Maybe you have an outline for your next big project, the premise for a new company, or just the beginning of a great idea. Don’t let those things slip away. If they excite you, they’re worth pursuing.
In this series, we talk to creatives around the world who have made their passion projects a reality. They’ll share every part of the process — the successes and, more importantly, the mistakes. Learn from them and then go out and make your passion project a reality, too.
This week, we talk to Annapurna Mellor, co-founder of ROAM Magazine, a creative outlet for travelers, writers, and photographers. Annapurna (@annapurnauna), a freelance photographer whose work has been featured by National Geographic and Lonely Planet, came up with the idea for ROAM with her sister, Athena, and together they turned it into an online magazine.
When did you first have the idea for ROAM Magazine? And what form did the idea originally take?
It’s something I had been thinking about for a while. I’d started blogs before but hadn’t continued with them. My sister and I sat down and decided to create something, and that’s when it came to life. It’s survived because we’ve both been working on it.
I had an idea to create a platform that could showcase creative work based on travel by all these amazing people I know from Instagram, who were posting pictures but not writing stories about what was behind those posts. I wanted to create a platform that would be open and accessible to people — and it was a way for my sister and I to work together on content, too.
How did you go from having that original idea to actually making the website and getting it up and running?
We just sat down and said, “Alright, let’s do it.” We had definitely brainstormed what ROAM would be, and we’re still brainstorming what we want it to be. We’re still shaping it every day. I think that with anything like this, you just have to sit down and do it. Actually creating a website doesn’t take very long — only a few days, It was getting the ideas together that took longer.
How did you and your sister decide what was going to populate the website at first?
There’s definitely a movement on travel websites and travel blogs with these “list” posts like “Top 10 Reasons to Love Berlin” — stuff like that. I do like reading those — there’s nothing wrong with them — but we wanted to create a site that went deeper into travel and was full of stories about what happens when people travel, as well as photo essays that looked at the culture of a place more in depth. We wanted to do something different.
I’m a photographer, and my work is very much based on people and culture, so the passion for that comes from me. Athena loves outdoor spaces and national parks, so she really likes that side of it. I’m very visual, and Athena loves writing, so it works well.
Now you have contributors adding to the site with their own content. What was it like deciding how to make that aspect of the site work?
We did the first few posts ourselves. Then, Athena reached out to one of her friends after seeing her photos on Facebook, and she was really up for it. I put a call out on my Instagram, and we got a few people from that. It’s been a lot of people that I know from Instagram — they’re always really up for it.
When you were getting it started, how did you decide what you wanted the tone of ROAM to be?
In the beginning, the idea was for it to be a place for creative travelers to write stories and put together photo essays. The focus was very much on the creativity rather than on the destination. We wanted it to be all destinations around the world — there was going to be no exclusivity around that — and really great work.
That was the idea, and over time it’s evolved. Now we want to broaden it to focus on sustainable and cultural travel, so we’re going to hopefully bring more things into it going forward. Our vision has changed a lot over time. We’ve seen what other people like — even though we love photo essays, we’ve also seen that it’s good to be an informative source as well as an inspirational one. But our vision is always changing.
What were some of the challenges in getting the project up and running?
There were a lot of nerves in the beginning. We were worrying about if it would be interesting, if people would like it, and if it would be something that could continue.
Also — finding time for it. We set it up almost a year ago, and my freelance photography was taking off, so that had to be my priority since that’s how I make my living. You have to find the time between having a busy freelance life and pursuing a passion project on the side that isn’t making any money — and that you don’t see making money in the near future, but you know is beneficial in other ways.
How did you get the following to expand?
Because our model is contributor-based, a lot of it comes down to that. We have people contribute, then they reach out to their followers and tell them about it. Then their followers check us out and it goes on from there. We love it. It’s become a community rather than just a website.
We also had a couple of big magazines and Instagrammers feature us. We were featured on a list of “24 Best Travel Blogs and Websites of 2017,” and we’d only just launched — that drove a lot of views to the site. It’s little things all the time, just building and building. You think there’s going to be one moment — like, “I’ve done it!” — but it’s just little bits over time.
What is your role? What is your sister’s role? How do you both split up the work and keep the site going?
In the beginning, I was going to focus on the photography side and the visual content and Athena was going to focus on the stories. But because we have been focusing on photo essays, now we each do both. It’s a lot about who has the time to do it — I’m busier right now, so she’s taking the reigns on working with the contributors. We both do the Instagram and Facebook. But we often decide to sit down and just have a “ROAM Day.”
When did you know that ROAM was becoming something that would live on its own?
It took a long time. You really have to develop it and pursue it without seeing the views or the likes come back to you at first. It was six months before we were getting a lot of views, likes, or people emailing to contribute. When that does happen, it drives you even more. You see people are reading it, so you want to do more with it.
That’s a challenge as well — continuing in the beginning when you only have 200 followers on Instagram and you’re wondering what the point is. But there is a point — you just have to stick with it.
What were some of the unexpected things you had to deal with in keeping ROAM running?
Time management is the main thing. I didn’t realize how much time it would take to actually do it all. I’ve done blogs before, but that was just me. And, to be honest, when I was blogging I didn’t really care about the quality of the content. But when you’re trying to mold a magazine into something high quality and unique, you’re making sure everything is great. It takes a lot of time. If you had a full time job, it would be really hard. As a freelancer, I’m a bit more flexible.
What do you get out of keeping this project running and seeing it to fruition?
I like having a passion project. I’m a photographer and that’s my passion, so my life is a passion project in many ways. But sometimes I don’t want to use the camera anymore. I just get really tired of it, and it’s nice to have something else. I love finding amazing work online and creating the site and communicating with all these creative people around the world.
What do you hope for ROAM in the future?
We’re hoping to grow … a lot. We’d love to work with more creative people, but also more brands and tourism boards, and grow it in a way that will allow us to connect, travel, and promote creativity. We want it to be a well-rounded magazine, something that can be informational and an inspirational tool.
If someone is thinking about pursuing a passion project, what advice do you have?
I think the most important thing is to just to do it. You can sit on these ideas for a really long time and they’ll never become anything unless you take the first step and make the website or do whatever it is. You have to do the first step.
Then it’s about seeing it through, which, for a lot of people, is the hardest thing. When nobody’s seeing it, when nobody’s liking stuff, it’s just about going through with it. If you have a really good idea, you have to put everything into it in the beginning. You have to do it for the passion, not for the money.