Know that things are going to go wrong and that it is okay — I tend to really take things to heart, even if the mistake is out of my hands or small in the grand scheme of things. We had a contractor show up late one time to a very important set and it paused the entire movie that day. I was devastated because the clients were very upset with the fact that we were late, but it was out of our control. However, we made the situation as right as we could, and we all had to learn from the situation.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Ostebo.
Alex Ostebo is the Founder and President of Kameo, a leading provider of flexible mobile COVID-19 testing services for the entertainment production industry. She is also the Founder and Executive Producer of Creative Picnic, a woman-owned and operated marketing and production company that has built an extensive roster of clients across leading entertainment and consumer brands, including Disney, Netflix, Pepsi, and Nike. Ostebo has also worked as a Senior Marketing Consultant for Wonderful Machine and served as a Logistics Captain in the Army Reserves for eight years. She received her degree from Dickinson College and currently resides in Los Angeles.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
If you were to simplify my childhood in the most basic terms, you’d call me a military brat. My father, an Abe Lincoln type man, was in the Coast Guard and we moved every one or two years of my life. Of course, this was before social media and cell phones, so the only way to keep in touch was with letters and the occasional AOL email. I guess you could say this is what shaped me the most environmentally. However, by nature, I was a very performance-oriented child. I loved to be creative and to make people laugh. And I was always a big dreamer too.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes is from a speech my dad had me memorize when I was very, very young. He would pay me to memorize Shakespeare and famous historical speeches. The quote is by Thomas Paine: “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; ’tis dearness only that gives everything its value.” I think about that a lot these days. Especially since the only investments Kameo took at the beginning were from my partner Matt and my parents, which amounted to about $175k.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I’m a huge history nut and you learn so much about history from the book, but it also has one of my favorite inspiring female characters, Marie-Laure Leblanc, who does not let her physical limitations hold her back from being brave and strong and curious and loving life. She inspires me to not let anything hold me back and work past difficult times.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
Before the Pandemic began, I was running my company Creative Picnic. We represent photographers and directors and produce creative content. Creative Picnic has built a strong reputation after four years of hard work; we regularly produce commercial content for companies like Disney, Netflix, Navy Federal Credit Union, and Pepsi.
In March of 2020, our roster of artists was stronger than ever and there were jobs for everyone on the horizon. In fact, I was at Disney on a shoot the day they had to shut down.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
When the shutdown happened, things went completely silent on the production side. What was worse, my artists were really scared that their source of income would stop completely…and to be fair it did for a while.
On a run with my fiancé Matt, who would later become the CEO of Kameo, I was telling him about how I’d read an article about the pattern of economic collapse, and how crisis is often followed by the formation of new businesses. An economic phoenix from ashes concept, really. This got me thinking about how Creative Picnic could make it out of this bad situation.
I thought about what productions would have to look like in order to come back to work safely. I learned a lot from my Army training and thought through the situation with that lens. What came together was a deck with nearly 20 slides that outlined safety measures from safety officials, from testing and PPE to social distancing, etc. It wasn’t groundbreaking, but this was the end of April 2020 and a majority of people were understandably still shell shocked and hadn’t started thinking through these logistical things yet.
I reached out to past clients, particularly ad agencies, and gave them that presentation, hoping to position myself as a thought leader. They were immediately interested in my knowledge of safety, staffing, and testing. It was clear during those initial calls that productions would need support in those areas in order to get back to work safely and they were looking for someone to come up with the answer. It was then that I knew I had to spin this off into its own company.
With that, Kameo was born, and we quickly became the leading provider of reliable and flexible mobile COVID-19 testing services for the entertainment production industry. Our services streamline the complex and high-risk task of tracking and managing COVID-19 testing and compliance on-site, allowing productions to operate safely. We provide PCR and Rapid testing services and deliver smooth and seamless solutions tailored for producers and fit for productions big or small.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
When we created the business and started pitching our testing services to studios, it was an immediate success and we started to get jobs right away. That is when it became real and we knew we had something game-changing in our hands.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Kameo is now a multimillion-dollar business and a preferred vendor of many of the top film and television studios in the country. We’ve been on over 200 sets, administered between 30,000–40,000 tests, and continue to facilitate safe and successful productions.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Gosh, there are so many people, but I’d like to give a shout out to Kameo’s first official employee, Rachel Gasior. When I told her my crazy business idea, without hesitating she jumped on board and has supported Kameo ever since. Then of course, my fiancé Matt Hibberd, who quit his job to start Kameo with me. Kameo would not be where it is today without him. He has always been my biggest supporter.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
We have to keep a lot of the interesting things that happen to us private because of the nature of what we do but one of my favorite moments is when we were told by a huge movie that “we literally saved the movie millions” because we were able to accommodate a last minute testing request that no other testing company could do. This was very early on in our company, so it was so reassuring that we were on the right track.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Know that things are going to go wrong and that it is okay — I tend to really take things to heart, even if the mistake is out of my hands or small in the grand scheme of things. We had a contractor show up late one time to a very important set and it paused the entire movie that day. I was devastated because the clients were very upset with the fact that we were late, but it was out of our control. However, we made the situation as right as we could, and we all had to learn from the situation.
- Trust your gut — Every time I ignore my gut, I regret it. It’s easy to forget why you started the business in the first place, especially when you start hiring more and more people with different opinions, but don’t let that stop you from listening to your gut when it tells you that something is the right decision.
- Hire the right person not the “right there” person — There were many times we hired for convenience because we needed someone, not because they were the best fit. Every time, we regretted it.
- Give everyone a piece of the pie — We love sharing in the success of Kameo with our employees by offering equity to all our full-time employees.
- If you work with a spouse, always know they are a spouse first and foremost — Matt and I work hard to keep business out of our relationship, but it is not easy. I strongly suggest if you decide to go into business with a spouse that you create physical boundaries. If possible, find a place where both of you can work together outside of the home so there is separation from where you work and where you live.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
I read and I write fiction a lot! I also definitely recommend therapy to keep your mind clear and talk through concerns.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would inspire more women to be entrepreneurs. Additionally, I’ve always been very tied to oceans and nature. After living by the beach for the last year, if I could start a global movement it would, hands down, be to eradicate trash from the ocean. It is something that haunts me very deeply. In a future role I’d like to dedicate time to business initiatives involving ocean conservation.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Great question. I think what would be most interesting is to have lunch with an innovator, like Elon Musk, who is looking to change the world for the better. I read about how he used to sleep at the Tesla factory in the early days and wanted to understand every piece of his business, and that inspired me. I also love history so speaking to Queen Elizabeth, who has lived and led a country through some of history’s most difficult times, would be incredibly fascinating. I have no doubt that I’d learn so much from her.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!