E-Commerce secrets to scale

016 - The Hard Part About Entrepreneurship and Producing a Viral Video with Benjamin Reece

016 – The Hard Part About Entrepreneurship and Producing a Viral Video with Benjamin Reece

E-Commerce Secrets To Scale is a marketing and entrepreneurship podcast that revolves around hearing the stories and strategies of successful entrepreneurs and e-commerce professionals to uncover scaling secrets that will impact your online store.

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Tanner:

This week on the show, I have Benjamin Reece. He founded a high-end video production agency named Deltree and went on to produce videos for big names like DC comics and G-Eazy. We talk about the hard part of entrepreneurship, as well as what goes into producing a viral video. You won’t want to miss this episode, so stick around.

Welcome to the show, man. I’m super excited to have you go ahead and introduce yourself to the audience.

Benjamin:

Yeah, I’m Benjamin Reese. I’m originally from New Orleans, Louisiana but now I live out in Salt Lake City, Utah for the last two years.

Tanner:

Awesome, man. So you’ve been involved with a couple of organizations, you’ve even started up your own video production agency. Let’s talk about that one first. It’s called Deltree, for anyone listening. You guys produced videos for DC Comics, Save the Children, Cashmere, G-Eazy, to name a few. And that’s amazing. It really is. But how was Deltree started?

Benjamin:

Well, yeah, the name or the concept I think started really because I was always into computers growing up. I actually had sort of a geek background in that I was really into like programming and building computers when I was a child through young adulthood. And when I created a viral video called 50people in question, I was starting to get inquiries from like even fortune 100 companies about doing commercials. I actually had a request from Hewlett Packard to do million dollar commercial. And they were like, the producer was like, do you have a reel, where’s the director’s reel? And I was like, I don’t have a reel, I just shot like two things in my entire life. It’s gonna be a month to get back to needless to say, you get it. But, you know, I kind of, I think I like thought about framing the email, but anyway, long story short Deltree is an MS DOS command prompt, which means it’s a delete the tree. It deletes not only everything within the folder, but everything in the sub hierarchy, which is unique from the delete command. And kind of goes back to storytelling’s ability to flatten hierarchy, to connect people. And that was the idea behind the company name, but really the company’s formation was a catalyst from,  was because of the catalyst of the 50 people in question series, where I went out and asked 50 people in question in different cities around the world and that spun off into like a YouTube team. And so because of that, I quit, I was a full stack programmer at a public health Institute and I quit my job to go film a commercial for Salesforce and a speaking gig kind of in hopes that will continue on. And I’ve been running my own company since.

You fail when you’re not a success for the world and the greater ecosystem.

Tanner:

Awesome man. So it’s, it’s really easy to talk about all the good things in business when you’re talking to an entrepreneur, but what’s not often talked about is the challenges and how hard it is. What were some obstacles that you faced? I mean, even in the younger days. I mean, you obviously probably didn’t know how to run a company. You just kind of had to figure it out, right?

Benjamin:

Yeah, for sure. I think I enjoy talking about the mistakes because when I saw the title of your podcast secrets to success, I was like, well, you could call it for me – like the, what was it? I had a name for, it was like secrets of failure, but it was better than that. Because you know, I think we all, you know, imagine entrepreneurship being where you exit a hundred million dollar company, or you have that really solid revenue source, that’ll protect you from the ups and downs of, you know, the market or, you know, your customers wins. But I think, you know, the reality is, is that for me, it’s been a journey with lots of highs and lows as they say. And I think I try to be grateful for the lows at this point in my life, because I’ve learned that they’re going to keep coming.

And I haven’t sat down and like codified this into some manifesto of like my rules of entrepreneurship. I think at some point I might have written some things on the topic, but I think the, the top things that come to my head are: you fail when you forget your own personal health, you fail when you’re a personal success or even a success for those around you, but you’re not a success for the world and the greater ecosystem. You fail when you’re not being truthful. Yeah, I think those are, that’s the start of it. I think those three things of like, what is failure to me? I think it’s first I’d have to define what is failure, energy forgetting your own personal health and the health of your family, forgetting what is the purpose of the things that you’re building, or not having a purpose, and then also going about it in a way that is more unethical or ultimately just dishonest. I think that those are the moments in my past where I look back and think of failures and I have stories probably attached to each one of those.

All power eventually corrupts.

Tanner:

So going back to the very beginning was it just you, did you bring on partners?

Benjamin:

Yeah, so at the very beginning, it was just me. For a few months I actually made up a producer. So talking of being honest, this is me trying to be scrappy, but I don’t think a lot of people listening would think this is wrong, but I made up a producer employee name and I was like, this is Samantha. And let me check with Benjamin’s schedule. Because I was like very cognizant of the fact that they probably weren’t going to give a bigger budget to someone who’s just a freelancer. They were looking for a bigger production company and entity to work with. And anyway, so that was, that was just me at the beginning. But as soon as I could, I started looking for help in the form of a producer, someone to help me stay organized and top of the leads and on top of client relationships.

And so I did, I worked with my mentor and he suggested that I should do a hiring round where I test like give a couple of freelance projects to a couple of different other top interviewees. And so I did that. And Abby Vo, who I still work with to this day she was the bright shining star. She did a great job, knocked it out of the park and ultimately we worked together for, you know, 10 plus years. Brought her on as an employee, but within a couple of years I made her co-founder as well as her husband, John Bell.

Tanner:

Awesome. Yeah. And I like what you said about pretending to be big because I’ve had that same feeling like I should do something like that, but in the, in the end I haven’t. But you know, it’s funny, it seems to me that being small, at least for me, has actually worked in my favor because, you know, the bigger a company gets the less they do when they deliver.

Benjamin:

Yeah. With that idea of like scaling comes inefficiencies or like complexities. Yeah, that’s true. I think it just depends on what kind of projects you’re going after and what you can go after. I think if you’re a single solo-preneur who wants to do like multi-million dollar things, well, it’s probably going to be a lot more difficult for you because ultimately people want to know where the money’s going and they’re not going to just give you money and trust that it’s going to go to the right places. So, yeah, I just think the other thing that I think about when, on the subject of doing it alone or being small, is I do think being a single founder or being in a small business, whether you are a single founder or not, can be a very lonely experience. And I think that goes back to your personal health. And I think that yeah, it’s been many times where I’ve felt the desire like I fantasize about, Oh, what if I was, you know, an engineer at Facebook or what if I was, you know, worked at YouTube, you know and visit my friends on campus there. And, you know, I felt proxy to that or we’ve done work with these big companies and I think there’s definitely a many times where I’ve, the grass was greener and I’ve kind of peering through a window. I’m like, I wish that was me.

Tanner:

Yeah. I mean, I, I definitely feel that you know, being an entrepreneur is definitely lonely, especially if you’re not like actively engaged with other founders or startup owners that maybe you can bounce ideas off of. I mean, it doesn’t have to be lonely, but what do you think about going solo versus going with a partner that helps you kind of build it up from the ground?

Benjamin:

Going it alone versus partner? I don’t know. I would say, I just Googled this the other day and apparently there’s emerging data that being that they went to Techstars and they looked at everyone who’s been through Techstars in the last ten years. And while the multi-founder companies were much more funded, exponentially funded, the ones that were actually more successful were the single founder companies. So personally what I would say is if I could do it with someone else, I would want to do it with someone else, but what I want to be the single Jobsian or Jesus or pastor figure of my own culture organization, et cetera? Sure. I guess, you know, with great power comes great responsibility. I’d like to think that I’m in a healthy place in my life where I could really balance that out well. But if I had to pull the trigger today, I’d say I really love that saying of like all power eventually corrupts. And so I’d probably prefer to do it with other people just from that specific philosophical idea. I don’t know if it’s philosophical or if it’s actually backed by data of some sort, but it sounds right.

Talking about the past is a great way to make healthier decisions in the future.

Tanner:

So let’s go back to when you were young, have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit in you? Do you have any cool stories from when you were younger that you could share?

Benjamin:

Yeah, for sure. I think just putting myself in a position of somebody listening to this, what would they think about these stories? Other than if you’re a fan somebody like, I think what’s cool about it is if you’re wanting to be an entrepreneur or you’re an entrepreneur and you’re wanting to succeed further. I think talking about the past is a great way to make healthier decisions in the future. Because when you’re creating a company, you affect other people, the people that work for you, the contractors, employees, maybe, you know if you have children they’re watching how you behave. And yeah, I think so make better decisions for your future. Maybe you can’t go back and make stories for yourself. Like the one I’m about to share with you.

Which is when I was young, my grandpa was an entrepreneur and he was, he was very successful. And he sat me down and he was like, Hey, do you want to take some courses from his college? And he like opened it up. And I was like, yeah, like I was into computers. So I was like, I want to do computer courses. He was like well, you got to do something for me. I’ll pay for these for you, but you gotta do something for me. So I agreed to make his company website for him, which I did. And I really loved the process. And it kind of encouraged me where, I had a girlfriend an internet girlfriend in Saskatchewan, Canada because I was homeschooled and I was living out in the middle of nowhere because my parents don’t watch kids anywhere in the world. And so I didn’t have any friends, but I had an internet girlfriend. And the only way to call her was like with phone cards, because it was like across state lines or whatever.

So to get phone cards, I need to make money. Well, I opened up the yellow pages and I started just call calling businesses, local businesses. And I said, do you need a website? Do you mean what I said? And by the way that these challenge back then in the South was, most people in 2000 or circuit, 1998 or 2000, they didn’t know they needed a website. And so I had to convince them and help educate them why they can do website, but also did it for super cheap. So yeah, I would just like do like coffee shops or like a smoothie bar or like a skate shop. And I would make these websites with flash and I’d just experiment and have fun. HTML, CSS and I think looking back, it was always kind of empowering story of being like, yeah, it was like what I love doing, not only it was just bold salesmanship, but it was like something I loved doing.

I mean, I kind of have different stories like that. But that’s probably the earliest one of desperation. Another one would be, me and my brothers, we sewed Nike checks on baseball caps. As kids walking around my whole life, we never had anything Nike. And we ended up like selling and bartering them to like neighborhood kids, just stuff like that. You know, but I think where I really kind of took off was when I started cold calling in the yellow pages. And I think that just comes from like my parents homeschooling us and always supporting our passions. And I always felt like being creative was part of like who I was, even though my brother was a way better artist than I was. So I think creative confidence is something that you can pass on to someone else. If you don’t have it, you should aspire to give it to someone else because it probably helped you. But more importantly, if you’re making an impression on someone young, like that’s what you can give them is like confidence to be like, Hey, you’re really talented or you’re an artist.

Everyone’s an artist.

Tanner:

Yeah, I love that. And what do you say to people that say that they don’t have any creative confidence or they say I’m not creative?

Benjamin:

Oh, wow. Yeah. I started thinking of my daughter when I was just talking about that. She’s very creative and very confident in her lanes. I think we can all feel that way in different areas. Right? I think the simplest way to say it would be everyone’s an artist. I swear. It’s like in us all. It’s a simple idea. We’ve heard it in different form factors in different ways, but I think to really support someone is to meet them where they’re at. Like, if this is playing out in your daily life, if you want to support your partner, find out what they love and spend time doing it with them, right.

That’s what I’m trying to do with my daughter’s thing. She, the kind of creativity she likes, like I might like web stuff or video stuff, but she likes crafts. She likes other kinds of art. And I think supporting them where they’re at, it can be really helpful. If it’s yourself and you’re struggling to find the motivation to be artistic, like I find myself lately I think a lot of people do in 2020. So my therapist says, be kind to yourself because everyone is going through a lot right now. I think put yourself in a healthy position, like work on eating, sleeping, well, exercising. You’re not going to overnight become a new person in those areas, but if you can get those down over the years it’s like a fertile ground for all that creativity to come out, even easier. And removing major crises or pressures in your life also like as this sort of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you can’t ponder about the universe.

Creativity is right there with it. So I think working on your foundation and have faith that the seeds that you plant in your health will come out in an access to creativity. Going, getting drunk and getting high and taking a bunch of pills, that’s going to give you like a fake inspiration for a spurt, and then you’re going to pay for that 10 times. Having a place of health and enjoy and artistry, shouldn’t be confined to like a thing. Like if you enjoy a program, if you enjoy woodworking that’s art. If you can’t find yourself enjoying something that could be depression. And I would go seek help for depression. We’ve all gone through depressive phases and depressive things in the spectrum. If you find yourself enjoying something then pursue it and that you’ve done it. Depression, lack of health is probably the biggest obstacles to creativity that I found in my own life.

Tanner:

Yeah, I would think that that’s probably the biggest things standing in most people’s way. You know, they know what they want, but they just it’s inaction caused by stress and anxiety or depression that stops them from doing it. Yeah, exactly. And I love what you said about how to cater to that creativity. Because I believe that everyone has a creative part of their brain. I mean, I have to do is just use, have to start creating, you’ll be surprised what you can do. Right. And going back to your yellow pages cold calls, how much were you doing those websites for?

Benjamin:

Oh man, it’s probably embarrassing. It was probably somewhere between like $200 to like $600. It was like to me though, it was like, I was rich. But it was definitely, they were probably like cited for 180 bucks, like great or whatever it was, you know?

Tanner:

Yeah. I think it’s always interesting to like see how cheap someone was willing to do something like back in the day. I’m included in that. I had no idea how much a website which should cost and, you know, I just kinda threw numbers at it and saw what people would say.

What’s made me successful is wanting to change.

Tanner:

So what would you attribute your success to the years?

Benjamin:

I think that question, that answer is interesting when the perspective evolves. I’m trying to think of how my perspective has evolved. What first popped in my head was luck because I feel like, I don’t know. I don’t think I’m trying to be like humble or like impostering when I say, I don’t think of myself as a big success. Like I think of myself as like, there’s lots of people, I guess if you live in New York or you live in LA, you just know people who’ve made more money or done bigger things. And I think that’s a good thing for me to understand that. So I think that’s why I would go to luck as my first thing. Because I can imagine a world in which I didn’t make 50 people in question, easily and a bunch of stuff may not have happened, but I mean, other things could have happened in life too.

Right. So I go back to like the definitions of, I first go back to the references for the success. And I think what’s made me successful in entrepreneurial instinct in entrepreneurial way or making things that people love. I think you could say, being fortunate that I was born into a household where my parents kind of encourage their passions and I had access to a computer and being lucky that video DSLRs came out and was on the rise right when I got into and made a viral film. I think the parts maybe that I can attribute to myself were kind of more manic drive more on the, you know, talking about my therapist, like more on the manic side of personality. The more you might say, ADD type, kind of relentless.

Almost every day I wanna wake up and play video games and I never do because I’m like I gotta do something productive, you know? And then I think the other thing would be kind of an instinct for product market fit, like sitting back and appreciating good things, beautiful things, beautiful companies, beautiful products, and like being a passionate fan of those things like I do. That’s what I spend hours doing is like reading about the new tech specs of this camera or this computer. And I think I did that since I was like born essentially, and I never had the nice things, but I always appreciated them. And then I got some nice things as I got older, but I definitely always had that appreciation and fascination for like the intersection of art technology, like how beautiful tech or beautiful art came together.

And I think that when you have a very voracious consumption of those things, it could turn into a good sense of taste. If you have a good sense of taste and you output and you produce things that might in turn make your skill, not just skillful, but applying it in the right place at the right time, in the right way. And I think that’s probably another thing I could attribute a little bit to myself.

I’d say on a personal level what’s made me successful is wanting to change. Wanting to change more, not being comfortable, wanting to change, to the point of where it could feel dangerous at some times. And I think we’re scary to be a better word, but I think being willing and wanting to change is important. But it’s not in everybody. I think there are different personality types. Some people they get on the edge of the mountain and they’re fearful. I’m definitely the kind that just like flies off. And I think you’ve got to know your personality and play with it and find your lane, you know, with that.

Your story then lives on is as a very powerful poignant moment in your life.

Tanner:

Yeah. And I think it’s important to be able to take a risk. Some people are cut from different fabric. They’re not going to be okay with that. You know, entrepreneurs are different of course. And I totally agree with you that luck has a huge role because it truly does. But you know, I think the harder you work, the more people you touch, you’re just opening more and more ways for luck to happen. So moving forward to what you do know you’re involved with Dear World. Can you give us an idea of what Dear World is, what their mission is? Who do they help?

Benjamin:

Yeah. So Dear World is a originally a storytelling project for 10 years. Where we went around the world and use a specific method called the brain tattoo method to find their story and photograph it on their skin and take a beautiful pictures and videos, stories of them. Whether fortune 100 CEOs, survivors of the Boston marathon bombings, to most recently, ICU nurses during the peak of the pandemic. But since the pandemic we’ve evolved this, and you could even say pivoted the company, more rapidly to building out a series of products that are more virtual focused and also platform focused.

For example, we have had 10 or so universities. We trained their entire orientation leadership. So I think over 900 students were trained on the Dear World brain tattoo method, leading it themselves. And we took the freshman classes of these nine or 10 universities and went with them through the Dear World experience as a part of their orientation process. So we built the video courses and the platform to train them on the experience as well. We now lead the experience, but we also lead it digitally as well. So quite practically, what this looks like, you’re an employee of Qualtrics and your VP of HR says, Hey, we want to have some sort of experience that helps our people see each other as people, maybe you’re having a problem with race and inclusion. You know, we want to get everyone together to celebrate their stories or to increase engagement.

Gallup does a survey every year to measure performance. And, five of our competitors, we are better with us and engagement and Dear World works to improve engagement by sharing and listening.

So we’ll come in, we’ll lead the experience, take people through in a virtual setting or in person through three-step process where you find a story and then you find a specific scene in the story, and then you write the message on yourself. And you share that with others in real time. And we have different artistic artifacts like pictures and videos to go with your stories and then bring everybody back together to play that video and to celebrate everyone’s stories throughout that organization or in specific divisions. Depending on what area we’re working in. And so your story then lives on is as a very powerful poignant moment in your life often that is very meaningful to people. Because it is a therapeutic process. It’s based on some therapeutic techniques, the brain tattoo method.

I think the traditional viral video is kind of going away.

Tanner:

What are some necessary elements or just even just some tips on producing a viral video?

Benjamin:

Huh. Great question. Okay. So here’s what I think is interesting now about the YouTube world or media consumption habits. So I think the traditional viral video is kind of going away and it’s being replaced by this consistent growth of very specific keyword, targeted algorithm, focused YouTube channels that have hit a niche at the right time. And so basically I think if you’re looking to get into content, you should do one or two things. One focus on something that’s artistically meaningful to you produce it authentically don’t care about as much all the algorithms and the consistency and the length of the video and all that. And maybe you’ll have something pop off and there’s been filmmakers in the last 10 years, like myself, and even more successful like Josh Trank, Neill Blomkamp who directed District Nine.  Josh Trank did Chronicles and he was going to do Star Wars, but they fired him from it because he had a lot of personal issues. But these are all people who’ve created like viral web videos and then went on to direct like major. Two or three Hollywood ones.There’s like thousands of people.

I mean, here in Utah, there’s a friend of mine who created a web, little Barb commercial that iPhone video that then he stumbled into doing like very high-level commercials for the rest of his career. So it doesn’t take super viral to get where you’re going. Right? You just have to find the right audience that cares about what you care about. But there’s a whole new way of creating content, which is like the Tik-Tok, YouTube way, which is, let’s find a niche, a passion, that I’m an expert at. Let’s research keywords consistently, create an editorial calendar around those keywords. Let’s make them seven to 10 minutes long because that’s what YouTube prefers and let’s produce them cheaply. But also as artistically as we can, but you know, 500 bucks a video and let’s produce them weekly if not two or three times a week, ideally in different sub formats.

And that is kind of the recipe for creating a large presence, which can be acquired by one of these content aggregators, you know, or you can find sponsorship. There’s a business pathway there, but also an autistic pathway there as well. I have friends who have a hundred thousand YouTube subscribers, et cetera, and all the way in between. I think that it just depends on what you want to do and what your goals are. I’ve toyed around with thinking about doing something like that, but I think it’s a big commitment. Like it’s massive, you’re going to work on it months, you know, if not a year or two, before you get any kind of real revenue to support you to even part-time.

I’d be doing something different to find that growth until I did.

Tanner:

And that’s the reality with producing any type of content. I mean, even if you start a podcast, you’ll be lucky to gain any traction for two years. And so yeah, consistency is really key, but it almost seems as if the algorithm kind of just weeds out the people that are not nearly as passionate about it.

Benjamin:

Yeah and/or the right product market fit. I’ve known people who were really passionate and even good, but they they’ll produce 150-250 episodes literally that they didn’t grow basically barely anything throughout the whole course of doing 250 episodes. And that was because they just sat on the data. They were like, Oh, well I just need to be consistent for a year. And I love doing this, so I’m just gonna keep doing it. And that was great. Maybe they love doing it. But I think if I were to go run something, I would be looking for growth and I’d be looking at other channels and how they’re growing. And I want to expect similar growth in those verticals. And if not, I’d be doing something different to find that growth until I did.

Tanner:

Yeah. And it’s not as simple as just posting content weekly, or every other day, or whatever your schedule is. You have to be actively promoting. I mean, you still have to get in front of people, right?

Benjamin:

Oh, for sure. That’s a great point. I think that’s all, it’s kind of like that statement is so true in that I feel like that’s one thing I wish I knew more about. Or I wish I knew people that were really good at that because I feel like that’s a whole side of the YouTube and to making business that not a lot of people talk about. If you’re at the right place and right time, like my friend Peyton Lindsey who made up Advantage one of the top podcasts on YouTube, he I don’t know, I’m sorry – I’m on iTunes. He now he has a video concept deal with like Showtime and Starz or something like that. But anyway, he was one of those. He was just kind of when Serial came out and everyone’s like, what’s the next podcast?

There weren’t a lot of podcasts at that point. There really wasn’t. And it was just the geeks who were listening to podcasts and then it started getting mainstream and he just happened to have one of the more mainstream genres, which is who dunnit, you know? And so he didn’t have to do a lot of promotion to do what he did cause he’s at the right place at the right time. But I think that in a saturated market, you need more edges, because you know, the more the market is saturated.

Tanner:

So is there anything that I did not ask you that you think might benefit the audience?

Benjamin:

No. I just hope, you should put an editing limit on the time you spend on this podcast. Apparently the last podcast I was on it took like three days to edit my episode. So put a time limit on it, would be my only advice. No, just thanks for having me on Tanner. You’re really nice guy. And I just wish you personal success and also would say like any time you want advice, just feel free to text me or call me if you want to run an idea, get feedback on something like. You’ve helped me out, you know, given energy and just encouragement with my things. And so, you know part of the fam. Hit me up whenever you need something.

Tanner:

Well, I really appreciate it. And I really appreciate you taking the time to come on the show. What’s a good way for everyone listening to get in contact with you?

Benjamin:

Yeah. I’m considering my return to social media, but the best place to find me is on my website, benjamin.org without the vowels. So that’s bnjmn.org. And I blog there once every couple months, but you can always email me be at [email protected] and I might be back on social media too. But for now that’s the place to find me.

Tanner:

Awesome, man. Well, we’ll be sure to link that up in the show notes. Thanks again.

Benjamin:

Hey, thanks Tanner. Have a good one.

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