Brand Story Telling with Brian Phillips, Founder of The Basement

Below is the audio and transcript of the most recent Smartups with Brian Phillips, Founder of The Basement. I will post this transcript here for now, but in the future we will be posting them on the Smartups site, once we get the new one live.

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Brian Phillps Smartups September 2013 by Smartups on Mixcloud

Transcript after the jump.

[Brian Phillips, Co-Founder The Basement]

Tim stole my introduction.  So, better?  I always talk soft in microphones, and we’re such a small group so to even talk in a microphone seems counterintuitive to me.  I had to sit down because otherwise I never would have been able to stay in a microphone because I move around a lot when I talk.  So you’ll see me move my hands.  See, he knows I talk soft now.

So I was going to talk today about kids, and designing for kids, and how designing for kids has a strong impact on what I do and the way I kind of see the future of media and the future of the web.  And I’ve kind of shifted it a little bit because that tends to be more of a user experience conversation, kind of how do you design, and what you design, and the kind of decisions you make along the way when you’re designing something whether it be on the screen or a product.

So I’m happy to talk about that.  I’d love to talk about that, but I wanted to talk more about startups and give some of my experiences creating startups, and working with brands, and marketing, and that sort of thing.  So I’m going to go through more of just insights that I’ve learned in my career, and it seems we’re intimate enough here where we can stop and have dialogue throughout, but I really encourage a strong Q&A afterwards.

So if there’s something I don’t cover, if there’s something you guys wanted to get out of it, please let me know.  And the idea of Velcro, because when I told people what my topic was going to be they kind of scratched their head and said, “What the hell does Velcro have to do with anything?”  But as the web and things, big data, and all these things are extremely complicated and communication becomes more complicated I kind of look at Velcro as a great example of something that is simplifying a complicated process and looking at ways that we can bring more simplified experiences to the web and to the world.

So I’d love to talk more about that, but I’m going to go through some other things too because I don’t have a ton of time.  So the world is really big.  I have learned that.  That’s one insight I will share with you and I don’t have all the answers.  Every startup, every marketing problem cannot be solved by me or really by anyone because I think there’s diversification of products, audiences.  There’s just differences and there’s no silver bullet.

So everything that I’m going to say today is really from my own perspective and my own insights as a business owner as well as a marketing and advertising creative director because ultimately that’s what my day-to-day job is is connecting ideas, helping people solve problems, finding ways to engage an audience.  So, like I said, I don’t have everything, but some early inspirations of me – let me ask a question.  Are you guys familiar with The Basement at all?

Has anyone before this, besides the people that I know here?  Just briefly to set the stage of who we are and what we do, I mentioned we kind of build tailored experiences for organizations, and to clarify that it’s experiences that you get on screens and how that experience can translate from screen to screen.  So whether that’s a TV commercial that then leads to a digital experience to a mobile experience to a tablet.  We have experience building everything from animated shorts to video games to microsites and destination pages for some of the world’s largest brands.

So I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of experience building things that I did as a child.  So I watched a lot of television.  I played a lot of video games and I ended up making a career out of it.  But the point is is that I think it’s going to be extremely relevant in the future in the way that people engage and interact with media.  So some of my early inspirations were music, basketball, and hip-hop music of all things.

I know it’s kind of hard to believe that I’m in my late 30s and people think hip-hop music is for kids, but it actually started in 1978 and I was sucked into that lifestyle and that idea of hip-hop.  And it kind of manifested itself for me as a graffiti artist because I got introduced to it through arts, another art student when I was in high school, and what I learned about graffiti art was – it was my first exposure to competitive creative and the idea that I’m going to get a group of people together and we’re going to create something that is better than what you can create.

And really that transitions itself to my business now where as a studio owner and as a creative studio owner I want to create the most compelling work.  I want my work to be noticed, and recognized, and I want to be surrounded by the most influential people that I can be surrounded by.  It also taught me to take very calculated risks because when you’re dealing with that type of art form you’re really sacrificing your freedom, and when you sacrifice your freedom it has to be worth it.

So that risk has to be really, really worth it to give that up.  So those experiences really transition to my life and my work today.  So I started my career – I got out of high school and I saw the film Toy Story.  And it came out in ’95.  I graduated in ’96 and that movie kind of changed my creative life and then I decided I wanted to go to school to be an animator.  I wanted to do traditional art.  I was going to go to Savannah.

And I decided I want to build characters.  I want to create these creatures and this character that I cannot do from a traditional drawing.  So I sought out becoming an animator, and at the time there wasn’t a lot of opportunities to work in animation, and to be honest in this town, in the Midwest, except maybe Chicago there’s still not a lot of opportunities.  I’ve had to create my own jobs throughout my career to be able to do the type of work that I wanted to do.

So if Toy Story changed my creative life, a phone call to a company, HNTB, which is an architecture and engineering company, changed my creative career because when I was in college I made a phone call because before I could get to learning about graphics and 3-D and how to do this type of stuff I had to learn AutoCAD and I had to learn how to become a draftsman.  So at the time I was working at Karma Records and I lost my job because I was late to work.  I couldn’t get from college to my job, and it paid shit but I got a lot of concert tickets which was awesome at the time.

I was jobless so I started making phone calls to companies that were hiring part-time students and I got a job at HNTB which is a national architecture and engineering firm downtown.  So I went from being a graffiti artist running around painting trains, and doing art, and playing basketball to sitting in a corporate environment learning how to design buildings, and airports, and sporting arenas.  So it was a shock for me, but what I learned from that was the importance of a process because I learned that if I can build a building and I understand how a building is built there’s really nothing I couldn’t figure out.

And I got to understand the process of a building and how each step and each touch point is critical, and those touch points and that process really has not changed in my experience in the creative industry and in advertising and marketing.  It’s the exact same thing.  It’s the exact same problems.  It’s just a matter of that process, and implementing that process, and sticking to it, and that was a major insight that I learned early, early on, and the importance of touch points in that there’s an art to selling an idea.

There’s an art to selling, and as a creative I think a lot of creatives, and, again, I don’t think I’m talking to a room full of creatives, but a lot of creatives just do it because it’s creative and they don’t understand that you’re selling something and there’s a purpose behind what you’re doing.  And I learned through architecture that the purpose is to get somebody to move along a process so that they can start building, so they can start pouring concrete, so they can start putting up drywall.

Building a video game, building an animated story, building a campaign isn’t that different.  It’s how you take your clients and how you walk people through that process and you guide them and give them enough information at specific times and give them opportunities to engage and have feedback before you artfully sell them on what the right solution is.  And I was very fortunate to learn that and I learned it when I was still in college, and from that standpoint I was grateful because I feel like I walked out of college with a lot of information that a lot of students don’t get when they’re coming out of school.

And to make a long story shorter, I hit a ceiling in architecture.  I learned a lot.  I learned those things.  I learned because my job in working for architects and engineering was helping them with graphics and helping them with 3-D buildings.  So I was part of the whole pitch process.  I was a part of the client to help them visualize what a building was going to look like before anyone ever put a shovel in the ground, and there was a lot of responsibility there to be accurate, to be efficient, to tell a compelling story.

And that was kind of my first touch where I wanted to do characters.  I wanted to tell stories, but I didn’t have the opportunity to tell the types of stories I wanted so I told them through architecture.  I told them through spaces like this space.  There’s a story to this space and there was a story – somebody had to communicate to somebody who was signing a check for this space and that lesson was extremely valuable to me and really, again, carried through my career.

But I hit a ceiling and before that I want to talk first about my first real startup.  It was about 2001.  I left HNTB.  I went to another organization to help them build an interactive studio, a 3-D animation studio inside of a company, an architecture firm, to help everything that I described earlier.  So I got a taste for that startup, that from the ground up we’re building something that we’ve never done before.  We’re creating things that we’ve never created before.  No one in this market was really doing that at the time.

So there was just this entrepreneurial spirit, and we started to come up with this idea called My Golf Wizard and it was right when the dot-com, it was right at the bust, really.  It was in 2001, early 2002, and the idea behind My Golf Wizard was a website where players could go and get off tee times.  So if the golf course – what I learned in this situation, I’m not a golfer and I wasn’t really a golfer then, but what I learned in the situation was golf courses after a certain amount of time their sales for tee times go down.

Their primary tee times are in the morning.  Now they’re sitting with a surplus of these tee times at night, and we were saying let us have those and we’ll sell them at a discount and we will build a platform where people can go and grab these tee times.  Through this process we started building because we saw a need and the people we talked to at the golf courses it sounded like there was a need for managing the actual tee times.

And the biggest lesson that we learned – and this was a major mistake that we made – is that we started focusing on the technology.  We didn’t focus on the audience.  We didn’t build an audience, and we put all of our time and resources into this technology platform that we had nobody to use.  So to play that forward in advertising, that’s critical is to understand the audience, and who the audience is, and communicating through the audience, and putting a product together that the audience wants to use.

We had no audience.  So we were trying to sell golf courses now this technology platform that we couldn’t guarantee players would come.  So it was kind of a cart before the horse and that was a mistake and we failed (a) because we weren’t really focused.  We all had other jobs, and we were taking a chance, and we had a really good group of programmers and designers and thinkers, but it failed.  And the insight there was just that.  The audience was more critical in that situation than building a platform.

So shortly after that I kind of got the taste of startup mode.  I hit a platform or a ceiling in the industry where I had some friends that were working in advertising and they were doing some really cool things.  And at the time I was doing a lot of interactive 3-D work, so a lot of web 3-D.  3-D was kind of my thing, but broadband was starting to take off.  It really hadn’t taken off yet, and when I was working in architecture I was doing a lot of CD-ROM development.  So a lot of my creative work and a lot of my thinking comes from developing CD-ROMs and that’s where I started.

And for the people that aren’t in the industry, what you would use is you would take a CD-ROM and all the experience was loaded on that CD-ROM.  You would put it in your computer and you would play it and it would be a self-contained experience.  You didn’t need the browsers.  You didn’t need technology.  All you needed was a powerful machine and you could pretty much do anything you wanted.  You could make games.  You could do all of this.

So my whole career was really based on experiences, utilizing stories and animation and interactive at an early, early age.  So I kind of said, “You know what?  Let’s stop architecture.”  I had a business partner, who’s still my business partner today.  He had experience.  He was working at McDonald’s as a regional marketing director for McDonald’s and he had experience in advertising and account management.  So I convinced him over beers one night because he would talk to me about business and marketing and I was fascinated by it.

So I got him drunk one night and I convinced him to start a business with me, and he did, thankfully.  And what’s so crazy is he had a one-year-old son, and I’ll talk later on in the presentation about having a child and what that really meant in my life.  And I couldn’t imagine quitting a good-paying job at a Fortune 500 company and starting a company off of card tables, which was something we were talking about earlier.

So we started a company in 2004 and we were focused on all digital interactive CD-ROMs.  We wanted to go after advertising.  We wanted to do 3-D animation for advertising.  Like I said, broadband really hadn’t hit the penetration rate that it did shortly I think a year after.  In 2005 it really started to penetrate, and we started a company called Zook Interactive.  And I think the day I quit my job the following Monday I was invited to sit on an advisory board for a high school and I met an owner of a company that were doing some digital work too and together it was right after that we signed an exclusive creative deal where we did all of their creative work and we built one of the state’s first digitally-focused agencies.

And we grew that until about 2007.  At one point we were at 65 people and I lost my mind just trying to understand what that really meant, and I’ll talk about that right before I get to The Basement.  I call this my dream distraction and in 2005 we started a company called Roster.  It was me and about five other people.  The idea started off as a video game tournament.  So we wanted to create a video game tournament/film festival/concert.  And I met a gentleman who was a lead singer of a band and he did the whole national – he got signed to Virgin, I believe, or Interscope and toured the world and got connected to all of these celebrities.

We were talking one night about why don’t we create an online network for people to play celebrities in video games?  And at the time there was nothing really like that.  Xbox Live was just in its infancy, but that was the platform we were going to use, and we started going after these celebrities and trying to get them to sign exclusivity deals with us so that we could have them come on our platform and play video games with fans.

And it was a unique way for fans and celebrities to connect without the harm of in-person meet-ups.  The way it manifested itself was a tour and we went on the Sounds of the Underground Tour which was the first year for this tour and it was a lot of super heavy metal bands like the Lamb of God, and Clutch, and these bands that most people probably don’t know who they are.  But it was kind of underground rock music, and what we did is we toured with them and we created a booth where fans could come in the booth and play video games against the band members.

So the band members could come in and play video games and we would film it.  So throughout the film we would film it, edit that night on the tour bus, and put out episodes.  So we did an episodic tour diary basically of the Sounds of the Underground Tour through this video game booth.  It was at the point where fans were coming up to us by the end of the tour saying, “Man, I’ve been following you guys this whole time.  I can’t wait.  I’ve been wanting to play this guy.”

And Halo was the game we were all playing, and the experience was based on that, and it was a big deal for the fans.  And it cost a lot of money and the insight in that was – and this applies to anybody who’s starting a business – is be prepared for growth and don’t say yes to something you can’t handle.  Success comes from capitalizing on opportunities, but some opportunities you can’t handle and that’s where failure comes in.

So in this situation it was we wouldn’t let someone else come into the opportunity and they wanted us to do more than we could really handle because we weren’t really focused on it.  It was something we were like, “Oh, hell yeah.  Let’s do that.  That sounds fantastic.  It’s going to blow up.”  Well after the fact when we all come home we’re like, “Now what’s next?  They want us to do that again.  That should cost more money.”

So just the investment and the effort that it takes to build a business and build an experience like that was a hard lesson because that was a company that I was very proud of and a brand that I was really proud of and that was a tough one to see fail.  So it brought me to another insight about focusing.  Focus.  Focus.  Focus.  And that’s something that I have learned in my business with The Basement and something that I have experienced a lack of throughout my career in being with people that don’t focus.

And as important as location, location, location is to real estate, I feel like focus is for startups and businesses and marketing and anything you’re trying to get off the ground because I think businesses are defined – I think somewhere I’ve heard this term before – defined by what you don’t do, what you say no to.  And I think all of us are kind of defined by that same logic.  So by not doing something you’re really defining what you do and what you’re focused on.

We formed The Basement in 2007 and that was in an effort to really just get focused on creating experiences for people, brands across the country, across the globe.  We launched as a kind of hired guns studio for agencies and brands to help them with their transitioning from traditional advertising to digital advertising.  We’ve had a lot of success and there was an insight that I wanted to share with you.  Well, let me back up a little bit more about The Basement.

The Basement people always ask us, “Why the Basement?  Did you start in a basement?”  The answer is really no.  That’s not the purpose or the idea of where the name came from.  We came up with the name from kind of a state of mind of a craftsman and somebody who works and is trying to become something better than what they are today is you hear it often in hip-hop about being in the basement, focusing on your work.  I’m in the basement.  That means I’m working.

That means I’m trying to become something better than I am and that’s really how we approach and look at our work, and our processes, and who we are.  And the type of culture that we’ve built is built off of improvement and constantly self-checking.  So that’s really important to us and our belief systems.  It really happened when we started a certain way and just going after it and then we hit a transitional period where we rebranded, repositioned ourselves, and we defined our belief systems.  And our belief systems are to stay curious, stay ambitious, stay competitive, stay genuine, and stay fascinated.

And they’re very childlike lessons, but for the culture of our company and the way that we approach our work we find that it is extremely effective because we always want to be challenging what someone may believe or think of as traditional, or normal, or it can’t be done.  It goes back to calculated risks and taking risks, and even in the creative field we want to be known as the people that will give you something not risky for the sake of risk, but progressive for the sake of it’s going to leave an impact on your audience.

Sorry, I want to back up and talk about another insight about the fact that I don’t think ninjas should have mustaches, and people normally scratch their head and say, “What does that mean?”  The idea behind that was I was watching a movie from the ‘80s called America Ninja.  Has anyone ever seen this movie?  I was a huge fan of ninja movies and the idea of a ninja is streamlined, slick.  A perception of a ninja is everything just bad, as in bad as in good, and there’s a scene in that movie where there’s a ninja dressed in white and he’s running from ninjas dressed in black.

And he jumps slow motion off of this waterfall and it’s just this cool, great ‘80s transition down into the water, and he pops up and he’s running slow motion out of the water and his mask comes down.  And it has a mustache, and I thought, man, that’s not what I thought that ninja looked like.  I did not expect him to have a mustache.  I excepted him to be this clean-cut, Jean-Claude Van Damme type ninja.  And it was obvious that the director did not want the ninja to have a mustache or he did not want his mask to come down.  And I said that is lack of detail.  That is taking an edit point on that film and moving it back maybe three or four frames so that you don’t see his mask coming down.

And lack of detail kills projects and it kills what you intend to put in front of your audience and your messaging.  Has anyone ever heard of the Nine Old Men?  The Nine Old Men were appointed from Walt Disney in the’40s and they were his main animation directors.  It was nine, and he called them they’re old men because at the time they were the most experienced animators in the Disney Studio.  The Nine Old Men created what’s called the principles of animation.  There are 12 of them and they dictate and have dictated and governed, and they’re looked upon as the commandments for American animation.

And one of them is appeal, and we as The Basement really believe in appeal, and creating things that are appealing, and connecting with your audience in a way that is based on a story or something that makes people want to engage in it with that experience.  And Walt Disney’s philosophy was on appeal that the villain should have as much appeal as the hero, and when they made films everything was considered.  Every angle, every design decision was taken into consideration, and that is an attention to detail.  And when you talk about ninjas not having mustaches, Disney could have created a ninja with a mustache and it would have worked because it was based on an appropriate design decision.

Quentin Tarantino could make a ninja have a mustache, and the point and the insight there is that ninjas actually can have mustaches and those details matter to the audience.  And that translates to every communication that we put out, every story that we put out, every experience that we put out for our customers matter.  And they have to be considered, and it has to go through a process, and it has to be vetted, and it has to take the consideration as if you were making a film.

So that’s all I really have left for this.  I’d love to talk questions.  The one quote I’ll kind of leave you with is innovation reveals itself when you stop looking through the eyes of everyone else, and I strongly believe that.  And my company believes that, and we believe that to truly step back and don’t consume what everyone else is doing.  Take note of it, but to truly be innovative you have to look at a different perspective.  So that’s all I have, guys.  Thank you.


Let’s talk.

Q: Hello?


Q: Can you give us some examples of what’s been really successful at The Basement and why, like a couple campaigns or specific marketing things that you’ve done that have really worked and said I can take this and do it with a couple other clients also. 

Sure.  I have an example that has worked for us and it’s one thing I didn’t note that we as The Basement we do internal projects for ourselves.  It’s something it’s kind of in our culture where it’s like we don’t have clients.  No one’s telling us what they want to do or we’re not solving their problems.  We’re kind of solving our own, and those take form in short films, which I’ll be glad to show.  And last year we decided to make an interactive kids’ application because we saw the transition in our business moving to tablets and people were – we do a number of sales apps and help people with their sales processes.

And a lot of it is moving to a tablet.  So we decided let’s build our own interactive kids’ application, storybook.  And one of the first steps in doing that is writing a book.  So we wrote a children’s book last year and I remember George Evans, who is presenting here next week or next month.  He’s actually a good friend of mine as well, and he’s kind of my writing guru guy where I put things in front of him and I say, “Man, just validate this for me.  Is this good?”

We were at dinner one night and I read it.  I slid it over and let him read it and he said, “You need to put this out now.  Don’t wait to put it out as an application.  You need to put it out.”  So he encouraged us to put the book out and we put the book out at the beginning of this year as I guess it was really a marketing piece for us.  It was a way for us to showcase our storytelling ability.  It was a way for us to showcase our interactive and hopefully it was a way for us to get press.

And it was our first product.  Is anyone interested in seeing the book?  So we put this out.  We put this book out and we received more press than I could have envisioned.  We’re in our seventh year now.  In the five years we really haven’t promoted ourselves.  We don’t publicly go out there.  We have a sales person that we go out and we grow business that way, but we don’t publicly put ourselves out there.

So this was our first real public push, PR push.  And we got a nice write-up in The Indy Star featured us, featured the book.  The book, and I’ll read it here in a second, the book has a financial angle, saving money.  So a lot of these talk shows across the country picked it up as a book to teach children about financial planning.  And so I did a number of radio interviews across the country about being a financial planning expert for children [laughs] to the point where a parenting magazine in Canada asked me to write a guest article on financial planning.

And even to this day I tell my wife, I say, “You know, I am a parenting expert.”  And the book has won numerous global awards for – it’s self-published.  So it’s won a lot of self-publishing awards and this was a very successful unconventional tactic for us to get exposure to our studio.  It hit a lot of different – I think I even showed you an early copy.  Matt’s a creative director in the market and a friend of mine as well, and the exposure was huge and to the point now we’re getting a write-up, an article in HOW Magazine which is one of the premier design magazines for advertising and graphic design.

So they’re doing a feature about the book and why a design studio would make a kids’ book.  So I’ll read the book and to me it’s when you think about writing a kids’ book you think about a moral.  And that was our dilemma.  It was like I’m reading all these books to my son and if I were to – I know this sounds morbid – but if I were to be gone tomorrow and this book was all I had what would I want to tell my son?  And that was really what I wanted to put in this book.

So the book is about perseverance, imagination, saving money, and problem-solving which can really be applied to any business as well.  So I’ll read it real quick.  I’ve never really read this publicly.  [Reads “Every Walrus Can Fly”] 


Thanks.  So that was a –

Q: How are you going to parlay that to your clients now and make money?

Honestly, we show this to our clients and our business has grown tremendously from just the idea of storytelling and the fact that we can craft a story because I think a lot of story and storytelling, especially with clients, is really there in front of them.  And it’s a matter of sitting down with them and pulling out the pieces and connecting the pieces.  And this is just an example of creating an experience and we do this for our clients all the time.

So the transition has been effective for us, and from a – we have a number of examples of campaigns we’ve worked on.  One that’s notable that we worked on years ago – this will tell you how long ago this was.  We worked on a campaign for Einstein Bagels.  We partnered with another group and what we created was the first ever digital coupon campaign in Facebook and this was probably in 2009, 2010 maybe.  And the Einstein Bagels in 24 hours got 300,000 fans.

And we were featured on Bloomberg Television, not we as The Basement, but just the campaign itself was featured on Bloomberg Television, and part of the story in Bloomberg was talking about how companies are now hiring people exclusively to manage their social media.  Wow.  It’s funny to watch that now and think that’s not that long ago but look at how marketing, and advertising, and analytics, and measurement has changed.

It just happened so fast and we don’t tend to sell ourselves as a technology company.  Actually, not tend, we don’t.  We’re more of an experience and idea company because technology is going to change.  Somebody is going to be using this or this or that which in my opinion what I call the living room audience is really the next big interactive play is when people start interacting with their television in ways that they do with tablets.  And I think the ad model on TV and the interactive television is really fascinating in what it becomes and how engaging and intertwined within storytelling it can become.

That was a total tangent.  I apologize, but the fact of the matter is is that we really look at it as ideas and that’s what we’re focused on.  Technology always changes and I think if anybody – people who are in that business, you understand how fast it moves.

Q: So a question that I’ve never asked.  You’ve failed a couple times.  How do you bounce back from that?

More than a couple.

Q: More than a couple.  How do you bounce back?

I have been fortunate to not fail at the things that I was putting the most energy into.  I failed at the things that I wasn’t putting the most energy into.  So it’s like anything.  It’s what we tell our kids, when you fall down get up kind of thing.  What did you learn from that situation?  What did you learn?  How can you apply that to the future?

So I don’t know.  I think it’s you talk about entrepreneurialism and entrepreneurialism really is a word that is a manifestation of somebody that as a child that takes risks and becomes comfortable with taking risks.  And I’m of the opinion – and this is my opinion; I would love to talk about it – but I don’t think people can become an entrepreneur.  There’s no course you could take.  There’s no school you can go to to become an entrepreneur.

You’re either an entrepreneur by your instincts or you’re not.  You can certainly take risks, but to be comfortable with taking risks and to be calculated to take risks I think is something that we develop at an early age.  And I know if you ask ten entrepreneurs they’re probably going to tell you the same thing.  It’s just something that’s in your genes and is something genetic.

So failure is like a video game.  If you don’t get past the level you’re trying to achieve you continue to try until you get to that level and then once you get to that level you’re like, “Wow.  Okay.  I want to do that again.”  And then it becomes a big game.  I don’t know if that answers your question.  Crickets?

Q: So you talked a little bit about how you really consider yourself an entrepreneur but you’re also a storyteller and a designer.  Where did you start out?  You said you started out as an artist more than entrepreneur?

Oh, yeah.

Q: How did you drift into the entrepreneur part?

Just really it came down to dissatisfaction, dissatisfied with my opportunities.  Like I said before, I wanted to be a character animator, and I wanted to tell stories, and I wanted to make films.  And the fact that if I were just to tell somebody at that time, “I do 3-D animation; I can do 3-D animation for you,” they would scratch their head and go, “What are you talking about?”  So it really came out of dissatisfaction and I think a lot of entrepreneurs will tell you the same thing where they’re dissatisfied with whatever the situation is.

I normally don’t go around saying I’m an entrepreneur.  I will take calculated risks.  It really came down to the fact that I really like doing what I do.  I love doing what I do, honestly.  I’m fortunate to be able to do what I do, and I didn’t want somebody to take that away from me.  I didn’t want somebody to say, “You know what?  We don’t need you anymore.  We’re not doing that anymore,” because I wanted to do that and I wanted to be in control of that decision.

So it really came down to just my passion for what I do and what I really, really love to do which is where that came from.  I never set out to say I’m going to start a company.  I was forced into it, really.

Q: I’ve got a question.  Why do you think businesses – you talk about stories and I do too with what I do, but why do you think businesses should tell stories to their customers? 

I’ll go back to designing and even the book for children.  I think we learn through stories.  Kids learn through stories.  Kids learn through play.  I think stories facilitate dialogue and I think businesses need dialogue.  If you look at the sales process, now I’m not talking about online transactions.  I’m talking about building a building and it’s not selling products that somebody can find on the web.

I’m talking about somebody who has a very complicated product, a very big product, and a very big idea that they need to sell.  You need to facility dialogue for that sales process and you do that, in my opinion, through stories and creating touch points with that throughout that process to facilitate dialogue.  And I think the world is complicated and businesses are complicated and the problems that people have with their customers and businesses are complicated.

And I think simplification and storytelling is a very effective way to make it relatable and associate it to somebody which, again, is a principle of designing for children.  And it goes back to the point I was making earlier about taking the principles of designing for kids and applying it to businesses that tend to be complicated.  I think simplification is critical.  Over-communication is almost most hurtful than leaving the door open for dialogue.

Q: [Inaudible]

I’m sorry.  What?

Q: I was just wondering as a project manager, I’m always dealing with process and when to touch point with the client.  I know it’s different for every single project.  You talk about it so eloquently, but what does it really look like, these touch points?  How do you determine that for each project?  I know it’s different for everyone.

It’s different but it’s really not.  The difference is which features that you’re going to apply to the client and, honestly, a lot of that comes down to budget, as you know.  How much budget is there to attack this problem?  And then you adjust the process accordingly.  When you’re doing a story or any type of animation or a motion graphic piece where you’re having to write a script and you’re having to pitch the script and then you’re having to pitch the visuals and then there’s steps in between there that make the process easier but make it longer to accomplish.

And you have to be up front with the client and both come to terms with saying, “Here’s where we are.  Here’s how the process is going to go.  This is the expectation from you.  This is the expectation from me, and we have to agree on this now.”  And that’s something that’s just dialogue and communication we have with our clients from day one to say, “Just so we’re all on the same page, this is how we’re going to attack this project.  Here’s the things we will do.  Here’s the things we won’t do.”

And unfortunately things come down to money at times, but at the end of the day it’s not about money and at the end of the day we, The Basement, do what’s best.  It’s really about what’s going to get the best product out, and when you sell storytelling the challenge is you’re selling it by the minute.  So it’s like it’s the difference between doing a 30 second TV spot or a 15 second TV spot.  The production pipeline and the process is different between the two of those.

One if much tighter and the way that you communicate and the way you message is much tighter.  Online it’s a different ballgame.  So it’s tough to say, “It’s only 45 seconds.  That’s what you paid for.  That’s what you agreed to.”  And it’s not about that.  At the end of the day it’s really about what’s the story, what’s the best story we need to tell.  And that’s really where it ends up for us, but as you know, it’s tough.

Q: [Inaudible]

Here’s a lesson I learned in architecture which still applies today is when I was doing 3-D of buildings the client would come in and I would have these – it’s like that and that’s kind of hyper-realistic, but I would be doing these photorealistic views of their buildings.  We’re talking about a big casino and I’ve got it as a realistic view of it and the client goes, “It looks like you’ve made all of the decisions.”  I don’t like that.  That’s not what I want.

There is no handholding them through the process and allowing them to take equity in the idea and have ownership of it.  So I actually started doing less realistic work and started doing more conceptual illustrations because I wanted them to participate and having that participation at certain steps of a project is critical because they’re invested in the idea and then the next steps of the concept or the phase become much easier because they have a stake and that’s huge for us.  That is a big part of how we do our business and how we work with clients is I never want to sit in front of a client and tell them what they need without them telling me what they have and truly understanding their business.

I don’t know their business.  I have to ask a lot of questions to fully understand what story, what’s your processes, and I think if you go in fully cocked with all these recommendations before the time, I think you’re hurting yourself.  Then you get into the situation where you’re saying, “I’ve got three comps.”  Three comps?  I’m probably getting into the weeds of some of this where instead of making, “Here’s three different ideas that we have for you.  Pick one.”

And they typically pick two and they want part of the third one and that’s really not how we approach our creative process.  It’s more of collaborative and, “Here’s the recommendation based on everything we’ve done up to this point.”  And they know what to expect because they’re involved.  I don’t know if that answers your question.  I think it’s common with a lot of creative service providers, but that, again, it goes back to the process and that’s the most critical thing is if you’re going to build something with somebody, it’s not the end result at all.

The end result is expect it should be good.  It’s supposed to be good.  That’s why you’re hiring somebody.  It’s the everything in between that really, really matters in my opinion.