[00:01:22] A.J. Lawrence: But looking at it, I was just really, really impressed with the work they’ve done and the work they’re continuing to do. So really much of a side here, but if you really wanna have some fun, just go check out the Kingdom of Something site and the work they’ve done.
[00:01:39] Now getting into talking about Maxwell, what I love is Maxwell’s someone who has put in the work to building. He’s worked at a big agency before starting Kingdom of Something. He did all that sort of extension of grunt work to get to this creative thing. But in this conversation today, Maxwell talks really about the effort to build his leadership capabilities to develop a collaborative culture that the business requires. All sorts of focused effort, but the work needs to be creative in output.
[00:02:16] So talking about what he’s had to do for himself, really interesting. About focusing in on his genius, yet putting in structure and the effort to make sure that he can attract the type of employees and the team that allows him to be, to produce this creative work. So going into the type of culture he needed to build, I think will be very interesting for those of us who are trying to strug the line between execution and creativity.
[00:02:52] Really nice to kind of dive into some of the things he works and the effort behind the scenes to create the safe fun environment for the team, yet the responsibility it has for him to be able to do that. And I think a lot of us will juggle that as business owners and building our companies.
[00:03:12] It’s like, oh, how do we do this? So take a listen when Maxwell talk about that. I think it’s also interesting where he kind of talks about, especially in what looks to be such a fun agency, that fine line between being the leader, boss, and a friend.
[00:03:31] It is really easy, especially when you’re early in your thing when you’re building a team of such cool, fun people that the line between who’s being in charge and making sure everything is working and then also just hanging around and enjoying their company. You have to build that line and it’s very fine. You can’t be too much one way or the other.
[00:03:53] And I find it very interesting how Maxwell talks about really focusing on developing what would be best for the culture and using that to push his line. Also, just that fine line of flattening hierarchy, making sure that he’s not over relying on roles and responsibilities of multiple peers rather really putting the effort in the work to create a good, strong flat, and putting itself that he realizes his team has to better than him and what means talking about doing the work that he wants from his team, not just expecting of it. It’s kinda a fun thing.
[00:04:37] Really at the end of the day, I just really enjoyed talking with Maxwell from my own agency experience because he really captured a lot of the tension between growing creativity and the responsibility of running such an organization. So you’ll hear that tension he kind of works on, and as you look at your own experiences, I think that tension is always a fun part of what we do.
[00:05:05] All right, everyone, I hope you enjoy this conversation with Maxwell Reed. Let’s get into it.
[00:05:11] Hi Max, thank you so much for coming on the show today. I am really excited to have you here.
[00:05:19] Maxwell Reed: I am equally excited to be here. Thank you for having me.
[00:05:22] A.J. Lawrence: Cool. Well, you’re in Amsterdam right now, aren’t you?
[00:05:27] Maxwell Reed: That is correct. I’ve actually been here for nearly 10 years now. It’s a fantastic place to be. I’m never stuck in traffic and it’s a beautiful city in so many.
[00:05:43] A.J. Lawrence: It’s my favorite city to visit and it is a lifelong goal to actually live there. When I studied in Copenhagen way, way back, I used to spend my weekends in Amsterdam just cuz it’s so beautiful and it’s like you can go from craziness to just like the most relaxing, chill. And it’s a beautiful, beautiful city.
[00:06:09] Maxwell Reed: Yeah. You can go from rave to brunch to playground to petting zoo, all within the same couple of blocks. It’s truly a city for everyone. And I think what really drew me to begin with was, it has a sense of acceptance to everyone and anyone, which really makes it a home.
[00:06:31] If you want to be, let’s say a successful entrepreneur or you want to work in finance, there’s a place for you. If you want to be a hippie or a painter, there’s a place for you. For me personally, being surrounded by a large variety of people was something that this city really provides, unlike most others, I would say. And also the fact that I can bike to the other side of the city in 30 minutes and not stand still at a red light. So lots of benefits.
[00:07:03] A.J. Lawrence: Well, I’m very, very jealous especially since I’ve now moved back to the States. And while I do love my country, anytime I have to go anywhere, I have to drive. It’s very disappointing after having lived in Spanish villages and New York City in my past. So I’m very jealous of your experience.
[00:07:25] I’m also really jealous, as I was telling the audience just a couple minutes ago, the work you guys are doing. And I started off way, way long ago in production for different creative agencies and sort of moved my way up through the agency chain right from the very early. But creative, I know the amount of hard work, and the team building, and just the mental anguish to get it there. But when it’s done so well, it’s just so enjoyable to see other people do great work when you know you’ve been through it.
[00:08:08] So like I was just telling how amazing I felt you guys are doing. To get to that skill level, there’s so much that has to be developed to come through. Where do you see yourself right now as an entrepreneur and how are you sort of marshaling your capabilities to create this level of work?
[00:08:31] Maxwell Reed: Right now, personally, as an entrepreneur, I would say the last few years, I’ve been gradually moving away from production. And I’m actually kind of end up jumping in, giving my feedback and honestly just trying to prep my team and groom people to really take over even the creative director role that I technically hold at the moment.
[00:09:00] I kind of want to get rid of that so I can focus on the business, cuz that’s where I believe my strengths are. It’s networking, it’s interacting with people. Spoke to one of our consultants, Joel Pilger, fantastic. He used to run a very successful production agency a few years ago, and he’s turned to consultancy called RevThink. Highly recommend to look them up, listen to their podcasts.
[00:09:25] So we did a course with Joel and we did a really interesting exercise that’s called Find Your Genius. And as part of that, we had to write down all the tasks that we do in a day’s work or in a week’s work. And as an entrepreneur, I’m sure you know that it becomes an infinite list of things, depending on where you are. But I feel like at any given time, you’re kind of doing the job of 10 people minimum.
[00:09:55] And so he said, cross out what you’re terrible at. Just stop doing that right now. Delegate. Give it to anyone else that’s not as terrible at it, essentially. And then you sort of go through, is it terrible, acceptable, I’m actually excellent at it, or maybe something you’re good at. So you kinda categorize them.
[00:10:15] And then the final category is what’s your genius? So you can be exceptional at something, and you can do that and you’ll do a great job. But when it comes to your genius, what really defines that is that it is something that you do without even thinking. It’s something that comes naturally to you that maybe for others is very difficult.
[00:10:36] Let’s say if you’re a natural born producer, then you’re just generally organized. You just love organizing. You’re really good at it. Some people are just built like that. So, I think our goal has always been to end up focusing purely on our genius. And for me, I’ve found that I’m adequate at the very least as creative director and animation director, and I’ve done very good work in the past.
[00:11:03] But again, I’m trying to move away from that and focus on how I can help the business move forward. How can I get the projects that my team wants to work on and improve our portfolio, the better our portfolio gets, the more trust we get for clients to get even better work. And keeps rolling upwards and beyond, which is obviously the goal.
[00:11:27] And for me to do that is to focus on networking, doing talks, even doing podcasts like we’re doing now. It’s getting out there. I get so much energy when I go to a networking event or a festival, as we call in the creative industry, but it’s actually not really a festival.
[00:11:46] A networking event. Conference sounds boring for creative people, so we call it a festival. But going to a conference I think for a lot of people can be fun, but very draining. And I have the opposite effect. When I’ve been, and I’ve met people I’ve never met before, we talk shop and and stuff like that, I find myself incredibly energized almost for a week or two afterwards.
[00:12:16] And I found that to be strange at first, and then it kind of dawned on me that, okay, well this is clearly something that must be a genius of mine. So yeah, that that’s where I’m focusing and trying to go towards right now. So stepping away from the production and making sure that the team gets what they need.
[00:12:34] A.J. Lawrence: When we were talking before we started, you talked about like early in days it was just sort of building the team and trying to get your name noticed, getting the work done, and then kind of growing because you didn’t have the resources. It’s a very hard thing, one, when you have very little resources to get a team that can do the type of work you want to do. That becomes that sort of like one that hey, let’s put it on the show and anything goes, we’ll figure it out.
[00:13:11] You steal from Peter to pay Paul, all those crazy things, just force of will. But then there’s that transition point where a lot of entrepreneurs struggle of. Like, wow, you’ve built, as I always with love call it, island of broken toys. This great talent that doesn’t fit for anyone else, but you build them into a team. And they’re amazing, but then you reach a different point.
[00:13:41] How do you deal with bringing these people up? How were you able to grow and then transition as you guys became bigger? Yes, less stress, but more difficulty in sort of the bigger moving picture here.
[00:14:13] Maxwell Reed: I think we’re still at the size, and will be for the foreseeable future at least, we’re still at the size where it’s "easy"- I think it’s easy. It’s not easy for everyone, I guess- but maintaining culture. We’re not at a corporate level, right? We’re still a small team. We can really work and craft and make sure that everybody’s on the same page. So we have that going for us. Because I’ve seen companies grow that had great culture and then it’s, it’s hard to maintain.
[00:14:49] You acquire people or you get acquired and then there’s two different cultures and all those things. So I think at its core, part of our success and how we are able to bring people in and make them a strong team very much lies in our ability to create a strong team culture.
[00:15:08] It’s something that we really live and breathe. But yeah, it comes down to the culture. So to decipher that in a way, let me think about like the ingredients. I mean, it’s just something that we’ve just been chiseling more at.
[00:15:24] We really wanna make sure that it’s a safe environment to start with. We start every Monday morning, we try not to make it into, Hey, we’re your boss. We try to keep a flat hierarchy and not try to be like, We’re the owners, you do what you’re told. That, we a 100% stay away from. We find that incredibly toxic and demotivating.
[00:15:47] We’ve had people that have been like, I’m surprised that you guys say thank you, for everything. And I’m like, you mean basic human decency? What? Like there’s, there’s companies out there, I’m just like, how? Why? But just respecting people and also letting them be human.
[00:16:06] So we actually started off with super flat hierarchy, and we actually noticed that it almost became a lack of leadership. So we’ve kinda really worked hard on finding a balance between sort of boss and friend and that’s ended up in one of our main kind of cornerstones and mantras, I would almost call it. And that is freedom with responsibility.
[00:16:28] If you wanted to take a day off kind of last minute or take half the day to travel somewhere, or you have a dentist appointment, or you want to go dye your hair, whatever it is, do it. But make sure that it doesn’t affect your work. Make sure that what you need to get done, gets done, and make sure that it’s good quality. And again, the quality aspect, you were talking about our portfolio, which thank you very much, we also put that effort in there ourselves.
[00:17:01] I’m there to really coach them and sit next to them and figure it out. Especially our juniors, we are there for them to make sure that they learn, develop, or listen to hear their frustrations. But also find a balance of pushing them. Like almost to the brink of frustration and not let them kind of give up, but also feel when they’re pushing back and say, okay, like I feel, maybe let’s put a pin on it.
[00:17:38] Again maybe it’s basic human decency, but compliment. Say, Hey look, this part is really good. And ask them, why do you think this is not working? Instead of just telling them this isn’t working because of this and that, it’s like, how do you feel about this?
[00:17:54] Cuz you’ve been there, you’ve had those frustrations. So you can really relate and you already have the answers. You kind of wanna let them figure it out and kind of nudge them in the right way. And that feeling when they at least feel they’ve helped figure out the solution is so much more efficient than just being told what to do.
[00:18:13] A.J. Lawrence: I wanna dive into that more. But that does resonate cuz I just recently, about a year and a half ago, I had this amazing strategist way back in the early knots. Brilliant, and just understood. Like when he focused could do things with digital that just made audiences just gush. Sometimes you just see people to understand how to make things and you’re like, oh, let’s do it.
[00:18:42] But at the time, most of the time he wanted to get high and play his guitar in his really bad band. After a while he went and just kind of like, ah, I’m just gonna chill. He got married a couple years after that and it was just so funny because I remember hearing he had a child and then a year later he joined a new startup as a CMO of a company. And like within three years they went public. And it was just so funny because he was such a different person when I saw him again. Cause he was just like dialed in.
[00:19:24] Maxwell Reed: Kids will do that to you.
[00:19:28] A.J. Lawrence: Yeah, believe me. My being successful was because, oh shoot, I have kids. I need to, cannot stop. But that type of growth, the type of growth of understanding in growing and moving your people, I remember my experiences, it was a lot of empathy at first but not very effective guidance. And then using the experience over time of realizing that it was more than empathy, that was kind of how to go.
[00:20:04] How were you able to sort of transition your ability to support your team over these years? You used the term chiseled, you talked about chiseled, you’ve talked about the growth of how your team respond. I’m just trying to get that what you’re saying about supporting your team.
[00:20:25] Very great. Very straightforward. Except when you look at it, there’s so much work that goes into getting through there to like how to support people in that right way. And you’ve had so much growth to be able to do this. So what did you kind of see happen for your own ability to support people?
[00:20:50] Maxwell Reed: I think, I was fortunate enough to have a good boss. So I started my career at, now probably the biggest production company on the planet called Media Monks. So I came in there, I believe I was technically their first motion designer. There were other animators, but they were all kind of hired us flash animators doing the banners and stuff like that.
[00:21:11] So I came in at a time of huge growth for them, and as a junior, that really allowed me to- I always pushed for quality. Like I would sit late, I would sit until midnight, I wouldn’t let anything go until it felt good. So there’s a base there that kind of ripples through our work in general.
[00:21:32] So that’s me having a high standard for myself has sort of allowed me to put that standard on the people that we have on our team today. Because I’ve been there, and I know what it takes and I can push them. If that’s not something they’re willing to do, there’s a bunch of other studios out there.
[00:21:51] But I know that each and every one of them wants to be here. They’re here because they don’t wanna do mediocre work. And it’s something that we repeat often. It’s something that’s always on our mind and it’s a part of our identity and if everybody’s sort of in that same boat let’s make this project even better. Let’s push it even if it’s out of budget, like it needs to withhold a certain quality. So there’s that aspect to it.
[00:22:21] But at my time at Media Monk, I was fortunate enough to have a boss called Pierre, and kind of together we managed to create this kind of very nice vibe at the office. He taught me what a good, balanced boss could be cuz he was very much a friend. We would hang out, we would do things, team activity is after work. He was game, he wanted to do things.
[00:23:00] He wasn’t a boring individual. He was our cheerleader. He was there, and just generally an awesome dude that you kind of love and respect. But that’s easily overrun if you become too much of a friend. You kind of lose control over. You can’t be stern. People take your words and kind of like, yeah, sure. I think that’s something that a lot of people struggle with. But for him, I remember the one disagreement I think we’ve ever had and I’ve seen him do this with others as well, you need to find a certain line, when what is acceptable and what’s not.
[00:23:44] And when you cross that line, he would- you know what, it’s sort of that person that you have a lot of respect for and love, and then you disappoint that person, that is almost more powerful than the whole hierarchy, right? His ability to be a friend and love and somebody that I wanted to work hard for beyond my own sort of work ethic and his ability to really be stern when it needed to, really resonated.
[00:24:16] And I’ve had to do that myself. We do have very kind environment to let people, if they’re having a rough time, that’s fine. We have a check-in every Monday morning to see how everybody’s doing. It’s also like, what did you do this weekend? But most importantly, how are you feeling?
[00:24:35] Did your cat die and you feel really down? Cool. Well not cool, but that’s good for the team to know so we can keep those things in mind. And we’ve had times when being kind, sometimes people end up taking that for granted and that’s a very human thing, to sort of get used to it.
[00:24:57] And we’ve had times where we kind of had to snap people out of it and be like, look, you’ve kind of been allowed to be let’s say negative or underperforming or something, however enough is enough. Okay. We know that this problem is no longer a problem, yet you’ve maintained your negative attitude.
[00:25:21] And when you sit down and have that stern conversation when you’re so nice normally, again it’s a very difficult balance, but it just rings home so powerfully because these people, and it’s weird coming from me, but they really, really want to be here. This is more than just a job. So when we say you need to shape up there, it happens.
[00:25:51] A.J. Lawrence: To be able to do that sounds like you have to hold yourself to a higher standard.
[00:25:56] Maxwell Reed: Absolutely.
[00:25:57] A.J. Lawrence: You can’t just sort of let yourself go with the flow. You have to consistently push yourself to be able to, cuz that balance is not the normal way we go about. It’s usually like, hey, we either distance ourselves, we all have sort of our equilibriums. But that is work, what you’re talking about doing. That’s not just a natural thing that people do. So how do you work on creating that higher standard for yourself? How do you work on being that better boss entrepreneur?
[00:26:34] Maxwell Reed: Again, I think it’s not really stepping away from the hierarchy. Alex and myself as we’re the owners, if you may, we’re not better than anyone else, and that includes the interns. I clean the coffee machine and I respectfully ask other people to do it. I’m not beneath anything. And it doesn’t mean that you always have to be the person doing it, but you need to be willing.
[00:27:04] Like right now, I’m stepping away from production and when something comes in and I know the team doesn’t want to do it, and it’s not fun work, if I have the time or even I’ll do it after work. I’d rather, most of the time, go in and do evening work myself than to ask somebody else, if I can.
[00:27:27] If I can’t, then I’ll definitely ask somebody else. And I’ll actually not feel bad about doing that if I can’t, because they know that I’m willing to do it myself. I’m not asking anyone to do anything that I haven’t done myself, and most of the time I’ve been there myself. Quite frankly, most of the time. I’ve done a lot more and I think we don’t do a lot of overtime and we don’t do a lot of these things and we kind of protect our people from those things. And I think they know that.
[00:27:57] I think if you have the confidence in your work and you know how to work with your clients and you know that we’re stepping into like client relations, they can also feel these things. If you treat your clients with the same candor, they’re also gonna respect you. When you say, Hey, this is not doable, but here’s a solution. How does that sound? Does that solve your problem well enough? Instead of being, we even have that on our website, we’re not your order taking vendor because we’re not. We’re here to help you solve your problems.
[00:28:34] You hired me because I’m an expert in something, right? Then if you want somebody to take your orders, then you’re not hiring somebody for their expertise. You’re hiring somebody to execute something and there’s less value in that. And you also don’t gain the respect, and that’s a whole different rabbit hole.
[00:28:54] A.J. Lawrence: No, I agree. I think the best compliment I ever got from a client, and it was a large CPG company, they were like, your team is just having so much fun doing this work and it’s good work. They just couldn’t understand. I was just like, you know, it’s doing this because it’s fun. Moving some pixels around or moving numbers around can be incredibly boring, but at the end of the day, it’s not digging ditches. If you make it, there’s so much that can be done here.
[00:29:36] Maxwell Reed: If you approach it from like you know, we even have that as our slogan, if you may. We’re the problem solving dragon slaying motion studio, or production house depending on how we frame it, coming at it from a problem solving perspective, that entails expertise and it means that you’re really listening.
[00:30:01] So stepping away from, what do you want? Okay, it’s gonna be this much. Thank you. We’ll go do that for you. We always go, okay, what’s your budget? What’s your timeline? And what are you trying to solve? And the last one’s absolutely the most important. And that leads to more questions.
[00:30:20] Why do you need it by this date? What is its effect going to have on your business? Why do you think this is a good solution, if they have an idea in mind. And if you decipher those things, and we’ve had times where people come to us and, Hey, we wanna do this. And we ask these questions and we end up going like, this is not what you need.
[00:30:40] Like, we’re actually losing work on this. But we’d rather just make sure that people get what they want, because that’s gonna pay itself forward, especially long-term clients. You come in, Hey, maybe they just want something and you ask those questions. They feel like they’ve figured that out and a lot of times they have, and you do the project.
[00:31:02] With time, if you keep that sort of mentality in mind of what’s the actual problem, how can we solve this, be a little bit more agile rather than just an order taker, you’re yielding and sort of you’re building a relationship with your clients where they can trust you so they can just throw a problem.
[00:31:22] We’ve had huge, like international, like I dunno if you guys know Publicis Sapient for example. They’re huge, huge. We’ve worked with them basically from day one and we still do, there’s been times when they just like, Hey, some of our creatives are on vacation, etc, can you guys just do the entire creative, etc, basically do our job for us because they trust us, right?
[00:31:54] With those relationships where they feel like they can really trust that you have their best interest at heart, will allow you to actually do the work that you want to do. If you pitch something and say, Hey, look, here’s a style. It’s important to not let that go too far so you’re just doing it for you. It needs to really fit what the client needs. Should always be the baseline.
[00:32:23] But the more you grow that relationship, the more you gain their trust, the more likely there’re gonna be like, if you think this is a good idea, here’s money. Go make it. And you’re gonna be making things that you want to do, that you love doing and that your team’s gonna love to do, cuz it’s because it’s what you want to do.
[00:32:43] And if people want to do that something, they’re gonna be motivated, they’re gonna be enthusiastic, they’re gonna do great work, probably the best work they’ve done. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you ask me.
[00:32:54] A.J. Lawrence: It is, but it also kind of calls up and this is fun especially with the economy we’re looking at. To get into some agency fun stuff, what’s the balancing point between creating these works of love, of passion, and then the agency business side? Because to a certain degree, you always have to be hunting because you have your team to feed, you always have the business requirements, and then the passion to one, feed that.
[00:33:34] You have to be able to do the work, but you have to get the work and you have to support. It’s that lovely little circle that I think so many agencies flounder on. And there are certain degrees where passion can take you really high, and there’s some people who’ve gone way past it. But the realities of running an agency, they’re pretty hard.
[00:34:01] How do you balance that and how do you make sure that you are able to, I call it feed the mouths, but it is so much more than that. How do you build a business without focusing on building a business?
[00:34:41] Maxwell Reed: Passion will only get you so far. Like anything, you need to find a balance among a lot of things. It’s how motivated is your team? How good are the projects? How do you deal with clients? Client relationships. All those things where you’ve been fortunate enough to have clients.
[00:35:07] Once we kind of get them through the door, that mentality of how we tackle projects and how we deal with clients tends to work really, really well and we tend to get reoccurring work. And by just, well simply put, being good to work with, the word of mouth has allowed us to kind of have this kind of self-fulfilling prophecy in a sense where it’s kept us going and the work sometimes speak for yourself. And honestly, I think a lot of these things are a lot of luck.
[00:35:41] I was talking to somebody about this and I think the luck is when coincidence and preparation align, or something along those lines.
[00:35:56] A.J. Lawrence: Yeah.
[00:35:57] Maxwell Reed: The preparations obviously your portfolio, your work, and all these things. But you also have to be talking to the right person at the right time. Like right now, we’re working really closely with Panda Express.
[00:36:16] A.J. Lawrence: Okay.
[00:36:17] Maxwell Reed: So we’ve been doing a number of videos. An absolutely amazing team, dream client to be honest. And you might not expect that from a big corporatio. They’ve been absolutely a dream. We’ve been very fortunate with a lot of clients and I think it has to do with how we approach.
[00:36:37] A.J. Lawrence: I’ve watched the Rick and Morty episode last night. After that, they actuaally worked with the people. It wasn’t just a joke, they worked with the Rick and Morty team. I was like, what?
[00:36:51] Maxwell Reed: No, the people at Panda Express, they’ve been absolutely amazing and we’ve gotten nothing but absolute love and respect and given that back. When we get feedback, it’s not just somebody giving their opinion because they feel they have to, which very often happens especially in a corporate environment. But it’s actually really, oh, that would actually make it better. Thank you so much for coming with that insight.
[00:37:24] And I mean, that trust, again, it’s been built for every project we do with them, more and more love and respect. And it has allowed us to now we’re currently working on an amazing mixed medium project that’s 3D and 2D merged together. And then we go inside of different storytelling styles and kind of telling the story of the Lunar New Year. And in many ways, it’s a dream project and it’s been amazing how amazing they are as a client.
[00:38:04] Obviously, they had a financial effect on us in the last year, and that was pure luck. They saw the TV commercial that we made for KFC for the Covid, which was also kind of a coincidence. A friend of mine that runs an agency, they had KFC as their main client. They were doing this big film production shoot that had to get cancelled because Covid was now reality, early 2020.
[00:38:36] And so they’re like, okay, but we still have the TV spot and we kind of need to communicate that we’re still open and for delivery. So we have 10 days essentially to put together a full TV commercial with absolutely makeshift assets of chicken wings and whatnot. Turned out great. We did different variations of this for almost two years. The client absolutely loved it.
[00:39:02] But regardless, they accidentally found this while looking for some references somewhere online and just really loved what we did. I would call that an absolute fluke, coincidence. Again, preparation meets coincidence. So there’s a lot of luck in there, and then there’s also just hard work.
[00:39:22] We used to work, still do, but especially during 2020 and 2021, we worked very closely with the Adidas team, with their internal creative house studio A. They were by far, our absolutely biggest client and also absolutely amazing to work with.
[00:39:47] We’ve been blessed, but I’d like to think it’s in return of us being nice to work with and easy to work with. It kind of sets the stage while still keeping a high level of deliveries and professionalism. But unfortunately, in the beginning of this year, I had some lunch with a few of them, and they basically, stakeholders all these things, they now need to be a little bit more stingy with working with external partners, which is fully understandable.
[00:40:20] But that went from a lot of revenue from one client and a lot of amazing work, etc, to just nothing. So, you know, you win some and you lose some.
[00:40:33] A.J. Lawrence: I remember there were periods of time when with the agency that I sold last, we would get hot and we’d have so much incoming that it would be like, oh, you know what? It’s not cool. It’s not. And then all of a sudden, I had the lab agency to grow faster than I think we should have and we had a bigger structure than I had built the infrastructure. We were not doing the level of work that I wanted to, I’m not saying you’re doing this, but we lost our whale.
[00:41:12] One, I let the agency have a whale, which is always the no-no of any type of agency world. But it’s hard to say no. But because we had turned down work into this high growth period, it literally took another six months to get it back going and really a year of change before we started really getting that type of inbound that we had had previously. How do you balance that?
[00:41:43] As the owner of the creative, you wanna make sure you’re doing the right work, but at the same time, you never know when you’re gonna lose- or it’s not even that you lose them. You know, they’ve been in the press, there’s some stuff going on that’s outside your control completely within the corporate environment, how do you consistently balance that need to have?
[00:42:04] Because every client is going to leave no matter what you want or hope or pray for or enjoy or whatever. The people you work with leave, new people come in with their own relation, whatever. There’s a gazillion things. Even if they stay, you can never, you can’t guarantee it. How do you balance that need because as I said earlier, you have mouths to feed. How do you balance that need to kind of grow yet keep the work?
[00:42:40] Maxwell Reed: Yeah. To be honest, I think there’s a lot of luck that goes in. There’s the agency that kind of has the end client and we have some end clients, but we don’t run their entire ad campaigns, etc, at least not at the moment. We create them, we sort of support them and make sure that the message gets across and they achieve their goal. So we are a lot more, even more vulnerable to that cuz it’s even more of a project basis and maybe for another project, somebody else is a better fit.
[00:43:21] But it comes back to saying no to work is I think sometimes good with a balance, but always coming with a solution. So it’s never just a blatant No. So you’re not cutting off that hand that feeds you, if that makes sense. Be like, look, always try to be like helpful.
[00:43:46] A.J. Lawrence: Very smart, yes.
[00:43:47] Maxwell Reed: Just yesterday we got a brief from an agency in Dubai that we work closely with. They’re absolutely amazing, they throw a lot of briefs our way, and quite frankly, a lot of time they don’t pan out. So threw us this brief, amazing watercolor kind of frame by frame, beautiful work. And then, which tends to be quite common for the region is it needs to be done in four weeks. I was just like
[00:44:20] A.J. Lawrence: Triangle!
[00:44:21] Maxwell Reed: So instead of being like, this can’t be done, no. I’m like, Hey, this is how we would make it. And they know when they come to us, we clearly say no when we don’t believe that we have the time or the budget or et cetera to make this good. So if we’re not gonna like take it on and end up kind of fumbling on the finish line cuz we didn’t have enough time. No.
[00:44:49] And that gives us also I think some leverage, that trust that they know that what we say we can deliver. So instead of just saying, Look, this is dumb. There’s no way to be done. I kind of explain the thought process. Hey, look, because of the realism they want and because of the art direction and the medium, this is how it would be done. It would be these steps. It’s simply not enough time to get that done and approved, done properly.
[00:45:25] The keyword word being "properly". Can it be done? Sure. Will it look good? No. So it can’t be done properly. However, if the client is willing to have a longer timeline, cuz I don’t know the details at this point, if they’re willing to do a longer time, maybe we could work with that budget because it’s an interesting portfolio piece.
[00:45:48] Also something that the consultant, Joel, he has a very interesting way of defining if you take on a project or not. And there’s always more factors, but you can simplify it to the 3 Rs, I think he calls it. Real – so is it good for your portfolio? Reward – is the budget good? And Relationship – so what’s your relations? Do you want to help these people out?
[00:46:13] This one, the relationship absolutely. And the real, it would be a beautiful piece if we had the time to do it. So I said, Hey, look, can’t do it. No, can’t be "done properly". But if the client has, let’s say four months plus to do it and we can start maybe after the New Year’s because we have other things in the pipeline, we’d be happy to discuss how we can help you do this within that budget.
[00:46:46] If the agency realizes, or if the client and you guys realize that this is not actually a feasible pitch or project, we are more than happy to jump on a call with the agency, with the creatives because we also have you know, our expertise is incredibly valuable for them to tap in. To be like, look, this is a problem. We want to tell this story, but we only have these four weeks. Because especially when it comes to production, especially animation, a small thing can be cool but this is gonna take six months or a year. Or kind of similar for the general public, a similar look and feel, slightly different approach could be half the time or less.
[00:47:34] There’s so many things that the expertise of having done the work can really bring in, so we’re offering that. Because then, we’ll very likely that we’re gonna get to do the work. We’re being helpful. Again, building relationship, building trust, and it also makes these people want to help us. You know what I mean?
[00:47:56] We’re now at a point where we can just blatantly say, cool, what’s the budget? Because most of the time they’re like, Hey, what is this gonna cost? Well, you tell me how much do you have to spend and I’ll tell you if that’s realistic. Time and budget, that defines everything. Otherwise we’re just wasting each other’s time.
[00:48:15] A.J. Lawrence: Time, budget, quality. Yeah.
[00:48:18] Maxwell Reed: Yeah, that’s actually how we approach any project. And we still quote, it’s not always they have a budget. But we found a way to really explain that to clients. To say we’re trying to help you, you’re helping yourself and us by just telling us at least a budget range. Because if you have 30 to 50 in mind, it depends on what you’re gonna get for it. Sure, I get that. You don’t always have a fix.
[00:48:50] That’s fine. But you definitely have a ballpark because sometimes it’s like two, and it’s like, why? Go fish. Or it’s 150, and then cool. Then let’s talk about what amazing options we have depending on what we’re making of course.
[00:49:15] I think a lot of people are so fixated with pitching and they’re fixated with Audi rates and time, and it’s like, look, it doesn’t really matter. It’s like, how much money do you have to spend? What does this solve and what is this worth to you?
[00:49:40] A.J. Lawrence: Mm-hmm. How can we make it worthwhile for us to then make it worthwhile for you?
[00:49:45] Maxwell Reed: Absolutely. What is it worth to us as well? Is this something that we want to work on? Kind of those 3 Rs is maybe the budget is sufficient or maybe subpar, but it’s a project that you really wanted to get into your portfolio.
[00:50:02] We actually did this earlier this year. We did a lot of sort of post-production work. Green screen and cleanups and all these kind of things and editing, and we found that a lot of these shoots, they didn’t have a VFX supervisor on set. Things weren’t lit. They weren’t really- because nobody on set has done set post-production, and also the prepping and everything.
[00:50:28] And we realized that there’s an opportunity there for us. The creative, we do all the time anyways. We storyboard it out, write the script, all those things, go shoot it. We have a producer in house that knows how to organize those things, and then you hire the crew to do the actual shooting.
[00:50:44] Maybe even hire director to actually direct it on the one or two or three days that you’re shooting. And then we’re at the post-production, but we actually have had control of the whole pipeline and could therefore have better assets and, and all these things. But we didn’t have any of these kind of work in our portfolio. People wouldn’t necessarily come to us for films. So we actually made a decision to, Hey look, we’re gonna spend the entire budget you have on just filming, we’ll do the pre-production and post-production free of charge. And that’s a choice that we made as an investment, essentially to elevate the portfolio and broaden our portfolio to be able to take on a wide range of work.
[00:51:27] A.J. Lawrence: Well, you guys are hitting your creative stride. You’re building a really cool agency. You’re working with cooler and cooler clients, being able to find cool work to do with them. How are you looking to not define the success of where the agency is going because it looks like the kingdom’s gonna do quite well. Yes I know there’s tons of work to make sure that continues, but what’s success gonna look like for you, Max? As an entrepreneur, what is this success going to be?
[00:52:01] Maxwell Reed: I think in a way, I’m happy to say that we’ve kind of already reached the success that we set off to do when we started this. We wanted to create a studio that was fairly well known, respected by those studios that we already respected. Do good work. Have a culture that we’re proud of. Have, this might sound a bit crazy for some of the listeners, but a dream of mine was to have a suit of armor in the office because it’s awesome and we’re called Kingdom of Something. We have swords.
[00:52:39] We got swords and stuff on the wall. When you’re with us for a year, you get knighted in. You get your own sword unique to you that fits your personality. Again, that’s the best thing about the creative industry. You’re allowed to have fun and you’re actually applauded to have fun. You’re supposed to be a little bit quirky and it’s that balance of professionalism, but weird and fun.
[00:53:04] I think one thing that we’re quite known for, at least here in Amsterdam, is that at our parties we always have an inflatable cow called the Royal Cocktail Giving Cow that you can milk your own cocktail from. And that sounds absolutely
[00:53:20] A.J. Lawrence: That is cool.
[00:53:21] Maxwell Reed: Super silly, but it’s such a hit because people are unexpectant. They’re like, what? And it’s fun. And who doesn’t wanna work with talented, fun people that are easy and good to work with? It’s a good recipe. But yeah, I think to answer your question, honestly, success is kind of already met, but moving forward is doing bigger and better things and making sure that this obviously, financial success, that that becomes even easier. Set up more structure, more pipelines, scalability to a point where things run by themselves. And I think that’s something that we are more and more moving towards, to not make the business reliant on us. And we’re kind of there, in a way.
[00:54:17] I think for any business owner, your goal, and I know people that run businesses and they need to be involved in everything. Delegation and making sure that, in my personal opinion, everyone’s goal is to just get out of the way. Be people’s cheerleader. Make sure that culture is good.
[00:54:43] And I think an important thing that I’ve missed to mention when I’m talking about culture on repeat, culture is not the inflatable cow, it’s not the suit of armor, it’s not the the bar. It’s not the jokes and all these things or how easy it is to take vacation days or whatever. It’s also how you tackle the work. It’s how do you handle client 5:00 PM requests? How do people treat each other? What’s the work ethic and why is the work ethic like that? These things I think, as a business owner, is what we need to be the gatekeepers of. Because that is hard for somebody else to step in and do.
[00:55:34] A.J. Lawrence: No, yeah. As someone who has built bars and offices and done the thing, end of the day, it really was the cool things your team did that you never expected, that they grew into or they took on. That is a wonderful feeling. And it is exciting to see you guys grow into this because like I said, the work you’re doing is on a very, very high level, and that alone is hard enough. Let alone to continue building the business side of this. If someone wants to get in touch with you, check out the kingdom, where should they go? What should they do?
[00:56:35] Maxwell Reed: They should definitely visit our weird quirky website and see if you can find the Easter eggs. Instagram, honestly, our doors always open. If you’re ever in Amsterdam, come in. We have all kinds of coffee brewers and beverages and we’ve spent a lot of time making a very comfortable office, I think a lot of people almost think that somebody lives here, to have somewhere for people to come.
[00:57:05] But yeah, online, email, just reach out. I’m always happy to chat. Always happy to meet people and help anyone that has any questions or wondering how to deal with a difficult client or whatever.
[00:57:23] A.J. Lawrence: Or just talk agency life. Well, look, we’ll put all the URLs and how to find you on Instagram and stuff. We won’t put your your email cuz it’ll get scraped. But we’ll put it all on the show notes and throw it up on the socials when this episode goes live.
[00:57:38] Max, thank you very much for spending this time with us. I really appreciate you coming on the show.
[00:57:45] Maxwell Reed: Thank you. It’s been an absolute pleasure. I hope to chat with you soon.
[00:57:51] A.J. Lawrence: I would love to talk to you again in the future. So let’s chat more. All right, thank you Max.
[00:57:55] Maxwell Reed: Lemme know if you’ll come by Amsterdam. I’ll give you a warm welcome.
[00:58:02] A.J. Lawrence: Definitely.
[00:58:06] This episode of Beyond 8 Figures is over, but your journey as an entrepreneur continues. So if we can help you with anything, please just let us know. And if you liked this episode, please share it with someone who might learn from it. Until next time, keep growing and find the joy in your journey. This is A.J., and I’ll be talking to you soon. Bye-bye.