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James Creech

Devin Miller

The Inventive Journey

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Find A Coach

 “Find a coach right? Mentors have been so instrumental to me on my journey, and now paying that back being a coach, being a mentor for others has also been extremely rewarding.”

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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find a coach right mentors have been so instrumental to me on my journey uh and now you know paying that back being a coach being a mentor for others has also been extremely rewarding [Music] hey everyone this is devin miller here with another episode of the inventive journey i am your host evan miller the serial entrepreneur that's also a the ceo and of miller ip law where we help startups of small businesses with patents and trademarks and on today's episode we have another great journey to cover um with james creech and i will let him do a much better intro than i can do but i'll give him a short one so he started his career more in ad tech and then some of uh social media and representing influencers and uh went along did that for a while and did some uh paid video ads on youtube and uh kind of worked his way through up until where he's at today and now he has a company with customers in over 30 countries and i think in six continents and continues to hire and grow and everything so um with that much of an intro welcome to the podcast james thanks devin that's perfect yeah happy to be here uh give your listeners a little more context i'm the founder co-founder and ceo of paladin we build influencer marketing tools for influencer agencies talent managers and creator networks to help them run better influencer campaigns everything from finding the right talent to managing those relationships and then reporting on activity across instagram youtube facebook twitter twitch and tick tock so if i were to summarize that you make really cool tools that help p or people in marketing to do work with influencers you got it yep building software for influencer marketing all right cool so now that we've got that what i always like to do on the podcast is to take now a couple steps back in your journey right because it's not just where you're at today but it's a journey that took you here so maybe take us a couple steps back of what led up to where you're at today yeah of course uh so i went to usc for film production business and political science and after graduating thought i was you know all set to go work in corporate america so i had packed my bags ready to move to new york uh be a business consultant and you know i just had fallen into interning at this social media startup that was doing some interesting stuff in the advertising space and building some tools around it and as i was getting ready to leave they said well hey you know we know you have this whole consulting gig lined up but why don't you stick around and kind of see this through and i said oh come on you know we've we've known about this for months and i'm uh getting ready to graduate and leave and and we've had this all worked out and they said well let's let's just go to lunch and we'll talk about it i said okay i'll keep an open mind and long story short they convinced me to stay and kind of do the whole entrepreneurial thing working in early stage companies and so i haven't looked back ever since i was at channel factory as uh the fifth employee helped grow the business uh build out offices in chicago new york and you know grow the team uh grow the revenues significantly in the two and a half years i was there after that went and worked at a creator network called bent pixels that focused on uh supporting social media influencers on a lot of the social platforms i mentioned so we're helping them you know grow their careers and work with brands and at the time 2014 to 2016 it was all manual right it was email spreadsheets powerpoint presentations and so out of necessity we just started building some tools initially to make our lives easier right just to save time and and uh run better influencer campaigns and then it got to a point where kind of woke up one day and said clearly we're not the only ones struggling with these pain points this is what we should be focused on full-time so i teamed up with two business partners and we launched paladin and the rest is history so now if i jump back just a little bit so you you started out they and they took you to lunch and i guess there's no such thing as a i guess you got a free lunch but then you ended up sticking around for a while but you decided to hey i'm gonna go and do that so you did that and then the next steps are reminding me the next step was you after you worked with them for a while then what was the next one i worked for the creator network called ben pixels which started out of vegas but i helped open the la office and i walked in and i was hired to be the vice president of operations you know that was my background being an operator and i came into the company and within the first week i said company's got enough operators you got a co general manager team that's really capable and we got all the infrastructure here for the la office now what do i do and i realized the business really needed growth so that's when i started focusing on sales and business development with you know little to no background in that which is you know probably as much of a blessing as it can be a curse but just started you know learning as much as i could about the industry and building relationships and trying to find ways that could be helpful to people and that you know led us to discover this need for software not just internally but for a whole emerging category that needed better influencer tools so if you're gonna do that and because i so how did was that just whoever rose their head was what they got volunteered to do it or how did you because if you're in operations and i think they're both great skill sets but they're you know a bit of a different skill set sales and marketing and doing that kind of thing versus operations operations make sure that everybody's doing there's most to do task management versus sales you you know a bit more of a people person get people to buy into your dream and go and land accounts so how did you decide hey i'm going to make it uh make that shift or make that change and how did that go sure well i think it was necessity right necessity is the mother of all invention and you know i walked into this business i said if i think i'm going to be an operator here my days are numbered right like the company needs more help in other areas and so that's what i got excited about that's where i felt i could make an impact and as kind of an entrepreneurial spirit i wanted to do something new i wanted to drive growth and innovation within the business and you know the way i think about it today like you said that the skill sets are both very valuable and i still have very much a process oriented very much an operator mindset but when building out our paladin team i found a very capable co in in our my co-founder thomas and the way i talk about what we do and the differences between our roles is you know thomas thinks about paladin present right as an operator he makes sure the trains run on time you know we don't forget about anything nothing slips through the cracks he's on top of the day-to-day my goal and my role really as the ceo is to think about paladin future right where are we going what is the strategy what is the vision how do we know the team around that how do we accelerate our trajectory so you know there's a natural yin and yang there there's a push and pull that leads us to better outcomes because we have this these different frameworks these different lenses that would through which we view the problems no i think that's certainly true so now if i had to jump to jumping topics to an adjacent topic just slightly so it made this switch you're saying okay i'm going to go to sales i'm going to go to marketing i'm going to kind of make that mother's you know they're you know the creator of all necessities creator invention um so you did that and you decided okay in the process you said hey i i think when we talked before a little bit of on the the pre-pre you know before the podcast and it talked for a few minutes they said you know kind of at that point when you jumped into it a lot of it was and maybe it still is today done by a pen and paper you know pen pen paper pencil maybe an excel spreadsheet if you're really technological and that's kind of about the uh the extent of it so then how did you say okay we i'm going to figure out how to do these tools was it you know how did because that almost seems like it's a programmer thing right or software that kind of a background so it almost seems like it's hey yet again so you went from operations kind of sales and marketing that did that by necessity and almost kind of the same thing necessity hey this is a doing this by pen and paper doing this by a spreadsheet it takes forever not very efficient leaves room for a lot of errors and things falling through the cracks so then how did you say coming up with the idea we need some tools how did you actually figure out how to do the tools or how to make them or how to actually get that going sure that's again where i'm very blessed to have uh two technical co-founders so in addition to thomas our co being very operational and analytical and just understanding what makes a good product how do we think through you know how to design this in the first place our other co-founder and cto oulay uh is very much a gifted developer right serial entrepreneur uh he and i had worked together in the past he was our cto of them pixels and so that was a really a strong initial partnership of okay here's what the market is saying this is what customers are asking for and then this is the problem that we've now identified here's a potential solution let's stand up in mvp let's iterate on that let's get additional feedback get some early testers and users and then continue to evolve the product direction based on what we're hearing so was the people that you worked with do they the same company before you guys did your startup as far as you know they were they were the other people in the company is that right so i had worked with uh olay certainly yeah at ben pixels the company i was at before we left to launch paladin and thomas and i had actually worked together even before that at channel factory that ad tech company i hired him he moved down from oregon and built out our ad operations team so he and i have known each other for years and years and uh just got the band back together and it was kind of the perfect uh trio to launch the business so so did you were you the one did you come up with the the idea and saying hey i i'm working at you know uh ben pixels i need i want i need these tools i want these tools was it ever thought or contemplated hey i'll do this with embedded pixels or i'll just do this as a project or i just said hey this is something that i want to do i don't think it fits within their framework we're going to spin it out do the do that ourselves or and or was it you or was it somebody else on the team that said hey let's get this going how did that kind of play out so very much started as an internal project right within bim pixels we had a need for these tools we were building them for our internal purposes but it quickly got to a point where was like okay this is licensable this is a software product that others can can use and see value in and ole and i campaigned for that hard right i mean as anyone uh who's very much invested in the software success we wanted to grow the user base we wanted it to drive more revenue and you know we were thinking about it as a business and initially there was you know resistance or other schools of thought within the business because we had other priorities right the business needed to grow as a media company you needed to you know work with talent and and uh needed to run campaigns and drive revenue in in those various ways and it just got to a point where you know we all believed in this but it was very clear that we were running two different businesses right a software business has very different capital and operational needs than a media business does and so that's when the idea came about to okay well you know let's spin this out let's run it as a separate entity and what we did is essentially said okay well we'll give up our ben pixels equity in exchange for the rights to the software ip and we'll write you a check for the remaining balance because you know our our shares wouldn't cover the whole thing but you know we'll uh we'll launch this separate entity we'll run this as a standalone business and you can be a customer right rather than having to finance the development you can pay a much smaller licensing fee than a bunch of expensive engineer salaries and that was a agreement that was you know uh acceptable to everyone involved so as partners we worked it out and you know spun everything out april 1st 2016. so you so and it sounded like and i'm not trying to put words in your mouth that that that was a favor or an amicable you know departure saying hey we agree this is going to be a different entity or it's really a different business channel or different thing we you know some of the people that stayed at uh ben pixels are saying hey we want to focus on this you guys are saying hey we want to focus on this let's make it amicable you know departure you know split but then we'll still a lot you know almost still have a lot of overlap in the sense it will be your customer you may be our customer we can still have a lot of synergy is that about right very much so right and i realize this is maybe a rare story it doesn't always work out that way but it took six months right of negotiations and making sure everyone felt heard and that we landed on a structure that uh everyone felt comfortable with and i mean there's still some of my closest friends right you know have uh great respect for them and the business they've built they've they've gone on to terrific success uh since the spin out as well i mean it gave them a clear lane of focus and you know they've done terrific work in the gaming and comedy space lifestyle craters on all these social platforms they you know represent some of the biggest talent in in the world and they've also uh started working very closely with a number of esports teams and just finding a lot more ability to laser in on that vision and you know likewise for us we were able to hone in on the things that we were uniquely gifted at and it just structured each business and each of the founding teams to focus on the opportunities that we were excited about you know i still still see those guys all the time and you know mike the founder and ceo of ben pixel is a good friend and still shows up to beat me on the tennis courts from time to time so we we make a point to see each other so no and that's a much better way to to spin out a company than sometimes out there or may have work out otherwise if you get hey people i do different two different ideas or two different dreams or directions they want to take the company and then you have much more of a falling out because people want to go two different ways so i think that's a great way to spin it out so the one or you so you spun it out and i think it was april 2016 or so um that you did that and you know one thing it was i assume would have been nice is you'd already been building these tools and had somewhat of a customer base right true we had already found that product market fit which in you know an early stage business the first year that's the hardest thing is just is there a need are people willing to pay for this now okay how do we scale that so you're right we had done a lot of the hardest leg work up front we had a product in market we had you know a pain point identified that we could solve and of course there was a lot to learn and experiment with from there but we had a bit of a head start which was a great great uh welcome advantage no and that that's a great way to any way you can get a head start on the company and and be able to do that i think is certainly advantageous so you did finally you got that head start you spun it out was it all you know roses and everything from there was there still lessons to learn still things to figure out or how did that go yeah you know with any new business there's a lot of growing pains in the first year and one thing that we're hyper aware of even to this day is you know we have a big dependence on all the social platforms that we work with and you know we've we've always been a certified partner of youtube we've worked very closely as an api preferred api partner for facebook and instagram early to integrate twitch very much leaning into twitter and tick tock so with it all of those platforms right you have to manage constantly changing api frameworks and uh you know changing business practices and policies and you know we've always strived to be a good actor and and you know encourage uh the right behavior in their ecosystems and so uh we have to be very responsive when things change quickly uh and then of course in the first year too you know you're we were capitalized just by our initial investment right so thomas holy and i put money into the business and that was our runway so we had to sell like crazy until we got to break even and then from there just reinvest all the proceeds back in the business so we've grown organically you know as a bootstrap business every time we hire a new engineer or a new seller it's predicated on okay well we can sign this new customer or we're making this bet but we know it's going to have a return no that's sounds like it always plenty of things no matter how much you plan you're always going to get into and you're going to say okay and that's one it's probably the one note i hear between all startups small businesses is hiring is always one of the harder things in the sense that you know no matter how much you thought you knew about hiring until you're actually in that seat and deciding okay do we have enough work to pull the trigger can we keep this person busy we're going to have enough return is it a long enough runway to keep them busy is it going to be you know what's hard as you get a project and it's a two or three month project and say okay i can hire someone but unless i have more after that what you know it's not fair to bring him on and then you know always finding that person with the right fit not only the skill set but fits the company so i think that's probably a commonality here within a lot of a lot of people there are a lot of startups and small businesses so now you take you you've finally got this one out you've got some of the things figured out you're starting to grow and now let's fast forward back up to today um where where do you see the next six months to a year taking here what's what's the trajectory in the runway sure well constantly improving and iterating on the platform based on that market and customer feedback right everything we do is driven by what's needed what's going to improve the tools for our customers uh and so earlier this year that meant supporting tick tock uh it's also meant you know rolling out content approval workflows just any any sort of feature set that's going to improve the usability and the experience and the value that our customers receive uh earlier this year we launched a brand new product called measure studio which we're thrilled about right we we saw this need about uh end of last year where there was you know this this uh trend of social publishers people who create owned and operated content for social distribution on youtube facebook instagram snapchat etc and so we we launched uh measure studio as a tool to benchmark content performance and really understand what's working what's not working right so so yeah and you this is maybe a slighter side note but you say you know you're continually iterating continuing to get customer feedback see what works what doesn't you know i'm not a i'm not heavy into social media i know i know what it is i'm on linkedin i i have a facebook although but it seems like about the only time i get on facebook is to debate politics which is a whole different thing um so you know but it seems like there's a lot of different platforms out there and you've listed a few i and i'm not an expert but you have snapchat you have twitch you have instagram you have facebook you have youtube and i'm sure there's a whole bunch that i don't even know that i'm because i bought it or i don't know i don't keep all of it as much but how do you decide do you try and be you know one side so it's all to everybody do you go for every platform do you decide hey this is where that we put our focus on and how do you decide when there's an up-and-coming platform if it's one that you put a whole bunch of time and resources on betting on to come or you're saying we're going to wait and see or how do you make those decisions i'd say we're somewhere in the middle right that's always a calculus every you know technology business working in social media and influence marketing has to make is do you does it make sense to be early to a new platform or should you hold back and wait to see if it has traction and staying power right there's countless examples of influencer uh platforms or social platforms that haven't gone the distance right vine is maybe one of the hallmark examples even after the twitter acquisition just couldn't really figure out the model that made it make sense uh you know even with tick tock we waited a long time and and i'll be honest in the early days uh we saw a lot of spend propping it up from bike dance the parent company in china and we had you know looked reflected back on musically we had not supported musically in the past and it had reached a bit of a plateau in terms of audience user base uh and so you know i think we we just wait until there's such an overwhelming demand for it from our customers that we absolutely want to support it right we get requests for things all the time you know if we're if we wanted to attract more russian customers it would be essential we support vk if we wanted to do more work in korea we probably need to integrate line at some point we're keeping an eye on zen right now because it's really interesting in the you know short film content space as a a 10 cents you know competitor to tick tock uh fireworks doing some interesting things there's a whole host of uh new sure and that's what we have to do right we have to stay on top of it in each segment right you think about like we're doing a lot more work in gaming now we were early to twitch but now we're getting asked for mixer and caffeine and so you know we're always keeping an eye on it but for us it really is okay will this super serve all or or a vast majority of our customer base or is it really kind of niche and specific to one customer segment if that's the case we're probably going to wait and see a little bit longer until it's the overwhelming demand that we just can't live without it so and i think that's very insightful and helpful so one other question i always i always say one i should always just stop saying one more question because i always have a whole bunch more than just one um but you take the so you build it up you figure out which ones work and which ones don't work how do you get that client feedback i mean are they emailing you and saying do you have this or we want this or are you reaching out to them and actively asking what they want because you know that's always for a lot of startups and small businesses even big businesses it's hard to get the client feedback or the customer feedback as to what they want and they know what they want but either they don't tell you it's hard to get it out of them or articulate it or make that connection so how do you go about getting that customer feedback yeah it's all of the above right there is no substitute for talking to your customers and we do that in every channel possible it's you know it was live meetings certainly before coronavirus when we were still in front of a lot of customers it was going to events and conferences it certainly is email uh phone calls zoom you know google me etc uh they can submit queries to our customer success team directly through the platform we have an integration that allows us to collect that types of requests and feedback and you know it's it's also not just looking at current customers we think a lot about our future customers right i think that's something that you know i do a lot of advising i i coach a number of early stage companies and entrepreneurs and i try to encourage them to think not just about your current customer base because yes you want to keep them happy and maintain those relationships but you also have to think about okay what are the deals that we lost last quarter and why is that right what are the what are the future customers that we would like to attract and what are we missing to go after them today who are we not thinking about and who would we not approach for this product that could be a natural fit but we need to build out xyz so you know that's another exercise that we go through on the sales and business development side in addition to the account management and customer success side no i mean that's again i think that's inside folks i said that's and it's almost across every industry it's just you have to figure out the ways that you can engage your customer and get feedback because it's invaluable and it helps you stay ahead of the curve and makes you responsive and everything else and it is one that one people oftentimes just don't do and they think oh i know what i'm talking about or i know what's best or i'll pick it and sometimes you're right sometimes you're wrong but if you're not serving the customers they're not going to stick with you very long so that's exactly certainly something worth to take note of so so as we start to get towards the end of the podcast and always more things to talk about than i ever have time to but i always have two questions at the end of the podcast i'd like to ask so we'll ask those now so first question is what was the worst business decision you ever made oh boy uh you know i i think the most instructive one that we made early on was we went wide right and what i mean by that is in thinking about building our initial product we thought about okay what are all the solutions we need to build for this customer segment we need influencer discovery tools to help people find social influencers we need a creator crm where you can store uh creator details and contracts we need a payments engine we need uh you know we had rights management tools back in the day we built a uh fan messaging service that you could text your uh your influencers and your fans uh we wanted to build campaign management reporting tools it was too much right we just cast a wide net because we thought okay well if a customer doesn't want one product we can at least have something else in the toolkit that they'll be interested in and that lets us sell more well in hindsight we really should have gone deep right we should have said okay we are the leader in pick one influencer discovery right we nail that across the board here's why and that's again advice that i give to the startups that i work with and coach it's you know nail one thing be known for that build your identity around it and then it's very easy to expand to those adjacent you know sections you're going to hear about it all the time from your customers who are going to say hey i'm going to be willing to pay more or you know you'll miss a deal and they would have signed up if you had xyz features that's when you need to start building out those that additional feature set you know we we went wide just because we had come from this space we we thought we knew all the tools that we should build and it was attractive to run after that but in hindsight bad business decision is is doing that when you have an opportunity to really go deep in something become an expert build the leading product for that and then expand yeah no i think there's a lot of wisdom but there's always that temptation right especially you know i come from more of the technology side on that i relate very well in the sense that you know what we call feature creep and you just want to add one more feature and if it's an app you just want to have one more thing and you know i always like i don't never love the minimally viable product in the sense i always look at that as that almost sounds like it's we're going to put out the crappiest product we can as quick as we can but i think there is a sweet spot where you're saying let's see what we actually what our focus is what we want to build make the best product we can within that vertical within that industry and then when we know that let's expand out as opposed to let's try it out of the shoot be the best or you know end all be all to everybody and you usually end up missing the mark and you're not good at any one thing rather than getting good at something and building it out so i think that's a great mistake to learn from so okay the second question i have is so talking to us somebody that's in startups or small businesses just got started or wanting to get started what would be the one piece of advice you'd give them i would say find a coach right mentors have been so instrumental to me on my journey uh and now you know paying that back being a coach being a mentor for others has also been extremely rewarding and help round out some of the things that uh you know maybe i didn't know about myself or or building out a new skill set so finding a coach really helps you a build in an accountability mechanism so you know you can take a step back you know see the forest for the trees and and think through okay what do i need to accomplish this year this quarter this month this week right back into okay what are the most important things how am i pursuing them and then also you know identify your weaknesses and you know i'm a big fan of don't try to fix your weaknesses be very aware of them and find people and processes that that you know complement that and account for it so that you can lean even more heavily into your strengths so having coaches and mentors has absolutely been fundamentally foundational for me and my success and i i strongly encourage other entrepreneurs to find those people in your corner uh lean on them you know for resources and advice seek that out not you know learn ev from every uh avenue you can whether that's books podcasts uh you know real life experience etc but but also find those people who've been through it and learn from their lessons learn from their stories so you don't make the same mistakes no i think that's great and i think that finding again sometimes people i don't know anybody in this and i don't know what it meant then i like your suggestion then let's find a podcast about it or let's find a book about it or mentors don't always have to be in and if you can find an individual great they're they're always helpful but finally someone that you can find and you know one i list another podca you know i do this podcast but i listen to other podcasts that are on the law and i get a whole bunch of ideas and things to think about and work on and contemplate that they otherwise wouldn't then it's not even going to have a physical mentor but even just having that you know that other those other sources of information is always incredibly helpful so so now with if people want to reach out to you they want to be an influencer they want to help with their be or get help with managing their influencers they want to get involved they want to invest they want to be a customer or anything else what's the best way to reach out to you if you're interested in influencer marketing software check us out uh paladin is that's p-a-l-a-d-i-n and then measure studio our tool for social publishers creators brands studios broadcasters anyone who's trying to learn from their social content make better content and help it succeed that link is and then if you're interested just to connect with me and and learn a little bit more i'm happy to chat you know i'm on linkedin j l creech ech you can also listen to my podcast i've been hosting a podcast for the past five years called all things video where i feature interviews with other entrepreneurs uh particularly those in the digital media space just highlighting their their experience their journeys uh and you know of course if you're interested in you know learning about the advisory work or the coaching work that i do find me on linkedin and uh would love to have a conversation all right well all sorts of ways to connect and all sorts of ways to get involved so appreciate you sharing that so appreciate you coming on sharing your journey it's a it's a fun and interesting one and it's always cool it's always enjoyable to see all the different journeys of people taking everybody's journey is different and yet there's a lot of fun and commonalities between the different journeys so thank you for coming on james um for those of you that are wanting to er that are in love to come on the show want to be a guest on the show feel free to apply at and we'd love to hear your journey um don't forget to if you're a listener to subscribe on any of the channels so that you can uh hear any of the new episodes that come out and if you're needing any help with uh patterns or trademarks if you're a startup or small business make sure to reach us out to us at millerip law thanks again james for coming on it's been fun to hear about your journey i wish you the best journey and hope that the next next phase of your journey is as successful as the last thanks so much devin you English (auto-generated) All 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