Curiosity Without Fear: The Art of Entrepreneurship with Brandon Love

May 10, 2022

Entrepreneurship is all about experimentation—it might take 100 flops before you find a golden nugget, but oftentimes that nugget makes it all worth it. Today's episode features entrepreneur Brandon Love for a conversation about curiosity, experimentation, and motivation, including:

  • What drives curiosity and a willingness to experiment
  • How to tell when you’ve struck gold
  • How to know when to change directions in your marketing and biz approach
  • How to keep going when it feels like you're experiencing failure after failure

Brandon Love is a creative East Coast native and queer entrepreneur. Founding his flagship business the Crumble Company in 2015 and making his millionth dollar by age 20, Brandon specializes in the development of CareBrands: companies associated with a movement or forward thinking strategy such as mental health awareness, racial equity, equality, and women's rights.

Founder of the Carepreneurs Facebook group and Love Labs Brand House, Love Labs works to invest in LGBTQIA+ & BIPOC owned businesses throughout the midwest. Brandon identifies as gender fluid, he/she/them.

Mentioned in this Episode

 JACOB RATLIFF: Hello, and welcome to the Client Attractor Show, where we talk about concrete tactics and strategies that you can use to attract your dream clients. I'm here today with special guest Brandon Love, who is a creative East Coast native and queer entrepreneur. He founded his flagship business the Crumble Company in 2015 and made his millionth dollar by 20 years old. He specializes in the development of care brands, which are companies that are associated with a movement or forward-thinking strategy such as mental health awareness, racial equity, equality, and women's rights. Founder of the Care Partners Facebook group and Love Labs Brand House as well. Love Labs works to invest in LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC-owned businesses throughout the Midwest. Brandon, thank you so much for joining me here today. I'm really excited to see what we're going to get into in this conversation.

BRANDON LOVE: Oh, my gosh, me too. I'm sitting here listening to you talk about me like, Damn, I'm pretty cool.

JR: Right? Exactly. I need to get a buyer like that.

BL: Come my way. Let's tease it out.

JR: Right. What we were talking about in terms of a topic for today's episode was really around curiosity and experimentation. As I have said to you in the past, one of the things I really admire about you as an entrepreneur is that you are perpetually, maybe annoyingly, so curious when it comes to figuring out what works, what doesn't work, and finding really creative approaches to really any problem in your business. I'm curious: to start off, what is it that drives your curiosity, that drives you to constantly experiment in your business?

BL: Well, something that I've discovered since the COVID crisis in 2020, and just the last three years-ish, is that my curiosity can totally die if I'm not giving it the time it needs, like time for nothingness. We always get curious in the shower and stuff. We all know that, but I sometimes need a week away to do the work that makes me all the money, to discover new products, to completely go off on a bender and rebrand three lines because I felt like it and then watch them become top-selling lines within a month or so. I have to fan the flames with disappearing time. I like working at night. That's another way to do that, for me to be alone, to get no notifications. That's kind of how I find my curiosity a bit right now.

JR: So, the big thing, that sounds like, is really giving your brain space and time because as an entrepreneur myself, it's really easy for that time and brain space to go away quicker than you can realize it. The calendar gets full. I think a lot of people, in my experience, have been hesitant to take a week, say, because it can be easy to think, That's a week away from things that I can be doing to generate revenue, but at the same time, if you know that about yourself, that that's the thing that actually does bring in the revenue, it's a little bit easier to fathom taking a week off, right?

BL: It totally seems counterproductive, especially when you're analytical like me. I've always been forcing you to do math in the background and check the numbers. I love checking the numbers. To take a week off, to take, in some cases…I mean, at most, I took six months off. I say off, but pressure-free, pressure off, to just have nothing on the calendar. If I look forward and I see a calendar full of stuff, I get into paralysis, and I'm going to wait until those things come.

BL: Waiting for this interview here is a small example, waiting for 10-15 minutes. I could have done anything in the 15, but instead, I sat here. I sat here like, Okay, got to get the mindset, got an interview coming on. It's that times 10 if I see things coming up, so I'll clear the calendar out indefinitely, and I will give myself a month if I can. That doesn't mean I don't go in, most times, to the warehouse, but usually, I'm still keeping that calendar free. I'm asking people to not bother me in my office, and I'm playing. Playing is at the core of curiosity, but we refuse ourselves play, and you can't schedule playtime. That's weird.

JR: Yeah, it's a little bit counterintuitive there to try to schedule something like that. It sounds like when you take this thinking time, playtime, creative time, your physical space or surroundings don't change that much. You're still kind of in your office, it sounds like, right?

BL: It's going to come and go through the day, just like inspiration does. You just have to protect those boundaries. My big key here is I'm a communicating queen. I will tell everyone, “I'm gonna go play. I'm gonna go fuck some shit up. I'm gonna do me stuff. Don't come near my door. Don't knock unless there's a fire. Don't call me. I'm turning on my Do Not Disturb,” and I will disappear for like a full 10-hour day. 

BL: I just have people go to someone else, or send me an email and I will get it handled the next day or at night even when I get home after I've played all day. Sometimes I find it easier after I've played for a period of time, doing that creative work, doing the stuff I just want to do. It's not always even creative work. Sometimes it's just what I want to do in that moment. I find it easier after spending time doing that to go and do the boring stuff, sometimes. I’m a little bit more hype. I'll do emails. I'll respond to customers. I don't need to be doing that; I got people who do that, but I'll start doing it.

JR: I'm realizing how I definitely have similar patterns, but I haven't really called them that in the past. I haven't called it playtime or just creative time. I had this day a couple of weeks ago where I don't know what came over me, but I wrote a book, designed the cover and the interior, and got it onto Amazon, all in one day. Now, did I have any idea, tactically or strategically, why it was good to be doing this? No. Did I have any plan for it beyond okay, it's on Amazon now? No, I didn't. But it was important for me to be doing it in that moment, it felt like.

BL: One of the big joys of inspiration, kind of hitting and striking and jumping at it full force, is that you kind of become ignorant to worry and ignorant to what-if’s. I remember when I was planning to move across the country to Kansas City, which was a very positive move in my life, I don't know why I did that. Looking back, I'm like, “Wow, I put what I had on a truck, and I moved to a place I've never seen.” But I just ran with it and had all these positive repercussions because of it. I had a better playing field to start my business.

JR: And when it comes down to it, you love to jump into numbers. I hate it, personally, but I'll do it if I'm forced, obviously. And one of the things about being in business is that we feel like, a lot of times, we have to tie everything back to ROI, or return on investment. But with this type of time investment that you're making into your business, into yourself, into your life, it can be a little bit harder to track the ROI unless it's very clearly, like you said, “I came up with this product line during this week, and that made me $20,000.” Great, that's ROI there. But when you can't or don't, it's a little bit harder to see the ROI. How does that impact how you view that time?

BL: So, you're not a computer; you're not just this processing tool for your company; you're not just the CEO who's calling shots, no matter what your title may be. You're an artist of entrepreneurship, right? You have to maintain yourself as a skilled, creative individual. I don't care if you're not doing graphic design; I don't care if you're not doing creative writing. You're doing some type of creative work if you're an entrepreneur, because the very act itself means breaking barriers and creating things that are needed in the world in a way that is widely accepted or wanted. 

BL: Marketing is art. Convincing people they want something—how do you do that art? You have to lean into the art community's methodology of taking care of yourself, and oftentimes, that means retreating, and not just going off on a retreat (Great if you can. Go for it.), but retreating mentally, like I said, locking myself in my office and communicating those barriers very heavily, and even saying why I need them. Like, I need this to do the creative work that's going to get you paid as an employee, so leave me alone.

JR: Yeah, and I remember, about a year ago, I was dealing with a lot of burnout. We actually talked about that around that time, and one of the things I ended up doing was working through Julia Cameron's book The Artist’s Way. I wasn't working through it as a writer or as a visual artist, but I did actually take that artistic approach to entrepreneurship. Still today, a lot of my morning routine and daily creative practices are directly from that 12-week process and that book.

BL: Isn't it funny what just picking up a book on traditions can do after you especially feel like you know it all? We all get to a point where we feel like “What can this book give me?” Sometimes, books are just gentle reminders of practices that you remember. I know I love picking up books I've already read. I'll read them again, and I'm like, “What the hell? I know this.”

JR: And the beautiful thing about this book that I mentioned is that it's not about entrepreneurship at all. It's about art and creativity. I think, at that point, I was in a place where I didn’t want to touch another book about entrepreneurship because I felt like they all said the same thing. The need I had was to really tap into that creative space a little bit more.

BL: …to kind of trick your brain. I mean, artistry definitely has so much to do with entrepreneurship. Learning how to be an artist, it's like the opposite problem. When you have someone in your life that's going to art school, the first thing you usually tell them is “Well, make sure you also get a little business degree on the side. You need to know how to sell yourself.” 

BL: But we don't like to say that went backwards. We don't like to tell our business friends to maybe get a little side art degree. Like, that's just silly. That's a waste of time. Of course, it's totally not a waste of time, the practices you learn. I took GTR throughout my entire education, and I took business courses across my entire education, and I think they both have a very heavy play with who I am today. I take practices from both. I definitely didn't learn any of the self-care practices in my business courses.

JR: Yeah, and I think, in my case, my educational background is in literature and creative writing, right in the same vein. And you know what? I was just starting out with this whole marketing thing. People were like, “Wait, marketing? But you have an English degree. What does that have to do with anything?” and I'm sitting there, like, “It has everything to do with it. Where's the disconnect here? Of course, it makes sense.”

BL: Especially writing

JR: Especially writing through a creative lens. It's not just about analyzing literature. There has to be a creative element to it as well.

BL: Yeah, let's talk copywriting.

JR: Right? You know, starting to do a lot of copywriting after school with an English degree is actually really difficult because it is such a different style of writing. But once you're a good writer, you're a good writer; you can adopt the different styles that you need, whether that's literary criticism, or copywriting, or content writing, or whatever. The skills are there, but there is an adjustment that I had to make there.

BL: More so, when you come into it with a different skill set, you can break the mold. 

JR: Exactly

BL: I mean, some of the things I learned about copywriting are so linear and simple and template-esque. I’m writing short stories now, or poems, that are just really silly, like, erotica. Writing things that have nothing to do with business has empowered me to write my about page better, to write my bios better, to write any product’s copy better. I've gone back after writing some chapters in books that have nothing to do with business, like, “Oh, man, you know what? I need to rewrite my boob cream product. That description needs an update.” I'll go back in, and I'll spend two hours on that, and it sells more every time.

JR: Yeah, it's crazy how that happens. But at the same time, it makes sense. It really does.

BL: I think it's the human way to compartmentalize things, to separate art and business and numbers as much as we can and find a linear path for the sake of simplicity. There's just nothing simple about being a business owner. I posted a couple days ago that it's been one of the most eye-opening, self-learning who I am kind of things; it's made me so self-aware. In the best way, it's almost like a self-help practice. I love being a business owner.

JR: And that process and practice is not not always fun.

BL: No, it's miserable, but you're kind of forced to do it. You have no choice sometimes, and that's helpful.

JR: All the times when my business has been at its most successful points, and when I have felt most fulfilled, was when I've been spending 90% of my time in the creative space, which means either creating content, creative content, or working with my clients, which is a really creative process as well. And whenever I'm starting to feel burnt out or frustrated or just exhausted, nine times out of 10, when I zoom out, I'm looking at what I did over the past week, saying it's, “Oh, none of it was creative.” That's what burns me out in a matter of one week.

BL: I feel like the script has flipped a lot in the last couple of years, mainly with like things like TikTok video content just taking off, where I feel like it used to be 80/20—80% business, 20% creative—and you spent a lot of time bashing in the small amount of creative work you did to every mine that you can bash it into. I feel like it was a very Gary Vee thing. Whereas now, you spend 10 minutes making a TikTok and you post it, but you spend hours getting the footage and making the product or making the content that you're saying, and doing that creative work to make that one-minute video. You're making content again. You're seeing the market switch to making content again and focusing on the quality instead of the quantity of just how much shit can you shove into the social media abyss.

JR: That's exactly what we're seeing; all these social platforms are now, in the past couple of years, starting to value that quality piece. It doesn't matter how many times you posted a day if it's just garbage.

BL: I mean, even just TikTok’s algorithm itself is changing. It's no longer just dancing, right? That's fading out. That was a quick, easy thing for people to jump in on. The dance and point thing, I thought, was so stupid. That's losing favor. It's totally losing favor to much more original content. A lot of the things I see in my video feeds, reels, whatever it may be, they're not template-based, and I appreciate that. I'm glad that we're taking that turn because it's going to put creatives on a pedestal. That's just happened; that turn is just happening.

JR: In the matter of past weeks. Yeah.

BL: Gotta keep your finger on that pulse with TikTok because it's not just that it's a TikTok thing. It's this content and how we relate to media. Video is as close as you can get to reality right now until we're all wearing VR headsets on our way to work, so the quality coming to the top of the hill now is something we should all be paying attention to in our businesses. You're seeing businesses probably fall off to the wayside that aren't, and businesses that are flying out of nowhere from underdog to completely Kingpin because of video content. There are so many slime companies that have been born out of this because they're fun to watch. At the end of the day, if you can get your product in front of faces, faces buy.

JR: Absolutely. And that kind of process of creating content, like you said, a lot of work goes into it. You might spend a day or two days creating a two-minute TikTok video, and not all of them are going to get traction; not all of them are going to be successful. I’m curious: how do you keep going when it might feel like sometimes it's flop after flop after flop? What keeps you in the game?

BL: I mean, that's going to first bring me back to the joy of ignorance sometimes. I have to remember when being ignorant had really made me a winner. Like building the entirety of my business in my early 20s. I had blinders on in each direction. I refused to look at critics—probably should have to a point—but I was just focused on what I was doing, and I was fine to embrace my ignorance for the meanwhile. And now, while I'm more attentive to my critics, I'm also appreciative of having those blinders, and I pull them out when I need them because it does need to be about me, the work I do, and the customers I'm serving first and foremost, not every piece of bad review or criticism that's coming my way.

JR: In working with clients, one of the things I have seen is that a lot of people tend to not think they have the capability to put those blinders on when they need to. Personally, that's been something I've struggled with, knowing when I need to put the blinders on and knowing how to and being able to. So, I'm curious what helps you get to that level of focus such that it's literally like your blinders are on.

BL:  That's such a good question. When I started the Crumble Companies, we had entered a market that was volatile. At that point, one of the most thriving things on the internet was not TikTok. It was Facebook groups. They weren't monetized, yet. They grew rapidly and randomly, and if you knew how to run one well, you could make millions of dollars like I did. We put everything into Facebook groups at that point in time. With that said, the volatile-ness came out, and I was a young, ignorant, queer, didn't-know-who-I-was-to-a-point business owner in this space that was ready to throw criticism at anyone who entered it, which is so silly because it's the candle industry, and it was the handmade Etsy-sized candle industry at that. 

BL: But I jumped in headfirst and I became an “overnight success” over the course of like three years.

JR: Long night.

BL: Very long night, always is. And I just remember receiving hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hate mail through the years and horrible things being said about me online. I couldn't post about me and my partner at one point. We had a breakup, and I was pretty quiet about it. I remember someone posting in this group “Wow, Brandon Love can't even maintain a relationship. How is he going to maintain a company?” And I'm just like, “Wow, we're really doing this. The world's really out here doing this.” 

BL: So, some tools that I built up around me to protect myself from that very rough, early internet nonsensical bullcrap was a) having a great team. I had a team that I verbally told, “Protect me. Protect me from this because my creativity, again, keeps you employed. It keeps me happy, and I'm paying you to do this, so do it.” I've had people from back then who are still on my team today, so they know that the hate is not nearly as bad as it was on the internet back then, as far as Facebook is concerned, thank goodness. But having a great team that could protect me. I mean, we had like six people on this team at one point whose job was just to maintain a really happy community—because there weren't as many tools back then, so we needed more manpower—and to maintain a very happy Brandon against the onslaught of sometimes nonsensical hate from just, like, Karen clubs. It was insane.

JR: When something does get through that barrier or shield that your team has created, how do you respond to that? Because personally, one of my things is that I really struggle with internalizing shit like that.

BL: Whether you want to read the bad letter, you see them talking about it in the chat, they’re like, “Wow, I can't believe someone said that. Fuck them.” I'll go and read it. Sometimes I'm like, Ah, I can't be that bad, and then my heart’s broken, right? I'm on the ground, and I'm like, I'm a horrible business owner because of this thing that I did two years ago that I forgot about. I don't know. I guess so. When I fall into that place, I lean into all my mental health tools, not my business tools, first and foremost. I read enough self-help books to have them ready to go. I have my therapist because if you're online, and you're presenting yourself in a way that's going to receive not just criticism, but unnecessary criticism—and knowing the difference—then you're going to need a support system internally, outside of your workspace, which is a therapist, a friend group. 

BL: But again, a therapist. Have a therapist if you're facing this kind of level of online critique because it's not something you should be doing alone. It's way too tough. Then, practice over time. I'm a decade in now, almost, with my business, and I definitely can read some pretty horrible things about myself and have it fall off my back, and I'll forget it by dinner now. Super grateful for that. But it did take many years of thoughtful, purposeful work. I knew I was working up towards this.

JR: So, hearing you talk about that type of criticism, I'm curious if there is an overlap or not between the people who are saying shit like that and the people that you're actually serving, your customers and your clients.

BL: So, how do we extract the actual critiques that can make you money? 

 JR: Yeah.

BL: For me, removing the faces from it was a massive help. I launched this big form. It's got like 100 questions about how our business can grow. I refresh it every year. I made it through Typeform. It's anonymous. People can say whatever they want. They can say Brandon's a...if they want to. I don't care. Then, we'll go through, we'll extract the data, we'll put it on a graph, and we'll see what most people think or say or want, and we'll advertise this form. I'm not hiding it. I will go have my best customers fill it out. I'm like, “Tell me what you hate. Tell me what you love. Your name’s not attached.” 

BL: I want honesty, people who've spent tens of thousands of dollars with me filling out this form, sometimes not so happy in some places and sometimes thrilled in others. Then, I can look at it on a faceless graph, because data has no face, and I can go, “Okay, we do need to improve here. We do need to stay where we're at here. Or, we're doing great here.” And Typeform is a super cheap tool, and I keep it on the bottom of my Shopify store, and I refer to it when I feel like I haven't made any changes in a minute. I got a little inspiration; where can I work? That's a very positive way of putting that critique into motion, versus just putting it into a vortex of misery and depression, which serves absolutely no one.

JR: Thinking back to when I've been in therapy in the past, it’s that “Okay, how do you feel,” or, “How did you feel?” “What data did you have? What concrete evidence do you have that reinforced that thought or feeling?” Oftentimes, the answer is “Oh, I don’t have any real evidence to have this thought or feeling.” It's exactly what you're describing there. Sometimes, as entrepreneurs, we got to trust our guts, and at the same time, our heads will play tricks with us, will lead us to believe one thing. But if we step back and look at concrete data and evidence, like you're talking about, that's what's actually going to give us that clearer, more reliable picture.

BL: Yeah, data doesn't lie, and it doesn't judge. As someone who does have anxiety and depression, and has those thoughts that can definitely be fanned by just horrible comments that are going to happen either way—they're going to happen—the data takes all that away, and it gives me something I can work with. It gives me building blocks and puts me in a position of power again.

JR: Yep, certainly. You mentioned your Facebook group a second ago, and I want to ask you something specifically about that. Most companies who are leveraging Facebook groups now. Facebook groups have changed dramatically… 

BL: Oh, buddy.

JR: …or they have had success previously with Facebook groups. Those groups are very much geared around the product or service they’re trying to sell. If there's a business coach who specializes in lead generation, you can bet that their Facebook group is going to be about lead generation. 

JR: But it seems from my perspective, at least, you took a different approach, a really different approach, which is that your Facebook group is not first and foremost designed around your product. It's designed around a set of values and community. When I've seen you talk about your Facebook group before, it's been in the context of one of the largest—or maybe even the largest—online mental health communities on Facebook, or even in the world. I'm curious: What drove you to make that decision? First off, my question is “Is that a correct assessment?” The second question is “If so, what drove you to make that decision, as opposed to taking the more common approach that people see with Facebook groups?”

BL: Looking back, I could definitely attribute it to blue ocean strategy, but having been there, I know that it was just reactionary. It was rebellious to what I was seeing around me on Facebook, which was just massive, hateful, drama, gossip-filled groups for people to buy freaking candles. I was like, “This is gotta be the dumbest thing I've ever seen online,” so I decided to make a really strict group. It was nothing like any of the other groups. It was super kind. We had these very strict morals we ran by, eventually defending those every day in the community because you really had to defend them. That's why we had so many people who were on with our mission on that, building a safe Facebook group, because they didn't exist back then. They were so hard to find, at least in that niche. That kind of created what you see today. 

BL: But what happened is, as we've developed this group that is kind of a mental health group and had these wonderful rules and became a beacon of kindness, it became less unique as time went on and as Facebook groups improved. I'm grateful that they improved because I do find Facebook groups to be one of the best tools for me to find support and all the things I need. But that puts me in a predicament as a CEO, where I'm looking at this Facebook group, this massive IP that I built up for my company, and it's no longer as unique as it was. I'm not going to lie; we're still in a position where I'm not sure where the group's going. That's just us looking at the change in the market. We're still running the group as if it was the same as it ever has been—a lot easier with all the tools we have, like half the mods on there now. We're double the size, which is nice, but we're still kind of in a rediscovery phase. 

BL: I see a lot of groups like that, who’ve become something 10 years ago that they can't be today because of Facebook groups changing so much. With that, I have to lean back into knowing what's trending today because that's what was trending yesterday. Today, it's video content; it just is video content. Facebook has come out with so many announcements—I'm sure you've been paying attention to them—where they're like, “We're a video platform now,” and I'm like, “Oh, are we? Crap. Great.”

JR: Before we wrap up our conversation for the day, I want to ask you one more question, which is something I think a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with. I have in the past, which is great. To be an entrepreneur means, like we talked about, constantly curious, constantly creative, constantly experimenting. So, how do you know when you struck gold or found success? It may seem self-explanatory if you think about it: “Oh, making this much money or whatever.” But what I've found is that success is a little bit sneakier than that. So, I'm curious how you have recognized success when it's happened.

BL: For me, it's to be curious enough to play without fear. I kept just digging and digging and digging at this weird little candle company concept after I'd already done Kickstarters for other things, and I had been sewing products, and I had this little weird gardening company. I got really curious with Crumble, and I never put it on the shelf. I'm a big fan of quitting and knowing when to put things on the shelf, temporary or forever, and I did that with my other brands because I had this just undying curiosity to play with Crumble. I kept feeding that fire and playing with it, and eventually, I was like, “Okay, I'm ready to commit to this a bit.” That's when I decided to get our first property and really put a lease on the line and stick with it. 

BL: So, definitely just being curious enough to just play without fear, to play with a little bit of those blinders on, to be a little ignorant to the critiques of the world. Who cares if you're selling a crap product right now? What could it be tomorrow? What could it be tomorrow? You’ve got to start somewhere. My first Crumble product was just this ugly little handwritten label on a candle. It was so ugly. But if I had to go back and start again, that's exactly where I'd start, and I knew I'd get somewhere tomorrow.

JR: Lovely. That's as good a note as any to end on: curiosity to play without fear. Brandon, thank you so much for joining me here today. I am going to link to Crumble Co. down below. Do you say Crumble Co. or do you just say Crumble Company? 

BL: Crumble Co. 

JR: Okay, that's what I thought. I feel like I've heard that. I'm going to link to everything down below so people can check out your Facebook groups, both the Crumble Family Facebook group as well as the Care Partners Facebook group. Thank you, again, so much for joining me today. It's been great conversation. I really appreciate it.

BL: It's a pleasure as always, Jacob. Thank you.

JR: Thank you to everyone listening for joining us for this episode. This is the Client Attractor Show, and I look forward to seeing you for our next one. Take care.

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