Anna Mackenzie

Anna Mackenzie

Co-Founder / Lady-Brains

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If you’re a seasoned Australian podcast lover then you’ll be familiar with Lady-Brains.  Renowned for getting the story behind the story, Lady-Brains is iconic for a reason. Started 5 years ago by Anna Mackenzie and her Co-Founder Caitlin Judd, the brand has since captured the hearts of wanna and seasoned entrepreneurs globally and has interviewed game changers like CJ Hendry, Steph and Laura from KIC, and Flex Mami. 

But, on top of its incredible stories and growing community, what is even more striking about Lady-Brains is the philosophy behind the brand and more-so it’s co-founder Anna’s #careerstory. Today is the second instalment of our Lady-Brains profile (you can read the first interview here) and I can’t wait to tell Anna’s story.

In this interview, Anna speaks about her journey from High School to Uni, her journey to becoming a Spy (yes, a real life spy) and what it means to be a woman growing a thing in the Australian media industry. I particularly love her take on evolving the business in a post-pandemic world, why learning through Google should be celebrated, and the significance of following your gut when it comes to your career. 

Let’s begin. 

Can you start by telling us where you grew up and how your experience shaped the person you are, and the career you are in today?

I grew up just outside of Melbourne, in a town called Sassafras in the Dandenong Ranges. A large part of my childhood was spent running around outside, exploring the creek, and bush-bashing through the forest. Both of my parents ran their own businesses; Mum, a former teacher, owned an educational company that ran programs for gifted kids, and Dad had his own legal practice.

I grew up in an entrepreneurial environment and learned the value of hard work really early on. I also worked for Mum part-time through high school and university so got a really strong sense of what it was like to run an all-consuming business. Both my parents are super academic, and I was brought up to be curious, ask questions, and constantly learn new things.

I think this natural curiosity and love of learning helped me become a true generalist and someone who knows a little about a lot of things. Having a broad skillset has come in handy as a business owner, where Caitlin and I are wearing all the hats.

After high school did you go on to further education? Where and what did you study?

After school I went to the University of Melbourne and studied a Bachelor of Commerce (Business Management) and a Bachelor of Arts (Psychology, International Studies). I absolutely loved how broad my degree was; I studied everything from Middle Eastern Politics, to Psychopharmacology, to Quantitative Methods, to French, to Marketing and Accounting. My favourite subjects were Politics, International Relations and Affairs, and my goal was to become a spy for one of Australia’s biggest intelligence agencies. I spent the entire last year of my degree going through the spy recruitment process (I can’t say much about it, but it was gruelling!). Ultimately, I didn’t make it through the last round of selection or get the gig – it was the first big failure I experienced.

Anna, that is incredible. I can totally imagine you being a spy. In your current line of work, do you think it’s important for young women to have a degree? 

I currently own a business in the media and education space, and while I think my uni degree helped me develop important skills like critical thinking and analysis, writing and forming an argument, presentation, leadership and teamwork, it didn’t teach me practical skills that have helped me in my business journey. I definitely don’t think a degree is a bad thing, but I also don’t think a business degree is necessary if someone wants to start a business. There’s so much incredible business content out there, all you need to do is Google!

Did you complete any internships or volunteer placements? Tell us about your experience.

I didn’t do any internships or volunteer placements, but it’s definitely something I wish I’d done.

I’d recommend getting as much work experience across a wide range of industries when you’re trying to decide what career you want to go after, because this will help you figure out what you love (and equally as important, what you don’t).

How did you get into the job/career/business that you are in now?

After my ‘spy setback’, I ultimately landed a graduate role with Japanese retailer Uniqlo, as part of the founding team to launch the brand into the Australian market. This took me over to Singapore and Tokyo, where I learned how the retailer operated from the store level right up to individual head office departments, providing me with the context and understanding to help establish the brand here.

This role was my first look into how a global business operates across markets, and how processes, procedures and structures can be built to create efficiency and make teams more effective. Next up came my dream job at MECCA, Australia’s largest beauty retailer. Here, I worked directly with the Creative Director and founder Jo Horgan as the Concept Development Lead, leading big teams and large projects to develop and deliver ‘store of the future’. A large part of my role was spent travelling overseas to places like New York, Bangkok, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, LA, and Singapore, to discover the most exciting innovations in retail. This role was a massive step up and big stretch for me. Jo really believed in my potential, and I’ve always been grateful she backed me despite being young and green. It was a wild time in my career!

During my time at MECCA, my friends and I started a passion project; the lady-brains supper-club, which was a dinner series for entrepreneurial women to connect and share ideas over great food and wine. This expanded to include a podcast interviewing female founders, and after landing a big network contract we decided to take the leap into the business full-time. It was a hard decision to leave my job at MECCA, but I knew that if I didn’t take a chance on the business, I’d always regret it. Three years later, my business partner Caitlin and I have grown our community and launched lots of new products and services, travelled to New York to interview some incredible guests, and landed a partnership with Afterpay Australian Fashion Week two years in a row.

Virtual Supper-Club

What does a typical workday look like for you?

My co-founder Caitlin and I have a loosely structured week: Mondays are for internal meetings, Tuesdays are for external meetings, Wednesdays have a strictly no-meeting policy, Thursdays are spent in the podcast studio or running workshops with clients, and Friday is a day of admin, catch-up and clean-up.

On Mondays, I write down the big-ticket items that I must complete by the end of the week. These include tasks that will move the business forward and importantly, drive sales. It’s so easy to get distracted with emails, meetings, and admin, so by identifying important tasks upfront I’m clear on where my focus needs to be. I can’t start the day without coffee, so getting my morning caffeine fix is the priority!

But once I’ve done this, I tend to get straight into work. Mornings are when my mind is the clearest, so I try and spend the first few hours of the day working on new product development, big partnership proposals, or writing and creating content.

In the afternoons I focus on smaller tasks, like responding to emails, talking to our community, taking phone or Zoom meetings, managing our cash flow, catching up with brands, or doing research on upcoming podcast guests. While it’s not always possible, I try and clock off around 5 or 6pm. Intentionally winding downing after a day’s work is critical to looking after my wellbeing. Throughout COVID I got into a bad habit of working 24/7 (there was little else to do!) and it wasn’t uncommon for me to be checking emails until midnight. Now, I try to wind down by reading, writing, and relaxing.

Some of the LADY-BRAINS podcast family.

What piece of career advice do you wish that someone told you in your early 20s?

I wish someone had told me not to worry so much, and that I would figure it all out! In my last year of university, everyone who I’d studied with were getting jobs at the banks, the Big 4 accounting firms, and in consulting, and I couldn’t think of anything worse.

I was so set on becoming a spy instead, and when that dream came crashing down around me, I thought I’d ruined my chance at choosing a great career. In reality, you don’t have just one shot at a career. In fact, we all have many shots across the course of a lifetime. I wish I knew this earlier on as it would have helped to take the pressure off.

What is the worst piece of career advice you received in your 20s?

“Do what everyone else is doing.”

The worst piece of advice ever! During the last couple of years of university, many of my peers, tutors and lecturers encouraged me to take the common career path that University of Melbourne Commerce graduates take; to go to firms like Deloitte, PWC, Boston Consulting Group, or McKinsey. In my heart of hearts, I knew this wasn’t what I wanted to do and so I chose to ignore it all! Thankfully I followed my gut – this is always the right decision even if it seems like the harder path to take.

If you could start your career all over again, what would you do differently?

Not one thing. I’m grateful for the failures, setbacks and challenges, as well as the awesome jobs and achievements because they’ve led me to where I am today – running a fantastic business with my best friend.

Anna is repping Lady-Brains merch that can be purchased from their online website.

List the most valuable resources that you turn to constantly for inspiration in your career.

  • Favourite Website? I am a big fan of www.ilovecreatives.com and take a lot of inspiration from how the founder, Puno Dostres, has built her brand.
  • Instagram/ TikTok Account that you love? My favourite IG account is @the_happy_broadcast, which provides positive, anxiety-free news content from around that world that’s designed to help our mental health. Every time I see a post it reminds me that there’s a lot of good in the world.
  • Favourite Podcast? Of course I’m going to say lady-brains ;) Other than our show, my favourite style of podcast is the anonymous one; I can’t get enough of ‘Where Should We Begin’ by Esther Perel and ‘I Will Teach You To Be Rich’ by Ramit Sethi. Both podcasts are anonymous therapy and coaching sessions, and they make the audience reflect on their own behaviours, beliefs and internal narratives. I also love ‘Everyone Has an Ex’ by Georgia Love for a bit of light listening. It’s an anonymous documentary-style podcast that shares the wild stories of breakups.
  • Anyone noteworthy we should follow? I’m a big fan of writers Ryan Holiday and Brianna Wiest.
  • Favourite App that you use every day? My most used app is definitely Spotify – I listen to podcasts and music all the time, and I love listening to White Noise while I’m working. Try it.

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