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Building Teams With Candor

Updated: 2 days ago


Photo of Brad Luttrell CEO and CoFounder of Go Wild
Building Teams with Candor


In this captivating episode of Against The Sales Odds, Lance engages in a thought-provoking conversation with Brad Luttrell, the Co-Founder and CEO of GoWild. Brad shares his remarkable journey of evolution and discovery as a budding entrepreneur. From navigating various roles within the organization, including sales, marketing, and revenue generation, he imparts invaluable insights into the essentials for entrepreneurial success, spanning from the formative stages to achieving productivity. Overflowing with wisdom, Brad shares profound quotes, recommends enriching books, and offers a treasure trove of insights during this enlightening interview.

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Listen to the podcast here




Building Teams With Candor

Creativity Is Key With Brad Luttrell Co-Founder & CEO of GoWild


I’ve been looking forward to this episode for a while. I have Brad Luttrell who is the Cofounder and CEO of GoWild. We did some business with them, a little bit of business, a few years back, but his story is amazing. I follow all the stuff he does on LinkedIn and podcasts. It’s an interesting story.

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Welcome, Brad. I’m glad you’re on.

 

Thanks for having me. I am excited to be here. I am excited to be a part of it and share a little bit of what we do. I know you told me not to mention the client thing, but I hope to share a little bit about how you guys helped us. What may have kicked this off with you and me is that was such a turning point for me to learn that I was not a good salesperson. It’s been fun. This is a fun bow on top of it all for me. I learned from you guys. I go out and do that for four years and it’s like, “How’d that pan out?”


GoWild And Entrepreneurial Journey 

You have your own signature on it and your own journey. I appreciate you saying that. I love the name of your company, GoWild. Tell everybody what you do.

 

In the simplest terms, we’re a social media app for hunters and anglers. If I were to put my tech hat on and go to the investor pitches, we’re a social commerce company that empowers hunters and anglers to shop smarter. If our audience were to tell you what we do though, it’s like, “That’s a cool place to hang out online.” They get to share their stories. They get to talk about their bucks, bass, turkeys, or whatever they’re into.

 

As they’re posting and sharing on our platform, they earn rewards. As they get rewards, they get, sometimes, free stickers from our sponsors. Sometimes, it’s 20% off of some binoculars that they were looking to buy. It’s a pretty cool program and platform. It’s an awesome community. I’ve learned a ton from being a member of the community. It’s an app. You can download it from the App Store. If you like to hunt, fish, hike, camp, or whatever, you might enjoy the platform.

 

I love that. Your entrepreneurial journey, how did you arrive at this spot? What was the inception of the idea? What said, “We’re going to form this platform. We’re going to form this community.” How did you get there?

 

It’s a long journey. I have to go back years before I ever started GoWild. Fresh out of college, I was a contractor. I was a photojournalist. I did that for a while. It was in the Great Recession, which was not the best time to be trying to work for newspapers. Everybody I knew was getting laid off. I started my own business. I started a wedding photo agency. I did that for a while, but I was not quite ready to run my own business at that point. I was too young. The sales part of it was something I didn’t like as well as the operation side. I liked the work but I didn’t like all the business end of it yet.

 

I got into an ad agency as a social media coordinator and I met a lot of people who work with me at GoWild. One of the guys that I’ll call out is Zach. Zach, at the time, was a big data guy. Data science wasn’t the term. It was big data that everybody was talking about. He and I realized an opportunity to take data and tie it to marketing. I’ll simplify it there so we don’t spend twenty minutes talking about this failed idea. We started working on it on the side. The company wasn’t doing well, so Zach got laid off. They found his personal Dropbox and found our operating agreement for this side hustle company, and then I got fired over the whole thing. They didn’t like that I was working on the side.

 

Zach dragged you with him.

 

I still give him a hard time about it for getting me fired. His last words before he walked out were, “I need to unsync my Dropbox.” They said, “Don’t worry about it. We’re going to wipe the computer,” and then they didn’t wipe the computer. They found all these documents of what we had been working on. I was probably getting laid off anyway. It was a nice, “We got cause now. We’ll let this guy go.”

 

That’s exactly what I was going to say.

 

With my CEO hat on, I can see, “This was convenient. It fell on our lap.” The reason they go all the way back to that, and that was in 2013, is I landed my next job at another agency in 2 weeks. I told them upfront, “I don’t know when but I’m going to start something on the side again and I don’t want to get fired for it.” They said, “That’s fine. We don’t care how you use your personal time.” That was permission for me to go out and do something.

 

Zach and I did try to get that company going again. It never really worked out. The timing was bad on it.  What we wanted to do was to use data in a lot of ways that I see Google, McDonald’s, and a lot of these companies are doing. The concept of that company was great, but Zach and I, honestly, didn’t give a crap about the restaurant analytics. It was a restaurant company. I could not get excited enough to work until 1:00 AM on it. That was what as a side hustle we had to do. I gave it up and started going down this rabbit hole of learning. I knew my weakness was the business side, so I started reading a lot about that. I didn’t know where to turn to. At the very beginning of this, it was like, “I’ll watch Shark Tank. That’s a good place to start to learn business,” because I knew nothing.

 

What a great place to learn it. One thing with Shark Tank is I don’t always agree with what the valuations people come up with. Things like, “Where the heck did you go to school?” I’m a graduate at the end of the day. You do appreciate a good pitch with a lot of enthusiasm.

 

 Zach and I were traveling together. Do you know what we did when we got to the hotel and we had an hour before bed? We were sharing a room together because we were still in startup mode and cheap. We watched Shark Tank. You can still see really good stories sometimes in there. They’ll go through their unit economics. Nobody talks about valuations in the way they do on Shark Tank.

 

I started there and I started weaving my way through business books. I was trying to find a business model that I liked, something I thought I could do and be excited about. It was years. I did this for years, listening to business podcasts. I eventually got into podcasts. Once I discovered audiobooks and that clicked with me, I started reading 30 books a year.

 

Eventually, I was trying to learn to hunt simultaneously. I grew up hunting and fishing, but it was all small game. I was trying to figure out whitetail hunting. I had no one to teach me this. I was diving through this miserably. After a couple of years of sucking at that, I was like, “This is insane. I want to find an online community that can help me out.”

 

I remember where I was standing. I was in southeastern Kentucky, I can tell you the exact spot in this field. It hit me. You asked, “When did you think of this idea?” I can tell you when I thought of it, but it was a 2 or 3-year journey of thinking through what I wanted to do. I had a ton of ideas that had come up before. The amount of URLs I had purchased because I was thinking through all this stuff.

 

This was the first one that I went home and spent hours researching it and put my son to bed. My wife worked the night shift and I would work from 8:00 AM until 1:00 AM. I would get up at 5:00 and I would start working on it. I spent a month doing that to really look into the market and try to understand, “Is this big enough? Is this what I want it to be?” By September 2016, I was convinced it was and started putting it together with some co-founders. August to September was that timeframe in 2016.

 

Number one, I always carry a couple of things. I always have dice above my door. I’m not a gambler. I like to avert risk. That’s probably who I am as an entrepreneur. It sounds like you may have a higher risk tolerance than other people, which entrepreneurs and decent salespeople always do. It sounds like you worked for yourself. You took some risks. You were able to figure it out. That entrepreneurial journey, which everybody talks about, when everybody sees somebody where they’re landed, they don’t see the pain that they went through before or the things that they went through before. Up until that point, you mentioned the Great Recession. You were in the ad space around 2008 or 2009.

 

I graduated college in ‘09 in May.

 

You were coming right through it. You had the ad side, so you understand that, and then you had some side hustles going. That’s interesting. Finally, you found something you are passionate about. You’re starting to get back and getting into hunting. I had a younger person on my staff go, “How do you figure all this out?” It was all the stuff I had on my plate. I was like, “First things first, what do you prioritize?” You’re sitting there going, “My family’s a priority but I’m going to work through tonight and figure this out a little bit.” I always find with entrepreneurs, it is a lust for learning. It is a desire that’s so strong. You’re like me. I’m always in an audiobook. I have ten books on my desk that I’ve half-read and am taking notes on. I take notes of stuff and write it down.

 

On the book front too, you can burn out on any of that. Anything you mentioned too, you have to be careful. I’ll read five business books in a row sometimes and I’m like, “I can’t touch it anymore.” I’ll read like six novels. It could be like zombie apocalypse stuff. I read a Barbara Kingsolver book and I’m on my second one in a row. I go heavy on heavy.

 

I am so with you. I told my wife. I tore into this really big thick business book and then I read this bio from this guy. She goes, “What will you read next?” I go, “In high school, I never read Huckberry Thin or Tom Sawyer. I’ve watched Disney movies and stuff like that.” She goes, “You’re seriously going to tear in.” I said, “I read something that those two books are very different from.” She goes, “You’re going to read them.” I said, “Your grandma left a bunch of books. I’m reading Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.”

 

I  read it with my son for the first time.

 

You have to take it with a grain of salt because it’s a different time with the language they use and stuff like that. That’s awesome. I’ve never read it myself. I’m going to read.

 

I read Moby Dick for the first time. I’m the same way. I’m like, “I don’t want to die and have not read all these classics.” People still talk about Moby Dick. I’d never read it. There are a lot of books like that I’m working my way through a lot.

 

There is a lot of symbolism in there and deep concepts. I’ve gotten into it too. For the last couple of years, I read a lot of books about stoicism. I got Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations on my desk.

 

I haven’t read that.


Becoming A CEO

I have to dig into the language a little bit. I don’t get very far. I’m like, on ChatGPT or something like, “What the heck does that mean?” I love that. That is awesome. That’s great. You wear the CEO hat. You started GoWild. I have to ask this BEcause I love the name. How long did it take you to come up with the name?

 

I wrote about this in my newsletter. It was a matter of weeks. I was a branding guy. I was a creative director at an ad agency. I’ve named tons of companies. That’s the part I really understood. When you’re starting a company, everybody always asks me, “What do you do first?” The real answer is whatever gets you started.

 

If you’re an operator, start thinking through that portion of the business. If you’re a finance guy, go out and build your P&L projections. What would the model be? If you try to start with something you’re not familiar with, it makes it hard to get going. The first step should be the baby step of whatever’s tangible for you. For the name, honestly, it was easy. I had 40 names that I came up with. I had three that I liked. One of them was taken by a different industry for something else. Once I came up with GoWild, it was pretty well done. I knew I had it.


If you start with something you are not familiar with, it will be hard for you to get going.

 

That’s so interesting. It’s similar to when I write a book. If the title is not right, I can’t even start writing. I had a company called PRSPX. It was a hybrid sales demand organization where we’d be on the front end of a funnel for complex sales processes. When I wrote my first book, the publisher was all over me like, “You don’t want two master brands. You’re going to be a master brand as an author if you’re going to do what you said you’re going to do.”

 

He goes, “You got to change the name of the company.” I changed it to Tyson Group. It’s one thing I struggled with because I don’t love that name. I’m with you. Start where you’re familiar and with what drives the moment. You come up with a concept, and then you have to build and execute. For you personally, what was the cultural journey you had to run through?

 

That comes in 2 waves for us, or maybe 3 even. The first was, “How the heck do I start a company?” I’d never done that part of it. In a lot of ways I look back at my job as a creative director and I haven’t done creative in the way that I did it back then since I left the agency in 2018. I would be a lot more impactful this time because I understand all the impacts downstream of the decisions that the creative makes.

 

I’ve learned so much. I started the whole thing though by Googling how you raise money for an idea. I had no clue. Going back to Shark Tank, that’s what I thought fundraising was. I had to learn LLCs versus incorporating. You have to figure out equity with your founders and operating agreements. I’ve screwed up a lot of stuff.

 

You file taxes. You file as an ad. You file as an LLC. That’s a whole thing in and of itself.

 

I screwed that up one time even with my personal taxes. When we first started, I had a bad CPA. All of a sudden, I got hit with a $12,000 tax bill that I didn’t see coming because I had somebody who wasn’t built for startups. Even the 83(b) election was something we screwed up. It is a document that tells the government when your company is founded that it’s not worth anything. When you start allocating shares to your cofounders, they’re not worth anything. They don’t pay taxes on them. I screwed that up and we had to find ways to fix that. It cost me close to $5,000 or $8,000 in legal fees back in the day to fix these problems.

 

Nobody even has a real opinion of it either. I was talking to a financial advisor. Nobody wants to give you a strong opinion either way. I’m on a lot of boards. How do you bring somebody? Is it a tax event? Everybody lays out all the ways to do it, but nobody wants to say, “Do it this way,” so you still end up having to pick, correct?

 

Yeah. Usually, what you’ll find is somebody like you will say, “I’ve been on a lot of boards. This is the way we’ve always done it” It’s one group’s mindset. It’s like, “Your experience is better than my experience. I’ve never done it so we’ll go with what Lance says.” You don’t think about all the things like that when you start a company. People see entrepreneurs and they’re like, “They’re out there and they’re chasing their dream.” It’s like, “I don’t know. There is a lot of that, but there’s also a lot of sight-unseen stuff that you have to plow through.” Figuring out all those mechanics of how to legally operate a business, how to pay people, and all that stuff was hard.


Against The Sale Odds | Brad Luttrell | Building Teams
Building Teams: People see entrepreneurs as people who got everything figured out. However, there are also a lot of unseen difficulties along their path that they have to plow through.

 

I had a guy come to me. He lives down in Tennessee. He went on to form a coaching company. I’ve known him for years. He’d be a great coach. I go, “What’s the reason up until 55 years old that you haven’t started a company?” He goes, “I’m not sure what you mean.” I go, “Why at 55 did you want to start this company? Are you sure you want to do it?” He goes, “It’s a great idea.” I said, “It is. I’m not trying to kill the dream, but you operate it with a net and a ladder that you can see. Now, as an entrepreneur, the ladder goes up where you can’t see. The problem is there’s no net.” You have to be okay with that at some level.

 

It’s not even a ladder. It’s more like Ninja Warrior.

 

That’s true. You find a rope while you’re doing it.

 

The water has crocodiles in it. That’s such a true thing. You read these books. Startup books are so dangerous because everybody wants to sit down and say, “This is how I did it.” With the bias that comes with reflecting on your own past, it’s like, “We did this because it was so obvious we needed to grow this part of the business.”

 

A lot of times, what I find that those books leave out are all the other decisions that they walked away from to make that one that turned out to be right. Some of my favorite books that don’t leave out those details are That Will Never Work by Marc Randolph, the Founder of Netflix. He talks about everything that they screwed up. It’s a fantastic book. It’s a true look at entrepreneurship. Shoe Dog is another one. The number of times that Nike almost died in the eleventh hour and a check came out of nowhere.


They’re begging to stay on with Tiger. He’s back to stay on with that one brand. I don’t tell many people this. I collect signatures and notes from entrepreneurs I respect or generals. I have a check from Thomas Edison for $23 that he signed. He is my favorite entrepreneur of all time.

 

That’s awesome.

 

The number of times that guy failed. I have a note from P.T. Barnum.  I’m not endorsing what these people did in their life. P.T. Barnum was a racist. There are all kinds of things. I admire his entrepreneurial journey. I’m not endorsing him. You look at the number of times that guy failed. He bought Jumbo the Elephant, the greatest attraction in the world, and walked out on railroad tracks in the middle of the night after all his animals were burning and died from a train crash. He went out of business nine times. I’m with you. I love when people are like, “This is how I effed up. I’m not saying you should go down the same path.”

 

Sometimes, you read these startup books and it’s like, “We all lived in an apartment together. We ate ramen and then raised $15 million from Andreessen Horowitz.” I’m like, “No one’s journey looks like that.” We all get sucked into the Silicon Valley mindset. That’s all the tech blogs want to talk about. I know that’s where a ton of the funding is, but when you look at the percentages of overall companies, most people’s journey isn’t going to look like that.

 

I try to remind people of that when I talk about what it was like to start. I told you when I first started answering this question that there are multiple phases of difficulty. The first was figuring that out. I’ve even joked to my cofounder, Zach, that one day, I might get my MBA. He’s like, “Why?” I’m like, “I’d like to see if I’m up to it.” He is like, “You’ve already done it.” There is some truth to that.  I learned stuff. We had a great hire who had an MBA and his brain often would work in ways that mine didn’t. There is some truth to the fact that a lot of MBA programs would even have you go through the process that we did. We had to figure all this out on how to get started. That was one of the harder things about the process of it.

 

COVID comes in and blows up the whole business model that we spent two years building. In 2020, We were on pace to do our revenue goal for the year, which was going to be $500,000. We came out of our trade show season in January and February 2020. We had almost all of it committed to sales and ad sales. Maybe it was the first three quarters of 2020 when something crazy was committed.

 

COVID happens. The outdoor industry implodes at first and then erupts. All these advertisers go and hold. First, they all told us in March 2020, “Ad budgets are frozen. We’ll be back in June.” They didn’t come back in June 2020. In fact, a lot of them got laid off. Our contacts were gone. Come August 2020, we were like, “We’re going to run out of money because we’re not going to be able to raise money again because our business model died with COVID.”

 

We came up with our eCommerce concept that we have and launched it in 90 days from start to finish that year and had it live by November 2020. That was hard.  I didn’t sign up to build an eCommerce company. I didn’t want to build an eCommerce company. At that time, we were looking at it and were like, “We are using all this data to funnel to other companies to sell stuff. Let’s cut out the middle effort and sell it on our platform.” We did that and it has worked really well.

 

There has been a third phase which has been tough. If you weren’t in startup land, you may not have realized COVID ended up being this big boom. There’s all this money flowing around. You can throw a term sheet in the air and have three investors sign it. We raised in that environment, and we raised a lot of money by Silicon Holler standards.

 

The fallout that came at the end of ‘22 and ‘23 has been really rough. That’s the third era of what’s been a hard phase for our business of plowing through. We’ve been through one major black swan event but also, in the last few years, I don’t care if the Feds want to call it a recession or not. It’s royally sucked whatever it was. It’s had a lot of impact on startups. I’ve got friends who are closing companies. I’ve got friends who have sold their startups for scraps or for IP. They’ve walked away. We’ve so far been able to avoid that, but it has been tough.


Biggest Challenge Pre-COVID

There’s no doubt. I want to land back where you are. A couple of things that you said, going back to the failure thing. ’m with you in getting your MBA and learning. There’s an entrepreneurial think tank up in Dayton, Ohio called Aileron. If you ever get a chance to check it out, it was founded by Clay Masthile. He’s the guy who sold Iams for $1 billion to Procter & Gamble. It’s his legacy.

 

I went through this course for presidents. I’m not probably going to top the course, but I went through it. He was really big on privately held companies having a board. I don’t know how your funding goes or anything like that. I never had a board, but I hired a board. I’m on my third iteration of a board. They challenged me so much. You’ll appreciate this. What I did to him is I said, “Anytime I’m selling to you, as a board, tell me you’re selling and call me out on it.”

 

I had my board meeting not long ago and they are smarter people than I am, or at least collectively, they can duel with me. I’m with you. Go and get an MBA. Go to one of these business schools and learn something new or a different perspective. It’s so critical for an entrepreneur because there are so many obstacles out there. Before you hit COVID, what was the single biggest obstacle that you had to overcome that was a win? Go back to the COVID and the economy thing and how you morphed your business. Was the single biggest thing switching to a platform or your sole merchandise? What was the one before COVID?

 

Was the question what’s the biggest challenge pre-COPID?

 

Pre-COVID’s biggest challenge or obstacle, whether it be a marketplace or internal.

 

The biggest challenge for the business, not for Brad, has been I did all the research. The industry’s ginormous. It’s way bigger than I would’ve ever imagined. I knew all that going in. What I  underestimated was how antiquated our industry would be. We were trying to sell advertising opportunities on this niche social media platform to people who had found out about Facebook groups. They thought this was the latest and greatest thing.

 

A big part of our sales position is that as an industry, you’re building communities or your business. If you’re acquiring through Facebook, TikTok, and all this stuff, you’re doing it by building glass houses on sand because the social platforms are going to crack down on what we do, which is hunt and fish. That’s played out. Every bit of that is played out.

 

In 2018, we were having a hard time resonating with these old-school marketers who weren’t digital people to begin with. I underestimated that. It’s been far harder than I ever could have imagined. While a lot of them will nod and say, “Silicon Valley hates us,” they still won’t take any action to do anything with it. I’m really glad we got away from that ad model when we did because we took control of our own destiny.

 

Going through that, I remember taking it on the chin time and time again back in the day. That was old-school Brad. It was the spray and pray Brad before Sheila beat me down and helped me reshape. Sheila with you guys saw our pitch and was like, “The decks are great. What you guys can do is great. Your approach is not great.” I’m coming in and yelling at everybody about how much we can do for them, but if your audience doesn’t know that they even want that or they don’t want that, you’re wasting your time. We were spending all this time. A lot of it was a bad approach.


Once we started to refine the approach, we did start landing really big deals. We landed deals with companies like Polaris. At that time when we landed that deal, it was a six-figure deal. It was the biggest deal we’d ever done. I remember walking out into the parking lot. We flew out there, me and the four cofounders. We got outside, looked at each other, and went, “We did that.” We were scared that we had signed that like, “We got to go do all this stuff.” It’s a great moment. If we hadn’t listened and built what they wanted and catered to it, we never would’ve gotten that deal.

 

It goes back to when we’re working with entrepreneurs or salespeople. You set a difference between spray and pray as opposed to taking the scope out, hitting some targets, and tailoring the shot. I almost call it the Amazon effect or the app effect, how to tailor your move to the audience specifically. That’s good.

 

Biggest Challenge As An Economy Company

The second part of your question was once we become an eComm company, what was the hardest part? I’ll answer that from the business standpoint too. One of the things that comes to mind is how difficult it is to compete with Amazon. It’s been challenging in a lot of ways because Amazon has reshaped consumer expectations.

 

Sometimes, you order something on Amazon and it takes 5, 6, 7, or 8 days. That does happen every now and then. When it happens with us on your first order, you’re like, “These guys are slow.” Honestly, our average time for delivery is 2.8 days anyway, but the consumer has been trained that Amazon’s going to get it there in 1 day or less or 2 days.

 

Amazon’s ability to compete on last-mile delivery is unmatched. They’re telling you that they’re fourteen stops away. They’re telling you it’s going to be there within this hour. They’ve got all that mastered. You get a nice little picture of it on your doorstep. They have an app and you can check all of it. It’s super easy. Most companies cannot compete with that logistically. Those are examples.

 

Competing with these modern giant companies on the eComm side is a lot harder than people think.  A couple of years ago, you could throw up an eComm company, run some Facebook ads, and sell the crap out of whatever it was. It was a much different business to start. The cost per acquisition changed. Apple’s battle with Facebook has been horrendous on companies like us because of what it’s done to jack up the acquisition fees.

 

Not to mention a number of other challenges we’ve faced in eCommerce through social channels and trying to acquire customers. The biggest thing has been trying to compete as a brand and meet expectations when you have one of the biggest, most valuable companies that’s ever been created that you’re battling against. It’s tough.

 

Raising Capital And Company Innovations

I can imagine. Off of that, where do you spend your time in terms of leading the company? Where are you spending most of your time? Is it strategy? Is it a focus on winning customers? What does that look like for you?

 

For the last few years, it has looked a lot different than it probably even should have. It’s been such a hard time for startups. I’ve spent a lot of my time capitalizing the company and figuring out the funding rounds. Everyone I know has been in a pretty similar spot. We’ve all been raising these bridge rounds trying to figure out where we should go.

 

The markets have shifted a lot of founders to maybe go in directions with their company overall that funding wanted to see versus what the CEO wanted to do. What I mean by that is investors might be more interested in one aspect of your business than another. Even though you think that the one they’re not interested in is where you should go, if you’re not profitable yet, you’re going to go where the investors want to go, right?


Markets have shifted a lot of founders to go in different directions with their company, prioritizing what the team wants to see more than what the CEO wants to do.

Yeah.

 

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of years staying focused on keeping us capitalized and getting us to where we need to be. One thing about the shift to eComm that sucked is the margin difference was huge. You may make $100,000, but with your margins, depending on the product mix, you may only pocket $20,000 to $30,000 of that as a retailer. It could be less depending on the product mix and where you’re shipping to. With advertising, when we were selling that, if I sold $100,000, I made $100,000. We have operating expenses but the margins are different.

 

As we’ve shifted into that, it’s reset capital expectations. I’ve spent a lot of time working on that. Putting that aside to give you an answer that maybe the rest of your audience would want to hear, I’m highly involved in our biggest customer. We landed our biggest ad deal ever in 2023. We are working through what that relationship is going to look like for 2024. In my day-to-day, I’m working a lot with that customer directly. I’m the top contact for them. Our director of strategic partnerships manages the relationship in the day-to-day with their team, but I am highly involved in that partnership.

 

It’s then road mapping. We came up with an opportunity in 2023. We’ve been chased to white label our business ever since we launched our eCommerce product. I haven’t really talked about it, but what we did is we didn’t have millions to spend on inventory. What we did was we went out and said, “How can we sell?” Drop shipping was the answer.

 

Drop shipping gets a bad rap because people think it’s shipping from China and you’re getting a bunch of cheap crap. That’s not what we do. All of our facilities are in the United States. We ship directly from manufacturers and distributors. We’re probably right at 50 distribution centers that your products can ship from across the country. We’ve built integrations with Shopify, WooCommerce, BigCommerce, and Magento. We can do EDI, which is the API for eCommerce, to simplify that for anybody who doesn’t understand that. We’ve even got some manual integrations with some big brands. We do have the API as well. What it has done for us is we have more than $150 million in inventory that we can sell but I didn’t pay for it. I don’t pay for it until I sell it.

 

We’ve had a lot of brands approach us and say, “I love what you’ve done. Could you do that for me? I would also like to be able to sell without buying inventory.” They don’t want to go build it because they realize how complicated it is. In 2023, we spun this up as a new product. It’s called Holler Commerce. From December of ‘22, a good portion of my job has been working through, “How are we going to spin up this new product? Is it going to be its own division? Is it going to be under GoWild?” We ultimately decided it needed to be its own brand, so we spun up Holler Commerce.

 

We landed our first partnership, which is with Outdoors.com. If you go to Outdoors.com, you can see our shop is running their shop. They’re an outdoor gear review website. You can see the shop in action. We’ve since spun out one for creators. Creators can use our product. They can sign up and sell products and make a cut of that money. We give them a cut of the gross profits. It’s a sliding scale instead of a flat commission like Amazon. We’re able to pay more than Amazon on this model.

 

We’re launching our second enterprise store with Sportsmen’s Alliance, which is a big nonprofit in the hunting and fishing industry. I’ve got a couple of other ones that are really huge opportunities for this. A lot of my job over 2023 has been figuring out how to do this. It sounds really obvious the things we should do, but it took a lot of work to figure this out.

 

We spent a lot of time reading the Category Pirates book. It’s awesome. I’ve really bought into this whole process of category design and shaping your product. It’s what Salesforce did. Everybody was using software and they became anti-software. They branded this category and they’ve completely owned it. They are Cloud-based software. It’s the same mindset. We came up with this concept of commerce as a service, so social commerce as a service. If you use our subscription, you get access to our products and we give you a cut of what you sell. A huge chunk of my job has been designing that out over the last few years.

 

That’s interesting. If you frame up where you’re spending your time, it’s raising capital and raising money, which you’re selling the company at all times to position it. You’re focused on your biggest client, which you’re cross-selling yourself into. You become the face of that. The whole road mapping piece with Holler Commerce is still creating another avenue to sell the organization. The hat you’re wearing is that revenue hat. You have that revenue hat on for the organization.

 

That’s right. My cofounder, Zach, I always give him credit. That guy was our data scientist in the beginning. I told you that was his background. Zach is also our contact for legal. All of our legal documents are flowing through Zach. I’m involved in that, but he’s the guy. He’s running all of our HR and manages all of our finances. He is a CFO. He manages our engineering team. He is wearing a lot of hats too.

 

It sounds like he’s operating the organization.

 

That’s right.


Building Teams With Candor 

The Chief Operating Officer or COO faces outward. The president looks inwards or the CIO. It sounds like you guys have to be high energy too. I understand that world. I get you. That’s a fascinating story. A few questions for those budding entrepreneurs out there or leaders. With the way you’re operating, a lot of leaders I talked to in established companies are dealing with a lot of the same things. What is your operating philosophy? What is that leadership philosophy? I don’t know. Maybe it’s a cliche. Maybe it’s an analogy. What’s your approach there? I have three more questions to land on the plane.

 

The book I was thinking of is Play Bigger. It’s an awesome book. To answer your question, I’m going to reference another book called Creativity, Inc. It’s by Ed Catmull. It’s my favorite business book. I would recommend that book before anything. I get asked a lot by people like, “How big does your team need to be before you start thinking about culture?” I would argue if you’re in a position of leadership, you should buy the book. It doesn’t matter how big your team is. If it’s a team of two, you still need the book.


Even if you’re founding a company and it’s going to be you for a while, I still think you should read that book because it’s going to impact how you work with your contractors. It’s going to impact how you work with your vendors. I haven’t re-read it in a couple of years. I’m a big fan of the core tenets of it. It changed how I led my team in advertising. That book teaches you to build teams on the basis of candor.

 

Teams that have candor, can speak up without feeling intimidated, and they’re not worried about their boss firing them for disagreeing with them tend to solve problems a lot faster than teams who stay in their own lane. That’s not my job. They only take care of the task in front of them that their boss is asking them about. They don’t raise red flags when they see them. If you have a team that is empowered to speak up, they will outperform any other team that’s not doing that every time.

 

If you have an empowered team who have the courage to speak up, they will outperform any other team.

Ed Catmull has this great quote where he says if you hand a good idea to a great team, they’ll make it great. They’ll always push it further. This tenet, this single thing that I’m talking about, is the reason that Pixar has had nearly no duds in the history of 30 years of making movies. It was not long ago that they started to come out with some films that were not absolute blockbuster hits. Some of that has been leadership change. I would first recommend people focus on their culture. It sounds fluffy. It sounds like, “You would put culture over unit economics and all the business mechanics?” The problems in all those other areas will not come to light, at least not as well, if your team does not operate well together.

 

Another great book that backs this up is The Culture Code by David Coyle. He focuses on multiple types of teams. The Pixar team is one of the ones they focus on as well as Navy SEALs. They talk about a gang of thieves that worked really well together. They even compare this to how kindergartners work, which is amazing.


Kindergartners, if they have to solve a problem, don’t come in and say, “Lance, you’re going to be in charge, Timmy, Stevie, and Bobby, you’re going to answer to Lance. You guys got to have a deadline.” They start solving the problem. That’s what all these other great teams do too. They move in unison. That’s how they draw a comparison to the SEALs. The SEALs move as one unit. They all know how each other is going to operate.

 

When I say I’ve spent two years fundraising, I never worried that my team wasn’t moving towards what we wanted to do because they always know what we’re working towards. We meet once every two weeks in an all-hands and lay out everything for them. I told you I’ve been deal-making with a client. They raised the flag. They’re like, “We haven’t talked about the next steps of the roadmap in a while. We’re getting to the end of the one you guys drew up. You got to tell us what you want us working on.” They’re not afraid to tell me that I’ve fallen down on my job and I need to give them better feedback. It all boils down to what Creativity, Inc. is about. That’s my number one thing for anybody before they do anything. You have to get your culture right.

 

I agree. The culture you’re talking about is constructive tension. It’s not artificial harmony. It’s constructive tension. You’re going to get things done with friction a lot of times.

 

I give feedback all the time. We do 90-day reviews with our teammates and then we go into annual reviews. We also do one-on-ones with them all the time. Anybody that comes here and isn’t speaking up, their feedback, more than the code they’re writing, the marketing they’re doing, or whatever, is like, “I’m not hearing from you. You have to speak up. I know you know we’re doing something wrong or we could be doing something better. You got to speak up in meetings.”

 

Our team is so bought into that that if we get somebody like that who’s really talented but still isn’t vocal enough, when we get into those 90-day, 100-day, or those 1-year reviews, their teammates will give them that feedback. It’s like, “I want to hear from you. I want you to tell us when we’re screwing up.” That’s so great when you have teammates who collectively are advocating for that conflict. They want to hear where they can improve and be more efficient.

 

Brad’s Idea Of Success

People keep a score. We’re programmed to know where we stand, and that’s so important. People don't value what they can’t compare or contrast. That score and that feedback is what does it. I have a couple of last questions. I love your story. I love the intensity too. If intensity is the force by which we do things, I’ll feel it. If you had to give advice to a 6, 7, or 8-year-old and you’re sitting on the edge of a dock with the 6, 7, or 8-year-old, whether it’s your own child, niece, or nephew and they said, “Uncle Brad, what does it mean to be successful?” What would you tell that 6, 7, or 8-year-old in words they can understand?

 

This is what comes to mind. I did not prepare. Lance didn’t give me a heads-up on this one. In my mind, it is, “Success would be when I’m old like your great grandma, Gigi. When I’m old like her, I want to be able to look back and have very few regrets on things I didn’t do.” To me, you’ve chased the things you want to do and you didn’t hold back and made opportunities for yourself. To me, I don’t want to have any regrets about passing up any opportunity that I was passionate about. To me, that’s successful.

 

I’ve thought a lot about this. There’s never a dollar amount. I’ve read enough about this. I think of that Jim Carrey quote where he says, “I wish the whole world could make all the money that they think they deserve so they could realize that it’s not what they thought.” I’ve matured enough, and maybe my kids have helped accelerate this for me, to realize that money up to a certain point is life-changing.

 

To me, that’s elevating you out of poverty. That’s keeping you from living paycheck to paycheck. After a certain point, it, if anything, can bring in more problems. I think too much about legacy. Maybe this is because I’m such a big Alexander Hamilton fan. That’s one of my favorite business books. You mentioned some of these old-school guys of yours. The number of things he founded blows my mind. I do love the musical.

 

I’m 100% with you on legacy though. My board asks me every freaking meeting, “What would you sell the company for?” I’m like, “It’s so far removed because it’s about legacy. It’s about the people that work here. It could be about my kids.” I’d rather this be if there was a McKinsey at some time and he doesn’t exist anymore. I’m with you. I think about that all the time. Money follows. It doesn’t necessarily lead, at least that’s how I feel about it.

 

I think about that a lot. I was talking to one of my mentors and an investor. I don’t think I’m done with 5 years or 10 years down the road or whenever my time at GoWild is done. I know this will be the first successful phase. The whole company could go belly up tomorrow or we could sell for that $100 million. No matter what, I’ll consider this my first successful phase and my part of the legacy. I know I’ve got a lot more to do. I’d drive my wife nuts if I did sell for those big checks and retired. She would be like, “You have to go do something else even if it’s selling entrance door to door. You got to get away from them.” High energy would get on her nerves. I think about it a lot.

 

You probably heard the chip on my shoulder towards Silicon Valley earlier. I’m from Southeastern Kentucky. I grew up in Appalachia. I’m in a state that consistently ranks in the bottom twelve of everything. I’m looking twenty years down the road like, “How do I get to where I can have philanthropic value here? How can I mentor here to bring more value to our state?” That’s the long-term legacy for me and what I want to be able to do. I’m nowhere near there yet. The most I can do is give time.

 

I try to do a lot of mentorship with other entrepreneurs. For me, the best way I can do that is through people who started their company. I cannot tell you how to exit a company or how to maximize that value. I’ve never done that. What I have done is raise $8 million in this very immature ecosystem here in Kentucky. I’ve raised in tough environments. I’ve raised through COVID. I’ve raised post-COVID. I’ve raised pre-COVID. In that amount of time, I’ve figured out how to do a lot of stuff. If I can help someone even by, “File your frigging 83(b) election. Around here, we don’t have great startup attorneys. They may not even tell you about this, but I’m going to save you $5,000 down the road,” that kind of stuff is rewarding.

 

It’s that giving back piece too in your future boards and all kinds of things where you can be helping people. I agree. This is the last question. Ready?

 

Yes.

 

You can answer this either way. I’m going to pose it two ways before I bring your brand down for a landing. You answered my question on what book to read and what book to gift. I’m going to say Creativity, Inc. That’s the one, right?

 

Yeah. I could list off twelve more.

 

Sales And Funeral Song

You sold me on it too. The Culture Code, I went into it. I know I have Creativity, Inc. that I haven’t picked up. It’s a shame I haven’t. I’m all over that. This is the last question. At your funeral, because you went to legacy, what song do you want to be played at your funeral? What’s your sales song that plays in your head? Go.

 

I wasn’t ready for the funeral, but I could answer the sales song immediately. I can give you the sales song immediately. It is Born of a Broken Man by Rage Against the Machine. My car is old enough to where I have the flash drive I can put into it. That song is on there. I have played that song countless times to hype myself up for investor pitches.

 

I remember in one of my first big pitches I did, I was still trying to figure out what I was doing. I sat out in the car. It was July. The sun was baking. It was hot. It was all good out. I even remember that I had boots on. It was leather boots I shouldn’t have worn that day because my feet were already sweating. I got there 30 minutes early because I was so intent on driving across town and being early. I sat in my car and played that song on repeat to get myself hyped up. It also weirdly helps me burn off negative energy. I love that song. Was the other one at my funeral?

 

Yeah, at your funeral. Sometimes, it’s the same one.

 

It's not Rage Against the Machine at my funeral. The song that comes to mind is Follow You to Virgie by Tyler Childers. I love Tower Childers. I’ve been going to that guy’s show since before anybody knew about him. I’m a Kentucky guy through and through. He used to open up for one of my friend’s bands. He would play in these basement bars and is now selling out stadiums across the world.

 

I love that.

 

There’s an entrepreneurial journey there with him. I love that song. I don’t think it was his grandmother. I can’t remember exactly if it’s his friend’s grandmother who died, but the song’s about reflecting on her life and all the things that she taught them. He’s trying to live a good life to impress her even though she’s up singing. That one comes to mind. I probably would’ve had a different choice if I thought more about it, but the Rage one is easy. That Rage Against the Machine song, if I have to burn negative energy, I’m queuing that one up.


Closing Words

For most successful people I know, it takes them two seconds to get that sales song and that business song that dials it in. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your time and all the insight. You’re a lifelong learner. Your ability to work in the future and drive that life of the business, which is revenue, and focusing on the future and seeing around the corner, I hear it here. Your candor is there. I interview a lot of people. Sometimes, there’s an act that goes on there. There’s no act here with you.

 

I always say I’m not smart enough to lie. I would forget what I said.

 

I’m with you there. I love the candor. Thanks so much for being on. I appreciate it.

 

Thanks for having me. This was fun.



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About Brad Luttrell

Brad Luttrell was an award-winning writer, photographer and creative director, but quit his career in advertising to chase his dream of building a community. He's now the Cofounder, CEO, of GoWild, a social commerce platform for outdoor enthusiasts.


Luttrell is from a family of coal miners in Appalachia, where he grew up. After winning college journalism's most prestigious award, he graduated from the University of Kentucky and worked as a photographer for several years, founding a wedding photo agency. He eventually started a career in advertising, working in social media for a small ad agency. Luttrell was fired from the agency when the company found out about his side hustle, a marketing analytics company. After getting canned, Luttrell became a copywriter at a competing firm, where he worked his way up from copywriter to Creative Director in three years.


Luttrell founded another side hustle, GoWild, while working for the agency. In 2018, he went full time with his startup. Today the company is building its community, and scaling its latest product, Holler Commerce, which provides commerce as a service to publishers and creators.

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