As a part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO’ we had the pleasure of interviewing Chase Friedman.
Chase Friedman is the Founder and CEO of Vanquish Media Group, a boutique digital media collective that collaborates with world-renown brands, thought leaders, and digital influencers by championing premium branded content, digital storytelling, and integrated marketing strategies. Spanning multiple platforms and genres including entertainment, lifestyle, and education, Vanquish has launched over 100 branded content campaigns that have generated over $50MM in e-Commerce revenue, to date.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
It’s been a bit of a circuitous route, certainly not by design, and with a number of unexpected pivots along the way. I moved to Los Angeles from South Florida nearly 14 years ago to pursue a career in filmmaking and found myself rising through the ranks from lowly production assistant to independent Director/Producer (and everything in between). It was my defacto film school, where I gained exposure to every aspect of the production process, from prep to post; and where I fell in love with storytelling and the creative process. After several years wavering between ‘starving artist’ and fledging commercial director, I went corporate (for the first and last time) to work for Turner as a Producer for their Digital Content at TNT and TBS. This turned out to be the turning point for me transitioning from traditional media (Film & TV) to the digital space. I went on to co-found a startup for YouTube influencers, and served as a digital content producer/consultant for numerous brands before realizing the major gap between good content and effective distribution. As proud as I was of the content we were producing, it made no difference if there wasn’t a clear path to share that story with your target audience with the ability to expand that narrative across multiple platforms. This quickly snowballed into a series of ‘yeses’ to clients seeking premium storytelling and the means in which to reach their audiences via web, social, and beyond (for which I had no prior experience). So, I threw myself back into the school of hard knocks for all things digital marketing, which established the foundation that is now Vanquish Media Group. Four years later, we’ve continued to flourish as a boutique brand strategy and digital marketing collective, embracing our own anti-agency approach. Effectively, how can we champion agility, transparency, and trusted collaboration with an emphasis on quality over quantity. At the end of the day, I still like to think telling stories (albeit for brands, products, entertainment and services) is in my DNA.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I always find it to be kismet when you connect with a great client and can build a foundation of mutual trust, respect, and collaboration. I’ve been fortunate enough to land a few of these in the early days of Vanquish. Those who were willing to take a chance on a newcomer to the marketing game with a defiantly disruptive approach. Of course, I was determined to over-deliver every step of the way which has led to successful partnerships and growth (for both of us) over many years. This was most evident when I landed a massive product launch for Acer’s new Predator gaming lineup. Having previously produced commercials and video content for the brand, the rapport was there, and they entrusted me and my small team to develop and execute a multi-platform campaign that would create an entire Predator ‘universe’ of characters, graphic novels, product merchandise, and beyond. It was a massive lift, unlike anything I’d done before, but we we were damned if we weren’t going to pour our blood, sweat, and tears into this thing to make it extraordinary.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When you’re juggling multiple social media accounts and brands on your own, there’s bound to be an ‘oh sh*t’ moment… quite a few to be honest. I was managing social for a war documentary and with a massive audience of active military, veterans, and gold star families. It was right around release week and coinciding with the birth of my first child. Feeling inspired I wanted to post a picture of me holding my baby girl on my personal Instagram (to which I rarely post) so I went for it. Hours later, when I circled back to check on any comments or reactions (at the behest of my wife), I realized that it wasn’t my personal account I posted to but that of this war doc IG amidst a feed of fighter planes, memorials, and patriotic paraphernalia.
Thankfully the community didn’t troll my daughter’s picture (it actually got a few likes!) before I promptly removed it with an unspoken mea culpa.
Lesson learned. There’s a fine line between efficient multi-tasking and working at a frenetic pace. Not to self, slow the f*ck down.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful toward who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ll be forever grateful and indebted to my late, great mentor, Tom Devine. Tom was a modern-day renaissance man who believed in a few core tenants that I’ve adopted: ‘Stay Uncomfortable’, ‘Get Your Mind Right’, maintaining a ‘Postive Mental Attitude’ and defining one’s ‘Definite Major Purpose’… to name a few. His belief in me as an entrepreneur, husband/father, and human instilled a confidence that has led me through the roller coaster ride that is becoming a self-made entrepreneur and CEO.
Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
I’m a firm believer in diversity of perspective. The more you can curate diverse experiences, education, and disciplines within your team, the better off you’ll be. We’re a small team at Vanquish and don’t have the bandwidth for any of us to work in silos as ‘specialists’. Just as I come from a completely disparate background in independent filmmaking, everyone on our team brings unique insights and disciplines that makes us far greater than the sum of our parts.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Please share a story or example if you can.
It begins with compassion and is sustained by the sacrifice of ego. We must be willing to step into another’s shoes and experience the world (and workplace) from their view. We’ve also got to look ourselves in the mirror and eradicate this entitled attitude that often comes with success. As much as I’ve experienced a uniquely challenging career path, I fully understand the inherent privileges and opportunities I’ve been afforded along the way. It goes back to the diversity of perspective and experience I mentioned. At the risk of sounding preachy and prophetic, I do believe we are undeniably stronger as a company, a community, a world, when there are more uniquely divergent voices and life experiences at the table. Our rule at Vanquish is that the best idea wins, no matter who or where it comes from… usually the most unexpected of places.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
I think I’d fall in with ‘most’ of your readers on this. Whether they’d be willing to admit it, I’d presume many CEO’s feel this way. It’s such an evolving and all-encompassing role that I’m practicing and honing every single day. I would say the most important responsibility of a CEO is to serve as the fearless leader and unifying spirit of the team. It’s much like my days as a commercial Director, knowing how to work with multiple personalities, demands, and deadlines regardless of the internal dialogue (WTF am I doing? Will this work? How do we get to the finish line?). There are many days you’ll wake up exhausted, feeling low, aimless or uninspired. Anyone who tells you otherwise is bull-shitting you. As a CEO (and for anyone) that’s okay, that’s normal, BUT you’ve got to check that at the door and bring the energy and enthusiasm each and every day to rally yourself, your team, and your clients. I’m not sure I’ve always considered myself a ‘natural leader’, although I am certainly a Type A. Learning how to be the best CEO for your particular team is contextual and comes with time, experience, and many mistakes along the way. The common denominator is a commitment to emotional intelligence by listening, supporting and empathizing with your team while keeping a firm grasp on where you’re headed (see: Definite Major Purpose).
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
I think many people, myself included, view CEO’s as this do-it-all, know-it-all unicorn. Yes, there are incredible demands and expectations for the role, but I think the biggest misunderstanding is that CEO’s don’t work in a silo. They are surrounded by talented people who advise and support the company’s vision and mission at all levels. The CEO certainly has to steer the ship and uphold morale, but each is built differently in how they best impact the organization. Some being big-picture strategists, others as bottom-line ROI advocates, some as intrapersonal motivators, but not always all-together and always-on.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Like anything, with practice and experience, the more you do it the more it becomes demystified. I pride myself on strategy, communication, and creative collaboration. What I’m not is the operational or financial wizard, and therefore try to surround myself with people who are way smarter than I am in these regards. The biggest wake-up call has been that I can’t always dedicate myself to the areas I’m most comfortable or passionate about. I do have to sacrifice on behalf of the team and the company; therefore, I find myself spending much of my time managing people — clients, team-members, contractors, prospects. Those intangibles, that culture, doesn’t just manifest on its own. You’ve got to work at nurturing it even when you’re not feeling that ra-ra inspiration, or it may be way out of your comfort zone. Ultimately, learn to ‘stay uncomfortable’.
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
To answer it bluntly, no. I know plenty of executives (who shall remain unnamed) who probably aren’t cut out to be in their position. Most wouldn’t admit it, but often find themselves (as we all do) on this societally driven obsession with upward mobility that when you put in enough time, shake the right hands, and keep your nose clean, you find yourself in that executive office without knowing how or why — but you had better be ready to act and dress the part. There’s absolutely no shame in being a rockstar in your own unique element, having incredible job satisfaction, work-life balance, and not chasing that executive title or salary. I’d be a hypocrite to say I don’t get wrapped up in that same promise of prestige and accomplishment, but more so to prove it to myself that I’m capable. Those who should pursue that executive role must be built to thrive under pressure, to revel in adversity, and have enough energy and enthusiasm to carry themselves and others through the good, bad, and ugly. Those who should avoid that siren-call are the ones who can find contentment in doing great work to serve the greater good of the community or the company. Being a respected part of the ‘team’ is good enough, knowing that you’re still essential to the success of the organization.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
I would never advise forcing some cliched tactic or culture-building strategy you read from a book. It’s got to come naturally. For me, I’m big into meditation and mantras. Always trying to stop and reflect on what I’m grateful for… So of course, I instituted a shared forum of gratitude for our team on the one day a week you really just want to hide from it all — our Monday morning team huddle. Yes, we’re just shaking off the weekend and it sometimes comes begrudgingly (even for myself), but it feels good to share something personal with your team. It’s also served as fantastic interpersonal team building to get to know someone beyond the transactional work relationship. There’s often a snowball effect where I’ll kick off our meeting with my own Monday morning gratitude and will witness others becoming more enthusiastic to share once they hear from their peers. It’s a great way to allow people to be real and vulnerable — which builds incredible trust. Before we know it, we’ve transformed from a coffee-sipping cadre of curmudgeons to an optimistic and energized team ready to tackle the work week.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Love this question… Short and honest answer, never enough in my opinion. I absolutely feel the responsibility to pay-it-forward whenever I can and that usually begins with my team. I want them all to share in our success, that’s my goal. Vanquish wouldn’t be what it is without them and they should be rewarded for our collective success both financially and emotionally. More broadly, I’ve dedicated my time — which is a finite commodity with a newborn and toddler at home — and our company’s services to volunteering and serving on the board of advisors for several non-profit organizations. One I’m particularly proud of is Film2Future, whose mission is to change the face of Hollywood by giving underserved LA-based teenagers access to professional-level filmmaking programs and employment opportunities. Not only do I wish I had this opportunity growing up, but it’s a long overdue commitment to ensure a more diverse and inclusive media industry.
Fantastic. Here is the primary question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each or where you can.)
1) Define Your Definite Major Purpose — Not only for yourself, but for the company. Knowing with utter clarity where you are going, how you’ll get there and what you’re willing to sacrifice along the way. I can’t say I’ve figured it all out yet, but I’ll be damned if I ever stop seeking that clarity for the path forward.
2) Trust the Process — Somewhat borrowed from the zeitgeist, but this has been a mantra of mine for some time. It’s more recently been put in perspective and tested as an entrepreneur/CEO, but it remains a constant reminder of patience and perseverance. When you do the right thing, do right by people, and be your most authentic self, good things will come. You’ve just got to trust this process and avoid taking the short-cuts.
3) Don’t be afraid to ask questions and admit you don’t have all the answers — While seemingly contrary to my previous response about the CEO needing to be the fearless leader, I think the most fearless quality of all is the willingness to be vulnerable. While I can often be stubborn in admitting defeat or being wrong, I’m learning how to trust and rely on others to guide the way when I’m lost. It’s a necessary dose of humility.
4) Know Your Niche — In an increasingly crowded capitalist marketplace, trying to be all things to all customers will set you up for failure. The key to success is differentiation and knowing what you can absolutely master as a service or experience. Partially out of wanting to constantly tackle new challenges and stretch different muscles, Vanquish has worked with a vast array of clients across multiple verticals and industries with great success, but it’s not sustainable at scale. As we continue to grow, we must hone our offering and value proposition to a more niche clientele and/or segment of the market in order to compete against bigger, more resourced agencies. Otherwise, we’ll get lost in a myriad of other digital marketing firms that pledge to be a one-stop-shop with no defining expertise.
5) Don’t Take it Personally — Easier said than done, but you’d better have thick skin in this game, especially when it comes to creative. At the end of the day, rest assured knowing you’ve done everything within reason to satisfy the client, support your team, and deliver great work… if the client still wants to bitch and complain, let them.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I’d advocate for a four-day work week. Even a mandated mid-day siesta as the Spanish do. I know it seems unimaginable here in America, but it’s time we started prioritizing quality over quantity. This applies to our quality of life, work, relationships and beyond. I truly believe that when people have more balance in their lives, they can and will work more efficiently (see: smarter not harder). Maybe my team will read this and hold my feet to the fire on this one. To them I’d say ‘trust the process — we’ll get there’.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson” quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Less a quote than a mantra… ‘Living the dream’. A constant reminder that your reality is what you make it. I’ve found that the best antidote to the relentless stream of racing thoughts and self-doubt is to stop, reflect, and take account of everything I have to be grateful for… In that moment of mindfulness anyone can be living the dream in whatever time, place, or circumstance they find themselves in.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them!
A lofty request, but you asked… I’d have to say the Dalai Lama. A brilliant soul who exudes wisdom and compassion in the face of adversity. I probably wouldn’t even know what to say or where to begin, but to be in his realm for some coffee would certainly be near the top of my bucket list.