People are going to take your good ideas — and try to execute on them themselves. People see someone they know doing something that’s getting some attention, and they naturally want that attention for themselves. It rarely works out, because the same people that would rip an idea off aren’t willing to work hard to make something happen. They’re just looking for a quick buck.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Hoferer. Jeff parlayed an early interest in movies into a full-time career as a professional copywriter and content creator. Jeff currently serves as Creative Director at Corgan MediaLab, while also presiding over the production company he founded in 2011, Occasionally Genius. However, he’s most passionate about the YouTube series he both hosts and produces, called PackGeek.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
My childhood was amazing! Both of my parents are over-achievers, so I was always shooting for the moon. I grew up in a small town in Kansas called Topeka. You probably remember it from your geography class, when you learned the 50 capitals! In a town like Topeka — you had to be good at entertaining yourself! Fortunately, I’ve always had a great imagination, so I was able to keep myself busy. My two great passions as a child were Baseball Cards and Movies, I did have a phase where I was heavily into Ninjas…but primarily Baseball Cards and Movies.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
I actually experienced two transformations. First off, I was writing and acting in a comedy web series for a few years — as I was really into Improv and Sketch Comedy, but I was never making any real money doing it. It was not a career. So I decided to take my web series into a local production company, they asked me what I did on the show — and I told them I was the writer, producer, creator and one of the lead actors — and they hired me to produce branded content for their clients. This was my foot in the door.
I’ve been a sports card collector for most of my life. I took a few years off from collecting during high school and college, but I got back into the hobby as an adult. Afterall, I finally had means beyond my weekly allowance, to buy the cards I really wanted. One day, while I was opening packs by my nerdy self, I thought — why aren’t I filming this? My card geek friends on the message boards would love to experience this with me. After all, I’m a professional (paid) video producer now! So, I decided to marry the two loves of my life, Filmmaking and Baseball Cards — into a show called PackGeek, a poor man’s treasure hunt and a hobby adventure!
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
I love starting new adventures. I would call myself an Entrepreneur, but that implies that I really know what I’m doing — but the fact is, I’m just kind of taking risks and making it up as I go along. Taking an idea and turning it into a business requires a vision. I think it’s important to have a roadmap to figure out where you are and the assets you possess, versus where you want to go and what that would require. I’m a very visual person, so I love taking the time to envision what success looks like.
Another helpful tip is to look at your idea from a 30-thousand foot view. I think a lot of times, when it comes to our hobbies, they’re a niche interest — so we keep them niche. I always think of PackGeek as an avenue to bring my hobby…my interests, mainstream. This will help you focus on casting a bigger net and finding a larger audience or customer base. Try to find a universal appeal within your niche.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
First off, I would suggest being brutally honest with yourself. I’m typically an optimist, but some hobbies are much better left as a hobby. There’s no reason to ruin a perfectly good hobby by trying to monetize it. Maybe it’s too niche to find any mass appeal, or whatever the reason may be. So be honest with yourself about the possibilities.
Then, if you’re still wanting to move forward after being brutally honest with yourself and about its feasibility, you need to change your perspective a bit. You need to start looking at your interest as a business, and not as a hobby. You’re no longer casually involved, and you must treat it as such. I create branded content for a living (at my day job), and I treat each episode of PackGeek — as if I’m producing it for a paying client. And I believe that’s the mindset necessary for an entrepreneur to turn that corner with their hobby.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
I subscribe to the idea of, if you love what you do for a living, it never feels like a job. I truly believe that. However, I believe the key to an endeavor that involves a hobby of yours is to always remember what you loved about it in the first place — and never lose sight of that. That special something about your hobby — is what is going to help you connect with an audience or consumers or an audience full of consumers. The same reason you’re passionate about hip hop music is the same reason people are going to love your music and want to download your latest single. That passion comes through!
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
My favorite aspects of running my own business is being the ultimate decision maker, doing things the right way, and being able to take risks — without having someone hold it over my head, if it doesn’t work out as expected.
The downside to running your own business is being responsible for any failures, but I ultimately think this is a good thing, as well. Having to fire people is not fun, but optimizing your team is an important part of a successful business. A business owner is typically the outfit’s best salesperson, as well — and I don’t love chasing new business. I love to create! But new business opens new doors — and you’ve got to keep that in mind.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
The biggest difference is the aspect of “creating” versus growing the business. I love to write and create new content, but often you need to keep “growing the business” in mind as you create, if you want to be successful. Another way to look at this dynamic is “what I want to create” versus “what will garner the most traction”. The two of them don’t always jive.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
Yes! Which is why I still have a “real” job. My real job just happens to be in the same arena as my personal business, and that’s content creation. Eventually, they could interfere with each other, but until then — I’m going to continue this juggling act.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Sure. When I started the PackGeek series I was treating it as a hobby. I put next to nothing into production, and the result was something I was not proud of. I stopped putting episodes out for several years, because I wasn’t happy with the quality. Eventually, I decided to reboot the series, but this time I had a goal of creating the most high-quality show in the hobby — and that has kept me focused.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
Gary Vaynerchuk inspires me daily with the volume of content he creates and the message he spreads. He’s also an incredibly savvy businessman, and I really respect his take on media, creative and digital marketing. He works his team hard, but they still seem to maintain an amazing rapport, thanks to the mutual respect they share.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I try to give back to the hobby and our audience, as much as possible. We have formed a really good relationship with our audience, and I am so grateful for them!
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Nothing noteworthy is going to happen overnight. I had probably put out 50 or more episodes before I really started seeing some results.
- It may take 100 episodes or more to really see traction. Content creators need to demonstrate consistency, in order to build a loyal audience.
- People are going to take your good ideas — and try to execute on them themselves. People see someone they know doing something that’s getting some attention, and they naturally want that attention for themselves. It rarely works out, because the same people that would rip an idea off aren’t willing to work hard to make something happen. They’re just looking for a quick buck.
- Enjoy the journey. Building a business or a successful brand that is sustainable — is not an easy task. You must respect the process and keep your eyes on the prize.
- Create a catalog of great content first, and market that content second. People, including myself, love to market an idea. However, you need to have a decent body of work to feed the crowd, once you’ve got their attention.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. 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 never know what your idea can trigger.
I would love to start a non-profit production company. We would create content that tells the stories behind great causes, individuals and organizations we believe in. Kind of an angel production outfit. I’m thinking we would target groups that don’t have the budget to get their name out there, and we would create some beautiful content that they could be proud of, that would help them forward their cause. Small steps can lead to big movements.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I love the saying, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” I have always prided myself on being a doer. The reality is most people won’t take that first step towards making their dreams come true, because of fear of failure. Well, as someone that has failed many times, yet keeps on taking risks — I’m here to tell you that those misses have only made me stronger. There’s no time like the present!
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Gary Vaynerchuk. He loves sports cards, he loves content creation, and being able to get a few minutes with him to discuss PackGeek and the direction of the show would be an absolute game-changer, for us.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.