20VC Cameo's Steven Galanis on Why You Must Fall In Love With Your Mission Not Your Product, How To Extract As Much Value From Your Investor Base As Possible & Should You Really Hire For 6 Months Ahead of What You Need

Summary Notes


In this episode of "20 minutes VC," Harry Stebbings interviews Stephen Galanis, founder and CEO of Cameo, a company that recently raised $50 million led by Kleiner Perkins. Cameo enables personalized shoutouts from celebrities and has garnered over $65 million in VC funding, recognition as the best place to work in Chicago, and features on major shows like Ellen DeGeneres'. Galanis, a serial entrepreneur with a background in options trading and a stint at LinkedIn, shares insights on taking risks, the importance of being fully committed to your startup, and the challenges of scaling a business and team. He emphasizes the value of simplicity, focusing on core competencies, and the power of leveraging a unique marketing hack that Cameo has capitalized on—using talent's social networks for growth. Galanis also touches on international expansion, the significance of investor relationships, and Cameo's vision of creating new ways for fans to interact with their idols, hinting at potential ventures into content creation.

Summary Notes

Introduction to the Podcast Episode

  • Harry Stebbings hosts the 20 minutes VC podcast and invites the audience to connect with him on Instagram.
  • Stephen Galanis, founder and CEO of Cameo, is the guest on the episode.
  • Cameo is a startup that allows booking personalized shoutouts from celebrities.
  • Stephen has raised over $65 million in venture capital funding for Cameo.
  • Stephen's background includes working as a senior account executive at LinkedIn and as an options trader in Chicago.
  • Cameo has been featured on the Ellen DeGeneres show and voted as the best place to work in Chicago.

"We are back on the 20 minutes VC with me, Harry Stebbings, and I'd love to welcome you behind the scenes on Instagram at H. Stebbings 90 96 with two B's where I answer all messages personally and it'd be great to see you there."

"Now, for those that don't know Cameo, a startup that allows you to book personalized shoutouts from your favorite people."

The quotes introduce the host, the podcast, and the episode's guest, Stephen Galanis, CEO of Cameo. It sets the stage for the conversation about Cameo and Stephen's entrepreneurial journey.

Stephen's Entrepreneurial Background

  • Stephen's entrepreneurial journey began in college with a Facebook group that managed nightlife at Duke University.
  • He created several businesses during college, including a hot dog stand, a t-shirt printing company, and a luggage storage service.
  • Post-college, Stephen traded at the Chicago Board of Trade and started a film investment fund.
  • His experience at LinkedIn was crucial for exposure to the tech world and building his own tech company.

"I've had a long history working as an entrepreneur for me that journey started at college."

"Afterwards, I ended up trading at the Chicago Board of Trade. While doing that, I started a film investment fund where we produced movies and television shows."

The quotes detail Stephen's early entrepreneurial ventures and how they laid the foundation for his later success with Cameo. His varied experiences contributed to his business acumen.

Stephen's Relationship to Risk

  • Stephen believes that a small percentage of the population possesses an inherent entrepreneurial mindset.
  • Entrepreneurs are driven by a need to create and run their own business to be happy.
  • Stephen identifies himself as part of this group and acknowledges that it makes him a great entrepreneur but may have affected his performance as an employee in other roles.

"I think that 3% of the world's population has that sick gene in their head. Their personality makes them an entrepreneur."

The quote highlights Stephen's perspective on entrepreneurship and risk-taking. It suggests that entrepreneurship is an innate trait for some individuals.

The Art of Starting a Startup

  • The most common question Stephen receives from young entrepreneurs is about how to start.
  • Stephen emphasizes the importance of taking the first step and having conviction in one's idea.
  • He shares Cameo's founding story, which began with an idea conceived while driving from his grandmother's funeral.

"When a young entrepreneur comes into me today in 1871, or to come be at the office of cameo, the very first thing I'll ask them is, have you quit your job yet?"

The quote reflects Stephen's belief that commitment to one's startup is crucial for success. He encourages entrepreneurs to take decisive action to pursue their ventures.

The New Autograph

  • Cameo is considered the new form of autograph, with the selfie being a modern equivalent.
  • Personalized video messages from even average players are highly valued by fans, indicating a shift in fan engagement and personalization.

"The selfie was the new autograph."

The quote emphasizes the evolution of fan memorabilia and personal connections with celebrities, where modern technology allows for more personalized and direct interactions like selfies and video messages.

Entrepreneurial Commitment

  • Stephen Galanis took three months to develop the conviction to pursue Cameo.
  • He experienced a change in his brain chemistry and became obsessed with the idea after seeing the first video.
  • Stephen was distracted at LinkedIn, missing calls and focusing on Cameo, indicating a shift in priorities.

"When I saw that first video, something changed in my brain chemistry, and I became obsessed with the idea."

This quote illustrates the pivotal moment that drove Stephen to commit fully to Cameo, highlighting the emotional and psychological impact that a compelling startup idea can have on an entrepreneur.

Life-Changing Decisions

  • Stephen Galanis left LinkedIn after a friend challenged him with a hypothetical scenario about someone else building Cameo and becoming a billionaire.
  • The realization that he couldn't live with himself if he missed the opportunity led to his immediate resignation.

"Stephen, if somebody else builds this company and becomes a billionaire and you're still sitting at LinkedIn, could you live with yourself?"

This quote represents the critical question that made Stephen realize the importance of seizing the opportunity to build Cameo, underscoring the importance of decisive action in entrepreneurship.

Delegation and Focus

  • Transitioning from founder to CEO involves letting go of responsibilities and focusing on core competencies.
  • Stephen focused on setting strategic vision, hiring executives, fundraising, and being the public face of Cameo.
  • He aims to hire better people for roles he is not best suited for.

"Anything that I feel like I'm not best in the world at, I try to fire myself from those jobs as quickly as possible and get better people than me to take my place."

This quote captures the strategy of delegating tasks to individuals who excel in those areas, allowing the CEO to focus on their strengths and grow the company more effectively.

Role Allocation and Team Building

  • Hiring the right people at the right time ("Mrs. Right now") is crucial for a startup's success.
  • It's important to hire team members who are hungry, humble, helpful, smart, and have no ego to maintain a positive culture.

"Every different points of the startup's history, there are certain people that are the perfect people you need at that point."

This quote reflects the dynamic needs of a startup and the importance of adapting hiring strategies to meet the company's evolving requirements.

Product Development Philosophy

  • Entrepreneurs should love their mission but not fall in love with their product due to the need for constant evolution.
  • Cameo started with a simple webpage and has evolved significantly, with the product likely to continue changing.

"Don't let great get in the way of good enough."

This quote advises against perfectionism in product development, advocating for progress and adaptability instead of waiting for a perfect product.

International Expansion

  • Cameo has been international from the start, with two of the first five talents being from abroad.
  • Stephen Galanis was advised to operate with the mindset of running an underperforming global company to maintain drive and focus.

"Steven, everybody's pat you guys on the ass about how great this company is right now, but you need to wake up every single day with the mindset of, I'm running an underperforming global company."

The quote suggests that a mindset of continuous improvement and addressing deficiencies is crucial for successful international expansion and overall company growth.

Global Expansion Strategy

  • Cameo's co-founder, Martin, is moving permanently to expand the business internationally.
  • The company's goal is to become the ubiquitous platform by acquiring talent globally.
  • Winning the US market has enabled Cameo to expand due to the appeal of the American market to international stars.
  • The American flag and its influence in entertainment are key to attracting global talent.

Martin, our co-founder, is going out there permanently in the next couple weeks, and we need to go fast as hell, because for us to win, we need to get all the talent.

This quote emphasizes the urgency and strategic importance of global expansion for Cameo, highlighting the need to acquire a wide range of talent quickly.

Uniquely, the American flag is so important in talent and entertainment that those stars from around the world, they want exposure to the American market, and they want to be where the American stars are.

The quote highlights the significance of the American entertainment industry and its influence on attracting international talent to the platform.

Product Focus and Prioritization

  • Simplicity is a core value at Cameo; they have not changed their product since its inception.
  • The company's current priority is to acquire talent, with over 8500 talents on the platform and a belief that there are 5 million potential talents worldwide.
  • Cameo's strategy is to focus on talent acquisition before considering other features or expansions.

Simplicity is literally a core value of our company.

This quote reflects the company's commitment to maintaining a simple and focused approach to their product offering.

All we're trying to do right now is to get all the talent.

This quote underscores the company's strategic priority of talent acquisition as the foundation for future growth and product development.

Marketplace Dynamics

  • Cameo operates a marketplace with the classic "chicken and the egg" problem.
  • The founders had high conviction in customer demand for their product, as evidenced by early customer reactions.
  • The challenge was creating a product that talent would enjoy using and would enable them to create videos at scale.

We have a marketplace so very obviously chicken and the egg problem, just like any other marketplace in ours.

This quote acknowledges the inherent challenges in building a two-sided marketplace, which requires balancing supply and demand.

We had absolute conviction that if we could make one person happy like that, we could make billions of people happy at scale.

This quote reflects the founders' belief in the potential of their product to delight customers and scale successfully.

Investor Selection and Advice to Founders

  • It is critical for investors to have absolute conviction in the startup they are investing in.
  • Founders should look for investors who actively seek them out and convince them to accept investment, rather than the other way around.
  • Cameo's successful fundraising experiences were due to investors' strong belief in the company's vision and potential.

It is very critical to have investors that have absolute conviction about what you're doing when you're fundraising.

This quote emphasizes the importance of investor belief in the startup's mission as a key factor in fundraising success.

We've been blessed to have that through all of our rounds of financing.

This quote highlights Cameo's positive experience with investors who have shown strong support and conviction in the company's direction.

Marketing Strategies and Consumer Space

  • Cameo has found a unique marketing strategy that leverages the social networks of talent and recipients.
  • The company does not spend money on traditional marketing but uses talent's social media influence to acquire customers.
  • Cameo suggests looking for non-traditional marketing methods and revisiting old strategies that may be overlooked.

The genius of Cameo is that we don't spend any money on marketing. We grew the business 1300% last year because every single cameo is a commercial for the next one.

This quote illustrates Cameo's innovative approach to marketing, which relies on organic growth through their talent's and customers' networks.

I would challenge any consumer founder out there to try to find a new marketing hack that allows you to do something different.

This quote encourages founders to think creatively and find unique marketing strategies that differentiate them from competitors.

Branding and Category Creation

  • Branding and category creation were fundamental to Cameo's success.
  • The company underwent a rebranding from "Powermove IO" to "Cameo" to appeal to a broad audience and top influencers.
  • The vision of the company was shaped by a branding exercise that asked the team to personify Cameo as a person at a party.

Branding was absolutely critical because we needed to make a brand that was at once successful enough that anybody could be part of it, but also cool enough that some of the top influencers in the world would have no problem repping our merch or being on this website.

This quote underscores the importance of branding in making Cameo accessible and attractive to both the general public and top-tier talent.

The answer to this question has actually become the vision of the company.

This quote reveals how a branding exercise contributed significantly to defining the company's vision and direction.

Cameo's Hiring Philosophy and Category Creation

  • Cameo's hiring approach emphasizes the importance of being a giver, lacking ego, and the ability to make someone's day.
  • The story about getting into a party and being introduced to influential people by an acquaintance is an analogy for Cameo's service and hiring values.
  • The name "Cameo" was coined by Stephen Galanis's little brother John, which was a pivotal moment in the company's branding.

And that person stares at you, makes eye contact, instantly recognizes you, waves you over, lifts up the velvet rope, and introduces you to every single person at that party that you've ever wanted to meet. That is cameo.

The quote illustrates the essence of Cameo's service – providing users with personal connections to celebrities and influential figures, akin to being introduced at an exclusive party.

Royalties and Investment

  • Stephen Galanis hopes his brother, who named Cameo, will receive a financial return on his contribution.
  • The importance of rewarding early contributors and investors in a start-up is acknowledged.

I hope he was the first investor in the company or one of the first investors in the company. So hopefully, when it's all said and done, he'll have a nice little payday in there.

This quote implies that John, who came up with the name "Cameo," was an early investor or contributor and should be compensated for his early involvement and impact on the company's success.

Quick-Fire Round: Personal Insights and Business Vision

Favorite Book

  • Stephen Galanis recommends "Blitzscaling" by Reid Hoffman for founders in hypergrowth stages.

I just read blitzscaling by Reed Hoffman. It's amazing. If you're a founder in this growth hypergrowth stage, you got to read it.

The quote expresses Stephen's endorsement of "Blitzscaling" as an essential read for founders aiming for rapid business growth.

Talent to Fan Ratio

  • Cameo aims to expand the ways fans can interact with talent, potentially including holograms and various online and offline interactions.

So while today we're focused on sending text messages to people and getting video and response, in the future, that could be any interaction both on the online, offline or virtual world.

Stephen predicts a future where Cameo facilitates a wide range of interactions between fans and celebrities beyond the current offerings.

Motivational Quote

  • Stephen believes in the value of partnerships and sharing equity to grow a company.
  • He emphasizes that owning a smaller piece of a larger venture is preferable to owning all of nothing.

It's better at part of something than all in nothing.

The quote captures Stephen's entrepreneurial philosophy that collaboration and shared ownership can lead to greater overall success than going it alone.

Value from Investors

  • Beyond capital, investors should be a supportive resource for founders, helping with key hires, introductions, and advice.

With my money comes my most valuable resource, my time.

This quote from an investor, Mike Gamson, highlights the importance of investors providing not just funding but also their time and expertise to support the growth of the company.

The Next Five Years for Cameo

  • Cameo aims to leverage international growth and explore various business avenues, including a B2B micro endorsement marketplace and content creation.

We're sitting in Chicago whiteboarding out all the billion dollar businesses we think we could build on top of this.

Stephen outlines Cameo's ambitious expansion plans, indicating a strategic brainstorming process for scaling the business.

Acknowledgements and Promotions

  • Harry Stebbings expresses gratitude to contributors Nikki, Abby, and Ezra for their input.
  • The podcast promotes various services and products, including Front, Culture Amp, and Hippo, emphasizing efficiency, culture, and customer experience.

And I do want to say a huge thank you again to Ezra, to Nicole and to Abby for the fantastic questions, suggestions today.

Harry thanks his colleagues for their contributions to the discussion, highlighting the collaborative nature of the podcast's content creation.

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