Leveraging Personal Swag for the Right Brand Message

izzy

Izzy Lugo is COO at Urban Misfit Ventures, an 8-month-old, start-up holding company that Izzy confesses “pivots a lot.”

One agency subsidiary, IEEG, specializes in storytelling and influencer marketing – often by creating a video to tell a brand’s story. The influencer marketing portion of their work is based on stories told by influencers, but the influencers are Urban Misfit Venture’s employees, each of whom has a massive individual following. Because the employees are the influencers, they can consult with clients and carefully craft the messages that need to be presented. No paying an influencer and trusting that individual to say “the right thing.” IEEG knows what message it wants to send . . . and knows it is going to get it.

Urban Misfit Ventures’ clients include Milwaukee’s professional sports teams and national and international clothing and design brands, who are amazed that the agency and the influencers are one and the same.

The second Urban Misfit Ventures’ subsidiary, MKE Misfits, is an events company that tells the client’s brand story, is very involved in that story, and then provides “quirky” experiential promotions to differentiate itself and its client companies. The company has a major reputation in the Milwaukee area. Urban Misfit Ventures is planning to introduce a number of other specialty subsidiaries I 2019.

How did it all start? After a period of separate careers, Quentin, Izzy’s college roommate, had met with two of the company’s other founders, and then approached Izzy to pitch the idea of Urban Misfit Ventures. After an hour conversation, Izzy was on board, and two weeks later, he quit his job at the bike share. In eight months, the team has grown to 10 employees, including interns. When they started, they traded services for their space at a co-working space, truly starting from scratch.

Izzy can be reached on his company’s website at: urbanmisfitventures.com, as can anything related to IEEG or MKE Misfits. His company is also on LinkedIn and Instagram. Izzy, Israel Lugo III uses @IzzyLugo for all his handles..

ROB: Welcome to the Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast. I am your host, Rob Kischuk, and I’m excited to be joined today by Izzy Lugo, COO at Urban Misfit Ventures based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Welcome, Izzy.

IZZY: Thanks for having me. Excited to jump on.

ROB: Fantastic to have you here. Why don’t you start off by telling us a little bit about Urban Misfit Ventures and about what makes Urban Misfit great?

IZZY: Company’s only 8 months old, which is awesome. We’re still in startup phase, so we have to pivot a lot. But the company itself, Urban Misfit Ventures, is a holding company. Our agency is called IEEG. We specialize in storytelling and influencer marketing.

And then we have another aspect and subsidiary underneath Urban Misfit Ventures, which is the MKE Misfits. It is kind of our alter-ego, honestly. We walk around the city and people are like, “Oh, those are the misfits.” Little do they know the MKE Misfits is an events company, so we get those same people to come out, meet up with us.

We do a lot of experiential stuff for our clients and for ourselves to really capture the community that follows us. That’s what sets us apart. We hit the normal individual in three separate ways: one in telling the brand story, two in us really being involved in that story, and then three, let’s think of some quirky things, experiential things that can set this brand or this individual apart from its competitors.

ROB: Interesting. Did you start Urban Misfit with both of those branches of the business in place, or did one come first?

IZZY: MKE Misfits was supposed to be the name of the agency. Unfortunately, when we got to trademarking and legal stuff, our lawyer informed us, “Hey, somebody has ‘Misfits’ for everything. We can’t call ourselves the MKE Misfits or anything.”

So, we said we’ve got to think of some weird quirky name. We’re a quirky bunch, so we thought of IEEG. Actually, Quentin, our CEO, thought of it and said, “Hey, this would be really cool.” It stands for “this that” or “for example,” so we want to say that we are an example for a lot of people.

We started off with just the MKE Misfits, and, honestly, we started off with the agency portion and crossed our fingers to see what would come next. Through throwing a couple events here in Milwaukee, we realized we had the community of people that would support an events company. That’s when we branched off those two and made those two a thing, and we have some other subsidiaries down the line coming in 2019.

ROB: Excellent. Sounds fantastic. When you talk about IEEG and the expertise in storytelling, obviously that can manifest itself in a lot of ways. What does perhaps a typical range of work for clients look like under that IEEG storytelling capability?

IZZY: Ever since you were little, you’ve been reading or listening to some type of story, right? Ever since you were little, you’ve always been enraptured by that. Whether you were watching Shrek or whether you were listening to your mother or your father read you a story before bedtime, you’ve always been enraptured by that.

What we encourage brands to do is everybody has that child in the back of their mind that wants to hear a story and are enraptured with anybody’s story, and if you can, as a brand, be very relatable to your community and the people that follow you by just literally telling the story of the brand – how did that brand get started? – and we encourage that through video.

Video is the new way of life these days. I have younger cousins and nieces and nephews that we sit down and they don’t even watch TV anymore. They watch YouTube and they watch videos. It’s crazy. Me at their age, I was watching probably hours on end of TV, and now it’s turned into, “Hey, I’m going to grab my mom and dad’s tablet or iPad or whatever it’s going to be, or their phone, and I’m going to put on YouTube and I’m going to watch people play with Slime or watch kids play with Legos.” That’s how they are.

We really want to capture the next generation because that’s who everybody’s trying to hit right now. But then that millennial generation is really pushing towards that social media and that video, so we encourage all of our clients to tell their story through video.

ROB: Video is growing and thriving so well right now. On your site for IEEG, you also mention influencer marketing as something that you’ve been focused on because you want the storyteller, the influencer, to tell the story in a way that is both authentic to themselves and true to your client.

How do you think about aligning those two things in a way that can really be effective and serves both of those needs?

IZZY: What sets us apart with our influencer marketing agency is we are the influencers. Every one of us have some type of big following. Whether it’s on Twitch, whether it’s on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, we have massive followings.

We said, hey, there’s no need for us to play middleman between Nike and an influencer. There’s no need for that because we have the following. We are literally encouraging Nike to tell their stories, and we are saying, “Hey Nike, we are the influencers. Let’s sit down and actually have a conversation and let’s tell the story the right way, and let’s not give this influencer $100 or whatever and cross our fingers that they tell the right story.”

It’s an interesting concept. A lot of people have been honestly intrigued by it. Different brands – we work with professional sports teams here in Milwaukee and we work with clothing and design brands that are worn nationally and internationally, and they are just blown away by us being the influencers and us being able to say, “Yes, we can tell the story the right way and not cross our fingers that the middleman doesn’t tell the right story.”

ROB: Really, really interesting. You mentioned that the company has been rolling for about 8 months. It seems like you already have a number of people on your team, where some embryonic agencies might still be the initial founders and principals.

What led you to start Urban Misfit Ventures and what has the journey thus far looked like, when you surprised yourself – or maybe didn’t – and realized you had to hire some people and so on?

IZZY: It’s a crazy story, honestly. We have four co-founders here with Urban Misfit Ventures. Myself and Quentin were college roommates. Gosh, I stormed into his room in college – everybody said, “He doesn’t talk to anyone. All he does is stay in his room and keep us up and play his guitar.” I went into his room and decided to nag at the kid until he started talking to me, and ever since then we’ve been really good friends. It’s crazy.

I went the corporate route. Actually, I have a background in the sports industry. I’ve worked for every sports team in Milwaukee, whether that’s an internship basis or a full-time basis. Out of school, when I was looking at graduation and everything like that, I was cornered by the Miami Dolphins, the New York Mets, the Brooklyn Mets – really everywhere – to come and work for them.

I decided to stay in Milwaukee and work for the Bucks. The Bucks had a new huge development here in downtown Milwaukee, and I fell in love with the city when I was here. I’m originally from Chicago. Seeing the city grow and doing so much cool stuff, I said, I’m going to jump in and hopefully be a part of this.

Little did I know I would not like the position that I went into with the Bucks. It was really just smiling and dialing and calling people for season tickets. That was the entry level. Everybody was doing it at the time. I said, “Okay, let’s see if there’s some type of promotion through one of my 10,000 internships that I did in college.”

Luckily I received a promotion through a different conglomerate. It’s called Rock Ventures. They own minor league baseball teams and soccer teams throughout the nation, really. They’d been doing some really cool stuff in Milwaukee. I said, “Hey, I’m gonna jump on.”

They hired me as their Director of Corporate Partnerships, and I increased sales. Their corporate partnership sales while I was there went up 150 grand. I thought really, at this point, I’m 23 years old, I’m on top of the world, and there’s no stopping me here.

Six months down the line after that flirtatious period with the job, I said, “Wow, this is almost the same thing. I only have a different product, but it’s almost the same job.” I was doing really well, but there was something in the back of my head nagging at me, saying, “This isn’t what I want to be doing.”

Honestly, I took a leap of faith and said, hey, I’m going to jump and hopefully I’ll cross my fingers and I have all this experience in the background; I’ll be able to find something. I didn’t. I was driving Uber Eats and I was fixing bikes at the local bike share to make sure I paid rent. It got to the point where I told my girlfriend, “I don’t know what I’m going to be able to do.”

Me and Q had stayed in contact throughout this entire journey and everything like that, and he said, “Hey, I met these cool individuals.” He met Eric, one of our co-founders, through, honestly, Twitter. And then he met Brema, the other co-founder, through another creative group in town here. He said, “Hey, we have this really cool idea. We need exactly what you bring, but I want to almost pitch the idea to you.”

At this point, not having anything to lose, I was like, “Yeah, let’s sit down.” We actually sat down during one of my lunch breaks at the bike share. I had an hour, and I loved the idea. I loved the concept. We tweaked a couple things, and within 2 weeks I quit both those jobs. I mean, I was still doing Uber Eats here and there, but I quit the big bike share job and jumped and took advantage of the opportunity that was in front of me.

We traded our services for some space at a local co-working space, and that really introduced us to the idea of starting from scratch – but starting from scratch in the right way. We talked to different startups that had gotten millions of dollars in funding, but they were spending literally 75% of that on their salaries, and they were spending it on mundane things that weren’t helping their business.

We sat back and said, all these people are examples for us. We can’t be like that. One of the things that we want to prove to everyone that’s in our shoes is: You don’t need that funding to be in the position we’re in and to get to where you want to be.

Today, we signed our 5-year lease – I think it was 3 months ago – and we are already needing a new office space, a bigger office space. We’re going to be moving in a different space inside the same office building, double the size. The team is at 10 right now including interns.

Again, going back to the, “We’re not going to pay ourselves that much,” I’m not even touching what I was getting paid at Rock Ventures or with the Bucks, but I want to help the other guys that we brought on board and the interns that we brought on board. They see the vision of this. They see how much we have behind us, how much support we have behind us, and honestly it’s been awesome.

It’s a really cool story. A lot of people – we’ve been getting hate from the outside saying, “Hey, you’re just making LinkedIn videos,” but LinkedIn is really the backend behind this. If we make a LinkedIn video, if one of Q’s LinkedIn videos goes viral, that usually amounts to at least two or three clients for us. Which is awesome.

Again, I went from smiling and dialing, making a hundred calls a day and not really liking what I was doing, and now I’m getting inbound leads all day and I’m working on stuff that I want to be doing in my free time.

So yeah, that’s our story and my story specifically. We all took the jump at one time and crossed our fingers. We got lucky with two partnerships in particular.

The Milwaukee Admirals here in town is Milwaukee’s only hockey team. It’s an AHL hockey team. We said, “Hey, we can provide content for you guys to make you one of the best in the AHL.” We’ve done case studies since we started, and we truly believe, in regards to content and video, just telling their stories and their players’ stories, they are the best in the AHL. We’ll argue all day with anybody else who thinks otherwise. They’re spending the money and they’re doing the right things to be able to put themselves in that shoe and their fans are loving it.

Another one that we got, I mentioned the national/international brand. It’s called Moral Code Footwear and Accessories. They’ve been in GQ, Esquire, Delta Sky Magazine. It’s luxury leather goods. We’ve been helping them throughout an entire process of just sitting down with somebody and asking what their moral code is. It’s such a strong question, and it’s something that a lot of people don’t get to really portray that much.

So, we got lucky with those two, and we’ve hit the ground running ever since. We’ve worked with Shapr – that’s out in France. It’s like Tinder for business professionals. You swipe left if you don’t want to meet them, you swipe right if you want to grab some coffee or a beer and really network with someone.

We’ve worked with some massive brands, and we travel around now every so often, and people want to meet up with us. It’s truly been amazing. I haven’t been on an adventure quite like this before in my life.

ROB: Izzy, that’s truly exciting. It’s great to hear that you have found work that is resonant with who you are and what you want to do instead of just dialing the phone.

I think it’s also interesting what you mentioned about the Admirals and being able to tell the story of a local hockey team. So often in a city like Milwaukee, when you are a minor league sports team, the entirety of the story is something along the lines of “you’re bored and we’re cheap.” I feel like that’s too often the narrative of a minor league sports team in a busy town.

IZZY: Exactly.

ROB: Very cool that you have been able to tell that story well.

IZZY: Yeah, I think from my background, it helped a lot. Eric actually is almost a super-fan of the Admirals and has helped a lot just from having that lens of “This is how the videos used to look; look at how much better they look now.”

But then me with my minor league sports background, it helped a lot because I was in that lens where the only people that are coming out to see a minor league baseball game or a minor league soccer team are “I’m bored” or “my coach is playing.” I wanted to really change that narrative, where you can come out and have a good time no matter your age.

We’re bringing out creative professionals to their games, and they’re getting content out of this on the backend. We have people showing up with cameras, asking for press passes and stuff like that. There’s people posting about them on Instagram, LinkedIn, and stuff like that. There’s kind of a different hype about the Admirals now, and I truly believe it’s because we as the Misfits coming in and helping out and really introducing our community to an experience like that has helped them tremendously.

ROB: Really, really interesting. Izzy, you mentioned that you came from Chicago. Chicago is famously one of the bigger cities in the U.S. It’s one of those places where you probably feel like you can climb to the top of the mountain and accomplish almost anything there.

But you also mentioned, in Milwaukee, you and the Misfits are known and recognized. Do you think there’s something about being in a city with so much going on where you can still be recognized that maybe resonates a little bit better with you versus being in Chicago and trying to climb mountains there?

IZZY: Oh, definitely. All my family’s still in Chicago; my brother’s working for one of the biggest franchisees of Cold Stone Ice Cream out there. They’re doing amazing stuff – and I love Chicago, don’t get me wrong. The only thing Milwaukee has taken from me is my Chicago Bulls fandom. I’m a diehard Bucks fan now.

But if anything, honestly, we chatted and talked about, “Should we open an office in Chicago rather than in Milwaukee?” But we realized that the support here, like you said, people realize who we are and they know who we are and they support us no matter what.

One of the things that sets Milwaukee apart from Chicago in my eyes, and I think that’s why I picked the Bucks in the first place a couple years ago, is the fact that a lot of people call it “Smallwaukee.” If you’re here for a month, people know who you are. People recognize faces in coffeehouses and stuff like that.

Honestly, Milwaukee’s not that small a city, but the people and the community here, if you’re in that community and you’re local and you show face, people know who you are and they care about you. That’s something that we took advantage of to start. Honestly, if we would’ve decided, we’re going to do this in Chicago, just get a co-working space and cross our fingers that we’re going to lock something up, a big client or two down there, I truly think we would’ve failed.

We have these networks from my internships. Q did a ton of internships. We all come from different backgrounds in Milwaukee, though, and it’s helped us tremendously because I’m meeting people in the e-sports space because of Eric, I’m meeting people in the Instagram space because of Brema, and they’re meeting people in the sports industry because of me, and then the entrepreneurship space is because of Q.

It’s all one big community now because everyone came together as a team. I think that has something really good to say about Milwaukee.

ROB: Really, really cool. I think it’s a great lesson in – it seems like college and your internships planted you in Milwaukee. You found ways to grow where you were planted. I think that is a good lesson.

What are some other things you have learned from your experience in building Urban Misfit that you would do differently if you were starting over 8 months later?

IZZY: It’s tough. I’ve learned so much. I’m pretty close with a couple of my professors – one in particular, Dan Underberg. He was the dean of my sports management program at my school, and I’d talk to him all the time and say, “Hey, I don’t know if I would have learned this had I studied entrepreneurship or anything like that.” You truly have to learn on the job.

But one of the things I would change the most is just delegating tasks. I think in the beginning, honestly, me and Brema and Eric were really just trying to get to know each other. We started this company after an hour meeting. I’m still peeling off layers of an onion, a.k.a. Brema, and then Eric’s the same thing. We were really just trying to get to know each other.

I think one thing I would try to do is trust more than anything in the beginning. I think there was almost animosity in the beginning, where we didn’t really know each other, what’s your vision behind this. We knew the company’s vision, but we didn’t know what the intention was individually. Now we all know we’re all in this for the company, we’re all in this for the team, we’re not in this for individual accolades or anything like that.

I think number one would be delegating, and then two, I almost think I would get behind the lens of the camera. Eric and Brema do a lot of good things, and we hired on Rob and Chandler that do great things, but I think just having that versatility to be able to get behind a camera and shoot my own LinkedIn videos and edit them and stuff like that – just become more well-versed in things that my company does so I can actually talk the talk instead of just walking the walk, apparently.

It’s fine; I know what they’re doing. I just need to, like I said, get behind the lens of a camera and get behind my Mac and try to edit and cross my fingers to make sure they look good. But yeah, I think really trying to get to know the other two guys and become more well-versed in what we’re doing are two of the biggest things I would try to do if I were to start over.

ROB: Got it. Very good lessons. How does this partnership work with four partners? That seems to be more complicated than some people starting off. What are some of the interesting dynamics? You mentioned one of the partners was your roommate, two of them you’ve been getting to know better. How do you make a partnership of four work well?

IZZY: Communication is key. I’m a very upfront individual, and Q knows that. Being my roommate, he knows, yo, if the house or the apartment isn’t clean, I’m going to confront whoever made the mess.

Again, going back to getting to know the person in the beginning, I felt like I had to tiptoe in the beginning to make sure I wasn’t hurting any feelings or anything like that. But I needed to let these guys know that this is who I am and this is how it’s going to be. Same thing with Q. He’s very upfront and he’s going to tell it how it is, and I didn’t know if they would like that.

I think communication is key because after 3 or 4 months, I just said, “You know what, I’m going to be who I am and see how it goes.” After those 3 or 4 months, they took to it well. Everybody talks to each other.

We have a saying here – if I punch you in the face, I want you to punch me in the face back. Honestly, whether it’s the co-founders or whether it’s the videographer that we just hired, Rob, or Chandler our project manager, if you think our idea is dumb, tell us. We want to know why it’s dumb. If we truly agree and if you pitch us right, we’re going to change our minds.

Everybody in this, again, sees the vision of it, and we want to keep growing. I think that communication and, again, being able to punch each other in the face and punch back, that’s the number one thing. Interns are included with that as well.

ROB: Very cool. What are you excited about that’s coming up either for Urban Misfit or for the broader world of marketing? What should we be looking forward to?

IZZY: In regards to Urban Misfit Ventures, we have some really cool stuff coming up. The other subsidiaries, our events – we had to almost take a backseat to the agency at the end of the year because we had so many clients coming in.

We’ll be rolling that out. We have our first event planned for next month, and we want to try to do an event a month in 2019. I think that is huge for us.

Another thing for us would be travel. I posted a video two days ago saying we’re going to be out in Portland, and just the amount – we didn’t realize how many people follow our journey and follow us until we started posting these videos about “Hey, we’re going to be going to South by Southwest, we’re going to be going to Portland.” So many people want to meet up with us.

And it’s not just people that are struggling that need to talk to us and get some advice or anything like that. It’s also people like founders of Fortune 500 companies and people that have worked at a brand, at Adidas and Jordan and Nike. It’s very influential people in the industry.

We’re really excited for the travels and being able to sit down and talk to these massive minds, and then the people that follow us that need that advice that we can bring over to them. We always are down to sit down. One of the big things that we do here is have coffee at least with one new person a week, each and every one of us. We encourage that. Whether it’s interns or the founders, we want to try to do that as much as possible.

I think that’s it for us. In the marketing world, I want to see how the tech really evolves what we do. We’re big in tech. Q is massive in tech in regards to just being a nerd in it. Just hearing him talk about the different things that we can do in our industry in the near future because of VR, AR, and all this other stuff, I’m really intrigued as to how we change as an industry because of tech.

ROB: You mentioned travel, you mentioned South by Southwest. Are you going to be at South by Southwest this year?

IZZY: Yeah. We’re not presenting or anything like that. We’re actually just going to be attending. One of my biggest mentors told me most of the people that go to South by Southwest, you’ll get some amazing people, influential people, but the big decision-makers there don’t go to the conferences. They go to the restaurants, they go to the co-working spaces and stuff like that because they want to see how their project did, but they don’t want to be there while the project’s happening.

That’s one of the things that we’ll be doing. We’ll be attending conferences. We want to make sure that we make it out to as many things as possible, because at the end of the day we are the brand. If people know us, they know the brand. So, showing up to as much stuff as possible, going out to LA, getting out to Atlanta, getting out to Chicago, New York, and Miami. I think that’ll be the number one thing for us in regards to our growth, really just showing face wherever possible.

ROB: Fantastic. We are in Atlanta, so we’d love to see you here. We haven’t mentioned it on the podcast yet, but we have just confirmed that we will be out at South by Southwest actually recording the podcast live.

To your point, there’s so any amazing people to meet up with there. We’re still locking in a venue, but we may do some daily wrap-ups with our former guests, and we’ll certainly also be recording with some new guests live there. Hopefully we can connect while we’re all in Austin.

IZZY: That’s awesome. Yeah, do keep me in mind. Obviously if we’re out there for a week, we’re going to need some stuff to do, and we’re trying to meet as many people as possible. Would love to put a face to the voice here.

ROB: For sure. Izzy, when people want to find you and Urban Misfit and IEEG, where should they find you?

IZZY: We just re-launched our website. It’s urbanmisfitventures.com. You can access anything with IEEG or MKE Misfits on there. We’re also on LinkedIn. My full name is Israel Lugo III. No one calls me Israel; everyone calls me Izzy. We’re also on LinkedIn, Instagram, @IzzyLugo, anything like that. All my handles are the same.

ROB: Fantastic. Izzy, thank you for your time. Thank you for sharing this very fast journey you’ve been on, growing the company over the past less than a year.

Special thanks today to Jackie Hermes from Accelity Marketing for this introduction. We love introductions like this. Thank you so much, Izzy. Good to meet you.

Thank you for listening. The Marketing Agency Leadership Podcast is presented by Converge. Converge helps digital marketing agencies and brands automate their reporting so they can be more profitable, accurate, and responsive. To learn more about how Converge can automate your marketing reporting, email info@convergehq.com, or visit us on the web at convergehq.com.

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