Earlier this year I was lamenting with my husband that there needed to be an app to help Instagrammers plan out their visual feed ahead of time – where we could see all our potential posting images, and layout them out in order to design a great looking feed, and have a bank of images to call on.
And then… shazam… Christy Laurence, an independent, go-getting lady boss from Sydney drops the Plann app – a highly affordable, easy to use visual designer and scheduling app for Instagram. Reality is altered!
Christy, a former up-and-coming ad exec, bootstrapped and oversaw the development of Plann in all it’s messy glory (anyone who has ever been involved in an IT development project will know exactly what I mean here!). After overcoming a mountain of technical and branding issues, she’s gone from strength to strength develop an essential tool for anyone using Instagram for business. The beauty of the app is the ability to upload a batch of images, move them around your phone or tablet interface by dragging and dropping them, so you can achieve a balanced, follow-worthy feed.
The irony of this story however, is that prior to developing Plann, Christy fell ill and experienced injury to her vestibular system – the sensory system that contributes to our sense of balance, spatial orientation and movement – the very thing her app now enables so brilliantly! She was unable to move independently for two years, and at that time returned to her love of illustrating and took up a challenge to post a new work to Instagram every day. From that, she started taking commissions for her work. And in the process, she discovered the better her feed looked, the more she could charge. She was on to something.
Leonard Cohen wrote…
Forget your perfect offering.
There’s a crack in everything;
That’s how the light gets in.
Leaps are conceived in the cracks that appear when things fall apart. Every challenge is an invitation for reinvention and innovation. Make it your plan to RSVP with grace and gusto.
What did you want to be when you grew up and why?
When I was really young I always wanted to be a fashion designer. I would design patterns and make my own clothes and I loved illustrating weird and wacky ideas. Then, I never grew past 5 feet tall, and those dreams moved into focusing on the creativity behind designing.
I also wanted to be a field hockey player! I started playing from the age of six and played for a number of representative teams before retiring a few years ago after playing for a Sydney side. My body got thrashed and my knees couldn’t take anymore!
What did/do you study?
Formally, I didn’t study and I didn’t go to university. I didn’t want to be left with a huge loan and I was itching to get into the workforce to support myself. Moving out of home at 16 was another big driver of this decision, I’ve always been very headstrong and determined!
What has been your most scary/courageous leap you’ve ever made (preferably in your business/career/life direction)?
Definitely leaving a high paying corporate job to follow an idea I’d been thinking about for months was the biggest leap I’ve taken. I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t follow it through, even without knowing how to actually do it.
The crazy thing is, I never saw it as a courageous or brave leap. I have a life motto: ‘I wouldn’t wish boring on anyone’ so I was excited, more than anything else, to do something different.
What were you doing before you made your leap?
I was an advertising executive at IAG for the last three years (also known as NRMA Insurance, SGIO and SGIC around Australia). I was in the team responsible for overseeing and organising the creative execution of TV adverts, billboards, radio ads etc., alongside large advertising agencies.
Although it looks amazing on paper, and my TV adverts are still running on TV 12 months later, because the brand was so established and there were so many people needed to make decisions, I wasn’t personally satisfied with how removed I was in some of the actual creative decision making.
Who have been the biggest 3 – 5 influences in your life, in terms of your career and doing work?
Firstly, my family – my parents were both self-made and retired early. When I was growing up I was surrounded by entrepreneurs, including my brother and sister who both branched out to do their own thing. Coming up with business ideas and marketing strategies wasn’t an abnormal dinner table discussion.
Jaclyn Carlson from Blog Society – I watched her build her community and wanted to become a part of a creative, smart, multi-passionate group of people. She motivated me to start joining in and after many years I am proud to have her alongside me as a marketing mentor.
Most recently, Jessica Ruhfus from Collabosaurus – we met at a typography workshop last year and hit it off straight away. She’s super smart, determined, confident and totally killing it. We realised we were both super nerds with marketing souls and slightly quirky personalities. 12 months later she remains one of my biggest confidants and what we have now penned #bizbesties. Everyone needs to be able to talk to someone going through the same thing, otherwise you’ll break. Jess is my girl.
What did you have in place before you made the leap?
Very real conversations with my husband about me saving my money to do something crazy one day. I’d always wanted my own thing, my friends and colleagues will all attest to that. Even when I was working full-time, I had many ideas on the side and they all thought it was crazy! It was just a matter of choosing which one I was most passionate about and giving it the time it deserved. I had a year’s worth of money saved to support myself, but there was nothing that prepared me for the cost of software development.
What was your defining ‘I can’t do this anymore’ moment that lead you to the leap?
I actually got really sick. I got a nasty flu which spread into my brain (I know, what?!) and ruined my entire vestibular function. Basically, I was dizzy, unbalanced, (drunk?), unable to focus my sight or walk properly. I was crippled for about two years. For someone who is especially hyperactive, with a promising advertising career, playing semi-professional sport and who had just snagged a hot new husband – I really didn’t know what to do with myself.
After brain scans revealed nothing major, the doctors all told me that people in cases like this never really recover. In short, they told me that my life was over at 28 and I’d need someone to look after me (at this point my new hubby was helping me in-and-out of the shower) and that I probably wasn’t going to work again either.
As you can imagine, even with the most optimistic of streaks, this type of news can break you and, believe me, it did. I was barely able to walk through the house, cooking in 6m swells was impossible and all I could bring myself to do was lie on the floor and return to my first love, illustrating.
To get out of my darkest moments I would paint and draw, the creative trance really can do wonders and, for a few hours at a time, I would forget my life. Posting daily on Instagram held me accountable and, of course, my advertising brain was still fully functioning and after people started offering to buy my artwork, this idea starting building. It was true, the better my feed looked, the more money people would offer.
How did/do you overcome/work with the fear that comes with leaping? How do you decide to choose courage?
I knew if I didn’t take a jump and do something outrageous, my life was there laid out right in front of me. Jumping around corporate jobs, moving up the chain. I remembered my colleagues being fascinated with those in more senior roles and wanting to impress them, or follow what they’d done. I couldn’t think of anything worse and it didn’t motivate me at all!
Most vividly I remember bursting into tears on more than one occasion while my husband drove us into the city to work. You know how you see everyone walking around with their heads down, headphones in, walking the same route to their building to sit at a desk all day? I nicknamed them ‘The Ants’ and I would look at them in absolute despair and think, what am I doing? Is this really what I’ve chosen to do with my life?!
One day I just snapped, I couldn’t take it anymore.
How did you fund your leap?
I think being an entrepreneur is something that comes from deep, deep down, like an itch that doesn’t go away. Once you scratch it, it’s super addictive. For me I always knew one day I would have my own thing. Plann wasn’t my first idea, and I have no doubt it will not be my last.
I completely bootstrapped Plann after saving really hard. Also, I got a helping hand from being sick for so long. During my recovery I couldn’t drink alcohol or coffee, I couldn’t be overwhelmed in supermarkets, restaurants or nightclubs, and because I was so off balance, I couldn’t drive anywhere. You’d be surprised how quickly that all starts to add up!
What other leaps have you made?
So many! I’ve designed many things. I always wanted to have my own unique spin on something and, after so many years in the service industry, I was dying for a physical product.
I tried many freelance gigs and said yes to everything that came my way. I illustrated (most recently for a Red Bull event), I taught SEO + social media strategy, I did photography, copywriting and graphic design work too, but again, I didn’t want to give a service anymore.
The furthest I ever got was designing and prototyping a few shaving bowl and brush sets after watching my husband with fair skin try to lather a shaving bowl and I had a lightbulb moment with an idea to make it easier.
After a meeting with the Breville owners (who own ‘the shaver shop’ here in Australia), I was introduced to their factory manager who was over in China who said I was going to need $80k just to do my first run. There was always Kickstarter and other options, but I just wasn’t passionate enough to invest that much money.
What leaps didn’t work out? What did you do about it?
Many didn’t work out or I worked out that I wanted to keep my creativity for myself and the passion went as soon as I was forced to draw something. I learned, I laughed, I moved on. Next!
There’s no point dwelling on it and I never feel sorry for myself, that just stops you moving forward. After the initial disappointment (because you’re human!) I try to pinpoint where things unravelled and take that to my next project.
What are you most fearful of? How do you deal with it?
Plann not finding traction overseas, or growing as fast as I need it to, is definitely something that scares me. Without the traction it’s going to be a struggle to pay for up-keep and new features, and leaves gaps open for competitors to get in front of me.
I won’t lie. I definitely don’t sleep that well and a lot of my awake time is spent thinking about different strategies and who I need to get the software in front of.
I deal with it by remembering this is a marathon and all of the baby steps I’m doing now are setting me up to grow and grow, I just have to make sure I’m strategic about where I spend my time. For example, my amazing husband now responds to 80% of my troubleshooting emails as they take time and can cloud my mental space to keep looking forward.
How would you rate your level of happiness about making your leap?
1 being sad, 10 being rad.
This changes daily, today I’m feeling pretty rad and sitting at around an 8!
I’m my worst and biggest critic; the app’s new features haven’t been implemented as fast as I would’ve liked, we’ve just completely migrated to an entirely new development team which took time to source and move everything over. Everything takes longer than you think!
Overall though I’ve kicked my own goal of making a physical product I designed and created myself, to help the industry and people that I am most passionate about helping,
What’s the biggest upside to making the leap?
Freedom, creativity and decision making.
If I think back to Christy filing paperwork, attending meetings about meetings and asking for someone else’s approval of my work, to now when I can choose how I spend my time (when I’m not working part-time) and wear my teddybear onesie all day and watch Judge Judy at 3pm (ha, that show makes you feel so smart!) I could never go back there.
What’s the biggest downside to making the leap? And how do you get through it?
The mental strength of not knowing what’s going to happen. Having a platform in social media, I am held to not only what Instagram does, but also the updates Android and Apple decide to make to their platforms too.
Also, as a startup, it’s something I’m always thinking about, it’s almost impossible to switch off. I actually have to try really hard to relax and that can cause a few problems with relationships because a lot of people don’t understand just how much work goes on behind the scenes.
What might be your next leap?
Ooh this is a tough one! I think it will still be within the creative realm, I love the community I have and my users are fabulous!
They know I’m approachable and open-minded so I love hearing their feedback. I’m still not 100% sure if I’ll build an app again (so much harder than it looks!) but I think I’ll be staying in the tech space for a while.
What are your favourite words to live by?
I wouldn’t wish boring on anyone.
Who do you admire who also made the leap?
I’ve met so many inspiring people, but for now I’m most inspired by people doing the whole thing on their own. As I don’t have a team (much to everyone’s surprise!) it really is just me behind the scenes and seeing how they’ve gone about getting ahead with minimal time is truly motivating.
A piece of advice for someone with an itch to leap?
Be open to learning heaps! Every day feels like you’ve spent the whole day in training, ask questions, start building a tribe and get out and meet people.
My advice is don’t dabble, jump in with everything you’ve got and just go for it, then you’ll never have any regrets or wonder if there was something more you could’ve done.
Consistency, hard work and simply doing what you say you’re going to do is what will set you apart.
What question did I miss about your leap? And what’s your answer?
I couldn’t have done any of this without my husband, he is the most loving, supportive and understanding person on the planet.
Without him helping me through the panic attacks, helping me through the head injury and pushing me to be the best I can be, then telling me off for being to hard on myself, and listening to me get lost in the world of app development, I probably would be in a mental institution. It has definitely not been an easy road to get here. Surrounding myself with positive and empowering people is one of the things I credit to my successes so far.
Right now I’m:
Sitting in a cafe in Bronte tap tap tapping away on my laptop
Hearing: Listening to Rüfüs – they always make me feel like I’m on holiday.
Eating: Just drinking. 😉
Drinking: Sipping on my second fruit punch cocktail.
Reading: Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth – it’s a great read about how you can’t be everywhere to gain traction, you need to focus.
Loving: Ponchos, I can wear blankets in public!
Plann is one of the apps I highly recommend for savvy biz owners looking to get better results and feel more in control of their Instagram efforts. And knowing that every download is supporting a woman in her own business, is icing on an already beautiful cake.