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‘What are you selling?’
It’s the question Chris Williams helps companies figure out — and it’s not an easy one to answer.
It’s why companies hire Wolves Not Sheep, Chris’s positioning studio, to walk them through the process of figuring out who they are as a company — and what that’s worth to a customer.
Chris and Louis talk about brands that do this well, the new products he’s helping bring to market, and the imperative importance of not boring your customers in 2021.
“Positioning your brand means making a strategic set of choices. And everything that comes after it, the downstream expressions that make it into the market, are really the only artifact the outside world perceives. “
🎙 Highlights Include
- What is a positioning studio?
- What brands do a good job of positioning themselves in the market? What do these chase studies teach us?
- What are the challenges of being an online brand in 2021?
- How do you know that your idea is speaking to a need, not just describing a function?
This Week’s Guest
Co-Founder & Managing Partner @ Wolves Not Sheep
Chris Williams is the co-founder & managing partner of Wolves Not Sheep, a positioning studio that works hands-on with early-stage founders to shape & express the value they offer. He’s based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The Startup Stack’s Host
CEO, Co-Founder of Rocketplace
Rocketplace is a curated marketplace of high quality professional service providers. A 3x founder, investor, and board member, Louis began his tech career as a partner at Andreessen Horowitz. When he’s not working or podcasting, Louis enjoys cooking for his family. His pizza, he’d like you to know, is incredible.
Full Episode Transcript
[00:00:00] Chris Williams: [00:00:00] Are you familiar with the four P’s of marketing?
Louis Beryl: [00:00:07] I am familiar. Price, positioning, product. and, uh, oh, they should take away, they should take away my MBA.
Chris Williams: [00:00:17] See, now I think that those are completely wrong. It’s actually, please, please, please, and please.
Louis Beryl: [00:00:23] Yeah, there you go. Good. I think I can remember those four.
MUSIC BREAK [00:00:28] How do I explain what my product does? It’s a simple enough question, but as most founders, now it can take months, sometimes years to iron out. And maybe that’s not because our products are too complicated. Maybe the real problem is the question, namely, that explaining what a product does. Isn’t as important as telling a story about the problem it solves. To explain why so many of us fall into this trap, I’m joined by branding expert, Chris Williams, who’s positioning studio Wolves Not Sheep helps businesses figure out the real value of their product. Beyond the let’s face the generally [00:01:00] pretty boring details of how that product works. Chris and I talk about brands that do this well, and Ryan Reynolds, and the critical importance in this moment, especially of not boring your customer. Let’s get to it. MUSIC BREAK [00:01:13]
Speaking of positioning, which is one of the Ps I remembered, um, you call Wolves Not Sheep a positioning studio. Maybe, maybe you could tell me what, what is a positioning studio?
Chris Williams: [00:01:23] Yeah, positioning studio. So, um, for us it means it’s a skilled team that combines the act of positioning with creative skills necessary to, um, translate positioning into the market. Right. So that, uh, you can actually set, or at least for us, we set our clients on a more direct path to market fit.
Louis Beryl: [00:01:43] I’d love to learn a little bit more about how you started Wolves Not Sheep.
Chris Williams: [00:01:47] Yeah. Okay. So, uh, for me, it was a pretty direct path to, um, to eventually getting to Wolves from the perspective of, I worked in brand building and advertising and over the course of my [00:02:00] journey in that career, I went from a designer into a creative director and then kind of leading the direction of the agency that I last worked for. And I started noticing some patterns throughout that journey, um, that were getting a lot, of like weird interplay between being asked to solve a problem, um, on, on like a downstream level that was actually really tied to more of a systemic issue. Um, and as I started to bring that up and started to put that in front of clients and say, Hey, I think that there’s something else we can be focused on here. Um, they weren’t really in the head space to hear that they weren’t, we weren’t dealing with the budgets to focus on that. It was dealing with too many departments. And so that led to this discovery of how silos weren’t just the thing for agencies, but there were things for clients as well. Like the, the breakdown of communication between departments and teams. Um, and so I actually had met my co-founder or what would become my co-founder at the last agency I was working with. And he was executive as well, but he was on the digital side. So he was focused on user experience and tech development. [00:03:00] Um, And we were kind of in similar boardrooms, but with different teams, sometimes the same clients, sometimes different. And as we started talking to each other about what we were hearing in those rooms, he was echoing a lot of the things I was noticing as well. And so we started talking about what would a new service look like? How could we actually start having conversations with clients to affect the root cause of the problems they were coming to us for in the first place? Um, in a way that they were ready to hear it, that they were ready to tackle it. And we actually did make an attempt to make this change at the agents that we were in, um, but it just didn’t jive with what they were building for themselves and what the legacy of the business was. And they weren’t ready to adapt in that way. So I guess the long story short that was, I think for most startups, they get to that point of frustration and where it meets opportunity. And we decided to strike out on our own and see if we can make it a thing.
Louis Beryl: [00:03:49] Yeah. Completely. That’s how tons of startups start, you know? So it’s okay, so you launched in 2019, you’re working at an agency previously. You’re, you’re getting frustrated and now you’re [00:04:00] building your own agency. What are some of the challenges that you face right away?
Chris Williams: [00:04:05] Yeah, the challenges are, I think that they’re pretty universal and any kind of service business, um, especially B2B service. Um, a lot of it is in. What your client acquisition looks like and what you actually need to do in order to bring them in. And for us, there’s kind of a twofold problem, which ends up being a really good thing for us as we work with our clients, because most of them are startups, um, where there’s a certain level of education that has to come along with it, right? Like positioning isn’t necessarily a new concept it’s been around for a long time. Um, you know, you kind of get this weird mix where, like you said, at the beginning of this, like you had some familiarity with it. Um, but you may not necessarily know how powerful it is or what can be done with it in a, in a company or when you should be focused on it, things like that. So there’s a certain amount of education that we have to do to help people understand what the differences are and how positioning, um, not only how it can be tackled, [00:05:00] but when it should be tackled and why it should be tackled first. Um, you know, like for instance, we get a lot of people that come to us and they’re looking for traditional services that fall under the typical umbrellas of marketing or brand building. You know, like, can you help with identity development? Can you help with copywriting? Um, what about my website? And those are things that can certainly be talked about and developed later on, but if you don’t focus on positioning first and all that stuff can ultimately be something that has to be redone later.
Louis Beryl: [00:05:29] Yeah. Well let’s, well let’s talk about that. So when is the right time for a company to be coming to you? I mean, to be quite honest, I’ve, I’ve started a bunch of startups. I’m not a marketing expert. And, you know, we all think of marketing where like customer acquisition, maybe we think of branding, but I’m like, well, what, you know, what is positioning? You know, when do I need to do it? I’d probably always need to be doing it. Like when, when should I, when should I hire Wolves Not Sheep?
Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, I think it. Start [00:06:00] the answer to that question, you really have to address the, what is positioning aspect of it. Right? And at its core positioning is, is the context that you create for product or service to differentiate yourself in the mind of a prospect. Right. And the goal is to highlight where it stands in relation to alternative solutions in a chosen market. Right.
But then, but then I’m thinking. Every startup starts that way. Every startup starts with like, Hey, this is the problem I’m solving. This is my value prop. This is what competitors do that to every that’s like the first pitch for everybody.
Chris Williams: [00:06:29] Right. And, and honestly you hit on it perfectly. I think the problem that’s developed over time is that most of the tools or examples of how to go about positioning are really focused on product led definitions or descriptions. Right. So you’re trying to figure out how you describe your product. You’re trying to figure out how you describe the function or the benefit of the product. And it doesn’t really go much beyond that. Like you’re, you’re not thinking so much about how the customer is going to experience it or what the benefit the customer gets in their own [00:07:00] journey is. Um, you know, if you’re familiar with the concept of jobs to be done, this is where that would kind of factor in.
Louis Beryl: [00:07:05] It’s one of my favorites.
Chris Williams: [00:07:07] Right? You’re right. So it’s like, what are the actions trying to do? Um, not just what tool could they buy? Right, right. We’re not what tiny, what small product could they get? Um, and so that’s for us, it’s really about the distinction between supply side and demand side. So supply side is the traditional model, building it off of the product descriptions demand side is more about understanding that job to be done for the customer and reorienting the decisions that you make in that strategic tree around them. How can you affect that journey? How can you affect that outcome? How can you help them understand that what you’re offering them is really like a tool or a magic gift, if you will, that gets them to that point. And once you start talking in that way, you’re not really selling, uh, product features anymore.
Louis Beryl: [00:07:52] Can you give me an example in your mind, maybe you use this in case studies of like startups out there, you know, companies people would know about, [00:08:00] um, that do this really well.
Chris Williams: [00:08:02] Hmm. That’s a tough question. Um, It’s hard to think of them as a Startup anymore.
Louis Beryl: [00:08:10] Um, sure, sure.
Chris Williams: [00:08:11] I think that it’s important to…
Louis Beryl: [00:08:12] Maybe, maybe because they did their positioning so well they’re enormous.
Chris Williams: [00:08:15] Yeah. One and time, right? I mean, yeah. I think that the more successful people where you can really look back and see how positioning effected the outcome, you need the time so that you can connect those pieces together. One problem with positioning is that it’s a strategic set of choices. And so everything that comes after that, the downstream expressions of those that make it into the market, that’s really the only artifact or the clues in what the outside world could perceive as the positioning that was decided. So a couple of examples would be like Dropbox that are really good job of this Base Camp is phenomenal at this. In fact…
Louis Beryl: [00:08:50] Well tell me. Let’s start with one. Why, why did Dropbox do a really good job of it?
Chris Williams: [00:08:54] Well, Dropbox looked at it from the perspective of like, what is that main struggle that we’re trying to solve [00:09:00] for? Instead of we have a thing that doesn’t thing, it was more like the problem is that you need access to your files and you can’t just be lugging around equipment with you all the time. Right? So it was about this ability to access that information from wherever you were. And that it gets confusing because you start thinking, well, that sounds like the same thing, but it’s really not. Whenever you try to describe that to somebody that could be a potential best-fit customer for you, because they’re going to latch onto that immediately. Like, I think that their original launch in, um, Hacker News, I think it was, uh, where it was something about like throw the thumb drive away. Right. Like that doesn’t really sound like a product feature at all, but it’s a hundred percent of value that you’re about to gain by using Dropbox. And it caught fire because of it, you know. Basecamp did a great job with it. I think the examples that we really like to use, even in the workshops and stuff that we do for accelerators across the country, um, we look at actually a side-by-side comparison of two dating apps where, uh, the two that we use [00:10:00] as Hinge and Tinder. And on the surface it looks like well, we’re the same customers or they’re, they’re competing for the same customers, right. It’s singles that are looking to date. Um, but in reality, if you start to strip away, um, like if you look at the product features that they began with, if you look at the marketing that they have, that came after that, if you even look at the tagline that they tried to develop from the position that they took, you understand, they’re actually serving very distinct markets. Like they chose a specific segment inside of singles. Where Tinder celebrates being single, uh, hinges all about trying to not be single anymore. It’s about trying to find that one person where you never need their app again. And if you actually look at all the information that you can find in the market, you can, you can basically reverse engineer where the positioning was around. The simple concept of Tinder is designed to make dating fun because there’s no fear of rejection and Hinge is designed for you to never have to date again.
Louis Beryl: [00:10:59] Yeah. [00:11:00] Um, and so, and do you think that one is doing it better than the other or is it they actually have just positioned themselves, they each have positioned themselves well for what they’re trying to do?
Chris Williams: [00:11:10] Yeah. I actually look at both of them as good examples of positioning and in general, because, and the reason why we use them, even when we talk about it is because you can look at how. You would assume that they’re going after the same person and realizing the decisions that you make about who you’re going after, what the benefit is for them on the, on the back end, like how you understand the journey that they’re actually on influences so many different things. Like I didn’t mention it, but if you look at the product features of Tinder versus Hinge, Hinge has so many more layers. Uh, filtering capability and they give you so, so fewer options to pick from at the end of the day, like you’re, you’re getting most compatible versus your top picks and you only have so many of those that you can interact with on a daily basis. Where as Tinder it’s all about volume. Like how much of it can I give you? And how quickly can I give it to you? So [00:12:00] you know, how many options you have. And again, it’s about trying to remove that fear of rejection in the mix. So it’s meant to just be fun and engaging. It’s it’s very much, um, I mean, it’s perfect for social media days, right? Cause it’s all about the like or the interest. Um, but, but Hinge is just completely different than that. And it, the positioning that they chose influence those decisions, like they had to understand what journey the customer was on. To decide how they wanted to make those features work. If Hinge tried to adopt Tinder’s features it wouldn’t work for their audience and vice versa.
Louis Beryl: [00:12:28] So I want to come back to this question. We’ve been talking about what Wolves, not, uh, Wolves Not Sheep does as, as a positioning studio and we’ve run through some examples, but I, as an entrepreneur, what, what signals should I be looking for? Where or what should I be seeing that, that helps me understand, actually, I might need a positioning studio?
Chris Williams: [00:12:52] I think the best time to be thinking about how to work through positioning, whether you do it on your own as like a bootstrapper or whether you want to work [00:13:00] with an expert. Um, is understanding that as you start to move from product validation or MVP build, like whatever it is, the nucleus of the company that you’re making, once you start to get that settled, then you’re ready to start testing people’s interest in the actual product or service. You know, you’re at this weird precipice where you’re, if, if it lands, if you’re starting to get that interest, you’re going to have to scale operations pretty quickly. From that point forward, you’re gonna have to be thinking about sales. You’re gonna have to be thinking about broadening reach, um, and those come with a myriad of decisions and choices that start to take you down certain funnels, whether you realize it or not. So, if you’ve gotten to that point and you haven’t started doing positioning yet, that’s a critical moment in time where you need to take a step back and check yourself on all things positioning, because you need to make sure that you’re actually targeting the right customer for what you’ve built, that you understand what it is that your product or service does for them. And then using those two critical components to understand like the [00:14:00] next five or so items that really come into play for competitive insights. Like what are those alternatives? What attributes do you have that they don’t? Um, how does that create unique benefit? And then ultimately, what market do you actually want to play in? And that’s something that’s really important that most people ignore, or maybe don’t realize is that your market category, isn’t a default option based on the product or service you build. You can actually choose a market to play in. Like for instance, a candy bar, it doesn’t just exist in a treat category or a candy, uh, category, it can actually exist as a meal replacement, right? Like you can make decisions that then create a more obvious value structure around what you built. So you want to make those choices before you start spending time and money, pushing it into the wrong areas or to the wrong customer or with the wrong message. You know, that’s why, whenever we’re working with clients, we actually do it through a sales narrative. That’s the goal of, kind of getting through those choices, because we want you to have a one-on-one conversation with someone to see [00:15:00] what the body language is like to understand where the inflection points are, what kind of questions they ask, right? Like, are they asking you to better understand what it is that you’re selling or are they asking price and availability? That’s a good sign that you’re, you’re landing in the right area.
Louis Beryl: [00:15:13] Yeah. I mean, one way I’m thinking about it as I, as we, as we chat is, you know, before I have product market fit, if I’m a startup, you know, as I’m searching for product fit, Uh, product market fit. It’s probably a time when I want to think about doing positioning work. On the other hand, as my company grows, I might be thinking about adding certain features or, or certain business lines. Um, that’s also probably another good time. To do positioning work. Right. So, but what do you think?
Chris Williams: [00:15:46] No, that’s, it’s a great point. And it’s actually, um, it’s, it’s kind of half of the model of what we deal with. Um, it’s why, whenever we start talking to people about what makes the most sense, we actually do talk about two very distinct points in their [00:16:00] kind of journey as a company, you know, at the beginning, it’s really important because it can’t really be too early that you, that you’re thinking about this stuff. Um, but on the other hand, Whenever you start to scale into a broader market and you’re moving past those early adopters, and you’re trying to reach that escape velocity. Now it’s really imperative that you’re thinking about that stuff. So if you’ve dialed it in before and you understand the process, you didn’t just do an exercise that you set and forget. It’s something that you actually use as a Bible or as a guide. Then you kind of already understand, as you’re making these adjustments, you need to go back and check those items. If you’ve never done it, that’s a perfect opportunity to get into it and understand it because it’ll help you decide. What features make the most sense? What new product lines should come into play? Like, I think the most surprising moment for us when we’re talking to founders or to, um, you know, soon to be entrepreneurs is helping them understand that doing this work will influence the product roadmap. Most people don’t really get that. In fact, the there’s a really good, um, I think it’s both in a talk in, and [00:17:00] an article that Rahul Vohra, the CEO of Superhuman put out, that’s all about measuring product market fit. Um, what’s interesting is that his entire model, if you break it apart and you, you pay attention to it, you know what to look for, what he’s actually doing as he’s measuring the. The positioning that he should take and how that plays out and the features that he chooses to roll out. Um, but he just doesn’t call it that because for him, it was easier to look at it as product market fit.
Yeah. Okay. So I’m unconvinced, I’m a, I’m a entrepreneur. I’m thinking about how, um, I think it’s time to work with a positioning firm or do positioning work, um, and. I’m, I’m out there meeting some experts. What are the questions that I should be asking when evaluating an outside firm that I want to work with for this type of work?
That’s a really good question. Uh, there’s some layers to it. If you know that you’re working with somebody that classifies themselves as a positioning expert, the questions that you should be asking, get a little bit [00:18:00] easier. It should be around some basic understanding of the process that they take. Right? Like, if, and this is, this is my bias, so it’s, it’s, it’s my opinion on this, but I want to hear more about the process you guys take. Oh, perfect. Yeah. I mean, like for, for us, I wouldn’t want someone. Let me take this back for me. I wouldn’t want to work with somebody. Yeah. That only provides me with worksheets or templates. And then is simply there if you have questions, because that leads to the same problems that we get with the existing templates out there, right? Like most founders get familiar with the idea of a positioning statement or a value proposition statement. At some point it’s like this Madlibs approach where you just fill in the gaps and the gaps are named in category, but nothing more. And that problem with it is that each one of those choices actually influences the next. But you don’t know which one you should start with. So if you start with the wrong one and then you start going through the process, you make some really bad guesses at what to do. Um, and there’s, there’s not a lot of coming back from that. You basically get to start all over again. So if you don’t have somebody there helping you and collaborating with you [00:19:00] on why you start in one particular location over the other, and then what comes next, um, it can be a waste of time and energy. So I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t want to work with someone that only provides a template and walks away. I’d want some, some true guidance there. So that would be one big question for me is in your process, are you working collaboratively with us or are you just providing resources and, and then you’re somebody to check those decisions for that.
Louis Beryl: [00:19:23] Yeah and what would be like the outcome that I should expect? Right. So, okay. We’re going to work together. I’m talking to this firm, what are the types of outcomes that I would expect from a project like this?
Chris Williams: [00:19:36] Yeah. So for us, the outcome that we’re looking for, we, we kind of separate things into two different phases and the first phase is all positioning. So we’re going through the process of actually making those strategic choices and all those different fundamental components kind of serving as the nucleus of what’s to come beyond it. It’s. I don’t think it would benefit anybody, including us as the experts at, if we just stopped at making those choices and then kind of like [00:20:00] going okay, well, you know good luck. Hope it works out. Let us know if it doesn’t right. Instead we actually take the first expression of that and turn it into what I refer to earlier as a sales narrative, we want you to have something that’s actually in a version of a story format, something that you can manipulate and change. It will cause I’m sure you’re familiar with it as founder to like when you’re doing those sales. Sometimes it follows a linear path. And other times you kind of jump around and pick different things too, go with it. So we build it in a way that can be malleable and we want to stick with, around for you to test it. So we help you form that narrative. Let you test that with some customers and what we’re looking for. There’s nodding heads. We’re looking for the questions that are about how do I get it? How much does it cost? Less about, wait a minute. What was this again? Why does it matter to me? And once we get you to that point, that’s when you’re actually ready. Uh, at least in our perspective, in our opinion, that’s when you’re ready to either take it on yourself. Like if you have the internal team and you want to run with it, Perfect opportunity to do that. If you have external partners that are specialists in, let’s call it paid [00:21:00] media or PR or something along those lines, and you want to work directly with them to further express that sales narrative, by all means, that’s an opportunity for you to do it for others. And for a large portion of our business, most people want to stick around for a second phase where we actually help them translate those decisions and that narrative into further expressions of the brand. So then it can be things like your, your marketing website. Or it can be into your basic marketing copy in general. It can be in, um, potentially even branding decisions as well. It just kinda depends. And those scale pretty dramatically, depending on the founding team and what skills they already have.
Louis Beryl: [00:21:34] Okay. So I’d love to talk about why your business is relatively new. I mean, it launched in 2019, uh, 2020 was a very strange year. Like what have the last two years been like?
Chris Williams: [00:21:49] Really interesting question. So 2019 was interesting because when we started, we started under, if I’m being candid, we started under a false [00:22:00] premise for where we ended up. We, we kind of had some early signal that what our focus was would be better suited for corporate innovation. And so we started with a couple of corporate partners. We were working on these internal projects and most of them never really saw the light of day. They were essentially experiments in different products or different services that the companies can build. And while the business was good, um, we weren’t able to do some of the things that we actually set out to do, uh, a large portion of why we got into this. It was, like I said earlier to solve some of those deeper problems with building a business in general, like, you know, if I’m being super selfish, I want businesses to get to a point to where their ideal clients for the work I used to do. Right? Like I’d love to have a client walk in. And if I was still working at an ad agency, I’d love for them to walk in and be able to tell me exactly how they’re positioned in their market and exactly who their customer is, so that I better understand how to manipulate the choices they’ve made into new creative campaigns. And so that was kind of my. My, my goal for it. But what we found was working with those [00:23:00] interim teams, we weren’t getting to the larger problems the way we thought we were. And we weren’t even really getting to show off the differences and how they could work the way we thought that we could. Um, so we slowly turned it into startups and I, you know, I credit my partner for that because he had some experience. They’re both working on startups and consulting with them. Um, and I got. I got familiar with them quickly and we decided it was a good fit. So as we were ending 2019, we were kind of starting to find a stride. We were starting to find our way in were we were starting to get recognized. We were even being asked to do new workshops with new, with new partners, whether they were VCs and for their portfolios or whether it was for accelerators. And then. Coronavirus. Right. Um, so what’s, uh, I almost feel a little bad saying this and I think a lot of, a lot of people that are marketing or marketing adjacent feel this way as well. It wasn’t a bad year. Right.
Louis Beryl: [00:23:54] No, we we hear this all the time that a lot of people are saying 2020 was the best year they’ve ever had.
Chris Williams: [00:23:58] Yeah. It, it ended up being a weird thing. [00:24:00] And I think a large portion of it, especially for someone like us, like we’re not on a coast. Right. We’re not in a place where everybody thinks to go to for the type of work that we do, or even the adjacencies to the type of work that you do.
Louis Beryl: [00:24:11] Right. You’re in Oklahoma.
Chris Williams: [00:24:12] Exactly. Yeah. We’re in Oklahoma. We’re the state that a lot of people have heard of. Not many people have gone to. So, but for us, we’ve always been virtual first, even with those first few corporate clients that we had, we didn’t do a lot of in-person with them. Um, and for us it was more about efficiency. I see, and the scalability involved in trying to go remote. I think that once you had the pandemic hit, what actually happened was everybody got exposed to how far technology has come and how easy this interaction actually is and how it doesn’t really have the drawbacks that we all assumed it would have. Um, and so it was a boost for us. Not only were people more willing to have these types of conversations in these transactional ways, but they were also looking for them and that helped quite a bit.
Louis Beryl: [00:24:56] Yeah. Um, I have to [00:25:00] ask, um, I know you call your clients Wolfs and the name of your studio is Wolves Not Sheep. Tell me what does that mean?
Chris Williams: [00:25:08] Uh, so wolves not sheep was really born from a desire to showcase to the world that you don’t have to do things like everyone else does them. Right. There is an opportunity to stand out and if there’s an opportunity to stand out, you should seize it. Um, it’s really the best way to get to a point where you actually can sell more as a company because you become the first option rather than an option. And so for us, it was, you know, with, with my background in branding, I always love it. When a name kind of says the mission of the company, if you can make it fit, it it’s really hard to do and make it memorable. But this was one of those that, you know, Like most great names that came out of a cocktail hour and we were kind of joking around and I think it was, uh, I think it was actually part of a, a shirt or something that I, I had at one point that it said, you know, wolves don’t consent, concern themselves with the [00:26:00] opinions of sheep. And I was like, what a great idea that. You can just take a stance that it doesn’t matter how everybody else views it. It’s true to you. And it’s what makes you unique. And it just kind of stuck it, it was kind of like our placeholder for a little while, and then it just became a thing and it’s actually become a really, it’s become a really good bonding experience with our clients because they of course liked to have that feeling of no longer following the herd as well.
Louis Beryl: [00:26:26] Yeah. I love that. Um, you know, as, as I look back at the, the, as I look back at 2020, and COVID et cetera. There seems to be a handful of brands that really like won 2020. Maybe Netflix, Zoom, Peloton, but are there brands that you’re, that you’re paying attention to that you also think, uh, have one 2020, but maybe the rest just don’t even realize it?
Chris Williams: [00:26:52] Yeah, I think my answer is going to be, um, shadowed a little bit by my side of the, um, [00:27:00] by my side of the market, I guess, or the industry in general. Like I look at it through the lens of the providers or the executioners, not necessarily the general public or the general audience. Um, so for me, I start to look at, um, some of the service businesses that have really found their stride in the last couple of years. Like Ryan Reynolds, Maximum Effort. Like, I mean, yeah, yeah. Yes. There’s star power behind that, that, that really boosts that potential and boost that visibility. But if you pay attention to the way that they’re doing things, they’re basically saying screw what advertising was known for and the rules of marketing in general. In fact, I even remember there was a, there was a small webcast with him as a guest. And I remember listening to him talk about it because he was asked one of those typical questions of, well, you know, how have you found the rules of marketing or something along those lines? And he’s like, honestly, I don’t know what the rules are. You know, like he’s not bound by that. He, I didn’t grow up in that world. He doesn’t understand what you can and can’t do. And it leads to really interesting [00:28:00] ideas. And I think their interplay with brands and how they poke fun at it and just kind of celebrate the idea of entertainment. In the category versus just trying to push messaging out is something everybody should be paying attention to. So it doesn’t really matter what brand they’re working on. Just that core concept of understanding you’re interrupting someone’s time, make it worth their while.
Louis Beryl: [00:28:20] Yeah. You know, it’s a really interesting insight and, you know, I was going to ask you. Maybe what, like your piece of advice, your tactical piece of advice would be for companies for 2021, but I’m thinking to myself to your point about ignoring the rules or breaking the rules, like, you know, maybe, maybe that’s it, you know, about being, you know, people are looking for something different people are looking for, um, you know, people are looking for a rebel. I mean, I think about Elon Musk a little bit and about, you know, people love to bash Tesla and everything else. And then, you know, he makes a flame thrower and then he like, uh, you know, he, his stock is like [00:29:00] the biggest one shorted in the market and he makes, he literally makes shorts like, like.branded Tesla shorts for people, um, which have nothing to do with making a car company. Right. But he’s just like, I’m breaking the rules, you know, I’m going against the grain and people, people love it. So, I mean, is that what you. You know, is that how you think more brands should be positioning themselves?
Chris Williams: [00:29:24] I do. I really do. It’s interesting because we just had a, and I’m going to pull on Elon Musk for a second since you introduced him. But, um, we actually just published an interview with the founder of Meow Wolf. Are you familiar with Meow Wolf?
Louis Beryl: [00:29:37] No.
Chris Williams: [00:29:38] Okay. So, um, for you and for any of the listeners that aren’t, it’s essentially an art exhibition that I believe was set up in New Mexico, if I’ve got that right. I think I did. Um, but it’s unlike any other place on earth, like it’s being compared to the Disney of art, basically, because it’s not just about going in and seeing all of these different pieces of art or sculptures or anything like that, it’s actually a [00:30:00] tactical experience. Right. And. Um, and I don’t want to ruin the actual experience for anybody that hasn’t been. I encourage you guys to check it out and there are more of them opening soon. I understand pandemic rules, all that applied, obviously. Um, but his, his mentality around how they went about building that space and how they’re going about building further places. He’s got this entire concept around the idea that. If you’re going to go into an experience, there should be a transformative moment within that experience. So something as simple as understanding that adore doesn’t have to look like a door, right. Or that if you see a way into somewhere, Then you should be able to explore that at your own will like for instance, without giving anything away, when you walk into their original exhibit, it’s the exterior of his house. And in all reality, that house is completely exposed, like a normal houses. So the windows work, the doors where the back doors work, all that stuff. So if you wanted to, not that, and I think even jokes about never seen anybody do it up to this point, but if you want it to, you could literally open a window and go through the window instead of the front [00:31:00] door. It’s just that most people go through the front door. Cause that’s what we’re trained to do. And so. As you listen to him, describe the ideas of how to do that and understanding that, you know, we’ve, we’ve gotten to a place now where so much of our interactions, so much of what we experience are shrouded and expectations are shattered. And in previous understanding that when you break that, that moment and you change it, then when somebody figures it out and walks through that with their own agency or their own autonomy, there’s that transformation moment for them. They come out the other side, different. Yeah. And I think that’s a really powerful thing to consider, especially for anybody that’s going to be doing anything that’s physical in the future. So maybe not in the first six to 12 months of 2021, but certainly as we get to the other side of getting back into those physical environments, things like that are going to be, I think, a game changer.
Louis Beryl: [00:31:51] Yeah. I mean, a lot of what I’m hearing is that you’re talking about. You know, in a certain sense, if you’re taking people’s time, [00:32:00] you need to defy expectations because if you’re just doing what people expect, it’s boring. And so maybe Elon Musk is good at that, making things not boring. And he actually is probably good at that with the actual product they deliver, you know, but I wonder, is this a 2020, 2021 thing? Or is this actually just universal? I mean, I could think about. Steve jobs and Apple 20 or 30 years ago. I’m not even sure. Right. But I feel like it was always about how he was defying expectations. So is that just not good business?
Chris Williams: [00:32:33] I think so. I really do. And I I’m sure that we would have somebody else that would jump into this and argue with us about that. But I think all of the great companies, especially the great brands that have stood the test of time.
Louis Beryl: [00:32:44] Like vanilla ice cream is the best selling ice cream, give the people what they want, what are you talking about?
Chris Williams: [00:32:50] [Laughing] right.
Louis Beryl: [00:32:50] Right. And then you got Ben and Jerry’s and then you got vanilla ice cream.
Chris Williams: [00:32:55] That’s exactly right though. Like how many people want, um, I [00:33:00] should take it back if it’s a utility. Sure. You want some, you want some expectation built into it. You don’t want to be surprised or confused by how it works, but if it’s something that a utility.
Louis Beryl: [00:33:10] In my house. Yeah. It’s a daily.
Chris Williams: [00:33:13] That’s awesome. Yeah, no, I th I think that the surprise and the delight is, is crucial. Even if it’s an educational thing. I think that. A little bit of entertainment goes a long way, especially when people aren’t expecting it.
And, you know, finding ways to do that as a good opportunity to set yourself apart from others. That just to be Frank, don’t take the time to think about,
Louis Beryl: [00:33:32] OKay. Last question for you. So if you could go back in time, maybe to when you were in your early twenties and give yourself some advice, you know, way before you started Wolves Not Sheep, what, what would be the advice that you would, you would give yourself? Um, you know, as an entrepreneur today,
Chris Williams: [00:33:51] you know, it’s interesting. And I’ve been asked this question a couple of times and it’s a really difficult one to answer. Yeah. And I think that, you know, [00:34:00] having the opportunity to try to think through this before I think the most valuable thing I could have told myself, and I would extend this to others in that same timeframe of their lives is to understand that. You shouldn’t be thinking in private, um, you know, it’s a weird time concept to take these internal thoughts or these internal ideas of what could be, um, especially because there’s that kind of fear of like, is somebody going to take it as somebody’s going to steal it, or they’re going to run with it before I get a chance, but stop being so secretive about it, not being so internal about it and start to expose them really early, like get comfortable with the idea of expressing those things. Early in the process, because one thing that’s been proven to me time and time again, and not just with how you go about building a business, but also even creative campaign development. Like it’s real easy to get like into an internal silo that you create yourself. And then try to tell yourself this is good or it’s bad. And you don’t realize that the influence that others and their reactions to it, you don’t realize what that can have on what you’re [00:35:00] building and how it can adapt and change what you’re building. And you may be right on the cusp of something amazing, but you need someone else to parrot it back to you for you to hear how you need to adapt it, to actually get past that hurdle. Um, and also people just have really good ideas from the most random corners. You know, like it can really shift the way you think, and I’ve never been great about it. I’ve always been pretty, pretty secretive. So, uh, you know, even launching wolves, we did it in self, like a lot of startups do cause we were a little fearful of what the market would react to it with. So I just think that’s, that’s where I would go. I would, I would just share more and early on and just be open to what the feedback is.
Louis Beryl: [00:35:37] Yeah. Um, that’s awesome. I, you know, I give similar advice to. You know, early, um, early stage founders thinking about startups all the time about, you know, you just, you gotta get out there talking to people about it. You have to talk to your customers or just people in general. And you know, if you’re going to build a really big company, it’s like, you’re not gonna, you’re not gonna. It’s not going to go away and, [00:36:00] uh, you know, telling to people about it, like might not have had quite the, uh, the competitive advantages that you, that you thought. Um, but I think, and, but, you know, by the way, and if you look at other great businesses, you know, the Google guys were out there telling anyone who would listen to them about what they were gonna try to do.
Chris Williams: [00:36:15] Right. And I think that there are a lot of people out there now that are finally kind of being open about the fact that the biggest difference between those that become hyper successful and those that kind of teeter on the edge of it, or never quite get there is the willingness to do, or the willingness to move or the willingness to build momentum and not be so conf concerned or confined by the, what ifs like they just try. Right. And when you really allow yourself to adopt that mentality, it’s crazy what happens. I mean, you know, there’s, there’s anything from the whole concept of the year of yes and so on and so forth, that kind of plays into this, but it’s this. Idea of just eliminating the barrier that you’re creating yourself and just trying it out. I guarantee you, it’s not as bad as you think it is on the other side. It’s just that none of us, I shouldn’t say none. Most of us don’t develop a [00:37:00] comfort with it early enough. And so it is something we have to break through on our own. It is something we have to try. I say, just try it. I mean, worst case scenario, you hate this piece of advice and you never do it. I think it’s worth trying, right?
Louis Beryl: [00:37:11] Yeah. Actually the harder part I have found as a, as a serial entrepreneur is when telling people about your ideas is not that they’re stealing your ideas because they think all your ideas are so brilliant. Is actually they tell you why your ideas are dumb and the personal rejection of hearing, uh, about how your ideas are bad is actually the much more difficult part about talking about your idea.
Chris Williams: [00:37:34] Very true. Very true. I feel you on that.
Louis Beryl: [00:37:37] Yeah. Um, Chris has been an awesome conversation. Thank you so much for joining us on today’s Startup stack.
Chris Williams: [00:37:45] Thanks so much. Louis I really appreciate it. This was a blast
For more on our conversation today. Visit www.rocketplace.com/podcast. We upload a new episode every week. So if you haven’t yet make sure to subscribe to The Startup Stack in [00:38:00] Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to them. Thanks again for joining us. See you next week.
The Startup Stack written and edited by Hannah Levy produced by Leah Jackson.