Tyler Brûlé on how journalism trained him to be an entrepreneur

The founder and editor-in-chief of the global affairs magazine Monocle on the importance of trusting your gut

Career Path, a continuing CB series in which top innovators and entrepreneurs explain how they got there
Tyler Brûlé pictured in 2007 with the launch issue of Monocle.

Tyler Brûlé pictured in 2007 with the launch issue of Monocle. (Tom Stoddart/Getty)

The founder and editor-in-chief of the global affairs magazine Monocle, which celebrates its eight-year anniversary this month, talked to us about moving across the pond to become a journalist, and how he became an entrepreneur in the process.

Journalism Student, Ryerson University (1987–1989)

I found that I was I pretty bored of everything within the first six or seven weeks, and I believe you can either write or you can’t. If you’ve got those basic skills, and you can communicate on paper, then that’s already half the battle.

One of the valuable things I found at Ryerson was a very underutilized budget for the debating team at the school, and with a friend and some other people at school we really strived hard to build [the team] into something, and we did. I built up an extraordinary network of people all over Canada and the United States, people who I’m still in touch with to this day. I think it was much more useful than journalism school. I didn’t end up finishing at Ryerson. I left after second year.

Reporter, BBC (1989–1990)

The BBC is where I learned to become a journalist. I mean more than anything else because you just really had tough teachers, like your producers, your executive producers, and you’re out there doing it every single day for six months.

There was a woman named Rachel Purnell, who became the producer of the TV cooking show The Barefoot Contessa. She had a really good editorial news head about her. She would really just sit me down and would go through scripts, and taught me the art of selling, and selling to a reader.

London Bureau Chief, Fox News (1990–1992)

I started working on a program that I really liked, and was given, on paper, a better job which had a better salary, but I had no mentors, no direction. It was just me in a bureau pitching to people in New York. I constantly found myself just stumped and thwarted, and when I was assigned to do stories, they were just stories that I didn’t want to do. I realized that type of trade-off just wasn’t worth it. It was almost sort of soul destroying.

War Correspondent, the Guardian, the Globe and Mail, and others (1992-1994)

We were in Kabul in 1994, covering the activities of the Médecins Sans Frontières, when the UN vehicle we were in was hit 39 times. I was shot twice, and our interpreter was shot in the back of the head. The driver and the photographer were fine. I had raised an issue to everyone in the car beforehand, saying, ‘I don’t feel safe about this road we’re going down,’ and sure enough, within 200 or 300 metres, we were under fire. I just knew it was wrong, and yet I went with the prevailing opinion within the car.

I learned that you should always listen to your gut, and your gut instinct. To this day, when things just don’t feel right, I don’t just sort of let it go as a case of butterflies or something like that. I always feel like there’s something else out there that’s telling you—whether it’s animal instincts or whether it’s just maybe a heightened form of common sense—I really learned to listen to myself, and to not be scared to speak up as well.

Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Wallpaper (1996–2002)

Raising money through the bank and through friends, and even getting advertising sales came naturally to me. I guess if you’re a good journalist, you’re probably a good salesperson. If you can sell your idea to a grumpy editor, then there’s probably a good idea that you can sell your brand and your concept to an advertiser as well. It was interesting to realize that the skills you learned as a journalist were very applicable in business in many ways.

We got the magazine up and running, and then we ran out of money incredibly quickly because you can do good business plans but you never know what the force of the market is going to be for advertising. Even though we had a great start, if you don’t have the muscle of being a big magazine group, people just take as long as they feel like to pay you.  So we ran out of money.

We were fortunate enough to have a number of big brands approaching us and grew interested in working with us. A bit of a bidding war started between Condé Nast, and Fairchild, and Time Inc. One of the best sales pitches that came out of that was from Time Inc., who we obviously ended up working with, and basically they said, ‘You can go work with a company like Condé Nast, and they know how to do a magazine like Wallpaper. You can go work with a company like Fairchild, and Fairchild thinks they have an idea of how to do a magazine like Wallpaper. Or, you can come to Time Inc. where we have absolutely no idea how to do a magazine like yours, we’re so impressed by what we see etc., that we will absolutely leave you alone and let you get on with it.’ And that was largely true. We were incredibly fortunate that that’s how things got up and running and launched.

Founder and Chairman, Winkreative (1998–Present)

“I always hire based on potential, not on what people have done.”

Read the interview with Tyler Brûlé on hiring great employees at PROFITguide.com »

We realized that a lot of Wallpaper’s advertisers were not interested in just running a regular campaign. If I only had an editorial head on, I probably would have said, ‘This is too much work and I can’t be bothered,’ but I think I was probably already feeling like I had the spirit of an entrepreneur, and I thought, “Well, this is just leaving money on the table, and we can definitely build it to something else.” I think the lessons here were to always have your eyes open, look for the opportunities and be very solution-driven.

Columnist, Financial Times (2003–2006, 2008–Present)

When I took the role, Richard Addis was my editor, and I said, ‘I have to be honest with you.  I’m a nightmare with deadlines, and I’m worried I’m not going to be able to sustain this.’  To this day, I manage to nail my column every Thursday before noon, London time. I learned I’m actually very, very good with deadlines.

Editor-in-Chief, Monocle (2007–Present)

A good brand is built through repetition, and sticking to your guns is incredibly important.  I think a lot of people didn’t understand Monocle. In the beginning, they were a little baffled by what our mission is and what we’re trying to do. It was amazing that we didn’t change the magazine, but 18 months later, people were saying, ‘It’s incredible how much you changed the magazine.’ But we didn’t change—they did. Continue to do what you do and you don’t waver, you don’t sway, and people come around to you.