- How does Chris build meaningful releationshisp through networking, and how this helps him provide even better service to his customers (4:45)
- As a service provider, how do you work with clients to optimize the work between the internal team and your team as an external provider (10:35)
- Looking at the ecosystems that Thompson and Prince works within (New York CIty and Raleigh/Durham) how do you see the differences and similarities between the two startup ecosystems (17:25)
- Do you want to learn more about Chris’s work at Thompson & Prince?
- You can also follow EverHarbor, a collaboration started by Chris to raise the visibility and unlock the access to the world's best creative agencies, consultancies and more.
- Learn more about how TEAMES & CO builds effective and empowered teams that deliver results.
- Follow TEAMES & CO on Facebook LinkedIn, Twitter (@teamesandco) and Instagram (@teamesandco)
- Watch the podcasts on video - visit TEAMES & CO on YouTube.
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Listen to Episode 32
Episode 32 Transcript
Tracy Eames (00:25):
Hey everybody. Welcome to this week's episode of Building Teams with TEAMES & CO. Today we're here with Chris Gorges from Thompson & Prince. It's a brand strategy and consultancy agency. Hey, Chris.
Chris Gorges (00:37):
Hey there, how's it going? Thanks for having me.
Tracy Eames (00:39):
Good. How are you today?
Chris Gorges (00:41):
Tracy Eames (00:41):
Thanks for joining us on the podcast. We're looking forward to hearing all about your work, so maybe you could just share with our listeners a little bit about what you do at Thompson & Prince and who you serve.
Chris Gorges (00:51):
Yeah. Thompson & Prince is a creative agency that I've been running for about three years now. We primarily focus on brand strategy and design for early stage ventures and small businesses. We're located here in Raleigh, and as of last week, have an office back in New York now where we originally founded the company. We offer a pretty broad range of services, kind of anything that entails visual and verbal storytelling; so naming, logo, design, visual identity, positioning, messaging, marketing, collateral, and website design and development. We partner up with early stage and growing companies to set their brand foundations and then send them off to work with other agencies that might do their advertising and their marketing. And so, we kind of like to be there at the very earliest stages.
Tracy Eames (01:40):
That's awesome. Yeah. We talk to our clients a lot about how do you get to know your customer, right? At TEAMES & CO, we have three major pillars. We say, "You need to know what your customers find valuable. You need to set a strategy to achieve that. And then you need to empower your teams to be able to deliver on that strategy." Brand obviously goes a lot to the beginning of that. So how do you work with your clients around discovering who their customer is, what's the value they provide, and how does that influence how you build out some of that brand collateral in the beginning?
Chris Gorges (02:10):
Yeah, well, I mean, depends on the deliverable. What we do is it's never a pre-packaged you have to do this entire engagement end to end. What we do is very a la carte. Sometimes we have that opportunity and sometimes we just cross our fingers and hope that our clients have done the work and done the diligence to really understand their clients and their customers. But when we're doing brand strategy work and naming work, it's very important for us to get a solid understanding of who their customer base is and who they're selling to. I always use the phrase that we're not just putting a pretty coat of paint, we're not here just to make a product or a service or a website look good. We're actually here to make sure, again, we're telling that story.
Chris Gorges (02:53):
And so, hopefully it looks good, but it needs to look good for a target audience. We're not designing a beautiful direct to consumer brand with a bunch of really cool, quirky animations if that target audience isn't going to want to see that. We address that by having a wide range of designers and developers that we access through our platform and through our network. So we don't have that direct to consumer CPG designer designing for an AI enterprise solution. We are very strategically driven in trying to help our clients guide toward telling the right stories to the right people. And we do that by kind of talking to them, learning from them. And every now and then we have the opportunity to do some design thinking and talk to actual customers and talk to clients, but it kind of varies from client to client.
Tracy Eames (03:42):
Awesome. Yeah. I think that's really valuable. We often stress that in terms of getting to know your customer; have the conversation to get the feedback. That way you're not guessing, right? You know what you're providing. There's also sometimes as we all talk about that there's things that you want to move beyond, right? A customer may not know they want something until you deliver it. But I think in that brand strategy piece of it, getting a lot of the voice of the customer is super valuable.
Chris Gorges (04:07):
Tracy Eames (04:07):
But one of the things that struck me when you were chatting was you were saying that you refer them on or they'll use other partners later on. I think one of the things I've just been super impressed, Chris and I met each other through networking in the Raleigh area, and one of the things I'm always impressed with is your ability to network and your ability to create those meaningful relationships. It's kind of almost like an extended team so to speak, where if you don't provide a service for a client, you'll recommend them to somebody that you do know that does that and does it well. The thing that resonated with me when you were talking about it is making sure they're getting the best possible service for the thing they want versus just making sure that they get to that right spot.
Tracy Eames (04:47):
Maybe you could talk a little bit about how you see your network as kind of an extended team almost in terms of providing that exceptional experience to your clients. Or maybe they don't even become your client because you're like, "Hey, you know what? Somebody else does that a little bit better than we do that." Maybe you could talk a little bit about that with us.
Chris Gorges (05:03):
Yeah. It seems like a post COVID or a COVID decision that my team is fully distributed and I have such an extensive referral network, but it really isn't. It wasn't me having extensive foresight or being smart or getting ahead of the market. When I founded the agency, it's an up and down business, I was afraid to have full-time employees who I might have to lay off or might have to let go or cut down if client work slowed down. And so, in order to solve for that little bit of fear as a first time founder, I determined that I was going to have a very network-driven approach internally. I kind of reached out to folks who I had met in over the first few years of working in the creative industry in New York. I kind of created my network of folks who I trusted who wanted to work on projects with me.
Chris Gorges (05:52):
And then by extension, I did start trying to fill those gaps in starting to say, "We want to really focus on that core list of stuff that we do from naming to website. And I, as a strategic lead, as a creative lead, as a project director, I'm not going to add as much value on a videography project, I'm not going to add as much value on a really cool experiential immersive advertising program." And also, we were very selective, and again, we work with earlier stage companies. And so, we're not going to work on a million dollar branding project for Red Hat or for IBM. It's just too big for us. It's not the intent of what I've been trying to build, but I also don't want to ever say no to anyone.
Chris Gorges (06:33):
And so, it's just a matter of serving as a creative hub, which is the phrasing we use on the homepage of our website. It's just a matter of having a certain set of tools and skills and a network that can add value to folks that for whatever reason come to me or find my firm. And if they're looking for something across the creative spectrum, it's advantageous for my company to be able to make those connections.
Chris Gorges (06:59):
There are a lot of karma points involved, but there's a business model there as well where I have mutual referral agreements in place. That kind of allows everybody to both help one another, but also understand that there's a financial element to smartly making curated introductions and that our entire companies out there that do search for clients to help them find the right agencies. And so, we're just doing a version of that for clients that aren't a perfect fit for our kind of Goldilocks zone of stage and founder fit and all the things that we look for in a client. I always say if I could figure out a way to make a living just making connections, I would do it. But I don't want to be a recruiter and I kind of like the work that we do, so for now this is a good way to satiate that need and that interest.
Tracy Eames (07:47):
Chris, that's great. I like the model because one of the things I really like about it is we speak to so many companies that are growing, right? Our kind of perfect customer at TEAMES & CO is that growth stage organization. So a little later than the customer that you're working with.
Chris Gorges (08:02):
Tracy Eames (08:02):
One of the things we always focus on them is, "You can't do everything," right? When you're a growing organization, especially when you want to grow fast, you can't be everything to every consumer. You have to figure out who you're serving and make sure you're providing the most value to that customer, right? And I think the initial kind of thought from a lot of folks is, "Oh, let's do everything because then people will choose us" versus, "Let's do something really, really well and then we can expand once we've mastered that," right? And so, we prescribed that latter thing, which is pick your thing that you're great at, and then yes, expand over time but make sure you're really developing an exceptional offering.
Tracy Eames (08:38):
And I love what you're saying because it speaks to that, right? Like, "We know who our niches, we know who are our customers, we know what we can provide that's valuable, but we also know we want to be able to say yes to customers and we want to be able to help people. And then therefore, if I refer you to somebody who's going to be able to provide that for you, I'm still providing a value to you," right? It's a great way that you and your organization have figured out, "Okay, how do we provide value even if it's not within the core items that we do?" And I just like that. It really sounds to us that the customer is then at the center of your organization, right? Even if you're not doing the project, you want to make sure that they find that good fit.
Chris Gorges (09:15):
Yeah. I mean, I think our clients and even those like you mentioned who ended up not being our clients really appreciate the approach. And again, that's where a lot of the karma points come in, but every now and then they'll come back and say, "You know what? You referred me to somebody else to do naming because our budget wasn't high enough. We didn't love it. So let's do a version where we can kind of clean up that process." Sometimes that naming project will turn into a logo project, which will turn into a website project.
Chris Gorges (09:42):
I think there are so many great creative individuals, agencies, et cetera in the world. I don't really see a reason to force the issue if something doesn't feel like a fit right now, because there's always going to be something else out there. And that's not to say that in the earlier stages of building a company, you don't say yes to more than you say no. But I always think that's an important milestone when you get to a point where you really are able to say yes to things that fit and say no things that don't, because it really serves a dual advantage of allowing you to work on what you're good at and you're serving clients who you care a little bit more passionately about. And that in turn just leads to better work.
Tracy Eames (10:22):
How do you tend to work with clients? Obviously, we talk a lot about teams, right? We talked about customer, but we also talk a lot about teams. How do you work with your client team in a way that you feel like, "Okay, we've got a nice process," right? Sometimes that internal-external kind of partnership can go sideways. What are some of the ways that you like to work with clients to make sure, "Hey, we're all on the same page. We all have the same goals. Where do we go from here?"
Chris Gorges (10:49):
I think it goes sideways more often than not. You can lead a horse to a water, but we have a set of processes in place. We're very collaborative in using things like Google Docs in trying to actively get comments out of clients when we're putting work product out there. But every client's different. It's a relationship with an individual or individuals. I have some clients who want to work on Slack. I have some clients who want to track their project in Trello. I have some clients who don't care, I send them stuff and they'll send responses over email, or they'll want to set up a call and I'll have to sit there and take notes or have somebody take notes for me.
Chris Gorges (11:27):
So, I think it's important to have an idea of what the process might look like. But my only hard and fast rule is that it has to be iterative and it has to be collaborative. If a client just expects us to deliver and then iterate on our own without their input, that's where we can kind of come across problems in moving projects forward. And again, that's another thing where we try to be picky and we put that out there at the very outset in original conversations where if a client doesn't want to be of the process and be engaged and express their feelings and their feedback, then it might not be a great fit. So, if it ends up being on Google Docs or over email or over Slack, that's irrelevant. It's more about the intent of always being collaborative and always being transparent in providing a detailed feedback whenever possible.
Tracy Eames (12:13):
That's awesome. We have a similar approach, especially what we work on is a lot of the change management, a lot of the process development. And you have to have the internal buy-in, right? You have to have the internal leaders really being involved or else it's hard to set a direction for an organization when you're not part of that organization and you won't be living it every day. And so, I love that.
Tracy Eames (12:31):
But the other thing I heard out of that, that I think is valuable for leaders is having a tie to a certain approach, right? Your approach is you want to be collaborative and you want that feedback, but then being open to the other person to say, "Hey, what's the best way that we can make this work for you?" And I think a lot of times leaders are like, "No, we have to have a weekly one-on-one and it has to be in-person and it has to be under these kinds of things." And their team member may be like, "Oh, could we do it on a video call? Or could we do it bi-weekly for an hour versus weekly for a half hour?" That flexibility, I think, speaks volumes about the leadership style that you're building and that you have in terms of, "Hey, I have a certain amount of things that are kind of required for me," right? "I want to be collaborative. I want iteration, but I'm also willing to kind of bring collaboration to the table and hear how somebody else works and work within that guideline."
Chris Gorges (13:22):
Yeah. And it always shifts. I'm trying to think. I have two clients right now that I have weekly standup meetings with. And at the outset, based on the deliverables that we had defined in the process, I didn't really think they're going to be necessary. And we ended up canceling them more often than not.
Tracy Eames (13:39):
Chris Gorges (13:39):
It gave them the comfort that we at least set the meeting up and we put it on the calendars, but it ends up getting canceled because we've kind of collaborated over different media and that ends up not being necessary. And so, I'm not afraid to cancel a meeting.
Tracy Eames (13:53):
That's a valuable lesson for everybody. We actually had a similar conversation with one of our early on podcast guests, Susanna L. Harris. I mean, we were talking about the same thing, which is sometimes with teams too the way that we're all moving so quickly, it's easier to set the time up and cancel it versus trying to find the time last minute, right?
Chris Gorges (14:09):
Tracy Eames (14:10):
All of our calendars are packed. I liked that approach because you kind of get the calendar time, and then everybody, I've never met anybody who doesn't love to be given 30 minutes back in their calendar at some point. I feel like it's the best win ever. It was just to me like, "Hey, you know what? We don't need that meeting. So you totally have a free 30 minutes to catch up on whatever you need to catch up on."
Chris Gorges (14:29):
Yep. Right. A canceled meeting is usually a good part of the day.
Tracy Eames (14:35):
Yeah. I know. Personally, I always love to get 30 minutes back. It also shows that you're building that alignment, right? We say this to leaders often, which is, "Hey, with a new employee, or if you're a new leader, you might need those weekly check-ins." But the more accustom you get and the more kind of real-time feedback you're able to give, that cadence may back off, right?
Chris Gorges (14:55):
Tracy Eames (14:55):
You may find it like, "Hey, we only need every other week." It's like, "We don't have to meet weekly if we don't need to," right?
Chris Gorges (15:01):
Tracy Eames (15:01):
So, maybe you keep the weekly and you only do like three a month or two a month or whatever it is.
Chris Gorges (15:05):
Yeah, for sure.
Tracy Eames (15:07):
When you're kind of thinking about... Obviously things are opening up, and I know that you mentioned you're reopening I guess, kind of getting back to your roots in New York City, what does that process look like for your organization? How are you planning that change and how are you kind of managing that? What's kind of your leadership mindset as you think about, "Okay. I need to operate in two locations versus one"?
Chris Gorges (15:28):
Well, for me, I mean, it's a baby step. I'm getting an apartment in New York and I'm planning on at the outset, most likely being in North Carolina, 65, 70% of the time and then being in New York the remainder to kind of recultivate a number of relationships and partnerships that I had built over the nine years I was in New York. And also interestingly on the team front, I have team members that I've been now working with for the past year that I met through New York networks, but I've never met in person. There are people on my team that I look forward to getting in a room with a whiteboard every now and then. It serves a number of purposes for client cultivation and client relationship building, but also connecting with my actual team and probably finding new team members.
Chris Gorges (16:19):
Just being in New York, being somewhere else with a different set of people, I've really enjoyed the beginnings of developing relationships in kind of the startup in tech ecosystem here in the triangle, but I also need to kind of pay a little bit of credence to the work that I did in the other area.
Chris Gorges (16:37):
It'll be a little bit stressful going back and forth and it might feel a little bit arbitrary at times, but I think there are advantages to being in both areas. And a lot of people do the bi-coastal thing, so I'm just doing a different version of that. I guess it's usually New York and LA or New York and San Francisco, so Raleigh is my LA.
Tracy Eames (17:00):
It's a little bit better because you're in at least in the same time zone. You don't have all the switches of time zones.
Chris Gorges (17:04):
Yeah. No waking up super early in California.
Tracy Eames (17:07):
Yeah. Exactly. I was going to say I used to have a lot of those trips. When I worked in a corporate role, we were going out to California very often from the East Coast and I'd always find myself up at 4:00 in the morning with no source to coffee and be like, "I just really need coffee."
Chris Gorges (17:20):
Yeah. No thanks to that.
Tracy Eames (17:24):
No, that's awesome. I think there are things that as you think about the differences. Obviously, there's a lot of differences between New York and Raleigh. I'm a native New Yorker. I grew up on Long island so I am aware of the differences between the two places. But from an ecosystem kind of startup perspective, are there different types of companies that you think are kind of in each area? How do you see the kind of compliment or the differences between those two areas?
Chris Gorges (17:49):
I mean the New York ecosystem has changed a lot since I first moved to New York. I moved in New York in 2011. I remember going to a conference in 2011 or 2012. I had moved up from DC after being in DC for five years. And so, to me it was like there were tech startups everywhere. It was crazy. It was really cool. I went to a conference and one of the speakers was more based in Silicon Valley. He said, "You guys think you have a lot going on here." But yeah, it was some kind of statistic around venture investment. He's like, "You guys raise 7% of what we raised in San Francisco last year." It was primarily retail, healthcare, a couple of FinTech areas, Etsy was starting to get big. And so, in the past nine, 10 years, New York has evolved, has had a few more large successes in the startup world. And so, it's interesting kind of pulling out of that ecosystem.
As it is starting to mature a little bit, I'm sure the numbers are still relatively low compared to the Valley, but it's kind of like I've jumped into another smaller ecosystem and I don't know what the data is, but it's probably like I made that step down again. You have people in the triangle who recognize that there's a lot of interesting opportunity and a lot of growth here, but it's so tiny compared to New York. It is kind of from my experiences in very broad strokes, there's a lot of enterprise software with a legacy of SAS and Red Hat success being acquired by IBM and then the legacy players like Lenovo and Cisco, et cetera in the area.
Chris Gorges (19:33):
I think it'll be interesting to see beyond Enterprise B2B, SAS software and obviously a lot of success in biopharma technology to see if another niche comes out of that. You'll never know where it'll come from. It's kind of like a Malcolm Gladwell tipping point. Some random spark will happen somewhere. And you never know, 10 years from now maybe Raleigh will be a big hub for CPG startups because I know there are investors here who have made some really interesting CPG plays. I do. I work out on loading dock sometime, which is a coworking organization built on the back of a really cool CPG company.
Chris Gorges (20:11):
There are overlaps in the ecosystems, but then there are interesting similarities in kind of that aspiration. I think for so long the Valley has been the peak of performance in the startup world. And so, I guess I like these kind of little challenger ecosystems and challenger opportunities. There's a ton of difference. It's a lot smaller here, but there's a lot of similarity. It'll be interesting to see where Raleigh is 10 years from now as far as that growth trajectory goes.
Tracy Eames (20:37):
Yeah, I agree. I think there's a lot of movement in North Carolina in general. Obviously, Raleigh, Durham is kind of the place that folks think about of, especially for healthcare startups. But you've got Wilmington, lots of great things coming out of there. Lots of great stuff coming out of Western North Carolina in Nashville. I think the venture kind of startup scene so to speak in North Carolina is definitely growing quickly. But to your point, there's a lot of hubs around the US that are really leading the way. I think one of the things I love being here in North Carolina is kind of the scrappiness, right?
Chris Gorges (21:08):
Tracy Eames (21:10):
There's a little bit of that underdog mentality that's like, "Hey, we're going to definitely get a big win and get a big win for North Carolina in the ecosystem here." I find it to be fun because there's just a little bit of a different kind of feel to it that I enjoy when I'm working with startups and kind of those growth stage companies.
Chris Gorges (21:28):
Yeah. Hopefully lots of more big wins coming. Just the Spoonflower acquisition just last week, I believe 225 million to Etsy, having the new multi-billion dollar Apple facility here is going to lead to a really interesting impact on talent. It's going to be really, really interesting to watch.
Tracy Eames (21:48):
Yeah. I think there's plenty coming down the road for North Carolina and then obviously also New York as things are picking up speed. We look forward to hearing updates from you about how the dual city locations go for you and kind of, and then we wish you the best of luck in that. But are there anything else exciting that you want to share with us that's kind of happening at Thompson & Prince right now that you want us to be aware of and kind of give our listeners a sneak peek to?
Chris Gorges (22:15):
I wish we were recording this in about two weeks because I have some things that are kind of formulating. But I think if people follow me on LinkedIn and things like that, I think we've discussed that I basically have been sitting in my apartment by myself for a little over a year now, and I'm starting to go outside a little bit now. But I had something like 250, maybe 300 introductory calls. You were one of them through first flight. And so, I have all these people who seem really awesome and interesting and great who I haven't met face to face.
I went to a happy hour two weeks ago that was hosted by GrepBeat and a few other folks. I think that happy hour is full of people that I know, but nobody was wearing name tags so I don't know who they are. I don't know their faces. I know their names, I emailed them. So I'm going to have a happy hour and get people together in a room together and try to connect some of these faces with not their names, like faces with email addresses. And there's another thing that I'm thinking through a little bit and probably building some partnerships around kind of a hackathon approach to branding that I think will be another really interesting way to get folks together in kind of the overlap of the tech ecosystem and the creative agency world.
Tracy Eames (23:25):
Oh, that's awesome. Well, we will definitely post all of the LinkedIn and social media contacts in our show notes so folks can follow you. And if you keep us up to date, we'll share it on our network as well so we can reach out to listeners and provide an update from the podcast and get as many folks following you as possible in learning about these new secret endeavors. I feel like this is a good teaser now.
Chris Gorges (23:49):
Tracy Eames (23:49):
We don't have a lot of good teasers that are like, "Hey, stay tuned." So we'll use this one as one of our first. Awesome. Well, Chris, we can't thank you enough for joining us. We look forward to hearing what's coming next in the next few weeks, and definitely stay in touch because we want to learn about how things are going in New York versus North Carolina. And again, we just appreciate you sharing what it's like to kind of work with clients and how do you build that team crossed internal and external and also with networks. It's been a fun conversation.
Chris Gorges (24:19):
Great. I appreciate it. Thanks for having me on.
Tracy Eames (24:21):
Awesome. Thanks. Have a good week everybody.