On this episode of the podcast, Taylor is joined by his brother, QALO co-founder KC Holiday, and producer Cory Hamilton, the OG CTC employee, to reflect on the early days of CTC, how ecommerce has changed over the years, and how to grow an ecommerce business from the ground up.
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[00:00:00] Richard Gaffin:This episode of the Ecommerce Playbook Podcast is brought to you by ShipStation. Whether you're shipping from your house or a warehouse, ShipStation can help you increase your profitability with discounts on USPS and U P s rates up to 82%. Go to shipstation.com/thread today and sign up for your free 60 day extended trial.
[00:00:24] Taylor Holiday: All right, we're going back to our old school roots. Maybe the technology's a little better than when we started, but we have the, the real OGs here on this episode today. A very special episode. So Richard, who's, he's pretty og, but this is even predates Richard today, so I'm taking over his spot as host. We've got, we've brought Cory out from behind his producer role, so you'll see him here, Cory, who normally is producing the podcast.
And then we've got a special guest. A fellow Holiday. I didn't create an AI bot of a younger version of me that is literally just my brother KC, who's gonna be joining us. And we're gonna go back to the beginning. We're gonna tell you part of the story that not many people know about Common Thread collective QALO, and something called the Arch Network.
So stay tuned. Exciting stuff today.
Yeah. Cory, you wanna say hi to people and introduce yourself? Have you come out from behind the camera yet? Yeah.
[00:01:15] Cory: No, I don't think I've been on the podcast since we were doing um, uncommon finds way back in the in the original second office when we just had nothing to talk about. And we were just talking about the internet. It was like original, original internet two 1.0 stuff back when Bitcoin wasn't even
[00:01:33] Taylor Holiday: Yeah, you could, you could scroll back to the beginning of our YouTube channel maybe and find those. So Cory is employee number one at CTC. Many people don't know that, but he has been with me and us since the very, very beginning before there was anyone else. There was Cory. And then KC is my brother.
He was, he even predates Cory in my life. He goes back 34, what are you, how old are you now? 34, 35. Dang. We are so old. 35 years. But he's my brother and the co-founder of QALO and was with us in the very early days of the instance. But KC, what else? What else would you tell people about yourself? Who are you?
What do you do?
[00:02:12] KC Holiday: Oh gosh. So, I, it's interesting, I, I. Never considered myself this, but I guess I'm a bit of an ecommerce dinosaur. That it, I, I disappeared. I kind of disappeared off the face of the earth for the last two years. So I could have been like the extinct dinosaur that has now since come back. But I, yeah, I, I've started in ecom when I was in my early twenties, and this was in 2012 and the early days which led me to an office above the Blue Frog Cafe in Orange, California, which was also the headquarters of Common Thread collective, which was Arch Network at the time, I believe.
And so I was just a guy that had started a silicone wedding ring company in Los Angeles with a co-founder of mine that was squatting in an office. I'd just moved in with my mom. It's a really good story. I just moved in with my mom after getting married.
So I was a newlywed living with my mom, looking for a place to work out of. And I found your office and that was really the origin story of QALO and what we built.
[00:03:10] Taylor Holiday: Yeah, so it's funny because I saw KC, he's now made an appearance on Twitter. He's trying to, he's trying to push, he's a lot bigger on TikTok. You, you go check him out on TikTok.
[00:03:19] KC Holiday: Don't, don't now though. 'cause they just deleted my account.
[00:03:21] Taylor Holiday: oh, nevermind. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. By the way, TikTok, if you're listening, we gotta get his account back.
We're working on that. But but I saw KC interacting with, like, you were in a thread with like Amanda Goetz and Joe Putnam and like a few other, like Twitter people. And I was like, this is so weird. Like KC, who's been like absent from the world has shown up back into the DTC ecom scene and he feels like he's a newcomer.
He feels like he's new to the scene, but really he predates the scene in a lot of ways that I've seen like the Pura Vida guy come back and I feel like some of these like early founders that were like, wait, I didn't, I didn't get famous when I was building the ecommerce thing. I wanna get famous now.
[00:03:54] KC Holiday: Yeah, I missed out on all the credit that we should have gotten when we were building.
[00:03:57] Taylor Holiday: That's right. I've seen like Moiz Ali, you know, and these other guys that have gone on like that sold the, in like, let's call it like DTC 1.0 or whatever. They've, they've come back now and are getting all the attention, and so a few of you founders like, wait a second. What, what happened? We were the, we were the early band, and so you guys are coming back to make a scene.
So we're, we're here to help you. We're here to help. Platform the DTC 1.0 winners, but also it's something I connect with too because, you know, I think a lot of people would see CTC as building in public, but the reality is like we were doing CTC for seven years before the Twitter thing ever happened.
Right. There was a lot of days before any of that occurred, but I'm curious what's, what's brought you back? Why are you excited to, to jump back in KC?
[00:04:33] KC Holiday: Oh, gosh. So I think it was, I think you, you, you, I, guess posts selling QALO, so I exited QALO in early 2020. And I think after you sell anything, you go through a bit of a, a journey and a reflection period on it. And I, my wife's Australian, so I moved to Australia for two years. And it wasn't necessarily to run from anything, it was just the next right step for my family.
So I did that and I'd spent two years working in venture capital and. I would say 20% of what I worked in was ecommerce, but the rest was all these different industries that I had exposure to. So different software companies, FinTech, InsureTech, and it was interesting, but I also thought to myself that I think the experience you have to date is really meaningful and its on purpose.
And so when I came back in early this year, early this year, so early 2023, when I came back, I realized that a lot of what my experience was was colliding with was what I love doing, which was coaching. So, when I ran the Venture Fund, we had 25 portfolio companies, so I spent a lot of time coaching those founders and how to scale a company.
So it wasn't just ecommerce specific, but it was a lot of different types of companies. And I realized I loved working with the founders and/or CEOs of these companies to try and navigate scale and. So since coming back, I've collided the worlds of what I did, which was scale, a rapid growth ecom company with coaching.
And now that's what I do is, is coaching full-time. And so me getting on Twitter and coming back is a combination of a couple things. One, what you mentioned where I people didn't really build in public when we were building even early days of Common Thread collective and early days of QALO, that wasn't something that we did.
And now you have this large community of people, or ecommerce has grown substantially that are looking for. What I would probably call the gray beards of the industry, like who was, who has been doing it for a long time. And I think that the two of you represent those, those gray beards, right? I've got a couple sneaking in as well that have been around for all, but now it's this like, especially during covid ecom boomed even more.
And now you have all of these people that are looking for help. And when I started QALO, I call myself the underdog entrepreneur because I was a college dropout that had also dropped outta firefighting school that was trying to be an actor that ended up building an ecom company. And I didn't really have.
A lot of resources available to me apart from the advisors that I had, people like the two of you to help me scale it. And so a lot of that has been me coming back and now realizing I have this unique experience to date. I sort of stepped out of the well and experienced other industries and realized that ecom is really something that I understand.
I'm uniquely qualified to talk about it based on my own experience and so I can help a lot of people. So that's part of why I think I've since come back, is I've realized. Carved out an identity for myself and done the reflection post business that I have had up to point this point. And then also realized a lot of people live on Twitter and I'd spent time on other platforms.
Creating content like Instagram and TikTok and going to where your people are and where your tribe is, is valuable. And there's a massive DTC Twitter community that it's been really cool and has been very accepting of me. So that's partially why I'm now just showing up on Twitter. And it seems like, what the heck?
I thought Taylor was an only child. Now all of a sudden there's this other guy using his name, what's going on here? And that's me. And so long-winded
[00:07:54] Taylor Holiday: people even know, like I, I like have people connected the dots. I think there's sometimes that people have no idea that
[00:08:00] KC Holiday: I don't think, I don't think people, I don't think people know at all.
[00:08:03] Taylor Holiday: Yeah, it's interesting. Okay, so what I thought would be interesting is, you know, so much of our story, because we joined Twitter after many years, and like CTC was already a thing, we had a bunch of people and clients in history.
I, I don't always think that the beginning of the story has been made very clear and I think the same is probably true for QALO. And so I know that a lot of the people that we communicate with, whether it's the audience of this podcast is early stage entrepreneurs. And it's really easy to sort of play the comparison game to sort of see, like, look at it, you know, the rich founders and all these people.
And like, like the operators podcast is a good example. Well these guys are all nine-figure businesses and so you're sort of comping yourself to their experiences and it's kind of hard to relate to it in some ways. 'cause if you're, if you're in the early days, it's just not like that, you know? And so I think it would be good to go back.
And the thing I wanna do is I wanna reflect on what it was like for us at the start. And then I wanna say, why did it work? Like, why did we actually succeed? I'd be curious to reflect and then would it succeed the same way today? Those are the kinds of things I wanna reflect on a little bit. So, Cory, maybe you could start us out because you were like the, the documentarian that was present in the very beginning.
So KC mentioned our very first office together was three of us in a room that was like maybe a hundred square feet, like very small. On top of a bakery in Orange, California. We bought the furniture at ikea, loaded it in your tiny little car and tried to bring it up and build it.
[00:09:28] Taylor Holiday: Yeah. My old, like 1992 Lexus and built it some IKEA desks and sat in a crappy little office together.
And that was CTC and QALO launching. What do you remember about those early days and how would you describe it?
[00:09:42] Cory: Man. Well, so at the time Arch Network, we had Evo Shield as a client, which was like the darling of the baseball industry at the time, and we didn't really have like, A job for them. I don't even remember what we did for them, but I remember we started this thing, we were starting a blog for them. It's really why I kind of came on was like I came on to be a blogger.
I I it, which is, which is funny. I, I would sit there each, each day and make up wild topics to write for this Evo Shield blog. And it was like and then so the backtrack. I love the internet. I love everything about the internet. I love social media. I love Twitter. I like, nobody sees me on Twitter, but I see everything on Twitter and I'm on Twitter more than anybody else.
I'm just a lurker on Twitter. And like, there's so many times that thoughts go through my mind of like, the KC always calls me a troll because I'm like an internet troll on Twitter. But I just have kind of stopped myself from being who I want to be on the internet because of who CTC is and stuff.
And. I was blogging for Evo Shield and running two, I think two Facebook accounts for them. And it was like before like House of Highlights and these things. And what I used to do was like find videos of like little kids getting like blasted in football and like post them and I would get millions and millions of views on these videos.
And it was just repurposing things before copyright problems and all these things where, so I really think that like our, our basis for all this is that like We love the internet and I think we kind of understand the internet, which then brought us to paid media, which is the new thing that was coming when we started.
I don't even think we were spending a dollar on Facebook that first, first couple months in that office.
[00:11:30] KC Holiday: 1 1, 1 thing to that's really important in there that I think is, is interesting is everybody talks about vision and having big vision, and it's like in the early days we had no idea what we were like, like from from a CTC perspective. Kayla, obviously we knew what we were selling, but you guys, it was just like, Who's the, it was kind of what's the next client that we can take on and what can we do for them?
And then it just organically grew based on the needs of customers. It wasn't, I don't know that we were sitting in that office going, oh, CTC's gonna be this massive Facebook marketing company. Or, you know, pay, running, paid ads or anything. Mm-hmm.
[00:12:04] Taylor Holiday: We had, we had presence. I think that's one of the things that we've always been, is like we were in the game, like we were there and we were figuring out what was working all the time. And so it's funny, organic social. At the time, this was back in like an era where organic reach on social was huge, right?
And so Evo Shield was this cool. And, and we had come out of power balance in building a brand in the sports world. And so we had, we knew consumer and sports, we were, Cory played professional baseball. I played professional baseball. Jordan played in the N F L. So we knew sports, we knew con selling consumer product and we knew social media like that was like our world.
And so we would sell doing organic social. And so we ran this blog, we called it The Dish. And really we built House of Highlights before House of Highlights existed. Like it was that Cory was finding these clips on the internet and literally we would post them on Evo Shields.
[00:12:52] KC Holiday: or was it,
[00:12:52] Taylor Holiday: No Facebook. This was really
[00:12:54] KC Holiday: Oh, early Facebook days.
[00:12:56] Taylor Holiday: yeah, their, their Facebook page.
We would get hundreds of thousands of views on these clips every day, like big, big organic reach numbers. And so we were trying to build that and try and figure out how to, we wanted to siphon it off of Facebook onto their website. And so we tried to build this blog on their website to start pulling the traffic, 'cause we were having trouble converting organic traffic into sales, like a very classic problem.
But it was literally just like, okay, let's just try and solve this thing for this brand in a way that was there. And then through that connection we met Eat the Ball. Our second biggest client ever at CTC was a, this is an insane company. They were called Eat the Ball. It was started by a guy who was one of the Red Bull founders that created freeze dried bread that was already baked in the shape of sports balls.
Okay, this is like, sounds insane. This is real. You can look this up, eat the ball, and we through Jordan's contacts, got the business to do an equity deal with Russell Wilson. To be the face of eat the ball. This is insane. It's like literally you couldn't make this up, but this, and then we would do, like we had a commercial freezer in this tiny a hundred square foot office.
[00:14:03] KC Holiday: Yes.
[00:14:04] Cory: Refrigerator,
[00:14:05] Taylor Holiday: No, no refrigerator, just a freezer,
[00:14:08] KC Holiday: freezer
[00:14:09] Taylor Holiday: giant commercial freezer.
[00:14:10] KC Holiday: we would just, we would just microwave eat the balls at lunch, and that's all we would eat. We would like, we would take down six to eight, eat the balls a day just in the office.
[00:14:19] Taylor Holiday: Yeah, just we'd put peanut butter and jelly on some, eat the balls and that was all we ate all day. But we would have these girl on a Saturday it like we would have these random, you know, girls come and pass out, eat the balls in sports parks. Like that was part of what like, so the point is just . We had like KC, you're saying like vision, like we were like, I don't know, what will someone pay us to do and what could we do that would be interesting and novel?
And we were just in it and iterating and trying and figuring it out all the time. And we had enough network and relationship. In connections from our previous life to get people to give us a chance, you know? And I think that was a lot of the early days. And then like, I think QALO was, was sort of similar where like, I, it's funny, I just came across a video of Greg, the, the classic Greg early ads where Greg was the first employee at QALO that became the fourth person in this office.
[00:15:06] KC Holiday: He was QALO's Cory. Yeah.
[00:15:08] Taylor Holiday: Yeah, exactly.
We would go to the park and like film videos of like doing it's, it's that video where Greg swings with the golf club and breaks it over his knee. 'cause he is so mad and it's like Cory filming it. It's the four of us. But just like do no business strategy, no idea other than like what might work. And we were just gonna be in it and go, go, go, go, go, go, go.
[00:15:30] KC Holiday: Yeah, and an interesting parallel story to, to tie it back, to eat the ball. So in, so QALO, we came up with the idea, I got married in, in May of 2012, and Ted, my partner, got married a few months after we did. After I did. And so, We one day in passing came up with the idea for QALO, for the silicon wedding ring, and we spent the next six or seven months building it and then launched on March 1st, 2013 was when QALO launched, and we had no clue what we were doing.
And so for us it was like completely bootstrapped, just send rings to as many people as we possibly can. Same type of thing, like just we didn't. And one thing I talk about is the value of not knowing what you're doing is that you don't know what you should do. You just do what feels right or what is addressing the needs of customers.
And you just. Follow that around, like you follow the traction versus going, oh, I'm gonna, I'm gonna, and not a knock on these podcasts that have a hundred million dollars brands, but what they're doing at a hundred million has no relevancy to what you're doing. Up to like in the early days at all. And so for us, what we were doing was like, let's just get rings to as many people as possible.
So I had, in order to save money, I'd moved down to, so that was, I was living in Los Angeles and the restaurant I started that the idea of QALO came up with was in Beverly Hills and I had moved down south to Orange County, which if you are familiar with Southern California, nobody crosses that. Chasm.
Like that's people in Orange County, stay in Orange County, people in LA stay in la. So I came down and then I was commuting five days a week to still bartend and wait tables while trying to build QALO out of my mom's living room. And so in November of 2013 I actually looked this up today 'cause I was just stumbling upon old Black Friday numbers.
So in November of, of 2013, we were doing $9,000 of revenue at QALO. So, At that point, I was like, I'm gonna retire.
We're, we're, we're. This is it. We're cashing it in here. This is an unbelievable growth rate. And I remember I went to Ted and I said, Hey, I'm gonna quit. I'm gonna quit the restaurant. And he managed the restaurant, so it was an uncomfortable conversation.
I'm gonna quit. And he goes, absolutely not. We do not have enough money for Caleb to pay you. And he's, and I'm like, okay, well here's what I can live on. So I tell him, and I go, I'm gonna quit. And he said, it doesn't matter. You're not quitting. And I remember I went to Taylor and I said, I think I need to quit and go to QALO and he said, quit.
I will pay you whatever the difference is that you need from whatever we are doing at Common Thread at that time. And so I quit without telling Ted. So I went to a different manager at my restaurant. I quit. He found out later. I made X amount of dollars from QALO, and then my first paid job was filming an Eat the Ball corporate lunch.
So my first job that I …
[00:18:12] Taylor Holiday: I did not even remember that.
[00:18:13] KC Holiday: The first job I had with Common Thread and, Cory, I can give you the Eat the ball lunch video. It's in there. So you were, I was like, what can I do? And you're like we're supposed to do a corporate lunch for Eat the Ball at Evo Shield, I think is where it was. And it was like, I was like, yeah, I've been working in the film and TV industry.
I have a camera. You're like, bring it, shoot the lunch. So I basically made an eat the ball, lunch highlight reel. And that's what I got paid for in the, in the early days. And that was like November, December. And then we did 12,000 in December for QALO and then we did 3 million the next year. So the rest was history.
But that was like the first moment of transitioning from working in this restaurant to working and, and you were that bridge guys. So appreciate that.
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[00:19:32] Taylor Holiday: Well, but there, there's something in here though that one of the things that we reflect a lot on now, we're all married, Cory's about to get married. I have three kids. Cory's, KC's got three kids. Is that one of the biggest limitations that we have in our life, is our lack of availability to that posture?
Is that we could do that because of where we were in life. And that's actually such a, a treasure, like, because the early roots of a thing require that kind of effort, absence value, absent value. You have to be willing to do a thing when it's not worth anything yet. In order in many cases to make it that.
And some people's life just becomes prohibitive where it's like they literally practically can't do that. 'cause the standard of living's reached a certain point or the practicalities of the cost of their life. Just, I couldn't go back to being that person anymore.
[00:20:21] KC Holiday: No, and it's, it's. All in is different at each stage of life and when someone else is, and I, I think you have to be all in that. That's just a prerequisite for anything that you wanna build. You have to be all in, in. For us then it was, we were all in. It was just that was our livelihood. Then you get older and you take on more external obligations and your all in is different.
And so if somebody else is all in is more substantial than yours, a lot of the times they're going to win or you run into the situation that we're in where in our mid to late thirties, we have to be really effective with the time that we have.
[00:20:50] Cory: Yeah, there's no way I could do this and start what we did. Now at this point in my life, like there was months where Taylor would be like, there's no money. No pay. No pay this month. And we're like,
[00:21:03] KC Holiday: Grab another, eat the ball, make another PB and j. That's it.
[00:21:06] Cory: Exactly. Keep going. Hopefully that the beers go on sale on Friday for extra at the hotdog place by the office.
But it was just like, but that wasn't like, I mean, I always say this, it wasn't about the business. It was about like I was doing this with my best friends and we were creating something and we, we had dreams of CTC to become 20 people. It's like this 20 person boutique agency and it's like we got to almost 200 people.
It's just wild to think of like, From that to what it is today. And everybody thinks of it as this big thing, but it was nothing.
[00:21:38] Taylor Holiday: Yeah. It, it was nothing for a really long time. And it, and the, the clarity of even like, what is your product? What are you selling? Every deck was different. Every sales pitch was different. Everything was, what does the customer want to hear? But there's something about that that like, when you chase the market, what you find, like a lot of people, they think like product market fit begins with product.
Like, I, I, I have this really clear idea of a thing that I'm gonna do. And then like the market meets me at product, but in our world, it was very much like the product evolved to find the market and then as Facebook ads became the market that brands were gonna grow on, that became the product. And so it was like we learned into the market.
Now KC, you're sort of a little on the other side where I think you did the thing that's actually much harder to do, which is you magically created a product. That had a market that was unrealized, like the market didn't know it needed it yet. I think that's a lot of times what people think about, but I think it's actually the way harder way to do that.
So like, I'm curious now as you think about it, like what? Like find the market or find the product. How do you think about that sequence?
[00:22:40] KC Holiday: Well, you know, it's interesting is my exposure in VC for two years. Gave me a lot of insight into this exact thing of people going, Hey, I have the solution now let's go find the problem or chasing the problem and then molding a solution to meet that problem. And we used to have this saying after we would finish a pitch meeting and it would be, there's another solution looking for a problem to solve. And I think at the root of it, You, you, and this is what you were talking about with the way that we grew, is we were just chasing the problem. We were. We were knowing the customers and knowing these companies who we were trying to serve so well, that we were understanding their deeply rooted problem and then creating a solution to that problem, thus sort of creating traction in the market and generating that product market fit and.
Would we also, what we had as part of the, the fund that I ran was a studio, so it was people that were responsible for finding problems in a market and then trying to create a product to scale, which it's definitely not an easy thing to do. It doesn't matter what you're chasing first. It's a really challenging thing to do.
But I think to, to the point of at the, at the root of it was, even QALO was, I personally had the problem. And so it was a solution that I was just trying to create for myself. And because I personally had the problem, I had an innate. Insight into what was annoying about it and what I was solving for that.
Then the, the ring was created based on the problem that I personally had. So instead of needing to go out to the market to try and discover it, and then, but I will say is we still even the first version of the ring drastically understanding customers and how they behaved and how they responded to it and why they needed to wear it, was something that we progressively moved along on.
And I think one, one, Thing that is, to some people, they would see it as a limitation. And I think in some ways it is. But when you don't have any money to market, you have to get really creative about ways to market and get people to buy your things. And that means a lot of times it's going, can we just talk to as many customers as we can so we can, one, create awareness of our product, but two, make sure we're creating the best product we have because we don't have money to waste on advertising.
And so I don't think I would ever say that. Not having money is easier to grow a business than having money. However, there are disciplines that are created when you don't have money that are beneficial, that you don't create when you have money to just blow on marketing.
[00:25:15] Taylor Holiday: So I think there's something so important there too. Like people like word of mouth is this like, you know, holy grail of marketing that when you have it, like it feels like you have the wind at your back, and people think of it as this thing that sort of just, it's, you can't control it. I don't know how to make it happen, but I think about what you're describing is.
And I think the, the firefighter wife is such a good example of the way you create word of mouth is you pull ruthlessly on the threat of every customer to understand who they are, and then you equip them with your message and you turn them into like what Seth Godad would call sneezes. And so I think like, so, so the story is in the early days of QALO, When you're just trying to understand like you bought a ring, who are you?
Why do you care about this? What? Like, tell me about your community where like you meet the customer and then you find out, oh, you run a blog and you're connected to this community of first responders, and so maybe you could tell my story and could we partner together? And you're just tugging on every possible thread to figure out where might there be dollars.
And you find customers, you meet them, you enable them to tell their story, and it slowly begins to create. Word of mouth, like it's literally passing your words directly to customers who pass it to their community. But if you aren't invested in those relational connections to your brand and it's all programmatic and media and dollars and distribution, like, then you don't get human relationship, which is the fabric of word of mouth.
Like that's actually what it is. It's, it's a message moving through relationship.
[00:26:42] KC Holiday: But people, people don't like it 'cause they don't think it's a shortcut. It feels, it feels hard, it feels like it's not gonna happen overnight. And to your point, the, the root of QALO, like CAO's expansion and awareness, I. We scaled through Facebook. It was our, it was spend on Facebook that allowed us to grow really fast.
However, to build the foundation and for us to understand who we needed to target on Facebook, we did work off of Facebook first to understand that, and Kayla launched through three individuals that I will give credit to right here. First is, apart from the hard work and the support that I had around me, like you guys, but from the individuals in terms of the customer, the first was firefighter wife. Okay. Who posted on her fa? We sent her rings. We, and she posted on her Facebook about a ring and within 10 minutes had like a hundred comments from other wives of firefighters talking about this product. Okay. So she did that. The other was Andy Dalton, who we sent a ring to who I knew his wife from going to Texas Christian University years before I'd only met Andy one time, I Facebook messaged his wife.
I said, Hey, you guys just got married. Can I send Andy a wedding gift? It's like a total shoot your shot moment. She didn't respond for months. Finally said, sure, send it. Send it to Andy. Andy wears it on the first episode of Hard Knocks, a million and a half views, all of a sudden awareness just based on that.
And then the third is Sam. Dancer slid into my dms. I knew nothing about CrossFit. We weren't CrossFitters when QALO started. It wasn't let's go after CrossFit. Sam Dancer, who is a OG CrossFitter, Unbelievable human being slid into my dms and said, Hey, your rings are really cool. Have you ever thought about marketing them to CrossFitters before?
And I built a relationship with Sam, and Sam gave us an entry point in awareness into the CrossFit segment, which became a huge catalyst for the future of QALO.
None of those things were Facebook marketing. None of it was paid media. it's a really interesting lesson because that was the, to your point, those were the only threads we had to pull on.
We didn't have any other opportunities.
[00:28:54] Taylor Holiday: Yeah, that, that's exactly it. And those things are so rootsy again, beginning, unexpected, anticipated, and just being present for it. All right, one last thing philosophically, 'cause I, I and Cory, this, I always go back to a quote of yours when I think about this and I, I've been seeing on Twitter, I don't know if you know the guy that runs like the dad hat gang or dad gang hats or whatever it is.
Have you seen this guy? He's like building on
[00:29:15] KC Holiday: Yeah.
[00:29:16] Taylor Holiday: and the.
[00:29:17] Cory: just know daddy
[00:29:18] KC Holiday: This is a good shout out for him. He is gonna appreciate it.
[00:29:20] Taylor Holiday: Yeah. What, what's, I want to get the name of the company
[00:29:23] KC Holiday: it dad gang? Is it dad? Dad
[00:29:24] Taylor Holiday: it's the dad gang. Yeah. Yeah. Something like that. But they make these really cool hats and he's been like very public about the progress of dad gang co on Twitter. Okay. And they've been very public about how they're doing and the growth.
And it's early days, right? Like it's that, it's that like zero to 2 million. It's starting to work moment. I think is like peak euphoric state where you've been trying your hardest to make your thing a thing and all of a sudden it feels like it is and people are responding and it's growing and, but it's still very small.
Like I still see the videos of like him shipping out of his living room kind of vibe, you know? And I remember the early days when it was like at one point this a hundred square foot room had like eight of us in it. It was, you know, the people next door were complaining 'cause we were too loud and it was mini hoop basketball.
And Cory, I go back to this all the time. You, you said, and I don't know what gave you the foresight to maybe feel this way, but you were like, is this the best it will ever be? Like, does it actually go downhill experientially from this moment on? It's something I've thought about all the time as we keep trying to grow and you keep trying to reach the next milestone.
And I'd be interesting for each of your reflections. Okay, so Cory, we're 12 years into CTC, we've had tons of success, had lots of highs, lots of lows. KC, you built and sold QALO. You're starting new things. Like do you believe that was, is that peak moment for the entrepreneur? And if so, is there any way to, to recreate it or why?
Like what, how do you guys reflect on that now? Having been through as much as you've been through?
[00:31:00] KC Holiday: Cory, I'll let you start.
[00:31:02] Cory: Yeah. I think, in many ways, yes, it's still the best it ever was or could ever be. And it's not in, it's because the outcome was not like there, there was, it was not financial driven at the time. It was not anything more than like, just friends doing something that they loved. It was like, it was our, our own little fantasy factory is what, what we had.
The work was fun. Not that the work that I do is not fun or gratifying but everything was tackled by everybody. It was like, all right, orders have to be shipped for QALO.
Well let's all get an assembly line right now and trim up rings and do that. And it, it wasn't the process of it, but it was like doing it in a fun way because like you weren't afraid to fail at that time. There weren't other people's livelihoods that dependent on it. There wasn't healthcare involved, there wasn't people who have children or anything that were depending on a paycheck or anything like that at each time.
It was just about the, the process of doing that with your friends. So I, I really do think it was the best that it ever, ever was or could be. But I do think that a lot of times, like there's things of CTC has grown so big and all that type of stuff, but I, I still think that what we've been able to do is still, fun and keep that
that magic there in as much as it could be. I still come to work each day and see my best friends and all that type of stuff, but yeah, no, there was just, there was no fear. There was no fear. I think that's what it is. There was no fear in it.
[00:32:36] KC Holiday: And Cory, do you think on a question on that, do you think that was. Stage of life thing because we didn't have external obligations and so we could operate in that capacity. Or do you think at the age that you have now that you are now, you could recreate that?
[00:32:54] Cory: Yeah, I, when I first was thinking about it, I was thinking about, maybe it was an age of life thing, but I think I could create it again. I, I really think that I could, could create it again. Again,
[00:33:04] KC Holiday: and I know I'm, now, I'm turning the question around, but I, I.
[00:33:07] Cory: yeah.
[00:33:08] KC Holiday: I wanna dissect it a bit. So like, what was it about it? So you've talked about there's, there's a freedom to operate, there's no fear, but what was it about the way it was structured, the way we did things? Was it the office and being in there every day?
Was it the way we talked to customers? Was it each other's approach to things? Like, what do you think it was in the nitty gritty of this tiny little office above the blue frog?
[00:33:35] Cory: For me, I think it was like a locker room really coming off of like sports and baseball and it's like, think about like my baseball career all the time and it's like I could care less about the actual baseball aspect of it. The thing I miss the most is like the locker room and hanging out with the guys.
Which is really it. And I think that, it's that, it's like we, we all went on a golf trip this year together. First time we'd all kind of done something like that together in a while. It was the most fun I've had in a long time. Because it was just creating that, what I'll call a locker room vibe whatever it is, but it was just like, freedom to be with your friends and try things and make mistakes and that type of stuff.
And I think, I think we could create it again, but I think that it takes the group of, of people that were there at the time to create that again. And it's, it's because our relationships were way before it was business. Our relationships were as friends, doing things like that together before that. So I think it could be created with the right group of people in the right situation, but I don't think In a huge setting with different people that aren't in that same friendship group, I'll call it, but you know what I mean?
[00:34:46] Taylor Holiday: I think there's this thing too, . It's funny because the, the thing, you know, the, like evolution of a business is actually becoming aware of the things that can kill you. And being able to mitigate those risks such that your likelihood of success increases. But I actually think that so does your corresponding anxiety because the awareness of all of the threats.
Is a skill, but it's emotionally taxing. So as an example, like we never had a 13 week cash flow forecast, KC. But yet, what's the first thing you do when you go to meet a business is you tell them they've gotta have this because you, but, but, but when you're not aware of it, it doesn't create anxiety.
But now, every day I look at my cashflow forecast and like with the certainty of a mother hen, make sure that the, the number doesn't go below where I need it to go. So there's something about this ignorance and this naivete of starting out where it's all hope and possibility. It's all, it's the overlap of, it's starting to work.
So you have some validation with it could be anything and I'm gonna, and you're not, you're actually like stupid . And so there's something about that that I think like you aren't worried, you aren't acutely aware of all the ways in which you could very well die and how close you are to that. That I think is something that's really hard to get back.
Like I don't know how to get that version of me back. You know, it's almost like you've seen too much. Yeah. Like in a way that you can't become that kind of person again. I would do it so different. If I were to start over, even I would have such a different set of materials and process and actions versus like that, like carefree, frivolous version of ourselves than we were then I.
[00:36:20] KC Holiday: Yeah, I think you. It's, it's interesting in the moment you don't, you aren't appreciating it because you're just doing it and that's all you know. And then as you, to your point, you build something later, you look back and you go, okay, I really appreciate that. And then now you operate in this tension of how do I get that level of anxiety free living back in the current state that I am.
But I do think what I will say to give credit to where like the a agent. Growing bigger businesses is pressure's a privilege and that even though the stakes are higher, I think that there is more responsibility that comes along with scale and with growing something that I think is important and is rewarding, that we often instead want to run from and recapture this smaller thing versus appreciating the fact that I've built something that millions of people in the world wish they could.
So I think there's a grad, a root of gratitude in it as well, but not to get. Too far on that side, but I think that's important. But going back to it I think that I'm a massive advocate of behavioral osmosis. So what I mean by that is being in the same room as someone else and you begin to operate the way that they operate and it creates this really cool alignment that exists just based on the sheer fact that you're sitting next to someone.
And I think that it's really hard to recapture that in a fully remote world in today's society. And. I think for us early on it was to your, all of the things you said, Cory was relevant. Like it, we, we were just showing up every day and we weren't, egos weren't a thing and credit wasn't a thing and we were just building and hoping to achieve this thing.
That almost felt so far away from us, like that it wasn't even a possibility. So it was just do the right next thing. That was the way that we operated. And I would say one of the most critical elements of that, that are the hardest to retain as you scale was there was cultural alignment internally.
The values that we had, the way we operated, the way we made decisions was very collaborative. There was really a ton of cultural alignment, and when you start bringing more people in, I think it's, it's talked about, but even not enough that as you scale, like trying your best to maintain that cultural alignment is critical to holding onto that magic for as long as you can.
[00:38:41] Taylor Holiday: Yeah, I, I think that's just real with the expansion of people. There's a very, like human law here. I think about this as my family has grown, like, . It's something as stupid as like choosing dinner. Well, the more end nodes that we introduce into that system, the more dietary considerations there are.
That some point somebody all the time is making a like they're . A concession. They're, they're, they're meeting someone in the thing that they don't actually want to do for the sake of someone else. Which it, it, it's not that that's bad necessarily, but the wider the group gets, the more often the reality is that the decision is disappointing to a large number of people.
[00:39:16] KC Holiday: Yeah. Yes.
[00:39:17] Taylor Holiday: I acute, I acutely felt as c d C got large. Is that like, all of a sudden, you know how draining it is that every decision a hundred people don't like . Like, versus like, that never was a thing when it was the three of us and we're like, yeah, let's go do the eat the ball conference thing.
But literally it got to a point where it was like every decision and we, we used to do this thing called the CTC Pulse. We still do a different form, but it was like, Tell us about your experience of CTC and I could plot like a graph, a, a bell graph curve of satisfaction to dissatisfaction. And it ran the spectrum every month where there were people that were in both camps that the same decision could receive intense criticism and intense celebration at the same time.
And you're just like, oh man, this is like, so draining to learn to work through that. It just becomes, to your point, KC, this like this idea of alignment just gets. It gets disseminated across a lot of people and it's not that you can't create it or that there aren't moments of it, but it's just a lot harder to achieve.
[00:40:12] KC Holiday: I think that the, oh, sorry.
[00:40:14] Cory: Oh no, I was just gonna say, I think that's a lot of like, and this is a personal thing, why I've chosen the lane that I have in CTC I like being more in the, the background of it, working in the marketing department. Never, never like wanting to like be Taylor. I've never wanted to, to run the show.
I've never wanted to do that because of the differentness that comes with all the different people is like, not, not who I am as a person.
[00:40:39] KC Holiday: Yeah. And te, I think to your point is the more layers there are in a business, the higher the expectation of the C E O that's leading it. And in the early days, I think of each other, nobody assumed that the other person had all of the answers. We all just assumed that we were just still trying to figure it out.
And I think where the misses with the layers to a business is they. People at a lower level that you bring in in year seven of your business. Assume the C E O should have all the answers, but you're still operating in the same capacity that you were when you had three people, which is, I'm just trying to figure out the right next thing to do tomorrow.
I don't have all of the answers. And so it creates a tension and leadership of cultures that is a really hard thing to navigate. And so that's one point. And then going back to it, I think one question I ask the CEOs that I coach, They tell me what their revenue target is. And I say, Y why? Like, and I don't, I think that the, the right answer that's been promoted to a lot of people is bigger is better,
[00:41:38] Taylor Holiday: Yeah. Mm-hmm. Interesting
[00:41:40] KC Holiday: you gotta get to X amount of dollars.
That's it. And I think based on even the story we're talking about here is, yes, we wanted to make more money, but. Would you, and, and I don't this, I don't, some people will have different answers to this question. Would you really have a massive thing but have no, none of the magic of close relationships, but you have a ton of wealth or would you rather have less wealth?
And the magic that comes along with having a lot of really close relationships in a small team of five to 10 people,
[00:42:07] Taylor Holiday: Well, it's just I, or is that a possible, I, there's probably a whole separate conversation about whether these things exist or there's sort of this law of expansion that I believe exists in people's lives where. The part about that, and I think you brought it up as the phase of life thing, KC, is that like people's expectations of their own life increase, meaning their costs increase, and so they need more out of their thing all the time.
And so growth, like I, I'm a big believer that, like, I hear this a lot, the people talk about this idea of like, we're just gonna stay small. And it's like, okay, if you're gonna do that, you better be willing to keep your life small too. . And I think that what people discount in what that would cost you is that you can't expand the cost side of your own personal balance sheet without exp expand.
expanding the revenue side of your own personal balance sheet, which means the company needs to provide more resource to provide more people more opportunity. And unless the group is really willing to say, my life is here and it's not gonna expand, which I haven't met many of those humans. In fact, I don't know if I know any of those humans.
It becomes really hard to sustain that idea, and I, I just don't, I don't know many people that are doing it really well.
[00:43:17] KC Holiday: No, I, I, no, I don't disagree. And I would say the, I think that in certain businesses you can control the amount of customers that you take on. I can control the amount of clients that I take on with coaching, so you can control some elements of it. But in theory, especially in e-comm, if you're getting better, They'll demand you get bigger and therefore that's just a natural progression of things.
But where I think where, and this is the, the real, this is probably a separate podcast altogether, but there is a lot of companies that are more profitable at 10 million than they are at 50. And so you go bigger. Yes, we get bigger. But, and I think this is the, the niche that we try to try to slide into, which is our, at least what I do, but I think with how much of the strategic and operational.
Areas of business you guys talk about at CTC, where I don't think most paid media agencies do is how do you try and retain the profitability that you had at 10 million, at 50? And how do we
[00:44:14] Taylor Holiday: this is really, yeah.
[00:44:15] KC Holiday: we don't inflate our costs? Because I'm telling, I'll tell you what, there are a lot of founders of companies that we're going, man, at five mil we were making a million and a half profit, and now at 30, we just made 200 grand last year and we are operating, we are playing with fire and I don't know how to do anything about it.
[00:44:31] Taylor Holiday: But so yes, I totally agree with you. I think the challenge is that you have to accept some part of the premise. So let's imagine I said I wanted CTC to be $10 million in revenue forever, because that's where we are the most profitable. My number one cost, you know what it is? It's not even close. It's people.
[00:44:47] KC Holiday: People.
[00:44:49] Taylor Holiday: So if I'm gonna maintain my margin, what I'm saying to all the people is you are gonna make no more money. And you know what would happen? They would all leave. They would all leave and I would deal with constant churn and I would backfill them with somebody at the same salary position and same salary position.
And that would have to be a choice I would make. 'cause it would be beneficial to me as the owner of the business in a way though. But I, I've watched this game because what happens, like I, one of the biggest things founders do when they go from 20 to 50 million is, you know, what other line item increases their own compensation.
Because what you were making as a C E O at 10 million, all of a sudden you've tripled your own salary to 50 million. And all of a sudden the idea of going back to that personally, and same with all your leaders, and same with all your key people, and it's this lifestyle inflation that becomes like, are we really willing to go back?
And was that margin creation actually about the acceptance? Of this lifestyle delta in some way, that the office wasn't as cool, the lunches weren't paid for, no one asked about gas reimbursements. Like there's just a bunch of things that sometimes it's hard to figure out. Or, or is there something about the product market piece?
It's, it's just a hard problem, and I don't know that the idea that you sort of stay small works very well.
[00:46:01] KC Holiday: Yeah. I don't think there's a, I don't, I don't think there's a right answer. And I think that, I do think that the. Growth no matter what for the sake of spending more is a very American mentality. You know it. It's very much like a consumeristic driven mentality of needing more things versus this element of satisfaction at a certain level.
Now, I'm somebody that is, Absolutely a part of that. I'm not saying that I'm at all removed from it. I struggle with that as well, especially with three young kids that I want to do this thing and sign up on that, be on that soccer team and do all of the things that come with it. So I think to your point though, it, it's a, it's a really difficult thing to challenge to or to navigate.
And that is where I think having advisors that have. Been where you are trying to go before is really important to hold you accountable to the things that you say matter to you at 5 million to ensure they still matter to you at 30 million. And that's where I think there's a ton of value in partners like you guys where you talk about the strategy and the operational expertise of things where you go, Hey, yeah, you think you're doing really well, but look at your cash flow.
No, you're not. Like you're just putting yourself in a terrible hole. Or sort of just navigating in the earlier stages and helping people set things up the right way.
[00:47:13] Taylor Holiday: All right. This is great. We can, we can wrap and we'll, we'll have you on more to, to do this, but follow, is it, are you still, it's KC Holiday or did you get to at KC Holiday on Twitter. What? What are you,
[00:47:24] KC Holiday: the Kansas City holiday events category is completely saturated. I had nothing to nowhere to go. It's KC holiday is the only way. The only way to get me.
[00:47:34] Taylor Holiday: Alright, well there he is. He's on Twitter. He's doing CEO coaching. He has walked and learned a ton along the way. Thanks for joining. Cory. You got another, what do we think? How many more years you got in you? You've 12 years in you. You told me you'll ride to the wheels fall off. Are you still still in?
[00:47:49] Cory: I'm going till the wheels fall off. I mean, yeah. No, as long as you'll have a microphone, I'll be here behind you.
[00:47:56] Taylor Holiday: I appreciate it y'all. So hopefully my hope with this, and I know we kind of meandered today, it wasn't as tactical as we are normally, but I know that a lot of you are in these different moments and experiencing, and I just wanna, I want to normalize your experience for you. And just know that like whether you're, you're in the Blue Flo Bakery days or you're in the, you know, 200 people stage.
Like there's, there's beauty in all of it. There's stuff to be learned, but nobody showed up on Twitter and didn't walk through all those same bouts of insecurity, the doubts or the uncertainty, or not sure exactly how it's gonna work. Like we all, we all did. And so, appreciate you listening and
[00:48:29] KC Holiday: chime in. Can I chime in real quick on that? So I think one thing on that, that to try and retain the magic because truthfully, I had a hundred employees and I've had zero, and I really appreciated. Each stage of it. It's not, I don't, one necessarily isn't better, it's just different.
And some people, their gifts are more aligned with certain stages of a business. So I think that's critical to understand. But one constant that you can hold for yourself is what you choose to care about. So if you care about the people who work for you at one employee, Continue to care about them when you have a hundred or if you care about the customer, it like deeply in your soul can maintain that as you scale.
And if you can do your best to try and hold yourself accountable to what you cared about, you know what you don't, won't do with a penny. You won't do it a million dollars. So what you cho chose to care about early on, you can still possess a lot of the magic that came along with the smaller stage of it at a larger stage, as long as you choose to care about the same thing.
[00:49:24] Taylor Holiday: There you go. Go forth in care. Appreciate y'all.
[00:49:28] Cory: Thank you. Like and subscribe, like, and subscribe.
[00:49:30] Taylor Holiday: There he is, producer credit.
[00:49:31] Cory: Subscribe. Yep. See?
[00:49:33] KC Holiday: See ya.