Achievement Isn’t the End of Your Journey

Krisstina Wise interviews Lyn Graft

Hi, I’m Krisstina Wise, and welcome to the Wealthy Wellthy life where I interview thought leaders who teach a counter-cultural approach to money, health, and happiness, because a good life is a Wealthy Wellthy life. Today, I interview Lyn Graft. Lyn is a good friend of mine and creator of LG Pictures. Lyn is passionate about storytelling, and he captures the stories of successful entrepreneurs, and shines a light on their perspective. He’s worked with founders of Starbucks, Whole Foods, Paul Mitchell, LinkedIn, Huff Post, Craigslist, and over 500 other companies. He’s produced content for several media, including TV shows, advertising agencies, and multiple Fortune 500 companies. Some of his other clients include Microsoft, Dell, CNBC, and President Obama. Lyn, it’s so much fun to be here with you today, in this capacity. How long have we been friends?

I was just thinking about that last week. Someone had asked how we met, and it’s going on almost 10 years, I think, since around the time that rise in entrepreneurship conference in Austin got started is when we first met.

At that time, you were interviewing me and this time I’m interviewing you. So, it’s come full circle.

Yeah, that was a gallery if you remember. It was a really cool setting and I got to experience the full on Krisstina Wise energy, passion, and spirit that you have.

Although it’s a decade ago, lots has changed for both of us since then, and I really love now where you’ve taken your career and your business. You’ve been behind the scenes; how many entrepreneurs have you interviewed?

It’s over 550 so far and I’ve been doing this for 13 years now.

You started really being a videographer and taking videos but you did more than just take pictures. What you’ve become a master at is pointing stories and passions out in entrepreneurs; you point out that vision, that dream, and allow them to tell it in a story format, getting the backstory. You must have some amazing stories, I guess after listening to this many of founders, entrepreneurs, business owners from very beginning bootstrap startup to some very successful entrepreneurs. Do you have any stories to start this off that really resonate?

One of the first ones that I remember most in my mind, happens to be the first paid project that I ever got, and that was with the University of Texas and IC². My business partner’s mentor was Dr. George Kozmetsky, one of the first billionaires in Texas. We were doing a short video on him to capture a little bit of his story for IC², he was near in the end of his life, his health was failing so they wanted to do a piece to capture a bit of his legacy. He was well-known in Texas as a godfather technology way back in the day.

During the interview he said, “To get a rounded perspective of me, you should interview two of my other mentees, besides just Ingrid Vanderveldt”, who was the on camera talent. She goes “Yeah, that’ll be great.” So I said let’s do it. He said, “Well, they are Michael Dell, founder of Dell, and Red McCombs, the founder of Clear Channel.” In my first ever paid video project as a producer, I got to film 3 billionaires, all on the Forbes 400, and I was mesmerized by the diversity of their stories, the different personalities and spirits that each had. He had this amazing technology academic type person of Dr. Kozmetsky. You had the startups student in his dorm room selling computers out of his bathtub in Michael Dell, and then he had Red McCombs, a person you want as your grandfather. Good old boy, grow up in a small town in Texas with 10 cents to his name and rode a bus to Austin to Athens, Texas.

Hearing those stories and how these very different people became very successful entrepreneurs and capturing that for other people, I was really interested in that. Over time, I realized that my gift was capturing those stories and turning them into videos or short format contents so the people could digest them. In that time I had done about 700 videos filming the founders of Starbucks, Playboy, Whole Foods, BET, The Container Store, some of the most successful people in the world. Bringing their stories to life in a video has not only been an excitement and a passion of mine, it was my gift. I really excelled in that early on, and I’ve been honing that craft ever since.

Let’s take today’s conversation around storytelling, because this is your art. I’d like to talk about it in a context that’s outside of the conventional conversations, when it’s entrepreneurship and business in marketing to the storytelling piece. I believe that storytelling is a missing component of so much of the ‘marketing’ that we put out there as businesses, particularly small businesses and entrepreneurs. Let’s say an entrepreneur is more in the startup phases or they’ve been doing it for a while but it’s just not quite hitting the way they want the business to hit. Why is storytelling such an important piece of this whole mix of putting your brand out in the public market place?

As everyone knows, we’re inundated with information on a regular basis, and it’s only getting worse and worse. What the art of storytelling has is a way to break through that noise, and there’s a lot of research that backs a lot of this up. I listened to a meditation podcast you had a few weeks ago with the founder of Muse — Ariel — and she talked about how meditation has been proven to help increase your attention span, it’s been healthy to cleanse your mind, and how it impacts the brain. It speaks to a lot of what I’ve discovered about storytelling and studying neuroscientist who’s dug deep into this.

There’s a couple of big reasons for that. Number one, whenever you share a piece of information, it typically impacts about two parts of the brain, but when you tell me a story it tends to impact about 7 to 8 parts of the brain. Just in that sheer fact, you sharing the story with me is going to touch more pieces of my brain, more parts of my brain, more synapses are going to be fired, the likelihood of you making some type of connection of me remembering. One cool thing is it also triggers chemicals. Chemicals such as the love potion or oxytocin, the same thing that sex and chocolate triggers, is affected by storytelling in the same way. It brings you into this mesmerizing tale thing that makes a connection with you as a listener.

There’s multiple reasons for that, not only is the brain part of that, but think of it: every culture in the history of man has had storytelling as a part of their ecosystem. It is just ingrained in our DNA that way because we are raised from the very time we are born, before we comprehend what people are saying, our parents are sharing stories with us. We interpret life in the form of a story. The combination of triggering the brain because of impacts, because it’s been ingrained in our DNA since a very early age, all the way through the rest of your life. Stories are always a part of movies, television, books, articles, things that have stories with them, just have a higher probability of making that connection in with you than straight information does.

Lyn you’re exactly right. Primarily, if we go back to the very beginning before writing, that things were passed along in story formats, we are hard-wired for stories and making interpretations or learning lessons or being pulled into the drama one way or another. There’s the plot mountain of telling the story of narrative that tends to be missing in a lot of ‘marketing’.

Yes, and there is one part I like to let people know about. Let’s say the studies are great, the brain is great, the DNA is great, but what really is the deciding factor when it comes to a story or information in my mind, is that story is going to impact the heart. It is going to tap into your emotions, and as much as we like to believe we are analytical thinking, we make our decisions off really smart type of intelligence analysis and observations, most people make decisions based on emotions. Sometimes we’ll justify it with information, but at the end of the day, you’re going with your gut or emotion, and storytelling is the fastest way for me to connect with you, by tapping into those emotions and my storytelling ability.

So much of our life is a story. When we recall or tell any part of our history — ‘his story’ — it’s bringing to life some part of the story of our life and therefore sharing story to story is how we connect, how we resonate. We compare “I’ve been there and done that”, or “I’ve had that same experience” or “I feel something for this because it connects to something that has meaning and importance or history with me too”. If we land on different websites or read different articles, so much of the story is missing and it’s more about this product or this widget, or these bells and whistles, or these features and benefits, and that’s great. But I’m guessing you’ve noticed them like who you’ve worked with, the most successful projects or launches, there’s a big story piece that’s built in to the launch of that product, the launch of that brand.

A week ago, I was having one of my assistants come over to meet with some of your team. As I’m getting ready to come over here I said, “I want you to know about the story behind Krisstina.” I said, “She has a great business. Here’s all the things she does, but let me tell you where the Krisstina Wise brand has really flourished and where Wealthy Wellthy has really developed in my mind.” I told her your story of how you got very sick, and how that moment in time changed everything for you. Even though I’ve always known you as an amazing entrepreneur and a great person to be around, now knowing that backstory to you and what’s happened in the last few years and what you’re doing now, I want everyone that meets you to know that story, because after I share that piece with her, I said, “It’s going to take a couple of minutes,” and I spent about 10 minutes going through it and like, she was like “Oh my God, I got to meet this woman.” I can’t wait to spend some time, I can’t wait to be around you. So having that personal connection to your background changed how she wanted to come here, and it’s very powerful the way to do that.

Let’s really bring it back to one of my favorite stories that really exemplifies how powerful a story can be from a revenue standpoint. Bert and John Jacobs, he’s one of the founders of Life is Good, when he first started his company, they were basically 2 guys living in a van for 5 years traveling around the east coast, printing t-shirts and selling them at colleges and universities and festivals, all along the east coast from Boston in New York, and barely just scraping by. They would just do whatever they could. It was so bad they had to work part time as substitute teachers so they could make the ends meet.

Now you know you’re not making much money, if you make it in your supplementary income from part time instructors. As they’re going around the country, and they spend a lot of time in the road trips talking and sharing stories and they’ve made enough money to pay the bills. On one of the road trips back to Boston after a festival, they got into this discussion in the car about how the news is really negative and everything that they saw on the media was pretty much about how bad stuff was. Anybody tuning into the news knows exactly what I’m talking about. What is radio or television or in the newspaper is usually the bad news is what people reminisce. They started talking about how their mother had a really positive impact on their life when they were children, how every day when their families are going through some really difficult times. At dinner, her mother would go around and say to all the brothers “Tell me something good that happened in your life today.” That infusion of this question of optimism, with always wanting response, that’s how they made their mom smile was telling them a good story about something good that happened in that day, was something that stuck with them for the rest of their life in that point.

So here they are, they’re in this van and they’re saying, “We should do something to infuse optimism in life. Instead of these bad CNN news and other news, let’s do something different.” So they started thinking about what they could do. They’re selling t-shirts with fun, goofy drawings. They got back to their apartment in Boston and they told all their friends about this idea that they had. They wanted to come up with some cool saying that they can put on a t-shirt, and they have other friends come over, they have a cake party and people would draw things on the wall. They they take those ideas and put it to a t-shirt and sell it the next week. That’s really how they came up with ideas. They told other friends this idea, who wanted something optimistic, something fun about life.

Someone had drawn a picture of a stick figure with a smiling face, sunglasses and a beret on the wall, and someone had written next to it on the way out, ‘so this guy’s got it figured out’. It’s just that simple stick figured drawing with a beret, sunglasses — it’s incredibly simple. When they saw that, it was their favorite one. “Man, that’s really cool. We’ve got to put that on a t-shirt.” They started thinking about the different ideas and iterating it that, “Life is good. That’s pretty cool.” They came up with this 3-word saying on a sunglasses-wearing, beret-wearing stick figure. They had $70 in their bank account, they printed up 45 t-shirts, and then went to a festival the next day and sold all 40 t-shirts in 45 minutes. They made more money in an hour than they typically did for a week of selling t-shirts.

That story of optimism shown through or carried through the vehicle of t-shirt changed the entire world for them. It is now what we know the Life is Good brand. They do over $100 million in revenue every year. It’s an international brand known name, known around the world. It’s all because they were able to capture the spirit of optimism and package it in a t-shirt, and that story went with them every day since that time.

But wait…there’s more?!

This post has been adapted from The WealthyWellthy Life podcast. Listen here for the full interview and story of LYN GRAFT and to download a PDF of this entire conversation.

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