Mere days after announcing the acquisition of his company, we were honored to chat with Cameron Gawley, co-founder of BuzzShift and STAPL.
We were fortunate enough to dig into his background as a long-standing entrepreneur, whilst also learning about his next steps in the world of business. (And that's not to mention his extensive thoughts on the state of entrepreneurship in our hometown of Dallas, Texas.)
Crucially, though, he has a line of ceiling fans named after him. So, that's mostly what we're here to share. Everything else is just decorative.
Matt Alexander: I realize you just announced the acquisition of your company. And that’s a truly phenomenal feat which we’ll discuss. But, first things first, I just read that you have a line of ceiling fans named after you. Please, please elaborate.
Cameron Gawley: My father was actually in the ceiling fan business, and they manufactured majority of the private-label ceiling fans for Walmart and Home Depot. I never wanted to get into the business of ceiling fans myself; I was more interested in the computer business. But my dad named one of the ceiling fan models the “Cameron.” You can still buy it at Home Depot.
Matt Alexander: You’ve been running (and building) BuzzShift since 2010. How does it feel to have sold it? Tell me more about the acquisition.
Cameron Gawley: This is the first time I’ve ever gone through an acquisition. The reality is, we were not really looking to be acquired. But after multiple unsolicited offers, we decided to at least entertain what was being brought to the table. We really liked Ivie, especially when it comes to company culture and having similar goals. They wanted to build on what we were already doing. Ivie is acquiring us specifically for our culture and our people, so nothing will change about how we operate. We will still be called BuzzShift, and still have our own separate office and employees.
The challenge with running a small business is having the capital and cash flow needed to grow and scale. For Eddy and I, we built BuzzShift debt-free. Which is great, but it also meant we couldn’t always grow as quickly as we might have if we had more resources. Joining up with Ivie gives BuzzShift more room to grow, and opens up a lot of new opportunities.
From Ivie’s perspective, acquiring BuzzShift helps them grow more into the digital space. BuzzShift didn't become digital with the times; we were born that way. It's in our DNA. Our strategies are built for today's (and tomorrow's) digital media. Our Paid Media team is constantly learning new ways to make our clients' money work more efficiently on the Web. Our creative is engineered from the start to become online content.
Traditional agencies, no matter how forward-thinking, aren't built that way. That's why more and more of them are seeking out the best digital shops like ours and acquiring them. The best acquisitions are more like marriages; wherein the best parts of each become "ours." Compromise is likely, but nobody is forced to change who they are to make the pieces fit together.
That's what BuzzShift + Ivie & Associates is doing, starting today. We're helping each other become better at the business of marketing for our clients. Whether that be through our capabilities, culture, capital, creativity, or any number of our other collective strengths, we're in this together.
Matt Alexander: Clearly, you’ve always been an entrepreneur. What was your first venture? At what point did you realize you were destined to build things?
Cameron Gawley: Building a company is no easy task. I would say that my first true venture was selling baseball cards at card shows around DFW at age 10. At 13 I received my first computer for Christmas, and within 2 weeks I had taken it apart and put it back together. Back then, custom-built computers were a big thing. At 16 a small computer shop called MSC Computers in Carrollton gave me a job as an assembler of custom-built PCs. I soon started selling computers on the side, and even put my first ad in the yellow pages. I called the company Computeks. During college I spent half of my days building or fixing computers, and then finally I realized that I could hire people to do it for me and scale things more quickly. That’s where I learned how to run a business, and learned how to grow it through online marketing, advertising, and SEO. The lessons I learned growing that business (and others that followed) I was later able to apply towards growing our clients’ businesses at BuzzShift.
Matt Alexander: Most importantly, post-acquisition, how long do you expect it’ll take before you start building something else?
Cameron Gawley: Post-acquisition we are still BuzzShift. Keeping our culture intact and allowing our team to grow in the way they deserve is what I wanted. That was part of the deal.
This winter I am launching my passion project, a men’s fashion brand called STAPL, along with mentoring and advising high-growth tech startups. That is where my focus will always be: growing brands, whether it’s my own brand or someone else’s.
My true north is growth.
Matt Alexander: Tell me about STAPL. You’re building a fascinating brand on the side. What led you to waxed bags? Do you plan to expand beyond that singular product type?
Cameron Gawley: The STAPL brand was started to help me scratch an itch of creating something, of being a maker. I have spent a good deal of my time building strategies for other brands and managing people to help execute on those go-to-market strategies for brands. But I had almost forgotten what it was like to create something from scratch.
I’ve always had a hard time finding a messenger laptop bag that I just loved. The options were either a heavy all-leather bag, a nylon bag, or a cheap cotton bag. There had to be something else out there. I’ve always loved premium materials such as waxed canvas and Horween leather. So I thought, why not just make my own bag that I loved, and maybe others would love it as well. That’s what I did.
The challenge with building things is just that. Entrepreneurs love to build and make things and as you grow your team, you spend less time making and more time managing people. This Manager vs Maker mentality is a core struggle for most entrepreneurs. Therefore, I fundamentally believe that all entrepreneurs, once they reach the inflection point of managing people, should pursue a creative outlet to start making something again. It allows us to pursue new ideas while still having a focus on the day-to-day of running a business.
Matt Alexander: You’re an advisor and investor for a good deal of startups in Dallas. What do you think about the current state of the city’s startup community?
Cameron Gawley: In my opinion, there is no better place to start something than Dallas. The cost of living is hard to beat and every year we see a stronger presence of major tech companies. The ecosystem here is vibrant, and there’s a great talent pool. There is so much untapped talent here. And compared to Silicon Valley, the talent here is really loyal. The Bay Area is oversaturated with startups and venture capitalists, with opportunities everywhere. Therefore, whoever has the cash can poach anyone from any place. Talented people bounce from startup to startup and it impedes the process.
Someone not from around here might think that most of the local startups might be looking to use Dallas as a springboard; to grow here for a bit and then leave town for something Bigger and Better. But very few local entrepreneurs have that mindset. What’s unique about the Dallas startup community is that they truly believe in Dallas. They’re invested personally in making Dallas bigger and better. They have roots here, and that’s a very good thing.
When it comes to the investment community here, I truly believe that the best combination for a lean, high-growth startup is the mindset of a Bay Area strategic investor coupled with the talent pool in D/FW. That’s because generally speaking there are many high net worth investors in Dallas, but few tech-minded investors as compared the Bay Area. Our job in Dallas has to be to educate local investors on why investing in lean, early-stage tech startups is a wise decision. We need more strategic investors – not just capital.
Matt Alexander: And what do you think is the greatest challenge facing most startups?
Cameron Gawley: The biggest challenge for startups in general, location aside, is that there is an influx of product people who are building and creating things, but are not necessarily the best with a “go-to market strategy”. Essentially you have an abundance of product people, but not enough strategic marketers that are focused on growth as their core metric. Why is that? Because marketing people have a hard time with understanding the technology.
Over the past 6.5 years of building BuzzShift we have met with more than 100 startups and while we believe many of their products are great, they are not baking in overall marketing strategy into their equation. They all typically have the same mindset and focus around tactics (e.g. paid search, Facebook, email marketing). This is not a strategy, it was an afterthought and tactic. The opportunity is to bring together more technology centric people who are passionate about go-to market strategy and more marketing people that understand the technology. We are already seeing large brands take this approach of hiring Chief Marketing Technology Officers. This will start trickling into the smallest of startups as well and help set them up for success.