What I've Learnt: Chris Greenhalgh, Founder of I Love MCR

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Chris Greenhalgh is the Founder of I Love MCR, an online lifestyle publisher for the city of Manchester.

After a trip to New York City in 2009, he made a Manchester version of the I Love NY logo and created the brand. He says that following the Manchester riots in 2011, the brand resonated with the city's residents.

After gaining a large reach on social media, it's now become an independent organisation. Here, he shares what he's learnt along the way. 

Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

When I lived in the city centre, I used to love watching the city wake up with a coffee on my walk to work. But now I commute, and the roads are a sad state of affairs, so I’ve invested in a proper barista coffee machine at home. I try to avoid checking my emails until after making an artisan coffee - grinding coffee beans, tamping and then frothing milk like a pro. I take my time with it and love it. I’m just short of one of those mad people who fall in love with inanimate objects. 

What's been your luckiest break?

The tipping point for I Love MCR was the Manchester (and Salford) riots in 2011. My luckiest break was thanks to Manchester City Council who helped me publicise the logo in the aftermath of events. The I Love MCR campaign was granted free outdoor media space across the city for over two weeks or so - which was brand awareness that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to financially afford.

Although there was arguably greater reach online, the symbol really resonated and stuck with people thanks to out-of-home media. It all happened in the space of 48 hours. Soon after, I was offered free office space in the Barton Arcade Deansgate by an adopted Manc Irish philanthropist called Morgan Leahy who wanted myself and the brand to prosper. I am eternally grateful.

What's your best failure?

I quit my long term job - with little notice and no savings - because I knew it was now or never to devote 100% of my energy to the I Love MCR campaign and continue the momentum. When I turned ILM into an organisation in 2013 - whilst also moonlighting as my mother’s carer - I suffered from anxiety and wasn’t as savvy as I might be now. But where I lacked in business brains, I developed a certain empathy which became creativity and drive.

I employed an editor who I always paid before paying myself - which was every month for over a year - because I knew that unique, quality and meaningful content was key to traffic - and that’s what I needed to monetise the ILM platform.

What is the best investment you've ever made, either financial or time?

I should probably say volunteering at community centres, doing charity sleepouts to help raise awareness of homelessness, or looking after my disabled mum or teaching teenagers during my uni PGCE. But selfishly I’ll say this: in between rent tenancies in 2014, I invested in a cheap rent-to-own apartment in Ibiza and worked remotely all summer.

Ibiza is like the Manchester of the Mediterranean. It gave me incredible perspective and my investment probably enabled me to dodge a proper burnout or even a nervous breakdown. 

I Love MCR branded products

How would you describe your work/life balance?

As an anxious person, switching off from having to react all day is difficult. Almost impossible. But meditation, boxing sessions and time with my two chihuahuas force me to live in the moment and concentrate on my surroundings.

My Mrs tends to throw my mobile across the room from time to time, too. 

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

Until a recent holiday when I read five books, I hadn’t read a single book for about a decade because of the struggle for work/life balance. However, The 4 Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss was an inspiring read. It’s a bit dated now in an entrepreneurial sense but it’s about escaping the conventional 9-5 job, working smarter and having a good work/life balance - with more focus on how to have a life. I also recently read a book called Gypsy Boy by Mikey Walsh which was one of the most moving books I’ve ever read.

What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

I believe your 20s is a decade for experimenting and being a bit crazy. So I’d tell myself to stop people-pleasing and taking everything so personally.

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

New York City. It’s a cosmopolitan metropolis which shares similar qualities to Manchester and everything it strives to be. Civic pride, culture, creativity, and it’s cool. After a trip to NYC in 2009 and sporting an I Love NY t-shirt, I designed the I Love MCR symbol which would later take over my life, become a symbol of resilience and touch millions of people. It’s all about timing and if I hadn’t gone to New York at that time none of this would have happened. 

Tell us something about you that would surprise people

I’m happy in my own skin as a ginger. It helps that I have a double black belt in martial arts.

What does success look like to you?

Mobilising people, making a difference being charitable while also being able to pay the bills. The most tangible success is seeing people wear the I Love MCR t-shirt in public. I stood in front of someone wearing a t-shirt in the queue at Tesco Express this morning. It never fails to brighten my day.