‘For years, I felt like a bit of an outsider. It used to make me feel like I wasn’t getting anywhere, but staying true to myself has really paid off in the end.‘
Emma is the host of Ctrl Alt Delete a top-charting podcast that has featured the likes of Lena Dunham and Seth Godin. She’s also the author of the critically acclaimed Ctrl Alt Delete: How I Grew Up Online. Her subjects include friendship, feminism, #girlbosses, life, blogging, writing, books, and a whole lot more besides. She lives in London and has fabulous taste in glasses.
Can you tell us how you ended up as a podcast host- is it an ambition you always held?
I think it’s always been an ambition of mine, but not a conscious one! I always knew I wanted to be a writer, so to find such a happy home in podcasting wasn’t necessarily the plan. It’s funny that I’ve ended up doing the podcast though because when I was really young I used to record myself “hosting my own radio show” on a children’s boombox. I’ve always wanted to have my own “show” and interview others about their lives and having a podcast seemed like the perfect medium for honest fly-on-the-wall conversation. It’s totally different to radio where everyone’s performing a bit. I discovered Amanda De Cadenet’s YouTube talk show called The Conversation back in 2012 and thought “why aren’t there more honest conversations between women like this? Why is this content so rare?” The growth of podcasting has surprised me – when I started mine in early 2016, I planned to do six episodes to promote the themes in my book. I’ve now done over 80 episodes! So many more people listen to them now, and so many more brands are open to sponsoring them!
Have you had guidance from mentors along the way?
I haven’t had any “formal” mentors but tonnes of people who have helped me with advice along the way, over a glass of wine. Bruce Daisley who works at Twitter has always been someone I can ask for impartial trusted advice, and my manager Kim is the closest I currently have to a mentor – she gives me brilliant career guidance and helps me plan my goals. If I’m unsure about taking on a project we’ll discuss it at length and she helps me come to a decision.
Beyond individual mentors, do you have any advice on how best to build and use a wider network- especially a female network?
Twitter was really the first platform that allowed me to find a community of like-minded women, even though the platform has changed a lot, I think it’s still great for meeting new people. Twitter is “the cocktail party of the Internet”, you can just randomly enter conversations and people don’t tend to mind (that’s if you’re not a troll). Meeting up IRL is also very important – I’ve always avoided events that are explicitly labelled “networking” events because they are usually transactional and not that friendly. But blog meet-ups, panel events, workshops or conferences are always good places to mingle and network with the pressure off. I also recommend communities like Women Who, a hub for creative women created by Otegha Uwagba, it’s very welcoming and informative, online and offline. I also really recommend joining some closed Facebook groups. I’m part of some private groups for spiritually minded creative women and it’s a lovely safe space to ask silly questions and ask for advice.
What is the biggest leap of faith you’ve taken?
Definitely when I decided to quit my shiny dream job at Condé Nast. Who quits their job working at the world’s most famous magazine publishers??? I was so nervous to leave because I felt like it was the best job I could possibly get. But I couldn’t shake the feeling of wanting to work for myself. And it turned out to be the best decision for me. My writing projects, podcast and work with Microsoft wouldn’t have happened if I’d stayed working for someone else. I’ve had more freedom to grow my brand, build a business and create content I’m super proud of. Risks are often worth taking but SUPER scary at the time.
What governs what you say yes to?
Anything I say ‘yes’ to has to align with my brand, message and overall vibe. I know myself so well now, so it’s normally an easy gut-instinct reaction. Some projects are money-making opportunities and some are just passion projects. But either way, it has to feel right deep down. Taking projects just for the money is a very dangerous move.
Have you had any memorable times of failure or disappointment that have had a big impact on where you’ve ended up (for better or worse!)?
I’ve had years and years of disappointment! Because my blog never really fitted neatly to “a box” (I’m not a beauty blogger or a fashion blogger) I was never invited to the cool events or offered the sorts of brand partnerships at the beginning that other bloggers have been offered. For years, I felt like a bit of an outsider. It used to make me feel like I wasn’t getting anywhere, but staying true to myself has really paid off in the end. You can’t be anyone else, you have to be you.
What are the most valuable nuggets of advice you’ve been given by your interviewees?
Oh yes, so many! Too many to list, probably. The first one that springs to mind is Cheryl Strayed who says “you don’t have a career, you have a life”. I took that very seriously, I like to make sure my life is full of variety and I’m not *just* spending my twenties hustling and working to the bone. The money-themed episode with author Jen Sincero was really helpful and therapeutic. Creatives often feel guilty for wanting to make lots of money because our jobs are classed as “fun jobs”. She said that it’s actually a feminist act to become powerful, and you shouldn’t ever feel bad for wanting to monetise your work.
How do you measure your own success?
Success to me is feeling fulfilled and proud of the work I’m making. I feel successful when I’m juggling my work and personal life in healthy measures. Sometimes I feel most successful when I can just take the afternoon off, for no reason, to go and sit in the park. Also, my moments of “success” are very personal to me. Getting Seth Godin to agree to do an interview with me was my own personal career highlight because I’ve been following his work since I was 18 years old and he’s notoriously very hard to track down. It meant a lot to me, but on paper, it’s definitely not the most outwardly “impressive” thing I’ve ever done.
What are your future ambitions, for 2017 and beyond?
Exploring new mediums and platforms to tell my stories. TV next, perhaps.
Who would you like to send a thank you bunch to?
I’d love to send a bunch to my friend Abi Bergstrom, she is a powerhouse and always gives me such good advice. I’d write “Dear Abi, thank you for being so good at what you do. It’s contagious.”
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