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Matthew Berman of Emerald Digital: “Shoot Straight — Be authentic”

Shoot Straight — Be authentic. Tell it like it is. Don’t be full of it. People need to believe in you. Your team members, your clients, your partners all need to buy into your vision. If you have a reputation for exaggeration, lies, or nonsense then that necessary fundamental trust is broken. Grit- It takes tens of thousands […]

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Shoot Straight — Be authentic. Tell it like it is. Don’t be full of it. People need to believe in you. Your team members, your clients, your partners all need to buy into your vision. If you have a reputation for exaggeration, lies, or nonsense then that necessary fundamental trust is broken.

Grit- It takes tens of thousands of hours to become an overnight success. You need a ton of patience. Expect a high level of difficulty, and you’ll need to super-focus on delivering the best product or service for your end customer.


Being a founder, entrepreneur, or business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Matthew Berman. He is the President of Emerald Digital, a digital marketing agency that specializes in services tailored to deliver targeted traffic, generate qualified leads and grow business with measurable results.

Berman has worked with brands such as Heineken, Hennessy, Delano, Fireball Whisky, and The Law Center, among hundreds of others. He oversees all agency efforts to create click-worthy content, PPC campaigns, social marketing, and to develop aesthetically pleasing websites with back-end SEO efforts.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

My name is Matthew Berman. I am the president and co-founder of Emerald Digital, full-service digital marketing, and public relations agency with offices in New Orleans, New York, and (soon to be) Miami. I’m the president and founder of Ember Networks, a digital agency in New Orleans. I also run an Airbnb with my wife in New Orleans. I have a house full of guitars, animals, and baby toys. I keep pretty busy.

Music is core to my identity and has shaped my path as an entrepreneur. As a young musician, you need to figure out how to create something out of nothing. It takes years. Over time, you grow confident, you figure things out, you watch yourself get better. You learn to connect with other musicians, build a team, to grow your skillset. You learn how to make ‘it happen.

I co-founded a business in 2008 and I met my co-founder through music production. I sold him jingles. In 2011, I founded Ember Networks, a New Orleans-based digital marketing agency. Around the same time, my college roommate and dear friend Warren Cohn founded HeraldPR, a public relations firm in New York City. Over the years we worked on a series of joint projects. Ultimately, our work continued to grow closer and we ultimately decided to officially join forces. In 2018, Emerald Digital, a full-service marketing agency was officially born.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

In 2018, I received a call from my now business partner Warren. At this point, we had each been running separate businesses for at least 5 years. Warren asked me if I would be interested in traveling to Turks and Caicos and working on a project there. We would be staying at an 11 bedroom villa on a private beach. Of course, I was in. Our businesses had been growing close, teaming up on more and more projects over time. We were both at the point where we knew what worked, what didn’t and wanted to share the highs and lows of business ownership with someone we were really close with. I was a solopreneur and signing a huge deal wasn’t as fun without someone on the inside to celebrate with. I spend so much time working, that I want to be with people I care about.

Warren and I have been on parallel entrepreneurial paths since our early twenties. Through the years, we’ve been each other’s springboard, advisor, and confidante. We’ve both shared less than positive experiences working for, with, or in tandem with other business service or marketing agencies. We believed that by joining forces we could deliver a superior work product, and also act in our client’s best interest. We wouldn’t sell for the sake of selling. We wouldn’t ignore. We wouldn’t rest on our laurels. We would be at the forefront of digital communications, always creating value for our clients.

In your opinion, were you a natural-born entrepreneur, or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?

I was always entrepreneurial and, from a very young age, was always inventing ways to make money. While I do believe that people either have what it takes or they don’t, no one is innately born with a fully developed skillset. You can be born more adept at skills that help you excel in entrepreneurship, but you should be nurturing and developing your entrepreneur skills over time. Most people are not cut out for entrepreneurship. The people that make it have both natural ability and single-focused dedication to their craft.

When I was 6 or 7 years old, I sold candy bars on the streets of Springfield Blvd in Bayside Queens. My mom would buy packs of chocolate bars, and I would stand in front of a candy store and try to sell chocolate to people before they walked in. The owner of that store probably wasn’t too happy. I was able to make a few dollars (and buy some toys), but I would not have been able to turn my candy bar business into a million-dollar venture, managing dozens of people, or growing the business as a sustainable operation. I had the hustle, drive, and motivation to get started, but success takes work.

Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?

I’m very lucky to have an incredibly supportive family who has always helped nurture my entrepreneurial ventures. My wife is incredibly supportive, my sounding board. She’s my personal adviser and has a great sense of people and situations. She is a creative powerhouse in her own right and even designed the Emerald Digital logo. My Mom has been there in more ways than I count. She’s supported dozens of crazy ideas, hosted hundreds of jam sessions, and gave me enough leeway to sell tickets, candy, music, and more. My Dad did my accounting for a few years and is my first call for financial questions, market conditions, or tax advice. helped with accounting, tax advice, and finances. My stepfather was there to give me rides to internships, business meetings, networking events, and breakdowns over beers. My brothers are incredibly tech-focused and are almost always showing me something that blows my mind. My grandparents are a huge inspiration, all of them giving their own brand of sage advice and helping me see the forest through the trees. Their insight came from decades upon decades of experience and helped shape my view that we need to look at the big picture of this thing called life. We were all incredibly close.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

The marketing and advertising business is extremely competitive so it’s imperative Emerald Digital stands out. Over the last decade I’ve seen that prospective clients have three general pain points: 1) They found their former agency/vendor was untrustworthy, 2) They found their former agency/vendor was ineffective, 3) They have been dealing with too many vendors and the process is cumbersome.

These three pain points have shaped the way Emerald Digital does business, and how our team engages and interacts with clients. We approach each and every client with a unique point of view. We want to be proactively offering new ideas, new tactics, new strategies specifically crafted for you. I’m not interested in selling you something that I don’t believe will work. I’ve worked for agencies in the past that put short-term profit over long-term relationships. My feeling is the opposite. I’d rather implement a plan that’s best for the client and work with you for many years. Then we’re all winners.

We have a slogan, ‘We Have An Expert For That’. If a client needs something done, and done well, we get it done. Our clients are incredibly busy. Most of them don’t want to be micro-managing their projects. They want results. We’ve assembled a great team capable of delivering world-class work in multiple verticals. My clients know that if they call me and ask for something, that it will get done. We’ll figure it out one way or the other.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Perseverance.

Being an entrepreneur is tough. There’s no road map. There’s no instruction manual. There’s no boss telling you what to do. Starting and running a business requires a massive investment of time and effort. You will fail. The best entrepreneurs keep picking themselves back up again and learning from their mistakes. You need to be mentally and physically equipped to handle failure.

People Focused.

You must be able to talk to people. You need to inspire your team. You need to pitch your vision. You need to sell your product/service. VCs don’t invest in ideas. They invest in talent. You need to be persuasive, compelling, and on the front lines, all while being authentic.

Creativity.

Entrepreneurs are constantly putting out fires. This job is a big puzzle where the pieces don’t want to fit. We need to be creative in our problem-solving approach.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about the advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

The worst advice I’ve received is that in order to build a successful business, you need to tear down competitors. My agency and another agency can co-exist. We can be friends. We can help each other. I’d rather build bridges than burn them. I believe in collaboration. A client may be a great fit for the agency down the street and not for me. Some of our best clients come from competitor referrals. They know we do great work and we can work together.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?

“Burn out” is very, very real! I believe that all of us need three things in our life: a way to make money, a way to be creative, and a way to improve our physical/mental health. Our normal workflow is the way we make money (and the prime contributor to ‘burnout’). Luckily, I work at a creative agency, so I encourage the team to follow creative passions. I encourage my team to follow their interests and to be creators. I’m confident we can find ways to associate their passions with our business or our client’s businesses. Finally, I’m a firm believer in physical and mental fitness. I encourage my colleagues to stay active and to take time off when they need it. At the end of each day, you need to look at one ‘life’ item (money, creativity, health) and come away with a win. Some days you’ll be lucky and win at all three.

I stay connected to people all day. It’s my job to be ‘on’. I have a baby. For her, I need to be ‘on’. For me, in order to stay sane, I need quiet time late at night or early in the morning where I can do something creative or fun for myself and scratch that itch.

What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?

Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?

We live in the age of the digital frontier. For the first time in history, we can connect with billions of people from anywhere in the world. This means you are fighting for attention, and in order to get it you need to be a publisher. You need to be writing, shooting videos, streaming, connecting, and creating. You need to put yourself out there. No one is going to pluck you out of your house and prop you up as an authority for no reason. You need to make it happen. You need to be ‘the guy’ or ‘the girl’ for what you do. In order to do so, you need to establish authority. Show the world how you think, the value you offer.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Two common mistakes immediately come to mind. The first mistake is a CEO/Founder trying to do everything yourself. It’s hard for entrepreneurs to let go, but you need to trust the people around you to get the job done. Bring in people smarter than you to do the jobs you can’t or won’t be able to do.

The second mistake is not following the money. At the end of the day, the success of the business falls on your shoulders. Your business cannot operate indefinitely if it’s not profitable. An entrepreneur needs to be able to ensure that operational activities are tied to revenue. Make sure you have internal processes in place to track profitability. Hold profit meetings with your leadership team and assign accountability.

Ok, fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride the Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills, and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur; you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows?

Creating and operating a business is a stand-off between excitement, possibility, and opportunity versus putting out fires, generating business, fixing technology, improving customer satisfaction, and the reality of operational processes over time.

Sometimes your business is exhilarating. You are the king of the castle, you run the show, you’ve taken the plunge into business ownership, and have put fate in your hands. You’ve invented a new process, you’ve signed a huge deal, you’ve assembled a killer team, you’ve created something from nothing. Life is great. You’re making money, the trains are running on time, and you’re on your way to be the next Elon Musk.

Sometimes your business is a lesson in pain. Launching a startup can be a harsh and brutal reality. Your technology doesn’t work as planned, your employees stole IP, equipment, or money. Your customer’s checks have bounced. You’re waiting 90 days for payment for work that has already been completed and payroll is due. You have unexpected expenses. You’re having a hard time finding customers. These problems can all be compounded by external factors — a recession, supply issue, or global pandemic.

Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?

A regular job has limits. You have limits on earning potential. You have limits on responsibility. You have limits on accountability. An entrepreneur has no limits. When something goes wrong, it’s up to them to deal with it. For an entrepreneur that means more work, and a tremendous amount of stress. The livelihoods, mortgages, and welfare of your employees are on your shoulders. The buck stops with you. The quality and effectiveness of your product or service is up to you. You put the pieces in place. You hire the team. You set the tone. Working for yourself typically means more hours. It’s being addicted to the job. Parts of your life are going to suffer due to your commitment to the business. Your work/life balance is tilted in favor of the business.

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

I am incredibly lucky in that I get to meet, associate, and learn from incredible business owners. I meet hundreds of people I wouldn’t get the chance to if I worked for someone else. We become friends. We get beers. We have each other’s confidence. We become part of each other’s story. When a client signs with us, we are their partner. We are in it to win it, together. I get a behind-the-scenes crash course in how their business operates, their leadership style, vision, and operational processes. I know the alcohol business, the law business, the hospitality business, the restaurant business, the consumer goods business, and more. It’s wonderful.

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

Your first year or two in business is especially tough. Prospective clients want case studies and a compelling portfolio. You may not have these yet. As a new business owner, your sales funnel is immature, your ad budget may be minimal, and your professional network may be small. I opened Ember Networks in 2011 and finding consistent, quality clients was incredibly tough. I spent many late nights and early mornings worrying about bills, overhead, and keeping the lights on.

Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?

I refused to give up. For years, I worked all day and all night. I passed out with my laptop on. I called everyone. I emailed everyone. I knocked on doors. I went to every networking event possible. Eventually, people respected my hustle and gave me a chance. The rest is history. I did things that made me feel uncomfortable. I knew the business wasn’t going to come knocking on my door. I had to go out and get it.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need to Successfully Ride the Emotional Highs & Lows of Being an Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.

Bring Others Into The Journey — Leadership is a naturally lonely endeavor. Celebrate with your team, commiserate with your leadership or with your advisers. You need people around you that you can trust. You need to bounce ideas. You need to be told no. Yes, men aren’t going to help.

Shoot Straight — Be authentic. Tell it like it is. Don’t be full of it. People need to believe in you. Your team members, your clients, your partners all need to buy into your vision. If you have a reputation for exaggeration, lies, or nonsense then that necessary fundamental trust is broken.

A Plan / Process — Your business needs an overarching plan to dictate a 50,000 ft strategy, and a process that tells your team how to get there. The big plan is always going to be tweaked (you still have to be nimble), but you need vision. Without a plan, you’ll have a hard time knowing if you’re on the right track or not.

Passion — being an entrepreneur is 10x harder than everyone says it is. You need to be incredibly passionate, obsessed, and dedicated to whatever it is that you do to make it through.

Regiment — your body and mind need to perform at peak levels. This is especially important during tough times. Find rituals that make you feel better. Stick to them every day. You need to set the tone instead of simply responding.

Grit- It takes tens of thousands of hours to become an overnight success. You need a ton of patience. Expect a high level of difficulty, and you’ll need to super-focus on delivering the best product or service for your end customer.

We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

A very small amount of people have the ability to sustain their livelihood predicated on the success of their own business. Resilience is falling off the horse and getting back on again. We’re all going to fall off at some point, but we have to keep going. Resilient people are stubborn. We won’t accept failure for long. Resilient people are quick studies. We will figure out what went wrong and do it better.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?

I wasn’t given a business. I wasn’t given a lesson plan. My parents didn’t give me keys to a BMW or indulge my every childhood request. You need to be told you can’t do something, you can’t have everything, and you need the desire to prove them wrong.

I moved to New Orleans two days before Hurricane Katrina ready to attend Tulane University. The storm came, the city was devastated, and I was trying to figure out what I was going to do. I ended up in Syracuse, NY for the next 6 or so months. I love making music. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I fell in love with New Orleans. It’s a musical city full of adventure. My whole life, I’ve played in bands, jammed, and made a lot of noise. In Syracuse, I had none of that. I didn’t know any musicians. I was completely out of element and a piece of my life was just gone. I thought, if I can’t find people to play with, I’ll figure out a way to make music without anyone. I stayed in my apartment with an mbox2, Pro Tools, a guitar, and keyboard and I taught myself music production. I played every instrument. It took hours upon hours to figure it out, but I put in the work.

In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?

I’m naturally a very positive person, and I like to think I keep a cool head. I ask myself, ‘what is the absolute worst thing that could happen right now?’. Then I ask, ‘can I get through it?’.

Most business (or life) decisions are not life or death. You might lose the deal. You might make a mistake, but at the end of the day you’re still alive, and so is your family. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and to hyper-focus on the situation right in front of you, but we need to think with our head and not our heart.

Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.

Your energy is infectious. You set the tone for your team, your clients, and everyone around you. I don’t want to be around a negative nancy. I don’t want to do business with a debbie downer. I try not to be that for others. Life is short, enjoy it.

This past year is a great example. We’ve gone through a year of incredible uncertainty. Our team members were worried about family, job security, and their own safety. Our clients were worried about the viability of their businesses, about putting food on the table. There’s enough uncertainty out there without me adding to the mix. If I can keep it together for them then I can be a rock, a source of stability in an unstable world.

Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?

“The story of life is quicker than the blink of an eye, the story of love is hello and goodbye. Until we meet again.”

None of us are here forever. We have a small blip of time to contribute to humanity, to make the lives of the people around us better, to fall in love, to smile, to create something bigger than ourselves. Let’s get to it.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Emerald Digital can be found at https://emerald.digital

Ember Networks can be found at https://getwithember.com

I can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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