Not all ideas are created equal, and sometimes it takes some testing to figure out which will work.
Erin Berman, an established storyteller, brand strategist, and creative director, is the founder of Blackbeard Studios, a digital marketing agency. She works with organizations of all sizes looking to effectively grow, scale, and share their stories.
From talent to technology, big data to customer interface, she believes that some of the greatest challenges that businesses face can be more effectively solved with successful storytelling. When companies and communities can create impactful brand narratives, compelling content, and cohesive messaging to support their missions, creative solutions spring forth.
Erin is passionate about leveraging her love of literature and mythology to inform her creative work with clients. When she’s not diving into content and campaigns, you can find her engaging in various artistic endeavors. She loves to spend time running, painting, cooking, and working on her second novel. Her first collection of stories, All Things, was published in 2016. Erin holds a master’s in creative writing from the University of San Francisco.
Where did the idea for Blackbeard Studios come from?
Blackbeard Studios was founded with a solution-oriented vision. We believe that a company’s story is just as important as its product.
The idea came from observing that the traditional agency model was broken. Companies still struggled to create fresh content that reached their target audiences and impacted their bottom lines. Whether it was a Silicon Valley startup trying to brand itself in emerging markets or a multinational corporation struggling to create fresh campaigns, the need for a one-stop content shop capable of leveraging content for success was apparent. It’s exciting to have built a unique methodology to help companies improve their brand narratives and content strategies, as well as drive community growth.
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
I am up early to meditate and go for a run. Mindfulness, tea, and running are the trifecta to kick-starting my creative process. I’m always on the go and travel frequently. Meditation and exercise give me the necessary structure and clarity to dive into client work. Most days I start with emails, projects, and deliverables, then I schedule meetings in the afternoon.
I have a bespoke approach for each company I work with, so my days have incredible variation. I might be producing video content, working directly with CEOs, or running workshops for executive teams. In between meetings, I am an avid consumer and creator of content across various channels. I follow trends in a variety of fields, and I meet with other innovators to spark new ways of thinking. I also have personal side projects I use as platforms to explore new ideas.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I am a writer at heart. I live and breathe stories, so for me, storytelling is what brings an idea to life. The ability to place an idea, brand or concept in a narrative gives any idea framework and context in the real world. Without a story, an idea is like a blank coloring book. It’s the why behind an idea that makes things interesting. So it’s no surprise that it’s the why behind products and services that gets your audience or consumer excited as well. I seek to get to the heart of the why. From there, it’s constant collaboration, testing, and iteration. The story breathes life into an idea, but that is only the foundation of building out content or campaigns. Then it’s all about execution, which requires a cohesive team to bring it all together.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Video storytelling has already become the biggest trend in content, but I believe we are just getting started. The cost of video production has decreased significantly in recent years, and building digital platforms with live video streaming is easier than ever before. I’m excited to help enable companies to connect with their audiences by pushing relevant content while sharing their stories through digital channels.
Also, we’ll see more live video streaming and interactive content. I am passionate about using content to build strong communities, and video offers transparency and authenticity. I look forward to using video storytelling to tap consumers into communities and build powerful brands in new ways.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I am endlessly curious about the world, and I give myself time to think and explore. Inspiration blossoms from being curious and seeking to make every moment a way to seek inspiration. I watch documentaries, read books, go to museums, and travel extensively in places where I can interact with cultures and communities on a deeper level. I get out into nature a lot.
I am surrounded by a network of individuals tackling incredible projects, from building tech companies to opening restaurants, and they inspire me. My work is based on providing creative direction and thinking outside the box. I don’t have a Kindle, TV, or Netflix account, so that means seeking inspiration outside a screen and in the real world, which is important for me. Even though most of my work is in the digital sphere, at the end of the day what I’m trying to do is build human connection.
While some ideas will hit like lightning, most do not. They take time to develop and build. Curiosity coupled with intense contemplation has had astounding results for my work. It takes discipline to achieve the right balance of creativity and action.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t pack your days so full that there’s no time for spontaneous meetings or unexpected opportunity. Some of my best encounters have come organically, in moments when I was not selling or seeking. This has helped redefine success for me. I’m no longer linear on my view of success. Instead, I find myself fulfilled when I’m able to help people reach their personal and professional goals, and when I’m open to the possibility that success might be coming from where I least expect it.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?
I will always take quality over quantity and believe the best things take time. I’ve had almost every mentor tell me to scale my business and build a large content agency. I take pride in only taking on and advising a select group of clients and companies at a time.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I ask myself what ultimate success would look like. This gives me clarity on what I’m aiming for with a project. I recommend this exercise to everyone I work with. I tell them I’m a genie and just granted them all their wishes — whatever they want. I grant them everything until they run out of all the reasons they can list holding them back from their dream. When we understand the biggest vision, it’s much easier to work on the rest.
I always want the content and community I create to be aspirational and inspirational. To get there, you need to see past small roadblocks. You would be surprised how many entrepreneurs are uncertain about their ultimate visions because they can only see the barriers holding them back. I don’t want to take away from the daily issues and challenges that arise for an entrepreneur, but my job is not to be their funding advisor or operating officer. It’s to be a creative consultant.
I have the best job in the world because I come in with the perspective that there is magic in every brand narrative. When we are clear on where we are headed, a story can be the conduit to catapult any company to wild success.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I have grown from word of mouth and referrals. My clients know that I am fully vested in helping them succeed. Good work speaks for itself. It may sound unconventional, but I believe much of my success has come from striving to be a kind person, giving back to the ecosystem, and working with integrity and honesty. Time and time again, these things have come back to me in wonderful ways. They are the best hacks for growing your business.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Not all ideas are created equal, and sometimes it takes some testing to figure out which will work. I believe we never fail if we use every setback as an opportunity to learn.
A few years ago I worked as a co-founder on a content recommendation platform. We developed a working product and got a term sheet from a respectable VC but decided not to move forward. The way we envisioned success became obsolete as the media landscape changed.
I don’t regret the time I spent on it. I learned so much about building a product and how to infuse brand narrative into each aspect of design and user experience. That said, I would have regretted if we hadn’t recognized the failure and put our ego aside to move on. We should welcome small failures that don’t disrupt life’s direction — failures that help us adjust, recalibrate, and move toward our destinations with more experience and clarity.
I’ve seen entrepreneurs try to salvage failing ventures and waste a lot of time going down the rabbit hole of a struggling business for months. Then when they do fail, the results can be far more catastrophic. We will all fail in life, but the sooner we can recognize a failure, learn from it, and use those lessons to make the next venture successful, the better.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I am passionate about giving back to the community, and I believe that Millennials need better tools and resources to facilitate charitable action. I built app concepts and brand development for a mobile-first marketplace that tracks global giving for Millennials. It leverages gamification and incentives provided by affiliate partners to make charitable giving authentic and meaningful. I would love to find it a good home.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently donated to a local organization I believe in. There’s a lot of work to be done in our own communities to help them be stronger, more connected, and safer. These organizations need continued resources.
What is one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I recommend “Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain,” which is a dialogue between the Dalai Lama and a neuroscientist. I am always intrigued by the intersection of science and spirituality, but it affirms that mindfulness and meditation can have very positive effects on brain chemistry. On the other end of the spectrum, I find the Sufi poet Hafez works wonders to help me break free from linear thought.
What is your favorite quote?
“Stay close to anything that makes you glad you are alive.” — Hafez
Erin Berman on LinkedIn:
(This is summarized and sometimes simply cut and pasted by the IdeaMensch crew.)
- Storytelling is what brings an idea to life. The ability to place an idea, brand or concept in a narrative gives any idea framework and context in the real world. Without a story, an idea is like a blank coloring book. It’s the why behind an idea that makes things interesting.
- Be endlessly curious about the world, and give yourself time to think and explore. Inspiration blossoms from being curious and seeking to make every moment a way to seek inspiration. Watch documentaries, read books, go to museums, and travel extensively to places where you can interact with cultures and communities on a deeper level. Get out into nature a lot.
- Don’t pack your days so full that there’s no time for spontaneous meetings or unexpected opportunity. Some of your best encounters will come organically, in moments when you’re are not selling or seeking.
- Surround yourself with a network of individuals tackling incredible projects, from building tech companies to opening restaurants, and be inspired by them.
- Ask yourself what ultimate success would look like. This can give you clarity on what you’re aiming for with a project. When we understand the biggest vision, it’s much easier to work on the rest.
- Read “Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain,” which is a dialogue between the Dalai Lama and a neuroscientist.
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.