Founders Interview: Russell Nohelty, Complete Creative

May 5, 2020

By: Richard Lau

Founders Interview: Russell Nohelty, Complete Creative
Tell us about yourself and what your company does, & how long you've been working on it.

The Complete Creative helps creative better businesses through courses, blog posts, and other trainings. The Complete Creative is the educational wing of my publishing company Wannabe Press, which publishes books and comic books. The publishing company just celebrated it's five year anniversary.

What inspired you to start your own company - tell us the story?

I've been starting companies since I was in college. Every time I would be fired or quit a job, I ended up starting a company. My goal was to work in movies and television, and that almost necessitates having your own company as there aren't many W2 employees on a movie set, so the need for entrepreneurship was drilled into me early in my life. My first three companies failed, and then a fourth blew up in my face before I finally landed on one that worked for me. I suppose the inspiration was everybody that I admired having their own company or being a freelancer.

How did you decide on your company name and logo?

For The Complete Creative, the original logo design came from a non-fiction book I wrote called Sell Your Soul: How to Build Your Creative Career, where the check mark was a big part of the design. When we rebranded it to How to Build Your Creative Career, the design changed, but I really loved the check mark as a symbol of completion. The new logo is from my podcast, which is the top of my head above the glasses, and that was from my business card. I wanted to brand myself into the logo when we launched the podcast, so that was a natural fit.

The name came like a shot in the dark. I was trying to figure out how to label the kind of stuff I was going to teach which ranged from mindset to creating to sales, and The Complete Creative reminded me of leaving a complete life, which didn't just include sales, but also happiness, love, and fulfillment. Leading a complete creative life had become the most important thing in my business life.

Wannabe Press on the other hand was kind of my big screw you to publishing which didn't want anything to do with me for years, so I figured if I was going to be an outsider, I might as well embrace and live the part. Our mascot, Melissa the Wannabe, came from a lot of customer research and the fact that a bee was the natural extension of Wannabe.

How long did it take from having the idea to your first customers?

I started working on my first books for Wannabe Press in 2010, and we didn't launch until 2014. With The Complete Creative it was almost instantly because at that point I had been working and teaching for nearly a decade before launching it.

Russell Nohelty, Comic Con San Diego
Russell Nohelty, Comic Con San Diego
Who were your first customers? (Or: Tell us about your first sale. Or: Tell us about your opening day.)

We launched our first book on Kickstarter, so we had those customers first, and it was awesome. I had barely made any money in any of my companies before, so to watch over 150 people help me raise over $5,000 gave me some hope that there was a market for my books. There's nothing like somebody buying something that came out of your head.

For my training academy, the first customers were authors and artists who I had known for years that wanted to take it to the next level. I personally know almost all my customers because we are a direct to consumer company.

What's been a good way of growing your customer base and sales? Can you share a few success stories with us?

However, most powerful was building a network of fellow creators in your industry REALLY helped. These aren't necessarily customers, but they are people who I can rely on to help promote and gather them for projects like anthologies and virtual conferences. I talk about that in this post.

I cross-promote all the time with other creators, combining our small audiences into a much bigger audience.

Another one is to just be obsessive about your customer. Reach out to them, know them, and be able to talk about them as if they were your best friend. Melissa the Wannabe, our mascot for Wannabe Press, is the amalgamation of the best qualities that make a Wannabe Press fan. She personifies everything about our company and who we serve.

Business is little more than the interplay between customer and product. Once you have that, the rest becomes easy. The rest are just delivery mechanisms for your message, which all become clear once you have a message that resonates with your customer.

Can you share some insights that your customers often overlook?

I am in nearly constant communication with my customers, so I'm not sure there is anything they overlook. I am very open about my sales numbers, what goes into a book, and my process. Still, I doubt people appreciate just how much work goes into a book, or a piece of content. Even if I give it away for free, there are usually dozens if not hundreds of hours that go into that piece of work.

The other thing people don't understand is how many failures go into every success. For every piece that people see, there are 10-20 projects that blew up in my face, or failed to make it across the finish line. The successes are great, but there are just so many failures. You are constantly coming back from failure.

What did you wish you knew before you started your company? What advice do you have for first-time entrepreneurs?

The failure bit I talked about above is the most important. You will fail way more than you succeed, even if you have a successful company. Also, there are all sorts of technical things that go into a company, but the most important is to be kind to yourself.

Your self-worth is NOT tied to your success or failure. While you're on an upswing, it's easy to tie your self-worth to that success, but eventually everything will come crashing down, and if your self-worth is tied to your business in those minutes, it's crushing. I know, because it's happened to me and it's HORRIBLE. I was suicidal after a run of bad launches last year because I felt I had no self-worth and should just die.

A career is filled with both successes and failures, but your self-worth is intrinsic to being alive. Tied to that, you are not a failure or a success. You are a person who succeeds or fails, but you are also hundreds of other things. Switching your mental model to look at yourself as a person who fails instead of a failure was really important to me. You are hundreds of beautiful things, and just one of them is a business owner. The mindset stuff is something I discounted for a long time, but the further you get into a career, the more important it is, so try to get it right from the beginning.

What are trends in your industry that you are excited about?

Well, all of my industries require a lot of in person communication and that just blew up in all our faces in the past month, so I don't know if I'm excited about anything. I should have moved into digital a while ago, but now I'm forced to do so, and I'm nervous excited about it because it means a whole new challenge. I have enjoyed the few digital things that I have done, and I think I have a plan that I need to implement, but it's going to take some time, and I'm not a patient man.

What are you looking forward to in the next week/month/quarter or year and what are your aspirations for your company?

I'm going to be honest. I'm not looking forward to anything in the next quarter. COVID 19 literally destroyed both of my companies, and I am doing everything I can to keep my head above water, but I have no idea how we are going to survive.

Any particular books or podcasts you can recommend?

Outside of my own books and podcast, which are very good, other books that I really love are The Vine Witch, The Hazel Woods, and The Year of Yes. I listen to Akimbo, Pod Save America, The Tim Ferris Show, and Happiness Lab.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

Usually people say they didn't think I was going to be as tall as I am when I meet them in person.

Where is your favorite place in the world?

I really love LA, but the only other place in the world I would live is a small town in Spain called San Sebastian, so I guess there.

What would you suggest as the title of this interview?

How to lead a complete creative life with Wannabe Press and The Complete Creative founder and USA Today bestselling author Russell Nohelty

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