William Tyrone Toms is the cofounder of REC Philly, an incubator, community, and resource center aimed at helping independent creatives make a sustainable living. In short, he’s out to challenge the narrative of the starving artist and create an international community of creatives who control their own destinies.
As REC Philly likes to say, “independent doesn’t mean alone”, and this story really embodies what it looks like to build something that matters with intentionality, clarity, and connectedness at its core.
There are a lot of gems packed into this conversation. Among other things we discuss:
- creative placemaking and how to create the community and space you have always sought
- how to reverse engineer your business from who you want your customers to become, all the way back to the product offering
- the power and clarity of having an artistic message as your north star in making decisions
- how to choose an audience
- the work required to move from having a vague desire for impact (which we all feel) to a specific and actionable plan to create that impact for a specific kind of person
If you are out to make something that matters, this conversation will help you to get clear on how to do that better.
And if you have a moment, I’d love it if you could give me a little feedback via this SurveyMonkey link. (It only takes one minute.)
SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES
Find a quiet place and record a question about this episode. If we can, we’ll answer it on the air in a future episode. Thanks for listening.
- Will Toms – Instagram, Twitter, website
- REC Philly – website, Instagram, Twitter
- Dave Silver, cofounder of REC Philly
- Alex Hillman episode #32 – “How to play the long game of business”
- Jason Silva – Shots of Awe
- StockedUp (hat brand)
- Gino Wickman books – Traction & Rocket Fuel
- Steve Jobs video – “everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you”
Transcripts may contain some typos. With some episodes lasting ~2 hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
Andrew 00:00:04 We’ll officially welcome to the show, brother. How are you doing today? I’m excited
Will 00:00:24 Excited to be here, Andrew. I appreciate you having me.
Andrew 00:00:26 Oh, absolutely. I’m so excited after Alex introduced us Alex Hillman for the listener who will link to his episode in the show notes. So first all, actually, I feel like we got to give a shout out because we’re obviously the listener can’t see us, but it’s a fun hat day for both of us. So tell us about this hat.
Will 00:00:39 So, um, obviously, you know, I’m based here in Philadelphia, so, you know, I’m a lover of all things, Philly culture, but also a lover of all things, you know, small business and a creative entrepreneur. So this is actually a custom Philly’s hat by a brand called stocked up. So it’s the Philly’s P emblem, but it’s got this cool little rocket emblem right inside with some custom embroidery. So, you know, for me always about, uh, supporting local, you know, shopping local creative economy, that whole thing. So,
Andrew 00:01:04 Cause that’s a lot of the stuff we’re going to spend time talking about in this conversation. And I just felt like we had to give a shout out to the brand there. So we’ll link to that in the show notes and check that out. It’s a very cool hat. You should all check this out. I think that’s such a perfect place to start before we get into the deep dive on REC Philly and everything you all are building. I thought it might be cool to kind of rewind the clock a little bit and kind of go back and tap into your origin story, a little bit of why you’re doing what you’re doing and how it’s so meaningful to you. And as I was getting ready for this conversation, I came across something you had said in a different publication where you talked about how important it was to you to be you as a message, right? It could be a little bit of like a cookie cutter or fortune cookie kind of message. But you mentioned that in a lot of ways, in some of the places you grew up in the environments, you often felt like you didn’t have that opportunity. And I was just hoping you could tell me a little bit about that. Like what was that for you and how does that influence what you’re doing today?
Will 00:01:51 Yeah, man. Wow. That’s a great question. And kind of a great starting point to this. That idea has been so important to me. And honestly I think a lot of what I’m doing now has become a little bit in direct response to being able to capture that feeling for myself and be able to share it with others. You know, part of my story, you know, I grew up in Philadelphia here in the inner city, my family’s from the Germantown section of the city and, you know, navigating the environment and in an inner city and navigating kind of, you know, even America as all the things that I am, right, a black male hetero, you know, personnel here. There’s a really unique experience. And you know, for me what, growing up, seeing some of the violence that I’ve seen, seeing, you know, the effects on my family of mass incarceration, you know, just seeing all of these things and also having, you know, the mind as a young kid to see that that’s not what I wanted for myself.
Will 00:02:40 I started to develop these almost like survival tactics that look like people pleasing, right. That look like, how do I show up to make other people feel comfortable? You know, it was like, I used to have this pride of like being a chameleon. Right. Cause I totally, I had that gift. I developed that skill because, you know, I grew up in the inner city, you know, in Philly. And then in high school I was raised with my grandmother and she knew it was so important for me to go to school outside the city because of the opportunity because of, you know, my gifts and my skillset. She was like, yo, if you can go to a place where we can nurture this, you know what I mean? You’ll have obviously, you know, the ability to really grow as a person. Right? So for me, I lived that experience of navigating completely different kinds of worlds.
Will 00:03:23 And what that did was it helped. But also it got me to a place where it was almost like the, you know, to, to hood, you know, for the white kids in the suburbs, but also like to, I talk proper, right? So it was too white for the hood kids, right. To create it for the, the business folks who were all buttoned up, but like to business and serious for the creatives. Right. So I know what it felt like to balance all of those things and my life that I was living. And I realized when I was in college became so segmented, right? Like almost felt like I lived three lives in one, like I was crushing it in academics and doing all the things on Dean’s list. But then I was also really involved with the TV studio, but I was also really involved with my fraternity. And then I was also doing all the other extracurricular social stuff. And the thing is, if you knew me in one of those worlds, you probably didn’t know all the layers of me and the other ones,
Andrew 00:04:14 They were sort of siloed, super
Will 00:04:15 Siloed. Right. And I felt that that was the way to do it. But as I grew older and I started to kind of, you know, meditate on that, I think about that. Do some of that inner work, I realized that the blessing of it all is how do we be able to truly just like be our whole wholesales at all times. And then I started to realize, you know, the environments I was in didn’t seem to be conducive of showing up and holding a safe space to do that. Right. Or as I’ve been thinking of now, you know, the company I built with rec, like we’d like to go beyond that idea of safe space and it’s like, yo no, no, no. We’re building a brave space where we’re going to encourage you to show up as your full self. And we’re almost not going to accept anything less than that.
Will 00:04:54 You know, I love that, you know? So that, that was kind of the idea as a young person. Then I started to realize I wanted the things that I did as I grew older to reflect that where it was like, yeah, what can I do to design my life, to be able to be my full self at all times. And a part of that was, you know, jumping into the entrepreneurial journey to have that freedom, you know, of time and the freedom to do the things I wanted to do the freedom to be around the people I wanted to be around dress, how I wanted to dress all the things. Right. And I want to be able to hold space to offer that same feeling and, um, possibility to other people who understand that.
Andrew 00:05:26 Wow, dude, I so resonate with that because it’s funny as you were saying it, I was like, are you in my head? You know, you and I don’t know each other super well yet, but I grew up bouncing around a lot. Like I, I moved a ton growing up. And so I actually developed similar kind of coping mechanisms around people pleasing and being like, I literally chameleon thing. I used to be a real thing for me where I was like, Oh yeah, it’s a skill because I can fit into any room and whatever. And it is. But only when it’s, when you’re actually centered in yourself and then you can deploy it as it’s useful as opposed to that being home base. So I completely with that and actually makes a lot of sense why I was so drawn to you to your work. I was like, Oh, we share a lot of the same underlying patterns here. So that’s really, really cool.
Will 00:06:05 Bring that out. And honestly, you know, and there’s a whole like idea around this feeling that we’re talking about. And, um, I had been doing this work, you know, building my company of rec for years, but I didn’t understand this term called placemaking until like, I don’t know, maybe a year and a half ago, maybe two years ago when I started designing our brand new facility.
Andrew 00:06:26 Think about that because, Hey, I’ve never heard that term. Like placemaking, I kind of intuitively get it, but I’d love to have you unpack it a little bit, but I think you’re tapping into something. I was going to ask you a little bit later, but maybe we’ll go there. Now, if I recall correctly from my research, there was a moment where I think you were trying to nap on a couch in the old warehouse and there was the roof was leaking and it was like dripping on your head. And you had this, this insight moment. So tell me that story. What is that?
Will 00:06:51 Let me back up and give some context. Right? So as an entrepreneur, I started my journey in 2012, you know, started my first company with my business partner, David silver, one of my best friends since high school. And essentially we were just, we were these creative kids, all of our best friends were musicians and performers and Dave and I both resonated on, we love to be around creative arts. Like that’s what, you know, for me as a kid helped me just like grow and learn and understand myself. But over time I think Dave and I both really like bonded over the fact that we’re like, yo, if we’re going to do this full time, like we want to actually build livelihoods around, you know, our passions. We have to figure out the business side. So we always were drawn towards that and tried to be that for our creative friends.
Will 00:07:28 So long story short, we found a company called broadsheet music group. It’s a production company, throwing tons of events and creating content specifically to just showcase our creative friends and then whoever else was around. So we ended up going off their own hundreds of shows, you know, for years, five shows a week at one point, just turning it up, man, just crushing. It never sleep in type deal. And over time, you know, I realized that if we wanted to keep doing this, we needed to, you know, find a spot for us to be able to keep that energy potent build the culture. And in the beginning, I first needed a space for me to be like, all right, how do I find a spot where I can, you know, I’m shooting videos at that point, I need backdrops. Right? And I need, you know, a place for me to be able to record for my best friends.
Will 00:08:11 They were making music. So we’re doing all this. I find this warehouse in North Philly. And when I start like really getting serious as an entrepreneur, I’m like, I want to lower my expenses. Like how do I literally put everything into this? So I actually started living out of this warehouse in North Philadelphia, ninth and dolphin for anyone who’s familiar. And you’re totally not supposed to live out of this, out of this spot. Right? Like it’s like an old glass factory or something or window factory. Yeah, no factory. It was a window factory. The landlord actually like caught us at one time and saw that we had beds in there. And he was like, I don’t know what y’all are doing, but this ain’t gonna fly. Get them out of there. So alongside, Cheryl’s sleeping on this couch for like a couple of years as I’m building my business.
Will 00:08:49 And I got to a moment where we had one of the biggest successes at that time for our company while we were still in this production company mindset. And, um, we had this sold out show at a venue called union transfer here in Philly, almost a thousand people. And after the show, you know, it was like a high point, you know, it was like, Whoa, we did it. We did the thing. And then, you know, no one knows I’m living in this warehouse. You know what I mean? Like pseudo homeless. And I get, and I get back there. Right. And like, you know, people know who I am, I’m throwing these events and parties, but I get back to it
Speaker 2 00:09:20 Just like promoter guy, right. Everybody around town knows you. You’re at all the shows. They’re like, wow, that’s cool. Yeah.
Will 00:09:25 Well, you know, behind the scenes, I go back and I crash on this couch in the warehouse and we’re on the fourth floor of the super old building, you know, built in the early 19 hundreds. And literally there’s this it’s raining super hard and there’s a leak
Speaker 2 00:09:38 In the roof and it’s literally just like smacking me in the face, not trying to sleep and like Chinese water torture from your building. That’s, that’s exactly how it felt. Right? Yeah.
Will 00:09:47 It was like, I can’t just sleep. So I woke up and then I started to kind of question myself in that moment. It’s like the emotional roller coaster of like the high point we did the thing made some money. Right. Everyone’s happy. But then I’m like soaked because I’m sleeping on this couch,
Speaker 2 00:10:03 Didn’t get sleeping in. I’m hoping like the landlord doesn’t show up in the morning and kick me out
Will 00:10:07 And all this. And I’m just like, why am I doing all this? Right. Like why, what is this, what the hell am I doing? What is this all about? And I realized that the thing that kept me in that warehouse was it was the only place I felt like in my life where I could really design the environment to then create myself to be who I wanted to become. Right. I had all the control of what’s, what tools are in this space. Right. I had everything I needed. We didn’t have a lot, but I had my backdrop, my boy had his recording studio. We had our couch, which almost like acted as our like co-working space, right. Where we would just have the conversations to, to create ourselves as the entrepreneurs you want, wanted to be. And we’d be on YouTube university studying hard late night. And there was just an energy in there that was unadultered to be what we wanted it to be. That was the moment where I’m just like
Speaker 3 00:10:54 Yo space. And I’ll never forget.
Speaker 2 00:10:58 I literally called my boy, Dave, like super early in the morning,
Will 00:11:01 Just like bro. And I go, he goes, bro. And I go, you ready to be a millionaire?
Speaker 2 00:11:10 Yeah. And I go space.
Will 00:11:13 And he’s like, okay. And then I started to unpack this idea and I’m just like, yo man, like, that’s what we’re all missing. Like we’re all running around to these various venues, dive bars and you know, trying to find a place for us to get in and do our thing when, and honestly, if I can be super transparent, a lot of those venue owners in the beginning, they didn’t want us there, but they knew that like, Oh, well my Tuesday, my Tuesday night is dead. So hopefully these guys will help me bring some bar sales in. But it was that idea of always needing to try to find something that you couldn’t get access to. Right. That I, yeah. Not having that supportive community structure, that idea of not having a consistent place for you to then be able to do what you were doing was important.
Will 00:11:51 So we just started doing that work. Then that ended up leading us to build a model of rec, which I’m sure we’ll talk about a bit more later. But later I learned that that whole concept is called placemaking and more specifically creative placemaking, which is essentially this field of study. That’s all about using art and media to essentially drive the impact of a person or community that you want to see. So it’s like, how do we use this idea of place and space and environment to drive change, which later then I realized like, that’s what, like, you know, civic design is all about. That’s what architecture is about. And it blew my mind where it was like, yo architecture is not about building buildings with bricks. Architecture is about designing an experience to allow something to happen, to allow a change in a person or a community. And after that I was like,
Andrew 00:12:43 Oh, I love that I was doing it intuitively, but now I’m like,
Will 00:12:48 Oh man. And, and that’s it right? Like, so I got to dive in and do that work. Now it’s just about how do I use that understanding and this idea of, of another field of study. I love called ontological design to then drive the behavior shifts and help our members become the people they want to be
Andrew 00:13:05 Cut back that ontological design in just a second, because now that I, now that we kind of got this on the table, I’m like, Oh, okay, this is starting to make sense to me. Right. I can see young will always feeling like he didn’t quite belong anywhere, which is a feeling I totally resonate with. Like that was how I grew up too. Like I know that feeling of being an outsider and all the places you’re supposed to feel like an insider and always looking for your place and then eventually hitting that point. If you’re like, well, shit, if it’s not out there, I guess I have to make it. So that makes perfect, perfect sense to me. Let’s let’s do a quick foundation about like what rec is so that the listener has the context. So why don’t you just really quick explain what is rec for anyone who’s not familiar with it
Will 00:13:39 Simplest way to explain it is essentially this company of rec it’s an acronym for resources for every creator, best way to talk about it. I call it a gym membership for creatives, right? So this idea that you go to the gym, why, why? Because you got some fitness goals and you know that they have the tools for you to go and, you know, work towards your goals, get on the treadmills, get on the bench press. But secondly, you go there because there may be some people who know more about the actual exercise routines that you need to conduct to achieve those goals, right? The trainers. And then third, there’s a super powerful reason. People go to the gym that we don’t talk about as often. And that’s like that social accountability, right? The hardest part of going is just getting to the gym. But once you’re there and you see people putting in the work, you know, going hard, you’re like, you know what?
Will 00:14:22 I can do that extra rep today. You know what I mean? Or maybe you just see that beautiful lady or handsome guy. And you’re like, you know what, can’t let them see me sweat. I got to get these extra reps in. So that idea is clear to us when it comes to the gym, but for creatives, you know, and specifically for creative people who also care just as much about the business side of the art, right. And really building a livelihood, it’s like, where do we go? Right. Where we can have access to all the creative tools that we need, because once you get out of the college circuit, even if you go to a college, right, like you don’t have to your school studios and all that anymore. So it’s like, where do I go to have access to creative tools? And who do I go to to really learn the fundamentals of how I build a business around my passion, right?
Will 00:15:01 Who’s talking about this stuff. And finally now, you know, in 2012, we weren’t the finally, now we’re talking about the importance of ownership for artists and equity in what they’re creating, but they’re really, we weren’t talking about that. No one was really given the game. So we wanted to have all sorts of educational programming for that. And then finally, again, this idea of it’s, we’re a community more than anything else, community of creative people who understand that balance between art and commerce, right? Like business and culture. And, uh, we just want to be a brave space for those people to convene, collaborate, and be able to build their businesses in a way that we can all win. I really want to actually touch into this. Now
Speaker 4 00:15:39 You, you kind of like baited me with this. What, what is ontological today?
Will 00:15:44 Yeah. So, um, shout out to Jason Silva, who is an awesome creator in his own right. Philosopher. Even he uses Epic. Yeah. Right. Shots of all used to inspire me all the time, but he introduced me to this idea called ontological design. And basically what it says is it reminds you that design inherently is actually a two-part process. Right. And unfortunately, most people think of design as a one part process. Like the first part, which means, you know, and the best example is like, you know, Steve jobs and his team designed this iPhone. Right. And he decided I want it to look like this, feel like this and have all these features. And now we’re like, I love that. Thank you. But that’s really only the first part of the process. The reality is now that I have this iPhone and it’s been designed by somebody, the fact that I have it now designs me back.
Will 00:16:34 Right. So for example, I don’t know many of my best friend’s phone numbers, maybe besides like, I know like my grandmother’s phone number, I know like Dave’s phone number, you know, cause I’ve seen it so many times, but I don’t have to know people’s phone numbers anymore because this thing’s gonna, you know, bring it up when I need it. And like, you know, I don’t have to know how to get certain places. Cause I know the GPS is going to hold me down and I got it. Right. And there’s endless other behaviors if we really wanted to dig in that we could really analyze. But the reality is most people don’t think about that. Right. Like once I have something, cause it’s been designed in a specific way, how is it then going to design me back right. And have an impact on how I navigate the world, how I see myself.
Will 00:17:13 So when I learned about that, I started to think, well, okay. So let’s think about the second part of the process first. Who do I want to become? Or what result do I want to see in, you know, the people I serve and then what could I do to design a thing that can make that outcome that much more possible? So I brought that to the business. So like we’re super intentional with like the educational programming and literally every detail about our space. But then I also applied that to even like my personal life, like who do I want to spend my time around? You know, like what people should I have access like give access to me in my life and who should I, where do I want to live? How does feeling there make me feel right? Like all those things. And it really just changed my life and my, and my outlook.
Andrew 00:17:55 I love that so much because it’s bringing, you’re bringing this level of intentionality that I think is fantastic. You know? And when you and I were talking a couple of weeks ago, you said something really, really powerful when you said this, I was like, Oh shit, he’s tapped in. Like he’s, he’s really tapped into where, where he’s going and where they’re going and the change you’re trying to make in the world. And I’d love you to talk a little bit about that because what you said it to me, I can say it, but I think it’s so much more powerful to hear it from you about who it is. You want people to become in the places you you’re making.
Will 00:18:24 Mm that’s beautiful look, man. Yeah. I have to first say this, right. Like for me, when I, when I first started the company of rec, you know, we co-founded this business, it was all about impact at first, you know, and still is. So for us, like as a leader, we had to have this level of responsibility and intentionality, you know, to do the thing. But ultimately, you know, I just want to use rec as a vehicle to dispel this myth of the starving artist. Right. And I want folks to be able to walk into our space as a creative and just rethink what’s possible, right? Like to one, see what resources and community is available to them. But also because they even see that the space exists and who built it. Right. But they’ve are 29 years old and, you know, but, and for them to be able to see us and the rest of the community and see themselves, and then to be able to take that power and that ownership to know that they can manifest whatever it is, their desires and dreams are.
Will 00:19:23 That’s, what’s important. So, you know, the goal of rec is to be able to build this community of folks who see and acknowledge themselves as community leaders who are ready to serve their audiences and communities in whatever way that they see fit and be able to build this interdependent network of independent creators all over the world that can be able to collaborate and bring all, all this change about, you know, that’s essentially what it’s about. So I love business. And one of the things that I learn just being in the spaces that I exist in is some of the folks, especially folks who look like me, but some folks who just maybe don’t have a lot of business savvy or especially don’t have like economic standing. Sometimes we like to believe that like business itself is just like this super like dirty thing, you know?
Will 00:20:10 And, and for me, I think business has always been a great tool for change, right? If you use it properly, you know, I can also say some of the folks who have been at the helm of business have been doing some pretty terrible things. But for me, I want to make sure that folks understand the power of business because for most of our community, we care deeply about social change, social impact and all those things. And I want us to be able to have the confidence in the, in the ability and the capability and the resources to be able to use business as a tool for the change that we all want to see. So if our space just becomes an incubator for change in that way, you know, and folks are changing their livelihoods and maybe the trajectories of their family and their legacy, then you know, my job here is done and I can sleep good at night, you know,
Andrew 00:20:54 That’s awesome. That’s it. Let’s actually go into that a little bit, because that is really central to a lot of the ethos of this podcast is that we have this set of tools as leaders. Like we have a whole range of tools at our disposal to try to make things better. Right. I think if people who listen to this show with any regularity are people who are deeply interested in making better futures and how do we do that? And so I think this is a really interesting way, like a lens to look through it, how we can do that. So we were starting to talk a little bit about like the REC Philly side of how you do that, right. You’re creating this creative placemaking. I love to hear you talk a little bit about how you help people think through making the impact they seek to make. And for that matter, a lot of people I’m guessing, cause this I’ve seen this come with a sense of a desire for impact, but a non-specific desire. And I’m curious if you could talk to me a little bit about how you walk people through that process because it’s
Will 00:21:47 Yeah. That’s yeah, absolutely. So for us, you know, over the course of the last few years, I’ve had the privilege to work really closely with so many creatives across different disciplines and all different places in their careers. And over time it was important for us to then go and develop this curriculum. Essentially, we, you know, I wrote this 10 chapter curriculum that I believe are all the ideas we need to understand as creatives to do the thing, which is build an audience, you know, build the brand and gaze out audience properly using the tools that we have digitally and then be able to get to the place, which is the most intimidating sometimes for us as creatives, which is monetizing. But all of that curriculum it starts off with the first chapter is called, is entitled. Who were you? And all about the self-awareness part of the journey it’s like before we even got to talk about business and about audience building and all this stuff, it’s like first let’s get really in touch with who you are and who you aren’t, what lights you up, you know, like, because I really believe that like, if you’re gonna build your business through this lens, that I see it of like community building, right.
Will 00:22:48 It’s first, it comes down to who are you? And like, how do you really get clear on what your purpose is throughout all of this? You know, based on, I don’t know, whatever experiences you have and whatever gifts you have and then how do we boil that down? So that chapter is all about self-awareness and we go to things like archetypes and, you know, we really start to talk about branding from this perspective of what’s your truth and what are you here to do? You know, and for artists, I think that’s so important because sometimes we get lost in the sauce of like trying to just develop our skillset, right? The actual skills without actually developing and getting clear on the message. And for me, I believe all my favorite artists have always had a very defined message and then their skill and the talent was really just the medium at which the message could be communicated through.
Will 00:23:37 You know? And, and also, I kind of want to show this too. I didn’t really say this a few minutes ago, but you know, again, I think with RAC, like one of the things that we’re really looking do is like empower artists because I think artists and like the innovators, the people who are creating something that doesn’t exist, like those are the people who are a little bit closer to the truth and, you know, and that have the courage to then share it. So I just want to live in a world where like, those folks have access to everything they need to then bring about that change. Cause they’re, they’re courageous enough to put that truth out there for people and let them resonate with it as they will.
Andrew 00:24:09 Yeah, no, I resonate so strongly with what you’re saying, because I want to live in a world where people are deeply connected to themselves and that they’re able to spend their days developing and expressing the best of who they are and matching making, like basically contributing their ideas into the world and making them real. Because I think there’s so many people who have such great ideas, but they’re like, that’s a driving attention for me is how do you help people realize that their ideas, their dreams, et cetera matter, and how do you actually help them bring those into the world? So I love that what I have seen personally in, in both my own lived experience and also in people I’ve had conversations with as to failure points or not failure points, struggle points. One is going from the general sense of, I want to make an impact to, I want to make this impact. And then the second one is choosing an audience. I’d love you to dive in on that first one, because I meet so many people and I’ve struggled with this too. So this is also a selfish question of, you know, you have this broad sense of impact you want to make, how do you help people really narrow that down and ground that into, okay, I want to make this impact on this type of person.
Will 00:25:13 Yeah, man. That’s, that’s like, honestly, if I had to, you know, if I just gave some gratitude to one of the things that I think has helped me so much in my entrepreneurial career, it’s been the fact that I knew the answer to this question for me at a really early age, because so clear my North star was there. And literally like everything I was doing in my life is like trying to get any closer to achieving that set impact. And to be honest for me, those two points that you highlighted are really intertwined for me. And here’s why, you know, I think when we think about building a business, there’s two ways to think about it, right? The first and traditional way of building a business is, you know, someone’s like, Hey, I have this idea for a product, right. Or I have idea for this service and then they build it.
Will 00:25:57 And then the second part goes, all right, now let me go find out who needs what I just built. Right. And that’s cool. That’s like the old school way. But I believe that in today’s day and age, especially with the internet, especially for folks who are as passionate driven and, you know, care as much as we do, we have the ability to do it differently and the way that we chose to do it at rec and you know, and for me specifically, I’ve always been about, Hey, who do I want to be valuable to? Right. Like who do I care about and how do I want to be valuable to them? Right. Like first if I know who I want to care about, like if I know I care about who I want to be valuable to, I can get close enough that we can have real conversations and I can understand them and understand their problems and their challenges.
Will 00:26:36 And then I can use my gifts to then build the thing that I know is gonna, gonna help and make that impact. And that’s what I’ve been able to do. And I think that’s like the way we should do it. And again, the easiest part is if you are a part of that group in which you want to serve, right? Like I’m about creative entrepreneurs. Why? Because that’s who I am. That’s my come from. So I’m very intimately understanding of the challenges that we face as creative entrepreneurs, you know, like other people can gain, you know, insight from the stories I’m sharing, but like that’s who I am. So I know that’s what I’m best positioned to serve. And I think that makes it simpler for me to wake up every day and go to work. And then secondly, you know, we actually developed this tool that we use at rec called the artist’s statement, which is essentially, almost just like this North star that we challenge everyone to create it’s chapter two of the curriculum, because it keeps things so clear.
Will 00:27:26 And what the artist statement is, it’s essentially the same tool that most businesses create as a mission statement. Right. And essentially the framework, you know, if I shared mine with you, it’s it would be, I create experiences for creative entrepreneurs to feel empowered when they’re turning passion into dollars. Right. So I’ve done the work to just get it that clear. So I can tell you in one sentence, without telling you, like, I got a space, I do the events, I have clients that pay artists to make money. And it’s just, boom. Here’s what I’m about. Because at the end of the day, like there’s always going to be tons of opportunities on the journey, but there’s also going to be a shit ton of distractions. Right. And for me, the only difference between the two of those is one gets you closer to the end goal and one doesn’t. So we use that tool of the artist’s statement to help folks just like have that clarity of mind. So any decision you make, if it makes your artist statement true, cool. That’s a good opportunity. But if it doesn’t and you know, you’re wasting your time. So
Andrew 00:28:21 I love that. Is this curriculum like open source? Is this online? Anywhere people can check it out.
Will 00:28:25 So it’s online right now. It’s um, specifically for our members. So we were compiling the whole curriculum into a book that’s actually gonna be released at the top of 2021. So I’m super excited. Yeah. First book I’ve written. So I’m super, just pumped in. I know it’s going to help tons of people, but yeah, right now our members all have access to it, which is super dope. And they’re giving me feedback on it in real time, which is great. But if you’re interested in it, um, feel free to, you know, stay tuned, make sure you’re following us. Cause we’re going to drop that next year. Yeah. A hundred
Andrew 00:28:53 Percent. And if you want another beta reader, let me know. I’ll I’m super
Will 00:28:56 Interested, dude. You got a manuscript coming your way then.
Andrew 00:28:58 Hell yeah. I love that. Very cool. Well, I cannot wait to read that book. I’m super stoked about that. I really am into this idea. You said to me, when we first met, you talked to me about how you’re really somebody who has passion. You just you’re, you live at the intersection of entertainment and economics and social change at art. You’re this sort of interesting multihyphenate person. I think it’s really interesting how you’re really explicitly and intentionally and out loud building the world that brings together all the hyphens that you’ve read that you are right. Because most of us do the opposite. Like we’re we’re multihyphenate. And so we go out into these different silos and you’re saying, no, let me invert it. Let me just bring all those titles into one place and then see what, like what emerges in that mix. And that’s intentional
Will 00:29:42 Because I know what the silo life is like, you know what I mean? And honestly, like, I think that’s what leads us into the trap of like, you’re doing the nine to five that like pays the bills. But for real, for real, you don’t really stand for what the company stands for in the work that you’re doing. So then when Friday comes, you want to forget about the whole week and just want to escape it. Right. And all of these ways that do that. And like, I want to make sure I’m living in a way where like I wake up in the morning and like, I’m just proud to go do what I’m going. Do, you know? And I just feel like as humans, we become more whole, when we have the ability to navigate in that way, as opposed to being like, you know, checked out in a third of our life, right. Because we’re just an ends to a meet or a means to an end, you know?
Andrew 00:30:23 Yeah. That’s so essential for, I mean, you look at the levels of disengagement, you look at the levels of depression and mental illness in the world. This is big stuff. I’ve said this to, you know, people who are about to graduate college so many times where it’s like, I cannot begin to express to you how important it is that you actually enjoy on a fundamental level, the things you do in your work, like separate from the money. Like there is almost no amount of money that if you hate what you do every day, that is going to make it worth it. I think people don’t fully appreciate the level of that impact. And so then they, they have to resort to the types of escapism you’re referencing.
Will 00:30:59 Yeah. And, and I do want to be clear about this. I want to be sure that we’re not coming across as the kumbaya. Like I love everything about every day. Like that’s not it cause like, you know, sometimes I gotta answer emails. Do I enjoy answering emails? No, I don’t. Right. Let’s just not where I get lit up. But I do know that answering the emails is going to help me drive the impact I want to see. Right. Which for creators to have that ability to make money through what they love to do. And I think that’s the importance, right? Like on the macro, the why has to be there. So then that way, when it gets tough and you have to do the little tasks that maybe you don’t want to do, you have the courage and the inspiration to push through when you’re into the mission.
Andrew 00:31:41 Yeah. I mean, it’s the truth that most of anything is a grind.
Will 00:31:44 Yeah. That’s it. But you know, what, what helps the grind and the struggle is perspective.
Andrew 00:31:51 Yes. That’s a really good way to say it. There’s a story I’d love you to share, you know, you and Dave went through a really interesting experience like we’re building Rex since 2014 and then about, I think it was about a year ago, you raised a significant funding round to expand your operations, new facility, et cetera. And then a pandemic kit and everything you had built was pretty much predicated on a in-person place. And so I would love to hear about what has that been like for you? And what’s that journey been of having to pivot a business three months in to an basically a whole new thing with a whole bunch of new investors and all that.
Will 00:32:24 Yeah, man, it’s, it’s been a roller coaster to say, I can only imagine it’s, but I will say 2020 has been the best learning experience of my life. Vision for rec was born in 2014. We incorporated in 2015 built this space in the warehouse, the membership program for about three years or so, you know, got to a certain point. And then after having like 450 active members in this warehouse, no heat, no AC fourth floor. Walk-up, that’s how, you know, you’re out of something by the way. No, seriously. Like when it’s summertime and it’s like Saturday afternoon and it’s like 90 degrees and we have no AC and people are coming up four flights of stairs to get information on a Saturday. Like we knew that we were solving a problem.
Speaker 2 00:33:07 Yeah. But anyway, so that gave us
Will 00:33:09 Confidence to say, Hey, you know, we’re clearly, you know, meeting a need here. This is something folks want. And obviously as creatives, we have this knack to like, make anything into like what we need. But I did think that there was going to be a point where it was like, no, that we need to be able to build it with a level of intention that, that we know that our creatives deserve. So that gave us the confidence to go out and do our seed round of fundraising. First time we ever raised money in this way, outside of like a failed Kickstarter a few years back. But yeah, in total we raised about $3.5 million, you know, did the construction build a beautiful facility, 10,000 square feet in center city opened in December for our grand opening really started moving in January. And then literally early March, we get the word and they’re like, y’all gonna have to close your doors. And honestly, I feel like I went through every phase of grief, you know, that,
Speaker 2 00:34:01 You know, in the sad news, the anger and the, for the heaviest was the denial. We not going to close. You don’t have to close for this thing. And then when South by South
Will 00:34:10 Less guy canceled, which is one of our agencies like biggest activations every year, I was like, Oh, this is great. It honestly put me in a beautiful position as a co-founder to take a step back and say, yeah, you’re caught up in the glitz and glamor and the beauty of the space. It’s dope. You just work so hard to make this possible. But the reality is now is the opportunity to take a step back and say, why did we start? Why do we exist? And that feeling that we have committed to giving our members, how do we do that outside the confines of the four walls of the space? You know, we’re a membership, right? So folks are paying every month to have access. So if your gym closes and you can’t go there, there’s a real question you want to ask yourself of, is this something I still want to be paying for?
Will 00:34:53 So we took the step back and, you know, overnight, you know, I’m really proud of our team. You know, we were able to shift, we were doing like 20 events a month. At that time overnight, we shifted everything to virtual, you know, to make sure folks had access to the education. But then, you know, beyond that, we realized that there was other needs that our community had at that time. And our positioning is to meet the needs of our community members. You know? So what Dave and I decided to do was say like, yo, let’s just pick up the phone and call people, you know, like two founders are just like, yeah, we got at that time, I dunno, maybe 800 or so members, maybe something like that. And like, yo, let’s pick up these phones and let’s just start calling and say, yo, how are you?
Will 00:35:32 How are you navigating? What do you need? Because our community is, you know, I would say like some of the effected when we think about like performing artists, photographers, right? Like if you can’t get out to shoot a wedding in person, like your revenue is shot, you know? So for us it was like, all right, well, what do folks need right now? And then how do we step up in a way that maybe we’re best positioned to? And that led us to a bunch of initiatives that we never would have done unless we had this opportunity. And it’s honestly strengthen our community in a way that, you know, we, we, couldn’t be more proud of.
Andrew 00:36:04 I love that. I really want to applaud you for a having done the work to be that clear because I feel like most people have not. And I think you’re a really good example of someone who has done the work and put in the work so that when stuff gets hard, you can actually fall back on that and say, okay, I can be agile in how this is being implemented, but I still know what I’m doing. I still know my North star. I know what we’re about. I just think that’s a fantastic, fantastic example of that.
Will 00:36:28 And there were results like showed, right? Like, you know, these are the things that are, we did things that were super unscalable, right? Like, you know, one of the things that came out of that, a lot of folks who are like, yo, I love y’all. This is all dope, but like I’m tapped for cash. And I know I don’t have no revenue coming in. I don’t know when it’s coming, you know? So we said, yeah, let’s roll up our sleeves. And one, it folks need to freeze. Let’s let them freeze and we’re not going to penalize them for it. So we froze a bunch of accounts, but then we went further than that. And we said, yo, we’re really beautifully positioned in between the creative community and the traditional business community. So let’s go knock on doors and talk to all the people who have said with the lip service, we care about creatives.
Will 00:37:06 We want to support art, right. And you know, here is the time here is a clear way for you to contribute. And what ended up happening, we were able to raise over $25,000 in micro grants that we specifically got to give directly into the hands of creators. So we ran that campaign, a whole campaign that we called rec relief. A lot of folks, you know, took tons of value from that, whether it was, you know, for them to get free memberships or for them to literally get cash because they wanted to pay the light bill, you know, like that matters. And you know, there was some other initiatives too, but on the other side of that, when we did get the ability to open our stores back up on August 1st, we had to like, make sure we were clear on all the policies and procedures to keep people safe because our creators were coming back like immediately, you know, like since we’ve reopened, we’ve been doing about 200 sessions a week and it’s just this thing that like, people realize like, yo, I’m a part of this, this space, but really it’s the community. And that was a time for us to show and prove that like, it’s bigger than just the transactional, give us your membership payment. Like we want to make sure that you, as a whole person are taken care of. And honestly, I don’t know how many businesses can really say that right. Where they’re taking care of their folks, even when it’s like, Hey, bottom line for the business, doesn’t say that this might be the right move.
Andrew 00:38:19 Right. That’s awesome. I am so, so impressed by that. So good for you. And thank you for doing that and being that example. I want to ask you really quickly about something that I didn’t expect to ask you about, but now that you’ve mentioned it a few times, I really would love to hear a little bit about your partnership with Dave because business partnerships are notoriously difficult and I know a lot of people and I’ve been through it too, where it didn’t work out. And I’m really curious about, I mean, you’ve, you guys have been partners now for coming on a decade. I think, how do you make it work? Like what, what is it, how do you guys make this work?
Will 00:38:50 Oh, that’s crazy. I don’t think I’ve ever like internalized that it’s almost a decade. Yeah. Yeah. We started our first business in 2012. So we’re getting there soon. Yeah. And then also, you know, the other thing they say, some people say, you know, you don’t want to go into business with your friends, you know, but fortunately for us, you know, Dave and I had been best friends since 10th grade, so we know each other, you know what I mean? And I think the beauty of it is we’ve seen each other at our best and our worst, you know, before the business. And obviously the business has been able to amplify that and so many ways for better and for worse. But again, you know, I think I really, I have to give the credit to us one, having both that clarity and I do wholeheartedly know that we are aligned on the grand vision of we want to create impact and we know who we care about.
Will 00:39:35 You know, we share that in common. So that’s kind of just like the bloom, the rock. And then next to that, it’s, we honestly are very like complimentary, you know, always wanting to wear an opposites. And the usual challenge of that is not present for us because we have a true respect for each other’s gifts. You know what I mean? Like what Dave is good at is not what I’m good at, you know? And, and I’m saying like, what I’m good at is, or not things he could do. And instead of like, you know, having that be a thing that like we would, you know, be afraid to embrace, we embrace it from the, from the jump, you know, even just being super blunt and honest about it. Like I know as we were building the business, I always knew there were rooms that like he can walk in and have certain conversations and get an outcome that I couldn’t just based off of the world that we live in.
Will 00:40:22 And like the humans that we have to interact with. Right. And same vice versa. Like there’s places that I could walk in and be able to build relationships that they’d look at him sideways, like who is this dude? Right. And instead of like, pretending that didn’t exist, we were like, no, no, no, we’re going to put ourselves, put each other in the best positions to be successful. And because of that, we’ve literally been able to create partnerships, relationships, and experiences that no one else could, because we are essentially standing on different sides of this bridge, telling both people on both sides know this is a great safe spot for us to do work. And, you know, like literally like it, it’s, it’s special, you know, and I’m really grateful for where it has not been without challenge, you know? And also I want to just shout out like Gino Wickman and his co author for the book they wrote, because there’s a book that really changed the game for us as partners, which came from a book called traction.
Will 00:41:18 And then more specifically a book called rocket fuel, which talks about how most organizations do need two different types of leaders. One being like the visionary, which is how I see myself, big vision product, where are we going? But then also we need the skillset of an integrator, which is more of like, all right, if that’s where we’re going, what’s step one, step two, who needs to be on the bus and what seat. Right. And, and, and all of those sorts of things. And we’ve been able to come to respect that about each other. And then rocket fuel really gave us the language and understanding it’s not just personal. These are the challenges that these types of roles will face as they try to do extraordinary things.
Andrew 00:41:55 Yeah. A hundred percent. Thank you for bringing that up. I read that book years ago and it’s come up so many times and I’m like, okay, there’s, there’s a, there, there, there’s something there. That’s really cool. And it’s, again, it speaks to the self-awareness you both have of saying, okay, we have differences. Let’s make them an asset, not a problem. That’s really great. I want to shift gears here and start to close out with some rapid fire questions. The first question is, what is the thing, you know, best.
Will 00:42:18 Ooh, that’s a, that’s a great question. Wow. What is the thing I know best, man. Yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked this question in this way. What’s coming up for me though is like my existence. And my passion is in the intersection of multiple things. And I think because of the way I’ve lived, I’ve been good at building various skill sets and then navigating in that way. But what I know best is how to navigate the intersection of culture and economics like that. That’s what, that’s what I know best. Like I think I’ve just been built and I’ve been groomed to be a community leader and a community participant. Cause I know what it looks like to not have community. And then I’ve, I’ve trained myself to start to understand economics and the humanity and psychology that go into that. So that’s what I, I think that I know best. I know that intersection between culture and economics,
Andrew 00:43:13 We’ve talked a lot in this conversation about the North star for you and who you want, the people you serve to become as you’re serving them, who do you want to become?
Will 00:43:23 Oh, I love that as I’m serving them, who I want to become is the best version of me simply put, you know, I want to become a more, self-aware a more, you know, just disciplined creative, you know, and as a creative, I admit discipline is always like that X factor. You know, I definitely have it on the macro, but on the micro, like I really want to make sure I can continue to lean into that. And I, and honestly I want to just be a more, you know, all the, all the little things like is actually what I care about. Like, I want to be a better brother. I want to be a better son. I want to be a better, like, you know, this leader to the people who look up to me, but then if I want to make that tangible outside of just the personal relationships, honestly, I know that like, you know, rec we’re going to build this thing and it’s going to be incredible blessing. We’re going to take this, you know, international next I’ll probably go build something else. But I know eventually I want to become a person who, you know, who can help water and incubate other folks, his ideas and help their dreams come possible through the lens of like VC. I do think that that’s a calling of mine being able to step in and, you know, just give guidance and strategy and capital to creators with great ideas to change the world as well.
Andrew 00:44:32 So I love it. You are also becoming rocket fuel. My friend,
Will 00:44:36 I’m here for you, man.
Andrew 00:44:38 It’s funny when you said the title of that book, I’m like, well, that’s kind of what you do. I was like, that’s kind of what you’re doing too is you guys are rocket fuel, so that’s, that’s fun. Here’s another one. What is a quote or a saying that’s important to you? And what about it speaks to you?
Will 00:44:53 All right. I’ll give you two. So the first one that immediately popped into my mind is I only have one tattoo and this is it on either of my arms right here. And right here, it’s my favorite quote. And it says he who says he can, and he who says he can’t are both correct. I think that’s such a powerful quote because you know, I’ll just speak for myself. I know when I was a kid, you know, I saw a lot of people doing things and like I saw, you know, a lot of people had money. A lot of people didn’t have money and I was trying to always figure out why. Right. And, and I think that this idea of like self-belief, and just knowing that you can, can change the outcome of something like our whole heart. If you don’t think you can, like, there’s no way that you will, because that’s the mindset that’s going to breed the thoughts that then breed the actions and the behaviors that are going to breed the actual outcomes. That’s where Matt, I think is super important. And if I could just leave one message with someone like that would be it because, you know, like Steve jobs says everything that was built around us was created by someone no smarter than,
Andrew 00:45:55 Yeah. That’s like one of my all time favorite, right? These little, little clips,
Will 00:45:59 Heavy hitters, that one. And then he also had, uh, you know, the, the world will be changed by the people who were crazy enough to believe that they can like, yep.
Andrew 00:46:06 Yeah. That’s my talking bombs
Will 00:46:09 For sure. Okay. So the second quote I would have to share as well as the one that really is like the mantra of req, which is independent doesn’t mean alone. You know, coming off the backs of he who says he can, you know who he says he can’t are both correct. I also want to make sure folks don’t go into isolation mode to think that because they’re on a journey, they have to be on that journey by themselves. I do think success is a team sport and understanding that, you know, as you’re on your journey, if you can find, if you have the blessing to find folks who are heading in that same direction with a similar North star, you know, you’ll, you’ll get there too, you know, much more effectively together than you will on your own
Andrew 00:46:47 To you. What is the distinction between independent and interdependent? I don’t want to say
Will 00:46:52 They’re not opposites. Right? I think it’s one comes and then the other, so I think independent is, you know, I think of this idea of agency sovereignty, right? Like you’re in control, you’re making the decisions, right. And then with that, you’re also willing to be accountable for the outcomes. Right? If there’s insight you’re making, to me, interdependence is when a group of folks have built that independence, where they can, you know, manifest and do for themselves. But then they choose to then leverage that in community to be in service to the whole, instead of just solely themselves. Right. And I believe yo first, make sure you’re good. Put your own mask on first. But then after that, you have to understand, you know, another great quote, you know, there’s an African proverb that says, if you want to go fast, if you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far go together. So to me, interdependences okay. I’m good. But now how do I share my gifts? My skills, my time, my talent, my treasures, to be in service of the greater good for more people.
Andrew 00:47:54 All right. I love it. Last question is if you could give the listener homework and maybe that homework is like a question to start asking themselves on a regular basis or a practice to take on, what would you give them?
Will 00:48:08 Here’s your homework, the listener. And I earnestly hope that you take me up on this. This is something that I started doing that has changed my game as a human and as a business owner. So the homework is, you know, sometimes we get really in our head about, you know, the things we want to see happen and the change we want to see the homework is to sit with yourself, think and journal, you know, maybe let’s try for two pages. And I want you to be extremely clear in what your life looks like in 10 years from now, or whenever you reach that level that you’re after. And we’re all creators here, founders, you know, folks who are striving. So take a moment and think about when you feel you’re going to be comfortable to sit back and be like, okay, this is it. Describe it to me in vivid detail, where are you?
Will 00:48:57 You know, what time are you waking up? What is your day look like, right? What are you doing? Who’s around. Who’s not around, right? What are your habits? What are your behaviors? And write them out, get extremely clear and you know, really start to think about each of the different parts of your life. Like, right. What does your social life look like in that moment? What is the financial life look like in that moment? What is your family life and structure look like in that moment? What are you doing for hobbies for you and go into all those things. And I think that’s going to bring, I know that’ll bring a level of clarity that will again, become a good North star to know if you’re out here getting distracted, or if you’re just taking an earthy, really taken advantage of opportunities, do that. And if it’s valuable for you, come back to that, you know, every quarter, every six months, or, you know, maybe every year to just check in and see where you are along the path.
Andrew 00:49:46 Hmm. I love it. I love it. Well, well, thank you so much for being here. This is an absolute pleasure and I’m so excited for this conversation for our future conversations. So just in closing, if folks want to connect with you with your work, where would you like them to go?
Will 00:49:59 Yeah. So if, if you, you know, like what we’re talking about with rec, if you want to follow us, you can follow us on social media. Instagram is our main platform. It’s at REC Philly, R E C Philly, our website, www dot rec, philly.com again, REC philly.com. And just say, what’s up, you know, and if you’re in a, another city of your creative and you’re like, yo, you guys got to bring that model to our city, let us know. We really want to have serious conversations about that. Because next year we will be doing raise and going to new markets. If you like, what you heard and you want to follow my personal journey, you can do that. I’m on Instagram and Twitter. It’s at the will. Tom’s so that’s T H E will. Last name is Thompson, T O M S. And uh, yeah, have lots of fun on, on Twitter and Instagram sharing my thoughts. So follow me there.
Andrew 00:50:48 We will link to all that stuff in the show notes. So, well again, thank you so much and keep it up, man. I love what you’re doing.
Will 00:50:53 Yeah, man, this has been an awesome conversation and I appreciate you’ve had me on.