I caught up with Alisa and Emma Murphy, the two co-founders of Life Size Media, a creative communications agency dedicated to promoting sustainable innovators and we got chatting.
During our conversation, we spoke about how they started the company, setbacks they faced earlier in the business and running a family business.
Can you give us some background information about the both of you?
Emma: Well, I had an initial interest in genetics, but decided to opt for fewer labs and more lions and graduated in zoology and conservation. After spending many of my days with birds and binoculars I decided to get creative with carbon markets for a carbon offsetting company, before I co-founded Life Size Media in 2010.
Alisa: I suppose I have quite an eclectic collection of experiences that are from roads less well travelled for someone working in the sustainability sector. But, I’ve developed a strong foundation in public relations, having been a producer on independent films and the CEO of a carbon capture and storage company, which were all great experiences for co-founding Life Size Media.
So how did you both initially get into business?
Emma: We started working together when we made a documentary together. Since then, while we were working in ‘normal’ jobs, we always discussed the business we would set up, what our office would be like, how great it would be… we were just waiting for the right opportunity.
What were you doing before you founded the company?
Emma: I was working in a start up that was looking for ways to connect carbon offsetting with a consumerist lifestyle. It was a great opportunity for me to see how a start-up works. As it was a really small team I got to work on almost everything; developing business concepts, managing projects, sales meetings, ordering the furniture, marketing the business, everything! It was a great crash course; a sort of ‘Introduction to starting your own business’. [I hadn’t really thought about running my own business before that but it turned out I had an unknown flair for it!]
Alisa: Before Life Size I spent some time in industry as the CEO of a carbon capture and storage (CCS) project development company, B9 Coal. I was responsible for developing an extensive public relations campaign, which helped take the company from simply a concept to becoming a key player in the CCS industry. I was also involved with an extensive awareness raising campaign that aimed to promote awareness of the technology and the key issues around decarbonising the power sector. In the company’s first three months, the campaign achieved 61 media hits, including The Financial Times and Reuters, and all key industry publications, so good communications is clearly in my (and our) blood!
How did the idea for Life Size Media come about?
Alisa: To be honest, when the idea first came out it was actually us trying to think of a way that we could continue making films, whilst still earning an income. We immediately hit on PR and social media as it seemed obvious to us that there was a big gap in people really understanding what they were, and they’re also something that is suitable for earlier stage companies. Once we got started though it became so much more than that. We were both really passionate about the opportunity for good story telling, and excited about using a whole range of mediums to achieve that.
Good communications is important at all stages, but never more than when you’re starting out. When you’re innovating you need to be able to tell people what you’re doing in a way that they can engage with. Working only with sustainable companies was an obvious choice for us; we could never communicate something well that we did not believe in. We’re both passionate about sustainable innovation, so it’s easy for us to get excited about our clients.
Tell me about the early days of Life Size Media, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
Emma: Ha! Umm… taking the leap probably. Sitting in our kitchen and saying ‘you know, if we’re going to do this we should do it properly. We need an office’. Though to be honest, for us, starting wasn’t the hard part. It was great fun in the early days, just the two of us. I remember sitting in our first office on the floor because the furniture hadn’t arrived yet and thinking ‘we’ve made it!’
Starting out is easy because we had nothing to lose. We just thought ‘we’ll try it and see what happens’. Running a business is harder. Now, there’s a sense of responsibility, and you really do have something to lose. We’ve got staff, and great offices, lovely clients and a whole network of great sustainability types. It’s the idea of losing it all that’s scary. So, you’ve got to keep going, keep innovating within your own business, take risks where you need to and not lose sight of your vision.
Running a family business can sometimes be tricky, a lot of people tend to stay away from it, how have you been able to make it work between you two?
Alisa: Ah yes, we get that one a lot. Well, we always say that we couldn’t imagine running a business with anyone else. I hate the idea of having a ‘business partner’ that you might not be 100% on the same page as. We didn’t want to be careful about suggesting things, or going quiet with each other for a week because you didn’t quite agree. We’ve spent our entire lives practicing for this! We’ve argued, screamed at each other, and then made up a second later. But, that’s just what siblings do and that’s perfect in business; everything gets settled so quickly. Usually, our discussions go;
Alisa: ‘How about this?
Emma: I don’t like it.
Alisa: Well I do.
Alisa: Yes, look at this.
Emma: Oh, yeah, ok it’s great.
And you’re done!
What is Life Size Media?
Emma: “We’re a creative communications agency dedicated to promoting sustainable innovators”.
We’re always telling our clients how important it is to be able to describe your business in one line. Basically, we communicate (creatively of course) for clients that are innovating in the sustainability sector. We do everything from websites, brochures, and presentations to PR and social media: to us, it’s not so much the medium that matters, but the story. Our clients have great stories to tell and we’ll tell them through whatever medium they need, to reach the people that need to hear about it.
What is the business model?
Alisa: To make loads of money and retire at 30 and move to Barbados! Not quite.
Our vision is ‘Communicating a better future’. So our business model is to do just that. We really believe that to have a successful business, you have to have a clear, unwavering vision. How you achieve that, how you’re set up from one year to the next can change as much as it needs to but your purpose, as a business doesn’t. Our charging model, or how we’re structured internally isn’t the interesting bit; what we set out to achieve with our clients is the interesting part.
How have you been able to fund it?
Emma: We were very lucky; we had the business idea roughly formed in our heads and then along came an eager client. Our first project paid for the whole set up, and that client kept us going for the first 18 months. We’ve never taken external funding and we’re lucky to own the business completely ourselves. We’re very lucky actually, as I can’t imagine either of us doing well with a board of directors, or key investor trying to tell us what to do!
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
Alisa: Taken risks: we took on staff before we could actually afford to; we took on a big office before we had people to put in it, or clients to pay for it. But, (within reason) you have to take risks; our model has always been ‘look like the business you want to be’ because that’s how you’ll get to actually being it. Our office says everything we need to about who we are, and where we are as a business. Clients come in and they ‘get us’. That’s so important as a business.
Could you give us an example of a setback you had in the early stages of the business, how you overcame it and what you learnt from it?
Emma: I suppose our biggest set back was after the first 18 months when we lost our main client. We knew the contract was coming to a close; we’d done everything they needed from us. But it still came just after we’d taken on the new offices and we didn’t have enough new opportunities to fill the gap. So, instead of panic, we just got our heads down and got on the phone. We contacted everyone we’d ever come across, had lots of coffees and lunches to catch up with people and opportunities started falling into our laps. By the end of the two month notice period on our contract we had six new clients lined up. It just goes to show, never panic, and never give up and, it’s all about networking.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Alisa: Wow, that’s a tough one to call: interviewing for our first member of staff; this year’s summer party – a mad men theme with everything from fabulous dresses to pineapple and cheese on sticks; being highly commended for Green PR company of the year; having a client tell us that he’s seen every other PR company (big and small) and none of them ‘got it’ like we did! Though actually, it’s often the little things like taking a moment to stop and look around the office and think: this is ours, we did this!
What should we be expecting from yourselves and Life Size Media for the rest of the year?
Emma: Big things! Look out for our 7 Days to Sustainability Challenge in mid-August as we’re going to be going overboard. We’ve just signed a new client who is going to be running a global ecoislands summit in October, which is going to be huge! And, as each Life Size Media’s party has to be better than the last, we’ve set the bar high for Christmas. I shouldn’t be giving it away but this year we’re escaping the traditional and going with a Christmas Island theme; look out for a genuine beach (sand and all), grass skirts and coconut shell clothing. And, lest we forget of course -next year we’ll be winning Green PR Company of the Year!
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1) Feel the fear and do it anyway
2) Look like the business you want to be
3) Good communications are just as important as your business plan; in fact they should make up a large chunk of your business plan. They aren’t an optional extra for when you can afford them, but are essential from the very beginning.