Podcast

Episode 119: Building Theme Parks with Fri Forjindam

Jan 14, 2021

In today’s episode, we meet Fri Forjindam, co-owner, and chief development officer for Mycotoo. One day in college, Fri looked up and noticed that while she SHOULD have been studying for the MCATs with her peers, she was rehearsing lines for a spring musical.

Her lifelong love for theater landed her in a startup that builds theme parks and immersive experiences you may recognize from HBO’s West World or Prince’s Paisley Park.

Within their first two years in business, they landed a contract to build two theme parks in Dubai.

During our conversation, we talk about everything from her failed attempt at becoming an actor in New York to the tactics and mindset it takes to “play big” as a new business.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

You’ll learn:

  • How to position your new business for large projects
  • Growing through adversity
  • Taking calculated risks
  • Getting creative with hiring a team

Mentioned in this episode:

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Episode Transcript

Fri

I actually see the landscape right now as the crazy opportunity because the playing field has been equalized. I strongly feel that anything goes in terms of problem-solving. So you have an idea that you've always thought, "Wouldn't it be great if...", why not now? When else? But now the only difference is it's really for me a mindset thing. The factors that would have hindered you before covid still exist today.

Fri

So co-vid is just one more rung on that ladder. But it's not the rung that all of a sudden makes it impossible to pursue anything. It is the rung, though. That makes a lot of other people nervous about trying that you think so. Why not you?

Serwaa

Hi Off-Scripters! It's your host, Serwaa Adjei-Pellé and welcome to Episode 1 19 of the She's Off Script podcast. This is a show where we hear and learn from women who've created unique blueprints for business success. My hope is that you'll hear their stories and translate their gems into a unique path for yourself.

Serwaa

In today's episode, we meet Fri Forjindam, co-owner and chief development officer of Mycotoo. One day in college, Fri looked up and noticed that while she should have been studying for the MCATs with her peers, she was rehearsing lines for a spring musical. Instead, her lifelong love for theater landed her in a startup that builds theme parks, an immersive experiences you may recognize from the likes of HBO's Westworld or Princes Paisley Park.

Serwaa

During our conversation, we talk about everything from her failed attempt of becoming an actor in New York to the tactics and mindset it takes to play big as a new business. Before we hear the rest of free story, I would love it if you could subscribe, rate and review our show on iTunes. This will help to spread the word about our podcast so amazing stories like Freeze can continue to inspire women looking to launch their own Off-Scripters. Ernie's. The She's Off Script podcast also has a membership community to help you launch and grow your business with Resource Is and coaching, join our boss She's Off Script community today by going to Serwaa Adjei-Pellé dot com forward slash community With that, let's go off script with Free for Jinde Um, co owner and chief development officer of my co two

Serwaa

Free for Gundam. Welcome to She's Off Script. Thank you for being here. Hi. Thanks for having me Really excited to be here now for any of our listeners who haven't heard of you, could you share who you are and what you do?

Fri

Um, you know what? That's a great question because I'm just still trying to figure it out every day, a new invention, But eso I work in themed entertainment and experience design. That is our craft, our industry. My company is called my co two short for my company to based on a philosophy that we want our partners and our clients to feel Justus part of our companies, we are theirs. And what we do is we tell stories. We are storytellers at heart that you know, never quite grew up from the theater and somehow landed onto an industry that pays us, uh, to dream big and to build big on day to make fun for for other people so that they could have memories. So that's that's really the ecosystem of what I do in themed entertainment and experience design.

Serwaa

Now for any of our listeners right now who are still like I don't really get what it is you do free S.E.O

Fri

again. What is the

Serwaa

what? What exactly is this? And so I feel like maybe this example might galvanize that for us. And I think HBO's Westworld, maybe one of the more recognizable projects that you guys have had. Could you walk us through what your role was on that project and what it took to bring it to life?

Fri

Thank you for asking eso The short of what we do is we design and develop guest experiences of different scales because we're storytellers and we all come from the theater. We're fortunate because we get to build and tell stories in real space. So unlike going to a movie theater where you're watching a story and it's a little bit more of a passive experience or going to a theater, it's, um, show where there's some maybe some level of interaction. We're building the world around you. It's an immersive world where you come in and you get to explore and play be moved to be inspired. Be educated. Um, and so my official role at the company is this chief development officer. I had lead biz Dev communications and branding, but I still get to do creative direction or executive creative direction on few P projects because you know the theater will never go away like I still need toe get that fixed on DSO. HBO's Westworld was a great example of how these different art forms can come together. We were approached. My coach was approached by a marketing agency called Giant Spoon here in in Los Angeles on DWI had already had previous relationships with them. I'm working on other activations, but they approached us because they had. They already had the relationship with HBO on board to to produce a marketing experience for them. For South by Southwest, which is, as your listeners may know, is a pretty high profile, you know, conference that happens in Austin, Texas, every year. Or at least it did. It will come back next year. Knock on wood on DSO. Our task was they had already sold the idea of building Sweetwater, which is the fictional town that Westworld is based on the least. The first two episodes or first two seasons. Sorry. So they had sold them the idea of building Sweetwater, and then they came to us and they're like, OK,

Fri

we we need help in doing that. And it really was an awesome marriage. Because Giant spoon is fantastic marketing agency. They understand the digital influencers for communication and how to rule that out. We came in tow, make the world come toe life.

Fri

So there was a certain, like a piece of land on the outskirts of Austin that was essentially this, like shanty town, you know, Western Town, legitimately shantytown, western town that we came in and in collaboration with with giant spoon rebuild Sweetwater Re and then my coaches Specifically, we wrote the script, um, that all the actors and then brand ambassadors would use to inhabit the space we created all the different interactives that you could do. So if a guest came in, you were shuttled in on a bus. You have no idea where you were headed. And then you landed into this amazing, like western town in the middle of nowhere. There were 90 performers, all characters that would interact with you. You could have followed one character on their journey for eight hours, or you could have followed multiple. You could have been there for an hour. You could have been there for 10 hours and people were and there was just so much to do. If you arrived, there would be there was a post office. There was a salon. There was a actual barbershop where you could get like, an old school. Shame. There were hidden gems where you could discover things. And then it would unlock portals into, like, you know, some of the spaces that were identified with show. And this was all in anticipation of season two, which was coming out at the time. And it blew up like this. The stuff that we love, we love to play. We love performance. We love theatrical experiences.

Fri

We had no idea the reception that was gonna have. So it was a three day event for South by And in that three days, I think there was a limited invited guest on Lee of 1500 people and that those 1500 people were able to spread the word. And we got 1.9 billion online impressions just from that three day event and wow way when we came back to the office were like, Wait, is this for our thing? Is this for something else? Because, like what? You know, But it was just a lot of fun because you're building, you know, you're building a world you're taking off the fourth wall of theater. You're getting rid of the proscenium, and you are inviting people to be immersed in that world and to interact with characters and to just go on their own journey. And, you know, if you're smart, make money off of it, you know? So that's what we get to do. An H Feels South by Southwest World was a great example of that marriage of

Fri

theme park design, a theatrical development experience design, live event spectacle, gameplay with marketing chops, all of those things coming together. It was such a member of experience and one that I'll never forget.

Serwaa

That sounds incredible.

Fri

Yeah, my role was just to be able to talk about it. You know, I have a fantastic team. David Walley was my business partner, was the creative director on that, and we had amazing team underneath him with Bonnie home and a bunch of other people, and you know, so in that particular project, I just got to show up and be a guest. But to talk about it afterwards was amazing. Other projects that I get to work on more specifically like what we did with Princess Paisley Park. But ultimately we're all hands on deck. We come in as needed and we get to a shepherd it to opening day.

Serwaa

Wow. And I think I read that your mother was a successful entrepreneur and your father ran a successful business as well. What was it like growing up with them as

Fri

role models? Let me tell you, I still stay. Say to this day that my mom is my inspiration. She she's the one who crafted me without even realizing it. So I'm from originally from Cameroon. That's where I was born and raised, and my mom back in the eighties had the audacity to run a grocery store, which at the time was just a vanguard because it's it's a very patriarchal culture. Women weren't really encouraged to go into business for themselves. And so for her to start a retail and grocery chain from our guest room, where she would just sort of resell things that she would collect from her travels, and then it eventually grew into this grocery store chain called Meyssan. Um, and those initials were for the names of people in my family, and we essentially sold European and American products in West Africa. And let me tell you the schooling that I got from helping her, like, shelve things and put actual like stickers on products because at the time there was no scanning. You have to manually like their price stickers on things on Do you know, counting the money at the end of the day and just customer service and guest experience. I didn't realize then that all of that was informing how I viewed, you know, the world and my father completely different. Um, it's sort of expertise. My mom was an entrepreneur. She was always like we say, Bye, Emsellem. It's a phrase which is like, whatever you buy, you could sell it like she's always trying to hustle for some some new venture, right? She's an entrepreneur, but my dad it was very straight laced, very, you know, cause and effect. He was an engineer by training. Andi went on to lead one of the bigger, um, engineering companies in the region that built and prepared Briggs and oil rigs so so different. But I watched both of them grew their companies and sort of support each other and be parallel to each other in their ventures. Which again was so not the norm. You know, in West African culture, at least in the eighties, to have, ah, husband and wife duo doing their thing, but still like supporting each other, um, and not having to sacrifice for each other, which I guess informs what? How I see the world now.

Serwaa

Exactly Now, given that you grew up with that backdrop of entrepreneurship and business, why did you feel like you have to go to medical school? Why did you feel like that was a path you were supposed to take?

Fri

You've done your research. E tried. It's now snap. You know, it's funny that you phrase it that way. I didn't feel like I had to go to medical school. I felt like I had no choice but to go to medical school. Like though it wasn't even a feeling as it was. Just this is the way to go. Um, I don't know how many of your listeners are immigrants or relate to sort of the immigrant upbringing, but you do as you're told. And if you have the opportunity to be educated in England or the U. S. Which is considered the jackpot. You better come back with some legitimate certificates, like doctor, engineer, you know, lawyer. Something that won't embarrass the

Serwaa

family. Right? Right.

Fri

So, you know, I and I love science. I still do. I still try toe, dig deep in and question and try to figure out the cause of things. A real root of things, which I guess in Italy is a scientific Is a scientist sort of approach? Eso pursuing medicine didn't feel too much of a stretch. It actually felt like the safe route for me on. Do you know, it wasn't until third year in undergrad where I was, like, at a table in the library, and all my friends and student fellow students were basically studying for the M Cats, and I hadn't even given it a second thought. I was too busy learning lines for the play that was coming up, and I looked left and look right. And I was like, Wait, you guys have served for em? Cats like, when are the M. Katz

Serwaa

e? How did I get here? I don't even know when the M cats are

Fri

hadn't even crossed my mind to, like, look into the m Katz register, let alone study on That's when I knew. Oh, yeah, This is not for me like so by that point, I had already gone far down my pre rex. So I finished as a biology major because I was like, I'm not going to start over. I walked the for graduation. I actually walked the stage of the drama department to get my

Fri

placeholder diploma because, you know, I wasn't really a part of that that department on, and that's kind of where it evolved from there. But, you know, it wasn't really a choice. It was just like, This is what you're doing. But thank God I was more of the defiant type. What first drew you to theater? I think I've always been drawn to the theater mindset. I just didn't know the words for it. And so the way I think about it is like it wasn't like, all of a sudden I stumbled onto Broadway and saw the marquee and lights, and I was like, That's it, you know, like it wasn't that obvious for me. It's more about connecting the dots with things that I was always into as a cape all the way back in Cameroon when I was a kid. I love stories and love watching movies. I would lose myself. Every time my parents traveled to the U. S. They would come back with recordings of TV shows on VHS because that's what we did. And I would just lose myself in some of these shows and Disney. It came into the scene and my mom would bring home, you know, the box set of Aladdin. It was the VHS box set and then, like behind the scenes booklet. And I remember just losing myself in the booklet, learning about how they drew all the

Fri

scenes and I loved it. And I would love, you know, stealing my parents camcorder and forcing my siblings to record us, you know, stuff like enforced my sister to dress up, you know, and make up and cause play essentially is what they call it now. Way would just do all these silly things and, er it never. I never quite shook it, and I just didn't realize that there was a term for it or career path. It wasn't really until I came to the U. S. That I realized, Oh, people are doing this for fun and for work and for like, as a as a career. And it was, you know, I slowly had to convince my parents that maybe medicine wasn't the way to go. And this weird cookie world called theater was what I was going to pursue.

Serwaa

So how did you finally make that stand when you say you have to convince them? I know you then kind of quietly applied for Colombia's M F A program. So how did you finally come out to them? So

Fri

it really wasn't coming out party. The first, um, coming out attempt was a bust. It really was a shutdown. It was an undergrad. I went to University of Virginia. Andi. I remember being at odds. I was at this crosswords like I was saying, trying to pursue medicine and theater. And I wasn't sure, and I started questioning myself. I started second guessing whether you know, whether this was even a career path. So I remember going online and taking some test Thio, you know, to evaluate if you're creative or not. I don't even remember what the what it was called, but it was one of those, like assessment tests, you know that, like if you filled it filled it out afterwards, it would create some sort of algorithm to se Teoh describe how your brain works. And lone behold, that test was like, Yep, you are creative through and through, like the way your mind thinks it's very abstract. It's very right, brain, you know, And so that, to me, was like the ticket. I was like, That's it. I have my printed test results. I'm gonna take it to my parents and tell them that I'm a creative and I can't pursue medicine. And I did, and it failed. It knew they were like, No, we're paying for your tuition. You are going to pursue this. And to be fair, you know, they were concerned that they didn't want me to, you know, not have a source of income and to be struggling. So I and now, as a parent, I completely understand what their hesitation was. But, you know, it was it was an immediate shutdown. And my retaliation was basically to just, um you know, say, you know what? I'm gonna go to whatever school and I don't care. And actually, no. Sorry. This conversation happened in high school. Now that I think about this exchange happened in high school and so as a basically, like a as a retaliation in my own way. Still good, good, good daughter, good immigrant student. I basically just, like, applied to whatever I knew were the top schools at the time. And the top public school of time was you via as well as University of Michigan. And it was basically my way of saying f you I'm gonna just go to whatever school. I don't care. Um and so got into you ve a pursuit that But it never quite left me that feeling of like, I want to go to New York. I wanna try this out. Never quite left. So you know, of course, I still found my way into the theater department at the University of Virginia and started realizing that this is where I was coming alive. And this is why I felt strong and untouchable. And it wasn't until uh, when I was towards the end of when I was graduating that by accident, I applied for a visa So for the listeners that are tuning in, there's this whole world. If you're an immigrant and you come in as a student, you're in F one visa. Basically, if you can't show proof that you are a student, you are out. And this was pre current administration, right where, you know, you are still nervous about being deported or whatever, but I can't even imagine what it's like now. So that F one visa that sort of established my status or justified my status was key. And that was the other reason why they were worried about me pursuing theater because they were like, How are you gonna be in the US legally,

Serwaa

right? What jobs are you going to get? Because the employer sponsors you for your Um,

Fri

no. No one is going to hire an actress. Sorry. Like if you're an illegal, that's gonna be a huge deal breaker. Attn. Least in their eyes on dso, I applied for the lottery, which the D. V lottery program, which at the time I'm sure it still happens. I'm not I'm actually don't know how we're busted is anymore. But every year, 50,000 applicants out of the millions of people who would have bye from all over the world would get selected. And I got selected. I won the lottery and I'll never forget. It was actually the way it came, wasn't even via email was through a letter that I almost didn't get because it was buried in junk mail somewhere,

Fri

and Long story short found the letter. I was jumped like, literally just crying with excitement. My mom happened to be there because she was helping me go through the mail at the time and the first things out of her mouth I'll never forget. Just like now you can pursue your dream. I'll never forget what a story. I mean, she she was like, Now you can go for it, right? So I think secretly she wanted she knew what this meant, And I think it was also an extension of her. Um, but now admit I could go for it on died already applied to Columbia because I was just like, whatever we see what happens. And fortunately I got in, and now I could be here and pursue it and not have to worry about, you know, being deported. So it was just this whole serendipitous thing coming together, it wasn't even so much me realizing as it was, all these extra things that I couldn't control had to happen for me. Oh, pursue it. So I went to New York.

Serwaa

Wow. So how do we make the leap from being in New York attempting to be an actress to now being in L. A.

Fri

That was a trip. So New York was such a great training ground for me. First of all, is New York like, if not everyone has made a wired for for that city. But if you do love it and you, you thriving it, there's something in you that you learn and take from that city that just never leaves and take that spirit wherever you go. And New York is diverse. It moves, It doesn't. It's not stagnant. And I was lucky and fortunate because I didn't get thrown into it. I still had uptown silos, Colombia's you know, uptown Upper West Side, and it's a beautiful historic campus that's kind of isolated so you can get the best of both worlds where you're isolated in your academic space. But you can also leave get on the train. Hop on the one or whatever and get to wherever you need to be for that creative challenge on because it was a grad school, we were focused. We were. It was a small class of 16 of us, I believe now. We just were with each other night and day. We ate, breathed, slept theater. And the training that we got was in hindsight, what I needed because it wasn't conventional theater training. It was very different. It was very experimental on, but the time it wasn't commercial, so it didn't set you up for success. The training was about craft. It was about the,

Fri

you know, the physicality. But it wasn't something that you could come out and be like. Okay, now I'm able to play this part because when you came out of grad school, they were like, Okay, but your home girl number five, and you need to play the person selling McDonald's burgers or whatever, right?

Serwaa

Did you know that going into the pro

Fri

way went in? At least I went in,

Fri

ready to learn I was a sponge, and through the program, I felt empowered. I felt like I could do anything I could play anything and I did at school and you know, is part of our training. We were able to

Fri

push our and stretch our muscles and play roles that were super challenging and not conventional. And then when we came out, it was a huge reality hit because it wasn't that we weren't able toe play these parts. It was that our minds were prepared to reduce ourselves to whatever parts were available and

Serwaa

start from the bottom, right?

Fri

She got to start from the bottom. But not just the bottom, the bottom with parts that you're just like, really this is what and this is what most actors have to experience. So this wasn't you need to us. But man, did it feel like a blow, you know, to have gone through three years and then they come out feeling disillusioned by the industry on DSO. I stayed in New York for a year after that and I'm starting a book work and I had agent and all that, but I got tired of the snow. I got tired of people not picking up after their dog and I was like, That's it, I'm done. I'm leaving New York. I mean, go to the only other place where I could still pursue this. But I want my soul die or freeze over in the winter. And so California seemed like the natural fit. Definitely not Chicago. Shout out to your Chicago listeners, But

Serwaa

no, no, The snow. I could barely do it. I went to school in Colorado. My family lives in Colorado and I love to visit. But man, I remember scraping and digging myself out of snow. Can't

Fri

especially if you're a tropical girl like you're born on the right is not for you. I love me some sun shiny, some vitamin D. I need, like, sweat and humidity and all

Serwaa

of it. All of it. So now you're in L. A. A couple of years after you joined Michael Tur launched you guys landed your first contract to design to theme parks in Dubai. To me, that sounds like a huge contract for a startup. So how did you guys gain enough industry trust and credibility? Thio land such amazing contract in a relatively short amount of time.

Fri

That's ah really great question and I think about that a lot and I think a lot of it had to do with,

Fri

you know, the even, though, technically we were start up. The company was founded in 2011 I in the summer of 2011. I joined in January of 2012, so I was like It had two founders, Cliff Warner and David Walley. And then I was employee. I guess Number one, you know, in January of 2012 and even though we were start up our history, our relationship goes way beyond that. And so that's why I was talked to people and say, You don't judge your business or your venture on where you are on Day one Judge your venture on the experience that you bring to day one and position yourself for five years ahead like you have to react to the present. But you you can't be disillusioned or discouraged by the present. Sometimes on DSO, the two founders, David Walley and co foreigner, go way back. They've known each other for 30 years. They went thio, uh, school together. And then when Cliff Warner started a company prior, um, it was another theme park design company that's actually one of the first sort of office jobs that I landed when I moved out to L. A. So I was done doing the waitressing thing toe to make ends meet. And I was like, let me at least pursue something that's gonna make me feel motivated. And so his company was my first job on Do you know I was there for a little bit? I was expecting my first baby and then decide to go on maternity leave. I didn't come back because I knew that if I came back, I wouldn't be able to move farther just because of some of the things that I had gotten to do. Um, in my growth, I knew that if I came back, I wouldn't be able to come back. I won't be able to pursue it and context. This was in 2000 and eight, right? So the recession had hit on. Everyone was super cautious. And so here I am pregnant being offered my job back legally because, you know, it's maternity leave. And I was like, No, I'm gonna walk from this because prior to maternity leave, I gotten a taste of some of the creative direction rules, and I knew that with everyone being super cautious Coming back at this role, I would come back to just being an admin and executive assistant, and I didn't want that. So I took the gamble and said, Nope. I'm gonna stay home or find something else, which was crazy at the time. Unfortunately, Cliff Warner and I stayed in touch and we just had a really good report. So when he started my CO two, you know, it was an immediate jump on. So I say that to say that even though we were startup,

Fri

our relationship, our report and the experience and expertise that they brought definitely more than I did at the time went back many, many, many years. So it was. It was more of a revving of the engine as opposed to a cold start up.

Serwaa

Got it, got it. So they had the expertise. They had the industry contacts. People knew who they were. So it wasn't a stretch for them to be trusted with such a

Fri

huge It was a stretch. Well, you know to

Serwaa

that point, I know when you guys landed the deal, you you were three people working out of a garage, and somehow you have to ramp up to a team of 160 plus people who ultimately built the parks. So what was that ramp up like? Because I'm sure as a startup, you always say yes and then figure it out later. How did you guys figure that out?

Fri

Yes, and like, isn't it? That's also the theater mentality, right? Yes. And let me get the answer for U s. Oh, yeah, we were It was three of us in a garage, actually. Or because we we were bringing in, we had brought in, of course, employed. By the time we got this job, eso the call came in after we had done a small scope of work that was just to help them cost it out. Andrea Lee, let me in. Full transparency. At this point, my role is to help support like I'm not even driving a lot of the decisions at this point. The call came in saying, Okay, great. We love the estimation that you guys put together to basically to help them understand what it would take to actually build a theme park. Um, and then they're like, Can you do it? Can you now build it? Yes, hung up. And you know that that scene, I think I'm not really sure what movie was, but it's like we're gonna need a bigger boat because I'm not even sure if it's from jobs, but like, it was that realization of like, Okay, this garage isn't gonna work. We need We're going to need to hire people like too sweet. So everyone starts calling. Who do you know? Who did you work with on such and mind you at this point as well, We had a non compete our founder, one of our founders, because he had left his position. The previous company, he had a non compete. So there were a lot of people that we would typically go thio,

Fri

which turned out to be a blessing in disguise because that forced us to think outside the box and to not hire people based on their resume but to hire people based on their skill, set on their propensity toe, learn on their relationship that we have with them on on. Just take a gamble in say, Okay, you're you're good at this completely other thing. But the tools that are needed for project management in this other industry we consult translate into our industry. And so, by pairing people who are seasoned with young, fresh new talent, we were able to staff up to 160 designers, architects, engineers, um, draftsman costumers, you know, composers, all those different entities that are needed to designed and developed to full theme parks. How long

Serwaa

did that take you guys?

Fri

From the time I got the call to when we were at our peak. Ah, 100. You know, it took eight months and repeat. We ramped up to 116 team members It. Meanwhile, in this whole time, we had to obviously leave from the garage into the house because the garage got too small. So we moved into the house where the kitchen was in office. The living room was in office. The hallway into his bedroom was in office. And then finally, when the refrigerator quit because there were too many people opening and closing. I think at this time of 30 people, we're like no school. We need to get a space. So we found a production facility not too far off that became our h que onda. That's where we moved in and literally as we're having meetings there, like putting drywall on office roots like that's That's the craziness that it waas

Serwaa

that's like the depiction of you build it as you are flying right s

Fri

So you are jumping off of the cliff and you're figuring out the parachute as you're free falling. Um, the good news is that you know, you trust the people that you're falling with, so you know you're not going to die. You just know you need toe act quick trust and, you know, be be willing thio. Adapt and adjust quickly.

Serwaa

But having to ramp up so quickly. WAAS funding an issue or given kind of the industry background, maybe

Serwaa

the funding was already available for you.

Fri

That's a fantastic question. And you know, people wonder about that a lot, too, especially with start ups. You have to be very protective of your resource is in your team, your team, the people who work on your team before you R with you, that's your engine, that those that's the brand. That's the culture that makes for a great product, great service, a great deliverable, and you've got to take care of them you have to make them priority over the project, which means as you as we were setting up, um, you know, the scope of work as well as our contract. And that's just kind of who we are as a company. Anyway, you have a startup payment mobilization payment that at least covers a certain amount of you know, that on boarding process so that you're not fronting the project for the client. Um, and and it's hard

Serwaa

to go No, e

Fri

mean and it's hard, right? It's so tempting because when your startup, you're excited to get the work, you wanna have that nice client logo on your, you know, in your portfolio. So you're you're kind of do anything. Um, and you have to remember not to forget who you are and not to forget that you're also bringing up something to the table. So you you've got a you have to be covered to certain extent, and I think a lot of it is also trust. Um, you know, doing your research and knowing what company you're you're starting thio work with. If it's a new company, do your research. And if it's a company or team that you already have a relationship. There might be a little bit of flexibility in terms of how much that mobilization, you know, amount or payment is. But you have to value what you bring to the table as a as a leader in whatever industry you're in and not sell that away or not not give it away for free, you know?

Serwaa

No, that's a good point. You have something to offer a swell. And don't let people walk all over you because you think, you know,

Fri

start up. I'm just happy to get the work. Like exactly someone was actually talking about this the other day where they were like, there's a difference between he was giving an analogy about, you know, coffee shops saying you could decide to start a coffee shop and, you know, sell the best coffee and so does the next coffee shop owner right next to you. And if the measure of success is just based on how many coffee cups you can pour and how many orders you could take, eventually you're gonna have a customer was going to say no, this is crap. And I'm going to go next door as opposed to positioning your coffee shop as a service as a source of expertise as a strategic partner. Toe elevate that customers experience right then all of a sudden, they're not just buying coffee. They're buying relationship. They're buying a brand. They're buying, ah, lifestyle in association, which makes it a lot harder for them to go to someone else. And that's exactly

Fri

trusting and fighting for who you are as a company and as an entrepreneur, or is a startup. You know, it doesn't mean you have to be so established,

Serwaa

so true. I have to say your company's growth sounds really seamless. Was

Fri

that No? Why would you think that like, Don't don't be misleading,

Serwaa

you e mean, yes, No, give us some a little bit of insight. What were your challenges

Fri

were and are I mean, it's always, I think, ultimately, you know, we are in entertainment development company and where we ultimately are headed and where we started pivoting more towards is ownership of our brands and being able to not only design and develop these experiences but operate them and own them and essentially licensed them out to others. S.E.O very successful in developing it for other people. So in that capacity you're design consultant. You are bringing in the service to conceive the idea, come up with a strategic plan, develop it, produce it, run it for them, and then hand them the keys and say, God, speed, right on bats. Great. But what that means is that there's a cycle of of chasing, trying to chase work, which is awesome, but you're not. You're not chasing work in a vacuum. You're chasing work in a very competitive environment, which is fine, but also with things that are completely out of your control, such as you have a client that it's moving forward with and everything is, is ready to go and then covert happens. And then all of a sudden, no work right

Fri

or they completely changed their direction because there's been an internal restructuring. And so now everything that's been developed in terms of relationship

Fri

up until this point now needs to be reset, and so that you know, there's a shelf life, too, on, at least from a new business standpoint. On one thing, when conversations start to when they actually turn on, which means you're having to reset again and again, and it's doable. It's nothing unique to us, but and it's exhausting and our industry is very project based. It's kind of similar to the film industry, where your teams are staffed based on the needs of the project. At least for us. We like Thio. We're pretty smart about keeping our overhead efficient and and not having too many people on payroll unless we really need Thio. Oh, unless the project consistent sustaining and our industry are freelancers are designer store used to that mindset? Um, they're also always chasing. So what that means is that your you know, there's a there's a rinse and repeat in terms of staffing up that happens constantly and ultimately where you wanna be is, you know, ownership you wanna you wanna be able to stand by the concepts and experiences that you're putting up the market and also make money while you sleep, you know, And so that's that's always been. Our goal is a company, and fortunately we've been We've been making, ah lot of headway, and I'm pivoting into that direction so that it's not always about services that we're providing but services that we're providing to its our work that we could eventually, um, you know, have royalties and licensing fees from

Serwaa

So

Serwaa

would you say once you accomplish that, you would have made it the proverbial made it as a company,

Fri

as a company? Yeah, as a company for sure. It's something that I mean, my coaches are Matt are sort of tagline. Is the entertainment development company um development, not entertainment design, not entertainment consulting, not entertainment double, you know, So development is really putting on the real estate hat in a way, which is how do you take a dirt piece of of land and turn it into a master planned oasis? Right. That is just about architecture er and building homes. It's about vision. It's about seeing what the possibilities are with this piece of land starting to lay in the partners that could come into elevated. It's about community building. It's about long term planning and investment, and in a way, in a weird way that's not too far from entertainment where entertainment isn't anymore, just something that you bring into as a as an off like as a last minute thought. It's something that is now, at least in the smart developments It's an anchor to a lot of these master planned communities. Andi. It could be a fountain. It could be a shopping center. It could be a museum, and experience could be a district or corridor. But it's integral to how lifestyles and cultures created on DSO. You have to think of it as a developer and developers about having long term revenue coming in there just about building the land and then selling it off there is like, No, we will have a long term steak steak will be long term stakeholders in this, and I think that's the mindset that we take at Michael to at least.

Serwaa

Hmm. But I do have to ask, I guess a little bit about the elephant in the world right now, I would say for the first time, and I don't know how many years Disneyland closed. And so what was going on behind your closed doors when Cove it first hit and some of your projects were being impacted?

Fri

Yeah,

Fri

I man, it was a scary time, and it is still kind of scary just because there's still so many unknowns. But the first you know, the first couple of weeks in March when all the shutdown start happening. If you recall, there is so much uncertainty and triggered reactions to things we were really smart in in shutting down pretty quickly and having pivoting to remote work environment. And that was a lot easier for us to dio compared to a lot of our other colleagues or other companies in our industry, because we're already a nimble small team s o, the ability to work from home and to take your equipment and communicate from home didn't require too much of, ah, change in process. But it didn't require us to make sure that we put systems in place pretty early on in terms of communication and dialogue. But, man, I'll tell you, watching the dominoes fall in the, you know in our industry has been scary because thes air lively hoods that are being lost, these our friends and our colleagues and our friendly competitors that are losing, um, their their source of income. And it's not to say that we were removed from that Aziz Well, I mean, we we were set up to do some really fun things that some of these major you know, events. Let's at South by Comic con. But I think where we were able to adapt on, which is kind of the mindset that I liked adopting for my personal life was, you know, making sure that we didn't have all our eggs in one basket.

Fri

Um, and you'll find that a lot of the the company's not just in our industry, but just in general that are getting hardest hit are the ones that have been very successful, but with a very specific vertical. Uh, and man, you have to be flexible. You gotta have different spokes happening, you know,

Serwaa

diversify your risk.

Fri

Cod. Yeah, multi. Gotta have multiple cods because if it's just one awesome thing, all it takes is one, you know, tragedy and it comes to a grinding halt. So we you know, we design theme parks, but that's not all we do. We do with visitor centers. We develop master planned communities. We worked with architects with municipalities with brands, Um, you know, and so that has allowed us to be able to have a little bit more

Fri

buoyancy, uh, reaction, rather than being so hard hit that we couldn't move forward. And I think also because We're theater people at heart, man. If you're a theater person, you know that show must go on mentality to your core, right? So you're not just the actress, you're the stage manager. You're the house manager. You're taking tickets. Your you know, your figure. You're mopping the stage. So that mentality of being able to do multiple things or readjust so that you're not just now free forging them, Chief Development Officer. No. Now you're gonna have to write that treatment. Now you're gonna have to be the creative director on this project and be hands on. You have to put your ego aside and say, What's the good of the company? And how do we adapt our skills and and brush up on things that we haven't done in a long time? So that we can be efficient in our costs and in our overhead, but also still be able to react to new business or new clients or new opportunities and not feel like, oh, crap. We can't do that anymore because we don't have that one person who knew how to fix the light. You know, you gotta be able thio, learn fast. It's coming back to the garage days. We're not in the garage. That's that's that's, you know, e feel fortunate and blessed. But, man, I never forget those days. I just don't because you never know. And you still need to be able to be flexible and nimble and put your ego aside because you just never

Serwaa

know. And even today, I would say new opportunities and new industries air being born out of this year. So you need to be adaptable, and you need to be ableto, um, capture the opportunity fairly quickly before the market starts to get saturated.

Fri

I actually see the landscape right now as the crazy opportunity, and it it's it may not feel that way. But let me tell you, there's so much opportunity right now because the playing field has been leveled. No one has an advantage on how we're going to move forward on what miracle product, except for the vaccine, hopefully on what miracle product is going to change everything for everyone? No. One. All the previous models are, you know, have this new cell line in there that have that is essentially cove it on. How do you adapt and what's the future of your business. So because the playing field has been equalized, I strongly feel that anything goes in terms of problem solving. So if you have an idea that you've always thought, wouldn't it be great if Why not now? I mean, when when else. But now, Um, and the only difference is it's a It's really for me and mindset thing, the factors that would have hindered you before Cove. It still exists today.

Fri

So, Cove, it is just one more rung on that ladder. But it's not the wrong that all of a sudden makes it impossible to pursue anything exactly the wrong, though that makes a lot of other people nervous about trying that you think so. Why not you? You know what I mean?

Serwaa

It definitely opens the playing field, that's for sure. Yeah. What parting advice would you have for any of the budding entrepreneurs listening who are looking to go off script and maybe start something that others may not understand?

Fri

Both, um,

Fri

embrace being an underdog,

Fri

embrace the gift of being underestimated,

Fri

because when you're underestimated, no one's paying attention to you, which means you can go about your business. You can work without naysayers, you can pursue and try things and go off the beaten path. And when you're going off the beaten path, there's less likely of a blueprint. And so you can break the rules a little bit and fail fast, but still try it and you never know what you'll stumble on. So there's actually an advantage to being underestimated and and being unknown and surround yourself with people who are gonna be dream crushers. You know, it's really easy for people to impart wisdom based on how they see themselves, what their capacity, um is and also what you know, what their successes have been so really be discerning and protective about the people you let into your dreams and protect it like fight for it protected and embrace that it is a hidden secret and just buried down and do the work.

Serwaa

Mhm. That's such great advice Free. This has been an amazing conversation. So for anyone listening that wants to follow the journey yours personally and also from my co two, Where can we find you?

Fri

Oh, thank you for asking. Look at me about to do a plug. Of course you can. I mean, officially you know, we visit our website in my co two dot com. It's a great starting point to get a sense of who we are as a company and at the very least, our industry and, you know, hit me up on Instagram at 34 gin Damn, you will find me. I'm always, always, always excited and thrilled to answer questions about our industry specific. I feel a little bit like an ambassador just because, you know there's so many people who are new to it. But there's so much opportunity for growth. The themed entertainment industry is writers, designers, artists, architects, engineers. Um, you know, musician. I mean, it really is this intersection of all these different disciplines. So you'd be project managers, so you'd be surprised at how welcoming and inclusive it is in terms of opportunity. S.E.O. I'm happy to chat with anyone, DME but you can find me on Instagram and free forging them. Or you can visit our website on but to get a little bit more information on our on our company and definitely in our industry.

Serwaa

Perfect, she offered. So you guys definitely take her up on that offer E

Fri

no. With the balls, the offer. But listen, you won't know until you know. So just ask the question the very least. You know, I'll get back to you as soon as I can, but I'll do my best to be honest. And, uh, thank you for having me on and for talking about this because I think you're platform is amazing. And And I'm hoping that as people are listening to you and watching you grow, you know that they could say I knew her when? Because, you know, She's Off Script isn't about being Off-Scripters about charging or forging your

Serwaa

own path and creating your own blueprint. And Gary. But, man, you will never regret it. Oh, well, I appreciate that. Thank you so much free. Thank you. Appreciate the time High Off-Scripters. I'm so glad you made it to the end of this episode. If you enjoy listening to our show, please pay forward by sharing us with your network. Between episodes, you can find me on instagram. Our handle is at She's Off Script, or you can catch up on past episodes at She's Off Script dot com. See you on the next one

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I'm Serwaa, your new business strategist.

I’m a digital business strategy expert, headstrong high achiever, mom of two girls and wife to a strapping African man.

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