“A Guide for the Daring Creative,” BUNCH is an independent magazine focusing on creative entrepreneurs. Having gone through the usual struggles of all first-time entrepreneurs, such as gaining a following or making sales, it’s founder and editor Lizzy Okoro, tells us how she tackled the difficulties of launching a print magazine and shares why she strongly believes in never giving up.
I started blogging during my time at The New School. I was studying international affairs in New York and really had a lot of time to explore my creativity. At that time I never thought of writing as being a full-time thing or a viable career option.
Growing up I wasn’t exposed to diverse career paths and was instead encouraged to pursue the “safe” ones. Following your passion was for the brave few or it stayed a hobby. It was while in New York that I started meeting people who were merging their passions with their profession. Learning more about what they were doing made me feel the need to tell their story and show other people like me that there are other pathways to success other than a job as a doctor or lawyer.
“Following your passion was for the brave few or it stayed a hobby”
I’ve always been obsessed with magazines and naturally decided that I wanted to start one about creatives. That’s when the idea of BUNCH Magazine started. But as much as I wanted to go into print I had no idea how exactly to do that. I did some research but to be honest I didn’t find a lot of help on the subject. There’s a lot of information about how to publish a book, but not necessarily how to publish a magazine. So I kind of treated it the same way that you would approach a book.
I reached out to two friends that both lived in California to see if they would be down to help me. They both said yes. Then I put out an ad on Craigslist saying ‘Hey, there’s this new magazine that’s coming out, we don’t have a lot of money but this is our mission. Would you want to contribute?’
Surprisingly there was an overwhelming number of people who were interested in being a part of it. So with an army of 10-15 people, both in New York and in LA, we started doing photo shoots and writing articles. The entire process was just a lot of trial and error, honestly. It took a very long time, around 8 months from idea to first issue.
“The entire process was just a lot of trial and error, honestly. It took a very long time, around 8 months from idea to first issue.”
One day I was invited to join this women’s entrepreneurial group and a lot of the women there were freelancers or had left their jobs to really focus on their passions. Listening to their story I started feeling like a fraud. I was sharing the stories of creatives who had left their jobs or taken some sort of risk to follow their passion and I was not really risking anything. I started thinking that I really needed to leave my job and take a bold step in my life.
The only way I could really make BUNCH Magazine what I wanted it to be was by focusing on it full-time. So I picked a random date. June 26 of 2014 was the day I would leave. I told all my friends, wrote it on a vision board and all of that jazz. But once June 26th came I told myself ‘Maybe I’ll stay a little bit longer and earn a little bit more money’. I was scared. Then something happened. That day, the head of HR came to my office and said “We’re actually going to be eliminating your position”. I almost laughed in her face, If that’s not fate I don’t know what it is. I moved back to Los Angeles in August of that year and focused on BUNCH fulltime.
During the first 4 months I wasn’t making any money, I was living off of savings and focusing solely on rebranding and figuring out tweaks that we needed to make in order for people to really gravitate to BUNCH. I was starting to feel overwhelmed by the whole process and my bank account was shrinking daily. I started to question whether I was on the right path and if it was all worth it. Then fate hit again, I learned about an Urban Outfitters and Squarespace contest with a grant for $20,000. I applied and I won. From then on it’s been nothing but amazing. We garnered a lot of publicity, our readership increased, our social networks have swelled and I’m really grateful for what has transpired.
“I was starting to feel overwhelmed by the whole process and my bank account was shrinking daily. I started to question whether I was on the right path and if it was all worth it.”
The tagline of the magazine “A guide for the daring creatives” comes from the people we interview. Over time we started focusing on stories from people that have overcome some sort of challenge to get where they’re at. They dared to do something different. We want to give tools and tips and provide resources to people who either are on that creative journey and need the support or are thinking about taking the creative journey but don’t necessarily know how.
There are days even weeks where I’m like “I just don’t want to do this at all!”. I think that with anything that you really, really love, you also just get frustrated. Like when you put something out and you think it’s amazing and then you’re like “There’s a typo here!’’ One of the biggest difficulties I had to go through was when at the beginning we weren’t selling. The first 3 issues of the magazine didn’t sell very well. We were having a very difficult time getting into bookstores. We kept getting rejected by distributors but with very little feedback as to why. That was really frustrating for me because I was putting time and money and my heart into it. I continuously got rejected over the course of 2 years and trust me it didn’t feel really good. My solution might have seemed counterintuitive but I decided that I just had to go all in. And even when I went all in, it was still very, very difficult for me. When you’re putting out money but not having something come in, it can be really scary. You have to remember why you are doing it, why it’s worth it. No matter what the difficulties were, I kept going. It’s a lot of self-motivating, but I’m also lucky to have amazing family and friends and people who work on BUNCH who continuously say ‘Hey, we’re here – we’re gonna make this happen’.
“You have to remember why you are doing it, why it’s worth it. No matter what the difficulties were, I kept going. It’s a lot of self-motivating.”
I had the opportunity to bring on an investor. It sounded really great. Especially when you’re struggling financially. But I wasn’t sure if I wanted to sell part of my company. One of my best friends Kristina told me “Make every decision like you have a million dollars in the bank”. And it really resonated with me. You don’t want to do something out of sheer desperation. Because if you make a decision out of desperation, you’re not necessarily making the best decision for yourself, you’re not necessarily making a decision that makes sense in the long run. You’re just trying to hold on. So I decided not take on that investment and really hang onto BUNCH Magazine, and when the time is right, when I’m ready to take that next step, then it’ll be from a vantage point of me being comfortable and saying that this makes sense, and it’s not just out of desperation.
“Nothing is ever perfect. Your business plan is never going to be perfect, it’s just a plan.”
When I look back I’m happy I took that first step of following a dream and hanging on to it even when times were hard. BUNCH Magazine was one of those projects where I didn’t have all the answers, I didn’t have all the money, I didn’t have everything perfectly aligned. I know a lot of people wait until things are perfect before they start. But nothing is ever perfect. Your business plan is never going to be perfect, it’s just a plan. But it’s not something that’s set in stone. Just try, just take that first step and then, after that, take that second step. You just have to keep going, keep going and keep going.
As told to Francesca Mey