Howdy. I’m Chad Vossen, Co-Founder, and Chief Creative Officer at 522 Productions, where we’re on a mission: Collaborate with Brands to rid the world of cheesy videos. We’ve been using the power of video to humanize organizations in the non-profit, governmental, and private sectors for the past decade and a half.
We’ve worked with internal marketing teams and ad agencies to create About Us, Recruiting, Educational, and Product videos, almost exclusively for online distribution. All of this hard work has led to numerous industry awards, reaching the Inc 5000 fastest growing small businesses two years in a row, and over $9 million in revenue since 2016.
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
My father is an engineer and entrepreneur, my mother is an artist, so I’ve been blessed with a perfect blend of their strengths and passion for what I do. Aside from growing up a Mets and Islanders fan (which primed me to prepare for disappointment and miracles), I took every opportunity to create videos for school projects. It doesn’t sound like much now…but it was quite an undertaking in the mid-’90s.
Don’t be afraid to fail and always keep improving.
I simply loved every minute of creating videos and knew that’s what I wanted to do. I became an English major and advertising minor in pursuit of this passion convinced that I could somehow combine my love for creating videos into a career. After graduating from James Madison University, I worked at an ad agency and continued to hone my craft as a storyteller at George Washington University’s Documentary Center.
I quickly realized the power of the internet and video distribution, and so along with my wife (now CEO) and another former business partner, we fired some of the first shots of the Digital Revolution and started 522 Productions as barriers to entry crumbled. This was just a few months before Youtube was founded.
We started from scratch - with no money and nothing more than a camera and a computer, and followed our intuition – that the internet would level the playing field for organizations ready to share their stories. We made $300 on our first video. Millions of dollars in revenue later, I feel like we made the right choice.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
We’ve grown organically for the past 15 years. We’ve been able to grow because from day one, everything we made, we put right back into the company. As leaders, we made a number of personal and financial sacrifices for the benefit of the company because we believe in our mission and our people.
We were never afraid to take risks. Most were calculated, a few were from the gut, but we considered every decision a learning opportunity. We made (and make) decisions, and then we move forward and grow from the experience.
Over the years, we’ve really grown because we’ve stayed true to our values. We sought out employees and clients that give a shit (more on this later :) ) about the work we produce for our clients. We work to attract employees who always seek out new solutions and approach each relationship as a partnership - especially in video production - they understand that no one person is greater than the sum.
So back to “we give a shit,” this is literally how we express our values. Every day, we work to provide Solutions ; We approach our relationships and projects with Humility and are always looking to learn; We don’t sit on the sidelines when we see that help is needed or improvements need to be made - we take the Initiative to drive those changes; And we value Trust in all of our relationships - we’re authentic and genuine with each other, our partners, and our work. So in short, we give a S.H.I.T.
This is more than just talk. We deliver on the promises we make from the moment we’re talking about a new video project opportunity. We don’t miss deadlines or blow through budgets - we respect our client goals, not only with the final video but with the process we put in place to get there. We have built-in project management and budgeting approach that helps to proactively identify and mitigate risks or issues that might come up. We’re open and honest with our clients. We do everything in our collective power to deliver on what they need but are upfront with them when we don’t think something will work - with alternative solutions in hand.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
For the past three years, we’ve placed a tremendous focus on profitability. At the end of the day, our clients’ needs are growing and we want to grow smarter and faster to stay ahead.
We’ve always had a stellar repeat client base, so we wanted to take a look at the cost and value of acquiring new business as well. In addition, we’re looking at the client's life-cycle value and are looking to be more proactive and purposeful in building and managing that value. With that focus, we’ve made some strategic decisions on the investments we make - primarily in personnel and digital marketing.
Tactically, we’ve made a more concerted effort to improve our online presence. And while our website traffic remains high for our industry (over 2,000 views/week), we’re placing an emphasis on driving more relevant traffic, since we recognized that only a few of our past leads actually generated true sales opportunities. We also found that we were spending a lot on AdWords without positive results, so we scaled back on our spend there, and concentrated on a more specific and targeted approach.
This year, we’ve proven new ways to increase our new business growth and intend to continue to increase that percentage. Clients, prospects, and partners alike have all become more engaged with our social media presence, and we’ll continue to scale that online community. Finally, our existing client base wants more from us and we’re working on new products and packages that will continue to help our clients grow. All of these investments have looped back to our people and positions. We’ve introduced a Market Development team focused on the areas above, including Account Managers, which aren’t actually common for the video production industry but vital for the finely tuned approach we’ve developed over the years. We aim to be strategic and consultative partners through the video marketing process, so every position we have created is designed to help pivot in that direction and then move forward.
As we expand our service, we plan to expand our reach into new markets starting in 2020 and beyond.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous
Again, we like to say that we fired some of the first shots of the digital revolution. We started in 2004 when the barriers to entry were crumbling. We were incorporated just a few months before Youtube, so the internet video platform was blue water… and in many ways it still is. So, it was a bit of a Goldilocks moment for us, because back then, older companies were too big to react to the rapidly changing environment of the digital transformation of video, and we were able to plant an early flag in the ground so today, we have 15 years of experience producing videos for the Internet. Many of the newer companies just don’t have that type of experience producing content for the web.
As a small business, we fail every day. We adapt quickly to new or changing market conditions, we are flexible with the video outcomes our clients want/need, and we are constantly retrospecting on our projects. What we’ve learned is that we do not repeat the same mistakes, and we cannot be afraid to keep failing. Trying new things is the only way we’ll continue to grow and improve. We made a lot of decisions and investments that didn’t pan out or were too ahead of their time, such as a hyper-local video platform for businesses back in 2006. But we’ve never been deterred from trying new things.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Slack seriously has to be one of my favorite tools. We have anywhere from 50 to 70 projects going on at any given time, and it helps us streamline all of the conversations and content relevant to those particular projects.
And needless to say, we play on the major video platforms like YouTube and Vimeo. Along with the rest of the country, we also rely heavily on G-Suite and everything there - from acting as file management to sharing client documents.
Frame is a video sharing platform that allows us to streamline client feedback on the videos we produce. It’s reduced a lot of unnecessary back and forth and saves some much time from tracking down feedback spread across email, texts, and phone calls.
We’ve used Salesforce and Hubspot for our CRM, but neither has been a perfect fit for a company like ours. A lot of tools and elements that we simply do not need.
All of this said we’re constantly trying out new tools to help us stay ahead of the curve.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
There are a variety of books and podcasts that I enjoy listening to. As a creative shop I listen to Todd Henry’s Accidental Creative - he’s a great resource for running a business in the creative field. I also listen to Marketing School for quick marketing tips.
Audible is invaluable to me. I’m constantly listening to audiobooks on a variety of business elements - from management to marketing. Big fan of the Sales Development playbook and SEO 2019. Lots of practical and actionable advice. Audible’s just such an easy way for me to learn in otherwise ‘dead times’ like driving to work or out to client meetings.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My top tips are: don’t be afraid to fail and always keep improving. And two pieces of advice I received early on in my career from my uncle - arrive at all meetings early, and focus on the positive. It’s always easy to focus on the negative, so no matter what the situation - try to find 3 good things about it.
The number one mistake I see people making is not focusing on quality when it comes to producing their own work. Perception is a reality, so present yourself the way you believe you should be perceived.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you’re interested in learning more about us, you can find us at our Website. And of course, we’re on all the social platforms. We have the most fun on Instagram, but also live on LinkedIn, Facebook, and twitter.
If you’re super-excited to chat over email, you can hit us up at [email protected]. If pigeons are your thing, we’re at 711 King St. in Alexandria, VA.
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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