Following a friend’s suggestion to look at the work Melinda Livingstone's doing at IncomeConnection, I found a unique and contemporary business that helps people discover new avenues for income. And, on a personal level, I found Melinda to be warm, focused and tenacious with a drive to help people. Previously, she’d had a long and successful career in financial services, but when the time was right, she grabbed the initiative and set out on her own. I’m thrilled she agreed to be interviewed. You’ll hear about the inspiration behind IncomeConnection, working with Al Gore and why she loves her work.
To start us off Melinda, can you tell us about your work and how it came about? I have a business called IncomeConnection where initially I match people with opportunities to earn an income from the on-demand sharing economy; and then I work with them to set them up for success. How it came about was, when I worked in my corporate job, helping somebody else's business be successful, I often wondered if I could actually run my own business successfully. So, when an opportunity arose, I did set up my own business, which I've been running for a year now.
Funny how thoughts become actions. Matching people to on-demand opportunities sounds interesting … but what does that mean? Many people have heard of income opportunities like Uber and Airbnb, but there are actually more than 150 on-demand options where you can earn an income. I sit down with people and talk to them about their interests, their passions, their work history, their assets, and use that information to match them with opportunities that might be right for them. I’m helping them find an income, but also purposeful work.
Purposeful work? I believe that working helps us maintain social connectedness and gives us a reason to get up in the morning. Having work that's flexible and purposeful is just really important for our wellbeing. So, I connect people with purposeful work, that's right for them, particularly people who are in retirement or in the years leading up to retirement.
What do you love about what you do? I help people to see possibilities and options, when previously they felt they had very few options. So often when I first see clients, their body language is a bit closed and then afterward, their body language is really open and positive.
So, helping? Yes, really helping people. In my corporate life, I was so far removed from the customer. Now I'm helping people face to face, and I feel like I'm making a difference to their lives, in a good way.
Do you typically work with people who are approaching retirement, or do you work with all ages? I generally work with people who are over 50; people who are between jobs, looking for extra income, people who are approaching retirement and people who are in retirement.
Sounds like you are living by your own purpose and meaning credo. What kind of work did you do in the Corporate world? I worked in the wealth management industry. I used to design superannuation and investment products; and also worked in marketing and financial planning.
A big-broad job? It was very interesting. I also realised that a lot of people didn't have enough money to live comfortably in retirement. Because wages growth is flat, people can't easily save more, and have to work longer. Sometimes they’d lose their job at a time that's not of their choosing and therefore couldn’t work as long as they’d intended. So, I began to think about how I could help people be in a better position financially in retirement.
When I did my Master’s minor thesis, on the future of superannuation, it included study on the future of work. That’s when I learned about the on-demand sharing economy, which is a huge way for people to earn extra income. So, I matched that opportunity with this need for people to save more; putting those together is how I created my business a year ago.
That's fascinating, especially the impact of your education. What was your first ever job? At the age of 14 years, nine months I worked at a Bakery in Chatswood.
How did you get that job? From the paper. It’s actually really good for people to start working as soon as possible, because you realise what you like and don't like, and what you're good at and not good at. I used to find it really confusing. There would be all of these people pressing up against the counter buying their bread and I'd take an order, turn around to fill it, and when I turned back had no idea who had actually asked for the bread - it was just a sea of faces.
Then, I worked for Grace Brothers after Year 12 and realised I just wasn't cut out for retail, that it wasn't my gig.
Did you have a sense of what was your gig? Can you remember as a kid what you wanted to be when you grew up? I wanted to do lots of things, an architect was one. I used to draw pictures of houses and floor plans.
As a hobby? As a hobby. I was really quite artistic, I used to do lots of drawings, I used to go on art camps in the school holidays.
You didn't pursue it? My father was quite influential, and he said the building industry was up and down like a toilet seat, and in the 1980's he was probably right. In hindsight, it wouldn't have been the best career for me. So, I studied marketing instead, which really has been quite a good career.
So what about your enjoyment of drawing and art? I paint and have my pictures hanging in my house. If somebody has a birthday, I'll draw them a card.
Oh, I love that. I hand draw and paint things. My handwriting is fairly messy, but if I want to write something for somebody, I will do something creative for them.
You strike me as someone who takes a lot of care. Moving from corporate workplace to self-employment has implications on the way we work. What does your work-week look like now? It’s really fluid and flexible, I probably need more structure in it. In my corporate job I’d be on the 7.02am train from Warrawee and set my alarm to achieve this. It was 20 years of an absolutely regimented life, I now have this complete freedom, which I relish.
I'm usually at my desk between 7:30 and 8:00. I work from home and I really just do what I want, when I want, which is the biggest luxury. Currently, most of my work is one on one. I see clients in the city, sometimes at home. I meet with business partners in the city or at their offices. I do presentations and workshops and they’re usually held in my business partners’ offices.
At night, I’ll often go to networking events, for example I’m going to an Airbnb Experience event tonight. It's really fluid and I love the whole flexibility of it. Last week I was sick in the afternoon and I worked that night to make up the time then. It's just totally brilliant, I'm so excited by it, I will do a little bit on the weekend maybe or at night. It just doesn't feel like work, because it's so much fun.
I’m inspired hearing you express how much you love your work – what are some of your challenges? Sitting down with a client is multi-dimensional, where I'm really trying to peel away layers to understand all the opportunities that a person represents and how I can help them earn an income. There are so many options which I'm trying to process and match them to the individual. That's probably my biggest challenge, that and the research. I am constantly looking at new opportunities as they’re being launched into the Australian market.
I’ve become more structured in how I approach research. There are several places that I look and there are new insights and information, it’s constantly changing, which can be a challenge, but I really like working with new ideas and information, and I really love that about my job.
Which seems to make you perfect for this type of business. What is your stand out, proudest career moment? My proudest career moment? I'm a bit of a greenie and I had the opportunity to work with Al Gore on the launch of the Generation Global Share Fund when I was with Colonial First State. It was launched when sustainable investing was fairly new for retail investors. Nearly twelve years on, the fund continues to do really well from an investment perspective and demonstrates that sustainable investing can be a sound proposition from a performance perspective.
That fund helped to open peoples’ eyes to all the sustainable investing options that we see now. Today more people are keen to invest sustainably.
So much to be proud of Melinda … to be at the forefront, and to work with a giant in environmental sustainability. Tell me, what kind of people do you admire? Because life does not go smoothly - I really admire people who have had setback or a career failure that they've overcome, and gone on to achieve something.
Does anyone specifically come to mind? Stewart Butterfield - he's probably most famous for founding Flickr and then Slack. Previously, he built a game called Game Neverending, but it never launched. In the process, he realised that the game’s photo-sharing feature had some potential, which became the foundation of another business, photo-sharing site Flickr.
He then started another huge multi-player game called Glitch, but again, never launched it. He’d raised 17.5 million dollars and was right on the cusp of closing the whole business down. Then he decided to launch the internal communication tool that the developers used and called it Slack. While it took a while to gain momentum, Slack is as we know a massive global business success.
Stewart Butterfield is representative of many people who have just gone out with a vision to do something big and bold that hasn't worked. Then they've gone okay, well I suppose we could just try something else, and that something else has become their success. It’s the whole perseverance after failure that I admire. Because I think, when you're an entrepreneur, you've just got to persevere. Often, it's the perseverance that gets you there at the end of the day.
It takes a lot of courage and tenacity and self-belief – and probably some good support to hang in there. Do you have a mentor? I don't, I have lots of business friends, but I have no specific mentor.
Is that a decision? No, I'd love a mentor.
What kind of mentor would you like? I think I probably need different mentors for different seasons of life. At the moment, I’d value an entrepreneur who could help me with my product/market fit. So, if anybody reading this wants to help me with that, that would be great.
I think it’s really self-aware to have an idea of what kind of mentorship you need – and hope the right person comes for you Melinda. What do you want to do next? I want more partnerships; I want to scale up my business and help more people.
What would you do if you weren't doing your current job? I would be an anti-slavery advocate.
What would you like more of, and less of, in your career right now? More growth and less admin. I hate admin.
You know, pretty much everybody says that. Who loves it?
I like a bit of admin – when I don’t have the energy for active work; I feel marginally productive. What's one word you would have used to describe yourself as a child? Creative.
What kind of impact do you think you on have on people who work with you? The people I work with become more optimistic about their future - after working with me they've got more possibilities, more options for their future.
Can you give me an example? Often people will feel stuck in a job or situation that they don’t like and that becomes a burden. I’ll introduce them to more attractive options; actually not just options, but a workable, actionable plan that sets them up for success in their area of interest.
I’d really recommend people read your case studies to see how this plays out. So, Other than work, what do you love about life right now? I'm meeting new people and doing new things - and I've got a new Goddaughter.
OK, let’s finish up with a rapid-fire questions - what's your favourite song? I'm liking a Christmas song at the moment called Born is the King, so very upbeat.
Favourite book? The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. Set in North Korea.
Favourite movie? Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Favourite piece of art? Tree Lined Road by Gustav Klimt, he also created The Kiss
Finally, your favourite place? Besides home, Zion National Park in Utah. I've got a picture of it above our bed; it is so beautiful.