Lizzy Okoro has the kind of laugh that makes you think, I’ll take whatever she’s having. It’s infectious, hearty and also genuine—an apt reflection of the woman behind BUNCH, a small but growing magazine for and about creatives. As publisher and editor in chief, Lizzy wears many different hats—from sales and marketing to editing and styling—a juggling act she manages with an unassuming and humble kind of grace. We recently had the chance to go behind the scenes with Lizzy and peak into the inner workings of what it’s like to run a print magazine in a digital world.
As a publisher and editor in chief, we can imagine you have a lot going on at any given time. Can you give us a glimpse of what a typical day may look like in your world?
I used to not know how to answer that question. I would feel so overwhelmed and chaotic that by the end of each day, I could hardly remember what I actually did. Now, I try to stick to a schedule: 6:30 am wake up time, walk my dog, gym, return emails to publicists/potential contributors/people pitching stories, take care of social media, email out information to sponsors/ad buyers, research, email, research, email, email, email!
In between I usually have at least one phone call and one in-person meeting with people interested in being involved with the magazine, and then I try to attend as many events as possible with hopes of connecting with new people and promoting BUNCH.
I try my best to decompress at the end of the day by reading or catching up on Netflix, but that usually ends with checking my email again. I’m trying to get better at that though!
What, for you, is the most rewarding part of BUNCH?
When someone says, “I needed to read this. Thank you.”
How did BUNCH transition from an idea to an actual tangible thing? What’s the story of how the magazine came to be?
I have wanted to run a magazine since I was 11 years old. In fact, I had a one issue publishing deal at that age but it fell through because, well, I was 11. As time went on, I didn’t feel that it was a viable career option so I focused my energies on pursuing “safe” career paths.
I was in graduate school for International Affairs and I was blogging as a creative outlet. By virtue of living in New York and also having a blog I began to meet so many people from the creative community. They had amazing, artistic, lucrative careers that made them happy above all else. I started to realize that people can follow their passion and make successful careers out of said passion and that was the story I wanted to share.
Once I got the subject matter down, I immediately set my sights on print. I knew that these stories needed to feel timeless and I believe strongly in being able to put something out on a coffee table to share with visitors. Outside of helping to run my campus newspaper in college, I had no other experience, so I treated the process as one would when self-publishing a book. I found a printer who helped me figure out the technical side of printing a magazine. I posted ads on Craigslist seeking photographers and writers. I studied other magazines that I admired and copied the way they structured their features. I had a list of dream people I wanted to feature and sent cold emails to their publicists asking them if they’d like to be in an unheard of magazine—quite a few people said no, many told me to circle back when I had future issues under my belt, but so many said yes. A friend of a friend agreed to step in at the eleventh hour and design the entire issue.
So many people ask how I pulled this off and at the end of the day, it all came down to just simply asking people if they would like to be part of it. For every no, I had a yes. I’m now a full-time believer in the power of asking.
In your own words, how would you describe BUNCH to someone who’s never heard of it? What would you say to encourage them to pick it up and read it?
We’re a Guide for the Daring Creative. We liken ourselves to Entrepreneur magazine for the creative set. The journey to pursuing a creative career can be a rollercoaster ride where you deal with uncertainty and loneliness. People are constantly telling you to have a Plan B because they don’t understand your Plan A. We want to be the ones to demystify the creative journey and remind you that you’re not alone.
You were recently awarded a grant from Urban Outfitters and Squarespace to help grow BUNCH. What was that moment like when you found out BUNCH had been selected? What did winning mean to you?
It was one of the best moments of my life. In addition to being in school, I worked a full-time job when I launched BUNCH, and I left it a little over a year ago because I knew that in order for my business to grow, I needed to give it my all. Things were okay the first few months and then it started to become extremely stressful. The workload was tripling, I was down a teammate, we had major delays with production and I was burning through money quickly with no safety net in sight.
Everything felt like it was caving in on me and I was starting to wonder if I had made the best decision for myself. Then the win from Urban Outfitters and Squarespace came and it was the nudge I needed to keep going. Both companies have been extremely gracious. They’ve offered everything from mentoring to publicity. In a nutshell, they said to me, “What are all of your dreams and how can we help to make them come true?” To have two established companies that are rooted in creativity and community champion BUNCH is such an amazing feeling. I highly encourage everyone to apply next year!
Any advice to fellow creatives looking to make the leap and say goodbye to their 9-5 for their 5-9?
Give yourself a deadline for when you will leave your 9-5. It can be a month out, a year out, but no matter what keep that date in mind and stick to it. I hear a lot of people say that they will leave their 9-5 when their 5-9 becomes more sustainable, but I’ve noticed that often delays progress in every way. The thought is that when you start to make X amount of dollars, you’ll feel comfortable leaving. If you focus on a deadline instead of a dollar amount, my belief is that you will start to develop your 5-9 in a whole different way. Your focus will shift to “How can I make this happen by that deadline?”
I planned to leave my job seven months out. I recognized that being able to wake up fresh in the morning and work on my business for eight hours a day instead of a handful of hours after an exhausting day at work would be what I needed to take BUNCH to the next level. I gambled big and it paid off.
Where do you see yourself and your business in five years?
I see us having a full-fledged multimedia company. I have big plans to roll out more content, both in print and digital. I want to incorporate more offline events because there is nothing like connecting in person. A creative agency is in the works for 2016. At the end of the day, it would be nice to have people equate BUNCH as a one-stop shop for creatives.
What do you like to do with your free time? What’s your favorite way to unwind and unplug?
I can usually be found on my couch with my boyfriend and our dog, Peter, watching a movie and drinking a glass of champagne. Other than that I’m a total wanderlust—I would spend my last dollar on travel. I’m also starting to become a fan of the staycation. I’ll find any excuse to stay in a hotel or Airbnb for a few days.
p.s. Have you met the Creative Couple?