Charlene Tassinari and Carly Potock of Canvas+Co: “Being busy doesn’t mean you’re being productive.”

Being busy doesn’t mean you’re being productive. After working in corporate for many years, we had this mentality of needing to keep busy all day long in order to be productive. Your workday and productivity looks very different when you run your own business. We have less meetings, zero politics and we can just focus […]

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Being busy doesn’t mean you’re being productive. After working in corporate for many years, we had this mentality of needing to keep busy all day long in order to be productive. Your workday and productivity looks very different when you run your own business. We have less meetings, zero politics and we can just focus our time on what matters. We get more done in a few hours now than we would have in a few days before.

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 Charlene Tassinari and Carly Potock.

Charlene and Carly worked together at Google for many years where they developed YouTube creative products and services for growing brands. In early 2020, they left to co-found Canvas+Co. Charlene and Carly now help brands build video marketing strategies that put the brain science of human attention at the core of the approach, so that their creative can create pause, be unskippable, and stop-the-scroll.

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?

Charlene: I was very lucky to grow up in a home with a lot of love. My parents were married 54 years before my father passed away just two years ago. We lived on a lake in Michigan just outside of Ann Arbor (Go Blue!), so we kept very active all year long, from swimming and waterskiing to cross-country skiing and sledding. As the youngest of five, I was always trying to keep up with my older siblings! I am who I am today because of those experiences. And family was, and still is, the most important part of my life.

Carly: Growing up in Colorado, I can’t think of a time when we didn’t have a handful of pets running around — horses, dogs, ducks, hamsters, turtles. Now that I’m older, I look back and realize how much work that must have been for my parents! Like Charlene, I’m so lucky to have such a wonderful family. While my parents raised my sister and I to be ambitious and independent, the most important thing to be in our family was kind. I poured a lot of time into competitive softball and played Division I in college. That experience has made me incredibly passionate about the importance of sports for young girls.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Charlene: “Don’t let the turkeys get you down.” My parents always said that to me anytime something was difficult with work, relationships, etc. It was their way of telling me to keep going, be strong, and to just focus on being the best you. It always made me laugh and helped me to stop worrying so much about what other people thought.

Carly: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” Maya Angelou said that and I think it is the most amazing description of how life should be lived. It reminds me that I’m never stuck — I have the power to build a life that feels more like thriving than surviving. If I ever feel like I’m merely surviving, whether it be in my job, my relationships, or whatever else, then it’s time to change something.

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?

Charlene: Brene Brown’s TedX Talk “Power of Vulnerability”. I was in a leadership program called Leading with Authenticity while at Google, and it was one of the videos we watched during the course that always stuck with me. Many of the executives I had in my reporting line were either hard to get to know or came across as disingenuous, so I decided after watching Brene Brown’s TexX talk that I was going to try and be more vulnerable as a leader. I was always honest with my team, even when it wasn’t good news, and I looked out for them. They nominated me for a manager of year award every year, and that meant more to me than anything else.

Carly: I second that — everyone who has worked for Char (including me) says that she is the best manager that they’ve ever had! I’ve learned so much from her.

I really love The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It’s a simple story packed with wisdom. I’ve just about highlighted every page. (Yes, I highlight even when I’m reading for fun. Nerd alert!). My favorite theme in the book is about trusting yourself and trusting the process. There’s so many good quotes on this topic and one of my favorites is, “When you want something, the whole universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

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, we worked together for many years at Google/YouTube. We first joined forces in 2015 to build YouTube’s first brand strategy team for growing brands. Over the next few years, our insights-driven methodology was delivered to hundreds of brands globally through client workshops and industry events, including Google’s annual CMO Academy, hosted in partnership with Columbia Business School.

Through these workshops, we observed a common challenge emerging for brands of all sizes in achieving success on YouTube. They needed access to nimble, affordable and high-quality video creative in order to truly unlock the power of video. With this new problem to solve, we pivoted the team to building first-of-kind video production solutions for Google’s customers in 2018. Our team developed creative tools like Video Builder in partnership with the YouTube Product team and formed industry relationships to launch Google’s first video production partnership program called the YouTube Creative Directory.

We left Google in 2020, just one month before the pandemic hit, to found Canvas+Co. Our mission is to help more brands succeed in the video-first world. Video marketing is a space that is constantly evolving and that marketers often find to be confusing and overwhelming. We took the leap to start our own company because of the perspective and experience we can offer to growing brands. Our clients learn to master the art and science of building effective video marketing strategies that earn consumer attention, translate seamlessly across platforms and drive performance.

What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?

Launching a new business one month before a global pandemic hit was never our intention. We had planned to spend 2020 on the road doing keynotes at industry events in order to grow our brand and business. When the world shut down, we had to adapt our new business strategy and rely more on our networks to help connect us to potential clients. Additionally, the majority of our offerings were built on in-person experiences and live workshops. We had to adapt to be 100% virtual, which also meant shortening the length of our sessions and adjusting the content and delivery to be more attention-grabbing over Zoom.

While it’s been a challenging time, we keep saying it’s been a blessing in disguise. We’ve been able to spend more time focusing on our offerings and positioning in order to differentiate ourselves in the crowded agency/consulting space.

Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?

On our way to Singapore for work in late spring 2019, we stopped over in Thailand for the weekend. After enjoying the sun all day, we met up for dinner at the hotel’s beachfront restaurant. It was one of the most beautiful settings and sunsets we’ve ever seen! It inspired us to reflect on times in our careers when we were the most happy and energized. A common theme was working with clients in hands-on settings where you could help shape their business strategy and provide them with ‘aha moments’. We also understood that video was becoming even more critical to growing a business but also such a complex space for brands to manage. We’d acquired so much knowledge about YouTube and the broader social/video landscape that we saw an opportunity to get back doing what we love through equipping brands with the toolkit to become successful video-first marketers.

How are things going with this new initiative?

It’s been incredible to see the desire from brands to show up more authentically. The pandemic and social unrest has required marketers to think more about their values and how they’re helping the world rather than just selling you a product. And we know video is unparalleled in its ability to build brand love and drive action — so it’s a great time for us to be having these conversions with clients.

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?

Mark McMaster is a former Google colleague who originally brought us together in 2015. Mark was building a team focused on the growing SMB YouTube space and he hired Carly to help him prove the need for more hands-on client and sales support. One quarter of work fueled his business case for a larger global investment, and that’s when Mark reached out to Char to see if she would be open to building out the team (Mark and Char had worked together years before at Google). Because of Mark, we met, loved working together and are now running our own business together almost 6 years later!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

We’ve been floored by the generosity of our network. From friends, to loose acquaintances and even people we don’t personally know — everyone has been so open to connecting and trying to help us.

One of the most impactful areas that our network has helped us has been on our positioning. A handful of current and former CMOs in our network have been so kind to let us give them a mock pitch and get their feedback. Our positioning has been transformed because of this. They’ve helped us refine our value proposition and even identified value-adds that we bring but had not yet identified. We are so incredibly grateful to everyone who has helped us. In a year of turmoil, it’s been such a bright spot.

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.

  1. Being busy doesn’t mean you’re being productive. After working in corporate for many years, we had this mentality of needing to keep busy all day long in order to be productive. Your workday and productivity looks very different when you run your own business. We have less meetings, zero politics and we can just focus our time on what matters. We get more done in a few hours now than we would have in a few days before.
  2. Building a new business takes time, so be patient. Even if you have the best idea and a strong market fit, it’s going to take six to twelve months to build a robust pipeline of new business. It’s all about planting seeds and then waiting until they are ready to grow.
  3. Your positioning matters a lot. We found that you need a lot of practice and pitches with potential clients in order to refine your messaging before you get it right. The messaging we started with 10 months ago is very different from where we are today.
  4. Get comfortable with change. There has not been two days that look the same since we started our business. That can really push you out of your comfort zone and is challenging at times. But the amount of growth we’ve both experienced this year has been so worth it!
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Growing a business during the pandemic has required us to ask for a lot of help with introductions to potential clients. There are so many generous people, and we’ve really seen a theme emerge around women helping women. It’s been one of the bright spots of this year and we can’t wait to return the favor!

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?

We are very honest with each other about needing a mental health break. If one of us is having a hard day, we support each other and cover off on any work that needs to be completed. And we decided to basically take election week off from meetings. While we still did some project work, we just didn’t have the mental energy to host meetings. That open communication and support is what works for us.

You are both people 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?

You have a little voice in your head that tells you when it’s time for a change. There is never going to be a perfect time or the perfect opportunity, so don’t keep waiting. Take the leap, make the effort, try something new. Whatever happens, you’ll learn a lot through the process. And if you’re having a hard time making a change, it’s very important to get clarity with yourself about why. You may need to stay in a comfortable job because you need the steady paycheck or health insurance. Just be aware of why you are making your choices (out of fear vs. need).

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!

Kory Marchisotto, CMO at e.l.f. Beauty. We wrote a blog post about e.l.f.’s pandemic marketing approach earlier this year and have been following them ever since. Ad Age recently awarded e.l.f. one of the 2020 marketers of the year, and we couldn’t agree more! Not only is Kory a great marketer who takes risks, but she seems like an incredible leader. We’d be honored to have lunch with her.

How can our readers follow you online?

Follow Canvas+Co on LinkedIn for frequent industry updates and POVs. We also have a newsletter that you sign up for on our website where we share the dates for upcoming Video Masterclasses that are open to anyone to join.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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