Ep #33 | The Bootstrap Approach to Starting a Business

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Nathan is the Co-Owner of Southend Films, a video production company in Atlanta, Georgia. Southend Films produces cinematic films that awake emotion and empower brands. Nathan loves being married to his wife, Joy and being a dad to his two kids, Ty (5yrs old) and Alexis (2yrs old). Joy and Nathan are celebrating their 10 year wedding anniversary this year! Nathan embraces the entrepreneurial spirit and enjoys problem-solving, creating and making beautiful work. 

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Shantel: Hi Nathan, welcome to the show. 

Nathan: Hey Shantel, thanks for having me. 

Shantel: Yeah, of course. We're excited to learn more about Southend and how you got started. I guess to kick things off, how did you concept and have this brain child of Southend? How did that start? 

| THE BOOTSTRAP START-UP |

Nathan: Yeah, Southend started because I had been doing film and video production for over ten years. A lot of the times, I had just been doing freelance on my own. I started working with crews and larger production companies. That kind of turned into me wanting to form my own production company. I really didn't want to do it by myself. I partnered with somebody that I had been working with at a creative agency. Me and him had been working together from a freelance perspective for a while. We came together ... and started working on a project together. We started getting more requests for projects, video projects. We decided to start a video production company in July of 2017. 

Shantel: That's really exciting, so approaching the year mark. 

Nathan: Yeah, coming up on it. It's been a good first year. We've been bootstrapping it ... and really just in full on start-up mode to get it off the ground and figure out processes, and things that work ... taking that more bootstrap approach than having funding, or having an investment. 

Shantel: Yeah, that's really exciting. Was that a scary jump from going to what you were used to, and that freelance to, 'Hey, I'm going to bring on a partner and we're going to now split everything, and try to do this together.' Or, was it kind of seamless because you both were able to bring your book of business from past freelance work? 

Nathan: It's been kind of comforting in the fact that I have somebody, like a partner that I can problem solve, and talk to, and figure things out with. On the same token, things just take a little bit longer because you're not just figuring them out yourself and problem solving yourself. You have somebody that you have to pass things by, and you have to try things with, you have to come to an agreement on. Working in kind of a fast paced type environment from a creative standpoint, things just slow down just a little bit more when you go into it with a partnership, rather than just by yourself. 

Shantel: That makes sense. Would you still now ... quite a few months, it's still the piece of having someone to turn to and talk to, I am sure, does that outweigh the slowing down piece? Does that kind of help you slow down actually and think a little bit more methodically about what you're doing? 

Nathan: Yeah. I think ... it really ... it put some checks and balances in place. When we get to talking about kind of my ... things I'm not good at, or things I thought I need to improve on, it kind of throws those out the windows ... it throws that out the window, because you have somebody to balance you out that may be good at something that you're not. They'll say, "Well, I think we need to take another look at this," or, "I think we might need to see this differently, or think about this differently." You're like, "Well great, because I've just been doing it the same way and been probably doing it wrong for the last ... four or five years on my own entrepreneurially." That's a really good thing to have with a partner. 

Shantel: Yeah. I'm sure you guys have been able to see different strengths and weaknesses, and compliment each other in areas which I'm curious, how have you guys split the responsibilities, or are you still shaking that out? I remember when I ... when we were figuring that out, Margo and I, it's like, 'Ooh, what do I do today, versus what I do tomorrow?' It varied a little bit at the beginning but would you guys say you have a good rhythm now? 

Nathan: Yeah. I think every month, we figure out something that ... a strength or weakness of one another. Originally, it started that ... I was kind of directing and producing the videos that we were creating. Joey was writing and specified on brand, for the brands that we were working with. Then Joey took the finances of the business, because that's actually one of my weaknesses is managing finances. I took more of the marketing side of the business. Just through working together and seeing each other's strengths and weaknesses, we've switched a few things. Joey still handles the finances and I would say I head up the marketing and sales. In the work that we're producing, Joey's taken more of a director's role. I've taken more of a whole producer role. Joey's actually editing a lot now. I'm taking a little bit of a backseat in editing. You kind of find those strengths and weaknesses and continue to flesh that out. It just makes your process and your business that much better when you discuss ... when you sit down and discuss like, "Hey, I think I can take this off your plate and put it on mine, and I actually really enjoy it." Or, "We need to find somebody that does this because neither of us are really good at it." I think those conversations just make the business stronger. 

Shantel: Is there anything on both of your plates right now that you cannot wait to pass off, where you're like, "I ... This is horrible, nails on a chalkboard for me. It makes me not want to get out of bed, but we have to do it as business owners?"

Nathan: Well, yeah. It's kind of that ownership mentality that you get into is like, 'Okay, what are some things that we could definitely delegate, or hire out for?' With video production, there's ... If you look at the end of a credit ... or the end of movie credits, you see a long list of people. Obviously to produce, any sort of high end cinematic quality film, there's going to be more than one or two people involved. We've taken that mentality and really, we've put together small crews that produce the videos that we're producing. Directors of photography, people that are really good at camera, people that are really good at sound, people that are really good at lighting. We've delegated that way where Joey and I are mostly interfacing ... Now we're on set all the time working with those crews, but we're also really client-facing, and making sure that we understand the brand, and making sure we understand the messaging, and making sure we're getting the story right. We've found ways to delegate and get those certain things off our plate. I think next, as the business is growing, we'll be looking to hire accountants or hire accounting firm that will work with us and take our books up to another level. 

Shantel: Yeah. We actually work with a wonderful company called Excel Financial. I'm happy to make an introduction if you want to start exploring that. He's awesome. We have a weekly call, and I get so pumped about the numbers now just because he provides this great report. It's visual, and it speaks my language a little bit more. 

Nathan: Yeah. As a entrepreneur, it's good to understand how those things work in creating budgets, and running your QuickBooks, and finding your P&Ls, invoicing, and 1099s, and all that stuff. Whereas I feel like when I just started as a entrepreneur, I was really just ... figuring that out as I went; which I would say is not the best way. I would definitely advise somebody to take a business finance class, or to read some really good books, or I don't know, take a QuickBooks webinar. For me, it was really like ... Okay, I have a Word document for invoicing. I have a spreadsheet with numbers in it. Then, I transitioned to ... I think it was FreshBooks or something, but I was just ... I was just doing work and sending invoices when ... a long time ago, six or seven years ago. 

Shantel: Well, and I appreciate you sharing that piece and I do agree. Continued learning and maybe taking a crash course on how to organize that would be helpful. What's nice I think about having your own business is you have the freedom and the space to learn. You don't have to know all those answers at the beginning. For at that point in your business, that made sense and that was okay. You created a process that worked for you. 

Nathan: Right. 

Shantel: Which I think is the beauty of starting something you don't have to know everything right away. 

| REFINE THE PROCESS |

Nathan: Right. Yeah, you definitely can learn as you go. I just think that over time, you have to refine those processes so you don't get frustrated. I think the biggest part of ... One of the most frustrating parts about being an entrepreneur for me is undervaluing myself from the beginning. I didn't really understand my marketplace value or what I needed to be charging correctly. It was a learn-as-you, but I think just some simple research would have really benefited me because I would get to the end of the projects. They didn't seem as rewarding because I didn't have the cash in the bank at the end of it. Completely agree, that is the beauty of ... being a entrepreneur and starting things yourself is you can literally start from nothing, and charge what you want to, and make what you want. I do think refining those processes, and figuring out where revenue is coming from, and how money's coming in, and where is it going out. Those are very useful things that you'll want to find out earlier on in your business, rather than later on. 

Shantel: Yeah, and it may take a couple times of getting burned to like that bank account thing. No, I can certainly relate. When we started time tracking as a company, it was so eye-opening. I mean it completely changed the business, just that one piece of data that we collected weekly.

Nathan: Yeah. 

Shantel: Now that you have ... it seems like you're really established in where you guys fit in the market, and your value add. Have you been hearing more 'nos' because you are competitively priced, and how have you been able to stick to your guns in that sense, if that's the case? 

Nathan: Yeah. Really and that kind of comes down to the relationships that you have in place to find the work that you want to be working on, and identifying the clients that you want to be working with so that you don't have to say 'no,' or ... I guess you will get 'nos' because budgets work differently for different companies. At times, they may have the money to spend, at times, they don't have the money to spend on your services. If you really target those companies that you know that you want to work with, and have the marketing budget set that can produce cinematic videos, a lot of times, it's just the relationship building process that then gets you to that 'yes.' That entails things like really explaining your process to that person that's going to purchase, and really explaining the value of what you're making or producing. In the end, you know you're going to get to a 'yes,' it's just how much work are you willing to put in to get there. I think that answers the question. 

Shantel: Yeah. 

Nathan: I remember that ... 

Shantel: No, I think that's wonderful advice. We haven't touched really on that relationship piece, and it's nice to hear someone else's process. I think that's wonderful. You touched on continued learning and reading. Are you a avid reader? If so, what's the last book you've read? 

Nathan: I think I'm an avid reader just because ... I'll read anything ... anything that comes across on web or social media, because I feel it's getting more tailored to me every day; with just the algorithms that things are running, and all that. I feel like my phone is learning me, which is kind of creepy. At the same time, I do love books. Right now, I'm reading 'Selling to Big Companies,' by Jill Konrath; just because Southend is targeted more at larger businesses. Our style of film and the commercial work that we're producing is targeted more towards your larger businesses. I do want to know how to sell to those larger companies. I'm also listening to ... Go ahead, sorry.

Shantel: No. No, keep going. 

Nathan: Sorry, sorry. 

Shantel: It's okay. 

Nathan: I heard you say something. Then, I am listening to a podcast called 'Starting from Nothing.' Sorry, I'll say that again. I'm listening to a podcast called 'Starting from Nothing,' hosted by Andy Drish. That's thefoundationpodcast.com. Again, like I said, we're bootstrapping Southend. We've had potential investors, or people that want to invest in us that we've really just said, "Well, let's see if we can bootstrap this and get this off the ground, startup-wise from nothing." I've been listening to this podcast and it's been influential and ... setting up my mentality for bootstrapping, and just starting from the ground up, and thinking even with the owner's mentality; even though Southend, ... it's just two of us right now. What does that look like to continue to think from a ownership mentality? 

Shantel: I love ... Well, and congratulations to have investors knocking at your door, and only being in business less than a year. That's true testament to the work you guys are doing, sot hat's awesome.

Nathan: Thanks.

Shantel: Congratulations. Yeah. 

Nathan: Yeah. 

Shantel: I'd love to dive into your childhood a little bit, or when you really first started to branch out on your own. Did you grow up in an entrepreneurial environment? 

Nathan: No, I did not. Really both my parents ... My dad worked full time. My mom was a stay at home mom, but she was always just ... She worked in the church quite a bit. Really, just ... I don't know. I just ... I saw my dad working 60, 65 hour work weeks and coming home not the happiest person in the world about work, but just kind of doing it. I was like, "I kind of really want something different for myself, you know, with regards to my job." I had no idea that, that would turn out to be a business owner, or entrepreneur. I always thought a soccer player, or a architect. I don't know why those two, but that's what I grew up thinking. Then I got really into audio/visual, and music. I did a lot of sound production, and audio/visual installation. That was even through high school and into college. I just always loved the freedom. I love the freedom of creating and making something, and doing that on my own time. I think that's what caused me to not want to be on somebody else's timecard, or locked into a nine to five. Instead, a little bit freer to make decisions about what I wanted to be doing when. I just had always grown up doing photography. My mom loves taking pictures of our family. She wouldn't call herself a photographer, but I did photography through high school, and college. Then right out of college, I took a job at a pretty large church in Chicago doing media. I really didn't have a ton of video experience at the time, but I was put in charge of managing all the log and capture of footage. At that time, they were logging, capturing digitally and to beta tape. I learned a lot about linear editing and non-linear editing. That just kind of sparked the fuse for me for video ... was editing and capturing. 

Shantel: That is a little bit over my head, but it sounds really interesting. Different types of editing, that's great. 

Nathan: Yeah. 

Shantel: Well, I'm glad that you've created a role and an environment to create and follow those passions. How do you stay motivated and spark that creativity when perhaps you've had a bad day, or you've had a exchange in email with a client that was tough? How do you stay motivated and spark that creativity? 

| TELLING THE MAKERS' STORIES |

Nathan: A lot of things, like I tell interns or people that are wondering, 'How do I make ... or produce film at the level that you do.' It's really just, for me, it's like getting out there with the camera. Getting out there and finding something interesting, and shooting it, and bringing it back, and editing it. It can be anything. It can be my kids. It can be something in nature. It can be just ... something out in my backyard. ... If you don't pick up the camera and you don't go shoot, you're not going to try things and you're not going to fuel that creativity. It's not something that you can just feel like ... I don't know, like looking at people's footage. That's a good way to get inspired, but then the act of actually making ... I think you experiment more, and you figure things out more, and you figure out how things work more when you just pick up that camera and go. I think those are the things that ... make me who I am as a creative. In 2016, Joey, my partner, decided that we would ... that he wanted to basically produce content around makers here in Atlanta. We basically looked at makers that were making things like ... handmade goods, fabric artists, those different makers. We just … We were like, "Let's just tell their stories." Literally, no funding, no money. We weren't going to get paid for it at all. We just picked up a camera and some lights, and went out and shot these stories. It turned out to be incredible content that people are really, really excited about. I learned and grew so much from ... bootstrapping that little project together that ... Again, it really fueled my creativity for what I make. 

Shantel: That's amazing. The work that I've seen on that is stunning, so we'll definitely link to that in the notes. It almost sounds like even when you're unplugging from the business, creatively, you're still ... creating with your camera and with video. There's not really a, 'I only do video at work.' It seems to kind overflow into your personal life as well. 

Nathan: Yeah. I would say a little bit. I think that running and operating a business takes a set of skills, and then creating and making takes another set of skills. I would say I'm very ... I can very easily shut off the operating and running a business side of myself. I can continue to make or be influenced by makers and creatives. Obviously, with all the content these days, with everything going out there, we're always looking at something, or always observing things, or always watching things. I don't know if I ever completely turn off that side of my brain. I'll be sitting on the couch with my wife, and we're watching ... a movie or a show. I'm always thinking about like, 'How'd they shoot that,' and 'That lighting looks really good,' and 'I appreciate how that actor turned, or spoke in that manner.' It's funny because I've rubbed off on her. I feel like she really likes the same things I like, because they're very cinematic. Right now, we're watching 'The Americans,' 'The Crown' on Netflix. We just watched 'The Greatest Showman' in theaters. All these things that to me, are really cinematically very well done. At the same time, we'll draw on a 'Friends' episode when we need to decompress. 

Shantel: Yeah. 

Nathan: No, I think it's always something that's going on for me is making and creating, and figuring out how to make and create. 

Shantel: That's great. You touch on interns. I'd love to hear a little bit more. Do you have them continuously help, join the team, and are you hoping that they fill full-time roles in the future? What does that internship program look like for you and Joey? 

Nathan: Yeah. It's funny, because people have just found Southend and asked how they could help. 

Shantel: That's great. 

Nathan: Literally, we get that every other week. ... I haven't really ... We don't have a formal internship program. I think people just ... They want to know how this stuff works. They want to know what it's like to be on set, what it's like to pre-produce and produce, and edit. Pulling them along for the journey and having them hop in for two or three months. They're like, "Wow, like the wealth of knowledge that was bestowed upon me. Like I feel like I ... you know, I have so much more to learn, but this was a great place to, you know, get started." On our sets, its great to have some extra hands. It's great to have somebody that can take a client or take talent somewhere, or somebody that can lean in and help carry some extra gear; even though we've gotten smaller format factor with production company and not having a massive crew or massive set, we still have a lot of gear that we have to haul around, and props we have to bring, and locations we have to be on, and stuff like that. The extra pair of hands is nice. It's always nice for them to learn and grow, if this si a industry they want to be working in. 

Shantel: That's great. That's a good problem ... or not even problem, but nice to have them just reaching organically. 

Nathan: Yes. 

Shantel: Nathan, I've got two more questions for you. The first being where do you see you and the company going in the next year or two? 

Nathan: Yeah. In the next year or two, ... let me just think about this for second. ... 

Shantel: I was going to go five years, but those are like the most dreaded questions. It's like, those interview questions when you were ... You know, 'Where do you see yourself?'

Nathan: Right. ... Yeah, yeah. ... We want to continue to push the envelope in terms of Cinema that we're producing, and empowering these brands, empowering brands in businesses with the quality of video that we're producing. We're trying to find our sweet spot with that, in terms of marketplace value, and those types of things. I really think ... We just produced a TV broadcast commercial, and we've been producing for web commercials. I think a good place for us to be in the next year or two is working with those businesses that see the value in cinematic video production. They aren't concerned about ... necessarily the ... platform factor, but instead reaching their audience no matter how they want to reach their audience. That's through Instagram story, Instagram commercials, online, commercial ads, TV; because there's just so many opportunities with all the different platforms that we have. The content has to be engaging, and it has to be really, really interesting to the viewer, because there is so much noise right now. Working those type of companies, financially I think we would, at the end of two years, we would like to be a million dollar company. I think we've got some plans and processes to get that into place. As a bootstrap start-up, we've already done about 85k worth of work to this point. 

Shantel: That's great. 

Nathan: That's just six months in. We will be pouring it on in terms of sales, and marketing the business to turn things around ... Not turn things around, but keep things going in the right projection. 

Shantel: That's great. Well, we are excited to cheer you on to that one million mark. Nathan, how can people get in touch with you and Southend if they're interested in learning more? 

Nathan: Yeah. You can reach out to us via our website, SouthendFilms.com. You can also hop on our Instagram and message us, which is just SouthendFilms. Those are the best two ways to get in contact; the contact form on SouthendFilms.com comes directly to Joey and I's email, and messages, of course, on Instagram come directly to us, too. We'd be happy to chat with you, or share a little bit more about our business. If you want to hop on set and ... grab some grip gear and lighting gear, and chug it along with us, you're more than welcome to do that. 

Shantel: Great. Well, thank you so much for carving out the time and sharing your story. 

Nathan: Yeah. Thanks for having me, I appreciate it. 

Shantel: Of course.