Nate Lind is an entrepreneur, an innovator, and a community leader. His second attempt to escape corporate America came in 2011 as co-founder of HaloRiver, an ad agency that has helped generate over $90m in revenue for clients selling health and beauty products online and around the world. Following his many setbacks and ultimate success with HaloRiver, Nate founded ADSUM, the first conference of its kind designed specifically for CEOs of startup online brands using Performance Marketing to grow their businesses. His firsthand experience as an agency and brand owner helped him recognize a need for community within that industry. ADSUM helps fill that need, facilitating vital vendor connections and providing opportunities for networking and education to CEOs and founders of online consumer products.
While Nate was building a career, he was also undergoing a personal transformation from shy, overweight self-described geek to a fit, confident, bearded leader in his community who found a niche product he really cared about – men’s grooming and beard products. Inspired by the community building he did with ADSUM and the community of other beard-wearing men who started to acknowledge him as one of their own, Nate founded Legendary Man. This latest venture is more than a brand – Legendary Man is a community where men are accepted, respected, admired and inspired. The community allows men to reclaim or to find their masculinity in a culture that hasn’t taught them what that means as a part of growing up.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?
I have worn a lot of different hats throughout my career – I actually started out in art school at the Art Institute of Colorado, where I got my Bachelors of Art degree in Media Art and Animation. I spent time in the corporate world as a VP at Bank of America. By going out on my own as an advertiser and entrepreneur, I actually came to realize, in a roundabout way, that one of my primary passions is community. I love to advise and inspire others who are on a similar journey, which is what led me to both ADSUM and Legendary Man. With ADSUM, I felt like, after my own failures, I was finally in a position to bring people together and make that community something really special. With Legendary Man, I have a strong feeling that masculinity is in crisis. Men are really searching for their role in society today. The things that men used to do to provide for their families aren’t in demand much anymore. It’s like, as a group, men are having a hard time finding a way to establish themselves as uniquely valuable in the world today.
How do you make money?
I own a large ad agency – HaloRiver, which works with a variety of consumer product brands. Legendary Beard Company is one, and my real passion is around the communities I’m building. Both ADSUM and Legendary Man are passion projects I’ve been fortunate enough to have the capital to pursue. They are in their early stages, though, and it takes a while to turn a profit on a new venture.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
(Laughs) So I had the fortune, or maybe misfortune, of making a profit almost immediately. It’s like winning at poker initially, you gain confidence that maybe you wouldn’t have if you lost at first. Shortly after making an early profit, I went through a period of losses, and it took a couple of years to get back to profit. When we started out, we were selling different niche products, and I was still fresh and inexperienced – so there were a lot of mistakes and growing pains. But when we made the shift to selling beard products, it practically blew up overnight. ADSUM is in its infancy – this past December was our first year, and we turned a modest profit. And Legendary is still very much a passion project we’re more concerned with developing right – especially with the other revenue streams – than pushing it to become profitable right off the bat.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
(Laughs) Oh god, yeah. Hell, ADSUM was basically born because of how many mistakes I made starting out. There were some really hairy times when I was initially out on my own where I lost money, we had major issues with shipping and fulfillment, customer service – you name it, we broke it. When we did finally come out on top, and I was able to put ADSUM together – I had never organized an event of that size before, so naturally, there were all kinds of issues we didn’t anticipate, expenses, and we would have rushes of people sign up – then nothing. We sold out right before the event took place, so I mean – we never really doubted it would go off, but there were some times when we were worried about attendance numbers.
How did you get your first customer?
Initially, being an internet-based company – you don’t have that kind of traditional face-to-face you do when you have a brick and mortar business. I CAN say that with both ADSUM and Legendary, it’s come from networking. People believed in ADSUM because I was out in the community telling my story, to the point where we had a small core group that would get together. Same for Legendary – having a beard myself, when I go into the community, I’m recognized in a certain brotherhood.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
We primarily use performance marketing to sell our products. The basic principle of this is direct response marketing. We understand the exact costs associated with our products as well as the profit margin so that we can then back our advertising costs we. Working backwards like this, we can out-perform most of our competition – it’s largely science with some art thrown in there as well. This is how we’ve sold millions for ourselves and our clients.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
The last few months have seen major, major change within the company – in order to grow Legendary, we knew we needed someone with marketing experience. When we started out, the company was kind of a family affair. What this ended up meaning was hiring an experienced CMO to really tackle the marketing and operations we had been having my wife and brother handle. Overall this has worked out for the best – but you can imagine the tension and stress when it became clear that was the direction we needed to go in.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
Being passionate about our products has made a huge difference. Rather than just chasing opportunity, really digging into something that I WANTED for myself that didn’t already exist made a huge impact for us. I use our products every day and am constantly striving to improve them. I’m very much a willing student to listen to my customers, advisors, and staff and make changes based on their feedback. As much as we’re not a traditional company, I think certain traditional appeals still apply. I’ve mentioned community and passion a bunch of times, and I really think when you project that kind of enthusiasm into the world, it comes back to you big-time.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
It was just after the first ADSUM event in December 2016. I was riding high on creating a truly unique experience for my fellow ad agencies, advertisers, and the supporting vendors within that industry. Everyone was on cloud nine with how awesome the event was, and I realized that it was the start of an amazing future where competition was set aside and collaboration was really born. I’ve always looked for win/win relationships while I’m doing business and interested in building long term relationships, and this was my pinnacle. But the next event will be even better.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
We’re going to create a TV show called Legendary Man. Think Amazing Race meets Man vs Wild: Legendary Man TV takes 12 men and puts them on a hero’s journey of a lifetime, an adventure that will push their grit and intellect to the limits. Some men will break, others will transform, but none will remain the same.
We’re going to shoot this in the peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico where they will scale parts of the mountains barefoot. We’ll explore the wild west outlaw territories where the Lincoln County War raged and Billy the Kid became a legend. We’ll even trek the contestants across parts of the White Sands on camelback near the missile testing ranges. You’ll see amazing vistas as well as video blogs of their inner breakthroughs and struggles.
We aim for audiences to have an interactive online and offline experience and participation using the latest video and social media technology.
So, why are we going to make this show? Because we’re going to portray men teaching men how to be legendary – to their wives, their children, their communities and to themselves.
This is incredibly exciting and important for me personally because I’ve been on my own journey for 20 years. I’ve always been very introspective – It’s in my DNA to be willing to look at my own flaws and blemishes and improve myself. And by putting myself in uncomfortable situations, I learn and grow. My transformation in the last 3-4 years has been significant and I want to help other men to rise to their legendary potential so that they feel extraordinary, competent, and deeply confident. This is the missing birthright of all men.
I’ll give you a little bit of a history lesson here, too: Men used to be raised by men. Boys were in the fields working side by side with their fathers all day, learning what it’s like to be a man from a man. Learning about how to be a provider and a protector. But then, WWII changed everything. During the war, women went to work in factories and for the first time in mass became providers instead of just caretakers. This was a big moment for the women’s rights movement, a renaissance for women, but started a historical shift that would displace many men from their provider role. A second thing shifted after WWII – it was the beginning of the Golden Age of Capitalism. After the war, most men went from working in fields to working in cities, which left their boys at home instead of working beside them in the field. So boys lost a strong male role model to grow up with -they were raised by their moms or by schoolteachers, which, overwhelmingly, school teachers were women. The result is the last three generations of boys have been taught how to be men – by women. Starting with Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and the Millennials. Men of these generations were without strong male role models to give them a true sense of masculinity, a true sense of HOW to be a man and how to be a man in a changing world.
What business books have inspired you?
Not a business book, but in a sense, it inspired me to be willing to take my own journey later in life: The Magician by Raymond E. Feist. Like Harry Potter did for the younger generation, the Hero’s Journey of a young magician named Pug enthralled me as a young boy. It inspired me to become a better student – I tried to emulate the studying that the character did to learn magic. I studied harder at school and became a better student.
The first business book to inspire me was Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. It taught me the difference between being an employee, being self-employed, having a business and then having passive income.
The second business book was The Millionaire Fastlane by MJ Demarco. It validated the need to build a business to achieve real financial success and personal fulfillment. MJ’s book dispels the myth that Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey espouse: that saving a percent of your income will make you wealthy. Most people that save their income and have no other streams of income other than their salary, which is a single point of failure in my opinion. When the stock market is great, which is hit or miss, people feel safe with their savings – but, major historical events have destroyed people’s retirements or savings entirely and left them with nothing.
The most recent business book to inspire me was Yanik Silver’s Evolved Enterprise. It’s a look at how conscious entrepreneurship and integrity in business building can accelerate growth rather than detract from it. For example, adding a charitable aspect to your business and doing it for the right reason: because it’s a good cause and it supports your company’s mission. We did a toy drive for a local children’s hospital along with a local community group and it was such a powerful experience. Giving a couple hundred toys to sick children was such a rewarding experience it has us researching and investigating other opportunities like that in the future.
What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?
I bought two Polaris RZR’s and two dirt bikes, which I store at a company-managed rental we make available for members of ADSUM and, in the near future, folks from the Legendary Man community. This is by invitation only, for supportive, standout community members. When they come to town, we spend time together talking about personal and/or professional topics – the goal is to help one another without an active agenda. We take the ATVs and dirt bikes out into over 300 square miles of trails and dunes on the weekend and have a fun time. It creates lasting friendships and is a blast of a time.
Tell us more about ADSUM?
Okay, a little story about how Adsum came to be and why… In May 2016, I’m in Key West, on an 80 ft yacht, and with all my industry friends. By all accounts, I should be having the time of my life. But I’m not. Because I’m in the middle of shaking things up in my industry. Up until then, I’d just been doing my own thing, but now I’m pushing our industry in a new direction, one that I believed would help it mature out of the wild west that it was at the time. But I have this sinking feeling that my pushing might fail and that I might ruin a lot of friendships.
This was the idea: My industry is made up of advertisers, affiliates, and vendors. I’m an advertiser, I sell products directly to consumers. When I’d go to marketing events it was the affiliates that were put on a pedestal – the affiliates were the ones wined and dined. What bothered me was that the entire industry eats off of the advertiser’s plate, including the affiliate.
But the advertisers were treated like second class citizens.
So my idea was to gather all the advertisers at one grand event to share war stories – and let the industry wine and dine us for once because of how much money we generate for them. Sounds pretty good, right? Balancing the scales for advertisers. Call me crazy, but I saw it as fighting an injustice. But it was a major change – I was trying to balance a shift in power and money – so I got pushback from the industry. Some liked the idea. Others hated it. It’s how I learned the truth of that quote that sorta goes “Good ideas at first are ridiculed. Second, they are violently opposed. Third, they are accepted and everyone wonders why it hasn’t happened before.” It’s true, people resist change.
So this is why I had the sinking feeling on that yacht in Key West. I was unsure if it would work out.
But I went ahead with the idea, and this is how and why ADSUM was born. By the time we announced it a month later, the outpouring of interest was so large, we had to find a bigger venue. All of the top sponsorships sold out in 72 hours. Our first event went amazingly well. This year will be the second, and of course, we’re making it even better.