Our motto is “for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs,” so we have created a series on the journeys of our founders. We know that not one journey is like the other. Therefore, here is another in our ‘A-typical’ Entrepreneurial Journey series.
Founder Spotlight: Sam Lucas, co-founder and CEO at Special Project
Special Project is a platform for independent creators and studios to launch their own direct-to-fan, subscription streaming service
*The conversation has been lightly edited with Sam’s approval*
What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was young, I wanted to be a music producer. Very soon after, though, I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. The people who I looked up to and aspired to be as a child were all entrepreneurs. I didn’t know what, when, how, where, but I knew I wanted to work for myself and have the autonomy and the creativity that comes with entrepreneurship. You could argue that all music producers are in fact entrepreneurs, but I found that my talent and passion is more so in business operations — supporting and leading teams of people far more creative than I.
What was your “Aha moment” when you realized that you wanted (or more so needed) to start Special Project?
I had started businesses since I was a teenager, whether it was a dog walking business or an e-commerce clothing brand. Then during my senior year of college, I co-founded Triple Tree Software, which was a custom software engineering firm. After four years of building custom software platforms for venture-backed companies, my business partner and I had two clients ask us to build custom video on-demand platforms.
After building two of those over two years and then having a handful of other businesses ask us to do the exact same thing, we experienced our “a-ha moment”. It was pretty straight forward. We had two companies pay us a very meaningful sum of money to build the same thing. Our customers gave us the idea.
What is one nugget of advice that has impacted you as a founder that you would share with others looking to start their entrepreneurial career?
Part of the greatest joy of being an entrepreneur is moving through all of the unknowns. With that, though, comes friction, approaching a challenge and then working through it. That’s the joy–you break [being a founder] down and it’s solving problems.
In the startup world specifically, nobody has any idea what they’re doing. No one has the answers. You are starting something brand new, experiencing challenges you have yet to experience. You’ll experience those moments of feeling stuck, feeling like you’re not good enough, feeling like you don’t know what to do next, but as long as you focus on constant improvement, curiosity, and trying your best to learn faster than everyone else, you’ll always come out ahead. It’s a very important mindset for any entrepreneur at any stage of foundership. If you’re not breaking new ground and finding solutions to new problems, then you’re not pushing yourself, your business, or your team hard enough.
Describe a day in the life of Sam–as typical as one can get for a founder of a startup. What two skills, in your opinion, are necessary to make it through each day successfully?
Everyday is different. My days have also changed after moving from being a founder of a service-based business to a product-based business. At a high-level, in the mornings, it’s coffee, emails, and internal meetings. After that, I take a walk to break up the day and have lunch. I’ll often take the long way around the block and listen to music to clear my head. In the afternoon, I attend customer meetings and meet with people outside of my internal team. Post work consists of an outdoor activity like mountain biking or hiking, dinner, and then working for a couple more hours in the evening from home, whether that’s reading, thinking, or planning. I consider plain “thinking” while somewhere in the mountains to be some of my most meaningful work.
What two skills, in your opinion, are necessary to make it through each day successfully? Service to product based business.
You hear CEOs of really big companies saying “I only need to make one or two decisions a day to be successful,” but in the startup world, you don’t have the resources or operational infrastructure to routinely think at that level. I’d say the most important thing for startup founders is to very clearly be able to spend your brain power making a handful of micro decisions and then coming all the way up to the top as a visionary and leader of your business to make those longer term, macro decisions as well. You can easily get trapped in one or the other and that’s dangerous. You need to be able to go up and down the vertical of your business routinely and quickly.
If you could share a beer, glass of wine, soda with any person (dead or alive) who would it be and briefly why
Kanye West from the early 2000s, back when he was actually a creative genius–everything from music production to live performances to apparel and business. Kanye was really pushing the genre of music as he went from his Graduation album into 808s and Heartbreaks and then discovering and growing a record label of diverse acts such as Kid Cudi. Kanye West was very inspirational to me growing up as a risk-taker and a futuristic thinker, breaking norms and always reinventing himself every few years.
Are you a “Breakfast of Champions” type? Or do you live on coffee and fumes until lunch?
I’m definitely a three cups of coffee guy. I usually make drip coffee at my house, then I stop at Wild Joe*s which is on Main St. across from our office and say hello to a few familiar faces there. I don’t usually eat breakfast, though. I’m more just lunch and dinner.
Favorite business book?
The 4-Hour Workweek was the first book that really had me thinking differently about business and the idea that working hard doesn’t always produce results but working smarter does. Granted, if that’s the first business book you ever read, you’ll be inspired but you won’t know how to actually take tactics out of there. Thereafter, the book Zero to One was very pivotal in thinking that true innovation isn’t going from one to two but actually going from nothing to something. That idea of nothing to something also changed the way I approach product development. It’s not easy to truly be innovative.
Your life is pretty busy running a company. What do you like to do in your free time?
I live in Bozeman, Montana and have been here for my adult life. It’s fall right now so I’m an avid hunter, then come winter I’m a very avid skier both backcountry and at the resorts. In the summer and spring, I’m mountain biking, fishing, or boating on a lake.
Why do you think Austin city is a great place to start a company?
First and foremost Bozeman’s quality of life is incredible. You can’t beat it, which brings in a lot of physically and emotionally healthy individuals. More than anything, they’re happy people. Successful individuals from the coasts are actually moving to Bozeman because of this great quality of life. Early on in my career, I was able to network in Bozeman and build networks in Atlanta, Seattle, San Francisco, LA, and New York all from Bozeman, simply because of that influx of tourism and people from the coasts looking to get away.
Second, I would say Bozeman is great in terms of the entrepreneurial community. It’s very tight-nit. Everyone supports each other. Also, Montana State University is here in Bozeman. It’s an exceptional university producing very highly talented business students and software engineers, so the talent pool is constantly being filled by MSU.
Those pieces together make it pretty exceptional. But we try not to tell just anyone 😉
Sam and his experience in Bozeman is a perfect example of the value of the ‘Next Coast’ markets. We are glad you could get to know Sam not only on a professional level but also a personal one. We’re looking forward to hearing about your entrepreneurial journey someday!
Thank you to Sam for taking the time to share his story with Next Coast Ventures.