Quick Question

How This Founder Turned Her Antidote To Doomscrolling Into A Business

Mags Creative co-founder Hannah Russell on the power of podcasting and avoiding comparisons.

by Anna Scott
A collage with Mags Creative co-founder Hannah Russell and microphones set in front of her
Courtesy of Mags Creative

In Bustle’s Quick Question, we ask female leaders all about 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-confessed “podcast junky” back in 2017, she took her newfound obsession further than most. She co-founded Mags Creative, an independent podcast production company, with her sister, Faith. Now, nearly five years later, her company generates millions of audio downloads and has won an array of prestigious awards, including the Best Network or Publisher at the British Podcast Awards 2022.

Yet Mags Creative is not the first venture the sisters have launched together. Their previous business, Layer Home, was an online marketplace selling second-hand, high-end, furniture. Here, Russell spent much of her day on Instagram, connecting with influencers and growing the company’s following. From this space, where curated images often veil reality, the slower, spoken world of podcasts offered her a welcome escape.

“Faith and I were, with hindsight, suffering from screen fatigue. We'd built Layer Home around content, and Instagram felt different in 2014/2017. There certainly weren’t conversations around digital addiction or digital detoxing,” Russell recalls. “When I discovered podcasts, it felt extraordinarily freeing to listen to what people had to say, rather than observing what they looked like. I remember developing emotional connections with people I had never met. Through their stories, I felt very heard and seen. And that became our objective: to make people feel seen, heard and part of a community. We think that by platforming these conversations, we can make positive changes.”

Below, she talks about the best advice she’s ever gotten and working through the comparison trap.

What career advice have you received which you continue to live by?

My Mum once told me that comparison is the thief of joy. Yet on Instagram, you are kind of operating in a whole world of comparison; you're constantly looking at others without actually knowing the reality of their situations. Staying in my own lane and not comparing myself or my business to others is something that I've worked so hard to do. I try to remain focused on my definition of success and the things I am proud of.

If you find yourself falling into a pattern of comparison, how do you go about breaking that cycle?

I think it's about noticing it. I've had lots of therapy; I've had lots of coaching and that has helped me to know myself a little better. If I notice that I'm regularly comparing myself to another person, and coming off worse, I can start to kind of unpick that. That’s been quite powerful for me.

What about the worst advice you’ve been given?

I don't think this is advice per se, but I notice a prevalent belief that you can't love your job. You obviously don't have to love every day – that expectation is also toxic – but I think you can really like and feel fulfilled by your job. If you're striving towards something you believe in, working hard is not so much of a chore.

More often than not, people can achieve more than they think they can. Values and work ethic can be just as important as experience because we all have the capacity to learn. For instance, we didn't come from a podcasting background, but we've still built a successful business.

Having founded two companies, what is it that draws you to start your own ventures?

I really like the formative stage of business: the scrappiness, the forward motion and the hustling. There’s something very gratifying in that. Now we’re looking to spread that start-up energy across more people and projects. Entering this new stage of the business gives us other things to prove which I continue to find exciting.”

Lastly, any podcast recommendations?

Always! We have just released a Spotify Original show called Partners in Crime with Laura Whitmore and Iain Stirling. They're talking about the weirdest, wackiest true crime stories through the ages. I'd also recommend Johnny Wilkinson’s podcast, I Am. The range of topics he covers is extraordinary, but with each episode you feel as though you're developing both personally and professionally. I could go on!

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.