Building the Unconventional: Fight Club

Building the Unconventional: Fight Club

First rule of Fight Club? Don't talk about Fight Club. But I like to break the rules...

I never used to be a dog person.

I’m not saying I didn’t like dogs; I’ve always been an overly-emotional animal lover who runs from the room any time I see Sarah McLachlan’s face on the screen. But I always considered myself more of a cat person.

And then I picked up this guy…

Peace-the-Puppy

Turns out I was a dog person after all. Meet Peace the Puppy.

Peace is a Papillon/Chihuahua mix (also known as a Chion for you trivia nuts) that is now 7 years old. As a puppy he bore an uncanny resemblance to Gizmo from Gremlins (the cute and furry version).

Thanks to our lax (non-existent) pet policy, I started bringing him to work with me when he was still a pup. And eventually pretty much everywhere else, too, with the help of a ninja-like Sherpa carrier that looks like a gym bag and fools anyone who doesn’t know me into thinking I constantly work out.

Which means it’s pretty safe to say that Peace has some co-dependency attachment issues that are probably definitely my fault.

But he’s always there when I need him (particularly if I’ve dropped food on the floor), and he loves and supports me unconditionally. Okay, the support part is a stretch but I’m fairly sure if he had opposing thumbs he would happily whip up a craft cocktail for me at the first sign of distress.

Welcome to the (Unconventional) Jungle

Once we had our foundational brand established, our next priority was to launch a community for like-minded creatives that provides many of the same types of things that Peace does. But with more ideas, less whining and licking.

We wanted to get our entire audience involved in the creative process as we grew, which meant that first we needed to empower a small group of leaders to start spreading the word and help guide the conversation.

Leaders who each brought something special to the table: some who are experts in a particular area of creativity; some who have incredible relationship-building skills; some who are visionaries; and some who are the sheer definition of hustle.

However, it was most important to us that they have one singular thing in common: failure. We wanted leaders who had experienced failure in the past and who weren’t afraid to fail again (over and over) in the future.

Leaders who push through failure and keep on going are able to continuously grow and strengthen relationships, learn and develop a diverse array of new skills, and explore a variety of creative interests that constantly generate new ideas.

We identified creatives who met these criteria, and who had also helped foster a feeling of family within the respective communities they belonged to in our various organizations.

To get the party started we sent out personalized, branded invitations to each of them for a one-day retreat just outside of Chicago, hosted by our friends Patrick and Cassie McBride.

And we purposely left off any information on what we would actually be doing at the retreat.

00-UC-Inner-Circle-Invitation

Instead, we sent a flash card with a random slang word on it, a note that basically said ‘we think you’re awesome and we want you to help us grow an awesome community that fosters collaboration, leadership, and ideas surrounding the future of creative entrepreneurs so show up here on this date,’ as well as a self-addressed, stamped envelope with a personalized RSVP.

Why did we do this? To filter out genuine, excited leaders. Keep in mind, however, we already had a deep and trusting relationship with each of them already (though we hadn’t met all of them in person before).

This helped us establish the visionaries in the group, and those who wanted to be part of something bigger. It was interesting to note that out of all the invitations we sent, there was only one person that we did not hear back from at all, and only 7 who were unable to attend the in-person retreat (we had given them just a few weeks’ notice) - 4 of which were true last-minute emergencies (which included a death in the family and a surgical procedure among them), and 3 who had contractual business commitments that could not be moved.

It was a testimonial to each who accepted that they believed deeply in the vision of community and in the value of in-person connection. We were spreading our wings into brand new territory and generating endless possibilities for creative collaborations - both large and small, temporary and permanent. And we placed great trust and value on each and every thing these leaders brought to the table.

The foundation of family within this new community is strong. We know the importance of reinforcing that in-person from time to time, which is why we will be focusing on diverse types of in-person creative events for the entire community (as well as new and existing leaders) in the future.

One of the action items to come out of the retreat was to begin the online conversation about Fight Club the Unconventional Creative, and further develop the roles of each leader within this new space.

Shortly after we returned home, however, we realized that this was going to take a little more time that we originally anticipated. We also identified some additional things that we would need to provide for our leaders before we could go public and start talking about Fight Club the Unconventional Creative.

Like many things in life, there were two ways to go about this – the easy way and the hard way.

"I'll take the hard way for 1000, Alex"

Way back when we were sorting through all of our projects to see what would make the cut, I made the decision to put my photography studio building up for sale.

Nancy and I wanted to move our offices closer to downtown OKC; we had found several creative hubs that we loved and we felt it was important to be in that space.

The building itself has over 3,500 square feet of versatile space that we have used for multiple projects and businesses over the years. But the location was no longer ideal for what we wanted to do.

I had a big advantage in that it is located in a fast-growing, high-end part of Edmond (the northernmost suburb of OKC). Commercial real estate can take weeks, months, or years to sell, though; it’s quite a bit more volatile than residential real estate. So I hired a realtor who would take care of everything while we focused on business as usual.

Or so we thought.

When we returned from the retreat, things started moving fast. All of a sudden I had an offer, and the buyer wanted to close immediately. As in, my realtor who had been in business for 30 years had ‘never seen anything move so fast’ (this was the first of many red flags I missed).

We decided we could do it. After all, this is the type of thing I excel at - problem solving, action oriented, fast paced in-the-moment crises. I saw it as a challenge instead of an impossibility.

But this meant we had to pull back and essentially shut down the businesses for over a week to make it happen. Which meant sleep was out the window as well.

We also found a new place in OKC that was literally perfect. We were so excited! It was available immediately and had incredibly flexible lease terms, plus it was within walking distance to many of our favorite places (including a hip dog park for Peace).

As we got closer to the morning of the closing, and the realtor assured us everything was signed off and a done deal, we scheduled a walkthrough of the new location and let the agent know we would want to move in immediately following the closing that Friday. It was going to be a seamless move, with us holding the studio contents in the additional garage stalls at the house overnight.

Then it happened (you knew this was coming, right?). The unthinkable.

I’ll spare you the lengthy WTF moments, but the Cliffs Notes version is that the entire thing fell through - literally at the 11th hour. As in, after it was too late to shift gears and everything had been completed for the move with the exception of actually signing the lease on the new location (small miracles, right?).

What was even better (and by ‘better’ I mean pouring salt in the wound) is that this happened on a Friday, with a holiday immediately following the weekend.

And just in case your face doesn’t already resemble that shocked, wide-eyed emoji like ours did just yet - my realtor took off on a week’s vacation that same day. Without telling us beforehand. And without giving us any information as to what had just happened.

As it turns out, my realtor had made some egregious errors in the final few days leading up to the closing, which ultimately cost us the entire deal. The amount of time and money we lost was unprecedented, and it took several weeks before the dust really settled and we were able to focus solely on work again.

And in the least surprising news of the day...

We dropped the ball on nurturing our inner circle.

The group of leaders who were pumped up to get the online (and offline) conversation started for the Unconventional Creative was left hanging like a Game of Thrones finale. Which meant no one was talking about Fight Club.

We were now almost 2 months behind our anticipated ‘launch,’ and if felt as if we had just taken two giant steps backwards.

While I’d like to blame this all on Mercury being in retrograde, the truth is that sometimes you just have to laugh when life gives you the middle finger.

Seriously, though, where were we...

If there’s one thing we know it’s that being a part of something big in the very early stages is exciting.

We wanted the entire community to feel that excitement along with us, and to get them involved in things right from the start.

So we decided to soft-launch our online community in order to do this together, in real time. Sort of like 24, but without Jack Bauer or terrorist threats (we hope).

The strength of a community is determined by the engagement and diversity of its members, and it takes all of us to shape the future.

We’d love for you to share the Unconventional Creative with your friends and peers, along with anyone who likes to think outside the box. Believe it or not, our accountant actually falls into this category as well.

Because the truth is, we all benefit when we collaborate and work together!

Peace-The-Puppy-Head-Of-Security

What about Peace the Puppy?

Peace may only be 10 pounds, but he gets delusions of grandeur whenever anyone knocks or walks in the door at work.

As best we can tell he automatically assumes everyone is an ax murderer, and that his ferocious barking will fool them into thinking he’s Cujo. So we promoted him to Head of Security in order to give him something to do.

In reality, though, he sleeps on the job a lot unless someone opens the fridge.

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