Design + Storytelling = A Beautifully Personalized Magazine

In the world of entrepreneurship, the most compelling stories often begin with a simple yet transformative idea. For Gonny Gutierrez and Shelia Merkel, the journey wasn’t just about finding success individually; it was about discovering a shared vision that could change the landscape of publishing.

This is the story of how two visionary leaders from different backgrounds came together to create LIFEazine, a platform that celebrates beautiful design, innovation, and the power of storytelling.

Gonny’s Story

In late 2016, during a period of extensive travel and self-reflection, the concept of LIFEazine was born. The idea emerged from a dream Gonny had, revealing a desire to capture the essence of her life in an engaging overview. She was not interested in a traditional memoir, but in a format that would create visually engaging magazine-like layouts, concisely capturing her milestones and revealing her essence. 

Gonny often revisited this dream, particularly during her many transatlantic flights to Europe in her role as Global Program Director for a medical foundation. She would contemplate her journey: from her early life in The Netherlands to the more than 25 years spent in the United States, the diverse non-profit jobs she had undertaken, the significant interactions she experienced, the fascinating places she had visited, and the various paths in life she had walked.

Now in her mid-50s, she was seeking to make sense of the multiple experiences and influences that had shaped her identity, and to gain insight into the direction her life was heading. She spoke with many 50+ women, and most expressed a desire to have such an engaging life summary available to them.

 

Romanian Lung Conference (2017)

Shelia’s Story

Meanwhile in 2018, Shelia experienced the death of her father and a layoff from a senior leadership role in the insurance industry, where over 11 years she directed an annuity service operation from startup to support sales in the billions. Major life changes have a way of causing you to pause and reflect on your next steps in life…

Shelia grew up in the middle of a family of 12 and always valued the importance of family and the stories that make us who we are. After her dad passed, she started to become more intentional about taking action to gather memories and photos to document family stories.

Her business, My Forever Legacy, was born and one of her initial projects was to interview her mother and capture her story. During the COVID lockdown, Shelia and her mom sat together on the couch, and on Christmas Eve 2020, they shared her mom’s life story over a family Zoom call.

That evening proved to be unforgettable, marking both the best and last Christmas they would share, as her mother passed away the following July. Reflecting on this experience, Shelia stated, “Sharing her story was more than a gift to my mom —it was a pivotal moment in my life that I cherish deeply. It was then that I understood that I had found my true calling.”

Shelia went on to become a Professional Photo Organizer, certified by The Photo Managers, and devoted her business to creating priceless family treasures and preserving family legacies.

 

Shelia’s Mom was her first client and the inspiration behind her 1st business (2020)

 

Forming the Partnership

Gonny’s and Shelia’s paths crossed virtually in a Personal Historian writing group, when Shelia raised her hand to be a user tester for software that Gonny was developing for LIFEazine. They became friends and meetings that were supposed to last 30 minutes, turned into three-hour brainstorming sessions about the possibilities that could arise from their combined efforts.

Deciding to merge their talents and resources wasn’t an overnight decision. They spent months discussing the potential business structure, their vision, and the values they wanted to embed within their new partnership.  

In March 2023, Shelia’s sister-in-law died unexpectedly, and LIFEazine created a Celebration of Life Magazine for the Memorial Service. The publication was received with so much admiration, that this became the first magazine to be offered.

While the Celebration of Life magazine was created to honor the life of someone passed, a Milestone Magazine was created to celebrate the living. Both magazines were used to lay the foundation for LIFEazine’s infrastructure during the latter part of 2023.

The Growth of LIFEazine

Together, Gonny and Shelia have built an impressive line-up of personalized magazines:

  • Milestone Magazine
  • Celebration of Life Magazine
  • Founder’s Magazine
  • Leader’s Magazine
  • Petazine – adventures with your furry friend

For more information on each magazine, check out the LIFEazine Shop.

All are designed to create a life story summary of a loved one, or that of a person’s own journey. In 2024, they continue to develop magazines specifically geared to sharing one’s own journey, from a variety of different angles, for personal use or to be shared with others.

They continue to build upon the innovative concept of LIFEazine – a unique blend of a personal life story summary and magazine design – to elevate storytelling in a fresh and unique way. Because it’s easy to print and reprint a magazine, each magazine has lasting shelf-life and can be preserved as a digital copy online.

Final Thoughts

Reflecting on their journey from solo entrepreneurs to partners, Gonny and Shelia believe that their greatest strength lies in their partnership. Their shared vision for LIFEazine is a testament to the power of collaborative entrepreneurship. LIFEazine also offers Non-Profits and Memory Keepers ways to partner as Affiliates. For more information about LIFEazine and the Affiliates Program, click here.

 

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