Blogcast #31 Sophie Lee: Electric Peach Storytelling

Rebecca: Welcome to the Entrepreneurial Journey podcast. Today I have Sophie Lee with me. Hello, Sophie. How are you?

Sophie: I’m good. Thank you, Rebecca, and thank you so much for having me.

Rebecca: Total pleasure. Total pleasure. Now your business is called Electric Peach, Love the name.

Sophie: Thank you.

Rebecca: How did it come about?

Sophie: I’m obsessed with peaches as a symbol for courage, which sounds really random, but there’s a line in my favourite poem by TS Elliot, which is Do I Dare to eat a peach? So throughout my whole adult life, I’ve had peaches in every aspect. I even have a peach tattoo on my wrist, which reminds me to be courageous. And electric is what happens in our brains when we tell stories. And electric peaches, a storytelling agency, and the two together just sounded really cool and very memorable,

Rebecca: And it does sound cool. And already we were on poetry, which I really like.

Yeah, we’ve gone off business, which this is the Entrepreneurial Journey podcast, but actually it’s about humanity in essence. And I have a quote, you are a storytelling agency, and that’s one of the main reasons I wanted to talk to you because I love stories. And on your website it says, noun rebel, a person who resists societal oppression and refuses to be held back and conditioned by outdated ideas, systems and practises. And I went, oh, yes. That describes most entrepreneurs in a nutshell. And when, at what point in your life and career did you discover you were a rebel then, Sophie?

Sophie: Well, first of all, I made that up. That is not actually the definition of a rebel, but that’s what I define rebel as being. And I have always been somebody who challenges the status quo, the status quo, being systems of oppression, systems that keep us trapped and small and don’t make any sense for anyone. So for me, that’s really the energy to which I have always really lived my life, but a long time I tried to dull myself of that energy and thought that there was something wrong with that energy. So really this is about an awakening, and that’s how I help my clients a lot is through helping them to awaken to themselves, to their own self-expression, to the impact that they can have every time they show up and use their voice. And every time we do that, that is an act of rebellion.

Rebecca: It is. It is. Yes. Amen to all of that.

Sophie: Okay. Just wanted to check,

Rebecca: Alison, when you’re editing this, you can keep that in because it’s real life. I’ve been listening to loads of Louis Theroux podcasts, and he’s got mobile alarms going off, fire alarms going off, all kinds of things. I think if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.

Sophie: Yeah, yeah. Okay. Back to rebellion. So yes, exactly. So to me, that is the essence of it, and that’s what I love so much about small businesses, micro businesses, almost everyone has been set up as a reaction to something that doesn’t work, even if that one thing is I hate my job or it doesn’t work for my life, or whatever it might be, it is micro rebellions each time, I think.

Rebecca: Yeah, it is. Now I’m going to come back to the point in your life where you had to squash yourself into a form and a shape that wasn’t really you really you. What was that like and what impact did that have on you physically and emotionally? And is that your dog?

Sophie: That’s my dog. And there’s no way, there’s just no way of going for any longer than 10 minutes without her doing that. This is a great snapshot into my life.

Rebecca: It’ll

Sophie: Be something as innocuous as a car that’s just driven down the end of the road.

Rebecca: And what sort of dog is she?

Sophie: She’s a rescue from Romania, so we have to allow her.  Well, actually, the irony being, it really annoys me because she’s so loud and then I have to be like, well, you are all about people speaking up and using their, and she’s the most vocal animal I’ve ever met.

Rebecca: Brilliant, brilliant. Right back to you. So what happened to you when you had to pretend you weren’t this person?

Sophie: So I would say that most of my life, most of my younger life, I thought that there was something wrong with me. I didn’t fit. Now I know that I am. And that was why I don’t think most people do, and I thought that that meant that there was something wrong with me. And I tried to change myself. I tried to mould myself to fit into what I thought people wanted. I ended up going down the line of taking lots of drugs, drinking lots of alcohol, really, really destroying myself in a lot of ways because of wanting to feel connected to people, but at the same time feeling more and more disconnected from myself. So it was very challenging, challenging experience. And for a really long time I really hated myself and a large part of my other side of the journey, my entrepreneurial journey has been about understanding how my brain works, understanding that all the different shades of myself, of all of ourselves are all worthy and valid. Our experiences are worthy and valid, and our stories are worthy and valid. And through that investigation, I realised how important it’s to feel seen and heard in who we actually are and not who society says we should be be. And then realising that even those who are neurotypical have those same experiences too. I think we can all relate to that feeling of needing to be something because the expectation is there even when it doesn’t feel right for us in our bodies or in our minds

Rebecca: Completely. Well, the school system is a giant sausage machine, and if you don’t fit that sausage machine, then you’re on your own really. And even really enlightened schools, there’s still this exam that everybody’s heading towards on this little sausage machine, and you’re all filtered through that same lens, and it suits, I dunno, a third of people, two thirds of people. It definitely does not suit in any way, shape or form, and there are no options at that point in your life, which is I think one of the most crucial points in your life. That teenage brain is still developing. We now know doesn’t really fully develop until you’re about 26. So you’re still growing. It completely renews itself and to try and squish,

Sophie: Yeah,

Rebecca: It’s like, no, that’s not helping anything.

Sophie: Exactly. And it’s such a shame as well because it’s actually robbing society of innovation and creative brilliance and out of the box thinking that if we encourage that, we might not have the same problems that we have today.

Rebecca: Totally agree. Can you imagine Leonardo da Vinci trying to do a GCSE?

Sophie: Exactly, exactly. I heard something about that to do with Einstein and how he failed. I think it was art or something like that. And could you imagine if he had beaten himself up and thought that he was unworthy and that he was stupid and didn’t allow his brain to go in all of these different directions because of this one thing and this one teacher who told him that he was a certain way.

Rebecca: Yeah, no, crazy, crazy. So when did you start the business?

Sophie: Seven years in September. I started with my, at that time business partner, and I was also really still not on that path yet. I was still doing lots of drugs, drinking a lot, regularly, messing up a lot of our opportunities that we had in the early stages. And actually, I really feel like starting this business and having to really hold a mirror up to myself because I don’t think that there is a better self-development programme than being an entrepreneur. It is so hard. You are confronted with your ego so often, and I knew that the person, the only person that was holding me back from achieving what I was capable of achieving was myself. So I really had to take note and it was not, I don’t think I’m someone who learns things the easy way. I think I am definitely, I’ll find my own way and it will always be the challenging way, but it helps me learn, I guess.

Rebecca: I’ve never heard of entrepreneurship being the best self-development programme ever, but you are absolutely spot on. I wouldn’t recommend it as a form of Right. You say there are probably easier ways of

Sophie: Yeah, undoubtedly there are easier ways and it wasn’t the reason why I got into it in the first place, but it was an unexpected outcome that really pushed me to the limits of myself in so many ways. And I think still does, but nowhere near as much now. My central nervous system has got used to it now after seven years.

Rebecca: And are you sober now? Are you kind of clean, living, clean, how are you now on that side of things?

Sophie: Yeah, so I’m sober from drugs. Well, in recovery I guess you’d say, from drugs for three and a half years now. Alcohol predominantly, I don’t drink. I do and have had occasions where I will drink, but in a much more conscious way now. And to be honest, I’m not really that interested in it. I don’t find it to be a very, I just think it’s a bit rubbish. It just makes me feel like shit and makes my brain not work properly. And because in the process of getting sober and I was completely teetotal for years, for probably in total over the last six years, I’ve been sober for the majority of it. But I, to do that, I had to learn everything that I could about what alcohol does to us physiologically. And when I understood that, it just seemed quite pointless. I now know that all of the reasons I was drinking and all of the things I thought it was doing for me was actually doing the opposite. So it’s just one of those drugs, it’s like, what’s the point? Really? It’s just going to make me feel rubbish and anxious.

Rebecca: Yeah. Yeah. I was married to my ex-husband was an alcoholic, so I did a lot of research into that at the time. And you’re absolutely right. It makes you depressed, anxious, makes you not sleep properly, and then that’s a downward spiral into depression and anxiety. And plus you lose millions of brain cells as you go along. Yeah,

Sophie: Exactly. And it makes it feel like it’s alleviating anxiety, but really all it’s doing is just alleviating the anxiety that you have from the last time that you drank.

Rebecca: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. Great. So now you’re a storyteller for your clients. Tell us about that.

Sophie: So storytelling is such an impactful form of communication because we have evolved to be storytellers, humans or homo sapiens specifically have evolved beyond the other homo species because of our ability to tell stories. And a lot of people think that we were the cleverest or that we were the strongest or that we had the best weapons, but we didn’t actually, we were none of those things. We were just able to communicate beyond our immediate tribe. And through that communication we could come together and ended up winning against other homo species. So it’s very much a part of our brains or our neuroscience, and it is by far the most impactful tool that businesses have to reach, engage, and motivate people to take the action that they want. And I love it in every single way. I’ve always been a fascinated by stories and the storyteller myself. So it made sense to me as I moved away from marketing to really focus in on that part of communication.

Rebecca: So you trained as a journalist you, is that right?

Sophie: Yeah. So I was a journalist in Shanghai at the beginning of my career, which was incredible and full of rich, rich, rich stories. And then I came to England and realised that journalism in this country is very much not my bag, very, it’s not going to be a surprise to say this, but very parasitic very much about, they used to call it the sexy side of the story, and the sexy side of the story is always misery or trauma or how can we squeeze the worst of humanity out of a situation? And I didn’t want to make my career on being that kind of pariah to other people’s grief.

Rebecca: It is really unpleasant. I had a guy on, the podcast isn’t out yet, so I won’t give too much away, but these days a journalist will put a story out and hasn’t necessarily checked it thoroughly. And then the salacious bit, as you say, the misery bit is then picked up by other journalists and then dramatised even more to create the clickbait. And nobody checks the original source. Nobody goes back to double check to find out whether the original story was even correct. And we have these layers upon layers of just horrific lies and untruths. So I’m not surprised you rejected it. Let’s talk more positively about your storytelling and stories. You are right. We learn by stories. Whenever I’m doing leadership development, I always go, right, how are you going to convey this to your teams? What’s the story you’re going to tell people? Look at me and go, well, we’re going to come up with some bullet points and slides like, no, you’re not. Please don’t. Because they’ll fall asleep and nobody will understand it. Where do you begin? If a client comes to you, where do you begin?

Sophie: The focus is always on the value story. So what is the story that is going to resonate the most with the person that you are communicating it to? And this is where my clients or in general, we get confused because we think we are the heroes of the story. Our audience is the hero of the story. So the most important place to start is there with them. What is it that matters to them? What are their greatest dreams, their greatest fears, their most idealistic triumphs, everything that you can possibly find out about them. And then how can we tell that story through how we are communicating? And this is really important because that can be used as a really manipulative tool, and I see it being used as a really manipulative tool, and I’m not in any way saying that that’s how I would want to use this. And I work specifically as a result of that being very much of an awareness with people who are, or businesses who are out for social and environmental impact. So it is all about telling the story of the audience or having the audience involved in telling their own story that then helps that business to achieve their wider vision, make a greater impact.

Rebecca: Yeah. Okay. Yeah. You see, I think big corporates use it to manipulate often. Definitely because, and a lot of people don’t understand this, but if you’re a PLC, you have to provide a return of profits to your shareholders by law. And a lot of people don’t understand why corporates operate the way they do, but it’s the law that they have to return profit to their shareholders, which is why you get the behaviours you get. So I think the SME and maybe the not-for-profit sector, they don’t have that legal, they have to do best by the business, but they don’t have that legal requirement, which leaves them a bit freer to do things. So what kind of organisations do you do work with and whose stories do you tell

Sophie: First on the point that you’ve just made is such an important one. And I love that you’ve said that because the purpose of businesses, the purpose of a business that has floated on the stock market and has shareholders who aren’t just the directors is to make a profit. So when you talk about purpose-driven business in that context, it’s just bollocks. Their purpose is to make a profit. Their purpose is to grow. That is the capitalist system. If we want to change that, we will have to change the system of business in its most fundamental way.

And that’s an important thing to bear in mind because people get really angry and they’re like, that’s so bad. It’s so wrong. It’s not wrong. It’s just the way it is. It’s not right or wrong, it just is. So I work with largely, I work with either SMEs who are either employee owned or founder owned. So there’s no requirement by law to anyone external from just that person. They’re the driving force, or I work with nonprofits. I also work with quite a few membership bodies like Chartered Institutes. And in the past have done quite a lot of work with charities as well, although not so much anymore. And the stories that we’re telling in those contexts, there’s a lot of different stories. So there, there’s always the proposition, the positioning of that business so that the people who they want to connect with can understand them, understand what they do, the brand strategy, the brand story.

But what I find much more interesting is how these organisations can use storytelling to show why what they’re doing is so important. An example of that is a organisation that’s based in Africa where the organisation exists to end genital mutilation in young women. And it is also about understanding better and having better provisions. For HIV, they use storytelling to show the challenges that these people are having and also to bring together various different people from different villages. And I’m just going to turn that Asana notification. It’s from different villages to come together to explore concepts that otherwise are very taboo, that otherwise are very misunderstood through the medium of storytelling. So through either, a lot of the time it’s through theatre, but it could be through any kind of form of that. It could be through video or through various different social media posts or blogs, et cetera.

Rebecca: Brilliant, brilliant. I love that. And to get messages across like that, you’ve got to be really sensitive, like you say to the cultural environment that you’re in, maybe religious as well, I don’t know. But yeah, theatre, video, storytelling is a great way to do that. And like you say, we’ve been doing it forever as human beings. That’s how we learn. That’s how we pass knowledge down through generations. Where is storytelling going? Because I look at, I’ve got a 15-year-old daughter, she doesn’t read books. She watches TikTok and YouTube.

Sophie: I think that’s really sad. I love reading.

Rebecca: It makes me very, very sad. But one of my friends pointed out, she has a daughter the same age. She said they don’t have any textbooks at school.

Sophie: I think there is a real merit in that type of storytelling actually, if it is about showing people like myself when I was younger that they’re not alone. So there are many brilliant people on social media telling their stories or telling the stories of their communities or having those, and I think this is important actually. I really don’t think we should tell the stories of other people. It’s about inviting them into tell their own stories so that they can connect with those who maybe feel very alone or they can unite us in our differences through being able to see ourselves in those stories. And there is a lot of that. And even what might seem to be quite benign content on social media actually I think can really through humour, make us feel more seen. And I really like the mum influences, for example, who really take the piss out of lots of different things, especially celebrities or perfection or all of these quite toxic system, oppressive ways of being through their content, through storytelling. So I think it can be really valuable where it potentially can go awry when it’s reinforcing the narratives of the capitalist system around diet culture or around beauty culture or any of that quite toxic, very much created by business through storytelling belief systems that is still being reinforced on these social channels. And that’s where we have to be really careful about how we curate what we see online.

Rebecca: Yeah, we do particularly with the younger minds, because you’ve got to be aware that you’re constantly being manipulated by an algorithm which is set by somebody else thousands of miles away who is not. You have to have an awareness of that. Definitely. So are you writing books? How are you using your talents?

Sophie: So I would say first and foremost, I’m a writer that’s really in my blood. I’ve always written, I’ve always loved playing around with language. And I am actually in the process of writing a book proposal, which takes a long time and my brain doesn’t really do things that take a long time. But I’m really passionate about the subject, which is all around breaking the rules and not being confined to a specific way of having to behave. Which I think for women particularly is such an important message. It’s really about being who you are and that being more than okay, and a celebration of self-expression and totally throwing the rule book of what it is to be acceptable in the bin.

Rebecca: Yeah, completely and utterly agree and embrace that. There are a few books I’ve read recently, one called Women Rose Rooted about the history of women and pagan societies, ancient societies and their role. And reading a lot of that history about a lot of that natural knowledge around medicine and healing was completely squashed and oppressed out of us. I sense, and I dunno whether you sense it too, but I do sense there’s a wider awareness of the innate attributes of being female and tapping into feminine energy that is coming to the fore. I don’t know whether you sense that now.

Sophie: Definitely, definitely. And I see a lot more people talking about that or hear a lot more people talking about that now. And the importance of embracing that creative freedom and flexibility that the feminine energy embodies and the importance of the balance between the two. If the masculine energy is like the container that holds the space and the feminine energy is the creative expansion that has much more freedom to roam within that safe container. Those two, the yin and the yang need to be imbalanced for the healthy organism for all organisms, not just humans. The problem that we have in our system is that we are absolutely out of balance, and there is this hustle culture, this drive, drive, go, go, go, go. Which is very much in that masculine energy with no room for creative freedom. It’s very rigid and very, very constrictive for all people, not just for women, for all of us.

Rebecca: Yeah, yeah, definitely. It’s got better. Can I just say, oh

Sophie: Yeah,

Rebecca: Probably a bit older, but definitely when I went to work in the early nineties, got my first job, it was very, very rigid. The structures were very, it was just you worked all the hours God sent you, burnt yourself out, you earn as much money as possible. And that was it. I think it proved massively. Now there is an awareness that there’s a choice and there’s an awareness that you don’t have to do that if you don’t want to. And I think whilst the internet and the web are a double-edged sword, that technology now gives people so much more freedom, particularly as a small business to punch way above their weight and work with charities based in Africa from your home base in the north of England, which couldn’t happen without the tech, could it?

Sophie: Yes, exactly. Exactly. And I agree that it, that things are shifting and more and more people are calling out this toxic and toxic just, I think that’s an overused word, isn’t it, really? But these unhelpful is probably less loaded mentality to working which hustle culture is a big part of that. And at the same time, I think since the pandemic, things have shifted backwards a little bit and that we are now in a central nervous system overload where we haven’t really had the space and the time to process what happened to us as a collective and on an individual level, and the stress of all of that and the constant need to keep going, and then suddenly we’re back out in the world again with no real conclusion or definitive understanding of what the hell actually happened. And now we’re into another crisis and the media doesn’t help because it uses those loaded terms deliberately. And no wonder people are like, oh my God, what’s going on?

Rebecca: I know, I know. God, I could talk to you about this for hours. There’s so many things there that you’ve hit the nail on the head as a global community, never mind your local community. There has been no resolution to what we were put through. I’m not going to say what we went through, what we were put through. I choose my words very, very carefully. We were systematically put through something,

And whether you agree with what we were put through or not is irrelevant. We were systematically forced into something. And none of us have been given any kind of roadmap to come out of that. Now it sounds like some of us are working through that in our own ways. And as an entrepreneur, I guess that’s part of my self therapising journey and probably yours too. But there are others. You’re right, who’ve just gone straight back on the hamster wheel. There’s been no time to reflect. And I think that’s why a lot of people have just opted out of work. They’ve gone, my head’s burst. I can’t actually deal with this. I’m going to do something else, or I’m just going to do nothing while I sort things out.

Sophie: Yeah. And my head’s burst. And now you want us to go back to a way that never worked when actually I got into this new rhythm where I was able to take my children to school and come home and start work at home and actually have a bit more flexibility in my life. And now suddenly, no, no, no, we’re not having that. You’ve all got to come back into London to work in the office again. And it’s very odd. It’s like we haven’t had any processing time, but equally, especially the corporate system has wanted to go back exactly to the way things were before.

Rebecca: There we go. Okay. So let’s put everybody on a couch and talk about their feelings. No, I’m going to finish this up. I could talk to you for hours, Sophie, but we both have busy lives. If your business had a personality or a character, who would it be or how would you describe it?

Sophie: That’s a great question. I love that she would be feisty and bold and probably a bit I reverent actually. Definitely with the spirit of punk and very caring at the same time, standing for justice and equality. Creative freedom and self-expression should be the sort of person that not everybody likes or wants to hang out with, but the ones who do really value her.

Rebecca: Fabulous. She sounds amazing. And what’s your purpose? What’s your destiny? What drives you to do this?

Sophie: It is creating space for others to be their own version of Brilliant.

Rebecca: Lovely. Oh, what a great place to end. I wish you every success with the business, Sophie. There’s a couple of people I’m going to put you in touch with that I’ll mention to you once to finish recording that. I think you ought to connect with that. I think you’re going to be brilliant with Thank you so much.

Sophie: Well, thank you for having me. It’s been great.

Rebecca: If you love the entrepreneurial journey, how about subscribing and giving us a five star review wherever you get your podcasts. Follow or subscribe and give us a positive review so more entrepreneurs out there don’t need to feel alone. Thanks.