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Jeff Taylor, Founder & Publisher, Courier Magazine To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “I Feel Like Our Job Is To Know Our Audience Inside And Out And Then To Figure Out Where We Can Take Them.” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

February 13, 2021

“There’s a whole conversation in media that I’ve just chosen not to get into, which is print versus digital. And the print fetishes who allow that print is wonderful and we need to protect print. And then the digital people who are like print is dead, there’s no role for it. And maybe it’s because I wasn’t from that sector, but I just looked at it and thought there’s all different media and they’re kind of like a toolkit and you use a hammer for some jobs and a saw for others. What’s the job that I’m trying to do?” Jeff Taylor…

Courier is a London-based company that produces a bimonthly magazine and newspaper full of educational and inspirational content for modern entrepreneurs and small businesses, as well as a newsletter, podcast, and events. Since 2013, Courier has empowered the next generation of entrepreneurs with practical and authentic stories that inspire people who want to live and work on their own terms. 

Jeff Taylor is the founder and publisher of Courier and believes his brand can help people be better and do better when it comes to business. In fact, so much so that Courier caught the eye of Mailchimp, an all-in-one marketing platform for small businesses, that acquired Jeff’s company in 2020.

I spoke with Jeff recently and we talked about the acquisition and how the move with Mailchimp has allowed him to bring his brand to a level he has wanted since the beginning, only faster and with an expertise that can’t be denied. Jeff is a believer in print, but also stresses his belief in being platform agnostic in this day and age. Whether it’s a hammer or a saw, as he puts it, print and digital have to work together to meet the customer where they are. They’re both in his toolkit and he utilizes them accordingly.

So, please enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jeff Taylor, founder and publisher, Courier magazine.

But first the sound-bites:

On how Courier Media adapted to the pandemic crisis: It was a year when our audience needed us more than ever before. We’re in the business of helping people work sustainably and stand on their own two feet and that’s a really delicate place for a person who’s starting out. Last year was a year when the audience needed the insight and the skills and even just the stories of other people and how they were figuring out a path through this.

On what he hopes to accomplish with the brand in the future: In a couple years’ time, I’d like to think we’re getting excited about the same thing, which is we’re helping more people get started in a better way and we’re cutting the risk of failure for those people. The media glamorizes starting something with this “screw-it, let’s do it” attitude, but it misses that fact that this is people’s mortgages they’re risking, it’s their kids’ school endowments, their careers; it’s a really risky step and they shouldn’t just “screw-it, let’s do it.” If they’re going to do it, we want to make sure they do it in a way that minimizes their risk of failure and leads to maximum satisfaction. 

On how he balances the social responsibility of the magazine with the moneymaking side: I’ve never thought of the two of them separately. I don’t think of us as a social good or bad or anything like that. I just came at it from a problem point of view, which was I had this problem in my life and a lot of my friends had the same problem, there was nothing for people like us in this sort of territory. And I just tried to come up with a product solution to that. 

On the role of print in his business mix: There’s a whole conversation in media that I’ve just chosen not to get into, which is print versus digital. And the print fetishists who opine that print is wonderful and we need to protect print. And then the digital people who are like ‘print is dead, there’s no role for it’. And maybe it’s because I wasn’t from that sector, but I just looked at it and thought there’s all different media and they’re kind of like a toolkit and you use a hammer for some jobs and a saw for others. What’s the job that I’m trying to do? 

On how he decides when to use print and when to use digital: That’s a great question. I was just having a conversation with our editorial director, Danny, on exactly this. We’re re-looking at the role of podcasts at the moment. And the conversation for us begins with how we can earn a place in our audience’s media diet.  I think this is rare for media, I feel like media begins at ‘We’re this title and we cover this territory and we strategically need to be in these mediums because that’s where advertiser dollars are. And I think a product company works completely the other way around, which is where is the audience and what are their problems? And are we in a unique position to be able to add something in that medium to help them solve their problems or supply something they previously didn’t have?

On whether now that he is a part of a bigger company that has influenced any of his editorial or publishing decisions: This is going to sound sycophantic, and I don’t mean it to be, but it comes from a place where I wasn’t looking to sell my company. In fact, I was out raising a little bit of investment to help us grow and when Mailchimp approached us and suggested doing something bigger and more permanent. We knew the team well as they’d been great brand partners of ours, but when they first suggested an acquisition, I was like ‘no, don’t be messing with my investment round, I’m not interested in selling my business. 

On anything he’d like to add: The one caveat I’d put on the whole print thing is sometimes when I talk about not having  a print fetish, people think that I’m somehow not supportive of print or that we might not do print in the future. And it’s possible, just like any media, we may not do it in the future, but I do think print is a really special medium. We’ve invested a lot in it and I think there’s a great place for it, but I think the majority of print people need to evolve their business models a lot. 

On what makes him tick and click: I love making things and I love being able to show people something new or help them do something better. I’ve always liked being the one in my circle that would field questions from friends like ‘hey, what’s the best juicer I should buy’ or ‘do you know how to manage your heart rate so you can get the most efficiency from a run’. I’ve just wanted to know stuff in a polymathic sort of way and show people ‘here’s how you can do things better. 

On how he unwinds in the evenings: It’s strange actually, COVID inspired my partner and I to move out of a Central London apartment to the country so we now live in the beautiful Chilterns in Buckinghamshire about an hour out of London. So, not only have we had the adjustment from COVID and social distancing, we’ve also been experiencing the difference between city and rural living. Increasingly, I’m enjoying just getting outside in the environment, fresh air, walking our new puppy Brody, exercising so much more, things like that. I love to get in the kitchen and cook. I love good film; I watch a lot of film. Just trying to live better and be happier as a consequence. 

On what keeps him up at night: (Laughs) I’m a really good sleeper; it’s my only God-given talent. I can sleep anywhere and anytime. So, I have to say that very little keeps me awake at night. But what do I worry about? What I worry about more than anything else is climate change and how we’re probably a part of the damage that’s been going on. I mean, we are most definitely.

And now for the lightly edited Mr. Magazine™ interview with Jeff Taylor, founder and publisher, Courier magazine. 

Samir Husni: With the pandemic, 2020 was a completely different year than any of us had ever seen or experienced. Can you tell us about how Courier adapted to the crisis?

Jeff Taylor: I think it was mixed, and for a lot of people I think it was mixed as well. We were certainly not immune to the print channel being effectively shut down at a time when we felt we were really hitting our stride with print. So many of our team have been touched by various elements of COVID; we have a really international team who traveled, so we had all of those things.

But on the flip side, it was a year when our audience needed us more than ever before. We’re in the business of helping people work sustainably and stand on their own two feet and that’s a really delicate place for a person who’s starting out. Last year was a year when the audience needed the insight and the skills and even just the stories of other people and how they were figuring out a path through this. 

It meant a really quick move from us; we didn’t move away from print, although we did put our newspaper on ice, but we kept our magazine growing. We retooled our podcasts and our emails to move toward COVID coverage very quickly and just tried to understand what the audience needed and meet those needs as much as we could. It was certainly an invigorating year; it kept us on our toes.

Samir Husni: Two years from now you’ll be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the magazine that you founded, but now it’s much more than a magazine, now it’s Courier Media. If you and I are having this conversation then, in 2023, what would you hope to tell me you had accomplished with the brand?

Jeff Taylor: It’s funny, it’s like this business was born for me personally for the same mission that the company has itself. I had a pretty senior job; I used to fly around the world doing exciting things, but actually I wasn’t very happy necessarily with the way my life was structured and how I was living my life. The very kernel of Courier is to be a beacon for people who want to work and live on their own terms. Everything that we do comes from that place. We think everyone has a right to structure their life in a way that they can earn a living, but can enjoy their life as well and get satisfaction from it.

And I kind of apply that to what are our ambitions. It’s lovely to sell more copies or get complimentary notes, but what really makes the difference for me personally and I think the team is, when we get an email from someone who says I come from a background that I never would have thought I could go off and do that, whether that’s gender, race, sexuality, socioeconomic status, just whatever, but I don’t look like the sort of person you see in business media or on Shark Tank. But you guys made me feel like I could do it and you showed me the way. And because of that, I’ve done it.

In a couple years’ time, I’d like to think we’re getting excited about the same thing, which is we’re helping more people get started in a better way and we’re cutting the risk of failure for those people. The media glamorizes starting something with this “screw-it, let’s do it” attitude, but it misses that fact that this is people’s mortgages they’re risking, it’s their kids’ school endowments, their careers; it’s a really risky step and they shouldn’t just “screw-it, let’s do it.” If they’re going to do it, we want to make sure they do it in a way that minimizes their risk of failure and leads to maximum satisfaction.

So, I’d like to think that in a couple of years we’re just feeling like we’ve impacted so many more people’s journeys in this way. And that’s what the Mailchimp opportunity gives us and the growth that we’re getting just means that we can impact so many more people in a positive way. 

Samir Husni: How do you balance the social responsibility of the magazine with the moneymaking aspect of the business?

Courier magazine’s special issue: THE BEST publication I have seen in my entire career on How To Start A Business. Worth every penny and every dollar. A solid investment and a must read.

Jeff Taylor: I’ve never thought of the two of them separately. I don’t think of us as a social good or bad or anything like that. I just came at it from a problem point of view, which was I had this problem in my life and a lot of my friends had the same problem, there was nothing for people like us in this sort of territory. And I just tried to come up with a product solution to that. 

But I do think that whenever we’re looking at a business with any type of social good or mission attached to it, my first instinct is you’ve got to be twice as hard on that business doing the due diligence of asking is it a real business? We didn’t bring investors on, so I had to build a business that made money from the beginning. We were nearly always profitable before we were acquired. The only time we weren’t was when we were investing for growth. And I think it’s that same thing. In order to do good, you have to be a good business first and foremost. So, they go hand in hand for me. And if they don’t you’ve got the wrong business or the wrong social purpose and you won’t be in business in or year or two, because if you can’t pay wages or keep the lights on, it doesn’t matter how good-hearted you are, you aren’t going to survive.

I’ve never conceived of us as a media company and I still don’t think of us that way. It might sound like just jargon, but I think of us as a product company. I didn’t come from media; my early career was in advertising, but actually I come from products and marketing. Even our editorial process is very different. Our editorial team work to ‘use cases’, they work to missions for everything we put out that’s bigger, solving problems for our audience. We work to be an essential partner for our customers. The fact that a lot of our output is media is because that’s just the product that we make. 

Samir Husni: Among the many products that you make, one is the print magazine. Can you tell me a little about the role of print in this digital age and the role of print in the mix of your products?

Jeff Taylor: There’s a whole conversation in media that I’ve just chosen not to get into, which is print versus digital. And the print fetishists who opine that print is wonderful and we need to protect print. And then the digital people who are like ‘print is dead, there’s no role for it’. And maybe it’s because I wasn’t from that sector, but I just looked at it and thought there’s all different media and they’re kind of like a toolkit and you use a hammer for some jobs and a saw for others. What’s the job that I’m trying to do? 

When we started, I was trying to find something that had a clear economic return on it. And even though digital, especially at that stage, was very in fashion, it was much harder to identify where the revenues were going to come from. Whereas there were big brands advertising in print and there continues to be so it seemed like a more secure choice. 

But also, I wanted to create a really evocative world for Courier that I think is very hard to do in digital. Or certainly hard to do at that time with the budgets we had. And print seemed to me to be this amazing place where we could take often quite dry concepts and bring them to life in an evocative way and then bring to life the world of brands and people doing things beautifully. My dirty secret in starting a magazine is I’m not a very big reader; I struggle to sit and read for a long period of time. My inspiration in those days was Tumblr. In those days, before it got overrun with adult content it was this wonderful environment where you would go through photo after photo in your feed. And I tried to conceive what that might be like in print for our audience. And that’s why we ended up in print.

Samir Husni: You’re definitely platform agnostic, but for those in your audience who are still platform specific, how do you decide when to use the saw and when to use the hammer? 

Jeff Taylor: That’s a great question. I was just having a conversation with our editorial director, Danny, on exactly this. We’re re-looking at the role of podcasts at the moment. And the conversation for us begins with how we can earn a place in our audience’s media diet.  I think this is rare for media, I feel like media begins at ‘We’re this title and we cover this territory and we strategically need to be in these mediums because that’s where advertiser dollars are. And I think a product company works completely the other way around, which is where is the audience and what are their problems? And are we in a unique position to be able to add something in that medium to help them solve their problems or supply something they previously didn’t have? 

I’ll give you a good example with Instagram. We have an Instagram presence, but we’ve really struggled to grow our Instagram channel. And for ages we’d bring in people who knew about it and have long sessions. And then it suddenly hit me, we just don’t have that much to contribute to our audience on Instagram. We can put up photos of businesses or whatever, but although our audience is on Instagram, there isn’t a natural intersection between what people need from us and what we can do on that platform. 

Whereas we’ve been talking about Clubhouse and instantly you go ‘I can completely see the role for Courier on Clubhouse.’ We can talk to our audience, they can ask us questions live and we can solve them. We can bring people front and center, help them with one of their core issues, how do I do this, where do I find that? Who’s someone I can get inspiration from? And so I think that’s a long way of saying we kind of let the audience guide us there.

I feel like our job is to know our audience inside and out and then to figure out where we can take them. And in a lot of cases they don’t even realize it yet and that’s how I try to approach what medium we should be in.

Samir Husni: Do you feel there’s a difference now between Jeff Taylor, the owner and founder, and the Jeff Taylor who is now part of a big company? Did that influence any of the editorial, publishing, broadcasting decisions that you’ve made?

Jeff Taylor: This is going to sound sycophantic, and I don’t mean it to be, but it comes from a place where I wasn’t looking to sell my company. In fact, I was out raising a little bit of investment to help us grow and when Mailchimp approached us and suggested doing something bigger and more permanent. We knew the team well as they’d been great brand partners of ours, but when they first suggested an acquisition, I was like ‘no, don’t be messing with my investment round, I’m not interested in selling my business. ‘

But the more time we spent talking about what we could achieve together, and I think really understanding what they saw in the business, the more it convinced me that actually I could realize everything I was trying to achieve with Courier, but do it faster and on a bigger platform with better expertise behind us by doing it with them. And that’s where the acquisition really came from. 

So, a year on, my brief from Mailchimp is to be more Courier and to get our resources and our stories in more people’s hands, in more places, in more ways to support the growth and boost the success of as many small businesses as we can. And the funny thing is although Mailchimp is in a completely different industry to what we’re in, our values and our missions are identical. And so it has been an incredibly seamless experience. They just want us to be more Courier. And they’re an enormous support in helping us do that.

Samir Husni:  Is there anything you’d like to add?

Jeff Taylor: The one caveat I’d put on the whole print thing is sometimes when I talk about not having  a print fetish, people think that I’m somehow not supportive of print or that we might not do print in the future. And it’s possible, just like any media, we may not do it in the future, but I do think print is a really special medium. We’ve invested a lot in it and I think there’s a great place for it, but I think the majority of print people need to evolve their business models a lot. 

And I think the biggest threat to print is actually the crumbling of the distribution infrastructure and network that print gets sold through. It was an old clunky industry that COVID has hit incredibly hard. I don’t know to what extent it’s ever going to recover and come back. 

We see the devastation in small business and a lot of print gets sold through small business. So, we’re always watching it to see, but we’re growing our print numbers in terms of subscriptions. We think we’ll be able to come back quite strongly as the distribution opens up. I hope print has a strong future, but we just keep an eye on these things. 

Samir Husni: What makes you tick and click and motivates you to get out of bed in the mornings?

Jeff Taylor: I love making things and I love being able to show people something new or help them do something better. I’ve always liked being the one in my circle that would field questions from friends like ‘hey, what’s the best juicer I should buy’ or ‘do you know how to manage your heart rate so you can get the most efficiency from a run’. I’ve just wanted to know stuff in a polymathic sort of way and show people ‘here’s how you can do things better. 

And I think that’s what I love about Courier. It’s not for a social reason, but as much as anything it’s just because I love being the epicenter of ‘you can be better, you can be happier, you can be richer, you can be more stable, you can be whatever it is you want to be. That’s our mission is to help people achieve what they define as ‘success’. It’s not our job to tell you what your ambitions should be, which is a mistake I think a lot of media make. We just like to put out a whole great kind of smorgasbord of things and point you in the right direction and show you stuff. 

You’ll notice Courier very rarely says we think you should do this or we think this is in or out, we never really talk like that. We just try to find a whole lot of stuff that we think is reallyuseful or interesting or whatever, and put it in front of you and assume you’re intelligent enough to make your own decisions about it.

Samir Husni: How do you unwind in the evenings?

Jeff Taylor: It’s strange actually, COVID inspired my partner and I to move out of a Central London apartment to the country so we now live in the beautiful Chilterns in Buckinghamshire about an hour out of London. So, not only have we had the adjustment from COVID and social distancing, we’ve also been experiencing the difference between city and rural living. Increasingly, I’m enjoying just getting outside in the environment, fresh air, walking our new puppy Brody, exercising so much more, things like that. I love to get in the kitchen and cook. I love good film; I watch a lot of film. Just trying to live better and be happier as a consequence.

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

Jeff Taylor: (Laughs) I’m a really good sleeper; it’s my only God-given talent. I can sleep anywhere and anytime. So, I have to say that very little keeps me awake at night. But what do I worry about? What I worry about more than anything else is climate change and how we’re probably a part of the damage that’s been going on. I mean, we are most definitely. 

And I do think a lot about the social gap that’s just increasingly emerging in our society and the concentration of wealth among the richest .1 percent and what that’s doing to fracture our economy, from a social point of view, but also from an economic point of view. It just doesn’t make sense. I’m Australian and the Australian system is very different from the British or the American system. It’s much closer to a social democracy . I do think a lot about that and how we not just protect our democracy, but actually return to perhaps a more socially democratic way. 

Samir Husni: Thank you. 

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