It's A Marathon, Not A Sprint
The Inventive Journey
Podcast for Entrepreneurs
It's A Marathon, Not A Sprint
Also sponsored by Cereal Entrepreneur
The Inventive Journey
Starting and growing a business is a journey. On The Inventive Journey, your host, Devin Miller walks with startups along their different journeys startups take to success (or failure). You also get to hear from featured guests, such as venture firms and angel investors, that provide insight on the paths to a successful inventive journey.
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save your money first that was one of the big things we did when um when we knew we were going to start our own company we set up the initial business formation in 2009 did not become or did not quit our day jobs and go full-time until june of 2010 and that was because we did not want to quit our jobs start working and realize well crud i either have to say yes to everything because i don't have any money or i have to go find another job right away because i don't have any money [Music] hey everyone this is devin miller here with another episode of the inventive journey i'm your host devon miller sterile entrepreneur that has grown several startups in the seven and eight figure businesses as well as a founder and ceo of miller ip law where we help startups and small businesses with their patents and trademarks if you ever need help feel free to go to strategymeeting.com and we're always here to answer your questions now today we have another great guest on the podcast amy balliet i think as i pronounced it close at least close it up but amy started i think her first venture when she's around 17 years old and i think it was a ice cream can ice cream and candy parlor if i'm not mistaken did that while she was in high school um and the dad jokingly your dad was looking for a new owner said why don't she or she said that she would do it and then kind of went from there and took that over for a period of time went to uh film school i think and then got part of the way through college went off to seattle after graduation did a bunch of different jobs didn't then she did a few other things monetize some websites with affiliate marketing did some seo and then uh brought herself to where she's at today so without rooting too much of the surprise welcome on to the podcast thank you so much for having me devon i appreciate it so with that i just kind of gave the very quick run through of a bit of your journey but let's take uh take us back in time a little bit to 17 years old and running an ice cream and candy parlor yeah definitely yeah it was kind of one of those situations where just like you said i i was joking i told my dad oh i'll open it because he was in charge of finding a new owner for this place and i said all to take over and then he woke me up bright and early the next morning to go get a business loan from key bank um which you know i i very much now remember because also when you get your first business loan from a bank you somehow become very loyal to that bank going forward so um i got my first business loan at age 17 and bought this place it was about a 1500 square foot um kind of soda fountain everything shop in the center of a um of a summer vacation resort and this place this this place is called the stand it had been built um in the late 1890s um it had evolved into so many different over the years when i took over it was primarily a penny candy store and an ice cream parlor so that's one real quick question on and not to interrupt your journey did your dad co-sign for loan or did the bank just give you a loan for buy a whole business at 17 years old oh he coached he definitely co-signed for that loan i'm just curious because he woke you up he went and got a loan i'm just like i don't know of a lot of banks that would give a 17 year old what is what you're describing as a business a big enough loan in order to uh to carry that so it makes perfect sense so anyway go ahead on your journey yeah and so i mean from there it was kind of my job to figure out how to how i wanted to run this run the place i had been going there my whole life as a kid uh you know i my dad gave me a dollar to go to any candy store and i'd come with a bag full of candy i thought it was the best thing and so i would to kind of keep that of innocence at the play and have it be something kids could build memories but i also want to be something that adults i wanted to spend time in um at time coffee shop just taking off and oh you know starbucks one thing yet or anything like that so i said i'll make it a coffee shop and you know added some extra features to it like that um but it was a lot of fun i i ran it for my year and my senior high school made enough money to buy a nice car put in money for college and then i went off to film school from there um and you know i love school but i wanted to get out of ohio so i got through film school as fast as humanly public i got out of school in about two half years uh a four-year degree and moved to seattle so what just out of curiosity so you go to the film school now what made what took you to seattle was it just uh open or the nice uh atmosphere or where you always wanted to go or you know just out of all the places after graduation won't decide no no go to seattle for a long time i gave people really kind of fake professional reasons for going to seattle because i didn't want to tell people that i got an idea at age 16 and just stuck with it but in reality when i was 16 i had some cousins who lived in central washington who were out visiting us in ohio and they said seattle is the right place to amy that's where you will thrive that you need to live and so i just started telling people that i would move to seattle after i graduated college and here i am a couple of weeks from graduation and people started calling me on my bf basically said or you moved to seattle or not um because none actually believed i would and i didn't believe i would but within a few weeks i had found a place to live out in seattle and i was driving across the country with my van packed to the brim and moving out there so that was 2004. i thought i'd live in seattle for a couple years because i never really left ohio for college or anything figured this was my experience in that but i've been in seattle since 2004. i fell utterly in love with the city and completely understand why my family told me i would thrive in seattle it's a it's a fantastic place to be um so now so now you you basically said i'm always gonna move to seattle and then people called john and so he said okay i'm going to follow through and i'll actually move with seattle so you moved to seattle after graduation and then how did you find the job was you you went into film you know film and i think when we talked before he did marketing and his under as a minor uh because your dad told you need to fall back and so you know when you're looking for a job and kind of what you're wanting to do how did you or how did you land your jobs or what did you do in seattle well my first three months i played my guitar in the street outside of baseball games um and football games and um made like two bucks an hour doing that so i kind of kept doing that for a while fifty dollars an hour yeah yeah i did i did pretty well i i learned that if you play the same four or five motown songs on repeat people just keep throwing money at you at games especially at the end of the game when they walk out for drunk so i made a lot of money you know busking basically um i did day labor for a while and got all the jobs because i had a van so i was able to drive people to and from um i look back at and think man that was not the safest decision i made in my life but it was something for a bit and about three months in the seattle i finally found a job that i felt like um was was a job that they would just graduated from college proudly take it was um the company called entertainment works they were in insights and reason movie trailers so i got to kind of be a part of this experience really understanding what moves people in a three-minute or less movie trailer and how to how to kind of re-edit that trailer and tell people the right story so that in that short snippet they want to walk away and say hey i want to go see that film and they know what they're getting out of it um so i did that for a while um absolutely doing that but my just sporadic it was on wins primarily because we're getting people exiting theaters like that and when i met my spouse i realized i needed a nine to five just so that i could actually you know see see people at a normal set of hours instead of instead of just you know have my weekdays off and work my weekends um so i got a nine to five thing um editing video as for a company that was doing mobile video on hand which basically means they were delivering really really low quality meaning like super pixelated video to flip phones because the iphone didn't exist yet so it was it was a really weird kind of in between me to play before the iphone existed we all knew something was coming that was going to just crush the business but for a couple of years it was a fun thing to do before i then switched entirely into online marketing so so you do that for a period of time and i think one of the other things you mentioned as you're kind of started getting into the online marketing and then the seo and graphic design and other things is you know you're you decided to before that you did the jobs and and you went into that and decided you're gonna do your own thing is that you uh you didn't you didn't want to rely on other people or you didn't like third parties or other agencies because they didn't necessarily do as a good a job or they weren't as on top of things so maybe dive into a little bit of your experience they say okay i'm going to go out start doing my own thing i'm gonna start my own business and start to build that but how was that with not not trusting them or how did that kind of overlay and set you up for later on yeah it's a great question so i mean basically i um you know when i moved entirely into marketing suddenly i was no longer the one creating content i had to hire agencies to create content for me because i had twos on my plate so i could both and i kept finding that different agencies would either completely skirt accountability and blame freelancers if things weren't turned in on time or if things weren't delivered correctly um or some agencies would quote me um you know one price to land me and then kind of do a bait and switch and charge double triple later download and it just drove me nuts because i knew how to build those things i knew vic design i knew webb i knew how long it would take me as somebody who wasn't an incredible expert in it and so i knew i was being um kind of fed some lies and i felt like this is the biggest issue when a marketer goes and hires an agency agencies can try and take advantage of a marketer's lack of knowledge of what the process is or how long it takes to produce quality content and they can damage especially a code related then times they just kind of depending on since you hire might just tell you that's one line of code takes five hours to do when in reality it's the line of code um so it really got on the skin and um he was working at startups and companies that couldn't afford the big agencies of the world that don't do those because we were working with a lot of smaller agencies and that was a part of the problem so when my company like i basically started out to do a completely different business model with my old business partner we were producing websites and monetizing them through lead generation and affiliate marketing but i was creating infographics for those sites for the seo value and it led people asking us the cryptographics for them and i saw that an interesting opportunity to to build a a small company that helped creative work to march but it wasn't my origin it wasn't my plan it was actual stop gap we felt like it could kind of get us some revenue while we were building up the other websites um but as i started to do that more and more and kind of react to um the demand from our clients i getting really positive feedback i would say to clients here's what i like about agencies so here's what i promise you won't do and here's what i probably will do and it started to make me realize i can build an entire agency not just around the the product of visual communication and visual content marketing but also around the surface of being wholly accountable offering flat rates instead of charging hourly um being incredibly schedule driven to ensure that a marketer can plan their entire campaign knowing that they're going to get the content on the days that are specified and most importantly not working with freelancers we brought our entire creative team in-house and really make sure that our our clients know that they're working directly with people are sal employees of killer visual strategies my company um salaried employees of the company who have been company for on average seven years the company's ten years old we have an average seven year tenure um and so for me because one thing i think is interesting on that is there's a lot of parallel i think almost across most service industries in the sense that you know the biggest gripes that people have or that it feels like it's an open bill and say attorneys are just as are horrible at it people feeling like hey this is an open bill and nobody you know it it's forever it the bill never ends is forever racking up and i don't know where the hours spent and if i call them for five minutes they charge me a half an hour and those type of things and so just a little bit is interesting the commonalities when you start to say what are the things that almost universal across the service industries and it's those type of things of hey you know if you just treat people like they are a customer and they would act you know how you'd want to be billed and how you'd want to be treated and get the things done when you say they're going to be done and on costs and on demand then you're going to be heads and tails above what most other people are going to be in the industry because the industries are always set up to just make it a very bad experience and so you know you did that now one thing i think we talked about as well is that you had a business partner for a period of time and i think he made an exit or he left or you bought him out or something so maybe you might so as you're going along how did that work um that was a kind of long pulling of the band paid off in a sense instead of ripping it off um he was somebody who i really cared about we had a really good friendship and our original business model was one that he perfectly fit into um the affiliate website and that affiliate web model was his id as well so he was really passionate about it as well but he didn't want to start an agency he didn't want to start a service based business it wasn't where passion was so when i kind of pushed us into that action he followed out of loyalty to me but not out of a passion or love for what he was doing and it really just kind of got to a point where it became clear that the lack of that passion made it hard for him happy about doing it every day made it hard to you know put in all that an entrepreneur normally put in because other good ideas kept him that he wanted to pursue instead rightfully so so we just kind of hit a point where as much as he was trained really hard to make it work it wasn't the right anymore because it was just something where myself and my team um we all kind of gun-ho forward with killer hitting every goal of killer living the values of killer and he was in a different state um kind of a remote sales person but not really somebody who felt like he part of the team are on the trip we're on um so we had a conversation about it and it was actually a really painless one question now and i'll get late gets your certainly your conversation but before you do was there a you know because i think that there's a decent amount of people that start into endeavors and for a number of reasons a partnership doesn't work out interior point it can be you're still good friends with them you solve a good relationship but one they don't have the time or two they don't have the interest or the skill sets of change or the businesses change or they can't support everybody for you know financially whatever those are and yet you try to your point is tearing off the band-aids slowly you don't want to make them feel bad or you don't want to wreck a relationship or you know they are still an owner in the business and so you just kind of limp along so what was that was there a triggering point or was there a thing that was a catalyst that said okay we better have this conversation as time or what was kind of the when you finally said okay we're this isn't going to work anymore we've got to adjust something how did that kind of come about well it was years in the mean we had had a lot of conversations we had this issues and to get them fixed and sometimes things would work well and then it would things would kind of revert back um and so the catalyst was really just looking at the data looking at the numbers and recognizing that for the position that he was in it just wasn't judging the um success symphony that we needed and so we needed any different in that role um it was a pain it was i mean every every type of a breakup like that painful in some way but he's super understanding and um you know really really peaceful about the entire thing we actually and anybody you ever talked to when they a business partnership um often times they talk about months and months and months of this arduous battle this way back and forth and we had everything but in three days um and yes i you know i've been out at a very good valuation because i wanted to make sure that um after his seven years of investing in the company that he was getting a good earn out from that so he got a good amount of money from the um from also being bought out and that was also a piece it was more the company was worth at the time he knew it and i knew it we both felt like it was the right decision given what he had put in so it was definitely a situation where you know yeah it's it's always hard and it's always incredibly heartbreaking but i think that out of every possible business breakup that has ever existed i think we would probably be the ones who are uh who who came out of it the best um with the least amount of of bruises basically so now one question so you you know you figure out how to come out with the least amount of bruises you know you part ways he goes his way he gets a good you know cash out so to speak and say hey i'm still really passionate about the business still want to do it i think there's a lot of potential so you know now not now not having that partner not having that person they started with it can be a bit i would assume a bit lonely in the sense you know before when you have a partner for all the sometimes headaches or other issues they may cause or the you know the the infighting or the or even the good times you know and disagreements you know you always have that person to bounce an idea off of or you'll have a person that will be the sounding board or they'll help you to pull the load or to do other things and so now you're doing all that by your own you know how was that transition to not having that partner did you go run out and get another partner right off the bat did you keep it buyers you know keep it and say i'm just gonna keep running it and i'll just do without a partner or kind of how did you deal with that shift in a bit of dynamics with the business i think that part of that comes from really slowly pulling the band-aid off i was already in a position where my executive team felt more like partners to me than than he did and so as a result it was kind of an easy switch um and it was really just we had been for the longest time ruling by commit um really you know yes he and i would have ideas and yes i would um you know bounce bounce ideas off of each other but always kept the intuitive team looped into those crusades so it was almost as we were five parts and we went down before that's really what it felt like versus two partners down to one um i mean yes there was still kind of that shift in um now i'm the one who's kind of bearing the the responsibility and carrying that weight but i i really lucked out to have this exact team that had been with us from almost the very beginning and as a result they they just had been through all the punches of the company and they had a love and passion for the company that um really you know they saw the same vision i did and that was also part of the catalyst when when the time came to exit my partners because they came to me and um a couple of different people in the company came to me and brought up that we were heading in one direction and he was heading in another and so it didn't feel too um too hard to switch it really didn't the thing that was hard was just knowing that i've got this friend who i'm not talking to every day anymore i'm not you know on slack going back and forth every day anymore um sharing gifts and things like that um so you know it's it was more the loss of a friend than the loss of a partner at that point okay no that makes sense so so now fast forwarding to a bit to where you're at today and i think you said you know you made some adjustments in the the structure of the business you sold the original business to the parent company and set it up as a bit more of a portfolio of companies with the new agency and doing some things with linkedin learning and public speaking and writing books and you can see it for those that are looking at the audio some of the the digital and physical copy of the books so kind of bring us up to speed what are you doing today and kind of how is that bringing full circle as to you know are you still doing the same business and how has that evolved and what are you doing so at the end of 2018 i sold the company to a parent company called kelton global um kelton global is an amazing insights and research firm out of la um kelton had this great vision that we're still pursuing as a group which is really cool they wanted to make sure to get to kind of buy up some of the best of the best agencies out there so that they could bring more services to their end clients but also so that the agencies they purchased could bring more services to their end clients and so we are a great portfolio of the news where all of our services complement each other and it really allows us to deliver better work to our clients better service to our clients um but we are com we kind of came to this realization at the start of 2020 actually before the pandemic um you know really hit the world in the way that it did um but the conclusion was we can be an insights driven marketing agency by combining all of our agencies so we are slowly but surely bringing all of our agencies under one umbrella called material um and material is um you know 1200 people strong some of the best thinkers in the industry um we work with the bulk of the fortune 500 quite a lot of global 2000 clients helping their end-to-end strategy and by end to end i mean starting at insights and research where we can help build their brand strategy help bring new products to the market do their customer segmentation all the way through to um to kind of you know delivering to an end client and tracking that success and so it's it's really kind of a um a swine service that we do as a group together for our clients um now in the process of that i was approached by my publisher wiley publishing in about the middle of 2019 right when we changed our name from killer infographics to killer visual strategies and wiley wiley asked me to write a book about visualication and visual strategy something that could be given to marketers where a marketer can walk away and have a really strong idea of how to approach visual content marketing and why it matters but also how to hire the right freelancers or the right agency or the right in-house team so that they can really own the outcome um and so that that's you know exactly the type of book i have been wanting to write so i wrote the book in um 2019 it was released in june 2020 it has been listed as one of the best marketing books of 2020 by the porch light book awards which is a really prestigious um a prestigious uh awarding group that you know we're alongside authors like seth godin which just blows my mind because he's one of my favorite authors it was also listed as the best book design of 2020 by graphic design usa so i'm really proud of my team because they designed the book it practices what we preach it's filled with a ton of visual content to help you understand and grasp the concepts um and in 2021 really what we're doing is kind of just doubling down on what we have always done at killer we have grown by sharing what we know by empowering our customers and by empowering our competitors we want everybody to know how to produce great visual content because if everybody's producing great visual content then we don't live in the world where right now 99 of the content out there is really low quality and a lot of marketers tend to think that that is the bar and they only have to hit that bar when in reality you can spend a lot less money promoting your content if you just spend a little bit more money on creating quality visual content so you know we're i i plan to be writing many other books i've got a list of books that i'm supposed to get out in the next three years so i'm going to be writing a lot more books i've been a linkedin learning instructor for years and soon to be seen the 20 rules of visual communication that's my next course coming out in a couple of months um and i plan to kind of and maybe just to dive in just because there are so many more things that we could talk about and we're getting to the end of the podcast so i want to give you enough time to always answer the last two questions i always have absolutely all right maybe we'll dive to there now um cool so the first question i always ask is so along your journey that we just discussed what was the worst business decision you ever made and what did you learn from it oh geez i've made a lot of bad business decisions because i think that you can't get to where where my company's gotten today without making a lot of bad business decisions but oddly the worst was the initial formulation we formed initially as a c-corp a c-corp worked for the original business model but still wasn't really the right fit we should have been an llc that took an s-corp election that's what we should have done but because we started as a c-corp the tax implication of that was immense all in all we spent about 150 000 in taxes in the first two years that we would not have had to spend if we were an llc so i think that we can even track that back to i didn't get a lawyer until two years into the company so really it's not even starting as a c corp was the mistake the mistake was not hiring a lawyer from the very beginning that was the mistake in my opinion and there's a good shameless plug for me that if you ever need intellectual no i'm just kidding um no do it it's true but but i think that but i i think that i i'd extrapolate that out as to whether it's a lawyer or cpa whether it's other people with a business you know too often you think is an entrepreneur hey i can do this myself and i can figure it out and we'll be we'll do just fine some except for some aspects of the business that's a great approach you can figure it out and you don't you know you can't go the opposite extreme if you hire experts and mentors and everything in every industry and you go broke before you even get started but for those areas that are going to be impactful for the business and wanted you know business formation and how you do taxes and i'd say leak you know legal on the lawyers for some of the things and some of the other ways and even mentoring in that you are worthwhile to spend a little bit of time money and effort so you do it get it done right as opposed to having to circle back fix the errors which can also often be costly so i think that that's a good mistake you know it's an easy mistake to learn or to admit to make as a startup or small business because everybody you always have more things to spend money on than things or money to spend but at the same time choose where you need the expertise and then go get that expertise for those areas so i think that's a great thing to learn now second question i'll jump to that i always ask is um if you're talking now to somebody that's just getting into a startup or small business what would be the one piece of advice you'd give them save your money first that was one of the big things we did when um when we knew we were going to start our own company we set up the initial business formation in 2009 did not become or did not quit our day jobs and go full time until june of 2010 and that was because we did not want to quit our jobs start working and realize well crud i either have to say yes to everything because i don't have any money or i have to go find another job right away because i don't have any money and i think that when entrepreneurs decide to go started start their own thing they often think well i'm going to be profitable right away and that's just simply not true it takes time to build your minimum viable product it takes time to turn a real profit and if you're not willing to put in those hours your evenings and weekends while you carry all time day job um which is what we did for the first year then you have to be willing to save at least a year's worth of your salary years worth of expenses so that you can live off of that or else you will run to another job and give up on your dream and so i did both i spent a year working 40 hours in my evenings and weekends while doing 45 hours in my day job so 85 hours a week and when you start your own company you're going to work 85 hours a week anyway so you know you might as well just get used to it but then i also took half of my income and socked it away in savings and re-taught myself to spend only half of my income that way a year later i had half of that income in savings and that was a year worth of expenses for me and holy cow if i didn't have that money stocked away in savings i might have quit early and gone and gotten another job well i think that you know one thing i almost built on top that's a lot of things the other temptation is if business is going well so let's say you start getting your startup and you stock away that money because to your point my my general experience with almost every startup or small businesses it usually takes two or three times as long as you think it's gonna take and two or three times as much money and so if you don't have that you know in place and really overestimate whatever you think it's realistically going to take you're not going to make it to buy ability or to profitability but even once you make it because then the other extreme is once you do make it to viability and profitability is this you still want to start repaying yourself for sucking the money back out of the business and then you're kind of putting yourself right back in there because next time you hit the the next covet or the next recession or the next down market or just you know bump into your own industry too often is well you know now you're trying to run out and get loans you're trying to support the business and you're never continuing to set aside that money so i think first of all having that war chest to get going but then also continuing to maintain it so that you have those cash reserves is a great is a great piece of advice for all people that are getting into startups and small businesses exactly spot on so well as we wrap up and there's always more rabbit holes more things that would be fun to chat on that we never quite have time for but if people want to reach out to they want to use your services they want to read your book they want to be an employee they want to be an investor they want to be your next best friend any or all of the above what's the best way to find out more and connect up with you best thing is to remember the three words killer video strategies killervisualstrategies.com is where you can jump on and see the agency get to know the people in the agency get to know our work killer visual strategies the book is for sale on amazon i highly suggest checking it out you'll learn all of our thinking um and then you can find me on linkedin at amy ballette um or through killer visual strategies on linkedin as well um and i am gonna be starting a um a series of tips for entrepreneurs on linkedin very soon here so i highly suggest you check it out i'll be posting on a regular basis very soon all right well i definitely encourage everybody to check out any and all of the above and certainly plenty of resources to learn and to grow well thank you for coming on the podcast amy it's been fun now for all of you that are listeners if you uh have your own journey to tell and you'd like to be on the podcast feel free to go to inventiveguest.com and apply to be on the show if you are a listener also make sure to click subscribe so you get notifications as all the office and awesome episodes come out and leave us a rating so new people can find us and last but not least if you ever need help with your patents and trademarks just go to strategymeeting.com we're always here to help with miller ip law thank you again amy and wish the next leg of your journey even better than the last thank you so much devin really appreciate it you