Ep 10 - We're Official!

Shannon discovers a new sense of purpose once the papers come in from the federal government and the IRS naming her an official CEO. She calls in the experts to help her figure out how to run a real company with systems and processes, all the while preparing to move from a fancy apartment to a place in the country with sketchy plumbing. It seems that the artist self still lives, but can it survive when the business is growing so quickly?


Shannon: Guess what. We’re official! I just got the paperwork back, filed with the state of California for our corporation and respectively with the IRS and the federal government, of course, of course. And on that paper it says Shannon DeJong, President and CEO of House of Who, Inc. Stamped. Official.

Kerri: Hi, its Kerri. Welcome back to ArtistCEO. As you just heard, Shannon has officially become a CEO. We were saying it before, and for most purposes she was. But there’s something special about getting the official title from the state and federal government.

Shannon: I’m officially a CEO. I’ve been faking it til I make it and I guess all of a sudden, I’ve made it. I mean, you never really make it in the sense of being done and god knows I’ve got a whole lot to learn about feeling valid and certainly feeling like I know what the heck I’m doing but it’s hard to deny the fact of what you are when the state of California, the federal government and certainly the IRS has down as your technical legitimate job title CEO. Now just to validate the fact that I’m an artist - is there a stamp of approval for that? Anyway, here I am, House of Who’s first employee.

Kerri: I don’t think there’s anyone who can give you permission to be an artist but yourself.

Shannon: We also just got done with our largest project ever. This was definitely a turning point for us because the budget for this one project was equivalent to our entire budget of last year. In one project we surpassed how much we made over the entire year and that wasn’t even net, that was just gross. It’s like we’re in a whole new category, now it’s really building a new company. So I’m asking myself right now, what does it mean? What does it mean to have all this abundance, all this money to work with? I mean, let’s keep this relative, it’s not like I’m working with 7,8 figures here. But it still feels very different. Whereas I’ve been scrapping this along, making barely enough to survive in the Bay Area and I know I’ve been paying my freelancers who are incredibly skilled well below their deserved pay rate and now I can give them the hours they’re requesting, I can pay them a little bit more per hour, I can share the wealth. And more than that I have a little bit of security that we will actually make it through this first year as a formal company.

Kerri: Shannon, I’m just letting you know now that I’m raising my rates.

Shannon: Now comes this necessary evolution, I suddenly look around and I need to build a team. No, no I need to build a company. I need internal evolution. I need systems!

Kerri: This is where my artist brain starts to turn off a bit. Systems? Please don’t make this a really boring company.

Shannon: I have been feeling like a fraud, scrapping things together, bootstrapping, figuring it out, but I’ve realized that there is no time - I have no time and I cannot waste the energy feeling like a fraud. And something happened when I got that stamp in the mail today. You have to jump, you have to jump into this role and don’t look back. And I don’t care if it’s faking it til you make it at times, but you have to own it and live up to it. And so I’ve decided to take it seriously, more than I ever have before.

Kerri: On the artist side, I’ve definitely felt this. When I was working on my one-woman show, making $15 an hour, as a freelance content manager for a storytelling startup, and I hired a director at $50 an hour to help me - it got my butt into gear. I rehearsed by myself every single day to make those six hours a week with her I could afford, count. Sometimes, you gotta call in the experts.

Shannon: I talked to a lawyer, an executive coach, a CPA, I reached out to a voice coach, a money advisor, retirement, investments and all of these people have started to reflect back to me that what I’m doing is real. And they’re going to help me do it. But at the end of the day, I have to find out the answer within - which was like, cool and also “Shit, no one’s gonna do this for me.”

Kerri: Meanwhile, in Shannon’s personal life -

Shannon: I’m sitting in my one bedroom apartment in Berkeley. My 600 sq ft apartment that’s $3500 a month, one bedroom, right across from the freight line that’s still running it’s train at three in the morning. Settled in nicely except for the fact that now we have to move everything out because we’re no longer going to be doing our artist studios, so we are no longer going to live in Berkeley. We’re going to out, head northward to a place that’s a little more rural, a little more relaxed, a little more nature to get away from all this hustle and bustle. Oh yeah, and the rents are cheaper. So we haven’t found a place yet exactly, we think it’s coming, but we did find this old sort of one bedroom, barn-like rental that’s really affordable and also the indoor plumbing is dodgy, but that’s how we roll. We just have to get out of our apartment because our lease came up and they want $500 more a month, and we’ve only been here 5 months.

Kerri: And that reminds me to thank the New York City Craigslist gods every day for my rent-stabilized apartment.

Shannon: We figure it’s a new start, new beginnings. Does it make me more or less credible if I’m not officially a CEO and now officially don’t have hot running water again? Maybe as my professional side is growing and becoming more valid, the starving artist in me wants to still feel like she’s roughing in. Grr.

Kerri: Shannon, have I ever told you about the time I lived in an attic in Bed-Stuy? Or in Bushwick in the McKibbin Lofts with just enough room to stand up and not hit my head on the pipes? We have way too much in common.

Shannon: Anyway - 

Kerri: Back to business.

Shannon: So I talk with my executive coach today and he says start making systems. Informational systems, people systems, process systems so I’m looking into things like Asana for project management, putting together a manual, putting together workflows and all the kind of internal structures I know I need to keep things efficient and formalized.

The stuff that is coming in, the client projects, the money, the team, this is, this is happening. For the first time I realize that this dream is coming true. And I’m trying to figure out how to act out this story I seem to have started, which is can I integrate my business self and my art self into one person, into one company, into one mission? I feel like here is the narrative that I’ve begun on this podcast, which is chronicling the journey and it’s reminding me every step of the way, is this even possible? And with these new things coming in and this growth that is before us? How do I make art and business live in harmony without killing either the art or the business?

Kerri: Well, that’s why we’re doing this. To figure it out.

Shannon: And then all of a sudden, we have a new client who wants the whole shebang. They don’t just want naming or just a logo, I could pull on an extra designer or writer if that was the case. They don’t just want Whitney and I to hammer out some copy or think about some messaging. We just sent out a pitch and they want strategy, naming, design, launch, collateral, materials, the whole shebang. This is way more than Whitney, Robin and I can handle. We need a whole dedicated team.

Kerri: And we pretty much have them. Back when I talked about all the roles Shannon was filling in the Bootstrapping a Business episode, those were the people she was gathering, pulling them on for little projects here and there. But now she finally has the resources to bring us together as a dedicated team. How will the House of Who team come together for this next level client project? Can they step up their game and accomplish something they’ve never done before - an A to Z branding project? And just as Shannon is starting to answer these questions...

Shannon: I have to go on vacation.

Kerri: How does that work out? Find out next time on ArtistCEO. This podcast is brought to you by Arthouse of Who a division of House of Who, Inc. Find out more at houseofwho.com. Stay in touch with us via our newsletter at helloartistceo.com. Music is by cfwatkins at cfwatkins.com. My name is Kerri Lowe, you’re listening to the story of Shannon DeJong, signing off.

Kerri Lowe