Cassie Petrey - Co-founder of Crowd Surf

Our strategy for growing Crowd Surf is simple: If you do a good job, people will hear about it. Having a good and constantly improving product is the easiest way to grow your business.

Cassie Petrey is co-founder of Crowd Surf, a digital marketing company that provides catered and specialized marketing services to a roster of stars, including Miley Cyrus, Steven Tyler, Fifth Harmony, and Britney Spears.

At age 12, Petrey ran an AOL newsletter on the Backstreet Boys with more than 10,000 subscribers. At 17, she landed a job as a college representative for Warner Music Group. Soon after, Petrey capitalized on Myspace’s debut by setting up a page for one of her Warner projects. The page represented one of the first times a major label had ventured into social media, and her success led to a full-time position in the digital department at Warner Bros. Records in Nashville, Tennessee. There, she oversaw social networking campaigns for label stars such as Faith Hill and Blake Shelton.

When Petrey graduated from college, the community manager role didn’t exist, but she knew social media platforms were more important than commonly believed. Always seeking innovative ways to create organic, meaningful connections between artists and their fans, Petrey formed Crowd Surf in 2007 with longtime friend Jade Driver. At 25, Petrey was featured on Billboard’s “30 Under 30” list, which highlights executives making an impact in the industry and driving business forward. As a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council, she has been quoted in influential media outlets such as The Huffington Post and Business Insider. Today, her company has evolved into a 35-person team with four offices and a dynamic roster of accounts, boasting a collective social footprint of about 800 million followers.

Where did the idea for your company originate?

In 2006, my business partner and I were both working at a record label in the “new media” department while attending college. We performed a variety of tasks, but what we both enjoyed most was interacting with fans via social media. We got to a point where we had worked there for several years, but there were no jobs to grow into in the social media space. The community manager job did not exist. We simply wanted to keep doing what we were doing but grow in our careers. You can only work as an hourly wage temp for so long! We believed in social media and wanted to create a career path that would allow us to grow within this field we loved. Crowd Surf was created because we loved social media and wanted to find a way to do it and create a salary for ourselves.

What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?

Every day is different, and that’s the most typical thing about it. At the beginning of each day, I create a personal and work to-do list and prioritize the tasks on that list. Focusing on one item at a time is important for me, and this process helps me do that and move through tasks quickly.

How do you bring ideas to life?

The best way to bring ideas to life is to stop fearing failure. Sometimes it’s important to just take that leap of faith and know that it’s not always going to work out. Thinking for a long period about taking that leap is way less productive. I like to spend less time contemplating and more time coming up with ideas and pushing through on the execution. Don’t get me wrong — it’s important to be detailed and think your marketing campaigns through. However, sitting on an idea for too long is just as toxic as moving forward with a not-so-well-thought-out plan.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

I’m absolutely loving the technology developments surrounding mobile streaming. Periscope, Meerkat, and Facebook are all offering great tools, and I imagine they’re only going to get better from here.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

It’s important to have a high level of quality control with your product. Our prioritization of this aspect of our company has been key to our success. We’ve made it a habit to always hold ourselves to high standards.

What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?

I’ve never had a job that I didn’t enjoy. I’ve done everything from waiting tables at a nursing home to being a scorekeeper in an intramural basketball league, but I was always proud of the work I performed. Work has always given me purpose, and it makes me feel like I’m leaving my little mark on the world.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I definitely would have brought in a business management team earlier. We were trying to save money and do things ourselves, but it was a huge mistake. It ended up being extremely costly to go back and fix all the errors we’d made in the first year of running our business. Good accountants and business management help were not as pricey as I thought they would be. Since then, I’ve learned to never assume that something is too expensive. I’ve been pleasantly surprised several times by discovering that something was way more affordable than I had presumed.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Crowd Surf is constantly revamping the way we run our business and marketing campaigns. You have to be innovative to start a company, and you have to keep being innovative to keep it alive. An entrepreneur isn’t somebody who comes up with one great idea and forms a business around it; rather, it’s someone who thinks up innovative solutions on a daily basis. The ability to constantly generate ideas is the most important trait an entrepreneur can possess.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Our strategy for growing Crowd Surf is simple: If you do a good job, people will hear about it. Having a good and constantly improving product is the easiest way to grow your business. We’ve only done a handful of pitches for which we sought out the potential client. Clients usually come to us via word of mouth.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I can’t really pinpoint one particular moment as being a massive standout failure, but we’ve had our moments when we’ve lost projects. It’s always a blow to your ego, but you have to do the best you can to move on and realize that your company wasn’t the best fit for the project. The quicker you can accept that, the faster you can move on to a project where your services will be better utilized. Losing a client doesn’t always mean you did something wrong. And change is always a good thing: It forces us to innovate.

What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?

One great idea is to create an easy, attractive tool to help companies like mine send marketing updates and reports to our clients. My company and other owners of digital marketing agencies are still looking for better tools. The ideal tool would need to be the perfect storm of great data and a beautiful visual piece.

What is the best $100 you recently spent, personally or professionally?

The $100 I spent playing my favorite gaming app, Kitchen Scramble, was the best. It’s so addictive and fun. But it also gave me some amazing insight into the psychology of iPhone gaming — it really helped me home in on understanding what gets a user to spend money in a game.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

We use FreshBooks as our go-to billing tool, and it’s absolutely fantastic. I recommend it to any small business or independent contractor. It’s easy to use, and it makes beautiful invoices. MailChimp is a great tool for email list marketing, and we recommend that all our clients use it for email correspondence with their fans or customers.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read, and why?

I finally read Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead,” and it was absolutely incredible. It was nice to read all her personal anecdotes and know that somebody extremely successful comes up against the same emotional and time organization issues I’m trying to conquer. The book is filled with great advice and extremely interesting facts and figures. I highly recommend it to anybody who aspires to be successful in her career.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be interesting to others?

L.A. Reid — I really admire how he runs Epic Records , as well as his ability to be creative and business-savvy.

Sheryl Sandberg — she always posts great advice and anecdotes on her Facebook page.

Mark Cuban — always entertaining and always brilliant; I love watching him on “Shark Tank.”


Cassie Petrey on LinkedIn:
Crowd Surf website:
Cassie Petrey on Twitter: @cassiepetrey
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