In this weekly column, CEO of The DEC Network, Bill Chinn, interviews a “celebrity mentor” that is currently participating in the organization’s Fast Start Mentor Program. The program matches tenured business leaders who have handled crises before to small business owners struggling to navigate the COVID-19 crisis.
This week, Bill Chinn spoke with Cameron Gawley, Co-Founder and CEO of BuzzShift Digital Growth Agency, to get actionable advice for small business owners and entrepreneurs including taking moments to pause, reflect and diversify, developing a strong go-to-market strategy and getting back to the fundamentals in order to move forward.
Bill Chinn: As a mentor in our Fast Start Mentor Program, why do you think mentoring is impactful?
Cameron Gawley: My true north is growth and I get fulfillment from helping somebody with their growth, both personally and professionally. That’s what fuels me and that’s why mentoring is so impactful. Helping the leaders of tomorrow in their growth is key. The whole mentor/mentee relationship is very symbiotic; you fuel each other and you are going to get a lot of support there. Contributing by creatively problem solving feels like you could literally change the world. Even if what you are doing is not changing the world, if you can make a little dent in the world, that’s awesome. All we’re trying to do is put our dent in the world and that’s accomplished by collectively coming together through mentorship.
Chinn: I agree, creative problem solving is very important right now. Do you have an example of someone you mentored, either recently or in the past, where you helped them through this process?
Gawley: Yes—mentoring is not just for the 20-something, 30-something, or even 40-something year old. I’m having conversations with 50- and 60-year-old entrepreneurs all the time. There is one guy who has been in oil and gas almost his entire life. He made all this money, but the world of oil is just not where it used to be. He ventured into entrepreneurship and got obsessed with skincare. Now he’s like this mad scientist guy making formulations and everything else. I told him he could take this to the next level, so now I am working with him on this, which is super interesting. He’s about to be 60, and this is his first time being an entrepreneur, so age is not even a thing at all.
Chinn: I love that. Ok, this is a tough question—has there ever been this seminal moment when you just deliver a game-changer, either being the recipient of that as a mentee in the past or helping offer that game-changer as a mentor?
Gawley: In the world of running a digital growth agency, our team is working with a lot of brands all the time with their overall go-to-market strategy. Typically, an entrepreneur will come in and we will start working with them. We want nothing but to see their vision out, but it’s how they do it. There is usually an “aha moment” where there is a pivot or a shift in the direction they are taking. A lot of entrepreneurs are trying to reinvent the wheel when it’s more important to build on to what’s already been built. There are some fundamental and foundational things you can do to grow a brand and having some of those fundamentals is key. With pretty much every entrepreneur that we mentor or that we’re helping develop their framework at Buzzshift, we generally have that “aha moment” that helps shift their business in the right direction.
My personal “aha moment” in life was at SXSW Interactive in 2007. I was in the Driskill Hotel lobby and sitting right across from me was a guy named Ev Williams. At the time, I had no idea who Ev Williams was and came to find out, Ev is the co-founder of Twitter. Twitter will go from 20,000 to 60,000 tweets in one day so I signed up for it and thought, Twitter is fundamentally going to change the world and the way we communicate as entrepreneurs, technologists, brands, PR, and really everybody. I saw all these advertising agencies going the traditional TV, print, and broadcast route, so I wanted to get ahead of that and start thinking about how we could do something very different. Now, I’m looking at what’s next: we are going to see this massive shift in e-commerce, and we are going to see more direct-to-consumer and free shipping processes. People are going to be more hesitant in the frequency of getting to stores and going shopping, so it will be really interesting to see what happens in the retail world.
Chinn: That’s awesome. Do you have any generic crisis advice for mentees out there?
Gawley: This is a really great time for entrepreneurs to fundamentally hit pause on what they are doing and spend a lot more time reflecting. Now is a good time for you to think: What is the next normal going to look like? What is that effect on my business and where should my focuses be? A lot of brands are overall shifting their approach and their mindset. There are a lot of things to consider moving forward, so you should take a step back to reflect. For example, if you’re in the process of hiring a new person, maybe you should look at a contracted versus a salaried employee. We’re at a major inflection point to think about everything—it’s not just your product, but it’s your whole mindset around how you go to market and how your brand needs to shift. Having a good go-to-market strategy is the key thing right now.
Chinn: That’s good advice for The DEC Network as a nonprofit, the idea of pausing, reflecting and diversifying. It’s almost like creating a new company, right?
Gawley: Yes, businesses have to get back to the fundamentals for a moment. Diversifying is important and you have to watch out for your dependencies. A lot of entrepreneurs in crisis are reflecting on what their dependencies are. You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket, but you do want to be thoughtful about how you are distributing your goods, content, product, etc. I think that a lot of entrepreneurs will come out of this so much stronger because, in a time of crisis, our creative brains go ninety to nothing. People are becoming scrappier and this pandemic is forcing people to become more creative. I think there’s going to be a massive surge in entrepreneurship just because of all the creative thinking that has taken place during this time.
Chinn: Absolutely. So let’s get to the fun stuff—are you a Tiger King guy? What are you watching on TV right now?
Gawley: I hate saying this, but my wife and I have actually been to that place [The Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park]. My wife’s brother was doing some work up in Oklahoma and the kids needed something to do during the day. They were like, “there’s this thing to do right down the street here.” Literally, a year or two later, this documentary comes out and we’re like, “Oh my God, it’s Joe Exotic!” My wife and I just crack up over this now, so we definitely watched Tiger King.
Aside from that, there are some really good shows out, like Defending Jacob, Little Fires Everywhere and season three of Ozark. I also listen to the podcast, “How I Built This,” with Guy Raz. Those are all killer.
Chinn: Is there a good book you are currently reading or recommend?
Gawley: I’m reading a great book right now, The Messy Middle by Scott Belsky. Scott is the chief product officer now for Adobe and he’s a great entrepreneur. As entrepreneurs, we get really excited about launching a company—and we also get excited about the exits—but that messy middle is the thing that no one talks about. This book is so great for entrepreneurs right now because what they see in the media is the start and the end, but they don’t really see all the stuff in between. From a mentor standpoint, the messy middle is what mentoring is all about, so it’s very relatable in that sense too.
Chinn: That’s a great recommendation. Are there any North Texas restaurants you are supporting right now?
Gawley: Il Bracco has been our go-to spot, it’s one of the best Italian restaurants and places to go for pasta. They have had to pivot too—they weren’t into delivery and Alto has really helped them a lot with their new delivery service. José on Lovers is another great restaurant. I’m also a huge coffee guy so I love Merit Coffee. I think I’ve spent more during this pandemic on to-go food, trying to help support the small businesses and local shops, than ever before.
Chinn: What’s the one thing you and your wife are going to do as soon as we get the all clear to move around?
Gawley: The first thing we’ll do is go see our family, I have three kiddos and they are missing their grandparents, so seeing family is number one. Another thing on my list is getting on a plane, going to a beach somewhere and just marinating for a couple days. We had a few different trips planned right before all of this and none of those happened, so if we can actually get to that place and feel safe enough to do that, then I want to get on a plane to go somewhere as soon as possible.
Chinn: That sounds like a great post-pandemic plan. Is there anything else you are missing or any last words of advice for entrepreneurs and small business owners right now?
Gawley: Honestly, the more mentorship, the better. I try to have coffee with three new entrepreneurs a week and some of those I start rinsing and repeating on, but that’s the one thing I probably miss the most about all of this. I love my 8 or 9 o’clock coffees during the week while meeting with other people who are doing really cool and interesting things. There are so many stories here in Dallas that aren’t being told and I want to see these people and companies take off and grow. We’ve got a great community here, we just need to figure out how to bring everyone together in a more meaningful way.
The DEC Network is a partner of Dallas Innovates. The 501c3 non-profit organization drives innovation and economic impact by helping entrepreneurs start, build, and grow their businesses. Through a number of innovation hubs across DFW, The DEC Network provides entrepreneurs with education, mentorship, community, and advocacy. For more information, please visit www.thedec.co.
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