Ep 11 - Building the Team

In the final episode of ArtistCEO Season 1, Shannon has to turn her independent contractors into a solid team for House of Who's biggest branding client yet. Can she do it before she has to go on vacation? Hear the stories of how the the team came together, including nods to a screenprinting studio, Chez Panisse and a lot of heartfelt chats about what's possible in branding right now. Plus, how to keep in touch while we're on a break between seasons! (Sign up for the newsletter at www.helloartistceo.com)


Shannon: My goal is to run the business like a startup, like a tech startup. I’m trying to delegate as fast as possible and think about scaling as fast as possible. It’s just that we’re a service-based industry and we don’t scale with technology for product scales, we scale with people for better white-glove service and creativity for our clients.

Kerri: Hi, It’s Kerri. Welcome back to ArtistCEO. This week, in preparation for House of Who’s biggest branding project yet, Shannon is putting together a dedicated team. But it isn’t just matching skills to roles, at House of Who, you’ve got to bring creativity, artistry and passion to the process. And you’ve gotta be willing to hop into the deep end quickly.

Shannon: So I’ve been trying to find other people who can do the work - to be perfectly honest - at the level I know I can and allow us to scale, allow me to delegate without the quality of the work suffering - and the quality of the customer service too, because that’s important.

Kerri: The client has accepted the pitch, which means Shannon has to turn the contractors she’s been working with here and there into a real team that can make it work - and keep the engines running for a week while she’s on her first real vacation in years in Utah. Let’s start with the story of Bill.

Shannon: So when we were doing the artist studios we were looking for a place before we decided to fold the whole operation. One of the spaces we were looking at was a warehouse that was far bigger than the space we needed so we thought let’s find other tenants who are also needing some space or have other artist things going on that would be compatible with our uses and let’s see if we can join forces or at least co-rent and one of the people that we met was Bill.

Bill: I didn’t sign a release for this.

Kerri: That’s Bill.

Shannon: And he runs a screen-printing shop and he wanted to open it up and have some space. It didn’t work out and wasn’t the right space for either of us, but he went on to find a space closer to downtown Berkeley and he opened up his screen printing shop, called Three Points Press and he is off and running but we stayed in touch and when I was doing a side gig trying to start another company which hasn’t taken off.

Kerri: Shannon, can I remind you of what a wise woman once said?

Shannon flashback: Do one thing at a time. One thing.

Shannon: So I got used to working with him in this really nimble setting, hashing out identities and logos for individuals and I saw his work and thought he has some chops and the potential to grow into a bigger design role because before he was just freelance.

Kerri: He just has to get used to calling Shannon, Shannon, instead of Gray on clients calls.

Bill: I feel like I’ve transitioned to calling you Shannon now in a professional setting, but you’re still Gray in my phone.

Kerri: I told you back in episode 1 that Shannon’s stage name, her artist name used to be Gray, but she was trying to integrate so that she could just be Shannon no matter what she was doing. But so many people knew her as Gray, it’s definitely hung on.

Shannon: I reached out to him and he’s available. So I’m going to be pulling him on and we’re going to hit the ground running and here we go.

Kerri: Design. Check. What’s next?

Shannon: We also needed a strategist for this project and typically I have been the strategist but I realized I need to find a strategist because I can’t do everything  and be focusing on running the business.

Kerri: And being an artist.

Shannon: I found someone. I had remembered this person that I had met years ago at another agency, they had wanted a conversation because she was interested in linguistics and branding and naming - and she’s brilliant. So I reached out to her and asked her what she’s been up to and she’s gotten some design experience, she’s always been a great writer and been doing more strategy. So I just reached out to her and said hey, I haven’t talked to you in a couple years are you still doing strategy? And by the way do you want to start on a project next week, it’s going to be hot and heavy. And she said yes.

Kerri: And this is what is sounds like when Shannon celebrates a yes.

Okay. That’s enough of that. Let’s hear Ciana say something insightful and strategic.

Ciana: As much as you say you are authentic or truthful - the companies that say that don’t often walk their talk. It’s one thing to have brand messaging and it’s another thing to have brand behavior.

Kerri: Boom. Ciana is talking about brand messaging vs. brand behavior. A brand isn’t just what you say about it, it’s your actual behavior in the world.

Ciana: The world is changing. The professional world is changing because people like us are inheriting the reins of power right now. So we don’t have to go to a business meeting dressed as a lawyer 100% of the time. We also don’t have to approach things in the same exact way as we used to with the total seriousness and absolute lack of humor, it doesn’t have to come down to that anymore. We always have to mentally divorce ourselves from playing to the audiences of the past rather than playing to the audiences of the future.

Kerri: Mmmm yeah.

Shannon: So that’s Ciana and she’s also going to be on the team. We’ve also got this young woman named Kerri.

Kerri: Womp womp. That’s me.

Shannon: And she has been helping me with some of my personal stuff but I think she really gets the brand and my vision and me and my voice, everything we’re trying to do and the mission. So I’m going to have her come on to keep some content strategy and marketing stuff going and I also want her to chip in on this project where we need additional creative.

Kerri: I get to try to name something? That’s cool.

Shannon: I also need someone to manage this whole crazy affair because it’s a very big project and we still have other clients that are going on. So a friend of a friend works at Chez Panisse, which, for those of you who don’t know it is the brainchild of Alice Waters and the slow food movement, it’s a big deal in Berkeley and if you’re a foodie you might know of it. She works there as a waiter, which is no small gig and she often fills the head waiter role, which means that she’s running things to the kitchen making sure that quality is impeccable, keeping the madness on target, understanding what the guests need, all while wrangling the different things to think of. It’s the ultimate keeping everything in her head while she’s light on her feet and presenting well to the guest, or, in my industry, the client. She has no brand experience and no project management background, but I think she would make an amazing project manager. And she had the initiative to come to me and say I’m also a writer, I’m interested in your industry so let me know how I can help. And I said you can help by training to be a project manager, are you interested? And she said yes!

Kerri: It sounds like Shannon needs to write a book about getting people to say yes to you.

Shannon: So I think we have our team, I think we have the beginnings of a company and I’ve decided I want to invest in some new people rather than find experts because keep in mind we’re bootstrapping this and I really believe in this team. Between the 7 of us, we can make some magic happen - so here we go.

Kerri: And it’s exciting. Everyone’s coming together as people passionate about art and brand, being obsessed with logos and the ideas behind them, and businesses behaving in the marketplace based on their values. Here’s just a little bit more of our branding soapbox and the kind of conversations we have all the time.

Shannon: And I like that it’s not just about throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Because there is that trend - the disruptive - and sure, disrupt something if it’s broken or oppressive and holding you down, but I’m more of a believer in finding that balance of taking the things that work, because tradition and ritual and what you inherent - there’s wisdom in that and then don’t also do something just out of habit. Don’t do something inauthentic because there’s fear of being truthful. That’s what’s so exciting about branding right now is that there’s space for that. And I think you and me and a lot of people have been secretly harboring this desire to live, and therefore brand and express - and letting that expression be creative and truthful. And now suddenly we have a window to do that.

Kerri: Shannon got this team together just in time, because around all this inspired brand talk, Shannon has to go on vacation.  So it’s all about solidifying this team, getting them kicked off on the project and prepping to be away. Here’s a glimpse of that team meeting.

Shannon: Okay last thing from me before we touch in on each of the projects...is vacation. Which is why we’re here.

Kerri: Mmmhmm.

Shannon: We did this a year ago and Whitney and Robin before we had the extended team stepped in in big ways and did an amazing job. That was one of the first things I began to see about the pathway forward for growth, in terms of, if I can actually start handing over some of these responsibilities, I can take on new ones. So this is another opportunity for me and the business, so thank you.

I’m also a big believer in balance in work-life, I’m a big believer in self-care. I want everyone to feel like they can always prioritize their health over work and communicate that to me as well. I know that I’m better sometimes than other times about seeing it and hearing it both in myself and in my team. So I want to continue to anchor that as a value in this business and this company, that you always have the room to say when something isn’t working for you. I will always do my best to support you in taking the time and space you need to find balance. I’m also seeing where I am working to get better in my own regard. In light of that I realize I also need to take a vacation because I don’t want to be a hypocrite. So I’m going to walk the walk and go to Utah and even thought I could be working the whole time, I’m actually not going to - and be offline as a practice.

Kerri: It sounds to me like Shannon’s artist side is having her say in the CEO’s business practices.

Shannon: So this is how it’s going to work. It’s not going to be that hard actually.

Kerri: I’ll spare you the details of email triage. Needless to say, the team knows what to do. And if we really, really need Shannon - we can call her. She’s in Utah.

Shannon: Okay it’s the night before I’m going to go on vacation. It’s actually Saturday night, or is it Friday? No its Saturday night. I’m so used to working every single day of the week, weekends mean nothing to me anymore. This is the first vacation I have taken since kicking off Who. I’m just going to go to my partners 90th birthday and take a road trip and I’m gonna hang out with a bunch of family members that aren’t mine and maybe see things like Bryce Canyon and take hikes through jagged mountain Utah moonscapes and eat peaches and do a whole lotta nothing. And for this I am incredibly excited.

So I had a meeting with my team and went over how we were going to do things and they laughed at me because I think they were like “Yo, you’re only going for a week. You sound like you’re going for many months.” And what I wanted to say to them, but didn’t was that, “Yes, but you have no idea how nerve-wracking it is for me to leave and it’s not because I don’t think you’re capable, I know you are which is why I’m going - but just like a mother leaving her baby at home for the first time, I can only imagine, this is the closest thing I have. I’ve birthed this thing and I’ve worked really hard to keep it alive and it’s only a year and a half old and I don’t want to abandon it when it’s at its infancy stage. And something as simple as a week, a missed email, you know that’s one project that’s one bit of work and at this point we can’t afford to treat any lead as superfluous.

I used to think about what it was like when I joined my very first branding agency - what it must have been like to have started that. It seemed so very impossible and the three partners that ran it had left a much much larger brand agency in order to start their little scrappy one and they started with just a couple people. Client manager, one strategist, one biz development, one designer. And I looked at them and thought they must really know their shit if they’re willing to leave a plush job at a global renowned agency and try and hustle for clients just to be able to support like 4 employees. And when I started Who I thought, “Well I’m not them, I don’t know what I’m doing.” I somehow thought I was less qualified and then I realized I think when you start doing this thing no one’s really qualified - you just learn on the job and figure it out as you go and maybe you listen to a whole bunch of Seth Godin podcasts or maybe you just luck out, I don’t know but it’s really fun being on this side of things and realizing they must have had the same kind of satisfaction watching their team come together.

And when they had a Christmas party, and let me tell you those were really fun Christmas parties and this whole group of people get together and they’re drinking and laughing and hashing out old projects and talking about that client and this deadline that they barely made and slapping each other on the back literally and proverbially, I just remember my own experience of that it felt like such a vivid, vibrant and alive thing I was a part of and yes it was just a job at a brand agency. There are a million and two of them out there. But there was something very particular about the people that made up that place of which I was a part. And that’s what I think has surprised me the most about this endeavor - is that it’s not about working out the financials or figuring out the clients or how do I make the right documents and contracts for SOWs, whatever - it’s been about the nuance of the people and how important each individual is to this larger organism and how I really want to respect that each person is contributing not just their skill and their time, but their energy and their essence and that makes up something larger.

I think I’ve been starting making large milestones for myself and some of them are not tangible, are not finance-driven, are not quantifiable. Some of them are just arriving into a feeling, when you sink and you have a moment in your heart where you’re like, “Yeahhh. This feels good.” Because the process of building a business is actually a little boring and a little repetitive. Both the challenges and the obstacles and the processes and the goals and also the wins. Good thing I’m not yet sick of those wins.

Kerri: So there you have it. Shannon has her team and a vision to move forward with. And for now - a vacation. Which means that ArtistCEO will also be taking a vacation. Consider this the end of Season 1 of ArtistCEO, we’ll be back later this year. But don’t worry, we don’t leave you hanging in the meantime. Sign up for our newsletter at helloartistceo.com at the bottom of the homepage to get bonus content while we’re away. Plus, be the first to know what’s happening in Shannon’s world and Season 2 of ArtistCEO. Thank you so much for listening and sharing the show with your friends, we really appreciate it.

ArtistCEO is an Arthouse of Who Production. Find out more by going to houseofwho.com, which has recently been spruced up. Music is by cf watkins at cfwatkins.com. Stay close by signing up for the newsletter at helloartistceo.com and follow us on Twitter and instagram at @helloartistceo. My name is Kerri Lowe, you’re listening to the story of Shannon DeJong. Signing off.

Kerri Lowe