For any entrepreneur, finding that “why” needs to be the first step toward building an organization.
Chris Carter is CMO of REP Interactive. As an award-winning producer and a finalist for San Diego Business Journal’s Emerging Generation: 25 in their 20’s, Chris has spearheaded hundreds of projects for some of REP’s biggest clients.
After playing Division I football at the University of California, Davis, Chris left the technology company he was working for to become a full-time member of the REP team. During his time as REP’s vice president and now CMO, REP has employed more than 500 creative professionals, completed more than 1,000 projects around the world, and worked with more than 130 brands, including Fortune 50 companies such as Amazon and Coldwell Banker.
Chris‘ skills and expertise as a marketing strategist help brands take a holistic approach to their video marketing initiatives.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
REP Interactive started as a class project at the University of Southern California. Our founders were tasked with creating a business that could exist today but couldn’t five years ago (this was 2009). My business partner, Steve Gatena, came up with the idea of New Media Commercials — a company that produced online videos for businesses.
Steve’s mother, Judy Gatena, noticed a lack of supply in the real estate and hospitality industries, so that was our first target. We began making online videos for real estate agents, hotels, and restaurants. The pilot episode of our show, “World’s Most Expensive Homes,” became the most-viewed real estate video in the world in 2010, and after that, we became the video agency of record for Coldwell Banker.
This helped us grow into a full-service video agency that produces broadcast commercials, branded entertainment, social media content, digital signage content, and everything in between.
After REP’s first video was produced, I saw a spark that I knew could grow into a wildfire, so I scheduled an interview with the partners. The company was only an idea and prototype at this point, but I was willing to do whatever it took to grow it into something special.
The entrepreneurial seed was planted early on in my childhood when my grandparents started a gourmet kitchen store in Palm Springs, California, to keep them busy during retirement. Basically, they were bored and built a wildly successful business that’s still in operation today (it’s currently being run by my aunt). Go to Kitchen Kitchen if you’re ever in Palm Springs!
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
With customers all over the country, we start early. After a 5:30 a.m. workout, I knock out as many emails as I can before our employees get in at 7. My schedule is typically filled with client meetings, prospect calls and presentations, and various marketing initiatives for our company. I typically reserve my afternoons for special projects.
However, the real work gets done for me after I put my 2-year-old to sleep. When there are few distractions, I can hone creative ideas.
How do you bring ideas to life?
It all comes down to the team. Bringing an idea to life is not a one-man job. Delegating tasks is something that we’ve gotten a lot better at since we’ve grown. Being an entrepreneur means you have to build a team that you like and trust. In the past, I would try to take on everything, which ended up collapsing the system.
Bringing on dedicated account managers, an amazing creative director, and skilled production personnel has freed the executive team up to build the business. Because of this, 2015 was a record-breaking year, and we’re looking to double that growth this year.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
360-degree video and live-streaming video. The applications for brands are endless if executed correctly. It’s untested, and we’re getting ahead of the curve. Experiential campaigns are becoming increasingly valuable for brands, and our expertise as a content company helps our customers connect to more than just a person who shows up for their event.
Last year, we worked with Applebee’s to shut down part of Times Square and host a “Taste the Change” event in which Jason Derulo and the X Ambassadors performed an impromptu concert. New menu items were given away, and we filmed the entire event, eventually creating several broadcast commercials, social media spots, and a variety of other content. Those types of events are very exciting to be a part of.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
A grind-life balance is important, but I don’t take advantage of it enough. What I’ve learned over the years is that I can’t give up things that I’m passionate about. Helping brands create award-winning content and videos that fundamentally change their businesses gets me up in the morning.
What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?
Before launching REP Interactive, I held four jobs at the same time: three in the service industry and one as an information security officer for a tech company. I didn’t want to do anything besides work, and fortunately, my fiancee (now wife) was on board with this lifestyle.
I lived with my parents and saved every dollar I earned, and at one point, I think I worked for 98 days straight. On the bright side, I was able to buy my first house at age 24, but I wasn’t seeing an exponential rate of return when it came to the number of hours I worked vs. my income. I had made the tech company more than a million dollars in profit because of various programs I put in place and was never compensated accordingly.
While I was on Facebook one day, I saw a post that Steve had shared. It was a video tour of an apartment in Santa Monica, California. I had never seen such an engaging video online, and it piqued my interest. Between my background in film and my extensive knowledge of real estate, the wheels immediately started turning. I drew up a business plan and showed Steve my vision for the company, and after that, I started helping him run the business in my free time (as if I needed another job).
I quickly realized that working for someone else wasn’t a part of my DNA. I told myself that I needed to control my own destiny. I had to be an entrepreneur to reap the benefits of my hard work.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I wouldn’t have wasted my time working odd jobs that had no potential for future growth. Various business ideas had crossed my mind through college and right after, but there was always a reason not to take on the challenge: no capital, no resources, no guidance, etc. Fortunately, my time working with extra measures was basically like earning an MBA. My experience there helped me grow into the executive I am today, but I would have gone about the whole situation differently. Looking back, it’s interesting to ponder what REP would be today if I had spent 15 hours a day focusing solely on it.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
As an entrepreneur, there are really shitty days. There have been times when the partners had to write a check to the company to pay for payroll. We’ve lost clients, we’ve been screwed over by vendors, and we’ve had countless arguments — but every failure taught us something important about ourselves and our company.
I don’t do this every day, but every time I feel an inkling of self-doubt, I refresh with a workout, a prayer, or a deep breath to recenter, refocus, and move forward. Worrying in business is useless, and I’ve trained myself to focus on the future — not failures of the past or things that haven’t happened yet.
Before we posted the first episode of “World’s Most Expensive Homes,” my business partner received several lawsuit threats. We had filmed aerial footage of multimillion-dollar homes in L.A., and the owners of some of the properties were upset that we did it without their permission. It was 100 percent legal, but that didn’t stop us from being scared about the implications. We were 23 years old and had no money — only ambition.
Ultimately, we said, “F it. If they sue us, they sue us, and we’ll deal with it.”
We posted the video, it got more than 2 million views, and it ended up being a huge tipping point for our organization.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Telling our story and being authentic.
Simon Sinek has a theory about the golden circle. The idea is that we communicate through the “how,” “what,” and “why” — but people don’t connect to the “how” and “what”; they connect the most to the “why”. For example, Apple creates commodities —computers, tablets, and phones — and people love them because they love why they exist. The company’s purpose and beliefs as an organization are prevalent in (nearly) every piece of marketing communication it puts out.
For any entrepreneur, finding that “why” needs to be the first step toward building an organization. At REP, we believe every company can tell the story behind its “why” by harnessing the power of video and broadcast media.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Our biggest failures primarily have to do with losing new business pitches. We’re more successful than not, but every loss hurts. You put so much time and effort into crafting the perfect pitch, and to lose to a competitor takes the wind out of your sails every time.
However, over time, we’ve learned that it’s all a part of the process. We continuously ask for feedback from our prospects — even if we lost — and recraft pitches thereafter. If you keep doing the same thing, you’re going to get the same results. Thus, we’re always experimenting, trying new things, and testing them.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
The pet industry is prime for disruption. With more people working, pets are left at home bored all day. Creating products and services that entertain pets while you’re away are invaluable.
What is the best $100 you recently spent?
Years ago, I had dinner with a client and his wife. Over dinner, they expressed how much they love rosemary. A couple of years later, they moved to Seattle and started working at a different company. As a housewarming gift, I sent them a rosemary bush. I’m not saying that the gift necessarily started this, but since then, this individual has become one of my closest friends.
Also, Costco has a deal on Don Julio 1942. It’s $99 worth of the best tequila in the world. I recommend that you get some as well!
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, and Premiere are three pieces of software we can’t live without.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Grant Cardone fundamentally changed the way I approach building a business. At the end of the day, a lot of sales professionals give up when it gets too hard. Grant’s philosophy is to put the foot on the gas pedal regardless of whether there’s a brick wall in front of you. The attitude of never giving up, never having self-doubt, and always moving forward have helped me build REP Interactive into what it is today.
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