“I Wish Someone Told me to Remember “Why” You Do it” With Steve Clayton of Soundskilz Group
I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Clayton, who has advanced from being a mobile DJ to producing some of America’s most influential festivals.
Yitzi: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your backstory?
Steve: My backstory starts in DC where I went to American U and played basketball. A basketball transfer moved me to Riverside, CA. where I finished my collegiate career. Moving was one of the first major challenges I had to overcome as an adult. With no bed, no friends and knowing absolutely no one, I moved across the country to sleep on a floor with a rolled up towel. I didn’t even have long sleeves, because obviously everyone on the east coast knew that California was on the beach and sunny all year round.
During my time at UC Riverside, I took up DJing. I was inspired by older DJs who were making a living from entertainment and music. I envied the freedom of being an entrepreneur while entertaining. Making money while you party was the way I saw it in my younger years.
After college I played a season overseas (Belize) and came home to take care of my fiancé and daughter. I took a job I hated to “make do”. The whole time, working on my business. Networking, educating myself, and honing my craft. My family life suffered…. I hardly remember much of my second daughter’s birth.
One day, it came to me that I had a choice; a proverbial fork in the road. I made more money in one day, at one event, than I did all month at my “day job”. After much reflection and discussion with my wife, the decision to move to a full time self-employed entrepreneur was final. I left my day job and took a leap of faith.
I did what I call the natural progression of mobile DJs. Part time, solo-op, multi-op (where I employed many other DJs). I knew that I wanted more. I’m the kind of guy who is not satisfied with doing what everyone else is doing. I wanted more out of what I had built and more for myself. Through networking, opportunities presented themselves, that I again took a leap of faith. In 2013 I started The Neon Run with a partner. In 2015, I purchased the whole company from him. In 4 years, The Neon Run provided a niche in athletic entertainment to almost 100,000 participants in 14 cities in the USA and Canada.
These experiences of logistics, customs, marketing, production and entertainment led to additional opportunities. In 2014 we began our working relationship with High Times and producing elements of their Cannabis Cup. Cannabis is a whole new world now. Through working with High Times, we then started the first Blazers Cup with then Owner, Iman. We worked with Gold Cup, IOSS, and finally Chalice. I became executive producer of Chalice managing a multi-million dollar event. These responsibilities include everything from venue procurement, vendor selection to talent booking. Chalice started at 8000 attendees in 2014. In 2017, Chalice boasted almost 40,000.
It’s been a crazy few years. But, through support and balance we are blessed. Thinking back where I was a few years ago, I was happy to be supporting my family in an industry I love. But, now, I have grown it to something that not only supports my family, but allows me the time freedom to do the other things I love to do.
Yitzi: Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
Steve: Right now, we are busy with Chalice 2018. This year the talent budget is double what it was in the past. We are working on a new layout and engaging our audience with new experiences. We have a few Temecula Wineries who have expressed interest in us producing some experiential marketing events. These would be musical events that would be focused on bringing in a new customer base, along with retaining their existing audiences. An event where customers can see, hear, taste and experience what the atmosphere of the winery is all about.
Yitzi: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
Steve: I am grateful to a ton of people who have helped me get to where I am today. My wife, friends and family. My team. The lessons that I learned from my college basketball coaches. Chris Knocke from American U and John Masi from UC Riverside. My coach Rick Croy.
Many times in our lives it is our failures and the negative situations that we learn from most. One person who stands out in the business sense was a colleague named Alan with whom we worked together through a venue where he worked. Alan taught me many things including how not to be in business. He taught me how fake people can be and how you need to protect yourself from those who are only out to secure their status. Specifically, I learned that you need to have deadlines for production terms, layouts and stage plots in your contract. I learned that not everyone who is in production — knows production. One would assume that people would know not providing timelines and details about an event prior to an event could lead to disaster.
Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Steve: When we were producing The Neon Run around the country, we liked to partner with smaller local charities and non-profits that would actually appreciate and value our partnership. Many times these local organizations did not have the infrastructure or teams to put on something so large. Our partnerships raised money for each local organization. But, more importantly, they raised valuable awareness of the organization. Whenever possible, we do like to give back to those less fortunate in our network.
Yitzi: What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why.
(1) I wish someone told me to remember “why” you do it.
Too often people tell you how they did it. But one of my keys to success is motivation. Why someone does it is often a more compelling reason then how.
(2) I wish someone told me how to raise capital.
After 10 years, I could have saved thousands, if not, millions of dollars if I learned earlier how to properly raise capital and or equity shares. I believe this cost me valuable time in the end.
(3) I wish someone told me how fast time would go.
This is important to me because the older we get, the faster time flies us by. If I would have known when I was 22 what I know now, I would have certainly slowed down and enjoyed the journey rather than just the destination.
(4) I wish someone told me that you need to trust people.
It is hard to trust people and bring them into your circle. But another of my keys to success is that you have to surround yourself with people that are better than you at certain aspects of your business. You can’t do everything nor should you even try to.
(5) I wish someone told me that it was always going to be this fun.
Unlike many people I know, I love what I do. I get paid to engage audiences and bring together brands and entertainment that culminate in memorable experiences. I’m glad I love what I do. It would make getting up to go to work each day that much more difficult if I didn’t.
Yitzi: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this :-)
Steve: There are so many inspiring and talented business people that I look up to — coaches, entertainers, marketers. One name that I keep thinking about would be Richard Branson. I love the way Mr. Branson has marketed his companies. I follow him on social media and read up on him from time to time. I took notice to the way he treats his staff and the customer experience. One thing I believe he highlights is that if your staff is unhappy, then your customers will be unhappy. The business environment and culture is truly visible with his organizations. Having coffee with him (not lunch — because we’d be stuffing our mouths and would not be able to talk) to pick his brain would be amazing.