Ep #22 | Playing the Line Between the Business and the Creative

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Craig Johnson is the President and co-founder of Matchstic. A native Atlantan, Craig graduated from Georgia State University and for his entire career he has worked on the business side of a creative industry, starting with managing rock bands and moving on to become the business arm of Matchstic. His vision for the company was to create a place where smart creatives could thrive and produce work that generates real change for business.

A current member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, Craig was included in the “Top 40 Under 40 Business Leaders in Atlanta” list published by The Atlanta Business Chronicle at the age of 31. Aside from helping to build the premier brand identity firm in the Southeast, Craig’s greatest accomplishment to date still reigns as marrying his beautiful wife, Kari, followed by fathering three studly little boys and one gorgeous daughter. In his free time, Craig enjoys playing the bass guitar and cheering on the Atlanta Falcons.

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Shantel: Hey Craig. Welcome to the show.

Craig: Hey. Thanks so much for having me.

Shantel: Yeah. We are excited to learn more about Matchstic and your entrepreneurial journey. Do you mind kicking it off with a little bit more about how you got started and what inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

| EVOLVING INTO ENTREPRENEURSHIP |

Craig: Yeah. So, it's funny I never thought I would be an entrepreneur. I had no plans to be one. My wife said she never wanted to marry an entrepreneur as a daughter of one. And, here we find ourselves. So, only after about 15 years of being married and us looking back on the history of our marriage, we say, "You know what? We keep finding ourselves in entrepreneurial things, so I guess we might be entrepreneurs." But, it's only in hindsight that we realize that about ourselves. My goal in life when I was in college was to be a rock star.

Shantel: Okay.

Craig: So, that didn't ... I was playing music with a group of guys. That ended by the time college was over and I realized for me it was more about building that than being a musician. But, I had gotten my degree in Music Business and Music Business Management. Because I thought because I'm going to be a rock star I should learn about the business of this. And, so from there I flowed into managing rock bands, working for an artist management firm. Then I realized I love what I do, but, I'm not sure I love being in the music business. So, I tried to take that same model and apply it to creative professionals. And, that ultimately didn't work, but, one of the creative professionals I was working with ended up being who's now my business partner. So, it's really my story's kind of a series of trying things and failing. But, ultimately evolving into what became my entrepreneurial venture.

Shantel: Okay. I have to start by asking you is your wife okay now with you being an entrepreneur?

Craig: Oh yeah. Yes. Totally. And, you know, she doesn't love the ups and downs of it. But, I think I know she wouldn't choose anything otherwise. Because she always has supported every decision along the way as well. So, she's totally been along for the ride and we've just accepted that this is our life.

Shantel: That's really interesting that she grew up in an entrepreneurial family and went the opposite, like, "I will not be one." And me knowing you, on more of a personal level, I know you have kids. How do you think your kids feel now being raised by an entrepreneur?

Craig: That's a great question. I have no idea. I only know that ... My goal is to just expose them to parts of my story as I'm going through them. So, I will ... I have four kids, 10 and 12 and then six and three and I guess we kind of put them in buckets. We can kind of deal with the older ones at a very different level than the younger ones. I will ... I've talked to my kids before. I've taken them somewhere and said, "Hey, you're about to see this person. This person is going to get fired later on today. It's going to be really terrible. But, please don't talk about it to them. And, it's really stressing me out." Or, my child was in the car with me the other day when my business partner called me and said, "Hey. I just found out that one of our employees is leaving and here's what's going on." And they listen in to the whole conversation through the car. So, my 12-year-old, I picked him up from school actually just yesterday and he said, "Did you say you had call to make?" And, I said, "I think I did, but, it actually got taken care of earlier." He said, "Oh, I just like listening to your calls." And, so, my hope is that they're just ... It's a different understanding of business that they can have through observing my life. And, whatever they want to do with that is fine with me. Whether they want to own a business or ... My oldest son right now says he wants to be a novelist. So, that's great, but, there's a lot of business involved there too. But, as a parent, my hope is just to expose my children to a bunch of different things and hopefully, they can find their path and I can help them carve that out for them.

Shantel: I think that's a really neat way of approaching that conversation and educating the kids on what is actually a day in the life. Because I think sometimes entrepreneurship or ... My dad has owned multiple businesses and it was always glorified of like, "Wow. He could set his own schedule." And, he was a little bit more protective on the firing and making payroll. I think that's the neat perspective.

Craig: It's funny my daughter the other day ... She who's six. I said, "Well I have to ... I can't come do that thing." I don't even remember what it was. "I can't do that. I have to go to work and go to this meeting." And she said, "But, you're the boss. You don't have to do that." And, I said, "Well just because I'm the boss doesn't mean that I'm not responsible for things and I'm not accountable for things. There's a lot of people I have to help out. As the boss doesn't mean I just get to do whatever I want and tell everybody else what to do." So, even as a six-year-old trying to shape a little bit in that small conversation about this perception we have of the boss who drinks coffee and tells everybody what to do and collects checks, is not necessarily the reality that you live as the "boss". I think of myself more as the owner than the boss. I still have a job and I'm accountable to the company even though I also happen to be an owner of that company.

Shantel: Yeah. Certainly. Well, I have a couple or, one, specifically music question and then we'll shift gears. But, do you still play guitar and infuse that music into your life now? Or, has that taken backseat?

Craig: I ... It's taken a little bit of a backseat. For a long time a bass guitar is what I played and I went to a small church and I would play there every Sunday. But, we switched churches to somewhere where they have a lot of professional musicians and as my kids have gotten older too, it's just sat in the closet. But, I still very much enjoy listening to it and hope to get it back out. Every now and again will go jam with some folks. But, I don't play nearly as much as I would hoped to at this season of my life.

Shantel: Okay. Well, I'm sure you make some great playlists for the office.

Craig: That's right.

Shantel: Speaking of the company, let's dive a little bit into Matchstic. Can you tell the listeners more about Matchstic and what you specialize in?

| BUILDING BRAND IDENTITIES |

Craig: Yep. So, Matchstic is a brand identity house. The simplest way to think about what we do is that anytime you see a company have an image overhaul or you hear of the company rebranding, changing their name, changing their image, that's what we do. There's a consulting element of that of defining the real core essence of what the organization is and the brand. And, then there's a creative aspect of that of developing the voice and tone, the messaging, creating the logo, the look and feel or creating the name for a product or a company.

Shantel: Did you recognize pretty early on in your career that you just were really strong in doing that? Or, did you bring on someone else who helped specifically with the branding piece and you were more business development?

Craig: Yeah. My goal, I never aspired to be the actual creative or the artist. I realized early on that I really loved being the business side of a creative endeavor. And, that even when I was in a band, I was kind of the guy who's barely good enough to be in the band. But, my real value was booking all the gigs and handling the money and dealing with the business side of it. So, I felt like that's something I'm good at and realized maybe working the music business is not where I want to be. But, is there a way I can apply this somehow and ... Again, I ended up finding who is an amazing business partner today and I still to this day have not found anybody else like him that is the perfect mix of gets the art and gets the business. Even though he's the artist, he gets the business enough. I'm the business guy who gets the art. So, we're a great mix. But, I do feel like every now and again I think, "Well, hey, what if everything fell apart and I had to figure something out? What would I do?" And, I think, "Hey. I always come back to it's my sweet spot, my superpower is playing that line between the business and the creative. And, making the creative work by handling the business side of it."

Shantel: Okay. How did you meet your business partner?

Craig: So, we met at the company I was working for in the music business. He was a family friend of my boss and my boss was the type of guy who would just say, "I don't know what you'll do, but, why don't you come down into our office and start working. We'll figure something out." And, there were no more offices left. So, my boss asked if I would share an office with this guy. So, we shared an office for about three or four months and got to know each other. You know, you get to know each other pretty well when you spend eight hours a day sitting next to each other. So, I was very lucky to kind of have come upon him and built a great relationship before we started actually working together in a business.

Shantel: That's great. And, did you guys go into this business having clear roles and defining the responsibilities? Or, was it a ... You know, morphed together initially?

Craig: Yeah. Probably a little bit of both. You know, we were actually two separate companies for the first year and a half. He was Matchstic and I had a management company that I managed other creative professionals. And, so we had ... Yeah, that was a little bit nice too to kind of continue to learn how each other works and we had a little bit of an arms-length relationship. But, it was I handled the business and the business development and he handles getting the work done. And, my pitch to artist was, "You probably spend one day a week handling the business side of what you do. Let me handle that. You'll increase your billable time by 25% and you'll pay me 20% of what you make to do that." Again, ultimately that model works the music business. Maybe it works in this business as well. Maybe I just couldn't do it. But, ultimately it failed. But, what came out of that was the relationship Blake and I have with each other. Finally, we just said, "Why don't we both drop anything else we're doing and go in and build a company together 50/50?" And, that's what we did.

Shantel: That's great. Is there anything today, looking back, that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur? As someone who maybe didn't want to be one initially?

| THE VIRTUAL ASSISTANT ADVANTAGE |

Craig: I think that I ... Going back if I was to start over, I would always be thinking more about what is my highest invest use to the company? I think that as an owner we know that we're willing to do anything and everything. But, that doesn't necessarily mean that we should be doing anything and everything. But, where is my highest value to the company and how can I fill up as much as my day with that activity and find out what is taking away from that activity and find out where I can push that off onto someone else? I recently got a virtual assistant and I said after ... I've had that for about a year now. I thought, "That's been my last hire." I think if I was to do it all over again that would be my first hire.

Shantel: Hm. That's amazing. How ... What are some of the responsibilities that you've passed off to that virtual assistant if you don't mind sharing and ... What did you determine is your highest invest use?

Craig: So, my highest invest use for our company is helping to find new clients and bring in revenue. And, there's a lot of things in my life, not just at work that may distract from that. So, my assistant handles everything business or personal related. She actually acts a little bit like a sales assistant and can do drafts of proposals, listen in on sales calls and take notes, give me background information on the company I'm talking to, write up a document so that I'm not doing that research. Because my value is ... Even in the sales process, is interacting with the prospect. It's not writing proposals. It's not scheduling times to meet. It's not even doing initial qualifying. But, it's in that face-to-face contact with a qualified client. So, there's a lot of things ... I'm actually moving this week. I told you before we started that my day's been crazy. We're moved out of a house a week ago and we're moving in on Thursday. So, there's a zillion things going on. Today my ... Actually one of the things she's doing is helping research refrigerators, because we've got to buy a new refrigerator. And, I told my wife I'd help out with that. And, normally I may spend an hour doing that. I could do that at 10:00 at night. I could do it at 10:00 in the morning. But, if I give that to somebody else, it's more time that I can focus. Whether I'm working at 10 in the morning or 10 at night on things that are my highest invest use to the company.

Shantel: I think that's great that you mentioned that and sounds like I may need a virtual assistant soon too. It sounds like a dream.

Craig: It's great. Listen, I'll promote them. They're called Belay, and then they have hundreds and hundreds of these assistants. They hire less than 5% of the people that apply and they fully vet them. And, if you have one that doesn't work out, they'll find you another one. So, my business partner and I both have one. And, they do a great job of matching you and training them and making sure that it all goes smoothly.

Shantel: Can you say that name one more time, Craig?

Craig: Belay. B-e-l-a-y.

Shantel: B-e-l-a-y. Okay. We will have to include that in the show notes. I appreciate that. I can relate on some level ... I don't even know if guilty is the right word, but, sometimes when I order Instacart or I have a cleaner come every week, there's pieces of my life that I would just love to just delegate and outsource. You know, sometimes ... I mean, that refrigerator was a great example of that. How you can really leverage someone else's help when you should be focusing on something else.

Craig: Right. Right. She's helping with refrigerators while I was on my way to go meet with a potential prospect that could bring a lot of new revenue into the company. And, it's another brand that we can help fix for someone. And, that's what we can do is fix people's brand problems. Fix their reputation problems.

Shantel: Well, it sounds like you're really self-aware of your time and resources. How do find balance with personal and professional life?

| JUMBLED WORK-LIFE BALANCE |

Craig: You know, my life is my life and it's really all just all jumbled up together. I'm kind of doing both all the time. So, obviously when I'm at work it's a higher percentage of work than personal and vice versa when I'm home. But, I don't not check email during certain times. I don't not respond to my wife's texts at certain times. It all kind of happens all the time. I like it that way. So, obviously there are times where I need to shut off the phone and be in a meeting. And, there are times when I need to shut of the phone and be present with my family. But, for the most part, it's all a big jumble.

Shantel: Mm-hmm I ... Yeah. Well, I appreciate you being honest there. I think sometimes there's this illusion that there is some sense of perfect balance and I think sometimes that's a crock. That's really hard to achieve.

Craig: I kind of enjoy it. I mean, I love my job and I love my family and friends. If an email comes in, I'm usually not bummed, upset to get it. If my son wants to go play Madden on the Xbox, I'm not upset to do that either. Right? It's all one thing and I think there's ... You know the old school view of work is that it's all a drag but it can help pay for life and pay for the things you do enjoy. But, I'm very lucky and I'm very grateful to be in a place that I enjoy my work just as much as I enjoy being at home.

Shantel: Definitely. You talked on your highest invest use. What would you say you're not very good at?

Craig: Really bad at details. Really bad at organizing. I'm really bad at follow through. I'm bad at research. You know, basically anything you need to shut your mouth and stare into a computer and do. I'm bad at it. But, if it's interacting with people, then I'm going to be a whole lot better.

Shantel: Okay. I appreciate that. Yeah. It's tough to-

Craig: It's funny. I was explaining to somebody one time all the things that I don't like doing. And, he looked at me and said, "So, basically work you don't like." Like, "Yeah. Kind of yeah. A little bit."

Shantel: On the music trend is there anything that's rocking your world lately? Or, books, or podcasts, to keep you inspired?

Craig: You know I've been really into Malcolm Gladwell's Revisionist History. I'm almost through the second season of that. If you haven't listened to that he takes some sort of a topic or something in history and goes back and looks at it from a different angle. He's probably my favorite author. Mostly because he just challenges the way that we see things. He kind of takes everything and flips it on it's head. So, I like anything like that, that really expands my ... The way that I would see something and expands my thinking.

Shantel: Is that an audible or a podcast?

Craig: It's just a podcast.

Shantel: Okay. Well, I'll have to check that out. That's interesting. Is that something that you do when you're on your way to work? Or, do you carve out time on the weekends too?

Craig: Well, I started doing it more recently, because our kids started going to a different school and I drive them three days a week. I've been in the car for a lot more. Which is why we're moving. So, I'm not in the car as much. But, I used to only have about a 10-minute commute to work and now it's probably closer to 30 minutes. So, I can listen to a podcast. Usually, it's in the mornings when I'm in the car. Because even afternoon in the car there's phone calls to return and rarely am I just stopping to listen.

Shantel: Okay. Do you have kind of one of the biggest mistakes you've made as an entrepreneur? Does anything come to mind that you and Blake would look back on and say, "We learned from that."

| TRACK YOUR TIME |

Craig: Yeah. I mean, other than my first several business ventures failing, I would probably say one of the biggest mistakes I made was ... We charge flat fee for our projects that we do, but, we track our time to understand if we were profitable or not. And, there was a season where ... Sometimes I like to shake things up and I was like, "You know what, screw it all. We're just going to stop tracking time and we know how to do this right? We'll figure it out." That summer everybody was overworked and we were not making money. It was just a terrible time and I learned, "Okay. It is very important to know where your time goes." Even if you're not billing your time. I still track all of my time. Because I want to know what percentage of my time goes to sales functions versus work managing the team versus marketing versus networking. And, what is the right mix of that. So, I spent a lot of time a summer or two ago really just trying to process how should a CEO be spending their time? So, that's when I really started tracking it. The phrase that I always remember was, a person said, "The CEO should be spending 30 to 40% of their time ... His or her time on things that are going to drive the business forward." Am I spending 30, 40% of my time? Probably not right now, if I'm honest. I'm probably spending less than that and I need to reevaluate that again. But, that, that's the greatest job of the CEOs is to drive the business forward.

Shantel: That's interesting. We also time track and I'll have to pull some reports for myself to see if most of that is sales or process or internal. So I have to use that as a metric. I'm glad that you shared that.

Craig: And, obviously the more that one grows ... Or, the more that a company grows, the more you're able to truly be in that CEO role. I'm still very much a sales person. On some days I'm an account manager. Some days I'm a project manager. You know? But, as the company grows hopefully everybody's role can become more specialized, especially mine.

Shantel: So, would the sales piece not count to that 30, 40%?

Craig: It mainly depends on your business. In the service business it's probably more likely to ... It's probably rare that an owner of a service business, think of a law firm, or something, would not be involved at some point in client ... Business development and signing up a new client. But, if ... I also look at what percentage of our sales for our company come through me. Honestly, it's too high of a percentage right now. It's not super healthy for our business if something were to happen to me. Who else is going to pick up that slack? So, the more that ... Just like anything in a company, the more you have people that could just step into a role and fill it, the stronger the company is.

Shantel: I'd love to dive into that a little bit and that's just from a personal level and you know our business as well. You know I am the primary business development and I'm sure a lot of all the other small businesses in this phase are too. Have you built out a sales team around you? Where do most of the leads come from for you and how do you anticipate getting out of that role completely?

Craig: Well, my first goal is to put together a team. I'm actually ... We're kicking off a new team in like a week or two. So, I probably in a few months could have more insight on how it's working. But, there's two ways that we can book business. There's with people that have never worked with us before and then there's people that are repeat customers. So, I mainly focus on the new customers. And, my step one is how can I get my team in a position to find the next project with existing customers? If we ... We talk a lot about how let ... We bring a lot of customers in the front door, but, we got the back door wide open and then they're all just running back out the back. So, how can we close that back door a little bit and keep more people in the house? Because that will give us more of an ability to scale. So, that's my first goal. And, I think probably my last step would be to replace myself on the brand, brand new customers. Because if we can just build a good foundation of account management and repeat customers and how we ... What that process looks like for us, that's going to be a game changer.

Shantel: Well, I'm excited to circle back to you if we can in a couple months and revisit that topic more on retention and referral based. Are most of your leads coming from new business inbound? Or, are you actively out there talking to people?

Craig: They're mostly inbound. I would say probably half of them are referral or word of mouth and then the other half, people find us online. And, we do a lot to try to be in the right place at the right time when someone looks for our service online. I've always said if we can just be attractive as a company, I don't have to worry as much about selling. So, we spend probably a little bit more energy on being attractive than we do on beating the streets and networking and things like that.

Shantel: Certainly. I think from a ... In a service base, kind of that relational selling and marketing probably play a bigger piece in that. And, it's probably a different sales role than the typical cold calling when you evolve to that, I imagine it will look a little different.

Craig: Yeah.

Shantel: What's next on the horizon for Matchstic?

| NEXT ON THE HORIZON |

Craig: We have some things that we're working on that I can't go into yet. But, essentially as an identity firm it can be tempting sometimes to expand out into, "Should we manage also people's social media or manage their PR or get into other elements of marketing?" But we have a really strong position in the identity space and so we want to stay positioned there and we're working on some things that could be a little bit more innovative in helping people more so manage the brands that they have. Because creating it is the easier part, but, managing it consistently over time is the harder part. So, we think they're some ways that maybe even technology can play a role in that. So, we're beginning to dip our toe in the water there.

Shantel: That's exciting. Speaking of technology and I just have a couple more questions for you. Do you have a favorite piece of software, or technology, or tool that allows you to stay organized or just something that you love using every day? Maybe even an app?

Craig: Yeah. So, I use the Todoist app. I like that a lot. It's a ... Just a to-do list manager and keeping prioritized. And, I do have my assistant who helps me stay on top of that and keeps it organized. And then I always try to true up my to-do list to my calendar. So, if there's eight things to do, I need to go ahead and block the eight spots of time in my calendar and that will hold me accountable to get it done. Instead of just getting at the end of the day and saying, "Shoot, I got only two of these done." You know, of saying, "Okay. From 10:30 to 11:30 I got to get this one done. And then from 11:30 to 12:00 I'll eat lunch and then from 12:00 to 1:00 I'm going to do the next one." So, that can provide some accountability for me. And I always try to think of what are the main three things I can get done? If I get nothing else done, what are my top three? And, I try to think about that every morning.

Shantel: That's great. And, you carve out that time in the morning, or the day before?

Craig: It can be either or.

Shantel: Okay. I love that. I'm going to have to start ... It's more on a piece of paper right now, but, actually putting the time in the calendar I'm sure would protect that time even more from pop up meeting, or getting caught into things.

Craig: Yeah, I read somewhere years ago and I used this a lot where I won't put meetings in my calendar ... Or, I'll only put meetings in my calendar and then sometimes I'll have something I have to get done and if somebody says, "Hey, can you meet at 3:00?" I'll say, "I'm sorry I have a meeting at that point." And then the reality is I have a meeting with myself to get this done. But, instead of saying, "Well, I don't have anything on there." I just say, "Sorry. I'm booked at that time."

Shantel: I love that. I ... that's going to be one of the things I take and start doing right away. I appreciate you sharing. All right. Well, how can people get in touch with you if they're interested in learning more about Matchstic or picking your brain if you have time?

Craig: Yeah. Sure. Matchstic.com without the K on the end of it is our URL. And my email is Craig@matchstic.com. So, would love to chat with anybody that has a question about brand or anything related to something I said here.

Shantel: Well, thanks Craig, I really appreciate you being on the show.

Craig: Yeah. Great talking to you.