When Ashland Viscosi saw a gap in Austin’s creative community, she decided to bridge it herself. Through Creatives Meet Business, Ashland has built a community where creatives at any level, and spanning many disciplines, can come together to learn business practices, share resources, and strengthen their careers as entrepreneurs. As the mission of CMB aligns with our mission of sharing the stories of creative entrepreneurs, I feel so grateful to get to know Ashland’s story and be able to share her perspective on business and creativity here on Movers + Makers.
Below, she shares her background, the mission that drives Creatives Meet Business, and why she feels constantly inspired and motivated by Austin’s creative community.
Tell us about your background. What were you doing before Creatives Meet Business, and what led you to start the platform?
My background is all over the place, truly. I have two degrees in Political Science (bachelor’s and master’s), was a statistician for years for the state of Oklahoma, a Peace Corps volunteer, a part of the indie film community in Austin, and worked for years at an arts-based non-profit in Development and Marketing. And that barely skims the surface….feel free to ask me about the truck stop I worked at in high school!
What led me to start Creatives Meet Business (CMB), and by proxy Creatives Meet Business Experience (CMBXP), was what I noticed while working in the indie film scene. I’d be at a film screening and look around and see a lot of familiar faces – mostly fellow filmmakers or folks in college studying film. In a lot of ways I loved this, but then it hit me, it was the same crowd night after night…
Austin’s a city rich in creativity across all sectors, why wasn’t there more support from the other art and creative scenes, those not involved in film? What I wanted to discover was how can we widen the communities of support, not just for film, but for all of the creative sectors, and help everyone achieve financial sustainability. How could I help folks see themselves as business owners (even if it’s a business of one) and then equip them with all of the tools they need to tackle entrepreneurship successfully. And that’s when Creatives Meet Business was born.
What were some of the first steps you took to get started?
Before I took steps like building an audience, I first had to develop my idea into something tangible and create either a product or service. I happened to have a chat with a woman (now a friend) after a panel I moderated at Austin Film Festival several years back. She liked how I moderated the session and I loved that she came up to me after to tell me that, so I suggested we grab coffee after the festival ended. I don’t remember what was said during that coffee meeting to trigger my idea, I only remember writing her a Beowulf-length email about the vision I saw for my company and the roundtable model that I wanted to utilize for events. She became the host (a practice I still use today) for my first-ever event.
After I had a better idea of how I could connect attendees across creative disciplines and educate them on business concepts in one fell swoop, I created social media accounts and started to build an email list. For the first event three years ago, I relied heavily on the support from other arts-based organizations to help spread the word with their communities. Believing that the sandbox is big enough for all kinds of communities and organizations and that we’re stronger together, supporting each other, and being a bridge for each other is one of our founding principles.
More ways to share content and support the community came into the picture. There was a suggestion from an attendee at the first event that I create a podcast from what was being shared at my roundtable events….done. Then there was the idea for CMBXP which hit me while driving to a meeting the day after a different conference I produced. It’s an iterative process and I continue to measure, tweak, and adjust everything constantly.
What has been the most unexpected part about running CMB?
Everything is unexpected! Running your own business is full of potholes and the ability to be lean and flexible is so important while you’re testing, iterating, and developing what you’re providing to people and learning what people will pay for. When I first started, I wanted to provide two separate sets of services: what CMB is today along with the other arm of the company which would connect companies and agencies with creatives for temporary or longer-term contracts. I dabbled with that idea for quite a while, even repped several production companies to advertising agencies, but I was becoming too divided and that didn’t feel like the direction I wanted to pursue.
Was entrepreneurship something you knew you wanted to pursue someday?
Not in that sense, no. I’d always held 9 to 5 jobs and left the arts-based non-profit to spend all of my time with a company I started with three other partners. That was my entry point into entrepreneurship, but there was funding, so it wasn’t quite the same experience as starting CMB. It was a great baby step though!
“I knew that I trusted my ideas and I wanted to bring them to life. I learned fairly quickly that that was basically entrepreneurship.”
What I did always know was that I never really fit in at the organizations I worked for. I had ideas and the ability and energy to produce them, but I wasn’t in a position to advance them. I worked with amazing people and learned so much from my full-time experiences, but I knew that I trusted my ideas and I wanted to bring them to life. I learned fairly quickly that that was basically entrepreneurship.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Each day is unique in its own way, but for the most part each one starts around 7 AM. I have a ton of energy naturally and I practically spring out of bed in the morning and need no time at all to start diving into work. Lucky for me, my computer and couch make for a perfect early AM office. With coffee in hand, I like to start each morning with email and then move into whatever task I have that requires the most thinking. I do my best processing and higher-order thinking in the morning, it fades throughout the day, but at 8 PM a new creative impulse emerges. Since I’m able to create my own schedule, I rarely meet with anybody before 11 AM. 7 to 11 AM are my sacred hours and I try not to even open my mouth and talk during them. My dog sometimes spoils the silence, but she’s worth it ;). I get gregarious from 11 AM until about 7:30 PM and tend to have anywhere from two to four meetings a day. By 8 PM, I like to be back home editing a podcast episode.
As a creative entrepreneur, where do you go for inspiration? What fuels your creativity?
I’m constantly motivated and inspired by the amazing organizations and talented creatives we have in Austin. I went to a Testify event fairly recently and now make it a point to attend every one that I can. The same is true with the first Story Bar event I went to a couple years back. I love plugging the people and organizations that inspire me into my programming so that others can be inspired by them as well.
As far as places, I love solo trips to art museums with my headphones on and playlist on shuffle and seeing what magic emerges from the music and art combo. I love when whatever random song is playing just so happens to fit the piece perfectly; so inspiring! My personal favorite museum in Austin is the Elisabet Ney Museum, if you haven’t been yet, go! I’m also a HUGE fan of musicals. I love pushing myself out of my comfort zone by attending an event alone in a discipline I’m not as familiar with and meeting with new people to see the work through their eyes.
What are your thoughts on the creative community in Austin?
That we have an incredible creative community that spans SO many disciplines! Personally, I want to see more cross-pollination within the different creative sectors, especially between more traditional artists and what I call applied creatives (like graphic designers, game designers and developers, web developers, etc.).
My biggest aim is for CMB to be part of the solution; helping artists and creatives stay in Austin and sustain themselves from their work. The cost of living is increasing in Austin and we know that arts venues are losing their spaces. Now is the time to band together, support all of the creative communities, listen to novel ideas, work with industries outside of those in the creative spaces to find opportunities for collaboration, and be innovative about how to maintain and support the wider creative industries.
Is there anything you’re currently reading or listening to that’s been an inspiration for you or your business?
I’m an avid book-starter, constantly buying and reading (usually making it about 3 chapters in and sometimes actually finishing what I’ve started). I love exploring more about the human condition. Lately I’ve been very motivated by the Enneagram and what I’ve learned about my type. I love podcasts, specifically NPR’s amazing lineup (How I Built This and Invisibilia are my favorites).
The books that have been most inspirational for me are about developing unique ways to create a structure around connectivity (which is the underlying goal of everything that CMB does). I loved Community by Peter Block; Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language by Robin Dunbar; Influence by Robert Cialdini; and Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. Another book that I just couldn’t put down was Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction by Derek Thompson. I also love graphic novels, specifically anything by Jeff Lemire. I have been obsessed with Black Hammer lately, it’s brilliant.
Favorite way to unwind after a long week?
With a cheese plate and wine! Technically I’m a bigger bourbon fan than wine, but bourbon and cheese don’t pair quite as nicely. I also love having nothing planned for the weekend and allowing myself to be spontaneous. I love meeting people, so my weeks tend to be full of coffee meetings and happy hours, so having that freedom to do something if I want to or to just veg on the couch if I want is the most freeing and lovely feeling.
Through CMB, you’ve spent so much time with creative entrepreneurs and small business owners. What is your best advice for someone who wants to start a business?
This completely depends on the person! Universally though, I’d tell them that I really hope they’re passionate about their idea or what it’s providing them (i.e. maybe their passion is something a bit harder to define, like connecting people). Entrepreneurship is challenging and can be very isolating, so believing in something strongly will help them stay grounded and aimed in the right direction. The second thing I’d recommend is to create a community of folks they can speak openly with about business struggles and also triumphs. I call these “advicery” boards, but really it’s a handful of fellow entrepreneurs who are in a similar position or slightly ahead (in terms of when they started their business) that will be honest, transparent, and ask the tough questions. Aim to meet in person on a regular schedule, say once a month, and be resources for each other, shoulders to cry on, and each other’s cheerleaders.
Images by Ideology Photography.