Founder, Pjoys and Co-founder, Livity, and speaker at our November Forum
Michelle Morgan, is Founder of Pjoys, and Co-Founder of Livity
Our Social Founder Network is thrilled that Michelle has just successfully raised over £60,000 through Crowdfunder for her new social venture, Pjoys.
“I believe in the need to make mental health an everyday conversation. I believe in all the people who have made this crowdfunder and Pjoys start up something very special and also, I believe in me. Thanks so much everyone!” writes Michelle Morgan, about her successful Pjoys Crowdfunder.
"Suddenly I found myself at the crossroads of where Brilliance Meets Madness," said Michelle Morgan during her talk at our recent Social Founder Network Breakfast Forum. Michelle went on to tell us about her new venture Pjoys, born out of her very real and painful experience of founder burnout.
In 2016, a series of traumatic events sent the previously unstoppable London-based social entrepreneur (then 45) into a depression so deep that she could not leave her home. Out of this crisis has emerged Michelle’s brilliantly creative, innovative and purposeful second venture Pjoys. Michelle shared her founder story at our Social Founder Forum in November 2018, with incredible honesty, tears and laughter - and huge admiration from all of us.
As Co-Founder and co-CEO of Livity, Michelle had been at the top of her game, successfully managing the award-winning, youth-led creative network that brings brands and young people together.
Having failed most of her school exams and been expelled from college, Michelle co-founded Livity in May 2001 as an experiment to see if there was a place for a socially responsible youth marketing agency. Under Michelle and Sam Conniff’s joint leadership Livity grew into a globally-recognised organisation with an annual reach of over 500 million people and a turnover of several million pounds, as well as winning the Queen’s Award for Enterprise and EY Entrepreneur of the Year.
But while, 15 years in, Livity was thriving with its bold and socially impactful marketing campaigns, and major new investment in the pipeline, Michelle’s physical and mental health were starting to suffer, though she could not acknowledge it at the time.
“I had this headache that didn’t go away,” said Michelle during her talk to our Network. She reassured herself that she would go to the doctor when a project was completed, or the investment secured, but she put it off for many months, and continued “plate-spinning”.
When she did, at last, visit her doctor, she broke down. “I couldn’t stop crying,” she said, adding that she had not acknowledged the degree to which her various responsibilities as a co-CEO, mother, and wife had taken a toll on her health. In the months that followed, Michelle endured a hysterectomy, major complications arising from her surgery, a depression and anxiety diagnosis, and a painful process of falling out of love with Livity.
“It was easier to talk to my board about heavy periods than my mental health, and I was complicit in that.” Michelle told the social founders at our Forum, recounting a moment when she was advised that it would be better not to mention that poor mental health had been one of the factors in her decision to take a step back from Livity. “We never talked about it again.”
As she began her process of recovery, Michelle found herself spending more and more days at home in her pyjamas, thinking about what she would do if she could start afresh.
“Reading Ruby Wax’s book Frazzled was a game-changer - I suddenly recognised that what I was feeling had a name: depression.”
“It wasn’t easy, but I asked for help and took some time out. I knew I needed to change lots of things in my life. As part of my own self-care and alongside a medical recovery plan I gave myself permission to think gently: ‘If I did it all over again, what would I do?’”
But she hit a wall immediately as she found it impossible to follow the rule of ‘do something you love’ - she wasn’t passionate about anything - she had depression!
“‘I’m not passionate about anything apart from sitting in my beautiful PJs you bought me for Christmas,’ I’d wail to my husband.” Michelle told us.
“I was stuck in this cycle for a while until one day I suddenly found myself at the crossroads of where Brilliance Meets Madness, where the PJs that literally represented everything holding me back became my inspiration.” Michelle told our fellow social founders.
“I wondered, could we use the duality and symbolism of ‘the PJ day’, both good and bad, to help make mental health more of an everyday conversation?”
“Could we make the most kind, caring, ethical and sustainable PJs, designed by the most brilliant artists, using the PJ as our blank canvas to create something beautiful and joyful?”
“Could we use our product, platform, packaging and people as the Trojan Horse to deliver hopeful and helpful stories of mental health, and as a way to have more open and easy conversations?”
Thus, Pjoys was born: “a Trojan horse to give messages of hope and help”, combining luxurious, sustainably-made, gender-neutral pyjamas, and great art, to create a platform for talking about mental health.
Launched through Crowdfunder, Michelle’s new social venture Pjoys aims to use “the joy of art, PJs and our platform pjoys.co.uk to share helpful and hopeful stories on mental health and fund innovative projects through our foundation.”
“Recovery is the message, and the most likely outcome of a crisis,” Michelle told our breakfast attendees. “For me it’s about organising my recovery around creating something - Pjoys.”
It’s still hard work, as being a founder always is: “My new venture @Pjoys has moments of absolute joy,” Michelle told us, “but also sometimes feels so hard, sometimes lonely and frightening.”
“But I now work very hard on not working very hard.” said Michelle Morgan during her talk at our Social Founder Forum.
Today, Michelle is embracing a new modus operandi and mantra “slowly but joyfully”.
At the end of the roller-coaster that is a Crowdfunder campaign, with a brilliantly successful raise of £60,000, we hope that Michelle is enjoying a bit of a rest, and we’ll follow the story of PJoys and Michelle’s inspirational journey from adversity into creativity and impact.
Check out the Pjoys Crowdfunder site