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Chris Do

In part two of our three-part series on self-sabotage, Nidhi speaks with Chris about his decision to abandon Blind and start The Futur. What he was thinking, feeling, and the uphill battle he fought to create what we know today as The Futur.

Self Sabotage Part 2
Self Sabotage Part 2

Self Sabotage Part 2

Ep
195
Jun
29
With
Chris Do
Or Listen On:

Earning The Right To Be Wrong

In part two of our three-part series on self-sabotage, Nidhi speaks with Chris about his decision to abandon Blind and start The Futur.

Blind was Chris’s branding and design agency. He started it in 1995 primarily as a motion design studio. The company focused on creating design-focused video work like commercials and branded content.

But after two decades of growth, Chris noticed a decline in work. He saw the inevitable writing on the wall and had to make a decision: stay the course or pivot.

In this episode, Chris talks about how he made this life-changing decision. What he was thinking, feeling, and the uphill battle he fought to create what we know today as The Futur.

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Episode Transcript

Nidhi:

It's painful, when people around you are saying that you're not capable, or you're not going to be successful in something. And it can really deeply impact, not only the way that you view your success externally, but also who you view yourself as, going forward.

Chris:

Five to 10 years. That seems like a reasonable amount of time to commit to achieving your goal. And to say, "You know what? No matter what, I'm going to see you through at least in the first five years." Here's where I want to be very clear about something, and I want you to be uncompromising when it comes to your goals, but extremely adaptive and flexible when it comes to how you achieve that goal, be flexible about the process. I don't mean to say, "You know what? I tried door to door sales for five years, I got nowhere. This is the dumbest idea ever. I didn't get to my goal." Well, if door to door sales doesn't work, do an inbound marketing campaign, do direct mail, do something different, try something, just do it differently and find a way to make it work.
People look at us like, "Well, you quit Blind, didn't you?" I guess, in a way I did. How do you know when to quit? How do you know when to get out? I want to be clear about something. Now, I want to pull this into the deep waters to see if we can uncover some nuggets of truth, whether you agree with me or disagree, or agree with Nidhi, or whatever. I think it's important for us to get there so we can finally move past this conversation.
Here's the thing, I'm working in my business, I started in 1995, as I mentioned, December '95, we incorporate... Well, I'm running this company called Blind. And during the 20 plus years of running this company, we re-invented ourselves many times. We started as a creative agency, a visual communication company, pretty generic, really unfocused. Pretty early on, I think about a year into it, I'm like, "I just need to focus on motion design. This seems really fun. Seems really interesting. And the trend lines seem to be pointing upwards. I want to go all in on this." I stopped doing other work and I do this. There was already one, I guess, small quit. I quit all these other things. I said no to identity design, to print design, to packaging, to editorial design, all the other kinds of opportunities I was getting. I just want to get really good at motion design. And as you can imagine, every time you do something new, you make all kinds of mistakes.
I'm going to share a story with you right now, that I don't think I've shared before. I was hired by a large broadcast company to work on a show open. I had never done a show open before, and we had done some small things for them before. And they're like, "We'd like to give you this opportunity." Great. The creative director was a very hands on person, really amazing guy, but change his mind about things up until the last minute. And I remember driving all along Melrose and Hollywood, trying to find props to shoot. A part of the concept was we're going to shoot toys. I don't know why that was the concept, but that was. And so, we booked a cinematographer, stage, and we shot. And I didn't know what I was doing. The toys were static. The camera was static. They're mostly just stills.
And I bring them over to the editor, his name is Sergio. And Sergio's like, "What do you want me to do with this?" I'm like, "I don't know, make it work." And that was professionally pretty embarrassing, because the editor knew it was crap. And he did the best he could with what we gave him, and submitted her first cut to our client. The client gave a really long pause when they saw this thing, and I didn't know any better. It's like, "This is not good." The client wound up organizing their own shoot and shooting it themselves. Let's just say they didn't hire us to do main titles anymore after that. And that was a professional embarrassment to me. And there are many others in the history of this company, but you know what? We just persevere. We sit there and we ask ourselves, "What did we do wrong? What could we do better?" And this was the long list on what did we do wrong. And we learn from those things.
I'm chugging along. I'm starting to have some progress, making it through. And we start to get invited to bigger and better projects, bigger clients, bigger budgets, more responsibilities. We progress from doing just title design, what they call supers, like titles superimpose over picture, to doing at the other end of the spectrum, all live action commercials, meaning very little graphics, almost no titles, and just directing live action. There's a whole gamut there. Each time we quit the old version of the company and we do a new version.
And somewhere along the way, I recognize that the industry's changing, that there are DVRs, and TiVo, and streaming services starting to come online. And I'm noticing the young people in our company no longer have cable or satellite. They're mostly getting their entertainment through streaming services, pirated things, whatever. And it's become very clear to me at this point, that the future of making commercials for a living is on its way out. And I have meetings with my managers and I say, "You know what? We need to start pivoting this ship before it's too late." And I remember my executive producer saying, "Chris, I believe you. I really believe you. But I think your prediction of the timeline is way faster than it is in reality. I think there's still a lot of money to be made here. And this is what we're good at." And he battled me on this thing.
And in the meantime, I'm looking at black and white empirical data, we talked about this before, that the jobs are shrinking. I can see that overall average budget is getting smaller. I'm seeing the revenue ever so slightly trend towards flat and then in the decline. I'm seeing our profit margins shrink because the clients are asking for more and paying us less. And the jobs are much more complicated. I knew it was going to be just a matter of days. For me, the writing was very clear on the wall.
I was looking for another company. And the way I see it is, if you know you're on a train or on a boat and you're headed for disaster, you owe it to yourself and everybody that's put their livelihoods in your hand to do everything in your power to get them off that train, or to steer the boat away from its destination. And I'm met with all kinds of resistance from my sales reps, from my executive producers, and even some of my creatives, because this is what we know how to do. And the first thing I look for is, I'm like, "You know what? We make videos, we don't have to make commercials, maybe we can make explainer videos." We tried that, and that didn't work.
We spent about seven or eight months doing this. I even started a second company called Indie Films to try to take on these projects, didn't go anywhere. And then I see this thing around web design and brand strategy, I'm like, "I want to try that. I think there's longevity in that. There's more apps, more websites. Let me work on that." And it was a real struggle to get through that. And then, we're doing brand strategy now. And then, all the people that were connected to selling commercials for us, they're finding themselves on a very, ever shrinking chunk of ice, and being stranded out in the ocean. I said, "You could come over here." But you know what they said? "No, it'll still work." They either quit or were fired, and tried their best to stay in the industry. Today, I don't know where they are.
To me, I would've stayed in the long haul, and I wish I did, because I like round numbers. I wanted to get to 25 full years. I wanted to pass a hundred million dollars in billings. Not quite, and I would've stayed in it if it remained profitable, if the trend lines were moving in the right direction. I didn't quit that until I found enough empirical data. And also, my ability to see what's happening in the larger macro of things, that people don't want to watch commercials anymore. The importance of the commercials is on its way out as the rise of social media and streaming is coming up. I could see that. I didn't quit it because it didn't feel right, I quit it because the end was near. What do you think, Nidhi?

Nidhi:

That sounds like a really well thought out decision. And I think that's what makes a smart entrepreneur, is that you're so on top of the game and you're a futurist, so you're looking to what's going to be coming down the pike. And of course, I mean, we talked about the Titanic analogy. Do you go full steam ahead towards the glacier? Or do you try your best to avert your course in order to pivot, and do something different? The data though, is what you're saying did not indicate that this was a viable option in the long term. And I think that, that is really the key takeaway. Everything that business comes down to, is data. And so, if the numbers aren't matching up for something, unfortunately... The one thing, I'm very emotionally driven person, but I don't think numbers lie.
And so, if the numbers were still showing an upward trajectory for you, it sounds like you would've continued on with Blind or the other companies, but they just didn't show that prospect. At that point, your option is you stay the course and you hit the iceberg, or you have an opportunity to pivot and survive. I think that's really the conclusion to that, isn't it? What are the numbers telling you about your business? And can you base a decision then, based off of those facts, as opposed to the emotional component?
One thing that I'll add in there, Chris, that I thought was really powerful, before, as we were talking about being able to build and strategize our businesses to be optimized, something that we had discussed that I think people really need to hear, is that you can't outsource the core competencies of your business. When we're thinking about the things that we don't like doing as a part of our business, it's usually the things that are the most important, like you as the personal brand showing up for those marketing meetings or having to do the work like that. But there are certain aspects of your business that you're not able to outsource.
It can't be the core competencies. And ultimately the reason why we bring somebody in, is to fill the gaps in our own knowledge. I think that those were two points I really wanted to emphasize, because those are some of the biggest reasons I find why people are, perhaps giving away the wrong parts of their business. Nobody's saying don't outsource things in order to make your life easier, but you really have to look at, "Am I doing this because of a discomfort I have with the task that I'm avoiding? Or is this really a part of my business that having a virtual assistant or somebody that does a piece of your marketing, but not all of it for you." They can't be creating your social media content for you. It has to be you showing up. "Am I trying to bring somebody in to fill in the gaps? Or am I doing it from a place of, I just need some additional help and this will help facilitate my growth."

Chris:

Thank you so much for reminding me of that and bringing that piece up. There's so many different ways we can take that, but I think you did such a great job of summarizing that thought. Meyer, you're up.

Meyer:

Hey Chris. Hey, Nidhi. A little about me, maybe I'll share a bit of experience. I've been in the tech industry for 25 years. Been building websites for clients, for all that time. I think I built my first website in '94. And it was really good. Clients really loved me. I had lots of work, but I got bored with it. And I didn't understand, at the time, the power of focus and the power of building that brand. I think I've changed my personal brand, probably about eight times. I eventually gave up, got burnt out. Didn't enjoy doing client work anymore, because I wasn't focusing. I just would take any kind of client. I did nonprofits. I did gyms, makeup artists, manufacturers, wood flooring. I did everything.
I'm suffering the weight of that now. Here I am, almost 50, and don't have a web agency to my name. Don't have the financial success that I thought I would have when I was in my twenties. And I'm learning now, especially after meeting you Chris and finding your YouTube channel a couple years ago. I was in PRO group for a while, thinking about my business differently. One of the insights maybe... That might be helpful for people listening is, creatives, by default, want to do creative work. It's easy to just take on any client, but what we don't seem to understand as creatives is that, there's creative work inside of our existing business. Let's say we get a client like a nonprofit... Let's say we do websites for nonprofits. We have a couple of clients, well, there's tons of creative work that can be done in that niche if we just look for it, and it doesn't appear at first, but it's there.

Chris:

Hey, Meyer. I have a question for you. First of all-

Meyer:

Sure.

Chris:

... thanks for sharing. I did pin your tweet up there, and I love the kinds of things that you've been sharing, and how active you've been. It's hard to believe that you were there at Web 1.0 when Netscape was the default browser and the dominant player in the industry. And the fact that you were in so early... I don't want to pour salt on your wound, but the kind of empire you could have built, because you were there so early, the early pioneer, first adopter, first move, or whatever. What was it about other things that compelled you to leave something that was on the verge of just exploding in a very positive way? What was it, so we can learn from this?

Meyer:

Well, I think the whole internet industry and technology in general, there's just so much new stuff happening. Like, crypto is the new thing now. Now, I've been in the last year focusing on crypto stuff, much to my detriment. But I think that it's a hyper creative industry. There's tons of new things being developed. And so that's... It's almost like you don't want to miss out on a trend. You don't want to miss out on a next wave. I think that there's... At least in the past year, I've gone pretty deep into the whole macroeconomics and Bitcoin, and stuff like that. I think that there's some influence here by just how our economy works. People should be able to save money and build a financial future for themselves, but they're always battling against this inflation and the cost of living and things like that. That may be one of the factors that are influencing my decision. I don't know.

Chris:

It sounds to me like you are fascinated by new technologies, and are always at the press post of what's next, but not... I'm sorry if I use this word and it offends you, but not discipline enough to stay in it to reap the rewards. You're good at planting seeds, but not returning to harvest and to reap the fruit, if you will. I saw you put out a tweet, something about rabbits, and it reminds me of the Russian proverb, "If you chase two rabbits, you would not catch either one." There's something about your past, your tendencies, to have a little bit of that shiny object syndrome, where, "This is the new, this is the now, I'm all about that." And you keep switching gears, and every time you do so, you leave behind the potential of great things. There's a book, my wife read it, I've not read it full disclosure. It's called, Three Feet from Gold. And it's quite literally like that. If that person just stayed in there instead of selling shovels or pickaxes, they would've been very, very wealthy. And it's a famous story. Okay.

Meyer:

Yeah. For sure.

Chris:

Nidhi, your thoughts on any of this?

Nidhi:

Well, yeah, I wanted to ask, Meyer, if you... Because, what I was hearing is that there was a bit of a FOMO, that fear of missing out. And so, I wonder if the initial experience, where you saw the skyrocket of Web 1 after you had left, I wonder if that experience is part of why you might switch, because it's like that fear of, "Could that happen again?" I don't know. I just... I wonder,

Meyer:

Well, I'm a super positive person. I've been through some pretty difficult struggles personally and family stuff, and was nearly homeless at one point, but I've always remained positive. I'm not really driven so much by fear. I think why I didn't stick to things, to niches, or to work that I was doing, I think there's an element of self confidence and self worth. It's like, "Okay, I'm going to..." I could double down on one of these projects that I'd done and stuff that I tried, I could have easily doubled down and just made it work, but the confidence, the personal confidence wasn't there. I think that I've spent lots of time with guys like Jim Rohn, and Brian Tracy, and Denis Waitley, and all these great personal development people, listen to the thousands of hours of stuff. And I've come to the conclusion that, I think self-confidence is really the root of most people's problems. At least that's been my understanding.

Nidhi:

That makes sense. I mean, it totally makes sense, because I think, if you have a belief that, I am capable of that transformative success, then you do stay the course, because it's something that has been thought of as feasible. But if you view that as something that's out of your realm of possibility, then of course, that's understandable that you're not going to try to go for that thing, because you just don't, maybe buy into the idea that you could achieve it. I feel you on that. I definitely understand where you're coming from there, Meyer.

Meyer:

Yeah, I think there's that one moment of decision where, "Okay, I'm working on something, I've got a client, and things are going great." Then there's that one moment that the creative says, "Maybe this isn't going to work out, maybe I'll go try something else. Oh, look at this other new shiny thing. Okay, I'm going to quit what I'm doing now, that's actually working for me, and I'm going to go try something else because I'm impatient, or I don't believe that... I don't believe in myself. I don't believe I can make this thing go from 10,000 a year to million dollars a year."

Nidhi:

Definitely. Definitely. Well... And I think that's the mindset piece, being able to really recognize that when you put in the time and when you really have the focus, you've had past experiences that have shown you that you can make it through. I'm sure there have been some instances in your life where embracing the grit has allowed for you to experience that success. I think any opportunity to strengthen that, and remember that, and bring that to your awareness. Knowing that we have that negativity bias, I think that's such an important piece. Really appreciate you Meyer, thank you so much for sharing.

Meyer:

Sure. Thank you.

Chris:

All right. I'm going to move the mic over to Ivy. Ivy, how do you want to contribute today?

Ivy:

Well, I've been struggling on how to keep it concise. Nidhi, you were kind enough to be in the room that I held about anger, that people who were late diagnosed ADHD feel, because of what... Well, we feel like we could have achieved had we known that we had it before. I was a programmer for 18 years, and I was good at what I did. And the company that I worked for out the entire north American IT department overseas, [inaudible 00:20:17] hundreds of people, and I didn't see it coming, I thought I was going to be working for this company for a while. I was about to transition to another career, to be a business analyst. And for various reasons, I hadn't kept my programming toolbox updated. When I lost my job, I was unable to get another job in my field, not even at an entry level.
For a while, I just... I imploded and didn't even get my toolbox up. And I found myself in a position where I'm good at all things, but I can't prove it. It's just stuff I've done for volunteers, or just for people on the side, or whatever. Now in a position to where I can do maybe four or five different career choices, and I'm suffering analysis paralysis, or whatever. It's like, "What if I choose this path and it ends up being the wrong one?" And it seems like every [inaudible 00:21:23], I keep bouncing around, chipping at a bunch of little stones a little bit here and there, and not [inaudible 00:21:29] anything done.
You had asked, why do people stop before or get things going? And I had tweeted out, and there's a book called, The Big Leap, by Gay Hendricks. And he talks about upper limit problems. And that's when you start moving into your zone of genius, your ego consciously makes things happen in your life to sabotage you doing that. And you have to recognize it. It could be something with your health, finances, relationships, whatever you think it's just a coincidence, when it's actually something to keep you from moving into your zone of genius. And another thing that I find... Because I didn't realize so many people suffer from this, but it's a fear of success. And if I get successful, there's the imposter syndrome in there too. They'll realize that, "I really don't know what the heck I'm doing", or they realize all the responsibilities that they have, that they'll have to hire employees, and the imposter syndrome dips in again, and they're afraid that they're going to ruin other people's lives, or they feel like they won't be able to handle the success, and turn into a bad person.
I struggle with that fear of success as well, because I know that whatever I decide to do, I'm going to be good at it, is figuring out what to do and getting the support that I need to get over those upper limit problems, so to speak.

Nidhi:

Totally, Ivy. And well, I love what you said about the protective element that we have. When it comes down to that moment where we might be able to catapult to success, I think often, if we've had past experiences, we get fearful and that protective part of us kicks in and is like, "Oh no, wait a second. Are you sure about that? I don't know you're going to be capable of it." And all of that negative self talk comes right back in. I think instead of chastising that part of us, I instead lean into it and recognize the fact that it's just... It's serving a purpose of trying to protect me. And I don't have to buy into it and I don't have to believe it. I can stay the course, even despite the fact that this script is running in my head. And instead, just realize that it's an opportunity to be able to push past, some of the protections, with the opportunity also, to see success in a different way when you do push past that.
It's like building an alliance, in a lot of ways, with the parts of us that want to sabotage and want to hold us back out of fear, and a spirit of protection, and instead challenging that and not necessarily accepting that as what the reality is. Like, "Hey, I feel you. I know it feels really scary right now, we acknowledge it. But I have all of this evidence to show me that I can do this. And I've proven to myself that I can focus when I need to. That's going to be my decision right now."
I hope that, that makes sense. Ivy, was that helpful?

Ivy:

Yeah. Yeah. It was. I appreciate that... Maybe give that piece of me a name, or something like that, and treat it as a whole different [inaudible 00:24:43], perhaps.

Nidhi:

Absolutely. Yeah. I think that makes a whole lot of sense. Well, Chris, I know that we were... We were chatting a little bit, and I hadn't asked you a couple of questions that I had wanted to ask. And if it's okay with you, I think it would help people to better understand your pivot, and how you got out of that feeling of being stuck. Because I know there was a period in your own business where you felt stuck and had to make some really hard decisions there, to basically build The Futur. Would you be willing to share a little bit more about that with the audience?

Chris:

Yeah. I'm happy to share that and go any which way you think would be beneficial to people listening. I have said this before, I try my best to be as transparent about all things of my life.

Nidhi:

I know one of the elements, Chris, you talked about how the data wasn't adding up with Blind, and that you were clearly seeing that there was this train wreck happening. But I think something that we didn't really touch on, that a lot of business owners experience, is that there was a bit of a contentiousness, an air of convention in the venture. And that there was a little bit of a budding heads, and a little bit of a culture that didn't feel as though it was sustainable. I think that this is important for people in the audience to hear, to really help them to tease out how you made the decision to move forward outside of the data. Because we made it seem like it was just data driving that decision. And while that was perhaps... I don't know, maybe 70% of your choice, I think there was a piece of that pie that related back to the relationship with people in the business, and some of the toll that was taking on you. We would love to hear.

Greg Gunn:

Time for a quick break, but we'll be right back.

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Greg Gunn:

Welcome back to our conversation.

Chris:

Okay. There's a couple of different pivots here that I want to be sure I'm talking about the one that you're referencing. When I notice that there was a decline in commercial work, I was looking for another way to apply what it is that we are already doing to something else, to a market that was either growing, or expanding, or about to break open. And of course, there's pushback, because every time you go into the unknown, there's too many things at risk. And one of the things that I think you have to do as an entrepreneur, is to become comfortable with risk, and not to be risk averse, but to be risk tolerant. And this is the thing that I find that separates entrepreneurs from managers, or for entrepreneurs, one-epreneurs, and it's your appetite for risk.
I often talk to my wife about these kinds of things, because she'll say to me, at dinner, she's like, "Honey, how come you're so ready to just drop it and go for it? Aren't you scared?" She had a very different upbringing than I did, grew up in mostly an upper class family. Whereas I, for most of my life, felt that we're a poor middle class, something like that. And the thing that I would say to her, it's like, "From your lens, it looks really risky. From my lens, it just looks like the decision you have to make." And I've said to her... I've sustained myself on very little, you know that... The story all college students tell you, that eating top ramen and whatever else you can scrap up. That was actually my reality. And what I said to her was, "I feel like I've come from nothing and I'm comfortable returning back to nothing, with the full confidence that I can rebuild this again."
Whether this was true or not, in my mind, I always believe this. And I still continue to believe this today. That the hardest thing that I'm going to do is to try and run a business. And the backup plan is just to go work for someone. I've had many job offers while running my company from our clients and from our competitors, who have dangled a lot of money in front of me, and guarantees and promises of not too much work and ultimate freedom. And I've turned every single one of those down. When you have that in your back pocket, I think it gives you the kind of confidence to go ahead and make these bold decisions and... Quote unquote, risk it all.
And to tie it back to the beginning of our conversation tonight, about the Elon Musks, the Tony Hsiehs, and even the Jeff Bezos of the world, they're probably having that same level of confidence, like, "If this venture fails, it will not be my final failure. It would just be a failure." I'm looking at other opportunities, I'm that canary in the coal mine of our business to say, "Something smells off, my spider sense is tingling and we need to start pivoting." And you get that resistance. And there's a couple of resistance that you're going to get. Your management team is going to be confused by these decisions and they're going to push back, mostly because they don't know of any other way for themselves to be of value to someone. And they can see quite clearly that the ship that got us here, the boss, me, the captain, is building another ship and they don't know how to sail that ship. And they start to do everything they can to slow that process down.
It sounds like I'm being hyperbolic, but literally this is what they were doing. They were diverting resources and attention and creating more drama where it was not necessary, to slow down this thing, because they feel like they're being abandoned. From my point of view, I was inviting them in like, "Please come with me, make this jump." But as we know, not everyone can make the jump. Not everyone wants to make the jump. There's going to be turnover or churn on this, and it happens, and it happens more often than I'd like. But for the people who are willing to go along with me on this journey, and to say, 'You know what? If you're comfortable with the risk, we're comfortable supporting you. We believe in the dream." I think at some point we wash through almost every single person going through multiple iterations of the company, but the ones who are risk tolerant, who believe in the promise of a better tomorrow, they have stayed with me and they're still with me to this day.
That's how I know I have the right crew. They've gone through multiple iterations of this pivot and they're pretty hard pivot, and they're still there. They're still smiling. And they have adapted. And I'm super proud of the people who are able to do that. And I just feel like with this crew, with this team, anything is possible. That we are ready to take on any, and all challenges. That's some of the resistance. If you're talking about the pivot from Blind to The Futur, that's yet a whole nother struggle, but I wanted to pause there.

Nidhi:

Yeah, well, yes. We will get to that too, because I think that was also a really important shift for you, and a lot of reasons that went into making that move. But I appreciated what you said about how the change can feel really scary, not only for yourself, that you had to really make sure all the ducks were in a row, but also to make sure that your team that you've built with is willing to withstand that, and that there will be some fallout as a result. And I think that a lot of times, we're afraid to be able to break the news to the people that we work with, because we know that some of them are going to be... They're a little bit rigid when it comes to what they expect and how they expected work to go.
But there was another piece of the story too, Chris, that I really wanted to zoom in on a little bit. And that's the fact that there were... The pushback, I think came from every direction, especially as we shift into the story from Blind to The Futur. There was a lot of doubt being cast on your ideas and what you've built now with The Futur. And it would've been really easy to go down this pathway of feeling self doubt and imposter syndrome. I just... I wanted to glean for the audience, how you were able to navigate that, because it's painful, when people around you are saying that you're not capable, or you're not going to be successful in something. And it can really, deeply impact, not only the way that you view your success externally, but also who you view yourself as, going forward. If you're willing to share, I think that, that'll also add a richness to this conversation.

Chris:

Sure. When it comes to Blind and seeing the data, it is very clear to me... And I do want to mention a few things, I think... I'm not totally sure the thing that you're referencing, so I'm not trying to be evasive here, so Nidhi, you may have to just frame it a little bit better for me. But I do want to say something, leadership is supposed to lead. You're supposed to make the hard decisions. I did not decide to go to work for myself to work 80 hours to make 40 hours worth of money because I wanted to follow someone else's direction, that is pretty clear. It's not about necessarily when you have to make these big, bold decisions. It's not about consensus building. And maybe I'm going to alienate a couple of people when I say this, but it's not making decision or designed by committee. That sounds like government to me, it sounds bureaucratic.
When the data says this... And I'm not asking anyone to put at risk their financial future and all their savings, it's my money. And this is a lesson I learned from my business coach at that time Keir, and he would say to me, "Chris, you don't have to be right, but you've earned the right to be wrong." I'm the guy who stays up at night thinking about, "Are we going to make payroll?" I'm the guy who feels the sting the most, when we lose a prospect that we should have landed. Yes, the team is bummed out, but they still collect their paycheck. What he gave me was something beautiful and wonderful, that he gave me permission to be a leader. You don't have to be right, but you have the right to be wrong.
I don't, now have to say, "Well, team, what do we want to do? Are we all in agreement?" Because everybody just chooses the path of least resistance, no one wants to be wrong. If you stay with what you're doing, no one gets blamed. But if you stick your neck out and say, "Boss, we want to do something bold, and crazy, and different", you're liable to get your head chopped off. And I'm not that kind of leader. This is where everybody's like, "Oh, I don't know. Let's go along, or not go along." This is the... What is required of leadership, is that you have to make those hard, hard decisions.
I love to make submarine comparisons. Like, almost always in submarine movies, there's always a section of the crew that gets trapped and the captain of the boat has to make a decision, seal off the chamber, and few of your precious people die, or leave it open, try and save everyone, and everyone perishes. That's the role of leadership. We don't have a committee meeting about it while the boat is sinking. I have to make a decision. And to me, Nidhi, there wasn't a lot of self doubt when it says, "We have to pivot." I can see the future. It's very clear.
Here's the crazy thing, as I'm making moves to change industries, I can feel that other people are scratching their head. I can feel our sales rep saying, "Chris, what are you doing? Why would you walk away from this? This doesn't make sense to us. There's still a lot more money here to get." I think they're making that argument, and that can seem like maybe I'm contradicting myself right now, that they're saying, "You're three feet from gold. Stay here, keep pulling out the diamonds or the gold from the mine." And I'm like, "It's a short term play. I have to think about the next five to 10 year arc. And I'm not seeing it here. I would love nothing more than to stay here."
I got into some pretty heated disagreements with my staff. I've had to close an office because they weren't going along with the program. And that hurt. It hurt the people there. And it hurt me emotionally and professionally. Like, "Man, what kind of entrepreneur am I, starting another office, and I have to close that thing down?" That's a blemish on my record. You feel all of that, and that weighs on you. But I let something else weigh on me heavier, which is the future of the people who have entrusted me to protect their jobs. And that's how I'm able to overcome that. I'm not sure that's what you were getting at Nidhi, but I'm going to turn it back over to you.

Nidhi:

Yeah. I mean... That share absolutely resonates. And that you have a greater responsibility, especially when you're running an agency like you are, where you employ multiple people that the decisions aren't about just yourself any longer. If you're solo entrepreneur, you're making decisions on behalf of yourself and your family. But when you're running a business that has other people whose lives depend on your business and the services you provide, then it becomes... Somebody has to be at the helm. It's just like when you're a kid and you're looking to your parents for guidance, somebody's got to take control, somebody's got to be at the stern of the ship. I think that, that makes a whole lot of sense.
I think what I was getting at was that, there were some moments where, emotionally, on top of the fact that yes, you saw the writing on the wall, but that there were also some dynamics at play. Does that make sense? That the dynamics also played into this decision? Because I really... I'm trying to drive home the fact that there were more factors beyond just the data. And I think that that supports some of what we had talked about earlier in this conversation, around being able to get out of situations that are emotionally taxing. And it's beyond just a point of grit and pushing through, it's now starting to take a toll, in terms of friendships and relationships and your health and wellbeing. Does that make sense? Do I need to be much more... Do I need to be more direct than that? I think it's [inaudible 00:39:30] back channel.

Chris:

Yeah. Yeah. I'm following the back channel here. And I think perhaps, because we talked last night, the conversations are blurring together. I know exactly what you're talking about, but it's a different part of the story here. I'm going to have to open that part up and jump through that hole so that you can hear what Nidhi is referencing, I think. There is this moment in my career, in running the company that, we pivot, it doesn't work. We pivot again, it starts to work. And then we do one really hard pivot, in that now we're designing ourselves out of the service industry.
And you know this, in 2014, Jose and I decide to start making YouTube videos. And from the outside, it looks like the dumbest thing ever, because this thing isn't making us any money at all, nothing, no real amount of money. And Jose's just wild personality, he's charismatic, but he's also reckless and a little sloppy. And he brings a whole reputation with him that isn't in alignment with who I am. I often describe our relationship like that old TV show, The Odd Couple, where Felix and Oscar could not be more different. One is really buttoned up and neat and fastidious, and the other one's sloppy, carefree, but is emotional and has heart. Those two get together and they have to live together. And that's the chemistry between the two of them. And that really is the chemistry between Jose and I, two very different people, different backgrounds, but wanting to build something. And in the beginning it looks like everybody's going to humor me and tolerate me distracting, or getting distracted by this second venture.
Back then in 2014, for all you OGs out there, was called, The Skool. And the name was the company that Jose already had, but we had a common purpose and mission, which is to create an education company, two very different approaches. And I can start to feel like there's something here. We don't have the proof that it's working because we've got a product. For the first year of business, I think we do something like $14,000 of revenue. I'm going to pull up the revenue sheet here in a second, so that I have the real data to talk to you about this.
I'm starting to get lots of questions from people, because people feel the absence of my leadership and being involved in new business pitches. And they're trying to pull me back in. And my directive to the team was, "Please, I'm trying to build another company so that all of us have a good life raft or safety net here so that we can escape this one. I need you all to run the company as best as you can for as long as you can. Keep the runway nice and long, you are all qualified. You're all good enough. You can do this without me." And of course, when your boss is no longer focusing on the company in which you're employed by, it probably sends shock waves throughout everybody. And people get a little nervous and scared.
A couple things did happen to me during this period in time, that there was a lot of resistance from, again, management team, "Chris, we love the idea of what you're doing. We don't know how to participate, really concerned about our futures." New executive producer at this time is already looking to another job, sending out his resume. And my senior producer was doing the same thing. They could see the writing on the wall. And instead of choosing to join me in this venture, they decided it's best for them to apply their skills and talents and what they know to something else. There's resistance there.
There's a lot of confusion within the creative teams like, "Well, if we don't have clients, what are we going to do? Our whole mindset, what we're trained to do is to serve a client. And now we don't have a boss. How does this even work?" And I have to say that too, even my own coach at that time was questioning like, "Chris, this is still a legitimate business that you can run for quite some time. Why abandon this?"
I'm getting pushback from all corners. I go to industry functions... And I didn't know it at this time, but I did get some estranged looks. And later on, people told me that people were throwing daggers with their eyes at me because I was talking about the industry in ways that people weren't at that time. I was teaching creatives, freelancers, how to charge their worth, how to negotiate, how to walk out of toxic work relationships. I think some of these business owners, my colleagues, and some competitors were feeling it. And some of their criticism was, "You're making it very difficult for us to run our companies with the kind of information that you're putting out there." And I was like, "Well, that's your problem. That's not my problem. If you pay your people well, and you treat them fairly, we have no issue. My team works for me and they know I make these videos. We don't have the same problem, for some reason. I wonder why." I was getting a lot of heat.
And I remember, in this pivotal moment, pre us actually having real breakthroughs and numbers to back up what I believe to be on the horizon for us, I remember going to ArtCenter and talking to them about transitioning from a traditional school to doing online or hybrid based learning. That this whole remote learning, making education equitable for everyone, this is an idea that it doesn't need to be proved, it's already been proven. And I wanted to help them. And I took several meetings with very important people within the administration. And they even checked on over to the west side from Pasadena. We sat in my conference room, I laid out the roadmap for them. I shared what it is that we're learning, how we can help. And quite literally, one of the people who attended that meeting laughed, laughed out loud and said, "Chris, you're an alarmist. I've heard all these predictions of doom and gloom that the industry's upside down. You're just an alarmist." And he brushed me off like I'm some kid out of school. I'm like, "All right, we will see."

Greg Gunn:

Thanks for joining us this time. If you haven't already, subscribe to our show on your favorite podcasting app and get a new insightful episode from us every week. The Futur Podcast is hosted by Christ Do and produced by me, Greg Gunn. Thank you to Anthony Barro for editing and mixing this episode. And thank you to Adam Sanborne for our intro music.
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