Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Q&A with Team Epiphany

1. Basic Info:

Business name: Team Epiphany: Coltrane Curtis, Lisa Chu (wife), Valerie Chiam (cousin)

2. What makes your business a family business? (w/ spouse and/or children, siblings...)

My business, Team Epiphany, is a strategy, event production, new-world public relations, and social media agency with offices in New York and Portland.

 I founded the agency over 10 years ago. Today, my wife Lisa Chu is a managing partner and head of operations. Lisa’s cousin Valerie Chiam, our former communications director,runs new business.

 Team Epiphany’s credo is actually “Family Business” – Artist Faust graffitied this onto the main wall of our New York office in his renowned calligraphy-inspired style – because we consider everyone here family. Most of the team hasbeen with me from the beginning, like:

- Our third Agency Partner, Sky Gellatly, who built our social media division from the ground up.

- Our Senior Strategist Jarrett Cobbsworked closely with me at Marc Ecko, Complex and MTV. We also worked together in promotions in the early 2000s- making connections within nightlife that we still use to conduct business today. He’s been with me since the beginning.

 3. How did you come into the business? (transferred, hired by parents? Founder?)

I am the founder of Team Epiphany, but it is no surprise that I had the urge to pursue brand building, as my father, John Curtis- worked as a marketing executive for over 25 years at J. Curtis & Company, with offices in SoHo and Montclair, NJ. He brought me along to various celebrity events when I was growing up and exposed me to all facets of the marketing business, from Relationship building, to strategy development, to client management. Through my father’s encouragement and guidance, I attended Morehouse University in Atlanta, Georgia and it was here that I began to groom the communication skills first learned from shadowing my father’s work. College also offered me the opportunity to forge my own relationships within Atlanta’s burgeoning music and nightlife scenes and to build my skill for identifying and nurturing powerful cultural movements, which followed me to New York City, Miami and beyond.

 Prior to founding the agency, I served as VP of Marketing for Marc Ecko Enterprises, as well as Editor-at-Large at Complex Magazine, where I worked on marketing campaigns with various celebrities and brands. I parted ways with Marc Ecko to pursue a position at MTV as their first Style VJ, where I interviewed various celebrities on the red carpets at events like the MTV Movie Awards, VMAs and TRL Awards.

 In 2004, I left MTV to foundTeam Epiphany. The agency has grown from a one-man shop to a 70+-person agency that has garnered acclaim on Inc. Magazine’s elite list of “Fastest Growing Privates Companies” annually since 2009. Our client roster boasts some of the most creative brands in the game: HBO, Heineken, Cadillac, Converse, Smirnoff, Nike, Moet, Hennessey, and more.

 4. What makes your family business experience unique? How is it different from running a "typical" small business?

Our office culture is a direct reflection of the culture we belong to. We have a uniquely tight-knit office culture and dynamic that makes Team Epiphany a true family business, despite our explosive growth.

 Our business in general is wholly unique. Our agency does things that no other agency can.(Happy to talk more about this on the phone)

5. What do you love about family business?

It is great to work with people you trust and you love. We can be honest and open without any of the office politics you’d encounter at traditional agencies.

 I think that we support everyone’s personal interests and personal interests then generally become clients’ current positioning and opportunities.

 For me specifically, it gives a sense of home. The environment that I’ve created feels familiar to me, as it was passed on to me by my father.Knowing I’ll have something to pass on to Ellington that came from my father means everything to me.

 6. What do you hate about family business?

We always put the work first, which can be taxing when we are extremely busy and need to compromise on our schedules. This business involves a lot of late nights and constant travel.There is no off. I am always on. My wife is my business partner. I think the only vacations I get are extended work weekends.

 7. What's a myth about family business you'd like to debunk?

I want to debunk the myth that family businesses aren’t successful due to merging business and personal. It doesn’t have the greatest success rate but if done respectfully and if everyone owns a particular lane and stays in it, it can work. But your business model needs as much attention as your clients.

 8. What three things have been key to your success?

No matter what business you’re in, you are in the talent business first and foremost. We are only as good as our staff, so we’ve made a creative, fun, nurturing environment. That means giving our people fair compensation and a fun atmosphere, but also giving them the opportunities to do what inspires them and challenges them.

 We don’t have a new business team- everyone is on our new business team. From the relationships every employee has, to producing amazing experiences that then generate new business opportunities, new business is essential to sustainability AND is everyone’s responsibility. Reputation is also extremely important in business, so we always produce the very best work that we can and treat everyone with respect. We know that the relationships we’ve formed 10 years ago could lead to new business opportunities one day, and just being good to people can go a long way.

 Lastly, staying hungry has been a key to our success. We’re true entrepreneurs who grew up with entrepreneurial parents. We were never given handouts. We are driven and motivated to produce amazing work and our greatest reward is to see that hard work pay off for our clients.

 9. Would you advise others to go into family business?

It depends on the family. If everyone is motivated to succeed and can agree on a unified vision, then go for it. Communication and respect are definitely key, and roles need to be clearly defined.

10. What difference has being a family business made in your sales?

(We’re not sure we understand the question. Please can we discuss further on the call?)

11. What difference has your family business made in your community?

I think it gives people an active example of how our model can be successful. I think most have failed quickly and dramatically.

 12. Would you advise a couple to start a business together? Why or why not?

Again, it depends on the couple. If you are clear on what you want, believe in each other’s skills and talents, and can establish clear-cut roles that reflect those skills and talents, then I would say yes. You need to be able to communicate and you need to really like each other, because you will be spending a LOT of time together.

 13. Do you incorporate your children in your family business? Why or why not? How old are they?  What are their roles and responsibilities?

Ellington is three, so his Team Epiphany duties are limited to our official Team Epiphany mascot for now. His role is also to always remind us to stay fashionable and stylish.(Note from Marisa: He is very popular on Instagram for his amazing fashion. See Coltrane’s Instagram handle for examples!)

 14. What's a day in the life of a family business (share a rough outline of your family and business daily life)?

On a typical Monday:

·        My wife and I wake up at 6:30.

·        We feed Ellington at 7:30 and get him to school by 8:45.

·        At 9:25 I have a quadruple-shot latte and by 9:30 I’m running our senior staff meeting.

·        At 10:30 I meet with each of our department heads for an update on status.

·        I then spend the rest of myday digging out on client emails and fixing brand catastrophes.

·        At 6:30 Lisa and I leave for home and at 7:00 I hang out with Ellington.

·        At 8:30 we do bedtime with Ellington.

·        At 9:45 I eat takeout sushi.

·        At 10:00 I argue with my wife to come to bed, as she is usually still working.

15. Do you think family business should be a priority for others (lawmakers, service providers, college students...)? Why or why not?

I don’t think family business should be a priority. I think small business should be a priority.

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