Duncan operates multiple companies related to marketing and sales. In this episode he explains how he started each company and where he is taking them.
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John E: Hello folks. I really liked my guests today. Uh, Duncan Littlefield. I was introduced fairly recently by Jeff Weiner, who was also recently on the podcast. And I think the interview turned out really good. Duncan, uh, has a lot of energy. He’s created a lot of companies, but I think he’s got a really good vision for where he wants to take it.
These companies and they seem to be thriving. So I think there’s a lot of really good material for you to take from this one, especially if you’re involved in, in marketing and communications, video story storytelling, there’s a whole lot of really good stuff. So enjoy the episode.
I have started an exited multiple companies. I am an avid investor in early stage companies. I advise some of the hottest startups and I’ve worked with many of the top tech companies across numerous industries. I’m a software developer by trade. But I also have an MBA from Duke university. I seek out companies who defy conventional wisdom to drive innovation in any industry.
And in this podcast, I interview the founders of those companies for you.
Hello folks. And welcome to the show today. I have with me Duncan Littlefield of the Littlefield company and a handful of other media ventures. Uh, Duncan’s a very positive person with an energy, uh, that that makes them a delight to be around. He keeps himself very busy, so I appreciate him. Taking the time to chat with me, Duncan.
Thanks so much for joining me today in the defiance venture studio. Hey, thanks for having me. It’s
Duncan L: a pleasure to be here.
John E: Awesome. Awesome. So first off, can you tell the listeners what the Littlefield company
Duncan L: does filled company is a company where we focus on telling undertold stories by delivering scalable content for purpose driven companies.
And yes, that’s a lot of words around, we focus on photo and video for corporate
John E: storytelling. Awesome. Um, so when you say corporate storytelling, what does a corporate look like for you? What are the range of types of customers that you, that you typically are going
Duncan L: after? The beautiful part is when you focus on stories, it doesn’t really matter on the range.
So we like to say we like, we love to work with medium-sized businesses, but in that we like to work with marketing companies or marketing teams, divisions of like two to 10 people. So, you know, going after the big. Whales of the world, you know, Coca-Cola everybody like that. It’s, there’s a lot of people that you have to talk to, or a lot of red tape that you got to work through on a story, make sure it works for the brand bigger picture.
And we’d like to move a lot faster. So working with a small to medium size company, we can really make impact, you know, aligning impact and influence really quickly. And we liked, like you said, I’m fortunate that I have a team that likes to run as fast as I do.
John E: That’s always helpful. And when you, when you run at different speeds is when it, when it can get challenging,
Duncan L: we’ve been there before.
John E: So what does a typical engagement look like? You mentioned the medium sized company, two to 10 people on the marketing team. At what point did they bring the Littlefield company
Duncan L: in really whenever it’s, I don’t want to say necessary, but it’s whenever they have this, it could be everything. It could be the reason for.
Hey, we want to reach a different demographic or, Hey, we have this story that just popped up into our world or Hey, you know what we just want to, we want to take on another adventure. And so from there, one of the biggest parts we focus on is the creative process and it’s not just, Oh, cool. Let’s do a 62nd commercial.
It’s no, let’s do a 62nd commercial with the, you know, two or three other 32nd spots with, you know, 10 other social media clips that are all focused on an intention, a demographic or purpose to then at that point, go, let’s drive everybody to that 62nd commercial, because if you have a good product, the market will tell you if it’s good or not.
You know, if you have a good service, the market will either buy it or not. And if you get them to the website to have a 62nd ad is it was only good as as many people see it. You know, if you have a super bowl quality ad with no traffic to your website, What’s the point of it. If a company doesn’t have $5.2 million behind an ad spend for Superbowl, no one will see it.
If they don’t have any traffic traffic to the website. So what content can you actually offer your viewer, your guest to then at that point, get them to the website off of other platforms to get to, you know, the ticket of the 62nd ad.
John E: So are you typically advising on the bigger picture strategy of how does this fit into everything or are you focusing on more typically they’ve decided that’s the overall approach that they want to take and you’re executing on bits and pieces.
Duncan L: on the depends on the partner. So there’s a lot of partners that we work with that have a strategic division, have a branding arm, have a social media depart where we’re just, I don’t want to say playing the part and like actually creating the content. But a lot of people come to us with an idea that’s 60% there.
It’s Hey, we want to tell a story around something or tell a story around this person or our service, but we don’t know how to tell it. And that’s kind of that undertold every person in the world, every company out there has an undertold story. It’s our responsibility to either, you know, pull it out of them and coach them to actually tell it or to have them be aware of what it is.
A lot of people don’t know what their story is and that’s, so it’s one of the best parts about our job. You know, we get to sit down at a table, big conference table couch has really got a coffee shop, really wherever. And we just go like, lay it out. Like, what does your company do? Why does it do it? Why did you start the company you started?
There’s no package that every CEO fits into or every CMO or every marketing division fits into. It’s the bigger picture of like every company is uniquely different. And for that, then why are we creating them a package that says, Oh, you need this, this and this? No, like. Why? So, so
John E: are you more focused on the actual constructing the story and helping them understand how to articulate it?
Or do you get into the actual wall? Hey, we’ll come in and we’ll shoot the video. We’ll set up the lighting. We’ll do the photography, the social media.
Duncan L: Yeah. Everything from start to finish. Like if you look at it from ideation to deployment, we do everything, but actually hit the post button. So we will do everything from ideation to creation, to producing, to production, to editing and post-production and everything.
But the only thing we will not do right now is hit post on your social media or post on your website to have the piece of content strategy go live.
John E: Great. And has it, has that been the vision from day one or did you start out with one or two capabilities and then you had to build those capable?
Duncan L: Now that’s a great question.
Um, the goal of the start was to buy undervalued companies and then sell and valuable. But how we were going to do that as be the marketing arm to that. So right now, in my opinion, companies need to earn trust comp every goal, every company’s goal should be to earn trust with a demographic, a market, a consumer base, whatever it is, how do you create trust in my eyes?
It’s a pretty simple equation. You tell stories that create a connection that earned trust from there. It’s what you do with that. Trust is the most important thing. So the goal of the company at the start was to say, Hey, let’s just create trust by first off, creating connection by telling stories, because if we can create trust, then we have an ask.
If you have an ask, it can be, go to a website, buy, donate, show up. It doesn’t matter about the industry. Doesn’t matter about the company. It’s you tailor it to whatever you need from your user, your audience member, your guest. And so the company always started with this goal of like, we just want to buy.
Or we want to be a part of undervalued companies to then make them valuable, make them attention worthy, make them always have a guest or a client or a review or somebody just to say, hi.
John E: Well, it’s interesting. Are you familiar with Mark Sisson and Mark’s daily Apple? No, I’m not. So he created primal kitchen, but he very successful.
He sold the business to one of the large food manufacturers, made a ton of money and in his seventies it’s really cool story, but I heard him on the Opry Marcus’ podcast and he didn’t use the word trust. He just said I needed, I needed to create an authentic brand. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my brand, but I had to be authentic and he was talking about trust.
So what he did was he created Mark’s daily Apple, where he blogged once a day. And he did it for years and I used to read his blog and it was just a great source of recipes of, he would parse out a recent study on exercise. He would just talk about different topics in health and wellness. And then all of a sudden this primal kitchen brand appears.
And because he was so authentic and people identified with them, I was like, Oh yeah, I’ll buy your stupid catch-up. And now, you know, it became a multi hundred million dollar exit for him, but it was interesting because in this podcast he talked about, I had to build my brand first. I had to build the authenticity.
And I think that speaks to a lot of what you’re talking about right now. Yeah. I
Duncan L: like that. There’s, there’s a lot to that. And it’s, you know, um, what’s the old model like, Hey, you know, YouTube and vloggers it’s daily until they create the attention and then they can become strategist it’s they don’t know what they’re doing until they figure it out.
And that’s what I think a lot of companies do. They start it on one simple purpose, one simple reason. And then all of a sudden they get to three years in. It’s the old analogy of, you know, uh, focusing on a tree compared to the forest. It’s you go down to chop down a tree and then that one goes down. Then you take another one down and you take another one down and you don’t look back at the forest that you’ve carved out because you’re just focusing on that one tree over and over and over again.
And you gotta look around and go, man, what have we done? If you can under it? Wasn’t that called the Lorax? Something like that. It was something
John E: like that.
Duncan L: As I don’t have kids, I haven’t been open to that.
John E: In that one. Basically they, they ended up creating a process that everybody then creating these clothes that everybody wants, but they have to chop these trees down and they literally get to the last tree and chop it down.
Duncan L: That’s so interesting. Yeah. All right. I’m going to reference that, but that’s like, you know, that’s the bigger part about it is like you go through these. You all of a sudden have to look up and go, man, what have we done in the companies in Maya’s who can scale faster and understand the process around it?
And that’s what we’re focused on. Now, Littlefield as a parent company is we’re trying to align impact and influence. Let’s
John E: talk about that. Cause cause looking through your LinkedIn profile, there’s a handful of businesses. It looks like some are related to photography or videography marketing. Um, are they all under the Littlefield umbrella or are they related somehow or can you just kind of speak to how that all works together?
And it appears that some of them are more consumer focused as opposed to business? Maybe.
Duncan L: Absolutely. So Littlefield is a parent company, um, where our focus is aligning impact and influence. So influence is the external, that’s the media side, that’s the marketing, that’s everything we’re doing at Littlefield company, paper, airplanes, sidecar, and even a little bit on the large forest side.
Where now the next venture is the impact and the impact is the internal that’s culture. That’s operations, that’s development of business. And so what we’re really doing is trying to align it because most companies fail because they’re misaligned, you know, their leadership is not telling the right story to their staff, which then best staff is going out and, you know, misrepresented the company because of internally as a culture, they’re not aligned.
So what’s the old expression, like 90% of startups fail for whatever reason. And I think it’s due to misalignment. So that’s where we’re focused on Littlefield. But then underneath that we have the little field company is definitely the engine behind it all. Then we have a company called paper airplanes, which is the visitor experience.
So that’s website paid social copy graphics are, we’ll also throw out there that I should not write copy for anybody. As I found out I was dyslexic when I was 18 years old. So if you get a well-crafted email from me on a day, it’s been a good day. Um, but then the next company would be large for us, which is our wedding arm.
And then the other company we’re working on building is a tech play, a company called sidecar, which is right now a strategic video editing service, but turning it into a software in 2021.
John E: Awesome. Awesome. Hopefully we get to dig in, dig into each of those as we go through this. Is there any one company that you consider your day job?
I take it. That’s a little field.
Duncan L: That’s a little fellow company for sure right now. Um, I would say I’m about a 60%, um, hands-on Littlefield company on my day to day and then 40% focused on little field with building the other brands around it. So that could be 20% sidecar, one day or 5% sidecar the next day, but 40% would be Littlefield as a parent company.
So, so in
John E: my experience, when you create separate entities, which defiance is a collection of probably five or six entities itself. So I endorse this, this strategy,
Duncan L: but, well, don’t actually, it’s, it’s kind of funny that like we’re sitting here and going like, yeah, we both understand that because other people go, no, just make one agency.
That’s what I keep hearing. It’s like, no, just do one agency and make it divisions. Yeah.
John E: I mean, there is an argument for that. I think you can do the division. If you, I feel like you need separate entities, if they’re just so completely different that they need to be separate entities, then there’s the question of, should they be owned by the same?
Or should it be, you know, but, but then there’s also that you need different cap charts for your businesses. That’s a very practical concern that a lot of, a lot of companies will even create separate entities for different geographic regions, because they have key players that they want to incentivize with equity comp.
What was your strategy behind why you want each of these to be different? Is it a little bit of both or
Duncan L: it’s a little bit of both, but I also wanted experts, you know, I didn’t, I didn’t like the agency model because you come into an agency, you know, and again, we don’t look at ourselves as an agency, but more as just, I don’t want to say a one-stop shop or a business solution.
It’s, you know, right now we’re, we’re a little different, we’re a little bit gray in the awareness of how to scale a company. So within an agency it’s Hey, if somebody came to us and said, Hey, we need video work. Well, like how great is your video department? And that’s, that’s the big question that just like leaves the drop-off.
I want somebody to come to us and go, I need video. Great. You will never hear about me building websites for you or, yeah, we can do photography of course, like, but you’re never going to have me pitch you graphics, unless it makes sense with the video to then at that point, if somebody asks me about graphics down the road, Oh, we have an expert team over here at paper airplanes, but it’s never going to be the space of like, alright, well it’s and you know, like right now in 2021, we live in a connection based economy.
It’s you already have a graphics guy. So why am I pitching you that yeah. You come to me for video or are you coming to me for a website design or you come to me for paid social, then great. Come from me for that. Come to me for that. Let me actually step up, build your business, build scale, build everything, build value in ROI.
And then it’s like, Oh, what else do you do? Cool. Well, I want to build the longterm play. You know, the long-term play is, is working with a company for 10 years. It’s not, Hey, let me up sell somebody for 20 grand just to get a little extra juice out of this and then lose them because we didn’t do a great job building their website or whatever it is.
It’s I want to go, Oh, you alternative this great. We have a company, but here’s another partnership that we can talk about.
John E: I like it. And, um, I’m curious. Do the companies serve each other as, as if they were external clients as well? Pretty
Duncan L: much. Um, we, the nice part about where we set it up is we can work as an agency.
Because we can, then at that point we have a parent company that we can run, call it the billing through. So at that point we understand how much work paper airplanes is doing compared to the Littlefield company or sidecar. And at that point we can just diverse, you know, spread the funds, spreading the, you know, the, the finances, the revenue across different platforms or into different companies.
So it’s not like you’re receiving a bill from three different
John E: companies. No. And that model is very appealing to me. I read somebody’s analysis of Amazon and there’s a million reasons that Amazon is so successful, but I think one of the less appreciated aspects of Amazon is that they have adopted a modular architecture to their enterprise.
So we’ve all heard about the vertical integration that the, uh, American auto industry. At times experiments with in different directions. Right. And what ends up happening is GM buys, Delphi who makes great radios because they’re forged in the market. But then Delphi now has a captive audience in GM and the quality sucks it’s to they’re terrible radios.
Right. Um, what Amazon did that was so brilliant is they built, they wanted to have a world-class infrastructure for cloud computing. And what they realized was, well, we need the cloud for ourselves, but man, if we could sell this to other people, we’re going to build much better tools and we’re going to build it at a scale that we could not possibly support by ourselves.
But if they were the only client of that cloud architecture, it’s hard to imagine the pace of innovation being nearly as, as, as, as, as explosive as it has been over the past 10 years for AWS as having to respond
Duncan L: to customers. Exactly. It’s it’s immediate feedback. Yep. It’s it’s always, I mean, Back to the forest.
It’s you can’t see the bigger, you can’t see the forest when you’re working on one tree. So it’s, it’s a constant feedback loop. It’s it’s the old expression. Like, you’re going to know if you have a good product or service or not because people are going to buy it or not. Yeah.
John E: Yeah. And Amazon’s done it with everything.
I mean, their fulfillment, you can, you can outsource it, you can buy the storefront or they have their end to end offering where you, you get everything they’ve done
Duncan L: a really good job. And obviously that’s, uh, you know, yes, the sky is blue, but like they’ve done a really good. Yeah,
John E: absolutely. Um, so how do you yourself go about marketing and business development?
I know that you help clients do it, but how does, how does that work in internal to the Littlefield companies
Duncan L: question? Um, and the old expression is, you know, the cobbler’s son has no shoes. Um, you know, so at the little flood company, we’ve probably, Oh gosh, we’ve probably made 15 to 1500 to 2000 videos in just over three years.
And I think we’ve made maybe four or five for ourselves. Wow. So it’s also kind of the funny thing of like, I’ve, haven’t posted on my personal social media in three and a half years. So when I started the company as a media company, I have not posted one bit of media from my company on my personal social media.
And there’s, there’s reasons for that. And there’s, there’s dumb reasons for that. And there’s also really positive reasons for that because I looked at it going, Hey, if I’m going to be the person doing it, then it has to be better than everybody else’s. And with building a couple of companies, I haven’t had the time to like really pour into it.
So with that, we’re working on something that when it hits it all, it’ll go, but it can’t turn off. Like it has to be always on and it has to be really good. So we’re working on that, um, until that’s right. We’re not gonna launch it, but, um, you know, how we market and how we, we really want our partners to wave the flag for us.
You know, we really believe in partnership. We really believe in supporting and diving into a company and knowing a brand as well as we can. So it’s, we’re not, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s the long-term play, you know, I’m looking to win in 40 years. It’s not four, it’s not buy and sell. And four it’s 40. I’m going to be pumped when I’m doing this at 72 years old and going like, all right, what?
We have a hundred companies in our umbrella, what will you still
John E: be doing? My podcast and sipping bourbon with me on know
Duncan L: this thing is, this is fantastic. That is damn
John E: good whiskey. It
Duncan L: is really good. Like the first sip was like, okay, like this is, this could get dangerous. Uh,
John E: we, we were talking in the, in, in the pre show, interview or discussion.
Um, this is a bottle bond in the lard that it’s not that difficult to find. You don’t find it every day. But whenever I see a bottle of it, I always always grab one or two because it’s, it’s a good go-to for sure. I
Duncan L: understand why like one sip and you understand why awesome.
John E: So talk to me about the synergies between, between your companies.
I think you’ve already hinted at it, but maybe, maybe you could talk for when, when things are really hitting correctly. H how did, how did the company support one another
Duncan L: really goes down to who’s the leading company. So we kind of in a creative project, we treat it like a creative lead, you know, a project lead of going, Hey, who’s the company lead?
Who’s the partner lead. Who’s who’s, I don’t want to say running a show, but who can go to for the answers. And it’s the same thing. So I’ll pick on a company that says, Hey, we need more, you know, if we’re looking at a scope of work and we’re going to do 60% of it, it’s just going to be a video. Well, then the Littlefield company is going to lead the conversation.
So we’re going to have somebody on the Littlefield company team that then at that point also supports the awareness of where things are in the other parts of the process. The nice part about how we’re set up is that you can walk down a hallway. And like pop into somebody’s office compared to like, you know, get on Slack, write an email, get a response or call or wanting to set up a call.
It’s just like, no, you can walk down the hallway and go, Hey, where’s this website at? Hey, what’s the framework? Or what’s the, um, what do you need from a paid social perspective? Hey, does it need to be, where is it going? And we do our job. Well, we already have that information on the front end, but as you know, things change all the time and that immediate change, that immediate feedback, that immediate, um, support and collaboration is unbelievable.
And it just shows speed at the same time. Look at COVID, you know, we worked from home for awhile and we recognize that it’s not that the work went down. Like our guys still did a phenomenal job while working at home, but it wasn’t as collaborative. It wasn’t as creative because it wasn’t conversation now, like edits are flying back to normal speed because it’s as simple as looking over someone’s shoulder and looking at color.
Or, Hey, can I, can I get immediate feedback on the pacing of this video? And it’s, it’s it’s proving that it’s we made the right call to go back into the office right now.
John E: Yeah. Jack Welch famously used to talk about walking, walking the factory floor. There is no substitute for seeing the work being done and no question about it.
Duncan L: It’s just, it speeds it up and it makes it better. It’s Hey, try this. You can’t do that over zoom while posting to Vimeo and then going to Slack, it’s just, it adds three or four or five 12 layers
John E: into it. Absolutely. So I know you talk about your, you’re not thinking short term, but what is a short term horizon or medium term horizon from a planning perspective?
I know you, you want to think about where are we in 30, 40, 50 years. But do you, do you think in terms of five years, three years, 10 years, how far out do you think when you say this is where I want to take these companies? 40.
Duncan L: Um, um, I struggle with that. Uh, to be honest, I’ve been, you know, as an athlete, you know, setting big goals is what we focus on.
It’s Hey, you can, it’s the easiest way to work backwards to your day to day. Hey, I want to be here in 40 years. Okay. What does 20 look like? What does 10 look like? And you arguably just do math to go back to it. Hey, we want to have, you know, before in the next 40 years, we want to have a hundred companies under the little field name.
Okay. Well, doing the math, we’ve been around three years. We have five companies that we own a hundred percent of and minority stake into another four. So that’s nine, but we really treated us five as we own. So doing the math, we’ve been able to do five companies in three years. Okay. If we keep on that pace, we need to expedite it a little bit.
It’s been good, but like, we need to do it at a really good scale because I can only create so many companies in one year. Like, let’s be real. Um, I’m not, uh, But I, I also, it’s one of those things we want to make impactful companies. It’s not just make a company to make a company or start a brand to start a brand.
It’s Hey, how do we make a difference? Yeah.
John E: Now a lot of the companies you’ve talked about sound more like service businesses, but it also sounds like there’s a goal to where maybe there’s some product businesses that the, that the service
Duncan L: businesses support a hundred percent it’s we’re not limited, or we’re not sitting back here focused on just service.
Yes. We’ve done service really well, which is great, but we really want to build a culture. And I think we’ve done a good job of this so far, but we really want to build a culture that also supports incubation and ideation. It’s I’ve always said for the longest time that I want one of our editors to come to me in three years and go, you know, dunk, I’ve been editing for three years and it’s been good and I’ve really enjoyed it.
It’s my passion. But like, I kind of want to do something else and the conversation’s not, Hey, let’s go get you to your next place or, Hey, let’s go get you a camera op job. Well, we can offer that too. But like, you know, you look at, you know, as a corporate structure, as you move along, um, I want to go out, what do you want to do?
And I want them to look at me and go, you know, I’ve always wanted to open a bookstore or a coffee shop, or, Hey, I have this idea for a piece of tech or I want to, you know, we’re talking about this chess set, like a 3d print shop. I have this idea. That’s the stuff I want to hear because I want to go, all right, they have, they have been injected into a culture that supports that conversation because most people don’t.
And now at that point, I want to go cool. I like the idea let’s do it together. So that at that point starts another company under the Littlefield umbrella, because they already have a playbook. They already have an infrastructure. They have payroll taken care of, they have this. And so now at this point, we can just curate unbelievable ideas with unbelievable people.
But it holds them not because like, we want to have ownership of people, but for the fact of is like, no, we just, we hire incredible people. And we, I recognize that someone’s not going to edit video for the next 45 years of their life. So what’s the next journey for them. Hey, they want to be a CEO or they want to be a manager of a coffee shop.
Cool. And they get to work with me on the finances. They get to work with me on being a good boss. Well, maybe I’m working on myself with that one, but like, you know, that’s, that’s the next steps to it. But also then at that point we can finance it. So we come into a 50, 50% partnership where they do the, all the sweat equity and they get all the support from Littlefield as a brand.
John E: That’s great. Are you close to launching any of those at this point?
Duncan L: Not right now. Um, and maybe this is hopefully the team’s listening to like, kind of motivate them to tell me, but, um, everyone’s in a really good spot right now. Like our whole team is in a really phenomenal spot right now. Like we have really focused on hiring as of late.
And, um, you know, our, our team’s doing great. So, um, not right now, but future stuff. I can’t wait for that. Now you
John E: mentioned some investments in, for businesses that you don’t own outright, which we ironically have for minority investments as well. We’re far too aligned. Um, what was the nature of those investments?
Were these things you were looking at is because in our case, these were all companies we were looking at as individuals, Tarik and myself, and we said, why don’t we just do it through our venture builder? Um, but now we’re starting to think, is there a strategy there where we do some early stage investing?
In this kind of incubation model, and maybe we eventually pull the businesses in or exit and make a return, you know, w w we haven’t really figured out what to do with those, but if you have you thought a little bit more, or was there a strategy behind those invites right
Duncan L: now, the investment’s been more, most, mostly sweat equity.
And so it’s been, we’ve come in and really taken over the marketing or taken over a part of their business, you know, right now. And the reason why I don’t really consider it like a little field company is because we don’t own the culture. If we were to manage the culture and support the, like, the people around it, then I would say, Hey, you’re a part of our Tuesday morning team meeting.
And once you’re in there, that’s when it’s a little field company. So right now we’ve really focused on building companies through sweat equity. Um, you know, we’re working with a company based out of New York right now. It’s a woman’s fashion line. That’s just getting off the ground. And it’s a really great model.
Like, yes, that world is, if we can take us just a piece of the pie, it’s a win, but. It’s a hard market to get into like women’s fashion is a hard market to get into. And I think if we do it really, really thoughtfully, it’d be a home run. So we’re really going into it saying, Hey, we are the call it the outsourced marketing arm for everything that you guys want to do, and we’re going to be your partner and we’re going to build success together.
And then if we all decide to exit great, if we all decided to just take it to the moon and have a bigger marketing budget. Great.
John E: Interesting. It, ours is probably fairly similar to that. We, we, as a rule, don’t do strictly sweat equity. Um,
Duncan L: I don’t know. I liked the sweat equity and operating. Yeah.
John E: Yeah, exactly.
It’s exactly what we do. Or even a little bit of markup. Not, not, not a lot, but just a little bit of markup. Um, we, um, And the reason for that is I’ve tried it in a prior life. And especially the nature of our work is building the applications or building the infrastructure that it deploys into. If there’s no pricing signal, it’s, the scope can creep endlessly.
Um, so you mentioned that you started Littlefield three years ago. What were you doing before that? What led, give me your history and how you got to the point where you said, all right, I’m starting, I’m going out on my own and starting Littlefield.
Duncan L: Um, man, I it’s really funny. It’s actually. So I joke all the time that the biggest company I’ve ever been a part of is my own.
As you know, my first career, I was fortunate to play professional golf for six and a half years. And then when I got out of the game of golf, I pretty much turned into being a photographer. And one thing led to another, you know, YouTube university taught me how to do that. But, uh, from there I was working with a lot of startups, you know, I came in as you know, I wouldn’t say CMO, but that title, but I was always like a co-founder of it, like a creative director.
That’s probably a better title, but they always gave me, they seem to always give me the title of CML, which like, I wasn’t qualified for like, let me call it out right now. Um, but so I was working with startups because I understood the long-term development of a company. It’s everything. As an athlete, everything you do today affects your game or your sport or your body three years from now, like really shows up under, under the gun in pressure three years from like when you put the work in.
So that’s the startup model. It’s Hey, let me just go like beat myself up to win or have this come to fruition in three years. So I really just understood that. And from there it just snowballed into me being a part of VC conversations and private equity conversations. How to grow companies and how to scale companies.
And then I recognized that I didn’t really like that model as much. And I knew we could be able, there was a, there had to be a way to do it differently and that’s really where it started. So, um, yeah. Professional golf into photography. And now Littlefield, do you still get to golf much? Uh, I probably average about seven rounds a year.
John E: Wow. And what’s, what’s your handicap? I’m terrible golfer. So,
Duncan L: I mean, I would, I would, I would say that I’m a zero. So like I would say I will, I’ll go out and shoot anything from probably 69 to 78 right now. And like not touch a club for three months and be in that space. Like, I’ll go shoot 75. No problem.
John E: Wow. That’s such a great skill to have though. You’ll never regret being a good golfer.
Duncan L: No, I’m good. Like I really enjoy. And now it’s like, it’s really funny. Everyone asks me, it’s like, do you enjoy it? It was before it was my job. Like, I mean, thousands of golf balls a day. Like it was my work. Like it was the only thing I thought of.
It was everything. Like, I was more infatuated by being the number one player in the world than anything else around me. Like I was obsessed. Like I am with Littlefield now. So I’m super fortunate for that.
John E: Um, I’ve got a friend, Clifford bank was set. Who’s a who? He, he went pro he, he loves golf. He still loves it to this day, but he, he told me the first time he got a paycheck playing golf, he was like, is this real?
Are they actually paying me to do that?
Duncan L: Yeah. And it’s it’s so it’s funny. My mom, like, like I finished, like, I don’t want to say like 13th in a tournament and made like 600 bucks. Like I think that was my first check. Maybe it was like $300. I don’t know exactly what it was, but my mom framed it, like thinking it was like really this cool thing.
And I just looked at it and I was like, mom, that needs to go to the bank account, like that needs to go to the bank and be deposited. And she was like, Oh, it’s not yet. She goes, it’s not direct deposit. I go, no, it’s a mini tour. They literally hand checks out at the end of the week. Like, like it’s how it works.
They literally hand write the check. It’s not like coming from a big corporate company. Like it’s not PGA tour, direct deposit. And she’s like, Oh, and I was like, yeah, I’m going to need that back. Like, we’re going to need that one. Yeah. You
John E: have to listen to the Matt Frazier, um, uh, interview on Joe Rogan experience because he talks about his first check was like two or $300.
And he’s like, wow. Maybe if I do this every weekend, I can afford some good food.
Duncan L: Yeah. And that’s, and that’s the funny thing is like, you look at it and you’re like, all right, it’s not a ton of money, but it’s like, man, just because I shot a score and I beat everybody else or not everybody else’s I’m I finished like 12th or 13th, something like that.
But like, it’s like, all right, I can do this. Like, this is cool. Like, I like, I like this, but it was, it was bigger than just a check for me. Like it was always the bigger, the reason why I wanted to be the number one player in the world, because I wanted to have impact. And I thought that was going to be the way I can make impact on the world.
And it was not, Oh, if I have a lot of money, I can do that. It’s like, no. Then I can actually talk to more people. I can be around more culture. I can, I can see the world. I can, I can hopefully then at that point actually impact a life too. Make a bigger difference in the world and like create the bigger ripple effect.
John E: Yep. No, that’s great. And in effect, that’s giving you a platform which comes across in the Matt Frazier interview because for those listening, Matt Frazier is the five time world champion in the CrossFit games. And he, the last games that he won last year, it was a $300,000 check, but at pales, in comparison to what he gets in the shoe contracts and everything else.
And he talks about life after, after the sport. And it’s very clear that he’s going to impact a lot of lives based on the success that he had in
Duncan L: the sport. For sure. You’re right. It’s it’s given him a platform like it’s, it’s given them an audience to be able to almost say, have the second act, but everybody stayed in the first act, but he earned that first act.
It’s um, one of my favorite quotes is that it’s, um, the best way to predict your future is to create it.
John E: I liked that I had not heard that, but I will, I will use that. So what, what have been the important milestones along the way in this three years, since, since starting Littlefield, are there areas where it changed the game for you guys or, or where the game changed and all of a sudden you can go after bigger clients or get better employees, or
Duncan L: that’s a great question.
Um, I would say very early on, I got lucky and I, I really do mean that I got really lucky with talent. The people that we brought on right away were unbelievable. We wouldn’t be here today, if it wasn’t for that core team, no question. Um, or we would, we, we probably would be around, but we wouldn’t be at the scale that we are.
Um, because we recognized really good, amazing people that were willing to put the work in. And it wasn’t because they were so talented and they didn’t see it. Like, no, they were willing to put the work in. And I recognize that early myself, because no, everybody wanted to, as you probably know, right? It’s like you come into a company and you’re going to work the hardest because you have the most to gain, you have the most to lose it’s your vision.
And like, everyone wants to all of a sudden keep up with you. And they just can’t, you know, I tell people all the time, it’s like, don’t try to work like me, like be your DNA work. Like you work for you. It’s if it aligns into being the best you possibly can be. That’s incredible. So we really got extremely lucky with those early team members.
Like so lucky I’m like looking back in my head, I’m like, I’m thinking about the first videos we executed, the verse videos. We edited, like the first videos we shot. I remember our first, we shot our first commercial, like two months into the company. Like I had no idea what I was doing. Like, you gotta remember that.
I didn’t, um, this is, this is going to be bad, but I’ll say it. I didn’t. I started a video production company without knowing how to shoot video. I literally filed for the LLC in July of 2017. And I remember sitting down and learning premiere and how shutter speed worked for, for video in September and October of 2017.
I knew photo, I didn’t know, video. So I remember we had our first commercial in, I think it was like late February of 2018. And we launched the company in Jan, one of 2018. And I had no idea what we were doing and we tried to act so cool. And we tried to act, I mean, it was, it came out great. Like we’d kind of shocked ourselves a little bit and I’ll be honest, like it’s awesome.
For two months in a company to be able to shoot a full-blown TV spot was pretty cool. Um, but yeah, we just got so amazingly lucky, very early with just great people wanting to be a part of this. It’s
John E: funny. My first, the first moment, when I looked at what we did at level and said, wow, we’ve built something.
It was a deal that we lost, but we were in the running for the deal. And it was, it was a company that wanted to stand up a credit card product from, they had never done credit cards before, and they went down the path and they ended up making the right choice in picking a bigger, more established firm.
But we got to the short list, we got down to a competition between two of us. And I remember thinking, this is great because a year from now we’ll get a shot like this and we’ll win it. And it was just such a different thing. The first project we ever did was, um, I called a friend of mine. I said, we S we, we opened a business.
We’re going to do software development. And he said, great, I need you to come do you know, rabbit MQ. And I’m like, Oh yeah, I know rabbit MQ. I didn’t even, I thought it was a JMS product and it was actually an AMQ P product that I had never done a MQP, but I had done JMS. I was like, Oh yeah, I’ve got this.
And he’s like, great. I need you in Atlanta on Monday. And that was our first project. And so to go from that to where, like, this is a major bank, that’s saying we’re going to launch a credit card product and you have the capabilities where we’ll at least consider it was, was big. Were there moments like that, where there was a project so big that you either won or didn’t win or that you, where you pulled something off or you’re just like, wow, this is amazing that we have this capability.
Duncan L: Yeah. Um, but I actually want to know what, after you lost that deal, what did you do that night?
John E: Honestly, I was the reaction. I was happy. I told Chris or my co-founder. I was like, I can’t believe we got this far. Like, I wish we had won this deal. I was like, but this is so promising if we, and I don’t think it was blind optimism.
I mean, I think we could see that we had put together a team that could actually do this, and we still had plenty of other work to do. It would, we would have had to hire a lot to do that. It would have stressed the team. Um, we still would’ve gladly won the project, but we, I think we just honestly just went back to work on whatever the next project
Duncan L: that’s.
I think that’s so cool because a lot of people would be just devastated, you know, drowning, like, Oh my gosh, here’s the opportunity through a way. And I really am so thrilled that like, you were like, Nope, we’re good. Like, it’s not that we got lucky. It’s not that we like, Hey, we, um, we knew somebody who knew somebody who got us in the door.
It’s like, no, we clearly have a product that can work. And I love the fact that you just went back and said, okay, back back at it. Yeah.
John E: That’s my, one of my heroes growing up was art monk who was a wide receiver for the Washington football team. And I remember. He never spiked the ball. He never danced. He would he’d every time he made a touchdown, he handed the ball to the ref and somebody asked him, they’re like, why?
And on the flip side, if he dropped a pass, he just got back in the lineup and somebody asked him why, why don’t you celebrate? And he’s like, cause I’ll be back. Yeah. He’s been there before and he’ll be back. And I think that work ethic, that, that inspired me a lot. And I always try to remember that because I’m wanting to get really excited when we win a deal or I want to be really upset when we lose a deal, but then I’m like, just go back and get in for the next play, strap up and take, take on the next, the next chance you get,
Duncan L: you know?
Yeah. And I think that’s like the biggest part about, you know, you look at companies, successful companies who are built for the long-term. It’s like they have that type of leadership. It’s not like the, you don’t get rattled or you don’t get to et cetera. Like it’s not these emotional rollercoasters cause like definitely it’s emotional roller coasters, but it’s that bigger piece of it, of like hen headnote.
We’re good. We’re good. Like this one’s stung a little bit, but we’re good. Yeah. Like, yeah. Um, but it’s also, I don’t know about you, but like, for me there’s been moments where I’m like, okay, I’m going to go prove this. I’m going to go prove this wrong. And I’ve had a lot of those moments. Like I remember looking at Miller, who’s our COO.
Um, at one point I was like, man, if you thought I worked hard before you have no idea what I’m about to put into this. And he’s like, do I need to call Susanna? Like my wife? And I was like, no, no, no, no, no, we’ll be fine. But like, he’s like, just don’t kill yourself. Like as what he said to me was like, I was like, no, I’m going to be good.
But I was like, but I’m going to prove some people wrong. And he was like, okay, like what do I got to do? And I was like, just get ready to hold on. And sure enough, he like, he like, um, two months later after that conversation, we had a flood in our building. We had a foot of water in our building and he looks at me and goes, Hmm.
So what’s next? And I go, just, just keep holding on. Just keep holding on.
John E: That’s awesome. Yeah. I don’t know that I, um, That, that doesn’t motivate me as much as I’ve seen it, motivate some people. I think it’s great when it does. I don’t think it does for me, but what, and this is probably the most similar thing to that.
When I see a mid manager or an upper middle manager, director level VP level in a big company with a big budget and, and they’ll just act like we’re a small vendor and, and they can steam roll us. And I’m like, you have no fucking idea I’m bought in. I have skin in the game. You don’t, I’m going to win. I know you’ve got a big budget.
I know you’re an impressive person. I know you’re very smart, but if you don’t have skin in the game, you cannot win. You cannot beat me
Duncan L: in this. Absolutely. Just no, no way. I, Oh gosh. I know. I mean, it’s the same thing. Why I picked golf. Like some people know that some people don’t, but you know, why did I pick off was because no coach could tell me I can play or not.
If I shut the lowest score. I won it. Wasn’t how do you get to the NFL? Hey, you gotta go. You gotta play high school ball, but a coach has got to elect you to let, to put you on the field. All right. College, same thing,
John E: really? So like on a high school or a college team, anybody can join. It’s just, you’ve got to play your way into the position that’s qualifying
Duncan L: lowest man gets in.
Wow. So it’s, Hey, if you’re playing for like, you know, in college or high school, it’s, you’re playing for spots. It’s just like any other tournament. So it’s, Hey, if a guy won last week, he was exempt or Hey, top five exempt or whatever, the, you know, kind of the sponsor, you know, uh, not sponsorship, but, um, the exemptions that are in that space, but then like, all right, you’re going out and you have a roster of 10 guys playing for three spots next week and you’re going out play one or two rounds to get it.
Like, it doesn’t matter if I shoot 69 or 62 and finished fourth, it doesn’t matter. I’m not in, but if I shoot 75 and I’m the low man I’m in, I don’t have to be picked because of my work ethic. I mean, Work ethic leads to low scores usually. But, um, you know, in that space, it doesn’t have to be a feeling it’s like, no, did you shoot the number or not?
Like, are you in, are you out? Yeah. Did you win or not game over? Did you make the cut or not? No. Okay. Cool.
John E: Move on. I imagine tennis is similar than right. Do you play to get a ranking and then you,
Duncan L: yeah, I would also think so. Um,
John E: I’ve never played tennis competitively or known
Duncan L: anybody. Me neither. So I’m not that good at that.
I’m not that good at life. Well, I’ll shift
John E: gears out of, out of sports and back to your business. How, what would you, how do you categorize your current growth strategy? What is, what is it that’s going to make the little field company grow right now? Is it just execute on the clients that you’ve got? Is it grow the number of clients?
Is it geographic expansion? What, what is the real strategy to drive growth? And, and again, I realize you’re, you’re, you’re thinking about the long run, but we all know that you have to grow. To be able to deliver on the promise of, of to get to those hundred businesses. The
Duncan L: answer is yes, yes. Um, to all three, um, honestly, um, the, the biggest thing that actually, what we’re, what I’m playing with right now is I’ve actually never understood the concept of debt to growth.
You grow up and it’s always, debt’s a bad thing. And I’m just learning now on how to actually strategically leverage debt and other people’s money and not like so much like taking venture capitalist and like venture cap money and taking 20% of your company away and then having a board of advisors and all that stuff.
Yes. We have a phenomenal board of advisors, like so fortunate that they actually trust me and want to spend some time working on my company. But, um, within that space, like I’m understanding the conversation or the relation of debt to growth. And that has been really. Fun unique, challenging, interesting PPP money, or I did.
I mean, I would say why wouldn’t you? Yep. I agree. I don’t want to say it’s free money, but it’s kind of free money. Well, and
John E: even if it, even if they don’t forgive the debt, you still, it’s still a very
Duncan L: favorable terms. Well, I mean, I took, I took an SBA Eid alone and I haven’t used a dollar of it, but 150 K over 30 years at 1%, like, okay, that’s that is free money.
Yup. Um, so within that, the answer is yes. Uh, we are going to, um, I would say in the next 12 months, I would hope we’re going to actually, not even, we’re going to hope we’re going to open office number two. Um, we’re looking at, uh, seven locations in the U S right now. Um, and then within probably two and a half to three years, we’ll open our first office outside of the U S, which is super exciting.
Um, and we’re going to do it where we’re going to build small teams. So kind of. Four to 10 people in cities to be boots on the ground, handle small projects, but then be able to like really build headquarters here in Charlotte and then be able to fly to Phoenix or LA or New York or wherever we are stationed.
Um, and then over in Europe or Asia, we’ll probably build a little bit of a bigger team just because of travel. Um, and then the next thing is like, we’re going to really invest in a Charlotte. You know, we really, every person here really loves Charlotte. I mean, I, I owe everything. I have to Charlotte truly.
I’ve been here for six years and, you know, I met my wife here, you know, built my first business here, built my second, third, fourth, and fifth. But whatever it is, um, but in that space, it’s like, we really want to invest into this space into Charlotte. So we’re going to, hopefully right now we’re at a full-time staff of 10.
And I think by the end of the year, we’ll get to about 25.
John E: Wow. And so you’ve got 5,000 square feet right now. I think you said 5,000 square feet before the
Duncan L: interview. Yep. Yeah. Um, 5,000 square feet right now, it’s pretty much almost 2020 500 square feet of offices. And then two 2,500 square feet of flex space where we can use it as a studio or hold big team meetings or we’re, or honestly build more offices into it.
Whatever we need to do. We, at
John E: level we took, I want to say 25. No, we took 4,000 square feet from a friend of mine. And, uh, he, he had just moved his call center offshore. And so he had a bunch of extra space. We knew we were about to sign a lease for 2000 square feet. Cause we had nine employees at the time and he said, well, pay me for 2000 and then you can grow into it.
And it turned out, we were really lucky, but it was funny having nine people in 4,000 square feet, it was, it was
Duncan L: hysterical. It was. It actually really was fortunate. We had it during COVID because I kind of joke that everyone has their own studio apartment. Like everyone has 5,000 square feet to themselves, or 500 square feet to themselves, easy to social distance.
And that too. Absolutely. It’s like right now we have, I’m doing the math in my head. We have six offices. No, yeah. Seven actually seven doors. So the way we set it up was we said, Hey, creative team has their own office. So every person of the creative team has their own door can sanitize it the way they want and like anything public public space, we have to wear a mask.
But if you walk into someone, else’s someone else’s office, you got to wear a mask. But like, if you’re just sitting at your desk and editing, you can be comfortable. And like you can have your own space. So it’s been, it’s actually been,
John E: is the creative office, the nicest
Duncan L: looking one, um, while we call it the computer lab.
Okay. Um, because like right before COVID, there was six, uh, editing stations, just in one big horseshoe. And so it kind of looked like an elementary school creative lab with like, or computer lab with like the blue carpet and like the white walls and the drop ceiling. So we call it the computer lab, but it’s, uh, that’s great.
I mean, the, the energy back in the office with everybody back is just, you can’t replicate that. Yeah. Music’s going guys are watching videos. They’re, they’re learning, they’re supporting each other. They’re watching a bunch of YouTube videos. How did you do this? Or how did they do this? Or, you know, it’s, it’s incredible.
So we’re really fortunate to be back.
John E: That’s great. So I’d like to talk COVID for a second. What was the overall impact on, on your
Duncan L: businesses? Um, we saw a 70% drop in business in March. So, um, the, kind of the, the marketing spin of 2020 was that we did half of what we were projected to do, but we did a hundred percent of the previous year.
So, um, you know, in the grand scheme of things, we had a really strong year in comparison to the rest of the world. And as a business that we were so focused on, you know, in-person meetings, we were really strategic. We played, you know, we had guidelines, we had everything, we made sure everyone was safe. So we were able to be a little more onsite, but, you know, we also launched a lot of these companies during COVID.
So like sidecar was a byproduct of us working in COVID Littlefield as a parent company was always talked about of the bigger goal, but it was always a five-year goal. And I was able to do it in two and a half because COVID gave me the time to do it. So a lot of these companies that we’re talking about actually were born in COVID and launched during COVID, which was super fun.
John E: That’s great. Um, did you have to shift any of your strategy as a result? I mean, obviously when, when you do half the business that you were planning on doing your shift a little bit, tactically, but strategically did anything change?
Duncan L: Yeah. We just offered a few more. I don’t want to say services, but we like, you know, built a program out for like a camera in a box where it’s like we would ship somebody a camera and then what’s the experience around having somebody open up a Pelican with a camera and a lens or two and a tripod and lights and have to record their own interview.
And so we had to look at what’s the experience. It’s not, Hey, we can walk in with a big smile on our face and like, make somebody super comfortable. You know, if you set up a camera and talk directly to it, most people in the world are really uncomfortable. So that means that interview or that testimonial is probably really bad.
Like, it’s just, it’s a fact, like if you’re not comfortable in front of a camera, it’s like, it takes
John E: reps like anything. The first time I got in front of a camera or in front of a microphone, it’s awful. Yeah. You just have to do it over and over and over. And hopefully you have mentors who can help you out.
But in this case I’m shipping
Duncan L: you. Right? And like, I can’t like, hold your, and it’s not even like, hold your hand and walk you through it. But I can’t even like talk to you about it. It’s there’s, there’s this old photography trick when you’re doing headshots, because everyone hates smiling in front of a camera.
But again, a lot of people don’t, but most people, you walk into a corporate setting and like they dread picture day, and there’s always this one trick that I play on people and I take their first photo. And I don’t even look at the actual photo and I just put the camera down at my hip and I just look at them and go, that was awesome.
And you just watch their whole body just like relaxed, like their shoulders drop. They go, Oh, okay. That wasn’t too bad. Yeah. But you can’t do that when you’re not in the room. So it’s like, when you’re opening a Pelican with a camera, it’s like, Oh, how do, how do you do that? So we were really thoughtful and, you know, offering a different challenge.
So yeah, we had a different couple of services, but the bulk of our services really stayed the same. Um, you know, a lot of video production companies switched to live and like offered that as a service and went into education with like learning how to go live the right system, the right, you know, switchers and everything like that.
Like everything you have here, it’s like, I know all this stuff, but within that space, it’s like, I didn’t want to do that because I knew we weren’t going to be great at it. And I let everybody else do it. So we have partners that do live exclusively and we just say, we’ll provide the cameras and we’ll provide the crew.
But like, Nope, live is somewhere else. We pass that off. And so we, yeah, we talked about a lot, but we just said, you know what, we’re going to hunker in. We focus a lot of internal creative, you know, we did challenges where all the creative team had to create like a video in 24 hours. And like, we, you know, it was, there was one week where I all bought them a present on Amazon and they had to do us a spec piece.
So it’s, Hey, if you were going to advertise this on Amazon, what’s the video you would shoot. So in everybody got a different, funny gift, like, um, we sent one of our guys, a popcorn maker and so he made this whole ad around, um, setting up a date night with his wife in his apartment to watch movie and make popcorn.
And it was like, that’s the stuff where we just kept going. Like, we really had to like flex the creative muscles because if we just stopped, we would have died. And, you know, we were fortunate where we didn’t lay anybody off. We didn’t have to make any cuts. Um, you know, we, we, we made some really strategic decisions, but we didn’t have to lay anybody off.
Everybody kept their jobs.
John E: Okay. I know you mentioned you, you took the, um, small business association loan and you took some PPP money. Um, how have you raised any equity in the business?
Duncan L: Um, no, right now we haven’t, we haven’t done any type of outside investment. Um, we’re in a position now where we are, we, we would be very investible.
Um, and from a parent company specifically about what we’re trying to do, how we’re trying to grow it and like the strategy around it. Um, right now we are not in that space where we’ve taken any outside capital, but we are in the process of putting all that together to then. Just literally throw fuel on the fire.
So, um, we’re about to do it and which is super exciting. It’s just going to be a different adventure. Yep.
John E: Very cool. Has anybody on your team raised money before, or,
Duncan L: I mean, I have a part of the other startups. Um, but no, nobody, everybody else in my team is, I mean, truly they’re all creatives, you know, they’re, um, Miller and Jessica pretty much are the only, uh, and also turbo are really the only people that come from somewhat.
I don’t wanna say corporate backgrounds, but I mean, again, I don’t have a corporate background. Yeah. You know, I’ve never been a part of a company that was always worked under the CEO or a boss who understood processes and procedures. Like I was a startup guy that handled everything is the fourth and fourth member of the company and the co-founder or I literally just figured it out on the fly.
So for us and we have a great, we’re so fortunate to have a great advisory board that has been through this, you know, our non-executive director rich has. I mean built some incredible companies. And so he’s been a great resource for me and a great friend and a partner. And I’m just, I’m really grateful for everybody we have in our corner.
John E: yeah. The advisory board or board of directors is, is huge or, or just even your informal advisors and mentors, for sure. They can fill in the gaps that you may not be able to get an employee who does that. Cause you just don’t have the scale or the scope yet. But,
Duncan L: and the other thing too, is that like right now, everyone at the company is really focused on the Littlefield company.
It’s we don’t have the need for them to go, Oh, I’m popping around. Like, I don’t want that. I want them to be experts at what they do. So it’s like, you look at Miller, you know, I would kind of pick on him. He’s like, he has no desire to know about anything else going on. He it’s, you know, we work off this, you know, RACI chart, you know, responsibility, accountable, uh, collaboration are informed and he just wants to be informed with everything else.
I’m building everything else we’re doing. He just wants to be informed. He doesn’t want to be responsible or accountable or like across the board that has nothing to do with it. And that’s great. Like, I don’t need them to know, and it’s not like an egotistical or a pride thing. It’s just like, no, I want him to like, love and be obsessed with what he does.
And if he’s obsessed with being the best COO, he can be for the Littlefield company, I’m not going to stop him.
John E: Absolutely. So I’d like to shift gears a bit and talk about the things that you’re good at that, that you guys do. First of all, I’d like to talk about content. Can you speak to how brands and companies should view content from a branding perspective?
Duncan L: So, um, great question. And I definitely I’ve spent a lot of time in this one. Um, the biggest thing of what I tell people all the time, it’s you can’t be all things to all people. If you don’t, if you’re not good at recording videos, don’t record a video. If you’re a, if your target demographic is a 65 year old female, You don’t need to be on tech talk like that’s the space, but if your target is a 65 year old female, that can then run Facebook, Facebook is not dead.
So it’s be where your audience is to create the biggest impact and what you want to do. So if you’re not a writer, me, I am not a writer. I mean, I have read maybe 11 books cover to cover since age four. And like one of those books is curious, George great book. Um, but within Netflix, Dr. Seuss books, they’ve been canceled.
Yeah. I’ve heard that, you know, my wife’s a kindergarten teacher and we talked a lot about that because obviously that would be a big part of her curriculum. And now she can’t touch it, which is fascinating to me, but the world we live in. Absolutely. Um, but in that space it’s like, no, no, no, like, like double down on what you’re good at.
Like be really good at what you do. And don’t try to be something that everyone tells you that you should be now. How
John E: does storytelling fit into this? Cause I hear you talk a lot about storytelling and why, why is storytelling so powerful?
Duncan L: Let’s see you earn trust that way, you know? It’s how do you find a doctor?
Do you go to Google and type in best doctor or best ortho orthopedic in Charlotte? No. You’ve probably met somebody who through a mutual friend or a mutual, trusted resource. That’s how I found
John E: my doctor. There you
Duncan L: go. You guys were at a cocktail party and then all of a sudden it’s like, Oh, you got to go meet Dr.
Bob. Yeah. Remember my kids ACL that he taught Bob, fixed it up. Hey, Dr. Bob I’m Duncan, you know, Hey, if you ever need anything, just call me connection. Made trust earned, because you already have a trusted source. Why is Yelp successful? You went to a restaurant. I like your taste. We’re sitting here drinking a beautiful bottle of whiskey.
And for that, I like your taste. So whatever you recommend out of a whiskey going forward, I’m going to buy. So story is everything. People get infatuated and they get obsessed and they get. You know, it’s, it’s truly the story behind a brand is everything.
John E: So what a companies get wrong about
Duncan L: storytelling? I don’t think they’re as personal as they should be.
And yes, there’s a lot of compliance and red tape and yada, yada, I totally understand that. But I think if you create a persona, we’ve actually worked with a company that’s a global convenience store and their branding is so thoughtful that I was so impressed by it. You know, they went off of, you know, we have, we had, I would say a good hour and a half to two hours of just a deep dive into the thoughtfulness.
They put into what their consumer, who their target market is, who their target audience is. And it was so spot on. We did it. We just did a project where we literally sat at the convenience store for two straight days shooting. I think it was eight shorts and a 32nd commercial, which they’re going to run over summer.
And we just literally watched their consumer, their guests walk in for two straight days and they got it. So right. And for that, we told stories around those consumers. It’s not like, Hey, this is out of right field or out of left field with saying, Hey, we want this type of person. Like their average consumer is not a bank of America, nine to five making $500,000 a year.
It’s just not, it’s the landscaper coming in for lunch, getting a hot dog. And it’s like, we literally watched that between 1130 and 1215. That was the line. I just, it was, it was fascinating to see the thoughtfulness they put into a brand. And then at that point you can re really creative in the storytelling.
So like we told a story about a landscaper and eight seconds.
John E: That’s cool. I like that. W um, what do you find yourself doing most often to help. Companies with storytelling, obviously this particular client of yours ha had a pretty good handle on it, but the ones that do struggle with it and get the most value from the storytelling aspects of what you do, um, or coaching on it.
What, what are the things that you’re typically helping those clients with
Duncan L: asking questions? You know, we, um, I think you used the word, right? Word in coaching, and we’re not telling everyone how to run a business or how to, how to build this or how to build that. But, you know, every company is built very differently.
And so if we can come in and ask really thoughtful questions to kind of just like stir the pot a little bit, like ask the question from left field and have them go, wait, what, like, why would you even ask that? I don’t know. I’m just curious if that means they’re going to start thinking about something.
So within that, um, we always start this exercise, um, with called the a hundred million dollar marketing board. And so within that a hundred million dollar marketing board, it’s it removes the concept of budget. So if you had a hundred million dollars to spend on marketing, you can do what ever the heck you wanted.
Right? You could go drop 40,000 stress balls over bank of America, stadium from helicopters and create a viral video. No problem. Tepper would take your money, but there’s so many companies we get into conversations with. It’s like, Hey, no, I can’t do that. Or I don’t want to say that story idea because it’s going to cost too much money.
Well, no, let us figure that out. So we really start there. And then at that point it’s like asking all the questions around it. It’s why was the company started? Like, even down to, like, why does the logo look the way it is? And from there it’s then we just ask the fun questions of like, Hey, is there anybody in the company that you really love and how they got to the company?
Always that person’s like, Oh, you know what? I remember, Sarah told me this story about how she was doing this and this, and like stumbled upon our company is now working here in art is one of our favorite people. Okay. Well then I need to go talk to Sarah. Like I need to go interview Sarah right now to hear her story about why she’s working for this particular company and for this long there’s 47 stories waiting there.
John E: It’s interesting. You mentioned asking the questions. We recently were doing some work for a very large company. Um, that was long that, um, had acquired a smaller company and was launching a brand based on this capability that they’d gotten cool. And they asked our designer or our creative, Hey, can you incorporate some of this color in and can you take this color out?
And it was as simple as he asked, well, let me make sure I understand. Why is it because you want this color because it’s the parent company. And he said, yes, we’d like to have an incorporated. And then that’s a different answer. You just it’s an accent as opposed to being front and front and center. And then the other question was this other one, are you avoiding that?
Because if you are big, the parent company’s competition and it is, it’s interesting because I know in a, in a prior life Lowe’s was a huge client and. You could not put anything orange anywhere,
Duncan L: anywhere, anywhere we, and we just actually did a project for Lowe’s a safety video. Actually, it was really, um, this, this was cool and now it’s actually not a public facing video, so it was only internal, but we did this like full blown commercial for an internal use on low safety.
Um, really cool concept where we actually took a loading dock and gave it a voice and gave it a personality. And, um, I don’t know, it just came out incredible, but like going through their brand you’re right. Like, they’re one of the companies I was thinking about when you said, Hey, how do you go through this?
And it’s like, neuro, like they referenced the color orange to me. Yeah. And it was like, well,
John E: used to hear the term agent orange. That that was how they referred to. That’s
Duncan L: really funny. That’s really funny. Cause it’s even like go down to like the, the vest and it’s like, the red vest is so coveted there and like amazing that it’s coveted.
Um, and I mean, love everything. What they’re doing. Like their brand is so thoughtful as well, but like. The, the orange is such a that’s. So that’s, that’s so true because even like, I was dealing, even look at that, right. I was dealing with the safety division of lows. Like head of safety was like the person that we talked to and you probably dealt with something very different in store systems.
There you go. And we’re still talking about orange and their brand. So that means as a company, their storytelling and their internal and external stories are aligned like as a global company for having different departments know that true story is a feat on itself. Like that’s incredible. And that’s why probably they’re really successful at what they do.
John E: Well, it’s interesting. You bring that up because what you’re talking about to me is a big aspect of culture, a hundred percent, and what I’ve found. And I appeared on someone else’s podcast and w w we were talking about brand and culture, and really, I think that your brand and they, they there, so. So wired to one another.
And I think that that is one of the interesting aspects of having a very thoughtful brand. Is it defines your culture and what, and the best definition I’ve heard of culture is it’s how people act when there isn’t a policy. There’s no policy that you don’t include orange really good there, but it’s just, it’s understood that, Hey, this is, this is our culture and there’s no policy about this, but this is how we act.
This is we we’ve got an enemy and we, and we, and you know, we’re, we’re all aligned in that mission.
Duncan L: I like that. We have an enemy. No, I would, I would totally, that’s a really good way to put it. Like, that’s a really, really thoughtful way to put it. I’ve never heard that before.
John E: Okay. Well, thank you again, make it up.
I just repeated it, which is most of the smart things I say, you’ll find I only repeat them or not. I don’t make up many smart things. So, so this may be the wrong way to ask the question. But when you think about. Branding and the work that you do, the storytelling, you obviously have a lot of different capabilities, but when people are thinking about a content strategy to support that, branding, how, how do you think about video versus audio versus blogging versus photography versus iconography versus fonts?
I mean, how, how are there things that are more important than others? Are there things that drive one another, or is it, you just treat each one separately, as long as you’ve got a vision for where you want the whole thing to go? Uh,
Duncan L: I think the answer is yes, across the board and like terrible answer.
Cause it’s so vague, but the biggest thing is you have to understand of what that company does well and how their audience is interacting with them. So, um, logos, uh, topography everything. Yes. You have to have the bigger vision about what you’re trying to do to then be aligned in that bigger space. So it’s, if your mission is to be the best brand in the world, or be a boutique brand.
Then you can have a lot more flexibility into the topography use if you’re just trying to be boutique. And just trying to be, I don’t want to say a small company in Charlotte, but pick on Charlotte. If you’re just focused in this space of like, I want to own Charlotte, well, then make sure that Charlotte is in the name of it.
But if you don’t want to be a Charlotte brand, then make sure if Charlotte’s not in the name of it, like it’s as simple as that understand where the company you can see as the, as the head of brand, as the CEO, as whoever’s really making that decision, it’s like, look at where you want to go and then build it for that.
Bring people along for the journey of it. So it has to be operated separately in my opinion, but they have to connect. Like there has to be a thread woven throughout everything you do where it’s, you know, I worked for a company, Lulu lemon, and at the time they had two muses and everybody knew who the muses were.
It was Duke and ocean. There were the two people that you talked about, it was every piece of content was written for them. Every photo that I took was taken to be either represent Duke or ocean, it was unbelievable. Like, I can tell you what their incomes were. I can tell you what they did on a daily basis.
And so, but that was the big thing with Lou lemon. It was like, Hey, we going to, we are a global brand, but we talk to these two people. And when it’s that focused and that much of a filter system, it’s easy to make content because it’s not creation and some, a lot more, almost documentation. So when you look at that space of going back to your question of going, Hey, what’s more important, but it’s also like aligned with like, what is the company?
Do you, well, I should never have a blog. Or if I ever have a blog, it’s going to be, Hey, by the way, I voice recorded this to then turn into a blog. Like, and that’s just the truth of it. You know, like right now I’ve been writing a book for awhile and like the way I’m writing the book is going to take walks and voice record.
Like I, if I sit down and try to read a chapter I’m miserable. So it’s a matter of what a company is really good at. What is what a marketing division is really good at and also where their audiences, you know, if the audience is print, then don’t hire a videographer. Like it’s simple like that, but it’s, if you’re going across a global platform, you’ve got to be able to do it all.
And then at that point, it should matter how you scale the team. What’s the energy and focus and, you know, what’s the best of the best. Where do you have to drive people to, to tell your best story?
John E: Yeah, it’s interesting because for me as an individual, I like, I, I probably like usually if I see a video, I, I won’t, I’m less likely to bother watching it, but I’ll.
I’ll I’ll read an article. Right. I don’t know why
Duncan L: that’s so interesting, but, but
John E: for long form content, I want a video or audio and, and, but, but I know that that’s not the way that most people behave. So it’s hard for me cause I need to put, I need to think about what did the people that I want to reach, how do they care to consume content and that, cause if you send me a link to a news article and all it has is a video, I’m just not even, probably not going to watch it unless I’ve got a lot of time.
But if it’s, and maybe it’s because I don’t want to. Like have the audio turn on and then people like, what are you listening to? I don’t know what it is. There’s something deep seated there that I just literally like prefer if I get the, so I love when I, someone sends me a podcast link and I can read a transcript to get the basic idea.
If it’s not something that I already, you know, a guest that I already understand or a concept that I’m already familiar with. But, but I think it’s true. I think to me, video and audio or what people, the way most people want to consume content is what it seems.
Duncan L: Yeah. And it’s different types of content because like the other part is like, all right, what’s the time attached to it?
You know, as, as, uh, as a business owner, as a CMO, as time is the most precious thing you have. So it’s like, I don’t want to say like, what’s going to be the fastest, but what’s the most efficient to make the biggest impact for me, you know, after my calls, I record personal videos for everybody. Like you got one when we first, when we first hung out and, but I can record a minute and 20 minute video with, with good quality and four minutes with like fully done, like hitting record, getting it on the website and like in an email.
But if I wrote you a minute 20 length, or if I spent a minute and 20 on an email, I would get like seven words out. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I know what you mean for sure, to get 30 words out, right. Because like, I just know how to, I can talk and I can express my feelings through talking and, um, where my emotions are over than writing.
Yup. And it’s just so it’s like, all right, where’s my time. Most valuable, quick video. Thanks so much. Let’s go. Yup.
John E: Play to your strengths, play to your audience. That makes a lot.
Duncan L: And it could be like for you, like now I know like what you just said was so interesting to me because now I’m literally in my head going all right, how do I take that video?
Transcribe it to the offer a PDF version of what I said. Yeah. And now I’m literally going to go talk to Josh and Josh, if you’re watching this, we’re going to talk about this product. I mean, cause like we’re building it’s, it’s really cool. But um, yeah. It’s like, that’s unbelievable. Like that’s a piece of feedback that I would have never thought because I would never read something as myself.
Like if you sent me, um, I got sent, Oh, this is going to be bad if they ever listened to it. But um, we’re working with a great, uh, it’s actually an old record label and we’re working on a documentary to tell their story and they sent me the transcript for the book that they’re writing. They’re doing an oral history and I told them flat out that I was never going to read it.
And he was like, what do you mean? I was, he was like, this is the story. And I go, I understand that, but it’s going to take me literally a year to get through this. Yeah. I was like, somebody else on my team will read it, cover to cover no question about it, but I will very much skim through this. I
John E: have no problem reading a book lately.
I’ve done more audio books, just, um, because yeah, when I’m driving or walking or whatever or jogging. Um, but yeah, if somebody writes me a long email, I reply back and I’m like, I’m not reading this. This is horse shit. I guess you can’t send me three paragraphs. I’m sorry.
Duncan L: Totally. It’s like, I get it. I mean, you’re, you have to play to your audience.
Like you get that and you just immediately go, Oh man, like you’re not going into this email. And it could be the best email in the world, but you’re not going into this email going like, okay, you know what? Duncan just sent me a great email. Like, I’m going to read all of this. It’s like, no, it’s like, Oh, Doug sent me another email.
Like he knows. I’m not going to read this. Why is he sending me this email? Like, that’s the
John E: deal happily read if you sent me three sentences and if you three bullet points, I’d read it in a minute. But if it’s, if it’s three paragraphs and I have to boil it down to those three, I’m probably not. I mean, unless, unless I need, unless I’ve asked you for something, but if you’re just giving me a data dump of something you want to sell me, there’s no way I’m going to read three
Duncan L: pairs.
I’ll tell you what, the next time I write you an email. I’m going to write, I’m going to give you three bullet points of saying like, Hey man, I need to write three paragraphs. Next, next bullet. Here’s why. And then I’m going to write the three paragraphs.
John E: Oh. So I want to shift gears to Charlotte. You said you’ve been here six years?
Duncan L: Yeah, just over six years. I moved here February of 2015. And where’d you move from again? What month would you like to talk about? So at the time I was playing golf, uh, so I was literally, I mean, I was kind of based between Connecticut, where my family’s from or Orlando, where the weather was warm. And so it was, you know, two months here, a month here, three months there, one week in that particular little town or wherever we were playing.
So I kind of joke all the time. It’s like, what month would you like to
John E: talk about? That’s funny. What, um, so in those six years, since you’ve gotten here, what changes have you seen happen in terms of both the city overall and inside the startup or tech?
Duncan L: Um, actually, I mean, the skyline is completely different.
Like, let’s call it, like, let’s be honest about that. It’s pretty unbelievable. When I first got here. It’s you saw like one crane in the skyline in 2015. And now you walk in any given day and there’s like seven.
John E: Well, it’s not just uptown, right? It’s South end. It’s cherry it’s North end. It’s even not Plaza Midwood.
Duncan L: What did, uh, I think it was New York times in like 2019 South end was the most developed, uh, per square foot apartment complexes in the country at the time. Wow.
John E: I think something like that, not heard that, but
Duncan L: I’m not surprised per square foot. It was the most development of our apartment developments, like new apartment develop and they’re
John E: full th th this, these aren’t empty buildings that we’re talking
Duncan L: about.
No, they’re 85 to 90% capacity at opening. Like, like there’s studs in the wall and it’s like, there’s no paint on the wall or it’s no, there’s done a door yet. And they’re already filling up. Like, it’s, it’s pretty incredible. Um, I just
John E: to put a finer point on that, I heard a statistic. Um, yesterday that I have not validated, but it doesn’t sound that off that there are 30, 25 story plus buildings in development or planned in the next three years, I think is what I heard, which is insane.
That that would be, that would be a lot of development in a city like DC or Atlanta, but in Charlotte, no, not in South end in Charlotte. Yeah. Most of that’s going to be South. That is South end. I think Lowe’s is building a 35 story tower. That’s already, Oh, that house is that how big it’s going to be 35. I was at a friend’s our wedding planners house.
And we were out on her back patio. And I’m like, is that the Lowe’s building? And it’s gigantic. And you’re sitting in Dilworth, which you’ve never could have seen a building that big from, from Dilworth. That’s literally like three bucks.
Duncan L: That’s that’s incredible. I didn’t realize it was gonna be that big, but not surprising.
John E: You’re wrong. It may be 30, but it was, it was a big building for, for South end.
Duncan L: Sure. Yeah. I mean, I think the tallest building in South end right now is maybe 10.
John E: Yeah. I think if you CA I think the pink building, the Arlington might be 14. That’s what
Duncan L: I was. That’s the building I was thinking of. I was like 10 to 12 or whatever
John E: is.
Yeah. That, that, that I think is the tallest one right now. But the Lowe’s building is definitely bigger. Um, I’ve heard that there’s a 38 story tower going up near the key man building on East Boulevard. There’s a 25 story tower going up in cherry, which that’ll be the first tall building. It really is transforming the skyline.
So the skyline has transformed. Um, there’s, uh, you know, the, we we’ve gotten the, the, the two light rail lines, although the, the one light rail line was already operative by the time you got here. Um, what, what about the tech scene and the startup scene? Do you get very involved locally? It sounds like you might have clients kind of all over the place,
Duncan L: but yeah, I mean, when I first got into it, uh, you know, call it when I first became a photographer.
Yes. I was pretty much heavily involved in it. Um, I either I’m trying to do the math in my head now. I was a part of probably five tech startups, and a brick and mortar, uh, small business, uh, with, before I started a little flood company and two tech startups were in Charlotte and then the brick and mortar was in Charlotte.
So, um, definitely understood it. I think the one unique thing about the Charlotte startup scene is that it’s a little confused. Um, and I don’t mean that in like a negative way. I just think it hasn’t been around enough to be really developed. Like you go up to the triangle, um, you know, just wrap the road an hour and a half and like, You know, 2 million, $3 million is raised privately every week in that med tech space.
And like we’re in FinTech and like $1.5 million raise is like celebrated. And that’s not a bad thing, but it’s, it’s, it’s a early growth thing. So I’m actually really excited about it. As long as people in, in my eyes, again, I don’t look at myself as like an entrepreneur, like fun fact. Like I just look at myself as a business owner.
And so for me, I like to start businesses. Sure. Do you want to label me an entrepreneur or whatever? I don’t really, you know, it doesn’t really matter to me. Like I just like to do the work. So for me, I think it’s really great to see people investing into Charlotte, especially early companies now. Um, what can we do to help that it’s tenfold, you know, it’s it’s how do we support them?
Not going out and receiving, you know, big VC capital outside that trying to take jobs away from Charlotte, but how do we grow an incubator system? That actually supports it. And like, you look at all the co-working, you know, advent Hooga, um, industrious, industrious has three locations, right? So if, if they have, I mean, I would love to challenge them to say, Hey, what does it look like for everybody in that space to kind of come together and like really develop an unbelievable scene here where it’s like, Charlotte’s thought about as a startup community, not just from, Hey, if you want to succeed, but actually a community of people who understand and you can lean on and you can support.
I mean, you know how it is, like you start a business and you don’t know what payroll takes. Like you don’t know who to go to. So what do you do? You just call people? Or what if there’s one location or a community that you can just talk to? And I know people are trying to do that. I know there’s so many companies that are trying to do that with pitch presentations and all that kind of stuff, but I think it needs to be a bigger conversation.
I think it needs to be a bigger development compared to just like, Hey, we’re going to give out micro. You know, pitch wins like of like two, $5,000. So those are great and like, awesome. But like what’s the bigger conversation for long-term growth. And that’s where I would love to be a part of focus in on, um, look at the big picture because like, you’ve done it.
Like, I would love to hear about like what you have to think about where Charlotte is, because you’ve seen it
John E: firsthand. It was, it was very different when I came here and I was in a very different place. So I was, it was 2004 when I started traveling here. That’s crazy. Yeah. Yeah, it was, it was crazy. And, um, I think the national conversation about startups was very different back then.
Sure. I mean, Google might’ve been was pre IPO at the time. Put a little bit of perspective on it. Yeah. 2004. You’re right. Yeah. Yeah. Wow. Um, and, and, and, you know, people probably were using Facebook on the Harvard campus. Um, uh, YouTube I think was created in 2006. So I think the national conversation was very, very different about startups.
We were, we were a startup, we were, uh, uh, um, software development shop called a mantra. I was the ninth employee. I came down to run a project for family dollar. And I was like, this city is pretty cool. Like even back then, the skyline impressed me because it was tiny, but the buildings were like, they came
Duncan L: out of nowhere.
It came out of nowhere. Like you’re driving down 77. You’re like, what is that in a school? It looks
John E: like a little slice of Philadelphia, but new and clean, you know, but only for
Duncan L: like five bucks. Yeah. You, you, you drive past it and all about two and a half minutes, and now it’s about four minutes. And
John E: so, so I came here for a client and then.
I started selling to other clients in town, Belk. Um, I was selling the lows. I was selling the time Warner cable at the time, uh, starting to talk to the banks and I ended up just hiring a salesperson and opening an office, but then very quickly I took over the commercial practice for that business, the whole commercial practice, because we had grown quite a bit.
And so I spent very little time in Charlotte. And then in 2010, I helped launch a smart grid company. And at that point I said, I’m going to get committed to meeting people in Charlotte. And so I started volunteering for really all sorts of economic development type of activities. And what I found was I was, I pretty early on, I got connected to Dan Ravalli over at Packard place.
Oh yeah. Great guy doing a lot of
Duncan L: good work. And he was probably one of the first,
John E: one of the very first coworking space for sure. Yeah.
Duncan L: He, and I want to say invested into people, but like he really. Created a environment to like have a be
John E: accepted. Yup, absolutely. And so I met Dan, I helped him and a guy named Curtis Watkins start a group called CLT jewels, which was an incubator for energy businesses.
Um, that was funded by Duke energy. And that led to a whole bunch of other engagement throughout the city. And what I realized pretty quickly was there’s a desire to do something. There’s just not a lot of examples of successful homegrown companies. I mean, you could argue Harris Teeter or family dollar bank of America.
CocoaVia at some point they were all startups. That was the, these are world beating companies at Belk, you know, there’s but, but, but, so there weren’t a lot of real early stage businesses at the time there wasn’t avid exchange was around, but they certainly hadn’t hit on all 12 cylinders that they’re hitting on.
Now I met Bob Joachim very early on with passport. Um, I never met the red ventures. God, but there, there were startups, but they hadn’t become successful yet. MapAnything, I think was, had not pivoted away from what they were. And you look
Duncan L: at AECOS right now. Like ECOS is a great, you know, it’s the conversation of, Hey, I don’t want to say, you know, did they bootstrap for too long?
Because I think they’re, they’re probably seven or eight years in right now. And they, I think they only raised their first round probably a year and a half, two years ago. And like, they’re doing great. Oh yeah.
John E: They, they hired my friend, Chris Rosbrook to be their CFO, which he was the CFO at MapAnything.
And then he was a very successful tech banker before that. Um, but, but that’s, what’s great. Now, now you fast forward and Dan, isn’t the only, uh, coworking space in town, Packard place. Isn’t the only place to go for these events. Yeah, there’s, there’s a whole bunch.
Duncan L: Um, they’re even looking at Hooga right now who got, I think has four locations.
Yeah. Like, yes, we work as three as a national brand compared to, you know, everything else has pretty much hyper-focused in Charlotte, but you know, who got has four locations and they started maybe five
John E: years ago. Yeah. They, they were in the initial, their first building was over off of West Morehead street.
We actually, before level, we, um, started a business called reward summit that we pivoted to level. And we were in a location called eight or nine that was owned by a guy named Mark Bruin edge. He ended up selling the space to Garrett Garrett. That was where he started the Hooga and then he took over the other side of that location.
And Garrett started great job. I mean, that’s where I
Duncan L: started. I mean, I mean, I remember it’s kinda the, the running joke with Garrett that I had every type of membership where I started as a flex. And then I went to. Private desk. And then I went to office and then I built my own office. Um,
John E: literally it’s how we started at eight Oh nine.
And then when we had nine people, which is when we took over my friend’s space, but when we had nine people, Mark pulled me to the side, this is pre Hooga. And he was like, look, this is a, you need a little more space. He’s like, this is a, well, he was like, this is a co-working space. It’s supposed to be multiple companies and you’ve got every office in here.
That’s funny. So, so we moved out. Um, that’s really fun, but again, I think, I think you fast forward to now and avid is a great success story. Uh, you know, red ventures is a great success story. Um, Pat mortgage passport movement. Um, uh, Keith Lindemann exited, um, Keith
Duncan L: is probably the most under, I don’t want to say underrated, but you don’t.
Nobody talks about Keith. Yeah. Keith is an unbelievable human being, a phenomenal
John E: business owner. Yeah. He doesn’t toot his own horn, which is why people to talk, but there, but there’s a lot of other success stories, IMS and commercial defeasance in the commercial real estate space. Um, Peyser I think they’re going to be the next avid exchange.
I really do believe that, um, they’ve, they’ve done some amazing things, uh, map anything was, it was a great success story. So I think there’s a lot more momentum now. I still think that we’re way behind.
Duncan L: And also like you look at those companies and all those companies, in my opinion, it’s not like they treated, they were treated like a New York or a San Fran startup.
They were treated as a small business. And like, I think that’s why they’re successful. Yeah. Like every person that went into the game to say, Oh, I’m going to be a startup. Went away to Charlotte, went away from Charlotte to raise capital, to come back to Charlotte. Yeah. Like, you know, you look at where people have been raising money.
I mean, like, you know, uh, look at, uh, not, uh, Oh gosh, you know, skip town, um, skill pop. They all went to the accelerator over in Austin and they came back, but brought everything with them and started a bigger culture attached to it. So it’s like, those are the companies that like, I really,
John E: yes. Tired to you, laundry.
Those are all great examples of businesses who ECOS is another great one where they’ve they’ve raised money. And to me, I don’t care as much. Chris Langford wrote a great article today that I saw on, on LinkedIn. He, he, he covered a lot of really good ground, but I think he missed a bigger point. And, and I’ve argued this with William Bessett as well.
Who’s another, another, um, local guy who I think is a great guy, appeared on his podcast before and he’s coming on in a month. But, but they both talk about, we need venture capital here. And I think that’s bullshit. I don’t think you, if you had venture capital here, they would have invested their money.
Elsewhere is the bottom line. What we need are more entrepreneurs and the venture capital will come. And all of these companies we’re talking about, we’re able to go raise money. So I don’t think that the capital needs to be located
Duncan L: here. The VC. It was either, I think it needs to just be a conversation about how you, as a, as a CEO, as a business owner, how do you actually want to grow?
Because. VC capital is night. Might not be the way somebody needs to go,
John E: but, but even if I need it, I don’t care if it comes from Charlotte or DC or Austin, I don’t care where it comes from. They don’t care where they
Duncan L: deploy the money. No chance. If a good company is meant to last, then that’s a good investment.
And so it doesn’t you’re right. It doesn’t matter where the VC fund is. It doesn’t need to know where the banking world right now. I mean, it’s, if we can’t pull money here, like, I don’t know. I don’t wanna say who else can, but like the, you know, the truth is like we have more opportunities to talk to bankers and understand how that works than any city in the entire.
I don’t want to any city in the entire world, but, but
John E: we’ve, we’ve got the banking
Duncan L: talent for sure. Absolutely. We do. Yep. And now people are staying here for it too, which is really
John E: cool. Well, I’m going to end it on that. I know you’ve got a, uh, meeting coming up that, uh, that we’re not, we’re not quite running up to, but I feel like if we start another topic, we’re going to make you late for that.
So let’s push it along. I’m going to let you get out of here, but thank you so much for joining me. And I look forward to the next interview. When we, when, when I finally get you to talk about the five-year plan, not a 40 year when
Duncan L: we can, we can go into that for sure. All right. Cheers Duncan. Thanks pal.