Meet July's Leona of The Month: @Lizzy_Okoro
Meet California native, Lizzy Okoro. This champagne loving, world traveler may be small in stature but is big in ambition and motivation. With the desire to provide readers with what other magazines currently lack, about four years ago Lizzy created BUNCH magazine. This niche print publication gives creatives a chance to see themselves represented in a beautifully, well-produced print magazine. As Editor-in-Chief and publisher, the most rewarding part of the job for Lizzy, is “When someone says, ‘I needed to read this. Thank you.’”
And with the help of an awarded grant from Urban Outfitters and Squarespace, Lizzy continues to push BUNCH forward in to other areas of media, all while remaining true to the magazines purpose of being “A guide for daring creatives.”
In the interview below, Lizzy gives a detailed account of where the idea for BUNCH came from, her daily role as EIC, how she stays motivated, and her future plans for BUNCH.
BUNCH, why did you pick this name for the magazine? What made it a good fit?
The magazine really centers on the idea of community. So often, I would read magazines that felt aspirational instead of inspirational-in other words they were out of touch with my reality. I wanted to create a magazine where readers and the people on the pages were one with each other. As I described it, I kept saying that I wanted everyone to feel like they were one of the bunch, and the word “bunch” ended up sticking.
Where did the idea for BUNCH Magazine come from?
I’m an LA girl but I lived in New York for several years. It’s hard to not be inspired by the people there. Everything was new and exciting and for the first time in my life I felt like I was meeting people who were living the lifestyle I aspired to have; they were successful but not at the cost of their happiness and they had managed to monetize their craft. When I thought deeply about what I was witnessing, I realized that I had a very narrow scope of success which looked like lawyer, doctor, engineer, and a lucky few entrepreneurs. It definitely didn’t include anything artistic or creative. Yet here were all of these examples of people who were creative and kicking ass. I knew that if I was this ignorant so were others and even if people were brave enough to pursue something creative, there wasn’t a platform for resource sharing so instantly I knew I was onto something.
With so much content produced daily online, why did you decide to start a print magazine?
I knew that print was something special but I didn’t realize how important it would be to the medium. At the time, blogging was all anyone ever talked about and the online market was over-saturated. I needed a way to distinguish myself and my message so print felt like the natural choice. What I learned quickly is that being a print magazine gave me instant legitimacy. People pay attention when they know that you’ve spent the extra time and money to put something on paper. That’s been extremely important because at the time not a lot of people were discussing creatives and their work and suddenly here is this indie print magazine devoted to this group. It made people question why creatives are so important. So I guess it all worked out in my favor!
What void does BUNCH Magazine fill?
We speak to an often overlooked, misunderstood group. Creatives is a buzz word now but it wasn’t even mentioned when we first started in 2011. Even now, people often say things like, “tech and creative” or “creative and business” as though creative people have no business or tech skills. Over the years, I’ve realized that there was an opportunity to talk to those who have managed to succeed as business people in the creative space or who do struggle with business.
As Editor-in-Chief, what is your day-to-day role in the production of BUNCH Magazine?
Being the Editor-in-Chief is a lot of fun! I get to connect with writers, photographers, videographers, publicists and all of my favorite creatives all day long. It really is a blessing that I don’t take for granted. I’m also the Publisher and that’s the role that is less glamorous but can be just as exciting. I have to pitch and sell, get us into stores, make sure vendors are happy, make sure customers are happy, analyze data, crunch numbers. Ok, that does not sound even remotely fun! But at the end of the day, I’m living my dream career so I try not to complain too much.
Who or what keeps you motivated?
Not to be all Kanye West or anything but I keep myself motivated. As I said, I’m living my dream. Everyone has the opportunity to live out their dream whether they see it or believe it. To actually pursue it, to wake up every day and be able to say that something that was a figment of my imagination is now real and tangible is a trip. On the days when I feel like giving up or I’m unsure of my path I think about who I was as an 11-year-old girl fantasizing about having her own magazine and I think, “oh yeah, this is what I asked for!” and carry on.
Where do you see BUNCH Magazine in the next five years?
I think BUNCH definitely has the potential to be a major multimedia platform. Right now we’re small and growing, and balancing print and online has its challenges. Being able to incorporate video whether it’s web series or vignettes - would be ideal. Podcasts, offline events, who knows? The sky is the limit!
What advice would you offer someone who is thinking about going in one direction, when the industry they are a part of is moving in a different one? I love the quote, “Look at what everyone else is doing and then do it differently.” To me that means observing and trusting your intuition. I don’t believe in copying nor do I believe in reinventing the wheel, you have to find a happy medium. My gut told me to capitalize on an emerging market, present things in a familiar way but with my own, distinct spin on it. I feel proud to say that it worked out in my favor.
What has been your most difficult moment yet as EIC?
Honestly speaking, the entire job is difficult. Managing people, assembling a great team, dealing with disappointment from a customer, hearing “no” from a celebrity you wanted to appear in an issue, it all takes a toll on you. And that’s not even dealing with the financial piece. There was a time that I was really struggling, I had left my full-time job and put everything into BUNCH. I was burning through my savings quickly and things were moving at a snail’s pace and I questioned whether I had made the right decision by taking the leap. Then the issue sold out and I ended up winning a $20,000 award from Squarespace and Urban Outfitters and it was the push I needed to keep going and trust my instinct. The role of an editor involves trusting your gut.
How did you get your first job as an EIC?
I don’t have an expansive background in journalism. I never studied it and was on a completely different career path before deciding to launch BUNCH. I wrote for my school newspapers during my high school through graduate school years. I freelanced for a few publications here and there and kept up a blog before launching BUNCH. I did feel like a bit of a poser going into it and really struggled with calling myself an Editor-in-Chief. I’ve always believed that you should be well studied before diving into a profession. However, I knew that I needed to strike while the iron was hot and throw myself into it and thankfully it worked out!
How do you pick people to join the BUNCH Magazine team?
We look for people who are dreamers and doers. The question I ask first is what is your dream job, even if it has nothing to do with being part of the magazine world. I ask that question because first, I think as an employer you have to be realistic about our current job landscape, people aren’t working the same job for 40 years. Maybe you want to work with me for a year or 3 years to explore, learn, and grow. That’s okay with me! I don’t want you to sit at your computer sneaking onto Facebook and silently resenting your job. Second, I want people on my team who have passion and vision. I’m living my dream job and thriving because of it. I want everyone to have big goals for themselves and to know what it feels like to be happy with their work. So anyone who identifies with that is encouraged to get with our team.
What skills would you tell someone to hone first, before entering the digital arena?
Always be thinking and always be authentic. The digital world is changing fast and you have to pay attention. For example, Snapchat is on the rise. Think about why? It’s fun, it’s easy, it’s non-committal and it’s video. So how can you use those same principles in your brand and on your platform? Everyone is into video, soon it will be Virtual Reality (VR), get into the trend and get ahead of it. With regard to authenticity, I’ve done countless interviews and listened to countless talks and workshops. One of the biggest keys to everyone’s success in the digital world is that they were their authentic selves. The more authentic you can be and the more you can adapt and grow, the better you’ll be at carving out your own lane in the digital world.
Follow Lizzy Online:
Lizzy Twitter: @Lizzy_okoro BUNCH Twitter: @BunchMag Website: Bunchmag.com IG: Bunchmagazine