From scene kid to ad man: My journey into the business of brands. (Part 1/3)

So you love music.

And, you have been messing around with a handful of songs in your room.

You’ve finally found the guts to show your friends, and they want to start a band with you.

You start practicing, making your parents crazy. Music is life.

Then you get serious. You want to bring this art to the world, and you know you have to record your sessions.

So you find a studio. You cut a demo. You cut two. Next thing you know you’re building your own studio in your room at home. (Your parents now nearly hate you.)

You have a band with your best friends, and you’re ready to bring your music to the masses… in your home town.

“We need a name,” you and your mates say collectively.

*Here’s where the record scratch sound effect goes off in your head.*

This is the moment.

The moment where a simple passion becomes something else. Something more. Little did I know that I was building the blocks of my future. Little did I know that I was about to enter a world full of jargon, assumptions, assholes, geniuses, experts and a few more assholes.

Welcome to advertising.

It all started with a name. “What do we call ourselves?”

I honestly wasn’t ready for what was to come. Days, weeks, thinking, ideating, arguing and … Googling?

See back then we (my mates and I) understood we had to be original. We knew no one else could have this name. After all, originality was the name of the game. Fresh music, fresh ideas. If you sounded nearly like anyone else — it just wasn’t good enough.

So, we searched. We had this tool that could tell us everything about everything. And, we also understood that if you weren’t online, “you weren’t real.”

This experience happened at least six more times. Because after you develop “a brand” before you develop a business, something happens to the psyche where you want to continue building things. (Advertisers Anonymous?)

So we did.

We built a studio. Then, a second studio. Then a label. Then a booking agency. Then a representation company. On and on, we built. We “failed” in the process. But we built.

What I didn’t know then was how foundational this practice was for a 16- to 19-year-old kid. But, what I did know then, is that to talk to millions, you first have to connect with one.

Please follow this new three-part, personal journey on how music and my local music scene shaped my now.

Part 2. Brand Man: Branding before I knew the meaning of the word.
Part 3. Connections: Street Team Leaders, the OG web influencers.

Listen to “Carry Me,” our first single from the album, Integral X Bar launched in 2005-06.


Tone, Look & FEEL

Managing the daily noise is often misinterpreted as leading teams.

Have you ever been at a job where your boss or superiors tell you “this isn’t about feeling”? Or, don’t “lead with your feelings”?

Listen, I understand. I’ve been in your seat.

Here’s the challenge though, brand is all feeling. Business might be filled with black and white feelingless decisions, but brand is about people. And people feel. Sometimes even before they think!

The expectation of leading brand builders, marketers and/or creative types without feeling is misguided. It’s trying to suppress the energy that moves these people because it’s what moves all people.

If you pressed this headline looking for a classic way to build brands or make campaigns, I’m sorry. (This isn’t about building brands, but we have plenty of material around the subject.)

This is about leadership. About feeling. The most important part, in my opinion, of any branding strategy and creative system.

Business Infrastructure v. Business of Creating

To get in business or upkeep a business, it truly is mostly about infrastructure. Black and white. Zeroes and ones. Processes of getting from point A to point B. It can be monotonous, boring or even amazing for some people who thrive in this environment. (Congrats, if that’s you. I’m genuinely envious of your ability to thrive on this side of business.)

This is why strategy is so important in business. Ann Latham, author and Forbes contributor, defines strategy as “a framework for making decisions about how you will play the game of business,” not just a plan.

Getting from A to B is important in daily plans and people management, but strategy is what keeps you in business. The game of being in business is never going out of business. An “infinite game,” as Simon Sinek often professes.

However, zeroes and ones aren’t as effective in moving creative types. People need purpose to move towards a single mission. And, to pursue purpose, they need inspiration and emotion, which is all rooted in feeling.

In order for leaders to create strategies, campaign creative systems, or full-blown brand platforms that connect and move consumers, they need to get their creators, strategists, etc. to believe themselves.

Believing in a purposeful cause will be the fuel that helps teams align and develop meaningful solutions based on real insight. And work built from true insight is historically more impactful and successful. (Creatively and financially.)

Top examples of these patterns are: Nike’s “Tech for athletes” strategy and “Just do it” messaging platform. Apple’s “Creative tools for creative minds” strategy and “Think different” platform. And, most recently, Dollar Shave Club’s “Make the shaving process more affordable and fun” strategy and “Shave Time. Shave money.” platform.

All of these companies have had their highs and lows, but they are masters at taking hard looks at themselves and snapping back to their core purpose. Of being places where people want to be part of their culture, as well as profitable businesses.

This is a direct reflection of leadership.

Not just managing a business, but forming a true North Star for their people and guiding their feelings towards great work that lead to profits.

As a leader, you have the ability to become the bridge from zeroes and ones and raw emotions. And create a culture people believe in.

Why This Matters

Notice how all of these companies have had different versions of their “tone” and “look.” Every campaign different. Sometimes funny. Sometimes intense. Yet every decade as fresh as the last.

What is often not seen, but it’s 100 percent there, is how these brands make you feel.

So, if you’re reading this and thinking, “I’ve totally tried to remove feeling from my people.” Be kind to yourself. You’re part of a business system designed to lead as always, which is not leading at all. Simply manage.

Managing the daily noise is often misinterpreted as leading teams. (Make the noise go away.) Silence over leadership—that’s how the system was designed. Keep the plant running. Make sure the wheels are turning with minimum distractions.

Whether we realize it or not, the factory-model days are gone. Culture is shifting faster than ever before. Just know you can influence the environment you’re managing. (It’s being done all over the world. Successfully.)

Embrace feeling in your business. Lead with purpose. Lead with feeling.

The Soul + Purpose Tour

For too long in my life, I chose silence because I thought being humble meant not speaking out.

Late in 2018, I made a radical life decision. After finding out I was diabetic, clinically depressed and living with anxiety, I stepped down from management as a Creative Director.

Out of all of the hard decisions I have had to make in my life, this was easily in my top three. Mostly because these were people’s lives who were counting on me. People who trusted my vision and there was no way to make a decision like this without letting absolutely everyone down. Yet, as a leader, father and husband, I believed it was the right thing to do for me and my family.


At the beginning of 2019, I reached out to one of the people I respect the most in our industry, Marc Strachan. After a couple conversations, he guided me towards my “purpose.”

After a decade helping businesses find their purposes, and my pursuit to “create with purpose,” here I was lacking focused purpose myself.

Thankfully, he helped me concentrate on key areas in order to develop my “purpose statement.” The general idea is understanding, honestly, “What you hate. What you love. What you’re great at.”

And, I had the perfect event to help me strip myself from the noise in my mind and get to work on my wellbeing.

Going Out West

As I was deciding to step down, my best friend invited me to travel to Colorado Springs, Seattle and Portland with him. He was planning to move out West, which provided the perfect moment for me to do a much needed soul search.

This search wasn’t out of unhappiness or ungratefulness, but of self acceptance. Self love and care isn’t something you “talk about” where I come from. You are “supposed to be a man” and “handle your business.” You are supposed to be strong for your family and provide.

Yet, there I was, struggling being myself. Uncomfortable with the man I had become. Unhappy with my surroundings, which my wife in a moment of truth simply made me realize—unhappiness was my norm. Unhappiness was home.

I was ready to move forward.

Love & Hate

The first two matters I had to face was understanding what truly made me angry and what truly brought me joy. As uncomfortable as it is for me to write this (and share these videos), this is my truest self at the halfway point of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs.

Accepting Myself

The next step was reaching out to my closest friends and peers with an uncomfortable question, “What do you think makes me great?”

After breaking through the awkwardness, I once more had to face myself inspired by their responses, but factually focus on what makes me, me. (What am I great at anyway?) So, at -14 degrees at the top of Pikes Peak, I let my emotions run free.

What I Learned

After months of doubt, fear and self-editing, here is where I ultimately ended my journey.

  1. I hate people who celebrate ignorance.
  2. I love educating and lifting people.
  3. I’m great at seeing what others don’t see and inspiring purpose in their lives.

I also learned that I need to have a lot more patience. (Even when depression and anxiety get in the way.) Too, I learned I need to stop feeling ashamed for seeing what other people don’t see.

Most importantly, I learned that I must work on how to give myself completely without losing myself completely. In all honesty, I may spend the second half of my life solving that riddle.

End of the Tour

The point of the exercise is having a singular statement that guides how you move forward. (Read that sentence again because this is just the beginning!)

My life’s purpose is to use my passion for education to inspire wisdom.

Months of agony, self doubt, depression, anxiety, laughter and love—all culminated on the single truth that life is a journey you must work on every single day.

Next, I’m working on bringing action to that statement. (After accepting it, of course.) And, that’s what this is all about. Acceptance.

Many of us struggle with life. Get lost in our heads. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t find our way back home. We just need to have the brave hearts to be uncomfortable long enough to break through our self-made cocoons of doubt and fear.

I’m hoping these words make it ok for you to accept and live your truth. Inspiration is a loaded word, but I do believe in giving back because I owe it to the Universe. (To you reading at this moment.)

I believe in education because knowledge is knowing you know nothing.

I believe in giving back because so many people have given me hope through compassion and education.

I believe in lifting people up because I have been so damn low.

I believe in you because I believe in love.

Thank you for reading. Keep seeking. Keep moving.

‘Unhappiness was home’

Like all great stories, this too started with a question.

“Why are you always so damn unhappy?,” my wife asked.

And, honestly, I didn’t have a response at the time. Of course, this would make me slightly lose my mind. Months and months of wondering why. Why am I unhappy? Why do I seek it? Why am I so good at it?

I began asking myself if perhaps I was a monster. Perhaps my past didn’t make me strong. It made me terrible.

The thing is that I even found comfort in it. Unhappiness. I’ve felt happiness. I know what it is. I’ve lived it. Yet, unhappiness was home.

Shit, I celebrated it. I found an idea years ago that made it ok to be unhappy.

“Divine Discontent.”

That was my solution. I was good at what I did with life because I was discontent. I was unhappy. My unhappiness made me happy.

And as crazy as I feel writing it, I felt just as crazy saying it over and over again to myself.

Holy shit. I’m seeking unhappiness.

Maybe I am a monster.

But, I don’t want to be one. I want to live for every moment I have. And the people who count on me. Look up to me. The people I’m responsible for.

I ask my children one simple thing—be a good person. Yet, there I was, celebrating not being a good person. A hypocrite selling ideas he didn’t believe in.

Thankfully, the people around me kept me honest. Kept me thinking. Exploring.

They pushed me to focus on who I wanted to be rather than who I had become. Blinded to my own doing. And I couldn’t anymore. I didn’t want to anymore.

That’s my moment of truth. Giving it all away. Taking a step back. Focusing on long-term quality of life, rather than blindly believing in divine discontent and someone else’s dream.

I learned to let go. And I keep learning.

So what’s your moment of truth? What are you reflecting on? Why are you here? Now?

Whatever that is, I’m hopeful you seek it. Not because it’s a new year, but because your mind deserves more. Your loved ones deserve more. You deserve more.

Be blessed. Seek balance. Love.

Everyone has an in.

Whether it’s the cute coworker at the office or millions of moms around the world, everybody has a way into their hearts and minds.

Here’s the problem though — figuring it out.

That’s when strategy comes in. But, before that, we need to know a lot about the person (or persons) we’re trying to sway.

In comes research. So many types of research. I bet that whoever first said, “knowledge is power,” was in the middle of some research study. And, I believe they were correct. (But, this piece is not about research.)

So, let’s go back to the “in.”

I’ve learned that emotional cues (sometimes called “human truths” or “universal truths”) are often the most successful ways to enter into your desired person’s (or persons’) life.

For example, let’s go back to the coworker at the office. Perhaps you notice how they arrive to work at the same time, always holding a beautifully designed cup of coffee from that local shop with the “hipster logo” shining in the morning sun.

You may have never heard of the shop, or even like coffee, but you love that style of design. Then, you notice that both of you have the same brand of water-infusing bottles. Six months in, you also notice their afternoon snack-time patterns (fresh veggies, organic Greek yogurt, sea salt dark Mexican chocolate). All things you truly enjoy.

These are all data points. Opportunities to get “in.” Design, food, style, manners — all truths of the human experience. All opportunities to enter someone’s life.

Going global

Reaching the masses is basically the same idea. Just a bit more complex. A bit bigger.

Enter BIG DATA. A trendy name, yet a real movement, that expresses the collection of everyday behaviors in all of humanity. Our traces. Our breadcrumbs left behind in and around our lives. Both digital and analogue.

Very smart people have this down to a science in many businesses and companies. Often turning information into great, useful, personalized stories tailored to specific audiences, shoppers and customers at specific moments in time.

Recently, Google built and announced “a personal Google” for each individual using their products by bringing artificial intelligence and machine learning to everyone’s hands and homes. (SEO shout-out to the #madebygoogle line: Google Home, Wi-Fi, Chromecast Ultra, Daydream View, Pixel and Google Assistant.)

The concept is a little scary at first, yet the usefulness these products provide is undeniable.

The idea is actually simple: Bring relevant assistance to people around the world in the most natural form possible. Apple and Amazon aren’t too far behind with Siri and Alexa inside their hard- and software ecosystems. Even Microsoft’s Cortana is infiltrating all things IoT (Internet of Things).

Finding an “in” with people’s own behaviors — that’s the reality we’re living in. That’s the world we now have to build for every day.

So whether you’re trying to find love, or make the masses fall in love with your brands and businesses — start with their emotional cues (their truths) — and make yourself part of their stories to come.



#StrongerforLi: Finding Hope in Uncertain Times

After being laid off for the first time in my career, my eight-year-old son (Li) grew obsessively worried about what I did exactly to bring money to the family.

His obsession with our wellbeing, obviously without fully understanding all the implications, turned into an obsession with “What the heck does dad do?”, as he often asks mom.

After kind of grasping the big picture, he said to mom, “Maybe dad can help me advertise my March for Babies walk, so I can help babies live a long time!”

Clearly I couldn’t turn him down, even if I still had to desperately figure out how to feed my two boys and soon to come baby girl. (Wondering about mom? She’s an independent lady. “She can take care of herself.”)

My son had managed to turn the third worst day of my life into the most inspirational.

So… we got to work.

Li established his goals, mom handled shooting the interviews and providing content, and I worked on teaching Li what “I do” for a living.

Even baby brother decided he wanted to be part of the movement.

The outcome

The #StrongerForLi campaign was born. Three videos were built for social. And, Li insisted on doing a follow-up customized Thank you email marketing “campaign.”

The work

The “campaign” is now live, and Li has already reached $500 of his $3500 grand total. (Thank you, donors!)

The past month and a half has been a crazy time in my life. Yet, it’s great having such precious love and positivity from my family.