CEOs, business owners, physicians, authors, photographers, musicians, conductors, activists, spiritual advisers, and artists from all walks of life have shared their stories – successes, failures, challenges, and fears and how they’ve overcome those fears, both on a personal and professional level – in the innovative digital publication called fear.less. ProgramBusiness.com spoke with co-founder and publisher Ishita Gupta about the genesis of fear.less, the business model behind the free publication, and what she hopes readers get from the amazing stories being shared as the magazine approaches its one-year anniversary in May.
A young, bright entrepreneur, Ishita has always been involved in storytelling through various types of media, including her work in photography and documentary film. A couple of years ago she participated in a six-month MBA entrepreneurship program with marketer and bestselling author Seth Godin, and from there the idea of moving into digital media as a form of storytelling unfolded. She saw this as a platform to have an honest conversation about a topic – fear – that people normally don’t talk about. fear.less was born, and today with nearly 12 issues published, dozens of inspirational stories have been featured in this beautifully designed and easily accessible magazine.
In addition to her role as publisher of fear.less, Ishita is working with Seth Godin on his new venture, THE DOMINO PROJECT, which we featured as part of our interview with Seth in the last edition of Insurance Unplugged.
Annie George (AG): Ishita, I’m a recent subscriber to fear.less and found the stories in the magazine relevant, relatable, and inspiring -- so much so I thought it was the perfect complement to what Seth discussed when he talked about the need to innovate, initiate, and take a leap. I wanted to share with our readers that there are remarkable stories out there that you’ve uncovered and brought to life, and encourage them to get fear.less. Many publications discuss successes but not the flip side, or the obstacles people face and overcome along the way. What inspired you to create fear.less?
Ishita Gupta (IG): “There is a real universal need among all of us to talk about issues such as fear, anxiety, and overcoming obstacles, but we aren’t necessarily so keen to share them as openly as we perhaps should be. I’ve always been interested in the underbelly of fear, and wanted to talk to people who have inspired me, about their failures, their mistakes, and how they got to where they are. And what I found after interviewing more than 100 people is that each person clearly has had fear and has overcome and embraced their fear in a variety of ways. This is not only true for top-level CEOs, entrepreneurs, artists, and bestselling authors, but for us all…people like me who as an entrepreneur wants to know what do with the uncertainty we face every day, what to do with a society that changes so fast, both in the job market and in terms of the economy. I wanted to look at how we grow as people and face the changes we find within ourselves. This was the genesis behind fear.less. And I’ll tell you it’s been quite surprising, everyone who I’ve interviewed almost feels a sense of relief in being able to talk about these issues so openly.
“Initially, I thought, who is going to want to touch this topic? A lot of these ideas are seen as ‘soft’: psychology, fear, anxiety. But it’s this topic that drives our lives -- issues that we’re not sharing with others. When talking to people like Linda Resnick and others who are clearly at the top of their game and living the lives that they want and meeting their goals, I found that they’re exactly like everyone else. They have the same challenges… and it’s important to make that known. They’ve had the same goals, fears, anxieties, failures, and mistakes and quite often more failures and mistakes than the rest of us. They’ve just chosen to take more risks. In talking to them, this is what they highlight. It has taken a lot for them to get to where they are, and it’s the different ways people deal with the things that are thrown at them in their lives that we’re striving to take a look at in the magazine.”
(Linda Resnick is a businesswoman who currently owns the POM Wonderful and FIJI brands, Teleflora floral wire service company, large industrial citrus and nut farms, and other businesses. Her story is featured in the January issue of fear.less.)
AG: What else have you discovered in interviewing such a diverse group of individuals?
IG: “There is no one right way of handling fear, challenges. It’s very different for each person. And although panicking is something that everyone says not to do, it’s something that we clearly all do. So the question is how do we deal with this, which is what I was searching for and what I’ve found. Everyone has their own way of dealing and they’ve been generous in sharing their personal lessons.
“The magazine is not trying to preach a certain way of handling life and its curve balls; we’re showcasing a variety of ways of how other people have dealt with challenges in the hopes that one can come away with something that resonates. Some of the stories won’t do that…if you’re not a woman who’s an entrepreneur running your own business and who also has children, perhaps Linda Resnick’s story won’t resonate as much for you as it would for someone else. But this is the whole idea of the magazine, to highlight that each individual has the strength to handle his or her own individual challenges, it’s just a matter of finding out how you do this.”
AG: How do you choose whom you’ll interview?
IG: “Many of the people I spoke to have been inspirations and role models to me. Becoming an entrepreneur in the world in the last couple of years has given me the opportunity to seek out people who have done well in their field and who have inspired me. Many I’ve approached have written books that have helped me, and they’ve been very open to being a part of the magazine. I have also sought out individuals with compelling ideas and lessons. I have found that people are very approachable if the intent is to share information that will help others.”
Four to five individuals are featured in each issue of fear.less, which comes out every month. Some of the individuals featured in past publications include: Dr. Bernard Lown, a cardiologist, inventor of the DC heart defibrillator, and Nobel Peace Prize winner; Guy Kawasaki, a founding partner and entrepreneur-in-residence at Garage Technology Ventures, a seed-stage venture capital fund; Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, a world authority on corporate leadership, coaching more than 100 Fortune 500 CEOs on becoming better leaders; Karen Armstrong, a former Roman Catholic nun and author of more than 20 books on comparative religion; William Ury, co-founder of Harvard’s Negotiation Program where he directs the Global Negotiation Initiative; Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and teacher at the New England Conservatory for more than 40 years; Platon, a world-renowned photographer specializing in politics and portraiture; Dr. Srikumar Rao who worked as an executive with Warner Communications, Continental Group, Data Resources and McGraw-Hill before becoming an adjunct professor at London Business School and the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley; Susan Piver, a bestselling author; and Barry Moltz, a nationally recognized expert on entrepreneurship.
Ishita explained that oftentimes the conversations she has go well beyond the interviewees’ scope of work. “Of course, fundamentally what they share with us is intrinsic to their work, but it’s also about how they have dealt with death, divorce, loss of friendship, loneliness. Every single person we’ve talked to goes beyond what they ‘do’. They talk about things that really have impacted their lives, and many times it has nothing to do with their careers…it’s about the things that are building up in other areas of life, which to me is the real value because it moves away from what you traditionally talk about into other facets. You may read something and think, ‘I didn’t realize this entrepreneur had to go through that and perhaps I can take away a lesson from this.’”
AG: The magazine is beautifully designed and laid out, in addition to being a great read. How many people are involved in producing it?
IG: “There is a small team of people work with me on the magazine. There are two or three editors who work on the stories, a designer, and a web developer, all who work without much pay and are doing it for the message that’s behind the magazine. They are incredible. I primarily do the interviews, either via phone or SKYPE, and recently I’ve been doing more and more face-to-face, local interviews in New York City.”
AG: What is the publication’s business model?
IG: “Basically, I was creating a magazine that I would want to read. People are used to consuming information online for free…and this was information I wanted to spread, so when developing the business model the idea was to make it entirely digital without any printing and crazy production costs and to offer it free. I wanted to be able to get something out for people who wanted to access it quickly and without any barriers. Today, we have almost 10,000 subscribers who get the publication every month.
“We sell third-party advertising, which we’re building up as we gain more subscribers. It’s a tricky way to go about digital sales…and a bit of an uphill battle as we’re not selling any online real estate ads; we sell full-page ads within the magazine, placed next to highly relevant and positive content, with clicks to the advertiser’s home page. We’ll have to prove ourselves and continue to showcase what we do so people will think of us as a Vanity Fair, for example, when it comes to advertising. I want it to be sustainable; I’m not creating something only to stop a year later. I want advertisers to see the value in advertising in a publication like ours. We have such vested, loyal readers who are very vocal and offer so much feedback. Getting it to a subscriber base of 50,000-100,000 will be the turning point…that’s when advertisers will start calling and seeing the value. We’re hopeful it will grow organically.”
The feedback from the magazine’s readership comes from some of the most unexpected people, explained Ishita. “I get emails from people I never thought would read the magazine…sure there are writers, actors, entrepreneurs where a lot of uncertainty exists in these fields, but then there are top-level sales agents, CEOs, and business people who may not be as open in sharing, but who will email me to let me know how helpful and relevant a specific story is.”
AG: I think fear.less is a publication ideal for the time we’re in…as you have said, with so much uncertainty, fear, personally and professionally, it’s insightful and helpful to read about individuals who are sharing their stories of overcoming fear. But we also see on a daily basis people all over the world facing their fears and rising up for what they believe in.
IG: “Absolutely. Collectivity reduces fear. I learned this from the late Howard Zinn, who spoke about the collectivity of courage in one of our issues. When people unite for a common goal, it’s much easier to step out and deviate from the norm.
“What I hope to share is that you’re not alone in your challenges and that there are quite a few people who share very similar concerns. Why not band up and share our stories and learn from each other? When we do, it oftentimes reduces fear. Sharing creates more space and the wherewithal to overcome whatever challenges come our way. Knowing that we can survive anything…”
You can find out more about fear.less and begin getting your free subscription at: http://fearlessstories.com/. You can also download back issues: http://fearlessstories.com/archives/.