Naomi Mdudu of The Lifestyle Edit On Going from Corporate Employee to editorial entrepreneur
Born and raised in London, Naomi comes from an academic family where something uncertain, like journalism was not favored in her upbringing. She studied law at university which taught her to think analytically, write succinctly, and to plan in a much more expansive way – great foundations for her career now. When she wasn't in class, you could find her spending her spare time working within the fashion industry. Having fallen in love with storytelling, Naomi splits her time between London and New York where she connects with career driven women to showcase on The Lifestyle Edit – a site focused on helping women create a life and career they love.
You went from major Fashion Editor to Entrepreneur. How did that happen? What’s your vision behind The Lifestyle Edit?
Throughout school, I assisted a whole host of different stylists and magazine editors. As soon as my lectures finished, I’d been rushing of to prep for a shoot or jumping on the Eurostar to Paris for fashion week. I loved styling but after four years I realised that I was more drawn to words as a form of storytelling.
Two weeks after graduating, I landed a job as a fashion editor of a financial newspaper (at the ripe age of 22) and worked in newspapers until I left in 2014 to start The Lifestyle Edit. Looking back, it was a huge amount of responsibility – in my first newspaper role, I was the their first-ever fashion editor and in all my roles, I was fortunate enough to be given free rein to shape the editorial tone and voice of the style sections. I learnt so much from how to craft a great piece to how to manage people. I’m immensely grateful.
The Lifestyle Edit was born because I wanted to create a platform that firstly, celebrates the incredibly dynamic female founders and executives that make things happen behind the scenes at the many businesses we all know and love. But more importantly, I wanted to create a space where these women could talk candidly about their journeys and share actionable advice that our community can take away and immediately action in their lives.
Looking back, entrepreneurship was always on the cards for me but when I decided to take the leap, there was nowhere for me to turn. At the time, there were fantastic resources for women in the fashion realm – but when it came to unpacking the careers of prominent women and talking in-depth about the factors that have influenced their life choices – I couldn’t find anything out there. I wanted to know how these women navigated the professional realm but I also wanted to know how their approach to wellness and both physical and mental health feeds into that. I wanted to read stories that were honest and that reflect some of my life experiences.
Starting a business is scary and it can often feel isolating. The Lifestyle Edit was always designed to circumvent that by creating a community of women going through the same journey but from a wide range of different life stages, all rooting and supporting one another.
It’s funny because we’re often called a modern self-help destination but we’re not about being preachy or prescriptive at all. Our mission is to use these stories as a vehicle to share different lessons women have learnt along the way.
What was your least favorite thing about the corporate world?
I think for anyone who has an entrepreneurial spirit, the rigidity and bureaucracy that often comes part and parcel with the corporate can feel stifling.
My team and I are constantly learning. As a startup, where able to look at the market, analyse our numbers and make quick strategic decisions that we can implement straight away with any red tape. I love that.
How did you overcome fear so you could pursue going solo and launching your business?
There’s a theory about entrepreneur life….
It’s this idea that running a business is a lot riskier than if you worked full-time for someone. That taking the leap and creating something of your own means compromising financial stability.
That is exactly how I felt in the early days of my business. Many of the people closest to me couldn’t understand why I had given up the security of my 9-to-5, and I watched as friends and colleagues climbed up the corporate ladder and increased the salaries at a time where I was ridden with self-doubt, worrying how I was going to make it work.
Today, I feel more comfortable and secure than I ever have. In fact, I’m more comfortable about where my next paycheck is coming from now that I’m my OWN employer. There is no annual salary placing a cap on my earning potential. There’s no fear of being made redundant by no fault of my own. My successes, on the most part, boil down to me and that, is one of the most liberating feelings in the world.
Don’t get me wrong, it took time and a lot of hard work to get my business to where it is today but almost three years in and I’m pushing myself and growing (both personally and financially) far beyond what I ever could have in my old role.
You get to interview some high profile women in business. What’s your top 5 favorite interviews?
I can’t pin point one interview that’s a favourite. We put so much work into finding the right people and planning our stories – it would be too hard to pick just one. I feel so fortunate that I get to meet and interview so many incredible women for The Lifestyle Edit. I always joke that every day feels like I’m getting an MBA in business – but it’s true. Those conversations are constantly teaching me new lessons about everything from leadership and strategic thinking to the power of self-care and setting boundaries. I’m forever in student mode and I love that.
I recently interviewed Merrill Stubs and Amanda Hesser from Food52 though, and their story blew me away. As a fellow publisher, it was so inspiring to see how they’ve carved a niche for themselves and managed to scale their business over the years without compromising who they are and the audience they serve. That interview was just as a valuable and eye opening for me as I’m sure it was for our readers. I love moments like that.
The number one question I get asked is how I choose the women we feature but it’s so difficult to articulate. As an editor, it’s my job to make sure that the stories we feature are inspiring but also that our community has tangible advice from each and every story we run. I’m always looking to see how the expertise or experiences of the women we feature can provide a framework for our community. Honesty is really important too. Before I started the business, I struggled to find entrepreneurial stories that reflected mine. None seemed to touch on the moments of self-doubt, the fear and the missteps that are part of our journeys so we’re always on the hunt for women from different stages in life who are willing to explore that.
You fly between New York City and London. Coffee or tea?
I love tea but since starting my business, I’ve definitely become a real coffee woman.
What’s your biggest weakness as a CEO? What have you learned from it?
Switching off is a challenge – I definitely suffer from having multiple mental tabs open at once.
As founders, I think we’re wired to want to take action. I find myself constantly toeing the line between chasing the big picture plans I have for the business while also showing myself self-kindness. I find that very difficult.
Something I’m learning all the time is how to set boundaries in my business. Things really changed when I started making a distinction between the ‘must haves’ and ‘nice to haves’ and really focused on fewer, better things. I started honing in on the jobs I’m uniquely positioned to do and built a support team around everything else.
What about your biggest success so far?
There are so many things I’m proud of but hands down the most rewarding thing for me has been servicing this community. It was always my mission to create a platform that not only inspires women to pursue their entrepreneurial ambitions, but also walks them through the ‘how’. It’s been amazing to see that mission through on the site, but also through our podcast, supper clubs, consulting agency and one-on-one coaching services with creative female founders.
Reading emails from our TLE community about how a story on the site sparked them to leave an unfulfilling 9 to 5 and go full time with their side hustle, or how a podcast episode helped them secure funding for their business is something I’ll never tire of.
What’s you’re #1 tip for anyone wanting to leave the corporate world to start their own business?
Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. Growing professionally means pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. Your dreams are on the other side of your fears.
Also, be kind to yourself. Cultivate a definition of success on your own terms. Listen to advice but trust your instinct.
What legacy do you want to leave behind?
It’s a really exciting time to be a female founder right now: women are taking the helm of some of the most influential companies in the world; we’re receiving more private investment than ever before, and there’s a general spirit of optimism and community amongst female founders that’s really exciting. Hopefully that will only continue in the coming years. I’m certainly going to try to play my part.
What’s your favorite quote? And, what’s your favorite business book(s)?
I would be here forever if I listed them all out but I’m constantly jotting down quotes from people like Brene Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, Tony Robbins and Danielle LaPorte.
Here’s some of my favourite books:
- The E-Myth by Michael Gerber
- Profit First by Mike Michalowicz
- Fire Starter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte
- The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuck
- Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Pople
- Tribes by Seth Godin