CLLCTVE with Kelsey Davis
So, tell Jerk readers a little bit about yourself. Where are you from?
My name is Kelsey Davis. My major is Television, Radio & Film and I’m minoring in Innovation, Design & Startups.
And why did you come to Syracuse?
My dad said that I was a big fish in a small pond and that I needed to be a big fish in a big pond, and so I needed to go to Newhouse in order to do that. He works in the industry, and so a lot of his colleagues are Newhouse alum and whatever. Also, I’m a Posse Scholar, and so Posse was essentially my way to get to Newhouse because they gave me a scholarship.
What is CLLCTVE? What is its origin story?
We’re a creative agency that develops collegiate creatives in proximity to university campuses, in order to provide creative solutions for brands. So, what does that actually mean? Essentially, we see ourselves as the pillar between creatives, community, and brands. For me personally, by my sophomore year of college, I was already traveling across the world producing content for all these artists and brands, but there wasn’t a system within my academic network that ensured my success academically while I was doing all of those things.
[Syracuse University wants] to have these great job placement rates and they want all this experiential learning, but how much of that do they actually help us with? I know that when I go to Newhouse career fairs, there aren’t jobs that I’m like, “Oh yeah! That’s what I want to do!” You know? It’s more like, “Hey, do you want to be a production assistant at NBC?” and I’m like, “Not really, I want to go shoot videos for Coke,” or whatever. So, we [asked]: how do we make these types of opportunities more accessible on college campuses for college students, without them having to go outside of their traditional reign to get them? So, essentially what we’re trying to build is a platform where creatives can get connected to each other but then also to these job opportunities.
For those who don’t know, what are some events that CLLCTVE has done and brands that you’ve worked for?
Back in September, we did the influencer event with Original Grain
so again, fulfilling our mission of being the bridge between creatives, community, and brands.
We did a CLLCTVE conference back in October, which was super lit and we brought in three industry professionals to come and basically give us stories, help creatives. We did workshops, we did panel discussions, break out labs. It was lit. Then for our beta, we had our launch two weeks ago now. So, we did a launch event where we did demos in Blackstone, so we set up all these computers and allowed creatives to do real-time, play with the platform basically.
In terms of brands, we’ve worked with Original Grain, we’ve worked with Good Uncle, Land Rover, Coke.
How has the Syracuse University environment influenced the inception and growth of CLLCTVE?
Syracuse is definitely a research facility. I don’t think I realized that until I started a company. Being able to have certain resources to help us with the trial and error that we needed in order to get CLLCTVE off the ground, I think, is what’s going to allow CLLCTVE to be sustainable in the long run. Also, I’m staying in Syracuse after I graduate, so being able to have resources like the Blackstone Launchpad, being able to have access to financial advisors, legal advisors, being able to have certain connectivity in Newhouse. If we’re a creative agency who’s trying to build the best group of creatives and we’re trying to do that by partnering with the universities, by having the number one communications school at our disposal makes that easier. Syracuse is kind of just the perfect market campus for us to really start this.
When you started out, did you expect CLLCTVE to become as big as it is now?
Um… yeah! But also, it’s like not even a fraction of what I know it’s going to be. I think a lot of times, I actually have a hard time stepping back and appreciating like, “Oh wow, this is so cool,” because it’s not what we want it to be yet. I think that… for me, as a visionary, that’s a blessing and a curse. Every single day, you wake up and you’re reminded you’re not there yet. Even just little shit. There’s so many little things.
I didn’t expect it to have the structure that it has now. I did expect, “Hey, we’re going to grow this community with all these college creatives.” Yes, all of that, but I didn’t actually understand the business development that would take place with it, and I think that has tremendously grown. Still, a lot of trial and error there, but I think that’s necessary in order to get to where we need to go. I think, just for me, it’s about knowing when to pivot, knowing what our strengths and weaknesses are, knowing the right people to partner with, knowing the right decisions to make as new information is introduced.
What do you mean by structure?
It’s one thing to have a really good idea. It’s another thing to know the right structure to match that idea to allow it to grow and scale at the right rate. I think that with me, while I’m super good at having ideas… I’ve had to actively learn, and I’m still learning what are the right structures and systems to implement into this idea to make it actually work.
In the same way, if you’re a basketball player, you can be super talented, but if you don’t get on the court and run the right plays, run the right offense, run the right defense against what’s coming to you, that’s what actually determines if you’re going to be successful. Not just because you know how to play basketball. Do you know how to actually implement the right plays, the right strategies at the right times to fight whatever offense is coming towards you? And so, I think for me, that’s been the highest part that I had to learn, even from like, what are the best deal structures when it comes to clients? Should we do billable hours versus times? Should we do packaged content versus value? How should we grow this creative community? What features should we implement at what time? There’s just such a big gap when it comes to like, “Hey, we’re an org on campus and we need a flyer but like, damn we don’t know anybody who knows how to do that,” or like, “I’m a videographer and I have all these skills but there’s no opportunities but I know opportunities exist, I just don’t know how to get to them.”
There’s all these gaps that exist within college markets when it comes to buying and selling creative ideas or creative content, even little stuff like, “Hey, I’m a director and I’m looking for actors. How do I find the right actors to come be a part of my story?” And so, I think for us the [most difficult] part is… how do people trust that we’re the right service that they want to use? Why would people come to us instead of a Fiverr? All of that stuff has been a trial and error. My business partner, Ryan, he’s our COO so his job is to implement those systems and structures. I have these ideas, whatever, and he’s like, “No, we can’t do that because we need to build it in this type of way,” or, “Hey, it’d be cheaper and smarter if we did it this way.”
How did you go about building that trust between brands, and then the trust of creatives that are working for you?
It’s something that is ever growing. For me, because I had prior experience with working with brands, I was kind of like the point of contact to get brands in the door with CLLCTVE. For us though, we actually had to take a back seat in regards to reaching out to clients because we realized we can’t scale this whole creative process that we’re doing if we don’t have a community of creatives where we know their skills, we know their capabilities, we have portfolio projects they’ve worked on in the past, we know how they work, when they work, whatever. If we don’t have that information, if we don’t have that database of this growing community, then we don’t actually have the value that we say we’re giving to these brands. For us, that was why we were like, “Okay, let’s hold on brands for a second and let’s really put all of our focus towards building this creative community,” which is what we’re doing.
How did you go about designing the CLLCTVE brand and aesthetic? Do you think it’s reflective of your own personal style and aesthetic?
From a basic aesthetic standpoint, I’ve always been a fan of hypebeast culture so kind of the notion that people buy into this idea or this thing because other people are buying into this idea and this thing and it kind of builds upon that. Our aesthetic is just like, for example, our interface is all black because it’s almost like an exclusive type of aesthetic. I use Gotham font because it’s lit. Just from an aesthetic standpoint, it’s what looks good. I think we have an eye for what looks good.
When did you know you wanted to be a creator rather than work for a creator?
Since I was, like, in elementary school. I think, for me, I’m an entrepreneur because I have to be. I just know that I cannot successfully exist in systems and environments that I don’t-- to some degree-- have control over. I think that I used to look at that as like, something as simple as I’m sitting in class and I’m always getting up to go get water even though I’m not thirsty because I just can’t be sitting down. I just need to be able to, like, have the freedom to stretch so I can actually work. I think when you’re in a traditional work environment, that just isn’t the case because they kind of have to control that system.
For me, there’s a certain luxury in being able to create your own system within a work environment, but I also think that that’s how I work the best. It’s really hard for me to generate ideas and whatever if I’m just in a space that’s like, “Ahh, I can’t think. I can’t move. I can’t function.” And for us, it was like, well how do we create a culture of that? How do we still build an organization but create a culture within that organization that allows, whether it’s employees or contractors or just people in our creative community, to still feel like they can stretch to their fullest, creative capacity whatever that means, but still exist within a structured system. I think that’s something that is just ever-evolving, but I think super, super important. I think work spaces, in general, are starting to get more like that, even in a lot of corporate sectors. Employers are realizing in order for our employees to create the most output, we need to create a space that allows them to do so. So, I think for me, being an entrepreneur has been able to give me the space I need to reach my full work capacity.
Why do you think it’s so important to support young creatives?
Because young creatives are the future. Our vision is to empower the next generation of creatives. When you think about where Gen-Z is going, by the year 2021––two years from now––48 percent of the content that’s going to be consumed online is going to be by Gen-Z. We’re the fastest growing rate of content consumers but also content creators. So, if you look at ten years from now, the people that essentially are going to have the control, that are going to have the buying power, are these young people, right? So, for us it’s like, well how do we give them the tools that they need to be able to go out and do their own thing underneath our platform? I want young creatives to feel like, “Hey, I need to go to CLLCTVE to get what I need to get to my next step.” I think that empowerment is the biggest key when it comes to this generation. They’re smart, they’re quick, they just need to be given the tools. They just need to be given the right information and from there, they can literally do anything. So, for us, it’s about building those tools, building those features that they need in order to create that type of activity underneath our platform.
I think as students, especially young artists, it’s easy to get down on yourself––whether it’s not getting the internship you wanted or not getting your work out there in the way you wanted. What would you say to those students who are feeling out of luck?
I would definitely say, one, don’t place your value in what someone else is offering for you. I think value is something that’s intrinsic and that you have to define for yourself. I think also you have to understand what are your core competencies as an individual, and how do you use those things to add value to people who are in your direct space. That could be an internship, right? That could be a job opportunity or whatever, but I think that there are a lot of ways that we could understand what our value is that we’re giving to other people. I think if we look at an internship as our metric for success, then yes, we’re going to get down when we aren’t given that thing.
But I look at that as like, cool you didn’t get an internship, now you have eight weeks to really hone in on your brand, really hone in on what you’re trying to say, because at the end of the day, that internship’s going to end. Then you’re going to go through this other process––and I think that’s almost the issue with college growth. We run, run, run to get this internship and we have it and we chill for six months and then it’s, “Ah, shit. I need another internship.” What are you actually building for? What are you actually working towards? I think it’s smarter for us to have our end goal in mind and to work backwards from that, and I think you would get less defeated if, you know, this one internship doesn’t work? Whatever. Maybe that just wasn’t what I needed, and also, they just didn’t see my value, right? That could be your fault, that could be their fault, but I think the smartest thing to do in that is to evaluate and to assess what happened, rather than just like, “Oh, I didn’t get this internship…” That just leaves doors open for a million other things.
How can students get involved in CLLCTVE?
They can go to thecllctve.com and join. Sign up. Create an account. They’ll be able to build a portfolio, follow other creatives, publish their own content. We’re about to restart highlighting a bunch of creatives… [and start] posting different opportunities that exist. Especially because the summer’s coming up, a lot of people are going to be in New York City. So, for us, it’s just about curating opportunities through our platform. So, that’s how they can do it. Go to thecllctve.com, and then everything they need will be there.
Is there a certain demand that you have, like graphic designers or video production?
I if you identify as a creative and you’re in college, we want you.
How are you feeling now that you’re graduating in a few weeks?
Wooooo!!! I’m just ready to breathe again. I just feel like I can’t reach my optimal capacity until I’m out of school, so I feel like that would really be a moment for me to be able to get the time that I need to invest in the right things that I need to get the right clarity that I need when I’m not focused on these little small tasks just to get to the next week. Like, “Alright, these are the next assignments I need to get to next week.” Because, it can get a little mundane. Yeah, I’m super, super excited. It’s going to be a new transition and a new time period but, I don’t think I’ve ever been more ready to transition seasons. It’s like, go time.
Do you feel like you’ve accomplished everything you wanted to while here? Are there any regrets?
Yeah, I think I accomplished way more than I set out to originally. And also, my time at Syracuse University isn’t done. Even though I’ll be graduating, there’s a lot more that I want to do within the university, there’s a lot more I want to do for the university, especially after the passing of the dean. I just feel like a new heightened sense of mission, in regard to Newhouse specifically, to really impact innovation, change and really just bring everything to the next level.
What are some future goals for CLLCTVE? What are you looking forward to most?
So right now, we’re just super, super Syracuse-heavy. So, as we grow, just market expansion. Looking at other cities, whether it’s New York City, Boston––mainstream cities that are very big incubators for colleges, is the next step for us. Just continuing to reach out to more creatives, be able to serve more creatives, and queue up some brands. Get some client work going.