After two and a half years of building a startup, I finally chose a title

Two years ago I started on the crazy journey of entrepreneurship with my great friend, Zac Dixon. In that time, we’ve skipped paying ourselves some months, made mistakes, hired employees, had anxiety attacks about making payroll, created a lot of videos, celebrated in good fortune, thanked God for his grace. Now, I’ve taken on a (semi) permanent title. Honestly, this wasn’t an easy decision to make, but for me, it was a very significant milestone in our adventure. Alas, for the time being, I’m the Executive Producer of Identity Visuals.

Co-founder

Over the past few years I’ve loosely held a few different titles. I carried around the title of “Co-founder” for a good amount of time, and it was fitting—I had co-founded our company. However, that title didn’t maintain the permanence that I desired — there are plenty of co-founders who have zero involvement in day-to-day operations of a business.

Director of Photography

Next came “Director of Photography,” a term borrowed from the world of Hollywood filmmaking. The American Society of Cinematographers defines a director of photography as:

“the artist most directly responsible for the visual style of a film.”

This description made sense in my position, after all, I was responsible for everything we created with camera. However, it didn’t take into account the vast number of other responsibilities I performed on a day-to-day basis. In fact, the total amount of time I spent working on video production was probably less than 25% of my day.

CEO

Following Director of Photography, I contemplated assuming the title of CEO. I was managing all of our money, making big sales decisions, determining processes, recruiting talent, and all the other tasks normally assigned to a CEO. While this seemed like the most plausible option to date, I never even jumped on for a test ride. I can’t seem to articulate my aversion to being CEO other than by saying it just didn’t feel right. It felt like I would be leaving everything creative about my role in the dust — things that I truly loved.

Executive Producer

Then I arrived at “Executive Producer,” two and a half years later.

It seemed like the perfect fit. It positions me clearly on the business side of Identity, but doesn’t confine me to that space. No, it doesn’t encompass my role as a cinematographer, but that’s something I’ve consciously decided.

In Hollywood, according to IMDb, an Executive Producer is,

“A producer who is not involved in any technical aspects of the filmmaking process, but who is still responsible for the overall production. Typically an executive producer handles business and legal issues.”

I think that describes my role at Identity extremely well. I’m responsible for the “overall production” of our day-to-day work. I strive to find the most talented crew (employees/freelancers), I make sure we won’t run out of money, and I attempt to fix all the problems.

I’ve often heard the job of a producer be equated with a firefighter battling an eternal flame. Even if you manage to put out the fire on your right, a new fire will manifest on your left. The job of a producer is to keep all the fires subdued until the production can be finished.

That seems a fitting metaphor for running a business as well. Whether you’re a scrappy startup or a fortune 500 company, the role of the person at the top is to mitigate fires. In his book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz gives this piece of advice.

“Tip to aspiring entrepreneurs: if you don’t like choosing between horrible and cataclysmic, don’t become CEO.”

I wouldn’t say we’ve reached the point of making decisions that are either horrible or cataclysmic at Identity, but I’m sure the day will come. Also, let’s pretend he said “Executive Producer” instead of “CEO.”

Inspiration

One of my biggest inspirations for finally making this decision came in the form of Joel Edwards of Evolve IMG. I met Joel while attending a conference in Austin, TX at the end of 2014. He has a passion for shooting beautiful images and making great content, but also served as the head of his company.

Another massive inspiration came from Tyler Ginter of Variable. I’ve looked up to Tyler as an inspiration since even before he started Variable and his role as Executive Producer perfectly displays the role that I would like to play at Identity.

The Difference a Title Makes

Easily the most surprising aspect of finally choosing a title is the difference it has made in how I view myself and my responsibilities. A title does not a man make, but it does help you stay mentally centered on the priorities of your day. While physically, my days at the office haven’t changed much since assuming my title, my mentality at the office has most certainly been altered. In the past, I’ve often been conflicted about what tasks should take priority on any given day, but having a title reminds me what I’m most responsible for completing and what can take a ride in the backseat.

Maybe that’s silly. After all, it’s just two words. But when those two words give definition to your role at the business you’ve spent years building. I think they’re pretty powerful.

Are you an entrepreneur? Have you struggled with assigning a title for yourself? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.


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Samuel Cowden is an Executive Producer at Identity Visuals, a Nashville-based video production and motion design studio.

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