Paul Campillo (PC): I'm Paul, Director of Brand at Typeform, and this is Meaningful.
PC: Today, we're talking to Adam Lisagor, tech enthusiast and founder of Sandwich, makers of some of the best product explainer videos in the world.
PC: How do you make commercials that people love? Let's find out. ♪ Make it, make it, make it count ♪
Adam Lisagor (AL): Okay, don't know it required a curtain, right away.
PC: How's it going, man? It's good to meet you.
AL: I know.
PC: It's weird having these conversations because I feel like the day or a couple few days before I'm stalking people, and I'm watching all their stuff. I'm trying to get an idea 'cause after you gave the talk at Con Con. The Hustle Con thing.
AL: And you were there?
PC: Oh, I was there, yeah. And I remember I wanted to walk up to you and ask you a few questions but I remember you stepped off the stage.
AL: I’m very, very inaccessible. Very inaccessible.
PC: And people started like approaching you, I was like, "Oh, I'm not gonna bother him." But you are gonna put Toastmasters out of business.
AL: What is a Toastmasters? Is that like what?
PC: It's where they teach people how to speak.
AL: I feel like I'm really bad at it but thank you.
PC: Yeah, but that's what I mean, you don't care.
AL: Oh, nice.
PC: You go up there with your notes, and you read everything. There's no rhyme, or reason, no pattern, it just feels like you're just being yourself in front of a group.
AL: So but that was the one I felt a lot better about it, and I think that the only difference was I practiced a little bit more.
AL: I rehearsed it. I didn't think that winging it was gonna do the trick.
Being yourself, comfortably
PC: Are you doing that on purpose?
AL: As to whether that's intentional or contrived on my part, it's definitely not contrived. I would say that it just comes naturally to me because partially out of laziness, honestly, conservation of energy.
AL: But there are people who really wanna hone and perfect their craft in an intentional way. But I'm just not one of those people.
PC: Yeah, and where does that come from? 'Cause I noticed that a lot of what you do comes from "This is who I am." And take it or leave it.
AL: Yeah, gosh, I can't say it's entirely like comfort, or safety, or like privilege because the ability to do that and still find yourself accepted among your peers…
AL: That is a privilege. Most people don't get to do that, let's be clear.
AL: My parents always made me feel unconditionally accepted. So the margins of error were always seen as like a welcome part of the process. I think it's mostly a function of my upbringing. And don't get me wrong, I had my fair share of self-hatred and lack of confidence.
PC: Imposter syndrome, yeah.
AL: Along the way but that's another element to it is the vulnerability to express that lack of confidence. It's extremely relatable to people. I'm just vulnerable, and people are also vulnerable, and so they see someone who's vulnerable, and they say, "I can relax a little bit." This guy doesn't make me feel "like I'm doing something wrong."
PC: Yeah, it's really disarming, I think for the crowd. And I wonder if that helps you kinda overcome like any… I guess the word is imposter syndrome, or “I need to be an expert up here when I speak to these people.”
AL: Again, it's like these contrasts are at play. There's like the sort of sloppiness of the presentation but it's paired with what hopefully is keen insight, and a sense of humor.
AL: And these are things that they're not accidental. It's an inherent quality, or characteristic, or a craft even. And so I feel like pairing these disparate sources together can result in something a little bit more elevated.
PC: Yeah, and then, the edges towards that ideal, how do you know what your edges are?
AL: It's basically accepting that nothing is binary, there's not right or wrong. There's closer or further, or closer towards this and further from that. And I think all of us are constantly attenuating ourselves based on the sensitivity, the polarity.
AL: That attenuation is part of being human, and you want to encourage behaviors in yourself and others that tend towards positivity, tend towards feeling right, while also challenging yourself and going in directions that don't make you feel as comfortable.
Film school vs. film set
PC: And then, can you talk about how you got here?
AL: I always just had a knack or a love for the idea of like just talking through ideas or explaining things with using video because it allowed you to not have to do it live, and perfectly, and have more control over the experience.
AL: And so, as soon as I got a chance as a young kid to be like asking questions about how a thing gets made, or seen, or get shot, that became what was more fascinating to me about telling a story through that medium. So then, I went to film school. I definitely specialized in post production and that kind of stuff and then, started working in Post-it right out of school.
PC: What school?
AL: First day on set was more valuable than four years of film school for me. I learned a lot about something that I never planned to know about. But it's in my interest because I was always kind of duly obsessed by filmmaking and technology.
AL: And being around production, being around directors, through those six years, I kind of like let it solidify in my mind that I was not gonna be that, that I was not gonna be a director, because I didn't have the personality type to be that.
The accidental founder
AL: But then, the most interesting thing that happened when I was in at the tail end of my visual effects tenure was technology became incredibly interesting, so much more interesting than the movie industry, or the commercials that I was working on.
PC: What do you mean when you say that?
AL: Technology became?
AL: Well, the tech stack on the web became very dynamic and interesting. It allowed data to move in interesting ways instead of just being static.
AL: And I just saw all this potential for, "Oh, what can we do with this? "Like what could a consumer do with this?" So my partner and I started like dreaming of harebrained startup ideas. We didn't even know they're called startups but like websites, "Let's start a website."
PC: Exactly, yeah.
AL: And I thought this is way more fascinating to me than anything that I'm going and doing on my day to day, and my friend and I made an app (Birdhouse). I made a video for that app, and it sort of accidentally proved this concept that an interesting video could be made about an app.
AL: There was this opportunity to do this weird hybrid form of of commercial filmmaking, about a technology product that hadn't really existed before, and it got to take advantage of my sense of humor, and my ability to manipulate the digital tools for filmmaking purposes.
AL: And because this was the big bang of the tech industry, there was just like a whole lot of interest all at once in this new style of video-making. And so, it just hit the ground running like that.
PC: And what happened after that?
AL: I started getting a few clients before I had started a company.
PC: Based on the Birdhouse video?
AL: Yeah, the Birdhouse video led to the Genentech video, which was an internal thing.
PC: Okay, right.
AL: The Genentech thing, I had to show it to a friend, who was the lead designer at Square, who showed Jack Dorsey. This was cool stuff. And I thought, this is something that I could do for a while.
A new category & brand
AL: And honestly, my best days, still doing this 10 years later, my best days are when I get to recapture that feeling, being in conversations with founders, and they go, "Look what we made."
PC: And they're all giddy.
AL: Yeah, and they really are, because they can't wait to share it. But then, just on the way over here, I get an email and the subject line is Need Help Telling Our Story.
AL: Right, we get emails like that on a constant basis.
PC: Yeah, yeah.
AL: And it's extremely gratifying because people aren't writing emails that say we need help selling more of our shit. They're saying we need help getting people to understand the idea behind what we're working on.
AL: It's an elevated form of informational storytelling, I just love it.
PC: Did you know you were creating a new category at the time?
AL: I mean I knew.
PC: Product explainer videos.
AL: It was pretty clear once people started doing it. The first few videos were ripped off like that.
PC: Yeah, I can imagine.
AL: Very quickly.
PC: You mean the style, and?
AL: The style, yeah, the cadence, the shots are like that.
PC: The humor too is borrowed.
AL: Right, exactly, even the characterization, the beardy guy. Wow, stuff has really changed since then.
PC: But that makes it more like your idea spreads more a little bit, right? 'Cause are they thinking, "Well, did Sandwich make this or?"
AL: Oh, that happened all the time.
PC: Yeah, that happens a lot.
AL: Yeah, you don't dictate how the market receives you. The market tells you who you are in a way.
AL: You don't really have as much control over that as you would think. The market tells you what they want more of.
PC: Yeah, and you're just in another way perfectly defined the definition of what a brand is.
AL: Right, yeah.
PC: Right. 'Cause a lot of people think, "Well, brand is how it looks, and it's the logo," and it's all these things. No, it's what somebody thinks about you. It's what someone feels about you.
AL: Yeah, it's that indelibly ingrained, just idea in their head that you don't have as much control over as you think.
Ads that people love
PC: Yeah, I guess that leads to the one question I really want to ask you is, how do you make an ad that people love?
AL; Well, I mean step one is make an ad that you love.
PC: Actually, back something you said in one of these talks. I think it was the Con Con talk. I wanna be exposed to whatever the technology is, right?
PC: Then, I pay attention to how I feel. And then, I have insights about those feelings, right? And then, I figure out the most important feelings I want others to feel so that they want it. And then, I reflect those feelings back to people.
PC: Can you talk about that process because this just brings up so much stuff.
AL: You just pay really close attention, and then, you start paying attention to the impact that every choice has on you. So I think that's kind of step one is like figure out what's transformative about this thing. Why does it exist?
PC: But it's what's transformative for you.
AL: Yeah, yes.
AL: Which is not always what's transformative for other people.
PC: No. But there's a universality to discovering what is transformative for me.
PC: It will resonate with somebody else out there.
AL: Yeah, and there's something to being a bit of an everyman too. I think it's kind of like an innate ability to feel what a lot of people are going to feel, just trusting yourself…
AL: That if you express that, a lot of people will understand it.
PC: Yep, so that's step one? And then, step two is?
AL: What did I say?
PC: Oh, you pay attention to how you feel, so.
PC; I guess that's your way of finding what's transformative, right?
AL: That's to find, yeah. Yep.
PC: So you're exposed to technology, you get a gauge of how you feel, and that tells you like where's that feeling tied into? It's tied into this particular thing, right?
PC: And then, you have insights about those feelings, and you start, I guess you start to analyze, like people, what's going on here?
PC: Why is this?
AL: Yeah, and a lot of that analysis is how is this like that? So I call it the powers of association. Just always making yourself available to making those comparisons because they, why do we make comparisons? We make them so that we can communicate.
AL: That's why language exists. it's not just because it's a crutch, it's not just because it's easy or shorthand, it's because it helps us communicate.
PC: Then, you figure out the most important feelings you want others to feel.
AL: And I think of that more as traditional storytelling or the modeling of an experience of understanding a concept in the right order, in the right positions, in the right time frame.
PC: It's a concept.
AL: Yeah, so storytelling in our format is similar in that we have to decide what are the characters at play, and all of the elements in what positions, and what orders in order for somebody to look at it, observe it, and understand the thing that we're trying to communicate, and want to describe.
PC: Yeah, okay. So that translates when I think about the Slack video you made. Obviously, Slack is about workplace collaboration. And so you decided to involve your entire workplace as an example.
PC: Is this kind of your approach? like you kind of get an idea of like what this technology, or what this app, or whatever it is, who's gonna be affected by it, and you try to turn those into players, or?
AL: Yeah, that's what you try to do. I mean it can be limiting. You wanna make the right choices, and sometimes, the client can be very helpful in doing that, sometimes they can be not so helpful.
AL: And there's usually there are a lot of fear coming from the client side that if we have this character represent our audience, it will alienate them.
PC: And how do you navigate that?
AL: I’ve learned that it's counterproductive to say no, but if you speak affirmatively.
PC: “Think about it like this.”
AL: Yeah, speak affirmatively with confidence, and you gain their trust. And the more you do it, the more proof you have to point to and say, "Trust me, this is gonna be great, it's gonna work."
AL: But a lot of early decisions are made in fear of something bad happening.
AL: And so the more you do it, the less fear you have to negotiate with.
PC: Yeah, and it's just a certain level of self awareness, just to understand.
AL: Yeah, just checking on it yourself.
Self-awareness & change
PC: Oh, here it is, here it is. Yeah, here it is again.
PC: I wish I could just tell the whole world this is the takeaway here, like be more of yourself, right? 'Cause there's so much of copycatting, and so much of like, "Well, what do they think?"
PC: And it's cool, you should be in touch with your market. You should have a pulse on that but you should have more of a pulse, kind of what we were talking about just a second ago, the self awareness like who are we?
PC: And I do wanna talk about that 'cause that was a question that you brought up a couple of times like "Who am I?" Identity is like such a powerful role in developing a brand.
AL: Absolutely, and I think the real insight here is how much permission we should give ourselves for that to change, for identity to be fluid, because everything is fluid.
AL: And I think that this idea that a brand has to be one thing, and it has to like be that thing for a really long time, I think that that's driven by fear too. Fear that if I change, they're not going to know me anymore.
AL: Last year, we rebranded, we took the video off of our name, which felt really good.
PC: I personally approve, I like the move.
AL: Oh, thank you. Thank you.
PC: And you've made it into a little sandwich.
PC: But you said you were gonna avoid that.
AL: I did, yeah.
PC: So that's an evolution.
AL: Yeah, absolutely, like embrace the change, like it's okay to be one thing and be boldly for that thing and then, change your mind. Consistency is awesome but the ability to evolve is more awesome.
PC: Yeah, and I think that's an important point, and that's one of the reasons why we're having this conversation is because I do want to understand how we build a meaningful brand.
AL: I think that it's more important in rather than building a brand, being a brand, like allowing the brands to exist in all of its formats and complexity.
AL: Is sort of the more crucial concept. And I think that building or growing, at times, it can border on toxic a little bit.
AL: In the way that the market, the financial market can exist only to grow itself.
AL: Right? It's actually kinda dangerous.
AL: And it's why you see a lot of companies now sort of like faltering and failing because they set their minds on a singular goal, which is growth, rather than sustainability.
AL: And to put it elastically, just being.
PC: Right, so it's like whatever you're being is what you end up doing.
AL: Yeah, right.
PC: And in a way, like you're the accidental founder, right? You're being who you are.
AL: That's obviously not great for investors. But counter-intuitively, maybe allowing the brand to be is what helps it grow.
Define your brand
PC: Yeah, yeah. Jeff Bezos once said that, "A brand is what people say about you "when you're not in the room."
PC: What do you want people to say about you when you're not in the room?
AL: I want people, we're assuming it's only positive stuff, right? I want people to say about me when I'm not in the room that I'm really thoughtful about what's important, that I care deeply about communicating the right values, and that I always wanna have a good time doing it, and I just don't enjoy drama. No drama, Obama.
Perfect, okay, so that was Adam Lisagor. I think the big takeaway for me is that you should focus more on being your brand and less on building it. So who are you? And what are you really about? And just be that and express that in the world. I think that's a powerful lesson for every startup. This is Paul, thanks for watching this episode of Meaningful, and don't forget, let's make every interaction count.