Shaper: Mike Soutar

Show aired on 21st March 2015

Transcript

Elliot Moss
That was Everybody’s Talkin’ from Bill Withers, I hadn’t heard that one, maybe you hadn’t either but he is one of my favourite artists. Good morning, this is me, Elliot Moss, on Jazz FM’s Jazz Shapers. Jazz Shapers the place where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul alongside their equivalents in the world of business, a Business Shaper. My Business Shaper this morning I am very pleased to say is Mike Soutar; he is the one-time editor of Smash Hits, the one-time managing director of Kiss FM amongst many other extraordinary accolades. He is now the co-founder of Shortlist Media, they own both Shortlist and Stylist – two incredibly successful magazines and content creators if you like as well. Lots coming up from Mike very shortly. In addition to hearing from Mike, you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mischon De Reya some words of advice for your business and on top of all of that some great music from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul, including Jason Moran, Art Blakey and this from Van Morrison.

That was The Way Young Lovers Do from the classic 1968 album, Astral Weeks from Van Morrison. Mike Soutar is my Business Shaper as I said earlier; he is the co-founder of Shortlist Media if you happen to be in London and you get on a tube, if you happen to be someone who has been around and about you will have noticed this incredible phenomenon called Shortlist. You would have also noticed Stylist whether you are a man or a woman because these are two extraordinary publications which are now helping Shortlist Media turnover roughly twenty four million pounds, or at least they will be by December 2015. Pretty incredible and as I said, the co-founder here is Mike, he’s with me. Thank you so much for joining me.

Mike Soutar
No problem, good morning.

Elliott Moss
Good morning. You’re a journalist turned entrepreneur. I don’t think I have met a journalist who has become an entrepreneur. Maybe I have met one, William Cash, very different Spear’s Wealth Management Space but its… we’ll talk about your very prestigious past but what is it in you do you think that’s ensured that you have become the entrepreneur. What wasn’t making you happy enough when you were creating things?

Mike Soutar
I guess I was always a fairly average journalist who worked with some quite brilliant ones and I recognised that from a relatively early age so even when I was… I started in journalism when I was seventeen years old and I worked with some people who were phenomenal writers. I kind of realised I had my own limitations and so I moved quite quickly into helping manage journalists because I had to work quite hard on my own journalism in order to work out how to do it brilliantly. So I became pretty good at commissioning journalists and organising them and getting them to places on time and then producing pages and then those sorts of skills get you into editorial management. So I was an editor quite young and I guess that’s the bit – making things, creating products, bringing teams of people together, managing and motivating them – that was always something from quite an early point in my career that I was excited and motivated by.

Elliot Moss
So that in combination with this, I was looking back as we did our research on you Mike – a lot of due diligence went into this – when you took over For Him Magazine and made the decision to rebrand it FHM, that isn’t an editorial call in a way, that isn’t a management of editorial call in a way – that’s a kind of a marketing call, that’s a very smart bit of rebranding. Obviously you have got good people around you, you have had I imagine through your career because you have chosen to ensure they are there – where’s that nouse come from? That ability to spot the opportunity because obviously Shortlist and Stylist which we will come on to talk about are those, they are opportunities. What has enabled you to be the person that’s been able to do that through your career rather than somebody else?

Mike Soutar
I think, I think Elliot you put your finger on it which is having great people around you and I have been really lucky from a very early age in my career to have brilliant mentors, people who were very smart and who were very generous with their time with me. I have been lucky enough to be able to hire and work with some extraordinary talent and whilst I always think I am right with anything that I say, I’ve worked with enough great people to know that I am not and to be able to really listen to the best argument and allow the best argument to win so lots of the things which you know, I am credited with, maybe I was in the room, I maybe contributed towards them but to be honest all of the businesses I have been involved in, all of the brands that I have been involved in I have played my part but actually the credit goes to the whole team almost all the time.

Elliot Moss
He said almost all the time. You noticed that. Stay with me for much more from my Mike Soutar, my Business Shaper, the co-founder of Shortlist Media and actually the co-founder of Crash Test Media which is what we will be talking about shortly. You wouldn’t have heard of them and there is something in that too. Time for some music this is I’m Alright from Madeleine Peyroux.

The mellifluous sound of Madeleine Peyroux with I’m Alright. Mike Soutar is my Business Shaper and he is the co-founder of Shortlist Media. They create Shortlist and they create Stylist, they are turning over almost twenty five million pounds, that’s a pretty big business, employ one hundred and fifty people but it wasn’t always so and I have been talking to Mike about his move from being a not so good writer – his words not mine – into managing being an editorial kind of person into actually moving into management and you ended up being the managing director of a radio station, of Kiss FM? Difficult at that point taking on a business you hadn’t been in radio before?

Mike Soutar
I moved from being the editor of FHM and I was kind of plucked I guess from, from that side of the media and was really given this extraordinary opportunity to take what was a young and vibrant station but by no means the finished article and kind of learn how to run it, learn how to manage a big team. I moved from maybe twelve people that I was managing you know on an editorial team only to managing sixty people, there were commercial people, there were technical people, there were you know, there were presenters and incredible talent even Chris Philips within there as part of the, as part of the whole roster of talent we had there and so it kind of really stretched me and stretched my abilities and when I look back on it, some of it was brilliant. Some of it we were really successful and we won awards, revenues went up, even profits went up although funnily enough I made plenty of mistakes as well. I made mistakes in a way that I managed people when I was there. I made some changes that then I looked back on and thought ‘oh that was…’ I thought it was the right thing to do but ultimately turned out not to be the best decision and actually I learned a huge huge amount from it and really helped season me I guess, kind of mature me from being a specialist kind of a manager to being more of a general manager.

Elliot Moss
Now of course all things that sound strategic start somewhere else. I believe and this is a quote, your quote and you can tell me you didn’t say this – “the first idea doesn’t have to be the best idea you will ever have” – and I am referencing now Crash Test Media which was the precursor to Shortlist Media. You set up this business and I think it was to provide some consultancy work is that right? Some sort of…

Mike Soutar
That’s right yes.

Elliot Moss
It didn’t work but it spawned Shortlist Media. Is that a fair thing to say?

Mike Soutar
Yeah it’s completely fair. So I was on the board of IPC, this big old publishing company in the UK. I felt my time there was up. I left. I had this brilliant idea I thought which was to set up this consultancy to go and work with big media companies around the world to help them reinvent struggling brands, to help them launch brilliant new magazines, websites, broadcast pieces, everything else and it seemed like a great idea and it seemed like a great idea that we would create things, create new products, create left field ideas and then sell them on and actually those two things just simply didn’t come together. But what was really important was that I started, that we started so myself, my business partner, Tim Ewington that we had a business and that we had the basis then to realise once we were into the market, once we were trading that what we were doing was the wrong thing and then, and then to classically pivot from there and actually turn our attention to something that was far more sustainable and far more long term and so we kind of accidentally moved from being consultants into being media owners, into having something which we kind of decided we really needed something that would survive if we both got knocked over by a bus, something that was properly sustainable and that was really what drove us.

Elliot Moss
Find out how the accidental entrepreneur or rather intentional entrepreneur became a very successful entrepreneur after try number one and it is good to hear the truth behind the Crash Test Media story. Latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom for your business from our program partners at Mishcon De Reya.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss every Saturday morning please do join me he says urging you to join me to hear me talking to an incredibly interesting shaper from the world of business. I have had almost a hundred and sixty five of them so far. If you would like to catch most of them they are in iTunes under the words ‘Jazz’ and ‘Shapers’. They are on Cityam.com regularly, FT.com and if you are flying with British Airways then you can also catch them in Highlife. Lots of places for you to discover. Mike Soutar is my Business Shaper today. Lots of things to talk about but you got to this, you found this space in the market, you pivoted as you said. You started with a bunch of people right at the beginning, I mean, I think I believe you got up to around twenty quite quickly to deliver this thing called Shortlist. Did you have a very clear vision of the editorial content? It sounds like you did?

Mike Soutar
Yeah we were very clear on the audience that we wanted to serve because men’s magazines at the time when we launched back in 2007 were in really serious decline and I came from a background of you know, a lot of experience in men’s magazines and we kind of asked ourselves well are they in decline because men no longer want to read magazines, that in some way that platform is a bust flush or is it because what they are being served with isn’t right, isn’t meeting their needs anymore and we were convinced and I think we were right that it was the latter of those two. So we had a very clear market to serve and we had a very clear idea of the things that this magazine Shortlist for men was going to have to stand for and we wanted to do everything that we could to service them, we wanted to do everything that we could to make them better, to help them be the best possible version of themselves so it was still a frothy, really entertaining mix of content but it had a real noble purpose behind it, like most great media does.

Elliot Moss
Now before it got off the ground you needed money and the story goes you raised around four million quid in a month which is, if that’s true, you can tell me it took a bit longer, maybe it was four weeks and two days. Incredibly that’s a lot of money, the quantum is big but the speed is fast. What was the secret because many people listening thinking about setting up their own business and they have got to go and do that money raising thing or often they have to. What do you think nailed it for you?

Mike Soutar
I think it was a real combination of factors. It was actually four weeks as it turns out. The combination of factors was we had a very clear view of the business. We had a compelling business plan. We had a product which using all of our skill and experience as a team we had created, we had prototype looped, we had tested until it really was you know, almost broken. I mean we really stress tested the concept so we were absolutely certain of ourselves and of the business plan and of the market opportunity. And then there were two things which were lucky in truth; the first was that I managed to meet somebody who I had known really well who was similarly really excited about the idea and he had some… a network of wealthy friends, business angels if you like and we were able to persuade them to invest and then the piece kind of snowballed from there. It had momentum, we were able to value it straight away based upon the power of the idea and the research that we had done and I learned a really important lesson at that point as well which is – because I kind of thought that the idea was the important thing and originally we went to them saying ‘well look we’ll help this thing get set up and then we’ll bring a management team in to place who will run it and we’ll, we’ll drift off’ – and what I learned was that they back investors, great investors back people first and ideas second because ideas flex and change and evolve all the time whereas people, that’s who you are really backing and finally there was one other lucky piece. It was early 2007 and people understood, investors understood at that point that there might be a little bit of economic trouble on the way maybe towards the end of the year. What nobody anticipated because nobody can foresee it was frankly a global economic catastrophe and a meltdown. If we hadn’t been in the market raising money then I don’t think the business would be here today. If we hadn’t launched Shortlist when we launched it in September 2007, I don’t think we would be here today. We were so lucky to be at a point where we could raise money and launch a title into a more welcoming world.

Elliot Moss
Well there you go, you know now exactly how to raise money and make sure you don’t do it after a financial crash. Much more coming up from Mike Soutar very shortly, though in the meantime, time for some music – it’s Honeysuckle Rose from Jason Moran.

That was Jason Moran with Honeysuckle Rose. Mike Soutar is my Business Shaper, co-founder of Shortlist Media, manager of other journalists as well as being a good journalist himself. Mike I am going to challenge you on that one. A very simple question for you. You moved into the world of ownership and you moved away from the world of management of other people’s assets. How did that feel and how does it feel now?

Mike Soutar
I had a really interesting experience earlier in my career when I went to the States and I worked for Felix Dennis, the legendary billionaire, now sadly deceased. Incredibly energetic and enthusiastic media boss, media owner and I got a real taste for what it is like working for an owner rather than working for a manager and I learned a huge amount at the time and it kind of registered quite loudly with me and it gave me some confidence. It gave me the confidence to think ‘well he’s just a man like anybody else’ and whilst I have worked for all these massive multi-national companies, you don’t need to start a massive multi-national to be in this game, to actually own media assets and I think that was probably the spark for me was working for Felix.

Elliot Moss
And then in terms of actually how it feels now that you’re a Felix and sadly he has passed away but you are the equivalent now, it’s you. What does that actually feel versus being the manager of that business, of a business before?

Mike Soutar
I think I am both. I think I, you know, I, you know I am an owner of the business but also I am a manager of the business. I am husbanding this business. I am trying to manage it in the best way possible, both for the shareholders that we have but also for the team. You know you’ve got to remember that you know, this was only eight years ago that we started to attract people from you know, from all over the industry to come and work for us and they gave us their trust and faith at that point and so it is really important that we manage this business well for them.

Elliot Moss
So I see the calm and I see the steely because I can feel you are a steely guy and not that the people have said that to me honestly Mike, he says. They really haven’t but the interesting thing I am seeing is that I imagine you are emotional because it is your baby but you seem like you manage that well? Is that right?

Mike Soutar
I really try to. Somebody asked me the other day ‘What are you like as a boss? Are you a shouter?’ and it made me think I have never in the work place ever shouted. I have never raised my voice over and above shouting some insults at one of my business partners across the room or having a laugh, you know, I am emotional, I am very passionate about our business, I am very passionate about the people there, I am very passionate about our advertisers but I am also I think… I hope… I really try and remain professional.

Elliot Moss
We’ll have our final chat with Mike plus play some music from Art Blakey; that’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

That was Cubano Chant from Art Blakey. Just for a few more minutes Mike Soutar is my Business Shaper. If you have been listening you will know he is the co-founder of Shortlist Media and they are approaching the twenty five million pound turnover place. Two products, you’ve got Stylist on the one side talking to women I suppose primarily but not just women and on the other side you have Shortlist Media which if you heard earlier you will know that it came out of a belief on both sides from Mike that there was room in the market to talk intelligently to different audiences in a unique way and indeed attract lots of advertisers. You’ve done a lot Mike. Are you as excited today as you were eight years ago when this was a baby and you were launching it? What’s next? More international, more here? What’s in your head?

Mike Soutar
Well actually the very next thing that we are doing is one of our biggest bets that we have ever done in all launches and uncertain and therefore bets which is we are launching Stylist Live in October which is a huge investment on our part. Am I as excited as I was when I started? I am definitely as excited, I am definitely as nervous and I love that, it kind of powers me through. It is really exciting.

Elliot Moss
Now you have been working a long time as well, I mean you didn’t do the University thing. You are obviously excellent at what you do, you have become an entrepreneur, you have pedigree. Absolutely made no difference you didn’t go to University. Sounds like actually for you personally that that was the right thing? Is that? Looking back now do you ever think ‘oh I wish I had done that?’

Mike Soutar
There was a point where I really did think I had missed out because I as seventeen, I started work and it wasn’t to do with that kind of gap year thing it was more to do with a lot of the things I have learned I have learned on the hoof and I have learned from other people and that is a brilliant way of learning but it occurred to me that also I was doing lots of things in a long hand way, that I had never learned you know, from an academic perspective how one might approach things and I was lucky enough actually when I was at IPC, ten years ago that they sent me off to the University of Michigan for six weeks to do this really intensive executive management course and it stripped me back and I learned from there – I learned you know, the right way to approach financial documents, I learned the right way to construct strategy to look at marketing plans and it was interesting for me because I had already had such a bedrock of experience to be able to contrast how I did things with how they ‘should be done’ and I benefitted from that because I have been able to, to knit those two things together so you know, I suppose I missed the drinking that I would have gone on at University and all the casual sex but you know, over and above that I am fairly happy with how I got on.

Elliot Moss
And, last question before I ask you what your song choice is. Thumbs up right now for starting up your own business? Or a thumbs down?

Mike Soutar
I think it’s a brilliant time to start your own business. I honestly think it is such a critical time. We are still going through, we’re coming out of recession there is absolutely no doubt about that, the economy is definitely on the up. This is a moment of real opportunity for people to get new goods and services into the market. It is still tough to do it but if you can get a service or a new product in that consumers really love, that your customers really love. If you can get that now then as this tide rises it will float all boats so you’ll have to be good but also your business will do well because we are now at the start of a rising economy. Get out there. Do it for sure.

Elliot Moss
Mike thank you, you’ve been a fantastic guest and I really appreciate you joining me today. Just before I let you go, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Mike Soutar
So my song choice is Nina Simone’s Mr Bojangles. It’s a song which I… it takes me back to being about seventeen, eighteen years old sitting with an enormous Walkman, you know, the size of two bricks cellotaped together and listening to compilation tapes that you know my friends made me and this was, this was one of those that I would sit and listen to sitting on a train going from Dundee where I was living and working, coming down to London, coming down to the, the bright lights and it’s got this wonderful melancholic optimism. I don’t know any other way to explain it – there is just something within it, something within the DNA of the sound of this that just makes me happy and sad and fully rounded.

Elliot Moss
Here it is. Thank you so much again for joining me.

That was Nina Simone with Mr Bojangles, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Mike Soutar; a proper media heavyweight, an amazingly wide range of skills right from understanding how journalists are going to write, to creating content, to actually running a business and importantly, crucially someone who understands how to spot a market opportunity. Brilliant stuff. Join me again, same time, same place, that’s 9.00am next Saturday for another edition of Jazz Shapers. In the meantime, stay with us here on Jazz FM because coming up next, it’s Nigel Williams.

Mike Soutar is co-founder and CEO of Shortlist Media Ltd, the market-leading premium, free magazine publisher. ShortList has dominated the men’s market since 200, and Sister title Stylist was launched in October 2009 to industry-wide acclaim. The accompanying websites each have in excess of half a million UK unique users per month.

In 2011, the company launched its first stand-alone digital brand, Emerald Street, a daily email for stylish, professional women, which now has in excess of 100,000 registered daily subscribers. Mr Hyde, a daily email for urban, affluent men, was launched in October 2012 and has already built a following of 60,000 plus. In April 2014, Stylist launched a tablet edition which reaches over 30,000 active readers per week. It is now the most downloaded women’s title on Apple’s UK newsstand.

In April 2013, the company launched a French language weekly edition of Stylist in joint venture with Groupe Marie Claire. French Stylist is distributed in 10 French cities in April 2013. The brand’s second overseas edition – Stylist Arabia – launched in Dubai in October 2014. ShortList is scheduled to launch in the Middle East in 2015.

Shortlist Media was established as an independent start-up in 2007 with five employees.  It now has over 140 full-time employees and provides part time employment for more than 600 merchandisers every week across Britain.

Mike and the company appeared in an episode of The Apprentice in 2011 and Mike has featured as one of Lord Sugar’s advisors in the interview episodes of the 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons.

Over a 30 year career, Mike has worked for a variety of media companies on both the editorial and management side, in print, digital and broadcasting, and in the UK and America.

Follow Mike on Twitter @mikesoutar

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

I was always a fairly average journalist who worked with some quite brilliant ones.

Whilst I always think I am right with anything that I say, I’ve worked with enough great people to know that I am not. I have played my part in all of the brands that I have been involved in, but the credit goes to the whole team almost all the time.

I moved from being the editor of FHM and was given this extraordinary opportunity to take what was a young and vibrant station – but by no means the finished article – and kind of learn how to run it.

We accidentally moved from being consultants into being media owners, into having something that would survive if we both got knocked over by a bus – that was really what drove us.

We had a very clear market to serve and we had a very clear idea of the things that this magazine for men was going to stand for.

We wanted to do everything that we could to make them better, to help them be the best possible version of themselves, so it was still a frothy, entertaining mix of content, but it had a real noble purpose behind it – like most great media does.

Great investors back people first and ideas second. Ideas flex and change and evolve all the time whereas people… they’re what you’re really backing.

I am emotional, I am very passionate about our business, I am very passionate about the people there, I am very passionate about our advertisers, but I am also, I hope, professional.

I suppose I missed the drinking and the casual sex that I would have gone on at university, but over and above that I am fairly happy with how I got on.

We are now at the start of a rising economy. Get out there.