Juggling The Many Hats of Business Ownership with Ryan Bramwell

In this episode of Rocky Mountain Marketing, we speak with Ryan Bramwell, owner of the motion graphic creative agency, SPILLT. He shares his insights on changing hats along his business ownership journey. From designer to owner he shares how he has successfully grown his agency and learned how to run a thriving design agency.

A great episode for all the small business owners who juggle wearing the many hats that come with business ownership.

Ryan’s website: www.spillt.com

Katie Brinkley 0:02

Hey there. This is Katie Brinkley and you’re listening to Rocky Mountain marketing. This podcast is all about helping Colorado based small business owners, entrepreneurs and professionals discover the strategies and systems that take their marketing to all new heights. Let’s dive into today’s episode. Okay, welcome back everyone. I am so excited for my guest today Ryan Bramwell, Ryan and I go way back and pleasure to have him on the show. Now, 13 years ago, Ryan founded spelt a first of its kind motion design and animation studio here in Denver. Since then, the company has grown to an industry leading creative content and branding agency with clients including CNN, HBO, ESPN for Denver mattress, just to name a few. Offering a wide range of skill sets, including high end 3d illustration, character storytelling, production suite visuals for broadcast and digital media. spilt commonly works directly with brands, advertising agencies and broadcast channels to solve creative challenges in entertainment, marketing and advertising. Ryan is an avid outdoorsman, father, husband, snowboarder artist and tinkerer that recently is driving his mantra of living where you want to live without limiting your work further, he recently relocated to Steamboat Springs to further his passions for art and the outdoors to fill his creative soul while running his company remotely, and has seen the system come to flourish with the current events that are affecting us all. Ryan,

welcome to the show. It is great to have you on today. I cannot wait to hear your story of entrepreneurship.

Ryan Bramwell 1:35

Okay. I’m pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.

Katie Brinkley 1:39

Awesome. Yeah. Well, I mean, I’m so excited that you were able to make time for this and agreed to come on. Let’s start back at the beginning. Tell us where you grew up and what your life was like growing up, how that eventually impacted your career and professional journey.

Ryan Bramwell 1:53

How, far, would you like me to go back?

Katie Brinkley 1:55

Start at the beginning, I know that you are from Colorado to another native. So let’s, let’s start there, where you grew up, went to high school and got your degree and everything.

Ryan Bramwell 2:06

Yeah, I’m as native as you can be without being made of I think we moved here when I was two, and I don’t remember anything else. So I grew up towards the south end of Denver in a smaller town like Parker frame town area, and grew up into that area. I went to high school actually down at Ponderosa and graduated around 98. I then went on to the Art Institute, Colorado and downtown Denver. However, in high school, my biggest class was commercial art. It was always the idea of drawing multiple different styles. I love the logo designs. And the smaller little projects really fed my ADD as opposed to a larger portrait. So that carried over in Art Institute, where I went into multimedia arts and animation. And back then, in high school, I think it was adobe 2.5. And luckily, before high school in junior high, I was on Adobe one when it was on the little black and white screens. So for some reason Photoshop specifically, has luckily been in my life since the start of Photoshop. And I’ve just always loved the idea of computers affecting and creating our art. And it’s grown from there into college. The multimedia arts was actually a Even 3d was just coming out then. And it was a software called 3d Max. And that was in its infancy as well. And I think right in high school movies, like the very first Shrek was being made. So there wasn’t it was a really cool explosion of both 3d. And what we now call is like motion design.

Katie Brinkley 4:01

Awesome. Can you take us a little bit through your career journey where you started out and the different professional stops along the way?

Ryan Bramwell 4:09

Yeah, so I went to school. And luckily, I just loved I just loved this idea. I found motion design this industry called motion design, which is essentially commercial art. It’s a branch of advertising and marketing. But it’s basically I like to say it’s everything that’s not shot with a camera for advertisements, so anything animated anything design so could range from anything from commercials to sports graphics to film titles, but um, I just loved it. And when I graduated, my first job was actually video was just becoming like a viable element online like online could actually hold the data or the compression algorithms for video. We’re just getting good. So I had it was an amazing person. job but also the most boring first job. I was basically doing video job classifieds for I think we did 15 or 16 different newspapers nationally. And it was essentially if you go to a newspaper and say I’m looking for a job, there’ll be like watch a video. And what we did is we just cut stock footage all day and copy and pasted basically what was in the job classified sections on to, you know, stock footage of people welding or maintenance. And I did that for about a year and it wasn’t creatively fulfilling enough. I then ended up luckily found a really cool job in a company out in Boulder, where I learned broadcast design, which is essentially designing the look the brand and fill them of an entire TV network. And that was pretty rewarding. I learned all the parts and pieces to graphics packaging, stayed there for a few years. And then you know, growing up in Colorado, you kind of take things for granted. So I, I was out. And in about two and a half, three weeks, I found myself in New York, working with a small vendor, working with their graphics department actually building their graphics department and we were lucky to work with some companies like HBO and Cinemax and Nickelodeon to do a lot of commercials for their new shows, or to showcase new movies, which is a lot of fun. I then missed Colorado, and moved back and started my freelance career. And I freelanced on both of the coastal cities New York and LA and ended up doing a lot of commutes for about two years between here and LA. Funny story some of the clients there that were in the heydays, I would work with Hugh Hefner on some of his Playboy TV channels. I also worked on some more HBO and Cinemax type image campaigns to show the movies and a lot of director brand like commercials about that time, this would be 2005 2006 motion design was really taking off is like a viable form of advertisement. And I think because like people saw that was very different than just shooting a commercial. And you could also save a lot of costs. But my freelance career just got busier and busier. And I worked with a few people and we built built kind of out of necessity. We just got busier and busier. And we ended up incorporating in January 2006.

Katie Brinkley 7:44

Awesome. Yeah, I mean, I know that he started from from freelancing, and were able to just continue growing. And, you know, get tell us a little bit about spelt now and how big it is, and all the different services that you’re able to offer and kind of how you make your company work.

Ryan Bramwell 8:00

Okay, yeah. So since 2006, when we started, it was two artists, me and myself. And then we got on an executive producer, which is basically somebody to wrangle us create crazy creatives, or a project manager, a lot of companies call them. And that really kind of made us legit. And we just, we grinded it for the first like three or four years. So we just found whatever we could find for projects, try to use our broadcast network connections to get work. But it was still very difficult. Because when you transition from freelance to companies, some of those clients that you have, now become your competitors. So it’s, it’s very challenging to navigate, you know, still being able to collaborate with your vendors, and then also try to find new clients. We only did animation and design. That’s all we really need, asking are asked to do. As time went on, we started getting busier and busier and just really grinding and calling people and a lot of outbound sales. Because we’re primarily business to business. We’ve grown since then. A short glimpses over where we are 13 years. Almost, yeah, 13 and a half. We now have 11 employees, 11 people. They’re all animators. We also within we have two producers, project managers, and a senior editor. So with that our cab capabilities have grown from just animation to editorial and post production color cleanup. We don’t do audio but we have amazing partners for audio that were just like we’re never going to be this good so we love them. And our we also do a lot of script writing creative concept development. and execution on strategies, which is important right now. It’s like if, if we have a live action and we need to convert it like, what are we going to do? What’s the good style? How long will it take? We also do. And then a lot of once we create this content in animation, a lot of executional delivery to all social digital platforms, and then we also partner with a lot of people for interactive. I think the only thing we don’t do is websites, and like the higher end like advertising strategy, but anything to create the content we love to do.

Katie Brinkley 10:41

Awesome. I mean, so I know that you recently relocated to Steamboat Springs, which is, for people that are listening that aren’t familiar with guote, it’s about three and a half hours away from Denver on a bad traffic day. But how have you found that commute to be? And we’re, you know, working remotely now and, you know, kind of taking everything online?

Ryan Bramwell 11:08

Well, yeah, that’s that’s a good question. Because I know, you know, the drive the steamboat. You know, net, this is a real difficult question, someone we’re trying to communicate. Naturally, us being in Denver, and our work clientele has been primarily big TV networks, or big agencies. So when you think of that, you think of Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Georgia, a little bit of Indianapolis and, and also Northern California. So we’ve had, we’re not in those areas. So we’ve naturally had to be very adaptable from the beginning, very scrappy, very streamlined. And because we’re either fine, or we’re using people from both coasts, our entire system has naturally been built for remote work. And so when we had to do this change, we found a lot of the systems that we use 10 to 20% of the time, are now being used 110% of the time. And a lot of the technical glitches have been worked out. So the we’ve been really fortunate, I just think right time, right place that we did that back then. And we’re adding on to it now. I think with me moving to Steamboat, which is three and a half hours away from Denver, is no more different. If anything, I’m just like pushing the boundaries a little bit, at least my perception of the boundaries. One of my sales things when I go to California is, hey, I’m only a two hour flight, and you’re stuck in traffic for two hours. So I think location is it’s a lot of perspective. And I think for us with technology, we can be location neutral. As far as creativity and idea generation. And design, I think execution, the big hardware requirements that we need for higher end 3d, that’s still good to have control over and have like a physical structure. But if we can set that up to have it to be accessed via remote means in a very secure and private way, then you kind of will get the the blend of both worlds there, if that makes sense. So for me, because I’ve owned the company for so long, and my hats always change have been changing in my roles. I don’t think there’s been a massive change other than, you know, more zoom meetings, I think there’s been a higher degree of communication with our team, just to make sure because we’re not face to face, just to make sure we’re not missing anything. But more importantly, I think, is really checking in on people on a personal level on our team. And just, you know, seeing how they’re doing and how they’re feeling, making sure we’re keeping up routines. Making sure the mental health of the company is just as important as the creative health. The biggest challenge I see in working from home on the creative sector is you know, we’ll get up early in the morning and check emails and then next thing you know, it’ll be midnight and because we don’t have that drive to work anymore, so we have to double check ourselves to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves first.

Katie Brinkley 14:44

And you know, you bring up a good point you said that you’ve over the years you’ve been wearing a variety of hats as you know person animator freelance animator to, you know, now doing sales and running the company and hiring You know, tell us a little bit about how you’re able to juggle that, and how you made that transition.

Ryan Bramwell 15:08

It sounds cliche, but it’s, it’s so true, you hire people that are better than you, like you, you have to take away the ego, you have to hire people that are smarter than you can do those jobs better than you are. Because at the end of the day, these people are going to be the ones to inform you on the larger decisions. So I couldn’t do any of this without the team that I have. And, and also, without the support of the team, that I have, no, when I first went remote to Steamboat, there was a little apprehension, but you know, now four, four weeks into this, it’s kind of the norm. And again, it changes people’s perceptions, pretty pretty easily. So that’s, it’s it’s all the team on and I’m lucky enough to work with people, and I cannot take credit for going out and picking people. And having that like, I’ve been lucky enough to serendipitously, these people, my team members have come into my wife, and I have chosen to, you know, work under this larger umbrella that we call spelt, this family that we have,

Katie Brinkley 16:21

you know, and again, so I guess, as I was saying, before, with worn many hats, and being more of the business owner, you know, and writing paychecks and doing taxes and all that, where have you learned a lot of these skills along the way? Through a lot of networking? And did you have a mentor,

Ryan Bramwell 16:41

you know, that’s I did not have a mentor. I had mentors with my production on the business and, and it’s something that I was starving for the first six, seven years in the business. And then after that, I did start to have mentors, multiple different business groups, there was a focus in my company, where I use this analogy called Joe’s Garage, where my business is no different than Joe, that mechanic where you transition from doing everything or trying to do everything, and realizing that doing everything isn’t freeing you up for the next project. So I think every company will get to that, that plateau that doing everything is it’s it’s actually becoming less effective for you in growing your business. And that threshold, a lot of people will say it’s the difference of working within your business and working on your business. So some of the some of the mentors I’ve had have helped me through basically everything financial, a complete rework of financial project management organization. And then the mentors I’ve had on the creative cycle is being in the creative industry, we all have a ton of heroes. And it’s a very open industry. So we talked to him all the time, how would you do this? How would you apply this? And that’s been a natural, you know, amazing kind, of course, throughout the 13 years, got a friendships.

Katie Brinkley 18:11

If you could go back and change or do anything differently in your journey to where you are now, what would you change, if anything?

Ryan Bramwell 18:17

Hmm, that’s a very good question. I think, like for me now, like we moved in four years ago, to a very big office space, and like, it was really great work for a while, but the industry fluctuates. We moved in there out of necessity, because we were so packed in like wrath or last one, but it was almost too big. And it’s always hindsight. 2020. It’s like, maybe instead of a bigger office, maybe there’s a blend between relooking at the way we do business, maybe we keep the same office and more people are remote. Those sort of things we don’t know, unfortunately, but I think that would be one thing, I think. I think other than that, there’s not much I mean, we we purposely made it more challenging ourselves to start this type of company in Denver. And being able to live where we live and still work on these great projects is like, for me, my most personal pride and joy, you know, absolutely.

Katie Brinkley 19:23

Because most of the time when people think of, you know, motion graphics and some of the work that you’re doing, they think, la New York, you know, and I definitely think having a location, you know, right smack in the middle of the US is is great for you know, and with Denver booming. Absolutely.

Ryan Bramwell 19:41

Yeah, it is great. I should say that, you know, since that 13 years, Denver’s seen an amazing research like just are huge building of like my industry. There’s probably 567 Really good motion design studios out there. There’s more advertising agencies. There’s a ton of tech ology a new business, new venture companies out in Colorado, and they all need ways to communicate. So just seeing Denver grow, we’re no longer like this town. Like, I really see this as like a higher tech, you know, city with a ton of awesome creative talent in this industry. In our local industry. It’s amazing.

Katie Brinkley 20:22

What is your model look like for finding engaging and selling to your clients and customers these days? What type of marketing Have you found that works.

Ryan Bramwell 20:29

So we do a lot of word of mouth. A lot of our clients will move from place to place. But our marketing that we do online is usually either through our social channels, kind of for artists, and creative, we’ll use like, probably mostly Facebook, and Instagram, and a little bit of Twitter, but for our business, it’s gonna be more of the LinkedIn and Twitter, Twitter’s kind of that we’re in the middle for. And then we also have, like, you know, there’s sites like Behance, or Adobe’s sites that we put our work on. Those are just kind of our portfolio, here’s our creative. Now, we also do pretty specific decks that are specifically curated towards new clients. So we want to do research to who our target is, and our client, for example, if I want to work it, I don’t know what’s big out here, VF Corp, you know, like, we want to do a lot of research on who’s there and what they’re who they’re working with. So that if we’re going to approach them that we’re coming to them smart, you know, very smartly. We try to in that, you know, kind of in that realm, we’re trying to listen first, or at least do your research first to see what the industry is dealing with, you know, what their challenges are. And I think, apart from that, because we don’t market towards the general public, we don’t do any, like traditional marketing ad campaigns, just for us, PR, personally, it’s challenging to target those, and those that we target are in our industry anyway. So they don’t need to see any advertisement for that.

Katie Brinkley 22:23

Absolutely. What I would say what’s, what’s one of the best pieces of advice that you’ve ever received, how has it impacted to produce

Ryan Bramwell 22:31

to pieces, and I think it’s like our, I don’t want to say it’s our motto, it’s just, it’s who we are, it’s like kind of in our soul, it’s one is Be authentic. Like, if you have a good product or a good story, and you fully believe in yourself, then like, just say that you don’t need the sales aspect, the the authenticity will come out. And it’s the strongest sales tool you’ll ever have. And two, don’t promise something that you can’t do. And I guess on the product side, that would be also don’t promise quality that you don’t have always tried to, like over achieve or over deliver. Because that, like customer service aspect, where they’re wowed, and you’re taking that extra step, that key word of mouth is going to be your single driving force to like grow in your business.

Katie Brinkley 23:24

Is there anything that I didn’t ask you about during today’s discussion that you think is important to share?

Ryan Bramwell 23:29

I think I guess I can just speak a little bit of like the current surroundings that’s going on right now, I was in an industry event, I think, you know, one of those virtual industry meetings, I think it applies to every company, no matter product, or service or technology. And it’s when you’re reaching out, it’s it’s trying to connect with people more on a personal level. We’re finding ourselves, you know, seeing each other’s living rooms and offices for the first time. So that kind of curtain that we have, I work at this professional office has been eliminated for absolutely everybody, we’re all on the same playing field. We’re all together on a much more connected and personal level. And so I would just say with that, we should all reach out first, listen to what other people are maybe struggling with or challenging with challenged with first, and learn as much as we can first and then kind of, you know, suck that in and see how you can help solve their problems in a way. I think that’s more appreciated, because in this time, we don’t know, you know, what we’re all dealing with and what our clients if their clients might be worried about, you know, jobs themselves and let alone creative. So, absolutely. Just I guess it’s being human first.

Katie Brinkley 24:56

Yeah, and I think that, like you said, we’re rolling this together, so everyone’s kind of used to seeing each other’s living rooms and kids walk in on them and everything else.

Ryan Bramwell 25:09

Well, I guess the other question I have is this for you, because this is such an amazing podcast? How are you finding? How are you finding this level of personal communication? It’s, you know, it’s

Katie Brinkley 25:22

been great. Actually, for me, I’m getting to talk to more people, because, you know, I work remotely and solopreneur. So it’s been great to see more people being willing to pick up the phone or do a zoom meeting and or do it come on the podcast. And it’s, you know, I feel like we’re all kind of in this boat together. And I think that it’s definitely, we’re all further apart. But we’re more connected. Now, if that makes sense.

Ryan Bramwell 25:53

That’s a really great way to say and I love what you said, like the solopreneur, entrepreneur,

Katie Brinkley 25:59


Ryan Bramwell 26:01

I hope you’re right. Like we all feel kind of alone, even as business owners, but to your point, like we can really like connect at different levels. I hope that when all this is kind of eased off, that we retain some of what we’re kind of forcefully evolving. And some of that, you know, asking people about their well being first, like being more open to connect, virtually face to face. I mean, I think a small business owners, for both of us, it just, it helps it makes us, you know, feel closer to this baby passion project. That is a company we’re working on.

Katie Brinkley 26:38

Yep. Absolutely. Ryan, this has been such a great conversation. Where can we send our listeners to learn more about you and your business online?

Ryan Bramwell 26:47

So you can just look at us@spelt.com It’s S P is and Paul I ll t.com. So it’s two L’s and then we’re also on all the social medias, but you can find out all on our website.

Katie Brinkley 27:01

All right, awesome. Wonderful. Thank you again for coming on the show today.

Ryan Bramwell 27:05

Thank you very much.

Katie Brinkley 27:08

Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Rocky Mountain marketing. As always, I’d love to hear from you. You can visit my website at www.nextstepsocialcommunications.com or connect with me on LinkedIn. Just look for Katie Brinkley. Let’s keep taking your marketing to new heights.