[quote style=”boxed”]Becoming an entrepreneur. Do it. You’re ready already. Nobody knows what the hell they are doing. There is no instruction manual for exactly what you want to do and how you want to do it. It hasn’t been written yet. And only you can write it. Now’s the time to face the fear and go for it. Stop waiting to live your dream.[/quote]
Chad Rea is a former ad agency founder and creative director turned serial social entrepreneur. His latest company, ecopop, can be described a lot like a product design firm or ad agency…but without the clients.
For more than 18 years, Chad has created award-winning advertising and marketing for some of the hottest creative shops in the U.S. and Europe—not to mention his own prolific agency, 86 the onions—helping develop over 130 iconic brands, including Target, MTV, Mountain Dew, ESPN, Starbucks, FUEL TV and HUMMER.
While building brands for others, Chad was also creating many of his own products from the ground up—everything from coffee table books and monthly music events to offensive baby clothing and philanthropic outreach programs. It was initiatives like these that Chad enjoyed developing most and what ultimately led him to shut down his successful agency and form ecopop, a new kind of company that would allow him and others like him to not only create and market their own ideas but ideas that merged capitalism with social good.
Today, Chad works on a number of ecopop ventures with leading “thinkers and makers” who want to use their problem-solving talents for the forces of good and partner on ideas that he aptly refers to as “ideas too good to waste.” He does this in part by building teams with those who have complementary skill sets and by offering a healthy share of profits in exchange for sweat equity.
What are you working on right now?
This interview. (Ba-dum cha!) And spinning a bunch of plates, as they say. In addition to working on the redesign of dabball, the first-ever art gallery meets games app, and shooting some wacky web films to promote it, I’m also making a new batch of limited edition artist prints for electricityshowroom.com; preparing for the launch of Stumptown Secondary School, a men’s necktie line made from overstock graphic t-shirts; pulling together a team of hidden camera pranksters and web developers to shake things up at Occupy Wall Street; and prioritizing ecopop’s 2012 ventures which includes a couple of TV show ideas that I’m excited about. I’m sure I’m forgetting something, too.
Where did the idea for ecopop come from?
The initial spark was quite a while ago. I used to own a brand communication agency in Los Angeles called 86 the onions. In 2003, I created ProjectHello.org, a zero-budget homeless philanthropy that spanned 28 countries, and was awarded the 2004 Dove Award, the highest accord for socially responsible advertising by ACT. I was invited to speak at The Clio Awards about the project and had an Aha! moment while standing in front of a roomful of the industry’s top “creative problem-solvers.” It occurred to me that many of the problems we’re asked to solve simply don’t matter to people outside of the ad world. And if we all focused our creative talents on solving some real world problems, we might just actually solve them.
In 2007, I wrote my Jerry Maguire letter and shut down the agency at the height of its success. About a year later, I created ecopop, an ever-changing social innovations collaborative that creates brands, art and activism—or brand artivism, as I like to call it. The name ecopop refers to the intersection of ecology and pop culture, using pop culture as the Trojan horse, if you will, for mainstream social change. One of our first product ventures is dabball, an iPhone/iPad app that promotes the arts through mobile gaming, with a portion of the proceeds going to 1% for the Planet. It might not save lives but we’re also just getting our sea legs, hence, the “ever-changing” part.
What does your typical day look like?
I wake up without an alarm around 6:30 AM. I feed my dog, Star. I practice Vedic Meditation for about 20 or 30 minutes. And then I have 3 cups of Stumptown coffee as I Flipboard on the iPad for about an hour or so. From there, I typically go into my makeshift recording studio in the basement and record a few commercial voiceover auditions. After that, I grab breakfast and head upstairs to my home office, respond to emails and chip away at whatever projects I have slated for the day. The type of work is anything but typical and my computer screen often looks a lot like what I imagine an air traffic controller’s monitor to look like. (Single-handedly running an ad agency trained me well.) I could be Skyping with disgruntled creative types on developing their dream career or advising small business owners through CreateYourHappy.com. I could be developing content for a slew of ad agencies or brands directly. And I could, perhaps most likely, be working on any number of ecopop ideas, trying to figure out how to get all of them made in my lifetime. Somewhere in the middle of all this multitasking, I sense that someone needs to take a shower and then realize that someone is me. Shower. Lunch. More “work.” Then life. Balanced.
In short, I wake up when I wake up and work when I am most productive on the things that excite me the most. While the idea factory never sleeps and I’m always connected to some communication device, I try to leave my desk mid-afternoon, if only for a change of scenery or to create some subversive public art. Shhh.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Ideas bring me to life. If ideas aren’t shared, they are totally useless. Seriously ask yourself if you are going to do something with that genius idea of yours. If you are, get to it. If you’re not, and the world has a chance at being better for it, let someone else run with it. We owe it to the gods of creativity to get all those ideas off our dusty hard drives and out into the world. Many of us are taught that ideas are currency, and I believe that. But we’ve become a bunch of idea hoarders, scared that someone is going to steal our intellectual property. While that is certainly a risk, sharing puts a sense of urgency on you to actually make the damn thing with any and all means necessary before someone else does. Sharing ideas with those around you makes them reality. It will either fly or it won’t. Don’t sweat it. You will make more.
3 trends that excite you?
Jeggings. Mullets. And quiche. No, wait. Crowdfunding. Automatic giving. And on-demand manufacturing.
What is the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
The same week I launched ecopop, I was wooed by the largest independent ad agency to be the creative director on Target. Part of my reasoning to do it was to influence a large, mainstream company that had the pop side of the equation down with some more eco. However, 3 months into the gig I was reminded that it was probably easier, if not way more enjoyable and fulfilling, to bypass the boardrooms and create change from the ground up while also having a direct line to the consumer, the ultimate decision-maker. Five months later, ecopop was taken off hold.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Every experience is a learning experience and I don’t regret any decision I’ve ever made. That said, I might have started both 86 the onions and ecopop with partners. 2012 may be the year that all changes for ecopop.
What is the one thing you did/do as an entrepreneur that you would do over and over again and recommend everybody else do?
Becoming an entrepreneur. Do it. You’re ready already. Nobody knows what the hell they are doing. There is no instruction manual for exactly what you want to do and how you want to do it. It hasn’t been written yet. And only you can write it. Now’s the time to face the fear and go for it. Stop waiting to live your dream.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’m fascinated by waste. TerraCycle is one of those innovative companies that has figured out a way to reuse waste and turn it into a profitable business by changing the way people think about and handle their trash. ecopop spent months trying to figure out how to make products out of shredded office paper. An industrial designer and I played around with various eco-epoxies and pulp molds to make everything from paperweights and bookends to garden gnomes and decorative plates. We ended up pulling the plug after our 90-day proof of concept phase, but I still think there’s a viable business idea there for anyone who wants to develop this idea or invent products made from waste.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Cradle To Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough. Because we all either make, use or promote products without giving little thought to their global impact. There’s always a better way and this book will not preach to you but instead inspire you to observe the world in a completely new way.
If you weren’t working on ecopop what would you be doing?
Hopefully working as the innovations director for an inspiring social venture out there. Or, driving around in a smelly Good Times van playing drums for an indie rock band in exchange for a modest bar tab.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I am a student of improv comedy and I play make-believe several times a week. Needless to say, I laugh a lot. I highly recommend surrounding yourself with funny people or getting a dog. They truly are the best medicine.
Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?
Michael Karnjanaprakorn of Skillshare, Alex Bogusky of FearLess and Eric Ryan of Method. Can you guess what former industry career they all share?
Where do you see ecopop in 3 years?
Not unlike my former communications agency, a S.W.A.T. team of thinkers and makers will develop and service 6-10 iconic brands. However, this time around, these iconic brands will be created, marketed and co-owned by ecopop and our collaborators. Consumers will be our most important clients and hang out with us in our Portland retail store/café/event/work space. And leading brands will occasionally commission our network of creative problem-solvers to make a positive difference in the world on their behalf.
What is your favorite quote?
“Live, give, and don’t take shit.”—Johnny Depp