There isn’t an exact formula for success, but it definitely takes a lot of hard work and dedication. Every career journey is different and there will be challenges along the way, but that’s okay! Every bump in the road will help you grow personally and professionally.
In this episode of finding career zen, host Pete Newsome interviews special guest Clay Ostrom, the owner of Map & Fire. His company is a very successful branding agency located in Los Angeles, California. They have worked with brands like Google, Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, Eating Europe, and many more. But how exactly has he managed to achieve all this success? Could it be his development background or internal drive?
Clay had big career goals at a young age and thought obtaining a computer science degree in college was a great way to get started. Beginning his career as a developer, to becoming a designer, and then eventually a brand strategist, Map & Fire was born.
There is more to business creation than you think. Clay says you have to “dig deep” and “connect.” Unpack more about the meaning behind Map & Fire and Clay’s career journey by tuning in to this episode of finding career zen.
Advice for finding your niche
Decide where you want to work and who you want to work for
The salary and benefits will always be important, so make sure you focus on your connection to a mission and the search for meaning in your personal life as well.
Don’t feel restricted by a specific path
Just because you graduated with a degree in a particular field doesn’t mean you have to hold back from exploring other career paths. What you are passionate about today shouldn’t limit your future interests.
Of course there are people born gifted with certain skill sets, but with enough work and effort, you can become skilled at any craft. You just have to be willing to put in the time.
Success is personal
You have to determine what you want and what satisfaction is to you. Find the purpose you believe is worth getting up for.
- Tips for switching career paths
- Finding a job that is right for you
- How to become a brand manager
- How to become a creative director
Pete Newsome 00:15
You’re listening to the finding career zen podcast. I’m your host Pete Newsome, and my guest today is Clay Ostrom.
Pete Newsome 00:21
Founder and brand strategist at Map & Fire. Clays, writing on brand strategy has been featured in Founder Magazine and Adweek.
Pete Newsome 00:29
Over the years, he’s collaborated with countless impressive brands, including Google, Sony, Universal Pictures, Mattel, Fox, DreamWorks, and CBS, I could keep going on and on, but I’d rather just speak with him directly.
Pete Newsome 00:42
How are you today Clay?
Clay Ostrom 00:44
I’m doing fantastic, I appreciate the intro.
Pete Newsome 00:47
Pete Newsome 00:48
Well, I could it’s a long list, man, you’ve done a lot. You’ve done a lot over the years.
Clay Ostrom 00:53
Yeah, It’s one of those things that you sort of forget sometimes until someone reads off a list like that. And then you’re like, oh, yeah, I guess I’ve been doing stuff for a while, that’s cool.
Pete Newsome 01:06
But you’re a young-looking guy, man. So you haven’t, you know, it’s worn, it’s wearing well on you.
Clay Ostrom 01:12
Looks are deceiving. Yeah, it’s the California sun. And, you know, and some, meditation keeps me looking that way.
Pete Newsome 01:20
Well, I was going to say, from the first time we met, I was just really, I think we hit it off, although our personalities are very different.
Pete Newsome 01:29
Where I tend to be, you know, a little intense, maybe at times where you’re just the guy that I want to be in terms of chillness. If that’s even a word.
Clay Ostrom 01:41
Clay Ostrom 01:41
Well, that’s nice of you to say, I think some of that lack of chillness is kept bottled up inside, but on the outside, I tried to keep it you know, as chill as possible.
Clay Ostrom 01:52
I like to laugh a lot, too. That’s a big part of how I like to engage with people. So hopefully, you felt that when we met.
Pete Newsome 02:00
I know for sure, without question.
Pete Newsome 02:03
But Clay, I mentioned that, of course, you’re the founder of Map & Fire. But talk for a minute, if you would about what Map & Fire does, who you guys are, and just whatever you want to share?
Clay Ostrom 02:15
Clay Ostrom 02:16
So Map & Fire is a brand strategy company agency.
Clay Ostrom 02:16
That’s sort of the overarching umbrella that we talk about. And within that we do sort of foundational brand strategy, we also do a lot of customer research, that’s kind of a big part of how we try to think about how we’re different and how we separate ourselves.
Clay Ostrom 02:40
We’re very focused on customer research, understanding who customers are the psychology of them, and then basing the strategy that we developed around that, you know, so it’s, I think a lot of agencies in the space are very creative driven, which is great.
Clay Ostrom 02:57
I think, a lot of our work obviously relies on creativity. But we also want it to be grounded in as much as possible real data and really understanding you know, who the market is, and how they think about things.
Clay Ostrom 03:09
Because at the end of the day, a brand is a relationship between your business and a bunch of people that you’re trying to attract. And the better you understand them, the better you can kind of create that alignment. So that’s why we focus on those things.
Pete Newsome 03:25
When you talk to new companies, of which I was one, when we first met, I suspect the experience isn’t completely different than it was with me where you’re leading founders, business leaders, whoever it might be at those organizations down a path they’ve never gone down before.
Pete Newsome 03:45
Is that pretty common? Because that’s certainly the experience I had when we first met.
Clay Ostrom 03:51
It is, you know, I think everybody sort of has their own sets of experience with this space. I think we do deal with a lot of founders and owners who have never gone through a process like that before, maybe they’ve thought about bits and pieces of it, but never done it in a really cohesive, kind of more structured way.
Clay Ostrom 04:15
We also deal with clients and customers who have been through variations of this before, and sometimes they’ve been through versions of it that, you know, weren’t super satisfying for them.
Clay Ostrom 04:25
And again, we can kind of come in and hopefully provide a different perspective, a different approach that, you know, we’re biased, I’m biased, but I think is a very, we try to be very structured with it, and also very transparent with the process so that people who haven’t been through it before, you know, they understand how it works.
Clay Ostrom 04:43
We’re not just trying to create a black box and spit out answers, you know, we really want you to walk away with a better understanding of how your business works and how the brand can grow.
Pete Newsome 04:53
So when you’re explaining branding to someone who’s new to it, like I was, of course,i was familiar with the concept and from a distance, right, but I hadn’t gone through those deep exercises of soul searching if you will, that at times is challenging to pull out.
Pete Newsome 05:16
So when you’re dealing with someone new in this, how do you sell the value of branding?
Clay Ostrom 05:26
Yeah, it’s a great question.
Clay Ostrom 05:27
You know, and again, I think that comes back to people’s varying perceptions of what brands strategy even is because I think sometimes it gets put in that, a little bit more of maybe a warm and fuzzy bucket of, you know, oh, it’s about, maybe our mission and kind of our values.
Clay Ostrom 05:47
And, you know, maybe it’s a little bit about our look and feel of how the brand presents itself, but what I, really try to get across with people is that it’s much deeper than that.
Clay Ostrom 06:00
I mean, you know, I almost use interchangeably, that this is really your business strategy, as much as it is kind of your brand strategy, you know, we’re talking about, again, fundamental stuff, like your positioning in the marketplace.
Clay Ostrom 06:13
And, you know, that’s understanding who your customers are, and what motivates them, how you compare with the competition that’s out there, and the offerings that you put out in the world, and how that satisfies your customers.
Clay Ostrom 06:26
So it’s not all warm and fuzzy, like, there are some high level ideas we talked about, you know, core purpose and values and things like that. And those are a little higher level, but it doesn’t end there.
Clay Ostrom 06:42
That’s just a starting point.
Pete Newsome 06:46
I spoke with a friend yesterday, who’s also a client, and he’s very much into leadership development. It’s his passion and something he spends a lot of time thinking about.
Pete Newsome 06:56
And he went through a program years ago, a formal structured program for leadership, and it was life changing for him. And on the other side of it, he said that it was a way to get to know his authentic self.
Pete Newsome 07:10
That was a phrase he used and knowing I was going to talk with you today, it reminded me of our journey with zengig, which is the brand name that you helped us come up with, where it really got to the root of what we’re trying to be, who, who we are, who our audience is, and how we want to be viewed.
Pete Newsome 07:34
And it was, impactful and deep.
Pete Newsome 07:39
I keep saying deep, because I don’t, I think most of the time we spend on the surface when it comes to business and a business name.
Pete Newsome 07:47
And 4 Corner Resources, the name of my staffing company, I certainly didn’t go into deep thought with that it was a matter of trying to find a domain that wasn’t taken as much as anything else, which is part of it.
Pete Newsome 08:03
So do you think that’s pretty good, you had to use that phrase of, you know, to find out who your authentic self is, you think that resonates?
Clay Ostrom 08:13
I think it does.
Clay Ostrom 08:16
The very first thing we always tackle with this type of process is, what’s your backstory?
Clay Ostrom 08:23
How did you get to this point, and what drove you to get to this point to start a business because it’s a big deal, you know, to go out to create a business and devote so much time and energy into something like that.
Clay Ostrom 08:39
It’s got to be driven from something internal, I think, a lot of the time, and that could be, you’ve just got a deep level of expertise in a particular area. Or it could be a desire that you just want to be able to, you know, direct your own path, your own career, there’s a lot of different things, but it often is a very personal journey that people go on.
Clay Ostrom 09:02
So we at least try to recognize that and tap into that a little bit because it does impact your perception of how you want to operate as a business and what your goals are.
Clay Ostrom 09:14
You know, some people are out there to just, you know, they sometimes they’ll start from a place of well, I started this just to make some money.
Clay Ostrom 09:23
But often once we peel the layers back a little bit, there’s usually something else a little deeper, like you said, behind that.
Pete Newsome 09:29
Yeah, whether you realize it or not probably right because the depth is there. It’s whether how aware of it you are perhaps and I know you drew some stuff out with us it was always under the surface but I don’t think would have come out without you and the help of your team.
Pete Newsome 09:29
And that when I think back to when I started 4 Corner 17 years ago now, for the first couple of years, it doesn’t happen as often anymore.
Pete Newsome 09:54
But people would say I want to go start a business like that, right. And as a business owner yourself, you know that it’s not always roses, but I would say great, doing what?
Pete Newsome 10:13
And they say, I don’t know, I just want to be a business owner, I want to not have to work for the man or whatever was and I would say, that’s not how I would recommend doing it.
Pete Newsome 10:23
You know, it has to start with a premise, a belief, something that there’s a purpose behind.
Pete Newsome 10:31
And for me with 4 Corner, the staffing company, I talked about it for over a decade and thought about doing it and would tell everyone over the years like, this is what I’m going to do eventually.
Pete Newsome 10:45
And I don’t even know if I meant it back. You know when I would say it, but it was like the dream never died. And then it got to a point where how long can I keep talking about it without actually doing it?
Pete Newsome 10:55
And so to your point, I think every business has a story. It’s about whether that story is able to come out.
Clay Ostrom 11:05
Yeah, and I think the thing with that kind of stuff with understanding your purpose and your story, and why it’s not just about helping you create a deeper connection with what you do.
Clay Ostrom 11:19
But it’s also about all the other people who are involved with what you do, because every business, maybe not every business, there are certainly solopreneurs out there.
Clay Ostrom 11:30
But, you know, if you’re creating a team of any kind, you are ultimately trying to rally people around certain ideas.
Clay Ostrom 11:37
And of course, everybody has to make a living and everybody you know needs paychecks and stuff.
Clay Ostrom 11:42
But especially with startups, it’s so much work. And you’re asking people to do so many different things and contribute in different ways, and maybe go above and beyond any kind of job description that they might have.
Clay Ostrom 11:56
But you kind of need those extra pieces, you need some extra level of belief in what you’re trying to create. I think that’s what really motivates people at the end of the day to want to work on that versus, you know, any of the other millions of things they could be doing with their time.
Pete Newsome 12:12
Yeah, that brings up an interesting point. And I don’t know that you’ll have an answer to this.
Pete Newsome 12:18
But I’m asking anyway, put you on the spot for small businesses, so now starting zengig, we have a small team who went through this exercise with you, and everyone’s so enthusiastic about what we’re doing. It’s so exciting.
Pete Newsome 12:35
Every day, we don’t have enough hours, and no one’s watching the clock and all these things that you would I mean, I’m speaking for them, maybe. Maybe I shouldn’t.
Pete Newsome 12:46
But that’s certainly the impression that I get, and I’m thankful for that. I think back to the early days of the staffing business, and it’s been a long time now.
Pete Newsome 12:57
But I remember that us against the world feeling and every day was a fight for survival, David versus Goliath, whatever you want to call it. And it was real, and it was meaningful. And we had that purpose. Without going through having to talk about it, we felt it.
Pete Newsome 13:12
But as businesses grow, so it’s easy for me because you said startup, right?
Pete Newsome 13:16
So I’m thinking of those times, how does the business sustain that as you get farther away from that founding purpose, the beginning once success has started to happen?
Pete Newsome 13:28
Because I can tell you with a staffing company, the people who walked in at year 10, and saw lots of big names that we worked with saw progress and success and awards on the wall, didn’t feel like it was David versus Goliath anymore.
Pete Newsome 13:43
And I’ve thought, I’ve often thought that man, how do we get that feeling back? Do you have any thoughts on that?
Clay Ostrom 13:52
Yeah, I mean, that’s really, it’s an interesting point. And I think it is true, I think, you know, we talk a lot about company culture, what does that actually mean? And what does that mean day to day?
Clay Ostrom 14:08
We talk about the importance of things like core values, what those represent and how they work sort of as your daily operating guide of how do we make decisions? How do we decide to do this thing versus this thing? Or, you know, when opportunities come up, do we take them or do we not?
Clay Ostrom 14:27
And all of those pieces, I think feed into a growing culture over time, and it does take work. I think it’s not something kind of like you’re saying, like, you can lose some of that initial spark, maybe over time, but what are the other things that you’re still always building around?
Clay Ostrom 14:51
You’re always you know, every company, even if they’re mature, is still trying to grow in different ways. And I think it’s always important to come back to consistently revisit it. What is the purpose? What is the thing that we’re trying to accomplish? Because maybe we’re not so much the David anymore.
Clay Ostrom 15:07
Maybe we’re creeping more Goliath over time, but we still have things to accomplish, we still have change that we’re trying to make, and we’re still trying to impact the lives of our customers in a meaningful way.
Clay Ostrom 15:20
I think it’s just really important to always revisit, you know, what are what do we all care about what’s in common, and it is easy to lose sight of those things, it’s easy to kind of just get sucked into the world of the bottom line, bringing in the business, you know, churning, keeping everything moving, keeping the machine going.
Clay Ostrom 15:40
A lot of the clients that we work with, you know, we often work with people who have been in business for five, seven, or ten years, and they’re now taking a moment to refresh on these things, or maybe even talk about them for the first time.
Clay Ostrom 15:57
So, it is, those things are always top of mind when you first start out, of course, because everything is fresh. But I think they’re just as important to be revisiting and thinking more about as you get bigger, because your mission may have changed.
Clay Ostrom 16:14
Hopefully, your values haven’t changed. Those are the kinds of things we hope, always stay consistent, regardless of how you grow and evolve. But other things about the business will change and the size of your team will change and all those things.
Clay Ostrom 16:26
So I think it’s always interesting for us to have clients that come in who’ve been in business for 10 years. And, you know, they kind of need that, refresh, you know, that revitalization of what do we stand for? What do we do? Well, why do we all care about the same things and that kind of stuff?
Pete Newsome 16:47
It’s important and It’s hard to do, as this is a pure coincidence that happened last Thursday, where I realized that a lot of our new staff hasn’t heard the story of my career and how 4 Corner came to be, how I came to decide to start the company in the first place.
Pete Newsome 17:10
It’s a very meaningful thing, to me, it’s very personal. It is so representative of the business we are in today and how we go about doing business.
Pete Newsome 17:19
I mean, the long and short of it is I had worked for two Fortune 500 companies, I became frustrated with just processes and procedures getting in the way of progress and constantly being told no and teams of attorneys needed to change one word on a contract, I mean the whole deal like the worst of a big company.
Pete Newsome 17:39
I thought there’s got to be a better way, there has to be a way to do business and in a personal way. And so that was my primary founding principle for starting the staffing company, and that rings true today.
Pete Newsome 17:51
But it’s not something we talk about and think about. And so half of our team has never even heard me tell that story. And I thought, what? That’s weird because to me, I’ve said it so many times that I think, Pete Stop talking like no one. Everyone’s heard it enough, more than enough.
Pete Newsome 18:13
But in reality, we’ve had people with us a year who’ve never heard it at all, because we’re virtual now and because again, after 17 years, I don’t feel the need to share that anymore. The sort of evidence is there. It speaks for itself and the loyalty of our clients and the growth we’ve had.
Pete Newsome 18:30
So do you have a recommendation? If because I think we could benefit from it.
Pete Newsome 18:36
Many companies could benefit from that had been in business, but how do you pull in? How do you have those conversations with a small group, but get the big group to benefit from it? Because you can’t stop progress? Right?
Pete Newsome 18:47
We spent a lot of time with you, with zengig. Is there a path to accomplish that for a bigger company or one that’s been in business for some period of time?
Clay Ostrom 18:59
I think so, I think some of the bigger clients we’ve worked with, of course, can’t involve their entire team in the process. But we’ve had cases where we’re working with fairly large leadership teams, sometimes as many as 10 or 15.
Clay Ostrom 19:18
People who represent the different functions of the business in different capacities. And, you know, with any growing organization, those directors, those VPS have to represent the interests of the people underneath them.
Pete Newsome 19:38
Clay Ostrom 19:38
And so we’ll have meetings with them to kind of talk about some of these ideas in the same way that we talked about with you just on a slightly different scale. And then they have to dispense that information out to everybody.
Clay Ostrom 19:53
I think that’s another big part of what we try to do with this right is we’re trying to not just talk about these things, but we’re trying to capture it and get it down on paper in a way that can be shared.
Clay Ostrom 20:04
Because your point about the founding story of 4 Corners is perfect, because of course, everybody would love to hear it from you firsthand. But as you grow, and you bring a lot more people into the mix, it’s not realistic that everybody’s going to get to sit down with you and get to hear that full story firsthand.
Clay Ostrom 20:26
That goes for other things, too, whether it’s your core values, or more functional things, like your positioning, and all these things.
Clay Ostrom 20:33
So we need those things to be written down somewhere, and we need them to be documented so that it’s being shared in a consistent way with everybody.
Clay Ostrom 20:41
Otherwise, it becomes word of mouth, you know, someone else is telling Pete’s story to the new hire, and it kind of gets convoluted and a little mixed up. And it’s not exactly quite right.
Clay Ostrom 20:51
And, you know, you apply that to other aspects of the brand and the business, and all of a sudden, everybody’s kind of going in the same direction, but maybe a little askew and working towards slightly different goals.
Clay Ostrom 21:03
That’s a recipe for a lot of wasted energy and time.
Pete Newsome 21:06
Yeah, but I think solving that is, can be a recipe for great success, too. And I think the companies who have been able to do that over the years, it becomes really large, successful organizations, find a way to bottle that and share it without it having to come from one person because that’s limited.
Pete Newsome 21:29
That’s a realization that I had at some point that if I’m, you know, as I started the business by myself, and then we had two employees, and three, and for businesses to sustain and grow, it can’t funnel through one person.
Pete Newsome 21:44
It can’t be a hub and spoke deal. And so part of it was a conscious decision on my part to step away from trying to be in the middle of anything, and the happiest day that I’ve ever had in business was when, from start to finish, we had a transaction go through, that I didn’t touch or was involved in any way.
Pete Newsome 22:03
And I thought we finally made it right? Now, I don’t think that anymore, but we, but on the other hand, to be ultimately successful, I think by any rational standard, you have to have that buy in and have that be with the organization’s messages and not a person’s message and that I don’t think we’ve gotten right yet.
Pete Newsome 22:29
But the staffing, business is long, even though we’ve been a successful organization, I think we’d be significantly more successful with that buy in and that vibe that used to just be palpable in the office.
Pete Newsome 22:43
I mean, it’s almost hard to explain, it was a feeling of desperation, not knowing how we were going to pay our bills from one day to the next, but it was meaningful.
Pete Newsome 22:52
And, everyone who walked in the office felt it and I just, you know, I really want to be able to capture some of that back, because if you want it, I want as an employer, people who work for the organization to buy it, but you got to know what you’re buying into.
Pete Newsome 23:12
That’s where hard work doesn’t feel like work, right? You may put in hours and may have trials and tribulations we know that’s part of it. But if you feel like you’re doing it for the right reasons, then you don’t think of it as work. Right. You just think of it as a mission.
Clay Ostrom 23:29
Yeah, that’s, really, kind of what it’s all about. And again, I think these younger generations, you know, not that we’re so old.
Pete Newsome 23:41
Kids, these guys got it.
Clay Ostrom 23:43
But the people who are younger than us, I think those types of ideas are becoming just more and more important. I think people are making decisions again, around where they want to work and who they want to work for.
Clay Ostrom 23:58
Not strictly based on the best salary or, or even the best benefits, those things will always be important. They’ll always be factors, but they also want to work somewhere that they feel like they’re connected to a purpose or a mission or something that is meaningful to them on a personal level and that stuff.
Clay Ostrom 24:22
Again, I think more and more than that, I think that stuff is going to become the difference between who you know, who’s able to attract the best talent, you know, and I know that’s an area you have a lot of expertise in.
Clay Ostrom 24:36
And I think it’s just the big differentiator, I think if you can walk into a place and they can sit down and tell you, not just the nuts and bolts of what your day to day is going to be but you know what you’re actually a part of.
Clay Ostrom 24:50
and what that means, I think, you know, if you’re kind of like picking between two different options, the one where you sort of feel like you can be part of something, whatever that happens to be I think is going to be, you know, that may go out at the end.
Pete Newsome 25:04
Yeah. So can you commit publicly right now to helping 4 Corner get that feeling back?
Clay Ostrom 25:11
Yes, you heard it here for the subcategory we’re committed to helping with that.
Pete Newsome 25:15
I think that means I have to hire you to do it first, though.
Pete Newsome 25:19
That’s part of it.
Pete Newsome 25:20
So we’ll have that conversation later.
Pete Newsome 25:24
So you spent enough time pulling things out of me when we first met, which was such a neat thing to go through. So I’ll turn that around a little bit and ask, you know, how did you come to start Map & Fire? What was the purpose behind that decision?
Clay Ostrom 25:41
Yeah, well, I was working at an agency prior to starting Map & Fire and had worked there for about four years, and got the opportunity to run a team there, which was a big part of the reason I took the job at the agency in the first place.
Clay Ostrom 26:00
I really wanted to build up some of those leadership skills and get a chance to run a team and those kinds of things and got to do those things got to work with some really big name clients got to build a team. And, you know, I think there’s sort of a natural point.
Clay Ostrom 26:20
When you worked at a place for at least a few years, where, you start to see certain things that you appreciate about what they do, but also things that you think you would want to do differently if you were running things.
Clay Ostrom 26:34
And I think that happens, like the higher up you go, the more you start to, you know, you can either have a real impact at a place or you start to see the limitations of the impact that you can make at that place.
Pete Newsome 26:47
Clay Ostrom 26:47
I think that’s a great driving force to say, “Gosh, I would really like to be able to make the final decision on this.” I can’t right now. And what would it be like if I could make the final decisions on these things? And you know, how much better or worse might they be?
Clay Ostrom 27:07
Of course, your sort of thinking like, oh, it’d be so much better, you know, it’s never quite that simple.
Clay Ostrom 27:12
But, that was really, that really was the spark that caused me, at the time, the person I kind of co founded Map & Fire with to jump ship and start working on that.
Pete Newsome 27:27
So the name Map & Fire, I’ve never asked you this, which is shocking that I have it. So I’ll ask you now. What’s the story there?
Clay Ostrom 27:36
Clay Ostrom 27:37
You know, I mean, you just went through a whole naming process. I mean, like any naming process, it was, you know, coming up with 100, plus different options and sort of thinking about different things, asking people what they thought of them.
Pete Newsome 27:41
Which is a terrible idea.
Clay Ostrom 27:54
This is a terrible idea, it’s probably the worst thing you can do.
Clay Ostrom 27:57
Because it’s like, it’s like telling somebody what you’re going to name your kids.
Clay Ostrom 28:01
Everybody’s got some weird Association, that you never thought of that, you know, ruins it in their mind, you’re like, why would you ever pick that name? And, yeah, so we came up with a bunch of different ideas.
Clay Ostrom 28:15
And ultimately, you know, landed on this concept, and I think, what’s been interesting about the name is, it’s, it’s been a name that’s sort of grown and evolved in terms of its meaning, I think, over time, you know, initially, I, the connection that I always made initially was, I felt like, Map represented the known, and Fire was for the unknown.
Pete Newsome 28:40
Clay Ostrom 28:41
So the Map is sort of, you know, the things that we can, we can sort of figure out now, but there’s always going to be a certain number of things that we can’t prepare for, and Fire is sort of that representation of, you know, the tool for that.
Clay Ostrom 28:55
And, and then another interpretation that we’ve used is that you know,
Clay Ostrom 29:01
Map is sort of the planning and Fire is the doing of business building. So you know, and we and if you go to our site, you’ll see we’ve got a lot of outdoorsy camping ish type feel to the brand so it’s one of the again it’s one of these brands that had an idea at the beginning and it’s just continued to evolve over time.
Pete Newsome 29:24
But in a weird you know, you’ve heard the saying like, there’s a commercial it was on recently like people looking like their dogs or vice versa.
Pete Newsome 29:31
Like you look like your brand I mean, like you, like the picture that you have on the website, i mean it is just so fitting you know for you when you’re stuck with your style. I don’t know what it is, but I think it seems like a perfect name.
Clay Ostrom 29:46
Yeah, I certainly am a big outdoors guy. I really like camping. I love hiking, love doing lots of different stuff outside.
Clay Ostrom 29:56
So there’s definitely a personal connection from that side of it. Yeah, I don’t know, I just I think it also feels hopefully it feels kind of warm and inviting, you know, a lot of especially in the agency space, I think a lot of brands present themselves as this kind of cold, refined, perfectly manicured, beautiful imagery, kind of vibe.
Clay Ostrom 30:22
And I think that’s great.
Clay Ostrom 30:24
But I like something that feels more personal and feels warmer and connected because that’s how I want us to operate. I want to build real relationships with people. And hopefully that some of that feeling comes across.
Pete Newsome 30:37
Yeah, it does certainly warm and inviting no question about it.
Pete Newsome 30:41
Which is great.
Pete Newsome 30:43
Yeah, I mean, I don’t know what organization wouldn’t want to be that right? Not all are. Needless to say.
Pete Newsome 30:49
I mean, so when, when you started the business, what was the biggest surprise from what you thought you’d experienced? And I know it wasn’t, I know, you’ve done some entrepreneurial stuff prior to that.
Pete Newsome 31:02
But what did you, didn’t match your expectations, either in a good or bad way? For me there. I know, there was a lot but.
Clay Ostrom 31:14
Clay Ostrom 31:14
We can trade, some stories that but yeah, it’s a good question. I think you never, you never really know, I think going into a new business, exactly what’s going to happen, again, kind of drawing the comparison to having a kid, you’re never ready.
Clay Ostrom 31:33
And you don’t really know what’s going to happen. You don’t realize the level of responsibility that you’re walking into completely until you do it.
Clay Ostrom 31:42
But I think, you know, we, initially we were a little bit broader, I would say we were a little bit more of almost like a marketing agency, really, we were doing more website design, we were doing UX design, we were doing a lot of different things.
Clay Ostrom 32:01
And that just evolved more and more over time to narrow down and really focus more and more on brand strategy specifically. So I think that’s probably at least one kind of shift.
Clay Ostrom 32:14
But I don’t know, I mean, there’s so there’s like a million things that that twists and turns that kind of went along the way and it’s a mix of the opportunities that come your way and the challenges that come your way.
Clay Ostrom 32:25
And yeah, I don’t know, what about you? What was like, like, do you have like a big belief coming in? That completely changed?
Pete Newsome 32:33
Oh, well, I was naive about a lot of things for sure. I thought about this, the front end part of it, you know, can I get people to trust me to do business with me? Can I get clients?
Pete Newsome 32:46
And then can I as a staffing company can we find candidates, right? Those were in I thought, well, sure, I can find clients. And that’s what I do, as a professional salesperson, regardless of my title and role.
Pete Newsome 32:57
That’s how I’ve always thought of myself. And so I was confident there for sure. But, and I believed in the business in a way of doing business, I just I had to prove it. It was an itch that had had to be scratched, so to speak. And so I was confident enough in that to you know, to quit my job and take the step.
Pete Newsome 33:17
But what I didn’t have any, I didn’t realize was all the other stuff that came with it from insurance to HR issues, that I just it just never crossed my mind. As silly as that seems to me now because most of my day is spent on back office stuff a lot, it seems, which is not what I wanted, unnecessarily.
Pete Newsome 33:43
But I remember like yesterday, the first employee I hired it had been about a month or two and he walked into my office one afternoon, he said, what’s our vacation policy? I was like, I guess we need a vacation policy.
Clay Ostrom 33:56
Let me quickly write something down and hand it to you.
Pete Newsome 33:59
Yeah, I have no idea. So that was it. And I really missed surprisingly missed having a boss I missed having someone that I could turn around and have his check and balance or a final decision maker on things.
Pete Newsome 34:15
And that was a weird feeling for years. It was lonely almost. And so yeah, I think the appeal from the outside looking at of being autonomous and owning a business is freedom and flexibility, which is the polar opposite of what you get when you start a business.
Pete Newsome 34:36
I had never worked harder than, yeah, it was worked around the clock and I still feel like I work around the clock at times because I never want to go to get my hair cut doesn’t matter.
Pete Newsome 34:45
Are you off today? Whenever I answer that question. I’m like, Yeah, sure. Until my phone rings and then maybe I don’t sleep tonight, I don’t know.
Pete Newsome 34:57
But it’s yeah, those are things said I think everyone who goes out on their own probably has to experience to some degree, right?
Clay Ostrom 35:04
Yeah, yeah, I think, yeah, I think it’s sort of the best and the hardest thing is both. There’s no one to tell you what to do. Also, there’s no one to tell you what to do.
Clay Ostrom 35:17
Now, it’s like, fantastic no one’s telling me what to do. I can make all the decisions. Also, there’s nobody here guiding any of this except me.
Clay Ostrom 35:26
Yeah, so that’s hard. But also, you said somebody else actually, that, that now, you know, kind of made me realize this is probably the secret biggest challenge that I didn’t think about going in, that has become a challenge and obstacle.
Clay Ostrom 35:43
And hopefully, turning someone into a strength is sales, not realizing how important being, essentially a salesperson for the business was going into it and thinking, we’ll rely on referrals, we’ll rely on our network.
Clay Ostrom 36:00
And that will be enough to kind of bring people into the mix.
Clay Ostrom 36:04
And it is on some level, but at the end of the day, you have to be a salesperson to run a business, I think and you have to be the one sort of setting the standard of what a sales process looks like and how to best sell it and how to pitch your business to clients.
Clay Ostrom 36:20
And that was not something that I had real experience with before.
Pete Newsome 36:27
Because you have a background as a developer, right?
Clay Ostrom 36:30
Originally, yeah, my degree was in computer science.
Clay Ostrom 36:32
Clay Ostrom 36:32
So I started off as a developer. And that’s where I worked for multiple years, before getting more and more into design and UX, and then strategy and, ultimately, brand strategy and research.
Clay Ostrom 36:46
And never along the way, I will say that when I worked at the agency, I sometimes would say that I was an honorary member of the account team.
Clay Ostrom 36:58
There were a lot of clients, a couple of key clients, in fact, who would reach out to me first when they had questions about what was going on with their projects, or the business or you know, the strategy or whatever it was at the time.
Clay Ostrom 37:15
And I really honed I think a skill of being that kind of frontline facing account, account ish type person with them. So that helped. But that’s a bit that’s still a big difference between being the frontline of sales for your business.
Pete Newsome 37:31
So you weren’t you weren’t the developer that just absolutely hated the salespeople, because there’s a few of those out there.
Clay Ostrom 37:37
No, I think I think if anything, I was miscast as a developer because I as much as I loved, develop, you know, the process of development and I love the fact that I was able to create things which are very appealing to me.
Clay Ostrom 37:53
I think the, and this is a little bit stereotypical, but some of the lack of human connection that you get being a developer or being you know, a heads down developer working at your desk, that wasn’t the right fit for me.
Clay Ostrom 38:10
You know, I’m very much an introvert, but have very extrovert tendencies. I love connecting with people on a deep level, having deep conversations, and talking with people. But the introvert side of that is, that those types of things just take a lot of energy out of me.
Clay Ostrom 38:28
So I love to do it. I just know, I have to replenish myself afterward.
Pete Newsome 38:32
I think everyone does probably to a degree. I think some people really thrive on being the energy that comes from being around others, but I experienced him thing that you’re describing, it is exhausting to have to be right, all the time.
Pete Newsome 38:53
But it’s also very satisfying versus being alone. We don’t get any feedback from anyone else. I think I think most people probably fall somewhere in the middle.
Pete Newsome 39:10
Yeah, whether they realize it or not.
Pete Newsome 39:10
And I think the role that people fall into at times can dictate who they think they are in that regard. But maybe not. So it’s interesting that you went from the world of the developer to the most social role you could possibly have, right? I mean, your whole professional life now is about engaging with people.
Clay Ostrom 39:28
Clay Ostrom 39:29
Yeah, really, it is all of our clan engagements as you know, they center around these working sessions where we have a group of people in a room or virtually in a room where we’re talking through ideas.
Clay Ostrom 39:42
We’re pulling ideas out of people, we’re keeping conversations going, we’re coming up with new ideas on the fly, and then also, again, the sales process.
Clay Ostrom 39:52
You know, it’s rare that I have a day that I’m not having multiple, intense, long kind of conversations with people about stuff and, again, I love it, I absolutely love that stuff.
Clay Ostrom 40:06
I just now also recognized by the end of the day, if I have a few meetings like that I know I’m going to be wiped out and I need time to recharge.
Pete Newsome 40:14
All right, you’re the person to produce this creative message or whatever it might be. There has to be some pressure associated with that at times, I would think.
Pete Newsome 40:14
Do you feel pressured at times to produce creativity creatively where, you know, you’re sort of on stage in a way, right? Where your client is expecting something in return.
Clay Ostrom 40:41
Yeah, I think there is at times you know, and the thing I always say, I think, our, our slash my superpower relies on two things, I think one, having a really clear process and structure of how we work through things.
Clay Ostrom 41:00
And that always gives you a place to come back to so if, if you’re working on something and you know, you’re not maybe going the exact direction you think it should be going or you’re unsure about something, you can always come back to the structure of how you operate.
Clay Ostrom 41:16
I think people who sort of believing in this idea of creativity just being this like purely spontaneous event that, you know, can’t be defined and can’t be controlled. I think I don’t I don’t really buy into that.
Clay Ostrom 41:29
I think it’s something I think there certainly are creative sparks that happen, for sure. But I think the more you can provide some structure and constraints around things, the more creative you become as a result of it.
Pete Newsome 41:42
I wonder if you think your professional background, your education, and professional life, as a developer, helped you in that regard and having structure because you have to have structure to be a developer, right?
Pete Newsome 41:55
I mean, you learn that in school, and then you live that professionally.
Clay Ostrom 42:00
100%, I think our whole point of view about how we approach brands strategy, is completely informed by my life experience and professional experience.
Clay Ostrom 42:13
And, you know, again, I always sort of wonder, was I attracted to development originally, because of the way I think, or did development sort of shape the way I think, in some capacity, I think it’s probably a little bit of both but I’ve, I’ve always loved solving complex problems.
Clay Ostrom 42:32
I’ve always loved trying to make sense of what might otherwise seem like, confusing or, or unusual things. And that goes for everything from human psychology to brand strategy.
Clay Ostrom 42:45
So the way we operate, the way we do brand strategy is very much dictated by those ideas of like, how can we make sense of this? How can we turn this into a process to follow as opposed to, again, just some creative exercise of hey, we’re gonna just come up with ideas for messaging for your brand. That’s not how we do it.
Pete Newsome 43:06
I imagine you encounter a lot of people who operate that way. I’m certainly not one of them. No way. No, if you have to rein it in and be like, we can’t start at the end.
Clay Ostrom 43:19
Clay Ostrom 43:21
Well, yeah, I mean, everybody does often want to start at the end, everybody wants to jump to some of the quote-unquote, fun stuff of, you know, what’s, what’s our message? And what’s our website gonna look like?
Clay Ostrom 43:33
And, you know, we have to kind of pull back the reins a little bit and say, we will get there. But let’s set the foundation first. So we can make really good decisions about those things because we can’t just come up with it out of thin air.
Pete Newsome 43:45
So did you go to school, you’re thinking you were going to be a developer and got your degree, not an easy one to get. If, if back then when you graduated, you know, someone said, hey, I’m from the future, and this is what you’re going to be doing.
Pete Newsome 43:59
Ultimately, what? How would that how would you have reacted to that? What if? What would you have thought then?
Clay Ostrom 44:07
That’s a really, it’s an interesting question. I don’t know. I think, again, I got into development. I think not because I strictly wanted to be a developer, but because I loved creating things.
Clay Ostrom 44:22
And when I first discovered programming, which was well before college, what excited me and I can remember the first time my dad brought a home computer home, and I got to play with it.
Clay Ostrom 44:34
And it wasn’t that long between that arrival and discovering some of the code behind some of the programs that were being used and the fact that I could change something in that program that would impact how the program ran.
Clay Ostrom 44:51
And that was immediately interesting and exciting to me because it meant I could create something and build something that you know had value.
Pete Newsome 44:59
So you were that kid? I mean, because not many would do that, right? They would want to, like, see pictures or just you know again, surface level stuff. But you took it to a deeper level even then.
Clay Ostrom 45:15
Yeah, and I think that’s, you know, thinking back to my childhood, I can remember taking apart things, taking apart a clock taking apart, you know, just wanting to understand how things worked. Not always this way, putting them back together.
Clay Ostrom 45:28
But, but, but yeah, but I think I think going back to your question, would I be surprised at where I’ve ended up? I think part of me would say yes because it’s certainly not where I started, it was a long winding path to get there.
Clay Ostrom 45:46
And then part of me, wouldn’t necessarily be surprised, because at the end of the day, what I’m still doing, I think, is helping to create stuff, you know, create ideas to, you know, build businesses, help other people build their businesses.
Clay Ostrom 46:01
And that still feels like a thread that connects those things to me. So sure, I’m sure I would, you know, I think any of us if we, if we got visited by ourselves, you know, 20 plus years in the future, we’d be like, What the hell is like, what did you do? How did you get there?
Clay Ostrom 46:19
But, but it’s, it doesn’t feel so off base, like if I was an opera singer or something, I’d be like, yeah, like, that’s, I don’t know why that happened. But it doesn’t feel you know, it’s like, just enough of the course.
Pete Newsome 46:33
I guess. No, that makes sense. All right, so you mentioned earlier that young people today want to find meaning in the organization, they work for, the job that they have. I think everyone is seeing that. And that’s been the growing trend for a while. I don’t think it’s going to go away anytime soon.
Pete Newsome 46:55
But what would you say to young people now who want to get into branding, because I think branding is going to be a big piece of that, right? And organizations are going to have to rethink who they are and how they present themselves, potentially.
Pete Newsome 47:12
So how do you for young folks who latched on to that and want to want to make that part of their mission? Where do they start? It sounds like it’s a niche, right? It’s not one, you can just fall into that that makes jobs available. So what kind of advice could you offer there?
Clay Ostrom 47:32
Well, I guess I would say, to your point, as far as I know, there isn’t any brand strategy degree out there. At most universities, they’re certainly marketing programs, which are a close cousin to brand work, but the people I know who are in branding, have had different paths to get there.
Clay Ostrom 47:54
I think, again, there are some people who take that creative path to it, they were a designer, they went to art school, they, you know, became a creative director, and then eventually worked on higher level strategy.
Clay Ostrom 48:06
And then there are people like me, and there are some other people I connected with on LinkedIn, who came a bit more on the technical side of things. And I think that’s where branding is going right now is that it’s it really is this merging of creativity and data.
Clay Ostrom 48:21
And, you know, how do we create brands that are smarter and more connected, aligned with customers, all that kind of stuff?
Clay Ostrom 48:28
So I don’t know if I have a great answer to your question other than to say, don’t feel pigeonholed by your particular path and think that you couldn’t work in a brand, because there are a lot of different things that come to that feed into that type of work.
Clay Ostrom 48:47
And it could be, you’re just a really good writer, you know, it could be you worked in marketing, and you know, now you want to shift over there. But, you know, like me, I came from a development background.
Clay Ostrom 48:58
And now I’m a brand strategist. So I think as long as you’re open and interested in solving really complex problems, and you’re interested in both business and the creative side of things, I think it could be a great place for you.
Clay Ostrom 49:14
That’s how I felt. That’s why I’ve loved it so much I get to use both sides of my brain I’ve always felt like a split personality in that way, I love the technical, I love solving problems, but I also love the creative and those things.
Pete Newsome 49:28
Well, that makes sense. And I think I think you have to have that potential as you do. Right? Not everyone has that. So it’s so just like you might want to be an opera singer. If you don’t have the voice for it. That’s probably not gonna work out.
Pete Newsome 49:42
So yeah, but that’s a good answer because it’s encouraging and I think it’s one that is something that I’m really believing in more and more as time goes on as you don’t it’s not reliant on your success and in the most field doesn’t rely on a degree doesn’t rely on a specific background.
Pete Newsome 50:03
What it often does rely on is a commitment to putting in the time and effort to achieve it. Right? That’s the hard part always. But I think we have to acknowledge at some level that the potential has to be there.
Pete Newsome 50:18
You know, if you want to be a senator in the NBA, you can’t be five feet tall, you know? No, it’s just, it’s just a matter of practicality there. So the propensity to be good at something, you know, has to be there, and then the hard work needs to come in.
Clay Ostrom 50:34
Yeah, yeah. I think if anything, I’m probably, I probably fall a little bit more on the hard work side of things. I think there’s like you said, absolutely, there are certain people are gifted with certain things, or certain skills, we all have different things that we’re really strong at.
Clay Ostrom 50:56
But I do think, like most professions, I think with enough work and effort, you can learn to become skilled and you know, at a craft, and but you do, as you said, you’ve got to be willing to put in the time, and in some professions, are easier to get proficient at than others.
Clay Ostrom 51:18
And, and I will say, brands strategy is a weird one, it taps into a lot of different stuff.
Pete Newsome 51:26
But I think the world is going to, the demand for it is going to increase.
Pete Newsome 51:30
I don’t think I got that point out well enough, or a few minutes ago, is that the opportunity that companies are going to be looking to just be able to very much quickly show prospective employees, clients, this is who we are not just what we do.
Pete Newsome 51:50
And, you know, I think, you’re in a business, it’s gonna, it’s gonna grow a lot as time goes on. So that’s a trend that I see.
Clay Ostrom 51:59
I think so too. And I think what I’ve seen is the conversation around a brand is, elevating a lot. And I think the people who are participating in those conversations is increasing like you said, I think small and medium sized business owners, I think, once upon a time brand was thought to be the Nikes.
Clay Ostrom 52:18
The Coca-Cola, the Giant, you know, those are the companies that have a brand.
Pete Newsome 52:22
Yeah, that’s what I thought for sure.
Clay Ostrom 52:24
And I think the conversation has shifted significantly to where every business recognizes on some level, that they have a brand and can work on their brand actively to improve the growth of their business.
Clay Ostrom 52:38
So the fact that it’s being more accessible now, I think, by more people, I agree with you. I think it’s hopefully, you know, knock on wood. It’s a growth area,
Pete Newsome 52:48
I think you’re safe there, for sure. So I think that’s a good place to wrap up. I do have one final question.
Clay Ostrom 52:56
Pete Newsome 52:57
Clay, have you found career zen?
Clay Ostrom 53:03
That is such an interesting question. It sounds so simple on the surface, but I feel like there’s a lot to unpack potentially, I’ll try to keep it short. And I’ll say yes, I think so.
Clay Ostrom 53:17
Mostly for the point that I think I’ve reached finally, I think I’ve reached a point in my career where I have developed enough skill and confidence in what I do, that I feel at peace on some level with that.
Clay Ostrom 53:34
I don’t feel like wow, you know, like, I look at other people, maybe in my space or other kind of related spaces and think they’re just in another league, like, I can’t even imagine being there, you know, I feel I feel closer to that, to where I feel a certain level of comfort in the state of my career.
Clay Ostrom 53:57
The only thing I would say, is counter to that is I still have so much I want to do, you know, and there’s still this really, really driving force that’s getting me up every morning and saying, I want to write about this, or I want to work on this or I want to do this and you know, I don’t think those things are mutually exclusive.
Clay Ostrom 54:18
I think you can have career zen and still be very driven to do more interesting. It’s an interesting combination.
Pete Newsome 54:28
Well, you know, career zen ish we’ll say but if you know I hope that’s the case because when I think about the future in the life that I hope I have the life that I wish for anyone is that it’s a life of having something to look forward to.
Pete Newsome 54:50
Right? If you feel it, there’s nothing left to accomplish nothing left to strive for. That, to me is sort of a terrifying thought8 and depressing thought, because what’s the point? Right?
Pete Newsome 55:03
Like, do you want tomorrow to be better than today and whatever that means. And so as I have conversations like this one and ask questions like the one I asked you, I, of course, think of what have I found as my definition continues to evolve.
Pete Newsome 55:21
And I, I think, having that enthusiasm, you know, when you get up in the day, if that did exist, I mean, if that’s not like career happiness, I don’t know what is, right? Because if you have everything, then you want nothing if you want nothing. Well, what’s the point in getting up at all? Right?
Pete Newsome 55:46
And so I know that it’s very personal, what you want, what satisfaction is, what success is. We know, that’s very personal. And we’ve had many conversations about that already.
Pete Newsome 55:59
But that’s something I do hope everyone has the opportunity to find is that thing, you know, that person that purpose, the that that is worth getting up for. And just like attacking the day. Yeah, that’s to me that that should be zen.
Clay Ostrom 56:16
Yeah, I agree.
Clay Ostrom 56:18
And if you have you if you’ve lost it, or you haven’t quite found it does look a little harder, because it’s out there. I think for sure. You know, if you’ve been working a while and you feel like, gosh, I’ve kind of done all that I want to do.
Clay Ostrom 56:32
It’s like, look a little harder. I bet there’s I bet there’s more. You know, I don’t know at least that’s how I feel.
Pete Newsome 56:40
I think you’re right. I think that’s a good message. And one to say goodbye to everyone who’s been listening because we all need to keep working to find those things for ourselves.
Pete Newsome 56:52
So Clay, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it I liked learning more about your history in the business and from my experience, no question, why you’re successful is because of who you are and the way you do things.
Pete Newsome 57:06
So it’s been an absolute pleasure to speak with you today.
Clay Ostrom 57:09
Thanks, Pete, great time really appreciate you having me.
Pete Newsome 57:12
Pete Newsome 57:13
Well, bye for now. Everyone have a good rest of the day and we’ll talk to you soon.