked to do tasks that you don’t perhaps think are representative of where you want to be, you need to take yourself out of that mindset because they’re the things that are going to be important to other people! It doesn’t mean that all you’re good for is making tea; it’s almost like a right of passage.
SC.SD. So you’re working on Blogosphere in your spare time… Talk me through what you did in the early days to get it off the ground…
AA. So one of my friends had just done a coding course in New York so she came on board and designed the first website and then a girl who was two years above me in school was a freelance journalist and had a blog so we worked on the first couple together. My role at the Telegraph was all about finding interviews and getting people to come on board so I was just sending emails out to bloggers asking them to feature…
In 2013 it was just before mainstream press started featuring bloggers. Gleam were the first talent management company but Estée Lalonde didn’t have management, Liberty London Girl didn’t have management, Fleur De Force didn’t… I went through Gleam to get Joe Sugg on board but by then we’d got some brand awareness so it was much easier. I don’t think we’ve had “no’s” but if we started it today, it’d have been much harder.
SC.SD. And choosing a name?
Blogosphere is the official term for the collection of web blogs online so it pretty much summarised it for me. I mean, sometimes I’m spelling it out and think, ‘why didn’t I just call it Social?!’ because it’s a mouthful spelling out my email but people know the name now and it works!
SC.SD. Let’s talk about the fact that it’s very much a print publication! You publish nothing online…
AA. The irony eh!?
SC.SD. Absolutely! But in all seriousness, coming from a publishing house where we were inundated with weekly stats saying that, “print is dying, it’s all about digital” etc… why print?
AA. There was method behind the madness, I promise! First things first, I wanted to be different. Where’s the incentive to read it online? During my time at The Telegraph, they were going through the digital revolution, my workload tripled and so the quality going out wasn’t as good.
Meanwhile, independent publishing was spiking. Blogosphere is very thick, it’s 164 gsm, it smells great, it’s such good quality so when you take yourself out of the race to be the first to something, you can be the best at something. It’s very much quality and not quantity.
Now obviously with that, it means our upfront print costs are huge so though we’ve created the magazine we have surrounded it digitally. We have a very good Twitter presence where our followers are engaged and we get such great feedback from our readers; obviously Instagram and I’ve just hired a videographer so we’ll be putting out more video content. Everything comes back to the proposition of something that you can buy.
SC.SD. And given your target market, they want something tangible and pretty that they can photograph too?
AA. Absolutely. The first thing subscribers do when each issue lands is take a photo of it and the quality of their images is crazy! It’s just getting better and better which is so nice for us! By default, I think you can spend very little on marketing if your product is good enough. It’s accelerated word of mouth.
SC.SD. Obviously you worked for a publication before launching Blogosphere but I don’t need to tell you that there’s a difference between working for one and launching your own (!) so how did you know where to start in terms of printing etc…
AA. So I had written for a magazine before The Telegraph that had listed where they print so I contacted them first and my salary helped to cover the costs initially. I know at The Midweek Mingle everyone was really secretive about which food factories they use but just go down to Brighton and ask for Dominic at Four Corners Print – he’ll sort you out! Then Rachel, the girl from school, put a spec on a design site so that’s how we found Angela who’s been working on Blogosphere since the first issue… I suppose it all happened quite quickly but I knew what I wanted!
SC.SD. And you said your salary covered those costs initially?
AA. Yeh and I was also living at home at the time so I didn’t have rent to worry about. Setting up a business in London is hard, I won’t lie about it, so living with my parents definitely helped!
SC.SD. Absolutely! I always think those sacrifices are worth it though… so what if you miss out on a few nights out?!
AA. Absolutely and I didn’t pay myself whilst I was working at The Telegraph. I still don’t pay myself much but I don’t think you start your business for a quick buck and if you’re starting your business for a quick buck then you are very wrong! You should be doing it because you love it.
I’m 29, I’m turning 30 next year… My friends have been in corporate jobs for nearly a decade and are on big salaries now but I’m not fussed because I can’t compare myself and I believe that later down the line, it might pay off. It’s not all about the money for me though… although I’m sure my investors don’t want to hear that! IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY!
I think in life you just need something that you can be enthusiastic about and I love working! If I didn’t have the obsession for work that I do, I’d be quite frightened about where my brain would go because I’m focused right now; I don’t need to think about all the crap in the world.
Having said that I’ve only just started drinking again and that’s already helping me switch off… which probably isn’t a good thing to admit!
At The Midweek Mingle, much to the audience’s horror, Alice mentioned that she gave up alcohol for two years, in order to fully focus on her business…!
SC.SD. Oh don’t you worry, I’m grilling you on that later!
AA. “My sobriety…!”
SC.SD. Let’s talk momentum… How quickly did you see traction with the brand and why?
AA. It was very stop/start at the beginning because I was trying to get an issue out when I could. The first three came out and then there were six-month gaps.
That felt like a very tortured time because on the one hand I’d managed to land a dream job at a giant brand; I’m being printed in a national newspaper writing pieces that sometimes I really liked as well (!); family and friends are supporting you which was a bit of an ego massage if I’m being honest; it provided financial security… but then having this idea and really not giving it what it deserved was hard because I kept thinking, ‘it’s not really fair that you had the idea but you’re not doing it.’
For quite a long period of time I was frustrated at myself for not having the guts to just commit to it…
It wasn’t until Alice was sent to Milan on a detox retreat for a story with her Mum that things changed.
AA. On the way out, I bought ‘Becoming Steve Jobs’ and I don’t know if it was that book or ten days out of work which let me catch up on sleep and get some perspective but the day I got back I went in and resigned!
Having said that, then I had another torrid few months saying “yes” to being commissioned for loads because you have a syndrome at a newspaper where you feel you must agree with whatever the Editors say! I remember agreeing to write a piece in Brighton, I went down there with this horrific hangover and was attacked by seagulls and I remember thinking, ‘I can’t say “yes” to anything else.’
In January 2016, Alice went full-time on Blogosphere.
AA. I wrote a plan on a piece of paper and in the corner, wrote, ‘JUST FUCKING DO IT!!’ I needed the expletives to just get a grip. Don’t half arse it Alice!
SC.SD. Haha! I love that! And did you have a plan for marketing in the early days?
AA. I haven’t spent a penny on marketing! Estée talked about it on her channel and it went from there!
There wasn’t an official process with anything to be honest! The idea was that I’d just put a magazine together and they’d buy it through our site. I didn’t have any distribution for the first issue so I was just going to Pret in my lunch breaks and messaging my Mum and sister with addresses and they went off to the Post Office and posted issue one! Then for issue two, I got a newsstand to sell it who to this day still stock them… I think issue five was the first to be stocked in WH Smiths.
SC.SD. And how did that come about?
AA. I emailed them! They came back and said, “doesn’t really sound like one for us.” I said, “here’s why you’re wrong” and they said, “ok we’ll give it a trial” so that was that! Then WH Smiths Travel which is the airports, train stations etc… happened in December 2015.
In terms of being stocked on the High Street though, people do buy it from there but the margins are so high that as a business proposition, you’re more on the High Street for advertising purposes. Because it’s a subscription-based magazine, it’s nice to see it out in the real world and people take pictures of it. I saw that Lydia saw her cover and uploaded a photo of her in Smiths saying, “be your biggest fan” and that’s great because it instantly gets thousands of views.
SC.SD. Right, you touched upon these at the Mingle but let’s talk day to day challenges that you’ve had to overcome along the way…
AA. So daily challenges I suppose was the book keeping side of things and I got a book keeper for that reason. Forecasting, cash flow… had I known about all of that it might have deterred me in the first place so it’s a case of muddling along and learning as you go!
Whenever I’m having financial meetings, I’m not myself though! You have forty-five minutes of good Alice and then I feel really overwhelmed! Now I have a Financial Director who works two half days a month to help me. She was in today actually so you’ve got me after one of those meetings!
SC.SD. That’s what the coffee’s for!
AA. There’s so many different branches in Blogosphere. I hit a target in one area of the business, but I need to know how that impacts other areas so overview and seeing the cohesive picture of what that means financially can be overwhelming.
In addition to that, it’s my responsibility to be managing people and making sure they’re happy and everyone’s getting on which they are and do but it’s something you have to constantly be aware of.
SC.SD. What about the big low points… what do the bad days on the job look like?
AA. Real low points were probably last year during the fund raise. Since Blogosphere started I’d never thought it wasn’t going to work but there was a point last year where I thought, ‘I can’t understand why other people don’t see this?’ I was just exhausted and going to meetings with investors and they’d ask the same questions and I was repeating myself over and over. I get excited by coming up with ideas and creating and doing so when I feel like I’m stagnating and not getting anywhere, that’s not good for me…
SC.SD. I can definitely relate to that. Especially in the past few weeks…
AA. It’s horrible isn’t it? In terms of fundraising journeys, in the grand scheme of things it probably wasn’t that long but having to go out on my own and be on top form all the time was just so draining.
After another unsuccessful fundraising meeting, Alice left for Tanzania last October and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro…
SC.SD. As you do..!
AA. I know! I’d gone from acute mental stress and then I put my body through acute physical stress. I was offline for eight days, turned my phone on when I got back and all the emails came through. I remember walking back into the office, the team showed me the December issue and I just thought, ‘I can’t do it’. I just felt broken. But you know how it is, you appreciate that you feel broken and then get up, change tact and go!
In terms of fundraising, statistically speaking it’s much harder to be invested in 1) as a sole founder but also 2) as a female founder because there are unconscious biases not just out there but also within yourself. You’re more self-deprecating so when investors say, “are you sure?” you suddenly think, “am I sure?” and then if you show any ‘masculine’ traits suddenly you’re too full of yourself.
SC.SD. It’s a complete minefield isn’t it?
AA. Absolutely. You’re getting out of your comfort zone trying to embody certain characteristics, feeling more unlikeable in the process (!) but it was when I was to the point that the investment came through.
SC.SD. What did it feel like when you finally got a “yes”?
AA. I didn’t even celebrate, I was just exhausted! The investment was to take the business to the next level, new staff, build more tech etc… I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to have a huge celebration when I get it’ but I just felt so broken by the end of the process. This year I’ve been a lot happier..!
SC.SD. When you feel like that, what’s it like being the boss? Did you try and hide it from the team?
AA. I tried to but I could tell that they knew. It’s very difficult when you’re cripplingly stressed to hide it! Even earlier I said, “do you remember during the fundraise?” and they were all like, “oh god yeh…!” I was sobbing in the stairwell at points.
The first person that invested in me said, “yes” straight away and I remember thinking ‘this is easy! Why does everyone complain!?’ but I did meet a couple of arseholes along the way. I had three meetings with one person and at our last meeting he put a pair of sunglasses on inside…
Very conscious that I have sunglasses on my head at this point…
SC.SD. These are on my head alright!?
AA. Haha alright, alright! But he put them on inside – I blocked most of this out – leaned back and was like…
*Cue patronising voice*
AA. “Listen… Alice… I’ve decided this time to not put forward an offer but I do think you’ll be really, really successful.” I was like, “yeh, I know I will!” I was livid. It was really hard though because I don’t think I ever went into a meeting where they didn’t get Blogosphere. They just didn’t believe in me which was really hard because then you question, ‘why can’t I show that I believe in myself?’
SC.SD. But you got there in the end! You mentioned that this year you’re happier… why do you think that is?
AA. Well I’m not fundraising this year for a start! There have been moments this year, the awards were a huge event for instance, which come with a lot of pressure. They’re very expensive to put on so I’ve found myself more in a sales role and I don’t really enjoy sales…
Each of the sixteen categories at the Blogosphere Awards were sponsored by brands including Olympus Pen, Prince’s Trust and Teapigs…
AA. Building that network has been a challenge because I haven’t wanted to be too salesy but then I know that’s what you need to do…
SC.SD. It’s wearing all of those different hats isn’t it…
AA. Absolutely and that leads to good weeks and bad weeks. There was one week where so much stuff went wrong that I ended up walking out of the office at 3pm on Friday because I just thought ‘bad luck is finding me this week’ but then the next week went really well!
To answer your question then, I think that when really good stuff happens, I don’t celebrate but when something terrible happens, I also don’t get too low now.
SC.SD. You’re ph7!
AA. Exactly! I get asked quite a lot if I feel proud of myself but I don’t… there’s so much still to do!
SC.SD. Are you enjoying it though?!
AA. Yes! Am I giving you the impression that I don’t!? That’s the finance meeting this afternoon for you, sorry!
SC.SD. Let me rephrase..! If you’re not taking those high moments in and allowing yourself to really take pride in those wins, what’s keeping you going?
AA. I take them in but I just don’t dwell on them I suppose. When Casey said “yes” to being on the cover, that was really exciting! When each issue comes out, that’s exciting. You get a big serotonin kick but I suppose I just try not to waiver too much because that’s not good for your brain! In peak crisis I’m actually quite calm; it’s the build up to crisis that’s not good!
For instance, someone approached us about a flower wall at the events, we said “yes” but then they went quiet and on the day we had a message saying, “my husband’s van has broken down and I’ve just broken my leg!” Now if both of those things did happen, I’m sorry, but this is on the day of the event and they approached us! We could have gone somewhere else! So I was cross but we just found someone else in the end!
I think because I worked on the newspaper, I was used to that permanent state of deadlines. It’s a bit like at my events, I just walk around hyping everyone before I go on stage! I suppose it’s a way of nerves showing themselves even though I don’t necessarily feel nervous, I just want to get on with it and then when I’m up there I’m like, “THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER. ALL EYES ON ME. HI EVERYBODY!” Luckily people didn’t celebrate too hard when they heard I wasn’t the host this year. There were a few, “ahhh’s” and I was like, “thank you!”
SC.SD. “Next issues free for you love!”
SC.SD. Let’s move on to life outside of Blogosphere… family, friends, the whole shebang! How have those closest to you reacted to the journey you’ve been on with Blogosphere and have you seen any relationships evolve for the better/worse?
AA. My family is very entrepreneurial so I have a very good support network there of people doing their own thing; none of my siblings are employed and there are four of us! It was a bit difficult when I was at The Telegraph I suppose because their friends read it and they read it…
SC.SD. It was a cool job!
AA. It was a cool job yeah…
SC.SD. But this is cooler..!?
AA. This is cooler! You’re going to be sat there typing this like, ‘so you’re not happy and you miss your old job…!’ She can. She did… and she regrets it! No, I promise I love Blogosphere a lot!
SC.SD. Don’t worry, I’ll keep reiterating that!
To confirm, Alice does love her company!
AA. Friends… I suppose at the beginning, because it was before the industry was well-known, there was probably a bit of, ‘you’re doing what?!’
I think you tell very quickly who your really good friends are when you launch a business. I mentioned this at the Mingle but there are people out there that do have that ambition to do their own thing but haven’t taken the leap yet and so in some ways they don’t want it to work out for you because it will reiterate to them that they made the right decision to stay in their job…
SC.SD. And I remember hearing that and thinking, ‘thank god someone’s had the guts to say that’ because I think that’s always going to be the reality when you do something on your own… Knowing who you can lean on for genuine support is so important.
AA. Exactly. If you’re out there really fighting that imposter syndrome trying to do something on your own and someone else isn’t, you sense a lot of, ‘well why the hell should she be the one to make it work?’
This happened to me in a meeting recently with someone who was either my age or a bit younger and she said, “I mean, how did you get people to say yes to you when you weren’t a big blogger?” I’m not taking offense to it but it’s interesting. This business isn’t about me. I started it to facilitate an opportunity in the market and do something useful but there’s people out there thinking, ‘but why are you the one that got to do it?’
SC.SD. Because you had the initiative and guts to do it?!
AA. Exactly, I just did it! It’s sad that some people don’t want to build you up for that. It’s hardest at the beginning when you don’t have anything to show for yourself. Now, when you are responsible for a huge award ceremony that’s had 8 million reach so far, people suddenly go, “oh wow! It’s such a good idea! You’re doing so well!” and I’m like, “thanks mate..!”
SC.SD. Who do you turn to for business advice?
AA. I speak to one of the investors a lot on WhatsApp…
AA. So casual but he’s great! I speak to the team a lot too but there will always be an element where you can’t discuss everything as it wouldn’t be good for them to know the ins and outs. I can reach out to the board if I need to…
As you know, as a sole Founder, sometimes having a business partner to share the stress and the strains who gets the business 100% might be quite good, but on the flipside I’m too far in on my own now!
I think I’ve got better at realising where my stress boundaries are though. Today is done, tomorrow is a new day. For the last two years, I gave up booze so I could concentrate on this 100% mentally and no joke, every six to eight weeks I’d get a cold and be wiped out for three days. There was just no break. Now I’m going out and having more fun and I feel better for that mentally.
SC.SD. That doesn’t surprise me at all because working like that is just not sustainable.
AA. And you can’t ever switch off. A few Aperol Spritzers and it numbs it out..! No one is going to invest in me in future after reading this are they Fi!?
SC.SD. See I think it just proves that you’re human! It gets to Friday and I’m so ready for a G+T or a glass of red!
AA. And exhale! I’m sure there are other ways that could help us switch off too… I tried tennis for a bit but that didn’t last long! I’m still prioritising work first but right now I’m happy. I think looking after yourself goes; I’ve just become apathetic to it all. As women we get commended on how we look aesthetically but when you care about something else first it’s quite liberating.
Also, since I’ve started drinking again, I’ve met so many great people through networking! It just reiterates that you could have created the best product but you need to be out there talking about it and meeting people face to face; it’s so important.
AA. Oh god!
SC.SD. Favourite quote?
AA. “Someone has to do it for the first time. Why can’t it be you?” That was actually my sister that said that.
SC.SD. Your sister speaks the truth! What does success look like to you?
AA. Being fulfilled by what you do. Being enthusiastic to wake up…. Oh god it sounds so bad doesn’t it!? Everyone reading this is going to think, ‘is Alice ok? I think we should put Alice on watch..!’
To confirm once again, Alice is ok and loves her business!
SC.SD. Can you see yourself working on Blogosphere forever?
AA. I want to go global so yes.
SC.SD. I love how you said that. That was a ‘game on’ face! The next Arianna Huffington?!
AA. Arianna Huffington would be good! The root of all of this is my passion for writing and creating and storytelling so as long as it never stagnates and it’s keeping me excited, I’ll be happy! It’s a business where there are so many people joining the space every day, there’s a litany of stories to share, so many issues to tackle…
SC.SD. Absolutely! Last question then, what would be your advice to anyone reading this now that wants to start their own business?
AA. Do it. Don’t talk yourself out of it. Just do it.
SC.SD. And when I say, “don’t just say “just do it” Alice” what would you say?!
AA. Haha! Erm, I’d say, if you have an idea for a business, you don’t necessarily have to make a twenty-page business plan. You just need to get a feel for what’s going on and figure it out along the way. Also, don’t rely on other people to believe in you. The only person that needs to believe in you is yourself so fight against all the voices telling you what could go wrong and yeh, just do it!
From her willingness to share her story frankly with the audience when she spoke at The Midweek Mingle to her hilarious honesty when we sat down eventually for this chat; there is a ‘take it or leave it’ realness to Alice that made me warm to her instantly and an inner strength that shines through; a testament to the journey she has been on I’m sure.
Walking away from the security and prestige that a career at The Telegraph bestows, is no mean feat when you’re twenty-four and have nothing but an idea to show for yourself at first. Especially when those around you are questioning your decision (and sanity!) accordingly and the industry you’re entering is not yet widely recognised. But Alice found the courage to follow her gut instincts and as a result leads a unique company with quality at its core.
Once again, no one can say she has had it easy though.
When being the boss has meant that she’s been thrust into roles that don’t always feel natural, she’s battled statistics when it comes to securing investment that in no way were favourable, and those around her have questioned why it should be Alice that gets to succeed and have purposefully ignored her courage and the effort she’s put in; finding the mental strength to persevere and stay positive hasn’t always been easy but with every knock she comes back fighting, more determined than before.
What Alice has created in Blogosphere already is truly commendable.
Judging by the purpose in her eye when she said she planned to go global however, what I love most about this story is that it’s simply the start.