Chas Lacaillade — Founder of Bottle Rocket Management on $5,000 Startup Loans, Jerry Maguire Moments, and the Digital Video Revolution

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Chas Lacaillade is the founder and CEO of Bottle Rocket Management. Chas took a big bet on the digital video revolution, and now builds businesses for some of the most exciting creative talent from New Hollywood. We discuss why he left a prestigious talent agency to sell water pumps, Louisiana roadtrips, and how he converted a $5,000 bank loan into a multi-million dollar business. Full episode transcript is below.

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EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Chris Erwin:

Hi, I'm Chris Erwin. Welcome to The Come Up, a podcast that interviews entrepreneurs and leaders.

Chas Lacaillade:

I had my Jerry Maguire moment where I called all my clients and said, "Am I your manager? Am I your manager? And if so, this is my new endeavor, I'm going out on my own." It was terrifying. I took out a $5,000 loan from Chase Bank to live, and there was no interest for the first 18 months.

Chris Erwin:

This week's episode features Chas Lacaillade. Chas took a big bet on the digital video revolution, and now he builds businesses for some of the most exciting creative talent from New Hollywood. Yet Chas's career has a lot of twists and turns, and includes a lot of early disillusionment to be honest, like when he left a prestigious Hollywood talent agency to sell water pumps. But Chas's ambition eventually pays off. A Louisiana road-trip inspires a new career and soon after he turns a $5,000 bank loan into a multi-million dollar business. So Chas is a close friend of mine, and he's known for telling you like it is. It makes for fun listening. All right, let's get into it.

Chris Erwin:

Quick heads up, that my interview with Chas was recorded back in December and prior to COVID. Chas, welcome to the podcast.

Chas Lacaillade:

Great being here.

Chris Erwin:

Before we go through your entire entertainment story which is an impressive one, let's talk about some of your early days. Where did you grow up?

Chas Lacaillade:

I grew up in Lincoln Park, a neighborhood in Chicago which is very picturesque, very walkable. I attended schools in the neighborhood. All my friends lived in the neighborhood and it was great. I just had a really magical childhood, to be honest. I walked through Lincoln Park to my school, on winter days I'd walk through this enchanting, snow-covered park back home from school, and I'd have lots of time to review what I'd experienced that day, and what was going on in my life, and what I wanted to do. And I think that meditative time was really helpful for me in getting in tune with my thoughts because your teenage years are so frantic, and there's so much insecurity. You know, it took me about 40 minutes to get home probably, or between 30 and 40 minutes to walk home from school, and so-

Chris Erwin:

"Up hill both ways-"

Chas Lacaillade:

Yeah.

Chris Erwin:

... as my father used to say. He was also from Chicago-

Chas Lacaillade:

Yeah.

Chris Erwin:

... which was considered a pretty flat neighborhood overall.

Chas Lacaillade:

Yeah, and dodging crossfire from enemy combatants. And so, just walking home gave me some contemplative time, it was very therapeutic, that probably a lot of kids don't get.

Chris Erwin:

So in these meditative moments, were you thinking about your future career and that you were planning to start something, or was it more of like the whimsical child fantasies and fun back in the day?

Chas Lacaillade:

Well, I was a big reader as a child, so I read a lot of fiction and nonfiction, and I consumed a lot of biographies from basically, the age I could start reading. And biographies on a really wide range of people. So I remember when I was 12, reading Muhammad Ali's biography, and then Ayatollah Khomeini's biography.

Chris Erwin:

Wow.

Chas Lacaillade:

Just a real span of people because I was interested in a lot of different points of view, and the more I became exposed to what was out there and the different ways to obtain leadership, and fame, and infamy, and repute, and accomplishment, the more I became fascinated with what was possible if you just created a path for yourself.

Chris Erwin:

Yeah.

Chas Lacaillade:

And so, a lot of my thoughts were dedicated just to reviewing what these people who really impressed me, how they got to where they did. And how I could chart a path for myself that would employ my personal interests, that could hopefully some day lead to me being successful and known.

Chris Erwin:

Through many of our conversations over the years, there's a strong sense that you are highly ambitious, and that you really strive to overcome challenge. And I know that you often share with me, different biographical stories from magazines, something that you're reading in Esquire or GQ, or we will compare notes about Shackleton's journey to the Arctic.

Chas Lacaillade:

Yeah. Yeah.

Chris Erwin:

And I think these stories really resonate with you. I see this as a precursor to starting Bottle Rocket dating back 15, 20 years. Was there entrepreneurs in your family, your mother and father, siblings?

Chas Lacaillade:

Touching on what you were saying about these people that I've always been very impressed by, fortunately my parents exposed me to a lot of different ways of life. And I remember visiting William Randolph Hearst's mansion and just being so blown away by the scope of what this guy built, and how he lived, and his lifestyle, and the indoor pool and the outdoor pool. And all the art and architecture that he had imported from around the world, and how he'd customized this lifestyle. And so, I was so thrilled by that ambiance and the glamor of it. You know, how could I not be curious about how he provided this, and how he made this possible for himself? And so that lead me to familiarize myself with his accomplishments. And so once you know who somebody is and how they did it, and in this case he was very entrepreneurial, right? He created a newspaper empire and there's little he wouldn't do in order to achieve success.

Chas Lacaillade:

And so exposure to things like his mansion, or The Breakers in Rhode Island, and Providence, Rhode Island. I would go tour the Vanderbilt's mansions with my family in Rhode Island too. So just, I got exposure to these really impressive families. And my parents, my mother and father, would tell me how Cornelius Vanderbilt made his fortune, how he created a shipping empire. Or how Randolph Hearst created a newspaper empire.

Chris Erwin:

It's essentially made these stories accessible to you.

Chas Lacaillade:

Yeah.

Chris Erwin:

They grounded them in saying, "These are normal people-"

Chas Lacaillade:

Right.

Chris Erwin:

... "just like you and I, and so this is attainable if you have the spirit, and the intent, and drive to make it happen."

Chas Lacaillade:

Right.

Chris Erwin:

Is that like what you're processing of these stories and exposure?

Chas Lacaillade:

That's how I internalized it. It was also just like, "This is a pretty fascinating place. It's basically a museum, it's also a house. And it's indicative of a lifestyle that is pretty much bygone." And different people are going to take that in differently, but the way I interpreted the whole experience on all those occasions was like, "This is what's out there. If they did it, you can do it."

Chris Erwin:

I like that. Instead of looking at it and saying, "Oh, I can never achieve that," and then there's pangs of jealousy and frustration, it's, "Wow, if I hold myself big, there's incredible opportunity in front of me."

Chas Lacaillade:

Yeah.

Chris Erwin:

So let's fast forward. You find yourself in LA in 2006, and you're starting as an agent trainee at ICM Partners. So, what lead to the decision to join entertainment, overseeing and representing talent? Did you perceive it as, "This is the way to pursue your big ambitions"? Or, "Hey, this is just a key building block in learning, and I have a structured trajectory that I'm planning"? What was that thought process?

Chas Lacaillade:

Well, I'd always been really enamored with the world of entertainment, and Hollywood, music, they are areas that have fascinated me from a very young age. Consumed movies, and television, and music at a very high volume ever since I could remember, because I had an older brother and sister who could turn me on to different artists, and actors, and directors, and writers. So I felt like that was the path for me, and so basically I started my career out in an advertising agency in New York. Basically, I felt like I was spending a lot of time and effort at making a distraction and an impediment to what people really wanted, which was the TV show or the movie. I didn't want to make the advertisement before the movie, or the advertisement between blocks in the television show, I wanted to make the show or the movie.

Chris Erwin:

And just clarify for the listener, did you say that you worked in an ad agency in New York prior to ICM in LA?

Chas Lacaillade:

Yes. So my first job was at an ad agency that was called Euro Rscg, it's now known as Havas. It's like a worldwide advertising conglomerate. Then I worked on the Volvo and Charles Schwab accounts. I produced Volvo's first Super Bowl commercial, featuring Richard Branson. And I took a DVD of that and I sent it to the mail room basically, at ICM, and I got an interview and it worked out.

Chris Erwin:

And so you were at this precursor to Havas, for under a year?

Chas Lacaillade:

I was there for two years.

Chris Erwin:

So then you go to ICM-

Chas Lacaillade:

Right.

Chris Erwin:

... likely stars in your eyes, saying, "I don't want to just be the advertisement or the media spot, I want to help actually create the content."

Chas Lacaillade:

Oh yeah. You know, at ICM they wrapped Woody Allen, and Dr. Seuss estate, all these really luminaries like Halle Berry, Samuel L. Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, really famous directors and screenwriters. And was I so impressed by the luminaries that were represented at ICM, and I thought, "This would be a great place for me to gain experience and learn the ropes of the entertainment business." And it was.

Chris Erwin:

So the experience was what you expected?

Chas Lacaillade:

Yeah. You know, obviously you get a dose of reality. When you're young you don't know how hard it's going to be, and all the humbling moments that lie in store for you, and you want success much more quickly than it's likely to happen. And impatience can sometimes just frustrate how you're enjoying and processing things because you want more money, or you want more respect, or you want to be acknowledged, and truthfully, you're just another assistant, or you're just another guy fetching coffee. And you want to be seen as more than that, but until you prove yourself, you're not more than that. You are a means to an end.

Chris Erwin:

Something that is interesting about the agencies is that they attract ego, and I think it's something that they want. They want people coming in with confidence, with great ambition, yet at the same time there's a clear culture of, when you're there, you're in training mode, you have an incredible amount to learn. So you have to put that ego aside and say, "It's time to be a sponge." It's time to absorb from all these people that have been working for a lot longer than you have, so that you can then learn to be like, start to paint your own way. It seems like there's a unique duality there.

Chas Lacaillade:

I had a lot of ego and a lot of ambition, and I was humbled very quickly and-

Chris Erwin:

What was one of those humbling moments that you remember?

Chas Lacaillade:

I remember I had this really tyrannical boss, and there's no way I would've been able to accomplish what I did, subsequent to working at ICM, without his mentorship, but he used to tell me, "I'm your mentor and I'm your tormentor."

Chris Erwin:

That's funny.

Chas Lacaillade:

And he definitely did not go easy on the tormenting part. He'd tell me to do many things simultaneously, to the point where it was untenable. Like, he'd tell me to call a list of people, while composing letters to different clients, while scheduling his next lunch or his next dinner, and all of this stuff he would command me to do at that moment. At that moment. Which is physically impossible, but he didn't have any patience for any other alternative. And he also expected me to "be his brain." So he would be in the middle of conversations, he'd often have lapses of memory and he would snap his finger right before he began a sentence, which he was unsure if he could finish because he didn't know if he could remember the information.

Chris Erwin:

So, snapping his fingers is like an audio cue [crosstalk 00:11:12]?

Chas Lacaillade:

He'd snap at me hundreds of times throughout the day.

Chris Erwin:

No.

Chas Lacaillade:

So there's your first example of being humbled. He'd be on the phone with a client or a buyer at some studio and he would be embarking on this story, and he would snap at me and I would have to know what the next word in the sentence would be.

Chris Erwin:

You're expected to anticipate?

Chas Lacaillade:

Yes. And so he taught me anticipation. He made it crystal clear that if I couldn't anticipate his needs, then there's really no place for me working for him or at the company. You know, really top-tier client services anticipating what the talent is going to need, how the situation's going to present itself, how to navigate really difficult landscapes. And so, yes, it was self-serving for him because I was basically there to make him look good, but at the end of the day if you're a talent representative, you are there to make your talent look good. And so it was great training for that.

Chris Erwin:

I've heard a lot of the trainees and agents, sometimes they come from a place of fear about assuming the worst, so you always have to prevent or be in defensive mode.

Chas Lacaillade:

Right.

Chris Erwin:

But I think the best agents, and this is also good business practice for anyone is, you can also assume the best, and be opportunistic and say, "What's around the corner? What are people not thinking about? What are people not wary of that can be incredibly exciting for my talent? Can be incredibly exciting for my business?" As well as, "What is a major threat? What is a risk?" And I think, again, having that duality's important versus those that just solely come at it from a place of fear.

Chas Lacaillade:

Right. Exactly. And those are the people that succeed and rise most quickly, are the people who don't adhere to just status quo, and there's very few of those people in any industry. I remember being at a meeting and somebody saying, "You know which client at William Morris generates the most revenue?" And everybody thought it was Quentin Tarantino or Bruce Willis, and the person who posed the question said, "Emeril Lagasse." And he said, "This chef was unknown to most of the world five years ago, become a complete juggernaut, and has got all these lines of revenue. And the person who discovered him from William Morris and who's been helping forge opportunities for him, they're booking more revenue for him than anybody else."

Chris Erwin:

Wow.

Chas Lacaillade:

And that was an eye-opening moment for me, and that's something I really took close note of. And I thought to myself, "How can I go outside the confines of what everybody else is doing, and forge a path that will allow me to ascend higher?" I only had scant knowledge of him until that moment, and then of course first thing I did after that meeting was look him up. And then, "Who is my Emeril Lagasse? What is the avenue that's being unexplored right now?" And of course you're in a peer group that's incredibly ambitious, and incredibly intent on being successful, and oftentimes not generous with their expertise of information because any information that you get that is valuable, that diminishes their position and their value. And you're as valuable as what you know in that business.

Chris Erwin:

When you are entering markets where there is massive awareness about the opportunity, or where everyone is talking about it, there is less head room to grow into.

Chas Lacaillade:

Right.

Chris Erwin:

I think there's less profit and revenue to be created. And so it's time to be contrarian. It's also time to say, "You know, what is maybe not popular?" Or, "What is a risky bet, but that I'm going to take with the right amount of risk profile and I'm going to go forth?" And I think it's people and leaders that have that mindset, they usually have the biggest winnings.

Chas Lacaillade:

Right. But then, a lot of Hollywood's very traditional. The irony is that it's where all this cutting-edge entertainment and expression is generated, but at the same time the leadership and the hierarchy doesn't always encourage asymmetric thinking. And so, in fact, most people are incredibly defensive and incredibly insecure, and are adverse to taking risks. So, the only way you're going to be successful is by taking risk, and the least likely way to be acknowledged is by being different, so it's a struggle.

Chris Erwin:

You were at ICM Partners for a few years and then you left, what was the reason for leaving ICM?

Chas Lacaillade:

You know, I basically got a point there where, the WGA strike of 2008 was really tough, and that stagnated wages and it slowed everything down in the entertainment industry, in terms of opportunity and promotions. And you get to a certain point where you're like, "What am I doing to do with my life? I don't want to be just another person walking the halls here, slowly inching my way forward." And the culture at that time, it was just like, "Everybody, do what they're told." You know, that's pervasive culture, regardless of where you are. After four years of grinding and playing by the rules that had been laid out, it felt like it was time to just explore a different way of life.

Chris Erwin:

So, explore a different way of life?

Chas Lacaillade:

Yeah.

Chris Erwin:

So that seems to capture maybe a lot of things that happened over the next few years?

Chas Lacaillade:

Yeah. Yeah. So I'd always been very environmentally conscious, and really interested in sustainability and renewable energy, and I thought, "Maybe I'm not attaining the success I had always envisioned for myself at this stage in my life."

Chris Erwin:

Going back to the earlier part of our conversations where you're visiting the Hearst Castle-

Chas Lacaillade:

Right.

Chris Erwin:

... and learning about the Vanderbilts, and saying, "Wow, there's all this potential."

Chas Lacaillade:

Right.

Chris Erwin:

So you take a moment after a few years into our career, and you realize, "I don't have the success that I want." How did that feel?

Chas Lacaillade:

At that time I was 30 years old and I feel like if you're sane, you start to question yourself. I'm still a confident person, I'm still a very driven person, but I was beginning to wonder if my confidence and my drive were going to necessarily yield an impressive outcome, or any sort of meaningful outcome. Like, maybe I was just going to be just another guy locked into a 9:00 to 5:00 subsistence life? And maybe I wasn't as impressive and driven as I thought I was?

Chris Erwin:

Did that scare you?

Chas Lacaillade:

Oh, yeah. Definitely. That's a very unique kind of terror because it's not fleeting. It's not momentary. It's ongoing, doesn't leave you even when you sleep. It's with you when you're awake. It's with you when you're asleep. It changes your demeanor. It changes your outlook. It changes how people see you because you're questioning your very essence. You don't know if you're capable or, at that point, I didn't know if I was capable of doing what I always thought I was capable of. And so basically, at the same time I wasn't going to stop. You know, the only way forward was to push on.

Chris Erwin:

I think what you're getting on that's interesting is that, your planned trajectory and your fast rise had become part of your identity, that's how you knew yourself. And all of a sudden you're saying, "There could almost be a paradigm shift in my life. And if this is not my identity, then who am I-"

Chas Lacaillade:

Right.

Chris Erwin:

... "what's my purpose?"

Chas Lacaillade:

You know, I was used to being identified as keen, and hardworking, and talented, and then I had to look at myself in the mirror and say, "Well, if I'm those things, then why am I 30 years old and have a few hundred bucks in the bank?" Because people with those characteristic generally have a little bit more to show for them. And so I figured, okay, I'm running into a bit of a wall here, in my life and in my career, I need to do something where I can hopefully apply my drive and get something more out of it. And so, basically I got a job at a renewable energy company-

Chris Erwin:

Change industry's entirely.

Chas Lacaillade:

Change industry's entirely. And all these friends and family who'd seen you really work hard at something, in my case was in Hollywood, they say, "Good. Great." You know, "Happy for you," but you detect a little bit of doubt in their voice and you can't help but be unsettled by that. And you're 30 years old, I was 30 and I was like, "Oh my god. I'm basically starting from the bottom."

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. And I think that could also be a downward spiral where you think that there's doubt in your peer's voice about you, or their thoughts about you, but is that reality or is that just your perception and you're whipping yourself?

Chas Lacaillade:

I think it was reality, I think people were skeptical. But I would also say that, as you get older you realize that everybody's insecure about themselves, and so that could also be their lack of belief that they could do it. And so when they hear that you're going to switch fields, and you're going to do something completely different, in some cases what they're thinking is, "Well, I can never do that, so how's he going to do it?" Or, "I don't know anybody who's done that, how's he going to do it?" And what you need to take faith in is that, look, if you're determined and you have a game plan, it doesn't matter if they don't know anybody who's done it or if they can't do it, you can do it. Everything is doable. If there's a problem, there's a solution, so that's the way I approach things.

Chas Lacaillade:

And I got a job at a renewable energy company based out of Orange County, it was in Costa Mesa, and I had to commute from West LA to Costa Mesa five days a week.

Chris Erwin:

Wow.

Chas Lacaillade:

I mean, my office was essentially a garage in Costa Mesa, I mean, it was dark.

Chris Erwin:

So you show up-

Chas Lacaillade:

Literally and figuratively. And my peers were nothing like ... I wasn't interacting with these entertainment luminaries who are ... Tom Cruise wasn't on the phone. It was just basically old guys who were selling water pumps to plumbing warehouses, so talk about a total shift in gears. And my job was head of national sales, so when I wasn't in the office I was meeting with different plumbing supply warehouses and distributors throughout the nation, and getting them to carry our product, which I did very well. I increased the distribution and footprint of the product dramatically, like over 10 times. And I drove sales for this company, and I established a reputation with a group of people that I never thought I would know.

Chas Lacaillade:

And I say that I could not of started Bottle Rocket without my time working at ICM for that really hard boss, and I also couldn't have started Bottle Rocket had I not been head of sales for this company selling a product. It's a lot easier to sell a glamorous movie star to a studio that already wants to work with her, than it is to sell another water pump to a plumbing warehouse that has to carry it on the shelf.

Chris Erwin:

Did you believe that you learned these sales skills from any of your peers or the leadership at this company, or did you just have to figure it out on the go?

Chas Lacaillade:

You have to be open to your environment. You have to pick up cues. You have to see what people respond to. You have to read and listen to people who are experts in the field. So, there's a lot of sales manuals I read, and techniques I tried to pick and employ.

Chris Erwin:

Any sales seminars, weekend seminars, courses?

Chas Lacaillade:

No, I didn't do those so much, but obviously YouTube videos. And sales is so much about people and your relationship to people, and luckily I had developed an ability to really relate to a broad array of people, and broad range of people. And if you lead with sincerity and humor, generally, then at least you can open up somebody's receptivity to whatever message you want to convey.

Chris Erwin:

And the fact that you were looking at YouTube videos back then, it's just interesting to think about where you then went next.

Chas Lacaillade:

Right, isn't that funny. Yeah.

Chris Erwin:

Because you ended up at Fullscreen, but did you go right to Fullscreen, a multi-channel network, after selling water pumps, or was there another stop in between?

Chas Lacaillade:

Basically, I'd been working at this restaurant in West Hollywood all the while, just to pick up extra revenue. So I was definitely hustling, hustling hard to made ends meet.

Chris Erwin:

So you're full-time and part-time work in this period?

Chas Lacaillade:

Yeah. I had an epiphany when I was on a sales trip to Louisiana, and I was driving around the Bayou of Louisiana with this manufacturer's rep who was my conduit in Louisiana, distributing the pumps, and he said, "What did you used to do before you were selling pumps?" And I told him about my career at ICM. And he said, "Hold on. You and I are driving around Louisiana in 95 degree heat, trying to sell friggen water pumps, and you used to talk to movie stars and screen writers? What the hell is your problem?" He's like, "I would give up everything to start at the company that you left." He's like, "If you can leave this and go back to that ... And if you don't love this, which nobody does ..."

Chas Lacaillade:

He's like, "This is a means to the end. I put food on the table for my family, myself. I've got a daughter and this is how I pay for my life. You don't have any of those commitments. You're not married. You're single. You're young enough to go back to it." He's like, "If you love it like it sounds like you do, go back." This guy's name was Dustin [Ubray 00:23:08], shout out to Dustin Ubray.

Chris Erwin:

Thanks, Dustin Ubray, for pointing Chas on his new path.

Chas Lacaillade:

Yeah, and-

Chris Erwin:

So you hear this-

Chas Lacaillade:

And I'm like-

Chris Erwin:

... and what goes through your head?

Chas Lacaillade:

And I'm realizing like, you know what? I'm always going to care a lot about the environment and sustainability, but the real truth is, this is not the life I envisioned or that I want. And I was open to it and I gave it a go, but I don't see this unfolding in a way that's going to make me happy. And it's always important to explore things and really give them a sincere look, but if it doesn't feel right, you cannot be reluctant to pull the ripcord. And a lot of people are scared of starting over, and so much of success boils down to your ability to start from scratch and just persist.

Chris Erwin:

So in that moment, did you feel any regret where you were like, "Oh my god, I made this big change in my career and it seems that it was off to the wayside, and now I've got to get back on track"? Or did you interpret it as, "Wow, this was a really special moment, I learned a lot, and now I'm going to go back into entertainment, find a new opportunity space, but I'm further energized to do it"?

Chas Lacaillade:

Yeah.

Chris Erwin:

What were you feeling?

Chas Lacaillade:

Well at that point, so now I'm 32, and I'm like, "Okay, the sand's going through the hourglass on me, and I'm going to do another pivot to I don't know where. I don't know who's going to hire me." And I've got some explaining to do next time I sit down at an interview because I've got some accomplishments under my belt, but they're two wildly different and divergent fields. So people are going to be curious, some people are going to be skeptical, and I'm going to have to prove myself in the room and I'm going to really have to prove myself ... if somebody gives me a chance, I'm going to really have to bust my arse for them to have faith that they made the right decision.

Chris Erwin:

But you had confidence that you were going to be able to do that?

Chas Lacaillade:

I had confidence I was going to be able to do it, but back to what we were discussing with people not wanting to take risks, HR departments are not known for being open-minded. They want to look at that resume and they want to see identifiable qualities that will give them insurance if they make a hire that doesn't work out. And so, I didn't have this, and so what I depended on was getting in the room. It was like, if I get in the room, I've got a strong chance at getting the job, but just getting in the room is tough.

Chris Erwin:

How did you get in the room for Fullscreen?

Chas Lacaillade:

I had a-

Chris Erwin:

Did you pick them or did they pick you?

Chas Lacaillade:

I had a really close friend from ICM who was best friends with the head of production at Fullscreen, and Fullscreen was a startup, and they had-

Chris Erwin:

Yeah, what was Fullscreen, for our audience?

Chas Lacaillade:

Fullscreen was a multi-channel network known as an MCN, which is basically, Fullscreen's raison d'etre was "we are going to collect a broad range of YouTube channels, and sell advertising against those YouTube channels." That's a really broad overview of what they did. And so the money that Fullscreen made was, the revenue source, was advertising on YouTube.

Chris Erwin:

Got it.

Chas Lacaillade:

That's how they made money. They had a few dozen employees. They had some venture capital investment from Peter [inaudible 00:25:59]. So yeah, a good friend of mine knew they had production there, had a production. Put my resume in the mix for a role, I went in to interview, they needed somebody just to work with these YouTuber's. I had a background in entertainment and I really, really emphasized that.

Chris Erwin:

Yeah.

Chas Lacaillade:

And my background was legitimate, and it was quality, and I had worked with a lot of people, and I had good references.

Chris Erwin:

So you had ICM on your resume-

Chas Lacaillade:

Yeah.

Chris Erwin:

... that's instant pedigree in entertainment.

Chas Lacaillade:

I had references, and if they wanted to call anybody, that a lot of people liked me or were fond of me, and my work ethic was there. So at that point, a lot of people from the traditional entertainment world didn't respect YouTube, and didn't see it as a viable commercial avenue.

Chris Erwin:

And why do you think that was?

Chas Lacaillade:

They basically regarded it as a distraction, as not a competitor to TV, and radio, and film. And just for very low cost entertainment that people didn't pay for.

Chris Erwin:

Yeah. One of the things that I heard myself, because I was also part of the multi-channel network eco system where I first started, big frame, a wish like Fullscreen had, venture capital backing, and then also had funding from a Google originals channel program, from Google itself, and then on to AwesomenessTV. And from a lot of traditional Hollywood they would say, "These digitally native creators, they're not used to hearing the word, no. They just had this unique moment in time where they started publishing videos on YouTube or a social channel, and then they got famous." And it felt very strongly that unless you were in the annals of these MCNs, or working with these next-gen talent, you don't understand the amount of hard work, the amount of time and the commitment to the audiences that they created for themself, and the brands that they created for themself. So, I hear you on that.

Chris Erwin:

Chas, you're at Fullscreen and this is the job that you had right before founding Bottle Rocket, and remind me what was your role while you were at Fullscreen?

Chas Lacaillade:

I was the head of talent sales.

Chris Erwin:

Was this a division that you actually founded at the company?

Chas Lacaillade:

Yes. So basically what happened at Fullscreen was, I was hired to be a "talent manager," and we had a sales department and division at Fullscreen. You know, I was talking to the talent, I was working with these YouTubers. This is early, this is 2013. They would get offers to promote products for 5,000 or 2,500 bucks, and the big YouTuber's case like $10,000, and I said, "You know, I've got experience in talent representation, let me secure and negotiate these opportunities for you." So I close a deal for a talent to promote a product, and sales caught wind of what I was doing, the sales department, and they said, "Listen, it's not your role to do any sort of sales activity here at Fullscreen. We are the division and the department that's dedicated to that. And the threshold for any deals that our talent participates in is $50,000. If it's not $50,000 or above, it's not worth Fullscreen's time. You know, if it's less than 50K, we pass on it."

Chris Erwin:

So, they're telling you to stay in your lane-

Chas Lacaillade:

Right.

Chris Erwin:

... and here's your lane by the way, what this looks like, and let us do our thing?

Chas Lacaillade:

And if it's less than 50K, decline. And I said, "Well, there's a lot of money between $1 and $50,000, we're leaving a lot of money on the table, and that's really important for our clients, that's how they pay their bills." And they said, "Listen, if it gets to 50K, hand it over to us and we'll take care of it." Kind of a pat on the head. And I found that incredibly shortsighted, and I was not deterred for a nanosecond. And I-

Chris Erwin:

Yeah, let's focus on that for a second. So, not deterred. So, other people might hear that feedback, get really frustrated, but then just say, "Okay, I've been told to stay in my lane, this is what I'm going to do." But you did not react like that. Was it potentially a catalyst for you?

Chas Lacaillade:

Yeah. No, it absolutely was. So I'm like, "I know how to do this. I see the opportunity here. These people are really creative, they have really large audiences. They've got a really special unique relationship with that audience, and this is something that nobody's doing, so I'm going to do it." And I went up to the business affairs office. I was on the second floor and I said, "Please make me a two-page template that I can repeat and just swap out names, and print out information." They made a two-page deal template for me, and I proceeded to create my own world basically, and owned a division, an army of one, where I would source a deal, secure and negotiate the deal, and close it, and invoice for it, and Fullscreen's 10% would just go to Fullscreen's accounting department. And the sale division didn't like that, but I was providing a service to all the talent that was in the network, that became undeniable.

Chris Erwin:

Now you're running around as a team of one-

Chas Lacaillade:

Right.

Chris Erwin:

... was this exciting for you, while also-

Chas Lacaillade:

Yeah, absolutely.

Chris Erwin:

I mean, it must have been awkward at the same time because then within the same walls of the building, there's people frustrated with your behavior, yet you're like, "Wow, I just found this goldmine and I'm going after them."

Chas Lacaillade:

Yeah, I didn't care about them. You know, they weren't my friends and I wasn't impressed by them professionally. I didn't think that they were good at their jobs. I didn't think they knew their product. To be an effective salesperson you have to know our product, and none of these people watched YouTube, none of them had relationships with the YouTubers that they were tasked with selling.

Chris Erwin:

Got it.

Chas Lacaillade:

To work in this space, you have to be able to pick up the phone and call the talent and say, "I've got this opportunity for you, is this exciting to you? How would you integrate this product into your content?" And you have to have a conversation with them. And if you don't any sort of rapport with that talent, then good luck. And so, I had developed a rapport with this talent. I knew how advertising worked. I could speak that language very fluidly, given my experience at the ad agency in Manhattan. I also knew how to deal with talent via my experience at ICM. I knew sales, via my experience at the renewable energy company.

Chris Erwin:

It's like all this is coming together.

Chas Lacaillade:

So all these three really separate experiences unified in this really elegant tapestry, that set me apart, made me unique from my peers at Fullscreen, and allowed me to really confidently stake out my claim, and so that's what I did. At this point I'm 32 years old. Had I been 25, I might've been a little bit more intimidated. But because I knew what I was doing, I had a very clear vision for the future and how I was going to use my skillset to drive value and create value for the company, I was able to rebuff all the feeble pleas and objections that were being posed by my peers who were threatened.

Chris Erwin:

Did this moment feel like a very unique inflection point where all my past career experience, my capabilities, my learnings, my mindset, it's like, "This is happening now in my early 30s." Going back to that identity of "the world is my oyster." Right?

Chas Lacaillade:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Erwin:

It's like what you were thinking when you were in high school in your early days.

Chas Lacaillade:

Right.

Chris Erwin:

And did you feel like in this moment it's like, "This is it"?

Chas Lacaillade:

Yeah. So it did feel like that, and I felt like, "Look, the money's not big now, but everything has to start from somewhere." And also, I was synthesizing all of those biographies I'd read of Sam Walton starting out Walmart with just a Five and Dime store here, or then he built to three "Five and Dime stores in Arkansas and Memphis, and these outposts that were in these rinky-dink towns, but no one else was building there. And what I felt was, I'm building stores where no one else is, and I'm going to get customers that no one else is going to get. And by the time that everybody wakes up, I'm going to have more stores than anyone else. And so I moved very quickly and I thought, "Look, I don't know where this is going to go, but this is something that's valuable, and interesting, and engaging, and I'm developing a reputation internally as somebody who's got a clear point of view." And people are attracted to and drawn to someone with a point of view and an idea on how to create value.

Chris Erwin:

It's clear that you are no longer at Fullscreen.

Chas Lacaillade:

Right.

Chris Erwin:

You now are at a company that you founded, Bottle Rocket Management.

Chas Lacaillade:

Right.

Chris Erwin:

When did you found Bottle Rocket?

Chas Lacaillade:

So AT&T bought Fullscreen in 2015, and at that point Fullscreen was not intent on being in the talent representation business and I was. And I had my Jerry Maguire moment where I called all my clients and said, "Am I your manager? Am I your manager? And if so, this is my new endeavor, I'm going out on my own."

Chris Erwin:

Was that scary to do that?

Chas Lacaillade:

It was terrifying. I took out a $5,000 loan from Chase Bank, and there was no interest for the first 18 months.

Chris Erwin:

And what was that loan for?

Chas Lacaillade:

To live. So-

Chris Erwin:

Pay rent, food-

Chas Lacaillade:

Pay rent, my rent was $1,200 a month, so I figured I could get by for a quarter, three months-

Chris Erwin:

Wow.

Chas Lacaillade:

... if I just had one meal a day, didn't do anything on the weekend, no bars or entertainment, or movies. Basically, ate one meal a day, and paid my internet bill, and paid my rent, I could get by for three months.

Chris Erwin:

So this is extreme focus.

Chas Lacaillade:

Yep.

Chris Erwin:

Your job during these three months is, I got basic financing in place and now I'm going to build a company, and it's going to win. And you have your horse blinders on?

Chas Lacaillade:

Yeah.

Chris Erwin:

What happens over those three months?

Chas Lacaillade:

And so, I was able to pay the $5,000 back within 45 days-

Chris Erwin:

Wow.

Chas Lacaillade:

... and had no debt, and I'd closed enough deals that I knew I was going to make enough money to live in that year, in 2015. So, Bottle Rocket started March 1st, 2015 and all the clients I represented at Fullscreen formally, decided that they wanted to line up with me and I built a business. So from a one-bedroom apartment in Venice, I just sat there and called people all day.

Chris Erwin:

You knew 45 days in, you had something?

Chas Lacaillade:

Yes.

Chris Erwin:

You look at your business now, the business that you have from a revenue point of view, and volume point of view, is a lot larger than a lot of other next-gen management companies. What was that next inflection point where you're like, "Okay, I don't just have something here, I have something really special"?

Chas Lacaillade:

I think it's when I started needing to bring on staff. You know, I'd been doing everything by myself.

Chris Erwin:

And when was that?

Chas Lacaillade:

It was 2017, and now we've got a staff of five, including myself. You know, what I'm really thrilled about it how busy everybody is, and how the environment feels really entrepreneurial, really light. I feel like if you have a sense of lightness within the company, and joy, that people are going to put forth discretionary effort, they're going to give you that extra ... whether it's talent, or whether it's the buyer, or whether it's your own colleague, if they know that you're coming from a place of reason and you're a good person, you're just going to get more out of everything and everybody. Now, there's a lot of challenging encounters, there's times when points of view collide and you still have to be firm, and you have to have faith that your position is legitimate. And perhaps somebody wants something from you or from your client that is unreasonable, that's where the challenge is. How do I create customer delight and value for this person, whilst still maintaining my position?

Chris Erwin:

As you think about how you energize in your business, and you continually refine your leadership and your management philosophy, how do you do that? Is it through reading? Do you have like a mastermind's group? How do you come into your business every day and push yourself to be better for your clients?

Chas Lacaillade:

Personally for myself, you've got to nurse your mind with new points of view, and you've got to read, and you've got to stay current. Personally, I read the Wall Street Journal, which is not exactly cutting-edge technique.

Chris Erwin:

While on the bike at the Bay Club?

Chas Lacaillade:

Yep. Yep, I read the Wall Street Journal every day. One of my professors at USC Business School said, "If you want to be smarter, read The Wall Street Journal every day." Very simple piece of advice and I took it to heart, and I feel like it's very helpful. You know, basically I want to get information from places that aren't the internet. You're definitely a more well-rounded individual if you're not just sighting whatever was on Apple News that day. So I read the newspaper every day. I read fiction and nonfiction. You've got to keep your vocabulary relevant and sharp, and your mind dynamic, and reading different pieces of information and literature, it helps you do that. Because so much of being interesting to others, is being interested in what other people are doing and how the world's working. And so, if I'm interesting to my peers and people that I want to do business with, then that's already a head start in the right direction. And so, that's how I keep it fresh.

Chris Erwin:

You raise a good point because if you're just reading the same industry pubs that everyone's reading, which it's good to be current, but if you're just in Variety, and Hollywood Reporter, and Tubefilter all day, you're not giving your mind space to breathe. And so when you say, "Mind, body, spirits," so it's out of being an avid reader, how do you also energize your body and your spirit?

Chas Lacaillade:

You know, sometimes I surf, as you know. I play soccer at a rec sports league. I play basketball with some friends occasionally. I'm very active, it's just important to me to be out there moving. And the spirit and the body are very closely linked, so I feel like if I'm running or playing a sport, then my spirit is being nourished.

Chris Erwin:

I'm not sure if you're going to enjoy me sharing this story, but yes, Chas and I, we have skied together many times at Sundance and Park City. We've also surfed many times here in LA. And I will say, I think the last time that we went and surfed at Malibu at Second Point, Chas was really excited to get in the water, he hadn't been in in a bit. As we're walking to the beach, I just look at his surfboard and I'm like, "Okay, there's normally three fins on a surfboard, but I only see two on yours, Chas. What's going on?" You're like, "Yeah, it's immaterial, don't worry about it." I'm like, "Okay," thinking you need three fins, but all good. Then we get to the beach and Chas says, he's like, "This wetsuit is so uncomfortable, it's so tight in all these weird places. What's going on here?" I'm like, "Is this a new wetsuit? You've had it before, right?" He's like, "Yeah. No, it's the same one, but this is just weird."

Chris Erwin:

I thought to myself and I was like, "All right, I remember a similar conversation the last time we surfed." And then I look over at Chas, right before I say it, Chas says it, he goes, "I think this wetsuit's on backwards." And so the suit was on backwards, but what I loved was that instead of Chas being like, "Oh, I'm going to go walk back to the car and change it," or, "I have to go get another fin," you were just like, "I'm getting in the water. I'm fine. You know, I don't care what people think, let's go," and we went right into it. And I think that was a great reflection of how you approach life-

Chas Lacaillade:

Yeah.

Chris Erwin:

... and business, and friendships. You're just like, "I'm doing what I'm doing, and I'm happy with it-"

Chas Lacaillade:

The wetsuit-

Chris Erwin:

... "and I don't care what anyone else thinks."

Chas Lacaillade:

The wetsuit being on backwards is not going to change the waves.

Chris Erwin:

Yeah, exactly.

Chas Lacaillade:

The board's there, the wave's there, I'm here. All the necessary elements for me surfing are present, so ... I was in the water and some dude's like, "Your wetsuit's on backwards." I was like, "I'm clear on that. I know that." I think I spaced out in the moment, I think I was caught up in conversation. Hadn't had my caffeine dose and idiotically put my wetsuit on backwards, but then I was just like, "Ah, you know what?-"

Chris Erwin:

Maybe it's a reflection-

Chas Lacaillade:

... "It's not going to slow me down."

Chris Erwin:

You're so in the moment and you're so present, you didn't even know your wetsuit was on backwards. You know, so maybe that's a good thing, maybe more people need to have that happen to them. All right, so before we get into our rapid fire round, last question on Bottle Rocket. What are some of your 2020 goals for Bottle Rocket and the team? What do you look forward to?

Chas Lacaillade:

I want to develop relationships with new buyers that we haven't worked with previously, that's really important to me. You've got to keep exploring opportunity with the marketplace and developing new relationships. And then, definitely signing new talent that's exciting and dynamic, and that's going to raise and elevate the perception of Bottle Rocket. And hopefully growing the Bottle Rocket team, so that I continue to have peers that inspire me and feel energized to come to work.

Chris Erwin:

When we talk about new talent, because we were talking a bit before this, you're not just a digital talent management company, you're next-gen. To prove that point out, you've signed traditional talent, you've signed also writers, you've diversified across your entertainment roster. Which I think is great and it's interesting to see how when you have that diversity of talent, they can work and collaborate with one another-

Chas Lacaillade:

Right.

Chris Erwin:

... which really fuels your own internal business. But are there any certain types of talent that you are specifically seeking out in the new year?

Chas Lacaillade:

What I want to identify and what I'd love to represent, are people with really unique points of view and unique skillsets. YouTube, there's a lot of derivative content on YouTube, and herd mentality is pervasive in all forms and genres of entertainment and media. But when you really strike gold is when you've got that person who galvanizes an audience because of who they are and how they see the world, and how they interact with the world. The Will Smith's of the world, ELiza Koshy, Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah. And so you want to find that person or people who have a magnetism about them that's undeniable.

Chris Erwin:

Well, we wish you a very prosperous 2020.

Chas Lacaillade:

Thank you. Thank you.

Chris Erwin:

So, we'll go into the closing rapid fire questions, how's that sound?

Chas Lacaillade:

Great.

Chris Erwin:

All right. So these can be just quick, two to three sentence answers. If you want to be even more brief, we're open to that. Looking back on your career, what would you say your single proudest moment and accomplishment is to date?

Chas Lacaillade:

The day I started Bottle Rocket Management, March 1st, 2015.

Chris Erwin:

What do you want to do less and more of in 2020? Let's start with less.

Chas Lacaillade:

Worry. Worry, there's no form of progress when you're contemplating what's going to go wrong, or whatever may happen will adversely affect you. You've just got to believe.

Chris Erwin:

Rapid fire follow-up to that, what do you worry about the most?

Chas Lacaillade:

Delivering for my clients and my team.

Chris Erwin:

What do you want to do more of in 2020?

Chas Lacaillade:

Well, I definitely want my team to feel inspired and really excited to be at Bottle Rocket. And I want them to have personal wins, so that they feel like it's not just a company where they work for me, it's where they work for themselves and they're developing their own reputations.

Chris Erwin:

Entrepreneurial advice. What one to two personal characteristics do you think have primarily driven your success?

Chas Lacaillade:

Say, persistence. Persistence is definitely the main identifiable characteristic that's helped me. And humility, just accepting that you're going to have to prove yourself and people aren't going to hand you the biggest, juiciest opportunities off the bat. And so, you have to be humble and prove yourself.

Chris Erwin:

We talk about persistence a lot, where there's ebbs and flows in the business cycles and your own individual business, and with your team, but if you just are always showing up everyday, there are going to be these incredible moments for you to take advantage of. But if you're not showing up, it's not going to happen. Last few questions here. How do you best take advantage of things you can't control?

Chas Lacaillade:

I think you've just got to be clear. You've just got to figure out what your position is and how you see things. Articulate that to whomever is necessary, and be open-minded.

Chris Erwin:

Okay, last two. Quick shot advice for media professionals going into 2020?

Chas Lacaillade:

Try to schedule as many meetings with people that you're curious about, and want to meet and want to know, and sit down with them wherever they are, and make yourself available.

Chris Erwin:

Last question. How can people get in contact with you, Chas, the CEO and founder of Bottle Rocket Management?

Chas Lacaillade:

My email address is chas@bottlerocketmanagement.com, spelled out.

Chris Erwin:

We'll also include that in the show notes.

Chas Lacaillade:

Excellent.

Chris Erwin:

Well, this has been a delight, Chas. Great to have you in today.

Chas Lacaillade:

Thank you.

Chris Erwin:

See you around at the next surf sess.

Chas Lacaillade:

Right on.

Chris Erwin:

Wow, I really enjoyed that conversation with Chas. Like I said in the beginning, he is a total straight shooter and tells you like it is, and that really came across. I don't know if you guys felt this, but when he started talking about founding Bottle Rocket and leaving Fullscreen, in the room you could see and you could feel his energy just ramping. It was exciting. I thought that was a pretty special moment in our conversation. The excitement of an entrepreneur. So a few quick things on your radar, our next podcast will feature Christian Baesler, the President of Complex Media. He is a young media savant, with a very impressive career track record. Fun facts about Christian, he was born east of the Berlin Wall, and in the same week that the week came down. Pretty incredible. And when he was right out of college at a big international media company, he was tasked with overseeing a digital division, and they needed a digital website network to be built, Christian just built it himself. Impressive stuff.

Chris Erwin:

Second thing on your radar, listeners, is that our company RockWater, will be hosting a live stream media and selling conference in 2021. Likely in the first quarter in March, we don't know exactly what it's going to look like yet, but we will bring together great speakers, good programming, and we're looking for people who want to get involved. So if you're interested, you can email us at TCUpod@wearerockwater.com. Stay tuned for that. All right, that's it. Thanks all for listening.

Chris Erwin:

The Come Up is written and hosted by me, Chris Erwin, and is a production of RockWater Industries. Please rate and review this show on Apple Podcast. And remember to subscribe, wherever you listen to our show. And if you really dig us, feel free to forward The Come Up to a friend. You can sign up for our company newsletter at wearerockwater.com/newsletter. And you can follow us on Twitter @TCUpod. The Come Up is engineered by Daniel Tureck. Music is by Devon Bryant. Logo and branding is by Kevin Zazzali. And special thanks to Andrew Cohen and Sean Diep from the RockWater team.

11 episodes