Embracing the Startup Journey

, ,

—Brandon Clarke of StartupAZ Foundation and CRADL


I did stand-up comedy for eighteen years.  Ten of those years were spent learning, four years were spent refining, and four were spent in wild success. 

~ Steve Martin, Born Standing Up

Where are you in your journey?

I started my first company with no preconceived notion of being an entrepreneur. After a decade in the restaurant industry, I, not only needed out of the restaurant industry, I needed a new path. So I took what I assumed were transferable skills in restaurant operations and marketing into the wild. Turns out, they were not so transferable after all — at least that was what I told myself after several uninspiring job interviews.

I was being picky. I wanted to do my own thing and looking back, I was going through the motions in a weak attempt to find a new career path to get excited about.

Was I restless entrepreneur? I didn’t think so. To me, entrepreneurs were empire builders; something small business owners aspired to. What I knew for sure was working for someone else was becoming less desirable.

Unmarried with no kids (that helps, but quickly changed) I was ready to be in control of my own paycheck. I completed the requisite steps to form a company (LLC filing, tax ID, checking account, business cards, emptied savings, done.) I started flipping houses, which in 2005 here in Phoenix was quite trendy. I had a blast.

Circa 2009, after some misguided decisions offset but some moderately successful ones, I realized a career in real estate was not mine to be had. The market helped bring me to this conclusion too, spelling it out for me in bright red neon numbers.

I had ideas in the non-traditional marketing space and I set out to build a company to scale. This predates the hype of entrepreneurship and startups; lean this, agile that, incubators, seed rounds and series A’s. Even entry-level collaboration resources like co-working were foreign to me — but looking back, would have made a big difference.

My company was called DrivenMedia and we developed out-of-home marketing campaigns for clients. It was a difficult service to pitch in a down economy where marketing budgets were the first to get slashed, but I hustled and landed good clients and valuable press.

Still hamstrung from poor real estate decisions, cash flow was tight but the business model seemed to be working and growth seemed inevitable. Our main product was a brand ambassador campaign. The way I would explain it, we hired soccer moms with busy commutes and active social schedules to have their minivans and SUV’s wrapped in graphics for our family-centric clients.

It was a fun business to run, difficult to sell, but highly profitable once deals were closed. Predating Uber didn’t help either, because our eventual demise was the risk of sub-contracted employees operating motor vehicles for business purposes.

Damn lawyers. It was good advice at the time because one serious incident, this is a far different story. I found a suitor, unfazed by the friction, to acquire the assets and assume the risk. It was an overly-optimistic joint venture that ended shortly after it was consummated. It was a superb learning experience.

Fast forward to present day, I have spent the past several years getting to know my startup community across Arizona and some of the amazing people within it, finding ways to help create a more vibrant environment for young companies to grow. I’ve mentored, advised, coached, freelanced, dabbled, and helped build some cool products.

One of my favorite references: Startups = Growth, Growth = Friction, Removed, has become my ethos for just about anything I do now. The ability to identify friction, remove it, and then get out of the way, is what separates projects with good intentions from becoming successful ventures.

I have another startup up my sleeve — well, several actually — and I am excited to take my 10 years of learning into the refinement, and hopefully, the wild success phase. My love for my kids and what educates them, entertains them, and keeps them active, is my inspiration. The journey continues, and I can think of no better place to be than here.


Brandon Clarke is the co-founder and board member of StartupAZ Foundation, and co-founder of CRADL, a research and development lab that drives exploration and innovation in technologies, media, and services that delight children, families, and educators. 

StartupAZ Foundation is a proud sponsor of Invest Southwest.