To mark the ten-year anniversary of Hello Sunday Morning, we asked our founder, Chris Raine, to write a letter of advice to his younger self…
The next decade of your life will be defined by excessive drinking… but not in the way you think.
The next ten years will actually be defined by a single decision you will make at the end of 2008 to spend the whole of 2009, sober. This decision will lead you to quit your job halfway through 2009 and spend the next decade of your life growing a global organisation and movement of people looking to change their relationship with alcohol.
Strap yourself in…
You will build a team. You will run out of money and have to fire everyone and start again. Several times. You will win awards. You will lose friends. You will be supported by generous corporate and philanthropic donors. You will give up relationships for your purpose. Your board will try to fire you. You will want to quit. But ten years on, you will still be in love with this strange vocation that becomes – Hello Sunday Morning.
Let’s go back to 4 am in the morning on January 1, 2009. There you are with a bunch of strangers you collected at some weird New Year’s kick-on. In your hand is a rum and coke – you designate it to be your last drink for the whole of the following year. You pronounce this resolution loudly, to widespread scepticism… and laughter.
So you decide to make it public. Very public. You start a blog called ‘Hello Sunday Morning’ and write your first blog of the year, in the first week of January. You get three comments – from your mum, your family friend and some rando from the internet. Your friends don’t comment (to your face).
So starts one of the most extraordinary years of your life. You go out sober on weekends, sometimes half naked just to see what happens. You get way fewer dates, but enough to be heartbroken and not be able to drink the pain away. You lose a lot of old friends (but they come back later), and you make a whole lot of new ones. One of those friends asks you, about halfway through the year, if they can join in by taking their own three months off drinking, and blogging about it. You resist for a month (‘no way man, this is my thing!’) before relenting and then, next minute, there are five of you on the Hello Sunday Morning blog.
Some media pick up the blog and it gets public attention. At this point, there is no going back, because that’s when you start getting the messages, the letters, the calls, the one-on-one chats that still happen today.
Everyone has a story about drinking problems. Either their own drinking, or that of someone they love. Everyone. They share the tragedies in their life and the lives of those they love caught in a vicious circle of alcohol dependence, but unable to get the help they need, or find the right help. Even ten years later you still have mixed feelings about this, especially because your own relationship with alcohol isn’t always perfect (nor abstinent). But you settle on the philosophical foundation that as long as you don’t tell people how to drink, you can navigate a sticky sense of hypocrisy.
You take the perspective that what matters more than how people drink, is that if people want to change their relationship with alcohol, they should get all the support they need to do so. Because, sadly, the opposite is true. You learn that in Australia, right now, there are 200,000 people who need treatment and really want it, but don’t get it. There just isn’t enough resources to support the demand for it. This seems like a problem big enough to spend your career on.
You start a non-profit to focus on this issue. You quit your job in advertising and do a lot of hustling to get someone to pay for you to focus on it. In the first two years, most of your revenue comes from getting universities to pay you to come into their colleges and give speeches to convince a handful of students to take three months off drinking. It’s a tough gig, but you cut your teeth on how to sell a very tough message.
You get funding from Harold Mitchell (who later will become Hello Sunday Morning’s Patron) to build a better website so that people can share their experiences and support each other in a safe and non-judgemental environment.
In 2011, you receive your first big grant and naively think that these will just keep rolling in. They don’t. You hire five people to do all the work, and stop fundraising. But the money runs out and you have to fire everyone. Sitting in that empty office, with the walls covered in photos of the team you have failed to keep, breaks your heart and teaches you the hard financial reality of building anything – the money side of things doesn’t look after itself.
It is at this point you meet Jamie Moore, who joins the wreckage of the team as its financial controller and becomes the greatest thing to happen to Hello Sunday Morning. Over the next seven years you form a business partnership that becomes one of the most successful relationships in your life. Together you co-lead Hello Sunday Morning through the inevitable daily challenges all organisations face.
One of the major challenges occurs because you choose to stay as CEO while you do your MBA at Oxford. This is a mistake (but not a regret), and the organisation suffers as a result. Jamie holds the fort but the board steps into the operations to support him, more and more, while you are away. By the time you return from your year of intellectual indulgence in Oxford the board no longer believes in you.
By the end of 2015 you find yourself in a painful argy bargy with the board and you offer your resignation to the chair. You think that your journey as the CEO of Hello Sunday Morning has come to an end. But at the eleventh hour you receive an email with the resignations from the board.
There you are again in one of those empty-office moments. But this time you have Jamie next to you and this time there is another feeling. A feeling of possibility – of making a fresh start. You make a commitment to each other to go big or pack it up. You decide to focus on two things: building a great culture and building great partnerships.
With pioneering financial support from Macquarie Bank, Vodafone and Google, the Hello Sunday Morning team develops ‘Daybreak’, a phone-based app designed specifically to help our system edge closer to supporting those 200,000 people who need clinical support but don’t currently get it. The Australian Government gets interested, provides a pilot grant to support 20,000 Australians to register with the program – your team manages to support 28,000 a year ahead of schedule – a community larger than Alcoholics Anonymous in Australia.
At this point the organisation has to make a choice: do we keep the emphasis on challenging the culture of drinking in our society, or do we drill down deeper and focus on providing people with practical tools that they need to make individual behaviour changes? It’s not an easy choice, but in the end you figure that we have the ability to help more people at greater need by developing Daybreak into a bona fide health service, rather than talking more generally about alcohol in society.
With that decision, a whole series of consequences unfolds for Hello Sunday Morning. You re-engineer Daybreak, tightening up data management and company governance, and raising the bar clinically so that it meets the standards required to make it accepted by healthcare professionals and regulatory bodies. You change the make-up of the staff, bringing in IT engineers, user-interface specialists, clinical researchers, and you put the development of Daybreak under the control of a psychologist, not an engineer, to ensure that it’s a digital therapeutic offering right down to the core.
Things are looking great for the Hello Sunday Morning team, now 27 people strong and an incredible suite of partners with The Paul Ramsay Foundation, Ian Potter Foundation, nib Foundation added to the list. It’s time to step aside. After some hard but important conversations with the chair and the board, you decide it’s time to find the next CEO of Hello Sunday Morning to take it forward into the next decade. You set the date 12 months away and you step down in May.
When you tell people you are leaving, they will invariably ask, ‘how do you feel about leaving your baby?’ but you know in your heart of hearts, that the real baby is you. Hello Sunday Morning has grown you up, not the other way round. As the date nears you become more and more confident in the decision and most importantly, the team you have built, and know the organisation will have an even bigger impact than you ever imagined.
What a decade. What an incredible ride it has been.
You’ll need to keep that same sense of curiosity and excitement that was there when you clicked ’post’ on that first blog in January ten years ago.
Good luck on the next ten. If the last decade was anything to go by, you are going to need it!