Seeking new opportunities.
Live events were one of the biggest casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Daniel Curtis and his teams saw this as an opportunity to slow down, reflect, and find their next path forward.
”Virtual has come and it's gonna stay.Daniel Curtis Co-Founder, Dependable Forces and Chief Strategy Officer, emc3
The Joy of Being Replaced with Daniel Curtis
Katie Hankinson (00:01):
Hi, I’m Katie Hankinson.
Mickey cloud (00:02):
I’m Mickey Cloud.
Katie Hankinson (00:03):
Welcome to Building While Flying, a Sasha Group podcast, where we interview business leaders about how they tackle challenges, stay resilient and navigate ever changing skies.
Katie Hankinson (00:19):
Well, welcome to this week’s Building While Flying, my guest this week is Daniel Curtis. Daniel is Chief Strategy Officer at EMC3, a virtual hybrid and live events company headquartered in the UK and working with Fortune 100 clients across the globe. He’s also co-founder and CSO of Five Percent, an event education and community-based company that works with early stage entrepreneurs. Co-founder and CEO of Dependable Forces a collective of health and safety, fire safety and events experts, serving brands in events and IRL production. Fun fact, two of these three companies were founded during the pandemic. Dan, welcome to the show.
Daniel Curtis (01:03):
Thank you Katie. How are you?
Katie Hankinson (01:05):
I’m very well. Very good to have you on. Just to ground us, when we talked a little bit about your background and how you came to be CSO and founder of two out of three of these companies. You talked a lot about there being some real sliding doors moments in your career. Do you want to give us just a little bit of your origin story which brought you up to EMC3 and then we can go from there?
Daniel Curtis (01:31):
Sure. I mean, I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the last few months, obviously, the pandemic has made everyone think back. I left school and went to university to study philosophy, which wasn’t my first choice. It was where I ended up because I didn’t get the grades I needed to do economics, et cetera. Ending up in philosophy was not a natural career path for me. From there I just thought, what can I do to find my way into a career? I decided to become a chef just because it was a passion to cook. The story goes, there was everyone in Leed, that’s where I was at the university, turned me down for a job apart from one restaurant. Which happened to be a great French restaurant that trained me and gave me an NVQ in cooking and a grounding to be able to take into a career.
Daniel Curtis (02:18):
From there then ended up in some nice restaurants in London and catering companies and found myself having a realization that what I loved doing wasn’t really the cooking. It was the serving people. It was occasionally giving people the opportunity to come together and to meet, to chat, to have an experience. When I had a further realization that I wasn’t going to be the next Gordon Ramsey and wasn’t going to be a restaurant empire. I decided to start a catering company. Went out on my own, did a few little jobs here and there. In the process of doing that was introduced to these guys, running a company at the time called Global Guestlist who needed someone to help out with an event.
Daniel Curtis (03:01):
It was just, I’ll do this for a bit of money and it was just something to do along the way, while I was setting up my catering company. I did an event with them and then someone quit and they offered me a job. That was over 15 years ago. I’m still with that company, which was rebranded not long after it to EMC3, but all the way along that it feels like there was no plan. It just fell from one thing into the next, before being in a company, which you know, is where I am today.
Katie Hankinson (03:31):
I can see how and looking at the philosopher to chef to events expert may not feel like the most intentional of path, but it does sound like you have that natural progression from one to the next to bring it to EMC3.
Daniel Curtis (03:47):
Retrospectively, yes. It looks I had a great plan and I stuck to it, but there was no plan. When we first started EMC3 we were doing events, but the events we were doing were … We were basically a concierge company looking after people’s social lives in the city and that small events, and then doing a lot of social events and also doing some corporate for those individuals. My background in food was incredibly helpful. A lot of my time was spent picking menus and picking wines and doing that side of events. Now I would literally never do that. I mean, over the years, it just evolved from there and became a content driven marketing company. A agency that works with big brands on their messaging and on the client facing events.
Katie Hankinson (04:34):
I thought it was interesting when we talked last about, and I think you say this in a lot of your materials around the EMC3. That it’s not just about the logistics and planning and production of events. It’s actually about storytelling, which I think gives you a completely different perspective on bringing something to life for a client or a brand. Can you talk a bit about that.
Daniel Curtis (05:02):
I think, nowadays, everyone expresses themselves through stories, on social media, whether it’s on Instagram, on Facebook or Twitter. For brands they want to tell a story of their brand and they want to give a message to their pipelines, their potential customers, and to their current customers about who they are. The best way of doing that is to tell the stories of their team of their product of their executives. When we work with our clients, one of the first things we tend to do now is to run a workshop with them to really figure out what they’re trying to achieve in their event series or in their conference. Because what we were finding over the years was that the sales team and the marketing team might have some alignment, but then the CEO may have a totally different vision about what they’re going to invest their money in.
Daniel Curtis (05:51):
Without bringing that into one story, when you get to the event and when you have all those million of dollars being spent in the event, someone’s going to come out and go, well, that wasn’t for me, that didn’t help. Or someone’s going to, okay well, that was off the mark. This didn’t help me in my mission within the [inaudible 00:06:08]. It’s the alignment of that storytelling, which is so important. Then the other side of that is when you’re booking speakers to speak at your event, when you’re going to get Gary V to come and speak at your event. If his messages not in line with your brand and your messaging, then you need to understand why you’re booking him. He might help, it might be that he just bums on seats, but isn’t necessarily helping you tell your story.
Katie Hankinson (06:33):
Is there a values alignment? Is there an aspect of what the core mission, or even just this current story or product sematic that you’re talking about from a brand perspective?
Daniel Curtis (06:44):
Yeah, I think a lot of the companies we work with are relatively young. Even the LinkedIns and the Google they’re only 20, 30 years old between them. They are used for growing up as storytellers. They were not [inaudible 00:06:59] before that the banks it’s not in their nature to tell a story they were about their product. For them, you say why are you doing this? Well, we could be doing this. This is what we’re doing. The people we love working with are those more creative ones who can [inaudible 00:07:14] brand or around the event brand as opposed to the company’s brand. That’s where the fun is for us. We get to help them tell their story.
Katie Hankinson (07:26):
Over the years you have built out EMC3 from being the original concierge service to much more of a holistic agency, focused storytelling, focused global events company. Everything’s going great guns and then shocker global pandemic, which obviously hit events, travel all the pieces that your business and your brand and your whole infrastructure relies on. That you built your business on. What was that moment of COVID realization like? I think I saw you that week in New York where it was all starting to really come home to roost. Talk a bit about that and what that moment in time was like for EMC3 and for you?
Daniel Curtis (08:12):
We were both very [blahzay 00:08:13] about it at the time. [inaudible 00:08:13] nothing. The majority of our business 13 months ago was based around large scale events and a lot of them were in America. Our headquarters are in London. We have an office in Boston. We were doing events in San Francisco, Chicago, Austin, Boston, Miami, at the time we had them booked out for the year. We had a year’s worth of pipeline and confirmed events. I was in Austin with a client doing a site visit and it was going really well. The venue was awesome. The hotel was great. The client was really excited about it. It was an event that we’d done year on year. We knew exactly where we were going with it. Then we got phone calls and we had Spike Lee about to get on a plane in New York to go to San Francisco, to speak at a client’s event. A client called us and said, we don’t think we’re going to go ahead.
Daniel Curtis (09:06):
We said why? They said, well, we’ve got a lot of people who are worried about traveling. Because I don’t remember but San Francisco announced the pandemic way before anyone else. There’s a lot of people who aren’t going to come to the event now. We just think that this is not going to go ahead and it’s not going to happen. We canceled, Spike Lee on the plane. We started rolling back everything there. Meanwhile, I go back into the meeting with my client and we’re planning an event for six months later. She’s still talking … No one in the room knew about it. This was something that was just starting to break. I was talking to the team back in London and we were looking at contracts and figuring out how do we cancel this?
Daniel Curtis (09:45):
If it’s [foreign language 00:09:46], we don’t know what the hotel is going to say, et cetera. Everything canceled. I mean, over the next two, three weeks, the whole of our pipeline disappeared. We went from having an incredibly full year, having just had our best of a year to having [inaudible 00:10:02] on the books. It was horrific. I mean, for myself and my business partners we were really up against it. The whole thing, we were looking at each other and thinking, what do we do here? Then there was some really, really dark times. There was a long period of time that we were really figuring out, can we even make it through this? But it was that moment in time.
Daniel Curtis (10:28):
The incredible irony of it is that on that same day, when I was meeting with my client, she said to me, well Marcus, you know Marcus Murphy and you’ve worked with him before and you’ve spoken at events. He’s just landed. Well why don’t you come and we’ll go and say hi to him. We jumped in a cab went and saw Marcus who was working at a company called Digital Marketer at the time, and he’d been a speaker at a number of events. I had dinner with him a few times and we met with him and we were just having a chat and he said, come up at dinner we’ve got a few people meeting. We talked, and we talked about what he was up to and the opportunities that were out there, and this is all pre pandemic. [inaudible 00:11:03] about traveling around the world and doing lots of stuff together. He’s now one of our business partners in The Five Percent. It all was born on that same day that everything started to cancel. A new opportunity came down and started to grow. I look back on that day, it’s a real pivotal moment.
Katie Hankinson (11:23):
Do you think in some ways, I mean pushing on that again, there’s sort of sliding doors or as one door doesn’t close, but definitely wobbles the other one opens. Do you think, in some ways the fact that the pandemic then proceeded to roll out in the way that it has gave room for this new opportunity to almost take more route, like be more of a concern? You weren’t distracted by the running of your second best year ever, or your next best year ever on EMC3?
Daniel Curtis (11:52):
Well, my self and my business partner Alistair we were putting in long weeks. We’re talking about 56 day a week still standing, which is absolutely fine, it’s your business and if you’re an entrepreneur you’d love that. We went from that to having a period of maybe three weeks to five weeks, something like that, where we were just trying to bend down the hatches, roll everything back, deal with contracts, make sure the team were okay, but we had no work. There was no pipeline. There was no business development. There was no going out and meeting clients. We had time and there was a realization for the, both of us that all of our eggs were in the EMC3 basket. If this business had folded, we would either be starting a new business from zero or looking for jobs. Neither of us are particularly employable.
Daniel Curtis (12:42):
We started thinking, what else is there out there? The opportunity Marcus came along and it was unnamed at the time and we started developing it with him and thinking about it. At one point we were going to be a minority partner. Then as it grew, it became obvious that we should be much more equal partners in it. We all brought something to the table. Meanwhile, Alistair came up with an idea with someone who lives near him of Dependable Forces, which was basically COVID marshals. The idea that events were going away for a while, but when they came back, people needed to feel safe. How do you go about making sure that a venue is secure for people to come in and network or hang out with COVID around. We started to build that together. These businesses all kind of interlinked, there was all an events line running through them. But I mean there’s no way we would have started them if we had a full book of events with EMC3. We just wouldn’t have had the time.
Katie Hankinson (13:44):
It’s so interesting, like you say that there is this thread that connects them but they’re all very distinct and different facets with events as the thread. Can you just describe super quick how the three work and what the core of each is? EMC3 events, although now slightly pivoted?
Daniel Curtis (14:08):
Well, we became a virtual event company for a year and we’re now a hybrid event and virtual event company. We’re also alive event company and that’s coming back, but really that’s about the content of degree production, logistics, creative. It’s the full service agency. Dependable Forces is about COVID marshaling, safety marshaling events, security, safety as events, and also potentially other workspaces. A bit more of a niche thing, but we’ve got some great partners and we’ve got incredibly, highly trained marshals who are not just human signage. They’re not just standing there pointing people in the right direction, making sure that they’re wearing a mask. They’re first responders. They’re health and safety experts. They’re run by events experts who understand that you don’t want your security team or your safety team screwing up your event.
Daniel Curtis (15:04):
You see it sometimes that you’ll have a slightly overbearing security guy at the door of an event. It’s negatively impacting on the experience of the attendee. They will not be those guys. Then The Five Percent was a concept that we built out with Marcus and with his other business partner, Ben Baluchi which was really the early stage entrepreneurs to succeed you need a network. You need to have that security to fail and start again. To grow from, taking that leap out of maybe paid world into entrepreneurship is a really lonely one. It’s a difficult one [inaudible 00:15:46].
Daniel Curtis (15:46):
The name, The Five Percent came from the statistic that 95% of businesses don’t make it past the first five years. 5% of businesses survive the first five years of doing business. You’re not going to increase that number. I mean, businesses will come and go. They will fail. But those 5% that we really are focusing on is the 5% who keep going. There’s a small group of entrepreneurs who know they’re going to fail and they’re going to fail maybe dramatically, but they’re going to keep going. They’re going to learn from it. They’re going to come again. They’re going to regroup and they’re going to come back at it. Those are the people that we want to give the tools to be able to grow.
Katie Hankinson (16:27):
Got it. It’s very similar, we have a couple of programs within the Sasha Group, The 4D, which is very much focused on education, but also community where actually the strength of the connections you make with the people who you go through this process. Where they are as valuable in some ways as the, what you’re learning along the way. Stork, which is we’ve also been running for a while, which just really is all about bringing digital tactics to people on ongoing daily basis to keep people feeling connected and informed as they continue to build their business. Do you … Well go ahead.
Daniel Curtis (17:00):
I was going to say any mistake you make in business has been made a thousand times before. When you’re in a situation, if you don’t have people to bounce it off, if you’re that lonely guy at the top of your business and everyone there works for you. Everyone else within the database works for you. You can’t be vulnerable in front of them in the same way you can with a peer or with someone who’s totally unrelated to your business, but understands where you’re at. You’d be able to ask your questions, which might be a silly question to some but is essential for you to ask. That lack of community, I think is one of the reasons why a lot of entrepreneurs do fail.
Katie Hankinson (17:36):
Yeah. I think as well, we talk so much, it’s a really, obviously a recurrent theme and on this podcast with a lot of the people we talk to about mentorship. But I think as well, that peer community is as valuable to a point people who are in the trenches alongside you and having their own pitfalls. We’ve talked about some of the ones that you’ve gone through. Thankfully all three of these going concerns feel like that they’re all going gangbusters right now. Why do you think these opportunities kept coming, at the time that they did? What was it … It seemed like some of them presented themselves. Some of them were these supposed sliding door moments, but I can’t help thinking there’s more to it than that. What would you say connected the [inaudible 00:18:22]?
Daniel Curtis (18:23):
By the way, there’s a fourth company as well. It’s launched, but we’re not doing too much with it yet. It’s called Venue Matters. That was the same idea. It’s about 3D mapping of venues for events. I think they do a lot for real estate. But what we found was that a lot of customers and clients during the beginning of the pandemic, didn’t want to travel to site visits. We had a client who wanted to find a venue in London and there were two venues we put forward one much better than the other, the lesser venue got it because they had a 3D walkthrough [inaudible 00:18:57]. We started looking at that as an option and that’s something which we’ve got in the works. But I think the reason why this also come together was just, we spent many years working in our industry and being surrounded by incredibly dry companies and people who are inspiration to us. We’ve worked with a group for many years called the Young President’s Organization of which I’m now a member.
Katie Hankinson (19:23):
I know YPO.
Daniel Curtis (19:25):
Entrepreneurs who have just done the most amazing things. For me personally, I can’t fully speak for my partners, it was about the opportunity. I always loved the idea of problem solving, of coming up with concepts, of building something. I just never had the time to give to it. I was so busy in my day job. My day job is my business. I had that unfortunate enough in that to be able to give myself a bit of space to do things, but it wasn’t until I was given that time that I really thought, well, why not? Let’s go for it. Let’s build something else.
Katie Hankinson (20:00):
I love that. I feel like you also really stuck to and went deep into your lane, the events education, community track. That being able to spot those opportunities is almost naturally you see the connection points, because you just know the space so well. Then to your point, suddenly this crazy challenging time, put you in a mindset where being aware of those opportunities was just a little bit more front of mind?
Daniel Curtis (20:31):
I’ve got to say I’ve been so inspired by our team as well. When all the business stopped and the pandemic hit, and we were looking at no live events for the foreseeable future. Our team retrained and became virtual event specialists and spent as much time as was needed, in every meeting they could have to figure out something that’s totally different. From live events to virtual events is like going from organizing a party to building a website. It’s totally different skill sets. What the team did was really just apply the principles of what we did to stick to our vision, keep within our mission statement, but apply it in a different way. I feel that somewhat, what we’ve done with these businesses is the culture of those businesses is the same throughout, despite having different types of products and also different employees. I’d like to feel the values that we have in EMC3 are the same values that we hold in the others, which means that it’s not as challenging to build it. We’re not starting from zero. We’ve already got a strong culture and a value proposition.
Katie Hankinson (21:35):
It’s interesting. Another big theme and actually just speaking with Arah Sims a couple episodes ago, we were talking with her about serial entrepreneurship. She could describe it as entrepreneurship is something that you can wash, rinse and repeat once you’ve figured it out. I think the other piece is, you’ve obviously experienced that and you were doing that within your space. But the other one is surrounding yourself by people who are lifelong learners are going to pitch in, and that you can essentially trust to run with the ball that you give them so that you can move on to the next opportunity.
Daniel Curtis (22:08):
Well, I’ve seen the EMC3 incredibly creative, but they weirdly created from a logistical standpoint. We have our own creatives, we have our design team, et cetera. But the creativity that I see in problem solving is the reason why I think we’re very good at what we do and the reason why a lot of them have gotten involved in some of the other projects. Led us and shown us the way to make it better, the way to appeal to a different audience.
Katie Hankinson (22:35):
I love that. This, I think is a nice segue way into my next question, which is you now have four companies on the go, what have you had to do now there are multiple businesses? How have you had to think about your role and how has that evolved as you diversify across all these four different verticals within your industry?
Daniel Curtis (23:01):
Up until two or three years ago, I was heavily involved in almost every big event that we did as EMC3. Myself and Alistair, we would be at any big event. We’d always be there. We’d be there with the executives. We’d be very much front and center. We started to build layers underneath us of account managers, account directors and producers who were incredibly capable in many cases, much better than us at what they do. Which is obviously what you need to do to grow a company. Replace yourself with better people. By the time we got to the beginning of the pandemic, we had a fantastic structure in place. We had a great team in the US, a really capable team in the UK that was doing work all around the world. I personally was beginning to make a lot of my function redundant.
Daniel Curtis (23:47):
I saw from that, which was great. Well just last week I stepped down from the role of MD in the company and Stephanie, I think who’s been with us for 10 plus years, took it on. A lot of the day-to-day operations, small things is not on my plate anymore. I’ve given myself that space. I’ve been lucky enough to some extent to be allowed to take the time to work on these other projects and to bring them all together. If Alistair, Alistair is the other half of me. He’s much more organized. He’s a lot more focused on finance and all of the stuff I’m a bit bad at. I’m more into the things that he’s not so good at. We are a very good team, a good partnership in that, but it’s meant that he steps up in Dependable Forces a lot more and I being a lot more involved in The Five Percent. We still work with each other and we still understand what’s needed on a day to day and we’re able to support each other.
Katie Hankinson (24:44):
That’s awesome. Put yourself out of a job thing one, and then you can move on to growing and ideated around the next piece, I guess.
Daniel Curtis (24:53):
It’s all the great part of my midlife crisis is realizing that there are so many people better at the things that I used to do and that I still do. It’s the joy of being replaced in those roles.
Katie Hankinson (25:03):
I think that is I’m allowed to say this of you so that you don’t have … You can like blush on the other end, but I do think it’s a sign of reaching a stage of maturity within the running of a business. To be able to say, there are going to be people who are better than me and I want those people versus the natural instinct. I think sometimes in leadership is to I want to be the one with all the answers. I want to be the smartest one in the room. That’s so limiting in many respects.
Daniel Curtis (25:34):
The only reason we’ve been able to do that is because we’ve been pushed by people who can do that and who want to do that. We’re driven to do that. When Stephanie said to me in a review three years ago, she wants my job. I had a flash of going, how dare you? Then it was like, excitement of the idea of, what am I going to do now?
Katie Hankinson (25:54):
Daniel Curtis (25:55):
That’s exciting for me is that I don’t imagine that I’m going to do the same job in 10 years time that I’m doing now. It may be the same companies, but I’m hoping there’s going to be something fresh and new. Otherwise I’m probably a bit bored of it.
Katie Hankinson (26:08):
I can imagine that too. Go to change. We move or we die kind of thing.
Daniel Curtis (26:15):
Something like that. Also the industry has changed so quickly. When we first started doing events, we were doing Goldman Sachs Christmas parties, which was all about the best nightclub with the best champagne and entertainment. That all disappeared after 2008, it just didn’t happen anymore. Now I feel like we’re on the edge of this renaissance of events where virtual has come and it’s going to stay, hybrid is the future. Every event that has an audience outside of it’s local area, will have a virtual element. It’s all new and it’s constantly evolving. It’s just evolved over the last year at lightning speed.
Katie Hankinson (26:59):
I love that you used the word renaissance and I do feel events is in a fascinating place because people have been desperately hungry for real life interaction and are going to be on the lookout for experiences. Whether corporate … Obviously out in the personal world like well, but in the world of business. Whoever really cracks that combination of all the things we’ve learned in hybrid and virtual, but also bringing something that’s more than just a showcase is really going to crush it. I think in that space.
Daniel Curtis (27:36):
We’ve been trained now in how to interact virtually. We used to do lots of Zoom calls and we had lots of meetings. I always much prefer to be in a room with someone. I said yesterday to someone I actually feel virtual meetings are more efficient. You can take notes without feeling you’re rude, for example. The fact that we went through that period of becoming Zoom addicts and came out the other end of it. Now there’s the virtual events where we’re perfectly happy networking with people who are in different continent. When we come back to live events, we’ll still keep some of that. Hopefully it’s going to be terminal. Hopefully it’ll stick. It will be this democratized events.
Katie Hankinson (28:19):
I agree. I also think there’s an interesting, I think a lot of the technology that has popped up to facilitate much of this is going to play a huge part in making that work better. I was quite interested in an event I went to recently where there was a virtual deal room where you literally almost had Zoom speed dating between you and different people in it. Actually I mean, it was slightly exhausting to do many of them, but the idea of just quickly connecting with people as a launch pad to future conversations was so efficient to be done virtually.
Daniel Curtis (28:52):
You can instantly take them and get their LinkedIn profile [inaudible 00:28:57]. Which would involve [inaudible 00:28:59] this person’s name. God, what was his name again? It’s a little embarrassing.
Katie Hankinson (29:05):
It’s in front of you on the screen. Thank God. My dream scenario.
Daniel Curtis (29:07):
We had one today. There were like one or two well known platforms. There were one or two platforms where you can do and host virtual event or you can do a webinar. Now there are many, many, and they’re really great. They’re evolving at lightning speed and they are bringing events to companies that couldn’t afford to do a big event. Companies [inaudible 00:29:31] 3000 people in a room can now have 3000 people at an event. It’s still not the same but it’s a way to find people in. That’d be a good thing for our industry.
Katie Hankinson (29:43):
Super democratizing essentially. Or you can actually make phenomenal content and not throw millions at it and people find you because the content is phenomenal. Well, that would be the hope.
Daniel Curtis (29:53):
The speakers as well. There’s a lot of fantastic speakers out there who would do 1800 speaking gigs a year and never see their family, be flying around the world, get to the point where they were drained. They were just rolling out the same old speech. They’re now able to do three in a day from their living room. They’re able to get out in front of a bigger and broader audience. For the brands as well, sending out their brand ambassadors has become a lot easier, cheaper, more efficient.
Katie Hankinson (30:21):
Fascinating to hear about [inaudible 00:30:22]. I want to take us back a little bit to a conversation that we had been having last time we chatted. Which is about, we talked about the serendipity of careers and how you’ve had these moments of opportunity that you’ve been able to jump on. That you don’t see yourself as obviously doing the same thing in 10 years. You’ve obviously got a driving force. What is it that drives you in all this? Let’s talk about purpose. We had a really great conversation about this, so I’m going to bring you in on this one.
Daniel Curtis (30:57):
I just did a purpose workshop with my team at our company kickoff. If I’m entirely honest with you, I just pulled it together. It was just like something that I really wanted to talk about with everyone. I didn’t have a really strong structure to it, but the thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot, especially when there was that realization that EMC3 may not be around forever. That there were other businesses that even as an entrepreneur, even as a business owner, you can’t define yourself by your business. You can’t define your mission in life as your company’s mission, and you need to have a broader purpose that encompasses your social life, your work life, your family life and is going to last beyond your tenure at a company. What I started thinking about is how do I go about figuring out what my purpose is and what are the ways of doing that?
Daniel Curtis (31:48):
I read a fair bit and I’m a big fan of Simon Sinek, Gordon Brown, Adam Grant. There’s a lot of great thinkers and writers out there who talk about it. What I did was I started putting down what I call the inspiration statements. Things that inspire me and the things I think really define my character in social and in work life. For example, the fact that I love being an entrepreneur, but I couldn’t be an entrepreneur in a business that I didn’t care about. I couldn’t just do business to make money. That’s not me. It’s many people and that’s fine, but it wouldn’t drive me.
Daniel Curtis (32:21):
I love connecting people. One of my favorite things is having a dinner party where I invite lots of people who would never normally meet, sit in a room together. Maybe two of them will become friends or do business or realize that they have something in common or whatever. That for me is, my absolute joy to watch that happen. These things, I think straddle work and personal life. That connecting of people that spilled in community, that for me, is a purpose. Leaving a room and a connection has been formed between people who wouldn’t have otherwise met. I feel I’ve achieved something amazing.
Katie Hankinson (33:03):
At the moment there’s a perfect connection with what you do company-wise to that, but it’s much bigger and broader than that. But as your …
Daniel Curtis (33:11):
Yeah. I hope that it’s something that I’d bring into my social life as well. My birthday every year is just a ridiculous lunch, but everyone comes along and brings their families and their kids and people they met the night before at a night out and just sits and talks. I couldn’t wish for anything more just to watch all these people who I know all of them and they get to know each other. I think in work, this is one of the reasons why I think over the years we were able to go EMC3 without having to take on big investment and without advertising and without really pushing RFPs. Was that we built strong relationships with individuals in big companies who then left and went to other companies and took us with them and then introduced us to those companies. Then we built that business on the back of those relationships and those connections. Some of them were people who we found them job. We found them job opportunities because we already knew the company and said, well, there’s an opening there, go there.
Katie Hankinson (34:08):
You’ve built that strong core that continually carries you through and connects back out again.
Daniel Curtis (34:16):
The other thing about purpose and the other reason why I was really keen to this with the company is that this last year has been incredibly taxing on people’s mental health. Especially I would say for the people at the early stages of their career who are in their twenties, thirties, and it might be they’re in the right job. It might be that they’re on a stepping stone to another place. It might be that they’re still finding their correct role within a company. But without having a strong sense of purpose it’s very hard to reconcile the ups and downs of life and to reconcile that you’re going to have good days and bad days. You’re going to have good events and bad events. None of them define you. But if you don’t have that purpose, they can start to define you, you can start to having that [inaudible 00:34:59] work life that when it’s good, it’s great. When it’s bad, it’s awful. You want to be somewhere in the middle of all of that.
Katie Hankinson (35:07):
I love that. I think that’s a phenomenal philosophy. I also really liked that it’s something that you explore with your team especially after a year like this. I think just having more of those conversations, where you have people think a bit deeper and step out of the grind is incredibly important.
Daniel Curtis (35:23):
Then mental health is more than a catchphrase, now it’s something that is in the public domain and it’s being talked about by celebrities and business leaders. It’s so important.
Katie Hankinson (35:34):
Well, I mean, in the US I feel it’s been possibly for a little longer in the UK now as well. Even where people have been historically, so stiff up a bit. I also think even men talking about mental health in the UK is a fairly new thing.
Daniel Curtis (35:50):
You will see it’s the alpha male sportsman talking about the challenges they’ve had, and I think it’s opened it up. But I think that maybe, and who knows I haven’t got a crystal ball, but maybe one of the upsides of the pandemic is going to be that there’s a greater empathy building because we’ve all had a shared experience. It’s through shared experiences that you find empathy. The fact that we’ve all gone through the pandemic. No one in the world hasn’t been affected in one way or the other. Many have done better than others, but we all have this shared thing. Maybe it’s given us a little moment to worry more about others and think more about your community and hoping they’re doing okay and your company and how people are surviving.
Katie Hankinson (36:31):
It’s fascinating to think at that moment where we’ve also been so and forced separated, that it may actually hopefully engender greater empathy, I think is a magical tension. My final question is at a high level what is next or what are you looking out for the next few months? What’s the big focus for you now, you’re a CSO across the businesses?
Daniel Curtis (37:02):
I mean, for EMC3 is really simple and I mean, for all the businesses it’s live events. I hope to coming back. I had a call yesterday with a client, in fact, the client who I was in Austin with planning that event-
Katie Hankinson (37:15):
We’ve come full circle.
Daniel Curtis (37:17):
Full circle. It’s really neat and tidy this, isn’t it. He called yesterday to start talking about the 2022 event, bringing it back bigger and better. I think that’s the … I’m invigorated by that. I’m so excited by that. From the point of view of Dependable Forces, we’ve got some bookings coming through for the summer for weddings, for parties, for events and starting to help the industry come back. For The Five Percent we’re launching a series of workshops starting the next couple of months where we are going to start to build the community and bring them together around the pillars. Which are marketing sales, leadership, finance, and wellness, which I think is incredibly important part of entrepreneurship. We’re going to start bringing people together in virtual workshops and then build up towards a larger in-person probably hybrid live event. It’s really exciting. It’s all signed to come together now, and it’s all happening at the same time, so busy and [inaudible 00:38:15].
Katie Hankinson (38:17):
I’m very excited. I almost feel like because of the business you’re in, you are literally at the vanguard of this re-emergence, which is super exciting. My last question for you, you Dan is our classic Building While Flying podcast question, which is what is your pilots checklists? What is it that enables you to stay the course during all these turbulent times? I know we talked about purpose, so I think that’s got to be some of it.
Daniel Curtis (38:44):
That is regarding the other thing I touched on there is avoiding the biggest fluctuations of emotion [inaudible 00:38:51] is great, but don’t get carried away. A problem or a bad moment is not the end of the world. I think it only comes with experience that you realize that over the course of a career things are going to go up and down. In the course of your business you’re going to have peaks and troughs, and there’s going to be good things and bad things. None of them are going to define you if you’ve done [inaudible 00:39:15]. Certainly with events they’re intense and they’re lots of risks all over the place and things happening and you just have to stay the course and keep going.
Katie Hankinson (39:28):
It sounds a bit like keep calm and carry on.
Daniel Curtis (39:36):
Yeah, I know that it’s cliché.
Katie Hankinson (39:36):
I agree. It’s essentially, don’t get carried away with the wind of it all. I was reading a lot this week actually about the difference between authenticity and integrity. The idea of integrity being something that is about you being able to stay the course and stand your foundations in spite of external forces. I think some of what you’re talking about lives in that space.
Daniel Curtis (40:03):
Staying calm and it seems talk about it. The proverbial dark with his feet, going a million miles under the water and just very calm on the surface. In spite of what other things can often be like, is that there’s a lot going on, but none of them that exceeds it all.
Katie Hankinson (40:16):
The ultra management the crazy whilst keeping calm. Well, thank you so much for your time. Dan. It’s been so great chatting. I can’t wait to see what happens with the emergence across all four businesses. You must promise to keep us informed of how things go and we’ll link everything out in the show notes as well. Everyone can see how to connect more.
Daniel Curtis (40:41):
Thanks a lot you too.
Katie Hankinson (40:42):
It’s been wonderful. Thank you.
Katie Hankinson (40:46):
Well, now that we’ve finished that thoroughly interesting interview, we’re getting ready to land, but before we do Mickey and I spent some time unpacking some of the key takeaways that really stuck out to us.
Mickey cloud (40:57):
We liken this to the post game show where we break down the really extraordinary nuggets that we can all benefit from, including us here at the Sasha Group. Get ready for the Sasha sidebar.
Mickey cloud (41:14):
Katie, great conversation with your chap Dan.
Katie Hankinson (41:18):
My buddy, Dan, I know. It’s so weird to think he was one of the last lunch meetings that I had before we all got sent home for COVID.
Mickey cloud (41:28):
Well, speaking of that, I mean, I think one of the big things I took away was the fact, that he said that, he’s now part of three businesses, two of which were co-founded during COVID. He talks about how they’re all interlinked. But he would have never started the other two, if COVID, didn’t put a pause on the main business. I guess I wanted to hear your perspective on just maybe what is that connective thread that you guys talked a little bit through?
Katie Hankinson (42:01):
I mean, firstly, it’s clear that like Dan’s, even though he started out as a philosopher and then went into being a chef. The service of creating events and creating experiences that people love, it’s at the core of what he loves to do. That’s where the beginning EMC3 began, which is classic events. That was the original thread, which was about creating those experiences. I thought it was really interesting how he talked about that it’s not just about creating an event in a venue it’s about storytelling and telling the story of a brand and creating a thread of an experience that reinforces the brand. Then the other piece is, which you’re entirely right. It would never have happened if it wasn’t for the fact they’d all got not for six, but the pandemic. Kind of all still have, I just thought that thread of it still lives in the event space.
Katie Hankinson (42:56):
They really know their lane. They know how to put on something that works phenomenally well from an event perspective. But now they’re looking at the various facets and dimensions of that, but we’re still with these threads of branding of storytelling, of running business in mind. Dependable Forces was so niche, it’s the health and safety COVID marshals to run it. The big events like Netflix is doing a big production in the Southeast of England and needs people to make sure the whole place is safe. They were all part-time firemen and nurses practitioners.
Katie Hankinson (43:32):
That’s just a really opportunistic thing that was born out of the pandemic only because of the pandemic, but actually is now a really valuable resource that he can tap [inaudible 00:43:43] industry. Then the other Five Percent, which is so amazing that they all created a business remotely in the pandemic is events based, but it’s about educating entrepreneurs. Helping each of those build their brand and tell their brand story, but creating event based learning experiences, essentially for them as they get their heads around and also networking. I mean, that’s the power of an event.
Mickey cloud (44:11):
It’s a membership access to events that are built for education and networking for early stage entrepreneurs.
Katie Hankinson (44:21):
That’s right. The fact that they are now pros that are relevant and virtual plays really nicely into that model of learning and networking.
Mickey cloud (44:34):
Then the other thing that I really took away was just, how he approached the fact that he’s no longer the managing director of EMC3. He talks about, it’s such a joy to see people doing a better job than you on the roles you did as managing director or whatever role that was. That’s such a great perspective to have. To see it as a choice, as opposed to territorial, as opposed to self-conscious or just coming at it from a negative perspective. He saw it as an exciting opportunity. He said, I’d hope I’d be doing something different in five years, 10 years, 20 years. He’s called it part of his midlife crisis, but I just think it’s advice that is constantly given to entrepreneurs and CEOs and leaders of, if you’re going to scale the business, you’ve got to take things off your plate and give them to others. It’s like, sounds great in theory, it can be really difficult to execute when you’re in the trenches. When you know how to get the job done and you can just go down and do it.
Katie Hankinson (45:46):
Right. I mean, I feel it’s one of the top challenges that many entrepreneurs and startup entrepreneurs really come across is relinquishing control of your baby. When you’ve really had to be the one that solves every problem and fights every fire and comes up with every solution. It makes every sale suddenly putting your trust in someone else. But what I think is interesting and hopefully also liberating and inspiring, and that the way that Dan and his team did it is that it’s not like it was a clicking of a switch. It was a succession planning. It was talking among the team about where they wanted to collectively take the company and what his role would be best placed shifting into, and then really joyfully bringing someone else who’s hungry for it up into the role. I think that’s the other one is like, it doesn’t have to be something you figured out by yourself overnight. It can be something that you actually like …
Mickey cloud (46:42):
Katie Hankinson (46:43):
Mickey cloud (46:44):
I guess our question for this episode is what’s the next event you’re going to?
Katie Hankinson (46:50):
I love that.
Mickey cloud (46:51):
Is it hybrid? Is it in person? What are you excited about in the events space?
Mickey cloud (46:57):
Thanks for joining us again and for Building While Flying with the Sasha Group today, I hope you learned as much as we did. We’ll meet you right back here next time for another flight.
Mickey cloud (47:08):
If you’d like to hear more about how business owners and brands are navigating these times tune into our next episode. If you’re so kind, please rate and review us. Plus we love feedback. Let us know what you think, what you’d like us to dig into next on Building While Flying, across brands, businesses, marketing and more.
Katie Hankinson (47:23):
Original music by Fulton Street Music Group.
Welcome to Building While Flying!
This weekly podcast is brought to you by Sasha Group. We’re the consultancy meets agency arm of the VaynerX family of companies. We help ambitious companies build strong brands that flex with the times through strategy, branding media and marketing.
In ever-changing times, businesses and brands have to shift and adapt. And across all sectors, there is an air of experimentation. Business owners are trying new things out in the wild; building the plane while flying.
Our pilots, Katie Hankinson and Mickey Cloud, will be talking to a diverse range of business leaders and founders. They’ll explore how these guests tackle various challenges while staying resilient and committed to growth. Through these real-life examples of strategies put into practice, we hope to inspire you to experiment and develop your own strategies as we all navigate these uncertain times together.
Daniel Curtis learned a lot from the COVID-19 pandemic- about entrepreneurship and himself.
Daniel Curtis has his hand in multiple companies, all dealing with events, community building, and entrepreneurship. He’s the Chief Strategy Officer of EMC3, a creative agency specializing in live and virtual event production and speaker management. He’s also a co-founder and CSO of Dependable Forces, a company that provides safety, health, and security services for live events; and he’s theCSO and co-founder of 5%, an event and education company and community for early-stage entrepreneurs. Those last two companies were born out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his conversation with Katie, Daniel describes the best gift the pandemic could have given him: the gift of time. It’s with this time he was able to slow down, focus, and start two new businesses. He addresses the importance of community for entrepreneurs and the need for a safe space to fail and learn without fear of judgment. Most importantly, Daniel discusses the future of events, post-pandemic, and why the “hybrid” virtual and live will be the way to go. If you’re itching to go to events again, this episode is just what you need.
Other in-flight topics:
- How the COVID-19 pandemic impacted live events
- Importance of mentorship and community for entrepreneurs
- Shifting from live events to virtual events
- Balancing your role across multiple companies
- Surrounding yourself with a strong, smart, supportive peer group
- The future of events, post-pandemic
- Defining your purpose as an entrepreneur