In Bustle’s Quick Question, we ask women leaders all for advice. Here, Hannah Russell, co-founder of the podcast company Mags Creative, discusses comparison, start-ups, and the power of podcasting in the Instagram era.
When Hannah Russell became a self-proclaimed “podcast junkie” in 2017, she went further with her newfound obsession than most. Together with her sister Faith, she founded Mags Creative, an independent podcast production company. Now, nearly five years later, her company is generating millions of audio downloads and has won a string of prestigious awards, including Best Network or Publisher at the British Podcast Awards 2022.
Yet Mags Creative is not the first venture the sisters have started together. Their previous company, Low Home, was an online marketplace for second-hand, high-end furniture. This is where Russell spent much of her day on Instagram, connecting with influencers and growing the company’s following. From this space, where curated images often obscure reality, the slower, spoken world of podcasts offered her a welcome escape.
“In hindsight, Faith and I suffered from screen fatigue. We had built Layer Home around content and Instagram felt different in 2014/2017. There were certainly no conversations about digital addiction or digital detoxification,” recalls Russell. “When I discovered podcasts, it felt extremely liberating to listen to what people had to say, instead of observing what they looked like. I remember developing emotional bonds with people I had never met. Their stories made me feel very heard and seen. And that became our goal: to make people feel seen, heard and part of a community. We believe that by platforming these conversations, we can make positive changes.”
Below, she shares the best advice she’s ever received and works her way through the comparison trap.
What career advice have you received that you will continue to live by?
My mother once told me that comparison is the thief of joy. But on Instagram, you kind of operate in a whole world of comparison; you constantly look at others without really knowing the reality of their situations. Staying in my own job and not comparing myself or my company to others is something I’ve worked so hard for. I try to stay focused on my definition of success and the things I’m proud of.
If you find yourself getting into a pattern of comparison, how do you break that cycle?
I think it’s about noticing. I’ve had a lot of therapy; I’ve had a lot of coaching and because of that I got to know myself a little better. If I notice that I regularly compare myself with someone else, and come off worse, I can unravel that a bit. That’s been pretty powerful for me.
What about the worst advice you’ve been given?
I don’t think this is necessarily advice, but I notice a widespread belief that you can’t love your job. Of course you don’t have to love every day – that expectation is also toxic – but I think you do can really love and feel fulfilled by your work. If you’re striving for something you believe in, hard work isn’t that hard of a job.
More often than not, people can achieve more than they think. Values and work ethic can be just as important as experience because we all have the ability to learn. For example, we didn’t come from a podcasting background, but we built a successful business nonetheless.
What attracts you to start your own business after you have founded two companies?
I really like the formative phase of business: the sloppiness, the forward momentum, and the rushed. There is something very gratifying about that. Now we want to spread that start-up energy to more people and projects. Entering this new phase of the business gives us other things to prove, which I still find exciting.”
Finally, any podcast recommendations?
Always! We just released a Spotify Original show called Partners in crime with Laura Whitmore and Iain Stirling. They’re talking about the weirdest, craziest true crime stories of the ages. I would also recommend Johnny Wilkinson’s podcast, I’m. The range of topics he covers is extraordinary, but with each episode you feel like you are developing both personally and professionally. I could go on!
This interview has been edited and abbreviated for clarity.
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