Ian McKenzie x Hyper Island — Story of change

8 min readMar 10, 2022


When I left school at 15, I failed so badly I considered the possibility that I’d have to be a plumber.

There’s nothing wrong with being a plumber, one of my best friends is one and like he’s always reminded — “You can make a lot of money being a plumber”.

It’s just I came from a big family and nobody was any good using their hands so being a Plumber would have been alien.

“How did you get on mate?” — These words filled me with tears and as I cowered away in the locked bathroom, I hesitantly told my Dad my GCSE results.

Business Studies — B

English — C

Religious Studies — C

Media Studies — C

Geography — D

Science — D

Maths — D

PE — F


French — U

“I feel like I know nothing and to make it into A-Levels I need 5 GCSEs Dad, and I only got 4. I hate school Dad, what am I going to do next? Maybe I should learn to be a Plumber because I can’t do anything else.”

I tasted the salt of my tears as they poured down my face. I rocked back and forth with panic.

“I’ll sort it, Son.”

My Dad decided to drive to my school and beg them to let me stay on. They politely declined.

Yes I was a terrible student, but I was a young boy in pain. I was so anxious about my weight and how I looked, I made myself disappear by either hiding in the classrooms during play-time or even missing school completely to play video games.

When you have no value for yourself and are anxious about how people perceive you, it creates an incredibly difficult environment to learn.

The one class I clearly excelled at was Business Studies, so my Dad asked my Business Studies teacher what she thought I could do next.

She told him that at Guildford College there is a Business Studies Diploma which only requires 4 GCSE’s and it still counts towards your UCAS points (which you need to attain to be accepted to University later down the line).

If it wasn’t for Mrs Moore’s advice, I would not be sharing this story with you today. Thank you for believing in me Mrs Moore.

My Dad drove to Guildford College, I got accepted to the course and this has been my timeline ever since.

  • Celebrated my 16th birthday at Fat camp where I spent 6 weeks losing weight
  • Resat my Maths GCSE and started my Business Diploma
  • Scraped through both my Maths exam and my diploma, getting enough credits to go to my number one choice University
  • Started a 4 year Marketing sandwich degree at Bournemouth University
  • For my placement year, lived in Toulouse and worked for Aeronautical behemoth’s Airbus
  • Came back from a year abroad in France having lost weight and attaining a tan — people started to notice me more which made me confused but happy
  • Graduated with a 2:1 in Marketing at Bournemouth University
  • Left University to work as an Assistant Brand Manager at Unilever where I worked on Hellmann’s and Rexona
  • Left Unilever after 18 months to go backpacking around New Zealand, Australia and South East Asia to ‘Find myself’
  • Joined an influencer marketing Start-up as a Campaign Manager
  • Sat in floods of tears next to my Mother as we attended the funeral of my Step Father
  • Got fired from the influencer marketing start-up
  • Went freelance and worked as a Digital Marketing Manager for a 1 to 1 football coach (www.mypersonalfootballcoach.com)
  • Found out my 20 year old Cousin was struggling badly with Depression
  • Started FC Not Alone (www.fcnotalone.com) with my cousin so we could use our passion for football to help other Men deal with their mental health
  • Partnered FC Not Alone with adidas, discussed the importance of reducing the stigma for Men’s mental health with Gareth Southgate, Prince William, Paul Merson and many other important people
  • Started working at Sports Interactive (the home of the world famous video game Football Manager)
  • Forced to work from a tiny little office in my Mum’s house for just under 2 years as the world closed down due to a Pandemic
  • Left my job at Sports Interactive due to a feeling of stagnation

Not knowing what to do next, I called upon my extremely talented friend Seun to hang out for a coffee shop day on our laptops.

You know those people that just radiate cool energy as well as intellect? He’s one of those. After speaking with Seun about what we liked and disliked about the brand world, it lit a fire inside of me.

My brain is not naturally that excited by numbers, so when it comes to the mathematical side of Marketing where we discuss KPIs such as impressions, engagement, CPV, CPL, I can struggle. That’s not to discount the important of numbers though, that would be foolish. It’s just if I truly understood how numbers worked, I wouldn’t have studied Marketing in the first place.

I am a person who likes to connect with other people. I am a creative person who likes to build things from nothing and see how one’s hopes and dreams can be recognised globally.

How fascinating is it that the Chilly’s water bottle I am drinking right now, is the product of someone who had a dream and acted upon it?

That’s the power of branding for you.

Brands are the perfect canvas for expressing creativity. How can one person create something worth over a $bn dollars by simply creating beauty products that Women need? Via branding.

I love discovering new brands on Thingtesting, I enjoy speaking with founders of brands and I’m always the guy my friends go to when they want to start their own thing.

I am a brand man, and I made the decision that day in the coffee shop to go on a journey to become the best brand strategist in the world.

After taking a huge gulp of my Americano (with milk), I started Googling courses around Brand Strategy that would help me reinvigorate my passion and instill some confidence in me which were both naturally depleted as a result of the pandemic.

That’s where I found the Brand Strategy & Storytelling course at Hyper Island and I took a leap of blind faith. Could I afford the course fee? Not really. But I’ve always been a believer in investing in myself where possible.

As soon as I paid for the course, I couldn’t wait to get started. I read all of the pre-read materials, got stuck into the Slack channel and I knew this was going to be a key moment that defines the future of my life.

At the same time, I also started taking acting classes and I even found a tutor for rap (something I had randomly started whilst bored in Lockdown).

These are all things my inner child (15 year old me) has previously told me I couldn’t do. That kid still features in my life as he tries to protect me from being hurt.

Do you know what hurts the most? That I have spent so long of my life not believing in myself.

The hero’s journey is a framework that is taught in the brand strategy and storytelling course but it is also used in film and it’s used in music. It’s a framework that many of the best stories of our time follow.

I’d never had a feeling in my life of clarity like I had when I could see how acting, rapping and branding all had something in common: storytelling.

You can’t have a good movie without a good story, you can’t have a good song without a good story and you can’t create a globally successful brand without a good story.

All stories have a beginning, middle and end. By learning the story arc of the hero’s journey, it has allowed me to write better songs, to understand the characters I am playing during my acting lessons and to understand how to conceptualise compelling brand strategies.

Throughout the Hyper Island course it was becoming crystal clear in my mind that I am passionate about branding and that I have a lot of knowledge in the topic already.

The course was extremely engaging and the models and frameworks we used quickly showed me what improvements could be made to Brands all around me.

It was so relieving to feel that I have a lot to offer to people.

By being put in a learning environment with some very intelligent people, I gained a lot of confidence by being able to flourish and contribute to the overall success of the learning group.

With the mentorship from Jamie and Inaki who ran the course, and also from other course members there was a very safe environment to ‘be wrong’.

It’s important to feel comfortable in making mistakes and the Hyper Island course definitely provided the right space for everyone to be creative, be free with their thoughts and to learn from one another.

The 4 weeks of the course flew by and I was quite sad for the Hyper Island programme to end. I still work through all of my learnings regularly and I have integrated the methodology into my own methodologies which have permitted me to launch my own branding agency.

The course has honestly changed my life. In a time of uncertainty I took a leap and it paid off. I’m more confident than ever, I’m able to understand brands on a deeper level and I’m already helping brand owners to improve their growth potential.

With my branding agency offMILK, we already have two clients and are already seeing immediate results.

Who am I? I am you. You are me. We are all the same. We want our lives to be full of love and opportunity but we get caught up in things that don’t matter.

We care about people’s perception of us when in reality, everyone is too caught up in their own head to care about you.

I share my story with you not because I think I am interesting, but because I want more people to believe in themselves.

This contribution was made by Ian McKenzie as part of our Empowered Change Series publication on Medium. Ian is the founder of brand agency offMILK and is based in London. He is also a 2021 Alumni of Hyper Island’s Brand Strategy & Storytelling Course.

Ian McKenzie: www.linkedin.com/in/iandavidmckenzie

offMILK: www.offmilk.co.uk