Greetings readers and aspiring entrepreneurs! My name is Curt Cuscino, and I’m the Founder & CEO of HypeLife Brands. HypeLife Brands is a progressive brand development + startup marketing agency specializing in working with B2C/DTC lifestyle startups and challenger brands looking to powerfully engage the Millennial generation.
We work alongside visionary founders, entrepreneurs, and CEOs to build, launch and grow new brands, from day one. Our clients work with us on an annual basis, often starting with little more than the seed of the idea -- no name, no website, but a big, disruptive idea that can improve and positively impact & change the lives of unique buying tribes they’re after. Our services encompass the complete lifecycle of new businesses and startups, from brand strategy development to go-to-market planning, digital buildout, on into marketing and advertising (social media management, email marketing, SMS marketing, and most importantly new customer acquisition) towards growing customer traction (and possibly helping them raise capital down the road if that’s part of the startup’s end-game). You can find our complete 360-degree approach to building, launching, and growing powerfully-positioned brands.
As a highly-specializing agency, over the past 20 years, we’ve consistently experienced ~10% year-over-year growth and helped our clients achieve numerous key initiatives and key progress indicators (different for each). You can learn more about some of those successes here in our client profiles and case studies.
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
Growing up as an only child, I’ve always considered myself to be an entrepreneur...it’s in my DNA really (and I believe it's in the DNA of all true visionaries and entrepreneurs). I’ve always had a passion for creating something out of nothing, and building ideas, from strategy to creativity to figuring out how best to grow a new idea or brand once it launches into the market.
I started my agency without any seed funding, trust fund, or anything other than my own money and more importantly, the subject matter expertise and skills I’d been honing for many years prior, with a keen interest in the cross-section of culture, creativity, and technology, and how to make those things all work together to grow something.
I had an early interest in design and also web development, and how brands and anything intangible came to be real, tangible, and something people would be buying or engage with (with my early days spent writing, recording, performing, and promoting music and bands that I was in, as well as running my independent record label starting back in high school).
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
I had the idea back somewhere around the year 2000 to break up what I had created with my independent record label and music production company into two separate entities following winning several awards for my and my small team at the time’s creative, design, and technology work (we won several awards for our work in Flash way back then).
Around my senior year in college, I took the skills I’d developed and created the agency’s branding (yes, we were once a startup too!) and an innovative Flash-based site, that would then go on to win additional words in the initial and future versions of what we created.
I had a full-time job out of college but spent my lunch breaks and evenings talking with potential new clients, securing contracts, and eventually started hiring new team members, about one per year on average. Eventually, we were cash-flow positive, and I was able to quit my corporate day job as a software engineer to pursue running my agency full-time (about 6 months earlier than I had planned).
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
It’s amazing to look back at the journey my entrepreneurship has afforded me. While it has not always been easy, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s tough to summarize it all, but in short: I started my startup-focused marketing agency (though we had clients in other spaces too all along the way) back in 2001 officially, in Kansas City, Missouri where I was born and raised. About 8 years in, I felt a calling to the west coast, after securing numerous clients from both the east and west coasts.
Through my work with a mentor at about the mid-point of where HypeLife Brands is today (2021 is our 20th anniversary) -- someone I admired in Los Angeles and he too ran a successful agency -- I found my way to the west coast, opening a second office while the first one continued to run in Kansas City.
Fast-forward a few years, and I was able to close the KC office and make LA our headquarters for about 8 years or so, eventually relocating our office just south of Orange County to the coastal, culturally-historic city of Oceanside, California where I live, work, and play today (many of my childhood influences started here, so it’s full-circle for me). My wife and I decided to relocate just south of LA for a better quality of life, while still being close to LA, Orange, and San Diego, which is exactly where Oceanside, California sits, and is still perfect for us today, along with our 2 young boys.
Today, our ~12-person senior team here at HypeLife Brands is a curated collection of folks that have mostly worked with our agency for many years, and cover all the bases of our 360-degree approach to the universe of branding and marketing, primarily working with a diverse clientele of startups, founders, and entrepreneurs to bring their big Visions to life.
It’s super exciting, and every day here is different, as we tackle a unique list of challenges day-in and day-out for our clients, working as essentially their out-of-house brand management and marketing department.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I’ve learned a lot in 20 years of business. A few key takeaways would be:
- Stay true to yourself and trust your gut.
- Remember when starting a new business that you’re not running an orphanage, you’re running a business, so always strive to hire people better than you in their respective skill sets.
- Find a unique brand and business positioning, and own it...this reduces your competition. The best place to be is to be “The Only”, not another startup business doing the same thing as 20 other startup businesses...positioning is super clutch, and key to finding long-term success.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Some of our favorite tools here that we use day to day are Slack, Basecamp, our custom reporting dashboard we built for our startup clients to track their specific KPIs, Calendly and Buffer for social media management and collaboration.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Three influential books stand out here without question, and encompass our approach/methodology for powerful brand and marketing strategy development:
ZAG by Marty Neumeier
Start with Why by Simon Sinek
The Art of War by Sun Tzu
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My advice for other fellow entrepreneurs is to surround yourself with a team of experts, and then go for it. Adventure is exciting, and the monotony of a typical 9-5 can kill you if you’re a Visionary...building a successful startup and having your own business gives you freedoms that you just can’t get from working for someone else. It won’t always be easy, and the path is not a straight line, but if you have a big, disruptive idea...go for it! You’ll never know if it works if you don’t try...but enlist the help of a guide to get you from point A to point Z, you definitely can’t do it alone.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We’re always open to looking at new talent to join our team, and open to social media managers, user experience design experts, senior creatives, and senior developers, in short. If you’re in the local area of Southern California, Orange County, or San Diego county, feel free to send us your resume and work samples to [email protected] any time.
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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