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Justis Kao Of Loop Media On 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Medium

A big vision is always important to have for the long run. But defining a hyper focus in your core business is more important to get you there. For us at Loop, our business clients are our primary focus. And their focus are their customers. We are a leading multichannel streaming video platform with one of the largest libraries that includes music videos, movie trailers, live performance and non-music entertainment content that is licensed to stream music videos directly to business venues out-of-home in the US. In addition to Loop’s 150+ expertly curated channels, Loop enables businesses to communicate promotions to their customers via a wide range of digital signage tools, and so much more. Ad-supported and at no cost to the business, Loop’s versatile, growing content platform has been built to help businesses thrive.

Startups usually start with a small cohort of close colleagues. But what happens when you add a bunch of new people into this close cohort? How do you maintain the company culture? In addition, what is needed to successfully scale a business to increase market share or to increase offerings? How can a small startup grow successfully to a midsize and then large company? To address these questions, we are talking to successful business leaders who can share stories and insights from their experiences about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business”. As a part of this series, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Justis Kao.

Justis Kao is Chief of Staff at Loop Media, Inc. He directs Loop Media’s internal communication strategies, external press efforts and oversees the staff at large for the company. A creative at heart, Kao is an entrepreneur who has carved out global success in every aspect of the traditional music industry and is conquering music tech with Loop Media.

Kao’s love of music gained him entry to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, where he graduated with a degree in Contemporary Writing & Production. His skills brought him to Los Angeles, CA, where he quickly found success as a live vocalist on season 1 of “The X Factor USA,” and worked with friend and songwriter Claude Kelly and artists including Rihanna, Justin Bieber and Alanis Morissette.

His network and expertise led Kao to become Creative Director at FarWest Entertainment, managing all aspects of global appearances for Quincy Jones’ first Pan-Asian girl group, BLUSH. While at FarWest, Kao eventually rose through the ranks to oversee branding, communications and operations across all global partners and offices.

Kao is based in Loop Media’s Los Angeles office in the heart of the entertainment industry, where he also runs AIM Foundation, a non-profit empowering young people to create a groundswell movement to do good, give back and affect change in their communities.

Thank you for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?

Thanks for having me! I was raised in Toronto, Canada in the heart of the city and began playing piano at age 6. From a very young age, music has been ingrained in my core being. At 10 years old, I had completed my formal classical piano training with an offer to study in New York and train to tour in Europe by the age of 13. Growing up in arguably, one of the most diverse and multicultural cities in the world, I was surrounded by friends from all different backgrounds, ethnicities, and cultures. My musical tastes reflected that, and I never wanted to be pigeonholed in my music career with just classical music. It was a strong foundation to start with, but I had my eyes set on Los Angeles and the music industry at large since I was very young. When I turned 17, I auditioned for Berklee College of Music which I later attended on scholarship.

You’ve had a remarkable career journey. Can you highlight a key decision in your career that helped you get to where you are today?

As a young child, even though music was such an integral part of my life, I was strangely hyper-administrative and constantly focused on detail. Essentially, half-artist, half-business, all the time. I always knew I wanted to further my musical skills and abilities and follow the artist path, but at some point, transition over to the business side of things. As a young musician going the independent route, I would write by myself and then find a producer to help me cut the records in studio. I would find a venue to do a show and promote to my local fanbase and concurrently handle ticket sales, lighting design, stage production, F&B, background singers, band — you name it, I’ve probably played that role at some point in my artist career. This really set the stage for me understanding the complexities of what it took to build and put something great together. It all starts with a vision for me, but I’ve grown to understand the micro-execution needed in going from an idea to the completion of it.

What’s the most impactful initiative you’ve led that you’re particularly proud of?

At Loop, I was one of four from our team that started with the Company from day one. Back then, we were a small and lean team. That meant every head count that we added had to be strategic and add value right from the beginning. Of course, every start-up at that phase knows it will encounter its share of ups and downs, so the culture of the company from early on is crucial. Even if it was a more senior hire vs. a new intern, we knew we wanted a company that treated everyone equally, with respect and professionalism. Our culture today at Loop promotes excellence, integrity, a sense of urgency, built on respect and collaboration. I’m proud of what we are continuing to accomplish at Loop because of that culture we’ve been able to grow and maintain.

Sometimes our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a mistake you’ve made and the lesson you took away from it?

I’ll start by saying that communication, urgency and accuracy are key traits that I’ve continued to develop for myself. Early on when your role or responsibility includes other key stakeholders, the deliverables on any given project are incumbent on everyone doing their part, on time. We all know that not everything goes as planned all the time, but we can do our best to over-communicate, follow up immediately and always triple check everything. “Preparedness is the key to victory and success.”That said, a mistake I’ve learned from is not asking enough thorough questions. The 5 w’s are key in executing efficiently and accurately.

How has mentorship played a role in your career, whether receiving mentorship or offering it to others?

I would say this is a key part to anyone’s growth in their career, in both receiving and offering it to others. Personally, I’ve taken advantage of a great mentor and role model in our CEO, Jon Niermann, who at the age of 35 became President of Disney Asia. We have now worked together for over a decade, and I’ve actively consulted with him over the years on business strategy and decisions as well as observing how someone with his pedigree and resume continues to operate with integrity and wise judgment after an illustrious corporate career. We began Loop Media years ago with the intention of starting a company that would not only operate with excellence in our product and offering, but also create and instill a culture that would constantly challenge our employees to become better and reach new heights. I think that’s where the mentorship to those that report to you become priority: Bring the right individuals with the skills needed, potential to grow, and invest deeply in them- as people, first.

Developing your leadership style takes time and practice. Who do you model your leadership style after? What are some key character traits you try to emulate?

I’ve been led by some formidable leaders in my life in various areas whether it was personal, finance, mental or professional. Way back when, I had the opportunity to work on TheXFactorUSA when it first launched. I got to watch Simon Cowell in action on a day-to-day basis. His attention to detail was unparalleled. By day three on a set of a few hundred people, he walked down the hall on stage and said “Hi Justis.” Something I’ll never forget, and always took note of.A common thread between most of the most influential leaders in my life is communication. The ability to communicate — first by listening, then accurately understanding a situation or person before making a judgment or decision — is key to being a great leader. Always remaining level-headed and calm in tough and challenging circumstances. It’s something I’ve learned throughout my life and career. With any growing organization, there will always be conflict and problems at some point and being a great leader means that you can address those issues and provide a solution.

Thank you for sharing that with us. Let’s talk about scaling a business from a small startup to a midsize and then large company. Based on your experience, can you share with our readers the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Scale Your Business”? Please give a story or example for each.

1.
 Hyper Focus on Core Business

A big vision is always important to have for the long run. But defining a hyper focus in your core business is more important to get you there. For us at Loop, our business clients are our primary focus. And their focus are their customers. We are a leading multichannel streaming video platform with one of the largest libraries that includes music videos, movie trailers, live performance and non-music entertainment content that is licensed to stream music videos directly to business venues out-of-home in the US. In addition to Loop’s 150+ expertly curated channels, Loop enables businesses to communicate promotions to their customers via a wide range of digital signage tools, and so much more. Ad-supported and at no cost to the business, Loop’s versatile, growing content platform has been built to help businesses thrive.

2. Human Capital

Hiring the right team is crucial. We started strong with our CEO, Jon Niermann coming from Disney and Electronic Arts Asia and then Liam McCallum (Chief Product Officer) having come as Head of Platform for Electronic Arts, Asia. As we grew, we needed to add to the management team with experts in their field. As such, we added former execs from MTV, Viacom, and Facebook. Now, years after our launch of the company, we are continuing to hire within our teams that have strong experience and resumes and not only understand the vision of Loop, but have passion for where we are headed.

3. Establish Best Practices, Processes and Protocols, and Make Them Repeatable

Having a clear, focused core business model and the right team to support now means that you need to operate with efficiency and productivity as you grow. Where we used to be able to jump on quick calls with a only a few of us is now more difficult with everyone’s schedules. Developing productive and focused team meetings within each division is key. Constant communication is vital, whether you’re using Slack, text, phone, email, etc. With my team, I start the year with an overarching focus for the coming quarters and then review with them in more detail for goals and deliverables. With any growing company, the ability to pivot and change course is always needed. That leads us back to management and leadership being able to cast and communicate the vision and executables needed whenever that happens. When launching a new initiative, test the plan that you have with the market. Get constant feedback and adjust as needed and test again.

4. Develop and Grow the Right Partnerships

I’ll use another personal music example here. When I was younger, as an artist, I wanted to do everything musically myself, because I could write, play, produce and perform. But that was limiting my creativity and my ability by missing the value that others would bring to table. The more that I collaborated with people that were great and better than myself, the more my music went to a different level. Great partners in business become just as crucial to move the business forward. The synergy between teams, coupled with strategic and experienced thought leadership and opportunities help drive initiatives forward, quicker and in a more productive manner.

5. Leverage the Partnership vs Transactional approach

I find that every single day brings new opportunities in business to choose between taking the Partnership approach, or the Transactional approach. I almost always opt for the Partnership path. What does this mean? Think about it in terms of meeting or not meeting, vs. exceeding or greatly exceeding expectations for the other party. The Partnership approach looks at the situation and seeks to understand all of the extra value–short and long term here–that can be delivered in the spirit of conveying to the other party just how much you care about them feeling heard, seen, understood and truly delighted. The transactional approach never feels great- it always feels like the box-checking effort that it is. Every once in a while, this might be the way to go; but I almost never lead with it, and especially never when it comes to any situation where my intention is to build a great relationship for the future. Any company or entity can do a one-off transaction, or even a few repeated transactions. The measurement for me is building a network of true partners to last a lifetime, in business and also personally.

Can you share a few of the mistakes that companies make when they try to scale a business? What would you suggest to address those errors?

1. Thinking that a huge investment in the start-up phase is all that you need. Of course, capital funding is crucial to every business at any point in time, but it’s definitely not the only important thing early on. Having a plan and a management team with experience, creativity and critical thinking are also key.

2. Thinking that structure can come later. Think through structure, organization and processes early on. The more you can define, the easier it will be when you actually scale.

3. Planning too far ahead. There’s a balance when it comes to leaders that are visionaries. You need to be able to see the big picture but also execute and deliver often within each quarter. Piloting projects and testing the market is a great way to see if there’s sustainability and success in the path you’re taking.

Scaling includes bringing new people into the organization. How can a company preserve its company culture and ethos when new people are brought in?

I think this again starts with leadership. As you grow, do you become too busy to meet new hires? Or do you make it a point to have face time right from the very beginning? Sharing your vision about how and why the company started in the first place speaks volumes to new hires, especially when it comes from the top.

In my work, I focus on helping companies to simplify the process of creating documentation of their workflow, so I am particularly passionate about this question. Many times, a key aspect of scaling your business is scaling your team’s knowledge and internal procedures. What tools or techniques have helped your teams be successful at scaling internally?

Keeping with the communication theme, we direct a lot of our attention to regular, consistent conversations with our partners, vendors- really any and all key stakeholders. Being in the loop here with them constantly allows us to effectively be strategic in our objectives. We’re able to identify targets of intersection with our partners and then execute on those initiatives in a timely and productive manner. We find that more frequent, objective-oriented check-ins with our internal and external partners is more effective than having longer intervals of dead space in between meetings.

What software or tools do you recommend to help onboard new hires?

A great, experienced HR person/team.

Because of your role, you are a person of influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most people, what would that be? You never know what your ideas can trigger.

I would tell people that you should never stop learning, no matter how much success you’ve achieved at that point in life. Always challenge yourself to grow and find peace in the uncomfortable seasons as it is part of the process and journey. Invest in yourself first so that you can invest in others. This is part of my personal ethos: “Aim to do good. Aim to be better than the last version of yourself. Aim to affect a little, and from there you affect a lot.”

This was truly meaningful! Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your expertise!

Original Article