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Good Grit Magazine: The Character Of The South Personified – Spunky, Quick-Witted & As Intoxicating As A Mint Julep On A Hot Southern, Summer Day – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Laura Bento, Founder & Publisher, Good Grit Magazine

May 26, 2016

A Mr. Magazine™ Launch Story

“Old is new again. Record sales are at an all-time high, legit vinyl’s. Old buildings; we don’t want to live in a brand-new, fancy apartment complex, no-no, we want you to give us the shitty, brick-showing mortar, the AC is going to run you like $500 a month, loft downtown. That’s because old is new again. I don’t know how long that will last, but people love to hold print in their hands and I don’t care how many times they update their status with 140 characters, as long as they’re doing it with a picture of Good Grit as their photograph. (Laughs)” Laura Bento on why she chose print as the foundational platform for Good Grit

Heirloom_Cover Good Grit magazine – the character of the South. The title and the description fit both the magazine and its founder and publisher, Laura Bento. Laura has more grit than a bowl full of the stuff in a traditional Southern Sunday morning breakfast. She’s bold, plain-speaking, and as passionate about her brand as anyone I know. It’s been a long time since Mr. Magazine™ was as refreshed and excited about a new launch as I am with Good Grit.

I spoke with Laura recently and we talked about her absolute insanity when it came to birthing Good Grit. First of all, with no prior magazine experience and nothing more than an angry passion burning inside of her about how many portray the South; Laura decided that it was time to put her horse in the race when it came to giving another voice a chance to be heard regarding the “character” of the South. And heard she has definitely been. After only a year on boutique-type newsstands below the Mason-Dixon, Laura is expecting to break even this fall, a feat both unusual and almost unheard of. And her plans to bring Good Grit to a broader audience aren’t taking a backseat either. She is moving forward with that strategy as soon as possible.

But this is a Mr. Magazine™ launch story – I’m always looking for that one bolder-than-most, more-passionate-than-anyone-else entrepreneur who is bucking the odds and showing the world how powerful dreams and print together are. And with Good Grit, Laura is exemplifying that description.

We talked about her work ethic, hard, but loose, and her belief in the creative talent of her all-important-to-her staff. She is an amazing young woman who is as tough as she is passionate about what she wants her brand to achieve and become in the future.

I hope you enjoy this refreshingly honest interview read with a woman who personifies the name of her magazine – Good Grit. Without further ado, the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Laura Bento, Founder & Publisher, Good Grit Magazine.

But first, the sound-bites:

IMG_2469 On whether she’s a little crazy to start a print magazine in this digital age: Yes, I’m crazy. It’s really funny; I wish I had a really great background to share with you. I wish that I could tell you that I had worked for a publisher or that I was a writer or even that I’m a creative, but the truth is I’m none of those things. I’m just an entrepreneur who was sitting at her desk one day after reading an article in The New York Times that really pissed me off about the south. I’d never had a magazine subscription before in my life.

On the early reaction of Good Grit among her peers: I might tear up a little talking about it, because it’s sad. Everybody told me that I wouldn’t make it; everybody. There wasn’t one voice that said, “You got this; you can do it.” Even my investor, and now investors, told me that all of their financial advisors told them that this was a terrible investment and said don’t do it. And I have to tell you, we have had the best freaking year. Every issue has gotten better.

On the biggest mistake she’s made since her magazine journey began: I on boarded talent way too soon. I could have used the creative and presold a lot earlier and would probably be even closer to breaking even than I am now, but I burned about $150 G’s in just dumb on boarding of talent too soon. But I will say the advantage of that was just the culture. If you asked me what our greatest strength is I would tell you it’s our company culture.

On whether she’s a missionary or a merchant when it comes to her reasons for starting Good Grit: I love people. I’m a millennial, so I have to say that I fit into the social responsibility realm of things. I love give-back brands; I think that B Corp was one of the most genius marketing ploys the government ever rolled out. My people come first and money definitely comes second. But I wouldn’t necessarily say that we’re not merchants either. We’re merchants; we’re in this to make money for sure.

On where she sees the future of Good Grit heading: I believe that my audience is in the wealth-accrual mode. And I hope that what Good Grit acts as, is a tool of something that’s just out of reach. We want to talk about stories that you can relate to now, but we also want to inspire you to do something more, whether that’s something that gives you a cause for action; trial and triumph are a big part of the tone of voice you hear throughout the book.

On why, being a millennial herself, she chose print for the foundational platform of Good Grit: Our audience isn’t necessarily millennials. That’s one slice of my audience. But if you read the magazine, you understand that I’m not gearing it toward 18-34 year olds; not necessarily. I always say that I’m in the middle of the demographic, I’m 33. I chose print because, and this is not just about millennials, through the revitalization and localization movement that we’re seeing all over the world, and specifically the South; watching small towns be revitalized everywhere, this hipster movement as I like to call it, is certainly not exclusive to just millennials.

Flourish_Cover On defining Good Grit to someone on the street: I would tell them that Good Grit is a progressive voice for the South, telling the stories of the character of the South. We’re a magazine that had a baby with a coffee table book. I tell people that all of the time. Our goal is to live on your coffee table for at least two months and then maybe retire somewhere else in your home. We want to be beautiful, but intriguing. And we want you to want to curl up with us; throw us in your bag and take us with you everywhere, and to share us with your friends.

On the feeling that she comes home with at the end of the day: It’s so funny; I’ve never been so thankful and happy in a career ever. And I’ve always been thankful and happy in my career. It’s not like I’ve been a girl who was miserable with the things that she’s done, but when I come home now I literally walk down the hall and on the left side of my hall I have a photograph of every person on my staff. And beside their photograph is a word that represents them.

On what someone would find her doing at home in the evening if they showed up unexpectedly: If you came to my house right now, you’d think you had showed up on the set of the movie “A Beautiful Mind.” Every wall in my living room is covered with whiteboard. And it’s always that way. There’s always a new something. So right now, it’s identifying the seven streams of revenue that we have over the next four years so that we can raise our next round of capital. It’s looking at sales and pipelines; analyzing and understanding the people who are willing to take a risk on such a small publication with so few impressions and to grow with us.

On what motivates her to get out of bed in the morning and look forward to the day ahead: Gratitude. I’m so excited. It’s a miracle. What we’ve done is a miracle. So, I don’t want to take that for granted. I don’t spend a moment procrastinating. When my alarm goes off, or I’m up even before my alarm goes off, I sleep maybe five hours. I feel like sleep is kind of a waste of time and quite honestly, if I didn’t just have to be clean, showering would piss me off too.

On what keeps her up at night: I would have answered that question differently if you had asked it five and a half months ago. I would have told you that what kept me up at night is how the hell am I going to make payroll on Friday, because that was before I on boarded my latest investor. Now, I would tell you that what keeps me up at night is making sure that whatever our next move is regarding capital is the right move and it’s not made in desperation.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Laura Bento, Founder & Publisher, Good Grit Magazine.

Samir Husni: Anyone who launches a new magazine in this day and age; one that is ink on paper and has a brilliant design; one that the quality of the paper is outstanding and the overall result is that the magazine is really a good one, would have to be crazy in this digital age, or so everyone says. What made you decide to launch Good Grit; are you crazy?

IMG_2567 Laura Bento: (Laughs) I actually tell people that I think you literally have to be somewhat unstable and insane to start a magazine, that there has to be something that’s not quite right with the person who does it. (Laughs again)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Laura Bento: Yes, I’m crazy. It’s really funny; I wish I had a really great background to share with you. I wish that I could tell you that I had worked for a publisher or that I was a writer or even that I’m a creative, but the truth is I’m none of those things. I’m just an entrepreneur who was sitting at her desk one day after reading an article in The New York Times that really pissed me off about the South. I’d never had a magazine subscription before in my life.

I almost felt as though it were divinely inspired a little bit, because there was really no logical reason why a girl like me, who has a sales and marketing background and had a consulting firm and worked as the national director of sales and marketing for a company based out of St. Louis, but I’m originally from Savannah, Georgia; there was no logical train of thought to all of this. It was just that I felt there was a hole in the market and I didn’t feel anyone was competing with Garden & Gun and I wanted to fill that void.

I wanted to be a progressive voice for the south, but I really wanted to come at it from the Alabama side of things. I felt like Garden & Gun, me being an East Coast girl myself, leaned a little more East Coast. And I didn’t think there was a voice for the Gulf or a voice for what’s happening today, that localization and revitalization movement that’s really sweeping across the world, but that’s really starting to gain momentum in the South.

Samir Husni: You now have a year under your belt with Good Grit, but what was the early reaction, after you actually did it and put the first issue out?

Laura Bento: I might tear up a little talking about it, because it’s sad. Everybody told me that I wouldn’t make it; everybody. There wasn’t one voice that said, “You got this; you can do it.” Even my investor, and now investors, told me that all of their financial advisors told them that this was a terrible investment and said don’t do it.

And I have to tell you, we have had the best freaking year. Every issue has gotten better; we made some decisions early on, or I made the decisions; I had no magazine knowledge, so I called a friend of mine based out of Savannah where I’m from, who had been asking me for many years to come and run his sales and marketing department and he’d said that he’d give me part of his magazine. I always told him that I didn’t believe in “giving” anything and that had to be a trick.

What happened was I called him and I said, hey, Michael (Brooks), I think I’m going to start a magazine. And he owns South Magazine, which is in Savannah, but it covers a wide area. And he’s crazy as hell; you’d never partner with him on anything. He’s a creative genius, but he’s crazy. (Laughs)

Originally, when I didn’t know what I was doing, I thought that I was going to have to end up partnering with Michael. And I have always told him that I thought his brand should be regional and he loves the money of that climb between city-centric and a regional publication; (A) it’s very hard to make if you’ve established yourself as city, I think, but (B) there are a lot of sacrifices that have to be made.

Awaken_Cover So, when I called and said that I was starting a magazine, he told me that he thought it was a good idea and that Birmingham was really hungry for something that was edgy and progressive. And he said that he thought I should do it. But I told him, no, you don’t understand I’m not starting a “Birmingham” magazine; there are plenty of Birmingham magazines. I’m starting a regional publication and I’m going to compete with Garden & Gun. And he laughed. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: (Laughs too).

Laura Bento: I told him that I didn’t know anything about magazines and that I needed to build a business plan so that I could raise capital. So, here’s what I’m going to do; I’m going to run my business on Monday, then I’m going to drive to Savannah from Birmingham, five and a half hours, on Monday night, and then I’m going to work for you for free Tuesday-Thursday. I will onboard new sales people for you, train them; I’ll work out the holes in your marketing plan, and I’ll try and help you in that way, and all I need from you is every piece of data that you have. I need to look at your P & L; I need to see your relationship with printers; I need to understand circulation and distribution; I need to see what you’re doing well and what you’re doing really shitty, and then decide what I like and what I don’t like.

And I would sell for him too while I was there. And I have never felt so dirty in my entire life, selling advertorials, and it made me like want to slap people. (Laughs) I just knew that it couldn’t be a part of my model; I just knew that. So, I made a decision very early on, before I even had a formed business model or business plan, that I would not offer any advertorials or sponsored content in book with any advertising partner that we had.

We just needed to believe what we believe. And we believe in the South. We believe in the character of the South and we hoped that advertisers would like to position themselves with someone who was going to do a great job telling that story, so that they would like to advertise with us. And if they didn’t, then they weren’t our people and we would all move on.

And most people were saying that’s hilarious; it’s never going to work. My first issue came out and we did $55,000 in sales just by telling people that. We promise we’re going to be just a really good portrait of the character of the South.

And now, a year later, we’re on track to break even by September or October, which is pretty unheard of. We’re on our third round of capital and it’s just humbling. Even the naysayers; the people that were in my market and were saying, “Who the hell is this girl, who has no clue?” and they were so right, I had no clue.

But I believe my ignorance has acted as probably one of the best tools. Everyone on my staff has never worked for a magazine; they’ve never done what they’re doing. My art director had never been an art director before. My editor had never been an editor; my business manager had never been a business manager. I had never been a publisher, but I said that we were going to go at this so clean and so fresh and so new. I told them that we were probably going to fail hard, but that we would learn from our failures and we would move quickly to fix them, no matter what they were.

And that’s really working. And even my frenemies; many people who feel like we’re competing with them, have been really kind and gracious and willing to sit down with me and tell me things that they’ve messed up on. I’m probably one of the most curious people you’ll ever meet, which I think has also worked in my favor, so I love understanding the “why” of things. And I also believe in failing very, very quickly. So, if we’re going to fail, we fail big and we fail quickly, but we also move forward very fast. And we do not make the same mistakes twice.

Samir Husni: What was the biggest mistake you made during this journey?

Laura Bento: I on boarded talent way too soon. I could have used the creative and presold a lot earlier and would probably be even closer to breaking even than I am now, but I burned about $150 G’s in just dumb on boarding of talent too soon. But I will say the advantage of that was just the culture. If you asked me what our greatest strength is I would tell you it’s our company culture. You will not find a culture like us anywhere.

Samir Husni: Do you feel as though you’re more on a mission, that money comes second? I know you want to make money, you can’t afford not to. I like to tell people that there are two groups of publishers: the missionaries and the merchants. The merchants are just in it to make money, the missionaries are like when Henry Luce started Time Magazine; he wanted America the Great, so he was on a mission that was also a business.

Laura Bento: I love people. I’m a millennial, so I have to say that I fit into the social responsibility realm of things. I love give-back brands; I think that B Corp was one of the most genius marketing ploys the government ever rolled out. My people come first and money definitely comes second. But I wouldn’t necessarily say that we’re not merchants either. We’re merchants; we’re in this to make money for sure. Without a doubt we’re a for-profit company and I have to be a good steward with the money that’s been given to me by my investors who believed in me when I was holding a piece of paper with probably the shittiest business plan that had ever been written on it. And that’s no lie. So, I certainly feel a responsibility to that.

But maybe it’s equal. Maybe we’re both missionary and merchant. Making money is a huge priority for me, but we are very mission oriented too. We’re a give-back brand; we have an entire department dedicated to humanity and we cover stories of non-profits in the South. And then we choose one of those non-profits each issue and 100% of our net proceeds from our release party go to the give-back, so we’ve been in business for six issues and probably written about $30,000 in give-back. We haven’t made a damn dime, but we have written $30,000 in checks to non-profits that we have written stories about. Philanthropy has always been a big part of who I am; I believe in giving back.

But I still love to make money. We will make money, because when we make money, I can pay my staff appropriately and right now, they’re all very much mission-oriented, which is something that I’ve learned about creatives. If they believe what you believe, money is not even second on their list. Feeling fulfilled and having a platform to do what they love is far more important than money.

Samir Husni: As a millennial, what role do you think you’re playing in the midst of all the Southern stereotypes? And where do you think you’re heading with Good Grit?

Laura Bento: I believe that my audience is in the wealth-accrual mode. And I hope that what Good Grit acts as, is a tool of something that’s just out of reach. We want to talk about stories that you can relate to now, but we also want to inspire you to do something more, whether that’s something that gives you a cause for action; trial and triumph are a big part of the tone of voice you hear throughout the book.

I hope our role is breaking stereotypes that have been built in the South. It’s so funny, “we have brains and we’re using them,” is something that I always say. There was a time when I felt like the South was really looking to California or New York and asking, OK – what’s in style? What are we supposed to be wearing, or eating, or doing; what’s cool? And I’ve explained to everyone that will listen to me; guess what? Everyone is looking at us now. They want to do know what we’re doing. The South is hot; we’re trending right now. There’s no way of knowing how long that wave will last, but we should ride it as hard as we possibly can and we should educate people that we do have brains and we’re using them; we’re innovators, we’re entrepreneurs; we’re dreamers. And we’re not just dreamers; we’re chasing our dreams as hard as we can.

We’re creating a summit to the South; entrepreneurs all over the country and all over the world want affordable living, but still retain the ability to go after whatever it is their heart desires. Hilariously, millennials; we all think that we can change the world. And maybe that’s not the case, but we also have to help them understand that we can’t just go out and sell daddy’s and granddaddy’s companies and ship them off to another country. We have to have publicly-traded companies in Birmingham, Ala. or our economy will collapse and in the next 20 years.

So, although we are a lifestyle magazine, I’m working on a program called “The Hats” that will be the first live and work incubator in the state of Alabama, but from what I can tell, probably the first of its kind in the country.

There are many layers to this. To me, Good Grit is a platform to tell these wonderful stories, but it’s not the end, and I don’t even think it’s the beginning. I think that I just happened to walk into a perfect storm in a city that’s experiencing some big transformations and be able to ride that wave with them. We’re in every state below the Mason-Dixon line now, although we’re still very much boutique, as far as circulation goes. But with our next round of capital, our next job will be to go over 100,000 in print to get us up to that regional level.

Samir Husni: Millennials are known for their social media skills and for being digital natives; as a millennial, why did you choose print?

Laura Bento: Our audience isn’t necessarily millennials. That’s one slice of my audience. But if you read the magazine, you understand that I’m not gearing it toward 18-34 year olds; not necessarily. I always say that I’m in the middle of the demographic, I’m 33. I chose print because, and this is not just about millennials, through the revitalization and localization movement that we’re seeing all over the world, and specifically the South; watching small towns be revitalized everywhere, this hipster movement as I like to call it, is certainly not exclusive to just millennials.

Old is new again. Record sales are at an all-time high, legit vinyl’s. Old buildings; we don’t want to live in a brand-new, fancy apartment complex, no-no, we want you to give us the shitty, brick-showing mortar, the AC is going to run you like $500 a month, loft downtown. That’s because old is new again. I don’t know how long that will last, but people love to hold print in their hands and I don’t care how many times they update their status with 140 characters, as long as they’re doing it with a picture of Good Grit as their photograph. (Laughs)

Samir Husni: If someone stopped you on the street and you told them what you do for a living and they asked you to define Good Grit, what would you say?

Laura Bento: I would tell them that Good Grit is a progressive voice for the South, telling the stories of the character of the South. We’re a magazine that had a baby with a coffee table book. I tell people that all of the time. Our goal is to live on your coffee table for at least two months and then maybe retire somewhere else in your home. We want to be beautiful, but intriguing. And we want you to want to curl up with us; throw us in your bag and take us with you everywhere, and to share us with your friends.

We hope that we’re not only reaching the sorority girl and her boyfriend, but we’re reaching her mom and then her mom. I believe that I have the opportunity to reach three generations of men and women through this magazine. And I think that we’re just starting to scratch the surface.

Samir Husni: You said that you’re just beginning to scratch the surface, but what’s the feeling you come home with at the end of the day?

Laura Bento: It’s so funny; I’ve never been so thankful and happy in a career ever. And I’ve always been thankful and happy in my career. It’s not like I’ve been a girl who was miserable with the things that she’s done, but when I come home now I literally walk down the hall and on the left side of my hall I have a photograph of every person on my staff. And beside their photograph is a word that represents them. Austin’s is humility and Austin is my art director. Ashley’s is overcomer, and Tony’s is constant; these words that mean so much. And when I walk down my hallway every day when I get home, I pass the people who work their asses off for me. That bleed for this company; they do not make enough money and they always give all they have to me.

I lived in a one-bedroom apartment. I have a son who is 13, and we moved into this tiny, one-bedroom apartment so that I could do this. And we had never lived like that before, not in his lifetime; he’d never seen that. And we joked and said that he was Harry Potter because his bed was in a closet. We’d pull it out and pull onto the floor.

So when I moved into my two-bedroom place that was one of the things I did because I wanted to remember all of the people who had made sacrifices and bled with me. So I created my wall. So, when I come home, I do so with a sense of gratitude. I never want to stop bleeding with gratitude or living with gratitude. One thing that I’ve learned about magazines and creatives is you just can’t pretend that you know what people want. You have to listen to them. And so I listen to my staff; I don’t pretend that I’m an expert. One thing I do know for sure is that I don’t know. So it’s gratitude; that’s what I come home with. That’s what keeps me going.

Samir Husni: I show up at your house one evening unexpectedly and you just came home; what do I find you doing; reading a magazine, reading on your iPad, watching television, or something else?

Laura Bento: If you came to my house right now, you’d think you had showed up on the set of the movie “A Beautiful Mind.” Every wall in my living room is covered with whiteboard. And it’s always that way. There’s always a new something. So right now, it’s identifying the seven streams of revenue that we have over the next four years so that we can raise our next round of capital. It’s looking at sales and pipelines; analyzing and understanding the people who are willing to take a risk on such a small publication with so few impressions and to grow with us.

It’s identifying how Good Grit fits into the local economy here and how I’ve gained favor with people who are in it here and influencers who can help us gain favor in other ways, but literally, every wall in my loft, in my living room and kitchen is covered in whiteboard.

Samir Husni: What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning and look forward to the day ahead?

Laura Bento: Gratitude. I’m so excited. It’s a miracle. What we’ve done is a miracle. So, I don’t want to take that for granted. I don’t spend a moment procrastinating. When my alarm goes off, or I’m up even before my alarm goes off, I sleep maybe five hours. I feel like sleep is kind of a waste of time and quite honestly, if I didn’t just have to be clean, showering would piss me off too.

Samir Husni: (Laughs).

Laura Bento: But there’s not enough time, so I wake up and count my blessings; I do my daily devotions and I listen to praise and worship music while I’m in the shower. I love Jesus and I cuss like a sailor, but I think those two things can exist together in the South. You’re welcomed.

Samir Husni: (Laughs again).

Laura Bento: And I hit the ground running. I’m hard on my people, but I hold them loose. And we just go at it every day. And it never stops.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Laura Bento: I would have answered that question differently if you had asked it five and a half months ago. I would have told you that what kept me up at night is how the hell am I going to make payroll on Friday, because that was before I on boarded my latest investor.

Now, I would tell you that what keeps me up at night is making sure that whatever our next move is regarding capital is the right move and it’s not made in desperation. That it is strategic and calculated and will protect this brand and its integrity.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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One comment

  1. Great story, Samir. You go, Laura!



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