The inspiration behind TV show Strife: How Mia Freedman built a media company from her lounge room.

The following is an edited excerpt from Mia Freedman's memoir Work Strife Balance, which is the inspiration behind the new TV series Strife.

After 15 wonderful years in magazines and seven disastrous months in commercial TV, my career implosion taught me that I wanted to be in control of my work life and go back to building a community of women. This time, online.

I wanted to be making things with my hands and my words instead of having meetings and analysing spreadsheets. The coal face of content creation is my happy place, and I wanted to return to it urgently.

On the morning after my resignation was announced, and I'd left the TV network for the last time in a blast of bad press, I uncurled from the foetal position for long enough to read it. On page three of the actual newspaper and at the top of homepages, media coverage gleefully reported my very public failure in a job I should never have taken.

It was humiliating, and I felt deeply ashamed but a small voice in my head tried to cheer me up with the following thought: Oh well. At least all these terrible stories mean everyone will know you’re currently available for employment. You have a great reputation from your time in magazines. This was a bad blip. Just wait for the phone to ring! You won’t be unemployed for long! 

The phone did not ring. Not once. And I have not been employed by a media company since that day.

The shock took some time to process. I hadn't been out of a job since I was 14 years old. Work has always been a huge part of my identity and I felt unmoored, unwanted and untouchable because I was. The stench of failure was a potent and powerful deterrent to employers and it shocked me that my long and successful career in magazines had been seemingly erased from the public record.


To distract myself from this second wave of humiliation, I needed a project. I couldn't sit around and nor did I want to. It was sleeves-up time, and I was energised by the thought despite my mental health and confidence being in the vicinity of a toilet.

So this is how Mamamia began: in 2007 I sat down at my kitchen counter and cut out letters from a magazine to try and make a ransom-style logo for my blog. Or my website.

Could there be any more obvious metaphor? I was literally creating the digital logo of my future from the print medium of my past.

Mamamia's previous logo. Image: Supplied.


I wasn’t quite sure how to think of it or what it was even going to be about. I just knew that I wanted to produce content for women online. That was the extent of my knowledge of digital media: I wanted to be part of it. In the months it took to negotiate my exit from my TV job, I had bought the Mamamia URL without giving it more than a minute's thought.

Jason and I have spent years debating whether this was a good choice and we invariably land on no. No, it’s not a website for mothers. No, it’s not by or about Mia anymore. No it's not a mummy blog. Or even a blog. 

But back in 2007, it seemed like an amusing name. I never expected anyone to take it literally. It was an ABBA song. With my name in it. The end.

Today, Mamamia is the largest digital company in Australia with the largest podcast network in the world. We make written, video, audio content for more than seven million people per month. We have 55 different podcasts with 35 episodes every week along with dozens of written articles and hundreds of social media posts.


That all feels very boasty and I’m kind of uncomfortable writing it because I want you to like me and I understand that because I'm a woman, the more successful I am, the less you will like me according to the likeability index. But it's the truth and I'm proud of it.

What most people want to know is quite simply this: how did you get from your kitchen bench to running a media company with your husband who is the CEO?

TLDR: slowly. Building Mamamia took us years, we didn’t do it alone and there have been many missteps along the way. Mostly taken by me. So many missteps. Here is a small selection. 

Fun mistakes to make when you’re building a digital media company.

MISTAKE #1: Using the wrong platform!

Knowing nothing about websites, I called my friend Zoe Foster-Blake who had a blog to ask her what I should use to set mine up. She used a platform called TypePad, so I did too. Rookie error. TypePad was the Beta of video and WordPress was the VHS, except that is an analogy you won’t understand if you’re younger than 40. Are you younger than 40? Okay, so TypePad was the Blackberry of mobile phones. Or the Nokia. In short: it was THE WRONG CHOICE. When Jason came on board as co-founder about 18 months after I started blogging, one of his first challenges was moving Mamamia over to the Wordpress which was far superior and which we used for the next decade, customising it extensively before building our own CMS (content management system) that runs the site today.


MISTAKE #2: Not knowing how to code! 

Coding is like maths crossed with Latin crossed with chemistry crossed with hell. For the first couple of years, I had to teach myself. I was never any good but I could do the absolute basics required to run the site. I remember none of it.

MISTAKE #3: Not writing enough original content!

Bruised from the bad press I’d received in my TV job and paralysed by anxiety, I became too frightened to write anything new. So for the first few months, I just republished my old newspaper columns on Mamamia while feeling nauseous about how they would be received. But once I overcame my paralysis and realised nobody in the media cared what I was doing anymore because I was irrelevant, I felt free and I gradually regained my confidence as a writer. My hyper-focus quickly kicked in and a few months after launching Mamamia, I was writing, editing and publishing six posts a day, five days a week.

MISTAKE #4: Betraying my principles for clicks! 

I once published a shot of Britney Spears with her tampon string hanging out because I knew it would generate traffic, which it did. This was an appalling thing to do, and I had to ignore my gut instinct to do it. My readers called me on it immediately in the comments and I took it down within an hour, ashamed. Jason kept talking about how we needed to identify our core purpose and I kept getting exasperated. "It's just women!" I huffed. "Making women feel good about themselves instead of the shit way that women's media so often makes them feel, especially glossy magazines".

But he was right, of course. In the end, he was the one who put it into words which is embarrassing for me because I am both the woman and the writer in our partnership but the best idea should always win and he nailed it: Making The World A Better Place For Women.


That was a milestone. I still remember him showing me the envelope where he's written those words on the back of it. I wish I'd kept that envelope because it's been our north star ever since. Every business and content decision we make goes through that filter.

And if I'd had it earlier, I would never ever have published that tampon photo.

Not only does a core purpose help you work out what you should do, it equally tells you what you shouldn't. For example, we don't support the papparazi economy in any way.

On Mamamia you will never see photos of celebrities that were taken without their permission or knowledge This is a terrible business decision because all our competitors publish these photos and monetise the traffic they bring. And they bring a lot of traffic. Who doesn't want to see a celebrity at the beach or on a date or out with their family?

But we know that taking these photos is intrusive and exploitative for the women who are their targets and that doesn't align with our core purpose. 

Does anyone come to Mamamia because of what we don't publish? Of course not. But it's an ongoing example of how a core purpose can be a powerful north star for your brand.


MISTAKE #5: Not having a business plan! Or any plan!

Before Jason came on board, I worked moment-to-moment without much thought for the future. To this day I don’t know how to create a spreadsheet. My audience grew steadily thanks to a combination of the content I was producing, the social media presence I was building for Mamamia and the promotion I was able to give it in traditional media by having the URL published alongside my Sunday newspaper column and appearing each week on the Today Show in a segment called: Girls On The Grill which had female commenters giving their opinions on 'women's issues'. Basically, I was a sausage. An audience wasn't enough though. Without a business plan, I didn't have a job let alone a business. I just had an incredibly time-consuming hobby. I could never have built Mamamia on my own. Jason's business experience was crucial at the start and has been crucial every day since.

MISTAKE #6: Not having any income! 

My gut feeling about what women wanted online was attracting a growing audience, but for the first couple of years Mamamia didn’t make a cent in revenue. Within a year my redundancy was gone. It was tough going from there. I've broken this down for you in part two because I know you probably want details........

In Part Two of this excerpt, Mia shares her memories of how Mamamia has gotten to where it is today. Including a visit with a PM, a client walking in on her cleaning up her dog’s diarrhoea and a very awkward tampon situation...Read Part TWO

Feature Image: Supplied.