Nate Schaub: The Mind Behind DesignShelley Barratt
Nate Schaub, now Chief Creative Officer for SmarterChaos, founded MINDFLINT, a full-service strategic marketing and design agency that helps individuals, businesses, and non-profits capture and communicate their best story, connect with the people who need to hear it, and create authentic engagement that produces real, measurable results. Recently, MINDFLINT was acquired by SmarterChaos.com, a digital marketing agency based in Denver. Nate had this to say about the merger:
"We couldn't be more thrilled to lock arms with the incredible team at SmarterChaos. After a decade of 'growing alongside' one another, we finally realized that we could do way more together than separately. Not only do our skills complement one another perfectly, but more importantly than that, our values – the pillars on which we've each built our companies – are in total alignment. I'm truly excited for each of our clients, as well as the ones we haven't even met yet, to experience the benefits of this new partnership."
Where did you grow up and what was life like?
I grew up in Washington State- where I became a huge Seattle Seahawks fan- spent a few years in Nashville, and then settled in Colorado through high school, college, and beyond. I grew up with the Seahawks, who started around the time I was born. I was a faithful fan through the rough times for so many years until they finally broke through and won the Super Bowl. Fast forward to living in Colorado: I was at a Super Bowl party when the Seahawks beat the Broncos, had waited my whole life for that moment, and everybody else at the party was a Broncos fan whose team was just badly beaten. I had a hard time celebrating because I felt so bad for everyone else.
How did you come to be in Beaufort?
We moved to Pittsburgh in 2015 to start a commercial real estate business. I was the creative director with a background in the retail side as a broker. Close friends from our time in Denver moved to Beaufort in 2014 after vacationing here for many years. During our time in Pittsburgh, we took several trips to visit our friends in Beaufort, getting to know the area and their friends, and saw it as almost a second home. With my oldest daughter about to enter high school, we thought about where we wanted to spend the next eight to ten years of our life while our girls went through school.
We decided that Pittsburgh was not it; I was no longer with the company I went there for and nothing was tying us there. We thought about going back to Colorado, and if we didn't do that where else would be on our list. Beaufort was on it because we like the weather- we'd lived in cold climates, and even though we have family in CO, it has grown a lot, real estate prices have gone up considerably, and we decided against it. Since I could work from anywhere, Beaufort ended up being a good fit.
Would you say you have an entrepreneurial drive?
Yes! I was entrepreneurial as a kid- selling snow cones in the front yard or selling candy that I had bought from Sam's Club out of a wagon. The first business I had was in junior high. It was called Vacationer's Lawn Mowing Service, and that was my niche, which turned into a bigger business my friend Jimmy and I ran during the summers in Nashville.
What was your first job, or most memorable early job? What did you learn from it?
I think I learned more from the businesses I started- and that's why I've challenged my girls to start their own business, even if it's small like babysitting or lawn care. It taught me the fundamentals of going out and marketing yourself. I remember hand-drawing a flyer, making copies, and then pounding the pavement going door to door- not just sticking the flyer in the mailbox, but having real conversations with people. That's probably what I learned the most- having to talk to an adult, which is difficult as a junior high kid. I struggle with that with my own kids, getting them out of their shell to have a conversation. And then just the basics of following through, doing a good job, how to get repeat business, how to schedule your time.
What does your company do and what drew you to it?
Mindflint historically has been a creative agency. We help companies capture and communicate their best story. Everybody has a story, whether they are a nonprofit or for profit, small or large, an individual or a big business. With all the white noise out there, being able to capture the essence of your story and communicate that to the people you're trying to reach differentiates you in the marketplace if you can compel your target audience to take some sort of action. That's the ultimate goal of marketing: action. Engagement is difficult. Being able to work alongside a client and creatively tell the same story across whatever touch point your audience has gives the customer a consistent experience, something small businesses don't do too well.
What drew you to this type of work and inspired you to start this company?
I was an English major doing creative writing and poetry in college. My first job out of college was at a nonprofit as the website editor. I edited content and was given the latitude by my boss to start teaching myself photoshop. I started doing tutorials on my own and built a little website using Front Page for my then-girlfriend, Shanea (now my wife!), for our one-year anniversary. It was about the dates that we had during our first year together. It was a natural extension of the creativity I was always drawn to as a writer to build that bridge over not only communicating stories in writing or verbally, but on the page as well. I discovered a talent for graphic design, which morphed over time to building websites and doing more print and other types of design, eventually bringing in people who have more experience and classical training in some of those areas.
How would you describe the company culture?
What we focus on is service more than anything. We talk about "having heart"- we genuinely put other people and their interests first, including each other as well as our clients. This leads to us taking on projects that don't necessarily pay the most, but that we engage with- both with the client and with their story at a much deeper level. We've stayed away from marketing things that we are not passionate about or that we have ethical qualms with. Life's too short to waste time selling certain things. We come across as authentic and trustworthy- we do what we say we do. We want to be a partner and grow into an extension of that person's team.
What is your marketing style? Why is that your approach? Has it changed over time?
It has changed over time. I'm a perfectionist and I like things to be a certain way, so by nature I tend to hold myself to a really high standard. Over the years I have learned to surround myself with people who are very capable, with niche expertise that I don't have, and release them to work their magic. I've learned to step back, keeping a gentle hand on the rudder giving them enough room to succeed and fail, thrive and grow. We are a virtual agency and I have to be hands-off as they work directly with clients, empowering them to do what they are good at. Two of the main people I work with, Cortney and Jennifer, have been with us for many years. We brought in a student intern for the summer, which was a new challenge for me. It was great- Prathamesh, a computer science student at USCB, is very driven. I give him a general sense of direction and he is a good critical thinker and self-starter; we continue to give him project work.
What lessons have you learned from bosses?
I've never had a micro-manager as a boss. I need to have room to roam. I worked for a solid year for a software company in Pittsburgh as Director of Marketing, and the CEO that I reported directly to was very much that type of leader- kind of the way I lead my team. Let's touch base, let's talk big picture strategy but I'm going to let you go do what you do and keep me abreast of where you're headed so we can make sure we're moving in the same direction.
What's the hardest or most important lesson you've learned in business?
Learning how to say "no" because I'm very much a people pleaser. I've had instances where I had a gut sense that we should not take on this project at this time or at this level. With up-front honest conversations and due diligence on both sides we really do enter into a project as a partnership. If either one of us are not happy with this, how do we establish expectations that will be beneficial to both parties? Honesty, transparency, and a willingness to say "no" or "wait" in certain circumstances.
What is a misconception about being an entrepreneur?
Sometimes people only see the upside, such as flexibility, or no cap on earning potential, but may not ask deep enough questions that miss all of the seed that you have to put in the ground to create that harvest. There have been many times that I thought I might rather have a day-job with decent health insurance and a consistent paycheck.
Do you have a morning routine? How do you start and end your day?
I set my alarm early although I would not characterize myself as a morning person. My first 15-20 minutes I read the Bible according to a structured plan for the year. It's life-giving and the right way to start my day when it's consistent, quality, and quiet before the family gets up. Then the girls start getting up and I make lunches, or breakfast as my wife gets ready for work. Everything else is kid-related until my own workday starts.
What obstacles have you faced building your business?
The biggest obstacle I wrestle with is scalability. With a service business, you want to continue to provide a certain level of quality and customer experience. If the trust and authenticity start to deteriorate, your brand suffers as a result. Ours is a people-business so in order to scale, I need people who do things at the quality level that we've built our reputation around. Finding those people and delivering that level of service as we work virtually can be hard because of the complexity of the work, the number of tasks associated with any one project, and the communication surrounding that. As it grows outward, there's a tendency for things to fall through the cracks so you have to be detail oriented. The quality of the work can suffer, so learning how to scale while still maintaining all of that has been hard.
What advice would you give an aspiring entrepreneur?
Surround yourself with really good people. Don't think you have to figure it all out on your own; lean on people who have experience that you don't have. Ask a lot of questions and create relationships with mentors. There are people who would love to serve and help an up and coming entrepreneur- whether it's a structured organization like Martin Goodman with the SBDC, or a mentor network like we have here at the BDC.
I always went out of my way to meet people who had been successful in business. Years ago, I invited a guy in my church to breakfast and that ended up striking up a long-term relationship that has dramatically impacted my family, my career, and me personally. Go out of your way, step out of your comfort zone and foster those types of relationships.
What do you see as the future of your company?
I see an upward swing for us in 2020. With our recent acquisition by Smarter Chaos, being able to leverage their team's expertise will allow me to step back and focus on the things I am good at, adding more value to the company. Offloading some of the things I've had to do as the sole owner will help us get to where we want to go faster. I think we'll see a significant shift in terms of the size of projects we are able to take on, the amount we can do at any one time, plugging in new capabilities with our current clients with more support on all levels. We're trying to broaden our base here, working with interns or designers locally, hopefully providing more steady work.
Are you a Mac or a PC? iPhone or Android?
What's a book you always recommend?
Currently, I'm reading books in the personal and spiritual development genre: Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, who is a hero of mine, and The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer has been fundamental in my life.
What is your usual Starbucks (or other restaurant/pub) order?
I usually just get black coffee, but I'm much more of a beer nerd. I'm definitely excited about the new Salt Marsh brewery coming to Port Royal. I'm also part of a group of guys in Battery Point that brew our own beer. I always ask about the best local IPA. In terms of food, Old Bull: a pizza and an IPA.
Outside of work what keeps you busy?
Family and friends. We have an active neighborhood community. We had thirty people at our house for the Super Bowl with the game on the projector, the screened porch open, and lots of kids running around. We love the climate and lifestyle here, and we often can be found with other families out in the neighborhood. We enjoy kayaking and anything associated with the water and outdoors.