Mumbrella is eight: Beating the burnout

In his (usually) annual update, Mumbrella founder Tim Burrowes reveals how the company is travelling, and why there was no update last year.

365 days ago, I was sitting on my laptop in a hotel room on the other side of the world, not quite sure how to proceed.

It was time to write my annual update on how Mumbrella was travelling.

And for the first time, the words didn’t come.


I was jetlagged, having travelled to London to attend a conference.

I was in pain, unable to walk properly with what turned out to be a torn meniscus when I finally sought treatment.

Plus, I’d stepped away from the newsdesk two years earlier and was still suffering withdrawal symptoms from 25 years of stress and dopamine that only journalism can deliver.

For the first time, I’d found myself wondering about what I might do next.

And to the outside world, things were great – Mumbrella was still growing and people would often congratulate me on it. And our business was in a better state than it had ever been before.

But as I sat down to write that annual update – which I’ve always tried to write as honestly as I can – I just couldn’t find a way of doing so that felt authentic.

After starting and stopping several times, I gave up. There would be no proper “Mumbrella is seven” piece.

If you’re interested by the way, this is where you’ll find my previous updates:

The next day though, I began to come out the other side.

The catalyst was the conference I was in London for.

It was as niche as niche can be – a two day event dedicated to B2B publishing strategies.

As I listened to publishers around the world who were working out the transition from the traditional B2B model to new ways of building and monetising communities, I found myself becoming increasingly inspired. I began to see more clearly what our vision needed to be for the company as we went forward. And hearing what others had been up to, I regained a bit of confidence that we’d been on the right track, and were possibly even a little ahead.

As you’d probably know, the events side of Mumbrella is an important part of the business.  I’ve always believed that Mumbrella’s secret sauce is that the same journalists who talk to the industry every day for the website, also curate our events. It’s our unfair advantage over traditional events companies.

The way to think of ourselves, it occurred to me, was neither as a publisher, or an events company, but as a careers company.

It’s a tad ironic of course, that it took attending somebody else’s event to get me believing again.

And in the months that followed, I came out of the other side.

By the time 2016 rolled around, my working day had changed again.

After leaving the newsdesk, I’d done a 12-month-cycle of curating each of our key conferences. And for the following months after that, in 2015 I became a (not-very-good) marketer while I proved the theory that we were now big enough to put somebody better at it than me into the role permanently.

In January this year, Danika Porter joined us as our first full time head of marketing and I watched with some glee as the investment paid off in an immediate leap forward in ticket sales. She also arrived in the nick of time to get me out of trouble when I’d bitten off more than I could chew with Mumbrella’s long-delayed redesign and rebrand.


This wonderful piece of work, done for us by designer Vanessa Ackland, was probably the most strategically important thing that Mumbrella did in 2016. And I was both relieved and delighted with its reception in the market.

Unusually for a redesign, we not only avoided the usual initial traffic drop and actually saw a rise.

As you’ll see from our internal Google Analytics, we had a seventh consecutive year of traffic growth and saw an immediate blip upwards after the redesign. We’ve now had more than 70m page views since launch.


Mumbrella Australia page views. Source: Google Analytics

Traffic grew again for Mumbrella Asia too.


I also fell back in love with Mumbrella360 this year. Mainly, it was because I got to do the curation in collaboration  with our events content director Camille Alarcon. Any of our journos will tell you that curating a conference can be a stressful and slightly lonely process, so doing it alongside somebody else makes a huge difference. This year, Camille will lead and I’ll help.

m360 day 2 chris stephenson

And the content for Mumbrella360 came together, for what I felt was the best program we’d ever put together. We had great international and local speakers. And we were fortunate to be a few months ahead of the curve when gender diversity exploded as the key industry topic of the year.

It was one of the most satisfying moments of my career when Mumbrella360 won conference of the year at the Australian Event Awards in September.


But one of the things that made me happiest in the job was a fairly simple decision. Earlier this year, I put myself on the weekend newsdesk duty roster, and got back into being a journo on a regular basis.

That means every four or five weeks, I get a couple of days where I leave other responsibilities aside, go into our empty office, play Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band obnoxiously loud, and write for the website for two solid days. It’s my favourite time of the month.

The finances have been going pretty well too.

When I updated you two years ago, with our FY14 numbers, our turnover had grown to about $3m and made a profit in Australia of $47,000. But we’d (over)spent $200,000 on our new Mumbrella Asia operation, with little revenue to see for it in that first year, taking us into a loss.

We made a couple of changes. We got some outside advice to help cure us of that unfortunate journalistic habit of being apologetic about making a profit.

And our CEO Martin Lane, a fellow shareholder, took direct responsibility for managing the commercial side of the business. The arrival of sales director Victoria Seymour in August 2015 helped a lot too.

So just as I was going through my London slump, our numbers were on the up.

For FY15 our revenue grew again, to $4.4m, and we delivered a profit of $130,000.

We have three equal shareholders of the business – myself, Martin, and Ian Wakeling who lives up in Byron and doesn’t work in the business. This small profit for FY15 allowed us to begin to pay back Wak for the money he’d loaned the company to see us through out FY14 Asia loss.

In FY16, things continued to improve. Revenues grew again to $5.6m, and the profit to an even healthier (for us) $630,000.

We were able to use this to pay back Wak the rest of what the company owed him, and leave the remainder in the company to smooth out cashflow in the usually slow January and February. Although we have an overdraft facility, it would be great not to need to use it.

Half way into FY17, we’re on target for both revenue and profits to grow again. Which means that come the end of this financial year, after eight years, we may be in a position to finally pay ourselves a dividend.

That is, unless we figure out a way to spend it…

Which we have.

One of our big pushes next year is to attempt to replicate the success of Mumbrella360 in Asia, probably in Singapore.

So we’ve hired a publisher in Dean Carroll, who makes the permanent move to Singapore next month.

And my travel itinerary will involve a lot of that daunting QF6 redeye between Singas and Sydney next year.

And there’s more change coming that it’s going to be exciting to be part of.

As you may have read, Mumbrella’s editor Alex Hayes is moving to a new commercial role, launching our client offering Mumbrella Bespoke.

That sees a new editor in Vivienne Kelly, who joins us on Monday, supported by Miranda Ward in her new role as deputy editor.

With two relatively new reporters too, it all adds up to a big learning curve for the whole editorial team, which I’ll be able to help with.

That provides us an opportunity to reset a few relationships and come at things with a lot of fresh energy. I don’t exactly know how just yet, because it will be these people who shape that new direction, but what it certain is that things will be new once more.

And after the (good) year I’ve just had, I can tell you this much: a change is as good as a rest.


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