How This Entrepreneur Helps Emerging Artists Build Sustainable Businesses
In this ongoing series, we are sharing advice, tips and insights from real entrepreneurs who are out there doing business battle on a daily basis. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Who are you and what's your business?
My name is Byron Ashley and I'm the founder of Settebello Entertainment, a talent and literary management company. In non-entertainment terms, that means we do strategy and operations for entertainers, as well as their projects and businesses. What makes Settebello unique is our focus on multi-hyphenates: our clients can't be put in a specific bucket (i.e. actors, writers, directors) but tend to work in multiple functions within the industry.
We have approximately 15 clients including Nick Viall (host of the People's Choice Award-nominated podcast The Viall Files and former star of ABC's The Bachelor), sports commentator turned Oscar-winning documentary producer Ed Cunningham, and Gavin Thomas, the 10-year-old Minnesota kid who became an A-list celebrity in China and the ambassador for a public CPG company.
We also produced a feature film last year, run influencer marketing for a few other companies, and have a strategic partnership with a Chinese endorsement agency to help Hollywood celebrities get jobs in China.
What inspired you to create this business?
I worked jobs early in my career in both traditional Hollywood (aka the feature film business) and digital Hollywood (aka startups focused on social media content), and found that the two sides didn't embrace one another, to a fault: The traditional firms weren't directing their clients to newer opportunities in the industry, leaving money on the table; and the digital firms were so confident that their work was "the future" that they weren't taking moonshots and properly pursuing film and TV. Clients on both sides were feeling the gap in service, so I set out to change that, and help emerging artists build sustainable businesses by participating in every part of the industry.
What has been your biggest challenge during the pandemic and how did you pivot to overcome it?
While the pandemic was challenging for every industry, entertainment feels like a standout to me: We're in the business that requires large gatherings both to make or products (i.e. a film set) and to consume our products (i.e. a movie theater). As the pandemic began and the amount of content being produced was suddenly reduced to nearly zero, it was clear to me that as a relatively small and new company, fighting for those few slots was not a productive path to real revenue. With that, I focused on briefly changing the type of work my clients emphasized.
I aggressively coached all of my clients to briefly de-emphasize their pitches for film and television, and to prioritize creating content that could be both made and consumed from home: podcasts, live streams, content for social media, etc. With ad dollars being shifted en masse to digital avenues, my clients were well-primed to be the recipients of those budgets. While film and TV are once again major priorities for my company, the emphasis on content that could be made and consumed from home not only kept us afloat during COVID but actually led to us more than tripling revenue in 2020.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs preparing for a pitch meeting?
Nobody wants to be sold anything anymore, people want to collaborate and feel like they're working with your company. Especially these days, everyone has too much stress outside of work to deal with an aggressive sales pitch. The days of Hollywood executives muscling a project into production feel long in the past, and so I try to differentiate myself through collaboration. I believe the companies employing my clients are my clients, too, and I come to them with solutions, strategies, and more than anything, a sense of partnership. We bring an academic approach to a more emotional business: in an industry where deals get closed with raised voices, we close deals with math. We've scaled our business through depth rather than breadth, and we've done that by treating those we sell to as our partners from the minute we meet them, rather than just a one-off transaction.
What does the word "entrepreneur" mean to you?
An entrepreneur is someone whose office goes with them everywhere they go. When life is great, it's because of something great at work, and when life sucks, it's because of something tough at work. Being an entrepreneur means you have no one to turn to but yourself, and that's what's addicting about it.
What is something many aspiring business owners think they need that they really don't?
Over and over again, aspiring entrepreneurs tell me that the one thing holding them back from starting their own business is needing more connections within their industry. Relationships within an industry aren't always the cause of a successful business, but they are often the result of a successful business.
My network today is materially larger than it was when I started my company, and I attribute most of my connections today to the work I've done on my own – I don't know that I would have met so many wonderful people had I been working for someone else, and if I'd been waiting for my network to be what it is today, I may have never started the business.
Is there a particular quote or saying that you use as personal motivation?
"Find the pathway to win, not the excuse to fail." I remind myself of this every morning before starting work. It's easy to say "I called the studio and they just didn't like my client. We're a small business, my client isn't a name, it wasn't meant to be, but at least we tried." It's a lot tougher to find the way to get them to work with your client, but we spend our energy trying to make these unexpected outcomes happen.
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