Laura Bartlett is the founder and CEO of House of Coco, which has gone from online magazine to print extraordinaire with 20+ issues in just 5 years. She is one of the most recognized female entrepreneurs in the UK and we talked to her about what goes into running a magazine and about her favorite travel tips and tricks, even during a pandemic.
Tell us about House of Coco and what it’s all about.
House of Coco is a luxury print travel magazine which I founded six years ago. I launched this company on the back of a failed business, having just overcome a bankruptcy. My goal was to create a magazine that would allow my team to live their best lives, whilst traveling the world to ultimately inspire our readers to go out and explore, step outside of their comfort zones and live a life filled with adventure.
For a magazine that focuses on international travel, how has COVID-19 impacted your business, content planning, and/or readership?
The travel industry has been up in the air, ever since Covid-19 first came into existence. We made sure that we stayed true to who we were, a lot of other publications turned into news outlets and published content that was only related to the pandemic. We know that people were digesting the information that they needed on that topic via the correct media outlets, therefore we made sure that we continued to offer the escapism that people needed.
Whilst we referenced Covid in the early days, we soon continued with our usual inspiration and aspirational content that inspires people to discover the world, whenever it’s safe to do so.
For a period of time the magazine was only available digitally, via our App and on Readly. This was due to our printer, distributor and stores being closed. It’s been such an interesting time and I really enjoyed the challenge of making sure we can pivot to not just survive, but to thrive.
Your team has been living the “laptop lifestyle” and working remotely since before the pandemic. Do you have any advice for companies that are experiencing full-time remote work for the first time?
Make sure you regularly check in with your staff. Living a laptop lifestyle and creating a business where everyone works remotely was always my goal from the day we launched, we have never had an office and I plan to keep it that way. However, if you have gone from having an office to now having staff work from home, you need to make sure you are offering them the support that they need. I spoke to so many people during lockdown who saw negative effects on their mental health due to not being around their peers, so I think companies need to have a process in place that lets staff know that there is a support network and regular check ins.
On the flip side, you need to trust your staff to do the work that is required of them without putting too many demands on them. Just because somebody is working from home, doesn’t mean you should pack their diary with back to back zoom calls for example. Try and establish boundaries and a balance that will keep your business flowing but keep your staff happy and healthy too.
You obviously get to travel quite a bit for your job – what’s your favorite trip you’ve ever been on? What did you love about it?
I have loved so many of the trips, I am so grateful for everything that I have been able to experience thanks to my business. However, the stand out trip for me has to be Barbados. I went to Crop Over in 2016, which is their carnival and I had the time of my life and made life lasting friends. I also stayed at Sandals and I was so lucky to get to return there last year with my partner and experience the amazing couples only resort with someone that I love. Laying on the hammock, listening to the crashing waves, on the beach of Barbados will forever be etched in my mind as a very fond memory.
How did you grow your team? What types of people do you look for in your employees?
Collectively myself and the team are called #TeamCoco. We always use the hashtag when we are on our travels around the world which leads to a lot of people asking ‘how can I join #TeamCoco.’ So, I have an overflowing waitlist of people that want to work with me and join the business. I very rarely have to look for anyone, however when I am looking to hire new people I like to go on recommendations. I have never read a CV in my life, I prefer to meet somebody and take them on face value, make my own decisions and what they have achieved on their CV never plays a part in my hiring decisions.
Clearly you’re a travel expert. We need to know: what are your top must-pack items for any trip you go on?
Earpods, a book and lip balm.
What else makes traveling often work better as part of a lifestyle? Do you have any travel rituals?
I always try to fall asleep before takeoff. I download a deep sleep meditation and as soon as I am seated for takeoff, I like to fall asleep. Unless I am in first class or business then guaranteed I won’t want to miss a second and the champagne will be flowing!
We know you haven’t been letting anything stop you from safely taking part in travel once certain parts of the world opened back up. Where are you planning to travel this year/next year assuming it stays safe to do so?
I am heading to Greece this weekend to shoot a video for a Villa client. I noticed that parts of Greece are on the quarantine list but the area I am going to doesn’t seem to be affected. Other than that, I have a few UK hotel breaks coming up and I am planning on visiting the Maldives in January.
What do you say to people who are worried about you traveling during the ongoing pandemic?
Don’t watch the news, the media are creating mass hysteria and panic. Since lockdown, I have been to Ibiza and Switzerland and have stayed at around 15 hotels in the UK in the last couple of months alone. I can assure you that it is safe to travel, every hotel has taken the necessary precautions and the world is waiting! Get out there, explore and make your own judgements from personal experiences, not those that are played out across the news.
Ok to running a magazine sounds pretty glamorous, even if it weren’t also travel-focused! What would be your top tips for someone else who’s interested in starting a magazine/publication?
Be the yes person. When I started my career, I would literally go to the opening of an envelope. I would spend many nights per week networking, handing out my business card and telling anybody who would listen about my magazine. Networking, whether that’s in person or online, is the best way to promote your magazine. Gaining raving fans who love what you do means you have people readily waiting to share your content, which ultimately will drive more traffic and revenue your way.
What do you say to people who say print is dead? (Do people still say that or have we realized it’s just not true?)
Reading a magazine encourages ME time. You curl up in a comfortable spot, sometimes with a cup of tea, and you carve out that time to yourself to get lost inside the pages of a magazine. So in this crazy world we live in, where there is so much noise online, I feel like we all need a little bit more ‘me time’. So for that, print will never be dead.
Any tips for people trying to pitch you for inclusion in the magazine?
Be original, do your research and pitch for the right reasons, not because you want a free trip but because you want to create epic content that is going to resonate with our audience.
How do you balance work/the running a business part, with all the travel and making sure you’re in the moment with the experiences you’re taking part in?
It’s such blurred lines. Work for me is so fun and for outsiders looking in it looks like my life is one big holiday. But enjoying the destinations I am in is so important to me. I make sure I plan my diary so that I can keep on top of work but also explore the destination. It often means early starts and late nights but it also means getting to see a new country or city and being able to be fully present in the moment so that I can write about the experience authentically.
A business is a constant learning experience, and unfortunately no matter how much you prep and seek to learn, you just can’t learn certain things until you’ve been through them. Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew when you got started?
It will take longer than you think. If someone would have told me it would take 10 years of entrepreneurship to get to the point I am at now, the chances are I would have got a job.
Don’t compare your journey to someone else’s, you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing at the exact time it’s meant. Don’t let the internet rush you.
What’s the best book you’ve read this year?
The Sober Diaries. The irony is that I have been reading this book with a glass of red wine in my hand most nights. A super witty read that has been laughing out loud! I tend to read books on business and self development, so it’s been a refreshingly fun read.