"What fuels me is the opportunity to create value and things both with the people that I work with and the people that I communicate with that I'm lucky enough to communicate with." Will Critcher, direct marketing at Death Wish Coffee Company
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ABOUT WILL CRITCHER:
Will started being interested in marketing at a young age, and went to school to pursue the career path. This led to him creating his own marketing company, Unveil, and that journey eventually led him all the way to Death Wish Coffee, where he handles our direct marketing and is a vital part of the marketing team. He fit in right away and helped recreate the companies email marketing strategy to split the focus on sales emails, and also content based ones, which we now call The Scoop. Will talks about his career path and what excites him about his job, and we also talk about his love of paintball, which he professionally competed in for years before joining the team at Death Wish.
Jeff: Working at Death Wish, your title is Direct Marketing?
Will: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeff: Before we actually get to you working here on the job, I want to start with what that even means because you've been in this field for a while now, right?
Will: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeff: When did you start working technically in direct marketing?
Will: In direct marketing, when I started with Death Wish specifically.
Will: Yeah, that was the first time I've had the title as that, but when I've worked in... I started in traditional media and digital media sales for... What year is it, 2019? So yeah, 2011 I believe, I think. So in 2011, I started that and got my... That's where I just kind of like got my teeth cut in and figured out how to like sell media and marketing. After like five years of doing that, I, as any ignorant boy would do, was like, "I could do this way better," and decided to start my own agency. So I ran that for a handful of years up until starting with Death Wish a year ago.
Jeff: So the reason why I asked is because anything that is in the digital space is a new field.
Will: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeff: You know what I mean? Like people who were going to college 20 years ago weren't going to college for what you do because what you do didn't even exist.
Will: Right. Right.
Jeff: So first of all, did you go to school for what you do?
Will: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeff: What made you interested in that? Where did it stem like, "Oh, I really want to work kind of doing this kind of thing?"
Will: So I didn't realize this until about a year after I started my agency, Unveil, and I was having a conversation with somebody. It was my friend. He actually works for the National Park Service in Nevada, and I was like, "How did you become that?" He's like, "I always wanted to be a cop," and I was like... You know, it's kind of funny. I remember as a kid, I was like 10, 11, 12. I have no idea why other than I thought the title like the name was cool, and I was like, "I'm going to be a marketer when I get older."
Will: Like I legitimately became what I want to be, but not, I don't think, intentionally I thought because not for any good reason, but for a vain reason because I thought the word "marketing" was a cool word, but I liked the concept when I was in high school. Just like growing up, seeing how people can position businesses, and brands, and products to make them relevant to other people, I thought that that was a really cool obstacle to kind of figure out, and so going to school obviously made sense, but that wasn't even my initial thought when I got out of high school because I played paintball, so that was like my trajectory.
Will: But going to school for it definitely made things a lot more digestible, I think. It helps me kind of translate, I think, what a client, or a consumer, or a company that's even not related to me is trying to accomplish. I like trying to pick apart the theory behind it, and then also, kind of build upon where I think they're trying to get to, so it's just... It's a weird...
Jeff: That's weird.
Will: It's a weird fascination I had with it.
Jeff: It's fascinating to me because... I mean, as a product of the '80s, it is... We have now been on this huge upward trajectory of marketing.
Will: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeff: You know what I mean? You look back to like the '40s and '50s, and marketing was a thing, but it was predominantly print media because TV was a brand new thing, and you really could only touch people from a marketing standpoint in a few ways.
Will: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeff: It was in the '80s when as a child, everything was marketed to me because Saturday morning cartoons were life.
Jeff: You know what I mean? Like literally, lines of toys were... Like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was created to sell toys.
Will: Right. Oh, was it, or like before the cartoon?
Jeff: The show, the cartoon.
Will: Oh, I did not know that.
Jeff: The comic was completely its own property, but the idea was, "Let's create a cartoon to sell toys." Same thing with He-Man, "Let's create a cartoon to sell toys too." So the stuff that we consumed was in itself marketing, and that's how marketing has skyrocketed to that. When you say something to me like marketing sparked your interest because you thought it was cool, can you pinpoint that?
Jeff: As a kid, I'm using myself as an example again, I'd watch something like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or He-Man, and see the commercials and stuff like that, but never put two and two together. Never was like, "Oh, I'm enjoying these products," or I'm going to my parents and being like, "Mommy, buy me this toy because this marketing is so great." You're telling me that like you actually understood that. You understood that there is someone out there or an entity out there who's marketing products to you, and you thought that was cool. Is there a moment in your life where you realized that?
Will: I don't think so. When I think about like favorite marketing campaigns and all that kind of stuff, I don't necessarily know if I have one. I think it's because I'm such a fan of this where, as you know, it's like sometimes where some people think I work a lot or I work late. It's like to me, it's like I'm just addicted to my hobby kind of thing. So I love it so much that I don't know like what my favorite is or like who my hall of fame marketer would be so to speak, but I think as a kid, I don't know if I was... I don't think I was smart enough to say like, "Oh, they're marketing to me," but I think I understood the principle behind and intention of doing something. So for instance, I didn't understand part of you just saying that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a toy before the cartoon, or is it comic, and then the...
Jeff: No, no, no. It was a comic, but what I'm saying is that to make the cartoon at the time at that point, Saturday morning and cartoons were everything, so it was like, "How do you pitch a new cartoon?"
Will: Yeah. Right.
Jeff: So cartoons like that like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or He-Man, or something like that were specifically created because there were toy companies involved. Toy companies were the ones behind it being like, "This can be a half-hour commercial."
Jeff: "It's not just a cartoon, and then maybe we'll make a toy out of it, and hopefully, that toy will work."
Will: There was intention. Yeah.
Jeff: There was intention.
Will: That's a perfect example as you probably know, but like that's a perfect example of content marketing. You know what I mean? Like that's exactly what that looks like, and it's also... You see a lot of brands now. I think Death Wish is starting to get... I mean, the podcast is a perfect example. That's been going on for how long now? Two? Three?
Jeff: Three years.
Will: Three years. So you see companies that are selling a product. They're starting to find ways to be a publishing company, so that way, they can get that attention and understand that they can be a voice of expertise, or a voice of being funny or smart, or whatever that might be because that's what a lot of people are looking at. Then, you're also seeing publishers, so people who just write content all the time.
Will: Now, they're starting to kind of sell that product that comes with it whether that's the subscription to it, granted the transition of traditional or print media has definitely kind of required some of those publishers who have an online version of their publication to pay for like New York Times, or Washington Post I think does it. But it's funny how you see these publishers are now trying to find a way to monetize by product outside of advertising, so they're trying to create that, essentially that service or that good for what they're providing other than advertising, and then brands are trying to find a way to get the publisher content whether that's timely, or evergreen, or whatever that is.
Will: So that way, you have people on site, and they can kind of... You know? But the brands benefit a lot because you see... We're able to kind of perpetuate, especially Death Wish, like our lifestyle, and what we think is funny, and what we think our customers think is funny, and so on and so forth.
Jeff: Wow. So you go to school, you start working in this industry. Where does it occur to you... you brought it up and you said it exactly like this, "I can do it better."
Will: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeff: Where does it occur to you that, "Oh, I not only can do it better, but I'm going to start my own business?" That is terrifying for a lot of people. Like why? Why did you decide to go there?
Will: Oh, well, it's a pretty long story why I decided to go there. I think a lot of it was belief and the fact that I had enough understanding in my little space that I could do a job well enough to support myself. I never wanted to be a boss. I've never been about that like, "Oh, I'm an entrepreneur. I'm a founder, CEO." I mean, like there are certainly those titles apply to people when it makes sense, but that's never was my goal like it was never to be in charge.
Will: I think the company that I worked for in the beginning, they taught... I learned a lot of lessons. I think I've used this before where in some places, when you're an employee, you've got kind of like the collar, and then your boss kind of has the leash, and like they kind of help guide you and make sure you're not there. Like when I started with the company, they... and throughout the entire time I was there, I never felt tension on that leash, so I was able to kind of really explore, and learn, and make a lot of mistakes, and also, do a lot of cool things.
Will: But then, I started to realize because it's such a large company, they make money by creating marketing plans and selling advertising. I felt that the customer became kind of... The needs became forgotten and not... They weren't put at the forefront of it, and I think that customer knows like that customer is putting their customers at the forefront, so why aren't we doing that?
Will: So I thought that if I were to take this on by myself and focus solely on their needs because I just wanted to know all the ins and outs because I'm neurotic like that, and so that I think was like probably one of the biggest stepping stones into doing it, but I also... I lacked a lot of fundamental skills like I'm not a designer by trade. I also refused to outsource things because I wanted to make sure that... It was hard for me to go to a client and say, "Hey, look. This is your brand, this is your message, and this is your 10-week email campaign, but I didn't create it." You know what I mean?
Will: So it's like trying to work with people that I trusted a lot, which I had a lot of help with that. So it was a lot of learning process, and I've looked at... hedging the bet like, "Should I stay employed and do it the same time, which I couldn't because of the conflict of interest component?" So I went all in. Actually, when I started my business, I cashed my 401(k), and dumped the whole thing into it, and then ran with it.
Jeff: Was it terrifying? I mean, like you're starting a business that is in a field that, again, is relatively new within a decade, you know?
Will: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeff: You now have to get a client list, and you have to go to try and get clients with no proof other than working for another company.
Will: Yeah, yeah.
Jeff: But no proof that your company can do what they want to do. Is that scary?
Will: I managed probably over about 120 clients like every single month with the company I worked for, and I had... A dozen of them, I had really good relationships with, and so when I told them I was going to be starting Unveil, I was like, "Hey, come with me. I will make sure I can do all these things better for you." So I was able to start that. With them, however, I needed a couple of big things to kind of be checked off in order to do that, and that was really difficult.
Will: The last month leading up to it, I was building my business plan, suring up all of the customers and clients that I had, making sure I have everything in place while also not trying to lead on, but give the company I worked for enough time to know that I was going to leave them. I actually ended up working so many long days and long nights. I went to bed at about 5:50 in the morning and my alarm went off at 6:30. I was sleeping at my living room, and I sat up, and I was like looking at LinkedIn, and I was like, "Man, it's really warm in here." I walked over to the thermostat, and I remember turning the heat down, and then I woke up on the floor like 15 minutes later. I had a grade two concussion. I broke my orbital bone.
Jeff: Oh my gosh.
Will: They pulled my tooth through my lip. I thought I had a seizure, but like I just fell asleep on the wall and knocked myself out, and I think like... Then, that very next day, I ended up like officially signing on my first client with this. I was out of it. I had this huge, huge bruise on my face. I had stitches in my lip from my tooth. It was a whole thing.
Will: I was like, "Oh, I'm really in it right now." Yes.
Jeff: Wow, wow. So you did that for a couple years?
Will: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeff: Then, it kind of brings up to now, and that's the story that I love telling. Where do you hear about Death Wish? When did you first become aware of this company?
Will: I think I've heard of death wish prior to living in New York at some point in time.
Jeff: When did you move to New York?
Will: I moved to New York May, April of 2018.
Will: So yeah, yeah. But I was born here. I've lived here. I've got family here, so it wasn't completely unfamiliar, so I knew that... I was familiar with Death Wish somehow, but I went to a farmer's market and they actually had Death Wish Vodka, and so I tried. I was like, "Oh, it's cool," like that was the first hit, and then I had... I was still running my agency, so I was expanding out to clients here in New York, and I met a guy whose business consultant was the business consultant here for Warren. So that became more familiar, and then six months later, about... Uh, yeah. Yeah, like eight months later I think is when the job opening became available. At that point, I was just realizing like having to kind of start over.
Will: Owning a digital marketing agency definitely has its perks. I think that some of the things that I lacked as a business owner because I'm such a... I'm a really good operator. I can't do everything great, but I want to do everything, and I like getting my hands dirty. I think I know or understand all the little facets that play into it, but because I'm so much a part of that, I was a poor business owner, and so like really developing clients here like getting all that going. It was just at that point too much for me to take place or handle, and I didn't want to fall asleep on...
Jeff: On the wall again.
Will: Like standing on the wall again. Yeah, so when the opportunity came up, it just made total sense to give it a shot, and the job description seemed to fit in right with what I... like what I was really good at, so.
Jeff: So before we get into your job, where... As a marketer, do you remember the first marketing you might have been aware of from Death Wish? Did anything strike you from what we were doing because we really price ourselves on being subversive and being this, I don't know, this weird kid in marketing?
Jeff: Did anything stand out to you?
Will: I think, again, the first time I saw the brand that I can remember was at the farmer's market with the Death Wish Vodka, and I assumed... and I know a little bit about like the beverage industry didn't know the... It's highly likely that the girl pouring this drink doesn't work for Death Wish, but they were very on brand.
Will: I was like, "Oh, that's awesome. They're clearly like packaged together." I actually thought at the time, I was like, "I should talk to this girl and see if I could somehow like weasel my way in to getting a conversation with a decision-maker, Death Wish.
Jeff: Right, get a client.
Will: Yeah, yeah. Exactly.
Will: I think I saw the cohesiveness, and again, I wasn't sure if that was attributed to the brand or the distribution center for it, but nonetheless, I recognized that. Then, when I met Warren, that's when I started to notice Death Wish a lot more, and I think it was just the cynical same voice I saw on social. Again, I don't think I even liked Death Wish Facebook page at that point, but I was still getting hit with some ads. I definitely visited the site, but then I was just seeing content, more the blog content, and it was just things that I personally wouldn't click to read, but I'm like, "That's funny," like I see...
Will: I get the message. I get what the point of it is, and I think I kind of was able to pick up like the person behind it more or less. I think I preach that a lot here with... They're talking about how we did such a good job with personification like you could imagine what Death Wish looks like as a person, and it's like you're probably right. You know what I mean? Like I don't think you're... like you all know that Death Wish person. You know?
Will: So I think we do a really good job with that.
Jeff: That's awesome. So let's talk about your job then here as a direct marketer because, I mean, that is... It's a specific thing, but for someone who's not in this space, it seems like such a general term, you know?
Will: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeff: "Oh, yes, you're directly marketing. Of course, you are." Right?
Will: Directly marketing. Yeah.
Jeff: So can you talk a little bit about your day to day like what you actually have to be responsible for here?
Will: Yeah. So I think the high-level view is that I manage all of our performance marketing in the sense of all of the dollars that we spend on social, search, message, even email, I am responsible for the effectiveness of that spend. But that then tailors down to... and also, Amazon. So that tailors down to... If I'm responsible for what our ROI would be on a social ad, then I work with the team, with you, with everybody to create cohesiveness, or something funny, or something catchy, or something that's going to help essentially justify that spend or that idea, and then... I don't have hardly any of the creative ideas.
Will: I think I'm really creative when it comes to ad spend and how we can effectively use our brand to maximize our return on certain things, but I definitely need the help from the people who have that funny idea, and so that's where I get a lot of the joy of it. It's like, "Hey, guys. Here's this cool thing that I found that we can do," and then it's like as soon as I say that, then it's like you and Thomas, or Shannon and you, or somebody will just be like, "Oh, now we can do that one thing," and then we create that aspect. So that's a poor explanation what I do per day, but I think, yeah, when I started here was when we looked at the email, for instance. We overhauled the newsletter, and then created The Scoop out of that, which was awesome.
Jeff: I do wanted to mention that. That is something that we struggled with since I started working here and even before is the proper way to email our customers. I mean, like any business has that problem is, "How do you connect with your customers?" Sure, there's social media. Sure, there's marketing, but you definitely want to grow your email list.
Jeff: That's a big part of business, especially in an e-commerce business.
Jeff: It's the first letter of e-commerce. You want to do that, and you came in right out of the gate and realized that what we were doing with email was too much basically. I equate it to kind of the way that this actual podcast itself morphed into something different. When this podcast started, we tried to overload it and front-load it with as much content as possible.
Jeff: We had the science segment at the beginning. We used to talk about celebrity birthdays. We did the Death Wish Update, and then I would interview you, and that would be the entirety of the show. It took me 40, 50 episodes to finally look back at it and go, "Oh, I've got multiple shows in one thing," because I'm literally doing that. You came in with fresh eyes, looked at our email, our weekly email and said, "We can do more with this," and that's where The Scoop was born. Can you talk about The Scoop?
Will: Yeah, yeah. It kind of gives me goosebumps thinking about it too because I remember when I started looking at the email and recognizing how not only important it was in terms of revenue and how we communicate with our customers. It's also really important to the team because there's a lot of effort put into every little piece of that email. So originally, we would send the email where the product would be the first main thing. Every Tuesday or Thursday, we would sell a product, and then we had our high-performing content, and then the podcast.
Will: When I looked at that too, I was like, "Okay. If the goal is to sell this new mug that we're coming out with or a new hoodie that we're coming out with, we're hurting... We don't know actually how well it's performing on email because there's this blog over here that Shannon wrote that went viral last week." Paired with a recipe blog, and then unfortunately, the podcast was getting no exposure because it's all the way at the bottom, and there's just too much good stuff above it. Essentially, you're exactly right. Just like pulled all of the content, anything that wasn't contributing to what we were trying to accomplish, and that was essentially...
Jeff: Which is the sale.
Will: Yeah, which is the sale. Exactly. By doing all of that, that we took all the high-performing content, and then utilized that into The Scoop newsletter, which talk about in a sec, but the benefit from the email, the sales side of it is that. Now, we have all this real estate to help better describe either the benefit of the product whether it's a caffeine content or show closer images of what the mug looks like and how it was created.
Will: Just kind of eliminate all of the things that are not contributing to the goal, and so there's a psychiatrist... a psychologist. I can't remember his name. He's from the '40s, and he talks about there's two ways you can change human behavior. The first one is removing... or the first one is applying pressure, so that's incentive, arguments, or threats. You can rationally like connect those to marketing, so like incentive is a deal, and argument is like, "This is why you should buy it right now."
Jeff: "Why aren't you buying it?" Yeah.
Will: A threat is like, "Do it now before we sell out."
Will: Then, the other way to change human behavior is by thinking about it totally different. That's just removing obstacles. It's a lot easier to fall than it is to push somebody, for instance, and so we don't... Death Wish has never been deceptive in anything that they do. I mean, we've created things where we're like, "This is solid," and it's like just like that one word has thrown off to make it even appear like we might not be like fully transparent, so we've fully mopped the whole thing up and had to redo it again.
Will: But I think just making it very easy for the people who are getting the email to know like, "Okay. Hey, this is what I'm getting. This is what it looks like. This is really cool. We put our Death Wish spin on it, and there's only one place you can go, and that is..." Ideally, that's the product detail page, not the unsubscribe button. Some people do that, but... So, and that was really helpful. It allowed Thomas to be way more creative and just like use that real estate to do that. It allowed us to be more specific about how we describe things.
Will: Then, The Scoop. I mean, it's crazy because like I think like the sales emails have just been so awesome. But then, it's like, "Oh, yeah. We have this really cool thing called The Scoop." We focus on the three main components. We've got our community block, and then we have our community block. We have our written or a blog block, and then we have the Fueled by Death Cast. So what that allows us to do is then every Monday now, when we switch those things up, so now the podcast gets more of a share of voice.
Will: I think I even told you. I was like, "I'm telling you right now. We put the podcast at the top, you're going to see a 10X in clicks," and it almost happen all the time. Sometimes, I've been surprised by the amount of people that have gone to the podcast because it's just... It's crazy because we have so much action inside of the email in the first place, so like, "Let's just give them content."
Will: Then, the other cool thing is that the people who received it know that we're not selling anything. There's never been anything for sale in The Scoop, which I think is really important for us to instill that belief and try something we don't have... Not that we didn't have it, but I think by showing them like, "Hey, look. You're going to get content. You're going to be able to read everything." You know that when you open this, you've got about a two-minute gaze of things that might make you laugh because people want a return for their attention. So they open the email, say, "I want to laugh. I want to be smart, or I want to listen to a podcast."
Will: They know what they're getting themselves into. There's nothing deceptive. We're not going to like, "Here's a mug release," and click it inside of a blog or in between a blog and a podcast. It's just all content. I think there's been a really great response from the community on that. We have a lot of cool things coming out with that moving forward, and so that's just been... That's been a lot of fun, and I was a little paranoid about doing that too because the team here is so lean, and so like I was like, "Hey, let's just not..." The other thing with The Scoop is that we don't just pull high-performing blogs anymore.
Will: We sit in the beginning of the month, and we talk about like, "Let's turn Gene Simmons into Richard Simmons after drinking Death Wish Coffee, and then write a conspiracy theory blog about it. So it's like we're writing things that are very specific to that that you pretty much sometimes you can only find The Scoop. Sometimes, the whole blog is in the email. We don't even...
Will: We've directed links to people who have... people from our community who made the [Neem 00:23:02] cookies.
Will: We put her on the head. I think you have the top of the email, and we looked at the clicks afterwards. Like we brought like 900 people to our business, which I think like to me it's cool.
Will: It's at the point. It's like we're not trying to generate sales out of it. We're trying to create more of a connection with our community.
Will: I think it's been awesome, so it's like... It's been a lot of fun.
Jeff: I think one of the greatest things that we've done in the past year has been The Scoop, and it's because of that. Mike Brown built this company on wanting to fuel people's passion. He obviously wants to create a good cup of coffee. He obviously wants to sell that cup of coffee, and he wants to have a successful business. But at the end of the day, he wants to fuel your passion, and that's why he steered this company into random areas that have worked out for us. Like we were the official coffee of New York Comic Con, and we've sponsored NASCAR, and we've done these things where we're not doing it necessarily to sell a bag of coffee, but we hope that your passion is in line with ours and you kind of dig it.
Jeff: So down the road, when you do see the bag of coffee for sale, maybe you go, "Oh, yeah." You know?
Jeff: "I saw that blog about Richard Simmons and Gene Simmons. I'm going to try this coffee." You know?
Jeff: I think that is really cool that we've been able to take all of the cool content that we have and highlight it without hurting the sales and also, being able to highlight the sales at the same time, and that's, I mean, 100% thanks to you.
Will: Let's be fair here. There's no way that I could have done any of the... I can't create the content. I can't create the design, and that's the thing. Like I've said this at any opportunity that I have to, it's that... Like even, again, working with a traditional media company and publishing company, and then working in my own agency, and then working here. I have like never worked with people who are so good at their job like I wish... I actually get excited about how I say that sometimes because I wish someone was in the room who will try to challenge that and say like, "Oh, is there like... but like I know somebody better." It's like, "You probably don't."
Will: I mean, there's so many talented people that work in marketing and advertising. I don't ever want to discredit that, but I also think like when you look at how... If you think about like coffee is the second most consumed beverage next to water on Earth, right? Then, you think of... Like you don't need to... That fact doesn't need to, isn't a prerequisite for having to understand how competitive the coffee space is when you think of companies like Folgers, and Maxwell, and Starbucks, and Dunkin', and all of these companies.But you don't see anybody, and I wish I had credit for this, but like you don't see anybody walking around with the Folgers t-shirt.
Will: That has a lot to do with the fact that because of the design, and the creativity, and the content, and the messaging that was done, that's not anything that I could ever do. I get excited thinking about the people I work with that like I get to work next to these titans in this arena. It's like I'm just... I'm like a cog in this whole component, which I think is... It's awesome to be here.
Jeff: Yeah. It is. It is, and speaking...
Will: That was my raise pitch, by the way.
Jeff: Love it. Speaking of being here, what was it like... We've talked about basically what your job is now, and what your role is now, and how you fit into this machine, the cog and the machine like you said. What was it like day one? When you walked into this job, I know that you were interviewed by a few of us, and actually, we went out to lunch before you even were handed the job specifically. So you met some of the team, but...
Will: Then, I tried to steal ketchup or suggest somebody stealing tea.
Will: Tea. Right.
Will: Right, right. Yeah, yeah. Classy.
Jeff: Your first day on the job, did you have an expectation and it wasn't the same? Was it what you expected walking in day one, or was it completely different?
Will: I tried about a year ago to remove expectation from just about anything. I learned a lot of those lessons from running my agency, so I tried to like do without expectation or go without expectation, just kind of have my plan to kind of accomplish things, and then see how it lays out. So I remember the first day when I got home, I was talking to Kelsey, my girlfriend. I was like, "Tomorrow is going to be a rough day because today was too good, like today was too good."
Will: Then, the next day is when I think I did a lot of my one-on-ones and met like more of the team, and I was like, "Get the fuck out of here." I was like, "Come on, man." Like there was just so much awesome energy and people who just like were really eager to be here, and that's the thing too. One of the reasons why I started Unveil is like when I get to... I get to wake up every day, and I never complained about John, or Steve, or Sarah, or this. Like I just got to do what I loved, and I was like... I got to complain about how I managed my business because that was always the pain, but I was never... Like I loved what I did and I loved who I did it with, and I think like that's been something that's absolutely carried on over here, so I think... I wasn't expecting anything too rough around the edges. I didn't think anybody was going to try to shock me or not.
Will: I very quickly realized and understood that there's a big family element to the people who work here, especially because it's been a very like tight-knit group that have been pretty much here since the beginning. So I think it's hard to really kind of articulate that to people who aren't a part of it, especially from where I... like the environments that I come from like both personal and professional, so it's been pretty awesome to share the experience with... like to come to work every day. I work from home sometimes. I live about an hour away from here, and so like I get bummed when I have to work from home because the weather sucks because like, "I want to go hang out with my friends and go do cool stuff." You know what I mean?
Jeff: You do live on a mountain, and when it snows, it's very treacherous.
Will: I got in a wreck and still made it to work yesterday 10 minutes late.
Jeff: You did? You did, you did. So we've talked about work. The other side of it is what keeps us passionate in life.
Jeff: You mentioned it earlier, and it's something I've been really wanting to talk about. You used to not only just play paintball. You used to play paintball professionally.
Jeff: Can you talk about how you got into that? How does one become a professionable... professional paintball player?
Will: I like professionable.
Jeff: There we go.
Will: There are no such thing as professionable paintball players either. So I'm not an '80s kid. I'm '90s kid, but so I think the... I got into computer video games when I was like eighth grade.
Jeff: All right.
Will: It was like first-person shooter.
Jeff: Counterstrike? Half-Life?
Will: Counterstrike. Exactly, that's what it was. Yeah.
Jeff: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Will: I grew up on that.
Jeff: That was my college years.
Will: Yeah. I was like trying to get my parents to get DSL or broadband because 56K wasn't cutting it anymore, you know?
Jeff: Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Will: It was my freshmen in high school, and this kid above me. I was in a biology class or something. He had this paintball magazine. I'm like, "Oh, it's pretty cool." He actually let me take it home, and so me and my best friend who lived down the street from me, we're just looking through. We got a couple paintball guns, and it kind of just... That's how we got started then. It's like how everybody kind of gets involved like, "I want to try it out." You know?
Will: So I very quickly... It wasn't about like the woods ball component. I like the competitive side of it and just played. I had a Spyder, which is great, and I don't even know if they make Spyders anymore. I'm so out of touch with paintball at this point, but they... I had a Spyder XPS or something like that, and I went from doing that to getting my first tournament gun to I played... The first team I ever played for was a D3 team called The Crazy '88s. We played in the first ever national... Actually, the first tournament I've ever done was a national tournament.
Jeff: It was the first national tournament ever?
Will: No, the first national tournament...
Will: So there's a lot of regional like local tournaments you can play, but I played with a team that like was playing on Division 3, so it's D3, D2, D1, semi-pro, and pro.
Will: So D3 is the bottom of like any regional or national.
Will: So I played with The Crazy '88s, and we lost every single game and like... Again, at this point, we're playing seven-man, so it's like you play one game, and then you had to play also on Sunday kind of thing. The whole goal is to get to Sunday. We lost every single game, and I think the same thing that I thought about when I started Unveil was probably happening around then because I was like, "Man, these guys are holding me back," kind of thing.
Will: Like I wanted to kind of play with people who are more like my style, and I thought I had... I think I was starting to get better and learned. I played a lot like I practiced in the back of my house. I had my parents take me to practice every single week. There was a time where I practiced 54 out of 56 weekends in a row. Like I never missed a practice, and half of those were in Southern California or Northern California, and I lived in Reno, so those are commutes all the time.
Will: So yeah. Then, I went from the '88s to a team called Brigade, and that's where I got a lot of my understanding and fundamentals down, and then Brigade to Wisdom, which is D2, and then they went... Then, our team disbanded, and I joined a team called Oakland Fusion. We were D1, and then I very quickly got... I guested for a pro team. They were the OC Bushwhackers, which is like an old... I know. It's funny too, so OC Bushwhackers, and then played with them for a little while.
Will: Then, I got bounced around from San Diego Aftermath to Oakland Fusion when they end up going up to pro. Actually, in 2007, won the National NPPO like world champions of seven-man with Oakland Blast, but in all fairness, like I played one game in that whole suite, but they won like many tournaments. I got to like... I was guesting because one of their players wasn't available kind of thing.
Jeff: All right.
Will: So I got to be a world champion even though I contributed like... I actually was like... I got beat by them playing against them on other team, so it was cool. But yeah, like that was my plan. When I was like 16... I went pro at 17, 17, and so that was my plan. I was going to do that for the rest of my life, and then I got to travel all over the country. I made absolutely no money. It's like I hardly made... I made very minimum money from sponsorship.
Jeff: Were you sponsored?
Will: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Will: Full ride from... depending upon the team, so with Oakland... With OC Bushwhackers, we had Bob Long sponsorship. With Oakland, it was a diet sponsorship with SDA. It was a diet sponsorship. It was like you don't have to pay for anything at that level. You're not paying for pay. You just got to kind of pay for travel sometimes, but if you win a tournament, then everything kind of gets kicked back.
Will: But I didn't even care about the components to making the money like I was like, "I'm going to play paintball until I'm 40. This is what I'm going to do," and like that was my plan. But then, I just ended up... I tore my meniscus, and then I had another knee injury, then another knee injury, then a torn meniscus, and then a... Actually, the last time I played was when I was in New York like six years ago, and I tore my meniscus again. I was like, "Maybe it's just time to hang up the gloves on that one," unfortunately, but...
Will: Yeah. It was a ton of fun.
Jeff: You were on ESPN, correct, for this?
Will: Yeah, yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jeff: That's pretty cool.
Will: Yup, in the... It was the Huntington Beach Tournament in 2006. I think it was like one of the few times ESPN aired it.
Will: It was like, "We got to figure something else out here," kind of thing. I think ESPN was reaching for things, and it's... I mean, paintball now is... Definitely, I grew up real fast. Like being around a lot of older, cooler guys like a lot of life lessons learned from it, and it's the greatest time of my life like in the sense of everything. I was done with it, but...
Jeff: That's awesome. What would you say your strength was in paintball?
Will: Well, this is me pretty contained. I think you probably know that too. I'm like a get-it kind of person, so I think like I was a very energetic player. Typically, what I did is I played mid, and then I filled in for front. So if our front player or our snake player was shot, then I would fill in for him.
Jeff: Uh-huh (affirmative).
Will: I think my biggest skillset was I was really good at snap-shooting, and snap-shooting is essentially when you know someone is, let's say, 25. Like is that your mirror because the paintball field is mirrored, so it's like... We call it like the 50 is the center. It's not the 50 yard line, but it's like...
Jeff: Right. But it's the center line, right?
Will: Yeah. I think a paintball field is probably 60...
Jeff: Each one is basically the same?
Will: Where if I'm on like the right tower on the 20, there's a right... It's their left tower on the 20 kind of thing.
Will: So snap-shooting was probably something I was probably... I thought I was really good at, and that also came from practicing with pros. So snap-shooting, first off, is when if you know somebody is there like at your mirror, you're getting kind of pinched in by, it's like being able to come out very quickly and shoot once or twice, then come back in, and take a shot, and then being able to like change levels and not be predictable. But that came from doing pro practice where we would do snap-shooting drills, and there's like a coach.
Will: This is actually the first pro practice I ever had. This guy that owned... Ron Kilbourne. He owned the Bushwhackers, and he would stand facing you like there was him and then... I can't remember the other guy that was like facing the other guy, and they would actually load either marbles or frozen paint like very like dense, heavy paint.
Jeff: Oh my gosh.
Will: So the whole point was that you would come out and shoot, and obviously, you're getting shot like you're usually trading with the person, but you'd have to go through a whole hop, which is about 150, 200 shots at the time. So you just come out, do one, one, and every time you got shot, if you flinched because... Again, people wipe in paintball. Like that's how you know. Like you get away with it, and so like you get a penalty for that.
Will: So if you shoot and flinched, then he would shoot you as well like, I mean, from this far away. Paintball goes 300 feet per second. It's 200 miles an hour. I mean, it hurts. It sucks, but at that level too, you're kind of getting passed out a little bit. You're not like doing things because you're worried about the pain from getting shot. You don't want to like let your team down.
Will: It's a very community team or sport, and so every time you would flinch from getting shot, you would get shot again by him from a much denser, heavier ball, and it would... Yeah, I think. So that just got me really good at just being very quick in snap-shooting, and then... Yeah, yeah.
Will: It was a lot of fun though. It was so much fun.
Jeff: That's so cool. If you were to think back on it, is there a crazy moment or an insanely cool moment that you think of?
Will: Absolutely. Oh, yeah. Unfortunately, it's the beginning of my demise, and that was... It was when I was playing with Fusion, and we were playing against one of our biggest rivals that we had throughout the season. So a breakout goes, and so essentially, everybody kind of goes out, and so I ended up shooting the guy who was my mirror, who was actually the best player on their team. He was a very good professional player.
Will: I shot him off the break, and I didn't even know about it, and then I got into a gun fight immediately after with another guy from across the field, and I went to move, and when I like... I was kind of in this power stance. It's kind of like a sitting position more or less. When I went up to shoot at him, I shot him in his bunker, so I moved up to take more advantage like real estate on the field.
Will: When I did, I just felt this weird pop thing in like in my knee, and I fell to the ground, and I was like, "I can't die during a paintball right now," and so I kind of crawled up, and I was just like, "I don't know what's going on in my knee," but I was also... it's a game like it's a... I think this is a Sunday game, so there's a lot of adrenaline going into it.
Jeff: Oh, yeah.
Will: So I ended up kind of posing on this guy sitting on my knee still, and the guy... I kind of got in an exchange with him, and I timed him right. I knew he was going to come over to shoot at my snake player, I just like one-shot shot as he like... I shot. The ball came up. He came up. I shot him like Cyclops and like put him in the goggles. I knew at this point, I was like, "Well, I'm going to get killed at this point because I don't have like... I have no mobility, so I should run on it." So I just got up and ran down the field, and I shot the other two players out on the field, so I actually shot the whole team out.
Jeff: Holy crap.
Will: Half, three... four. Four of those five, I did with a tore meniscus, and then I immediately feel to the ground, and then it was just like... That's like the adrenaline pain. Like everything kicked in, but it was by far the coolest moment, for sure.
Jeff: Your team must have loved you.
Will: They thought I just tripped too, and I'm like, "No, I'm in serious pain right now." I never had any significant like cartilage or anything like a broken bone, but I mean, like this like definitely felt uncomfortable in a different way. They're like, "Oh, great job. Like you tripped back there?" I'm like, "No, like carry me." My knee was just like this huge like watermelon the next day.
Jeff: Oh my gosh.
Will: Yeah, but that was definitely the best moment.
Jeff: Do you miss it?
Will: I do. Actually, I've thought about it like... There's probably not a week that goes by that I don't think about getting back involved and playing again, but for me, it's still hard to think about playing it without like... If I were to go play this weekend, I wouldn't think like, "I'm going to go play. I'm going to go practice." That's like just kind of how my mindset is. I definitely miss it, and I definitely would... Like I can't say like I would love to get back into it because I think that I will always kind of be in it in some way or another. I think I'll definitely... I just need to... I want to. Yeah. I do, but I'm also like, "My poor knee." You know?
Will: It's so dumb too. Like I'm a healthy person, but just my left knee just hates specific positions, I guess, so just whatever.
Jeff: Yeah. Oh, wow, that's awesome. So through it all, that kind of brings us to the theme of this show. Through it all, you have what you love. You have this innate passion for not only something like paintball, but for your job, like you've shown that that like you got into the field... You went to school for the field you wanted. You got into the field you wanted, started a business doing what you wanted, and now you work for Death Wish, and you have expressed how happy you are here at Death Wish. What actually fuels you to keep doing what you do?
Will: So I always think of that too, what fuels me. It's not this. It's not paintball. It's not like winning or being the top thing. It's not like... Even for my birthday, for instance, like I had a hard time inviting people to come celebrate my birthday. So it's like I can't say it's like... I wish it was like a legacy thing. I think I'd probably be a better... like I feel I'd probably do better for myself if I was more focused on that kind of thing, but I genuinely think what fuels me is the opportunity to create value and things both with the people that I work with and the people that I communicate with that I'm lucky enough to communicate with.
Will: People in my personal life, but like specifically the professional component, it's... Sometimes, it become kind of like rhetorical like unintentional because I'll hear someone say something, and it's like I'll ask them a question, and it's almost like... It might even be condescending, but it's like I'm not even trying to be condescending. It's like I'm hoping that question is going to maybe make them think differently because I think it's... I inherently think it's providing value, and so I think like providing value for other people.
Will: It's funny because you also see that too. Like I think that everybody is like the greatest thing on like that you could do is serving other people or helping other people, and I feel like I don't subscribe to the helping component too much because I feel like I take a lot of self-ownership in helping like being responsible for myself. Not to say I disagree with it, but it's like I feel like however I can help them or help you become a better, mentally sound person or like more... just pressing your own envelope, if that makes sense.
Will: I haven't like vetted that one out entirely enough to make sense of it, but...
Jeff: No, that's...
Will: Yeah, I just... I don't know. I just love being... I love providing value. I love doing things. I love building and like doing things that like other people can like walk home and be like, "Holy shit. I did this thing or I created this thing." You know what I mean?
Jeff: That's awesome.
Will: I'm going to build off that world quick too. There is a book I'm reading right now, and this general, General Sherman, I believe, or Colonel Sherman. He's from the United States Air Force, and he's known for saying this quote, and it was, "To be or to do." So to be the all-star, the one who makes a billion dollars a year, and get all the cameras on you and the notoriety, and climb the high ranking, or to do.
Will: Like to do the thing where you're allowed to like focus on like doing things that help evolve it so that the people who want to be can be. There's no slide on the people who like want to be. Like I want to be depending upon where I am at during the day. Like sometimes I want to be, but it's like I think I get so much. It is what it is. It's like I just... like I want to do because, again, like I feel like understanding the distinction and where you lie. I don't personally think that there's anything wrong with either side of those things. I think that they're very different things if you commit to them, and so I think to do is like understand that it's like kind of subsiding the ego component to it and just like getting like to do.
Jeff: That's awesome.
Jeff: That's awesome, and it's uplifting to hear that too.
Will: It's all fluff.
Jeff: Oh, no. No, it's not. No, it's good. So final questions of the show.
Jeff: First of all, I've been starting to ask employees this now that have perspective of the company and have been here for a while. Where do you see Death Wish in the next three to five years? Where do you think we're headed?
Will: I think that the low-hanging one that sticks out to me that I think that we are absolutely capable of doing in five years is I want to be in Saratoga or traveling in San Jose, and I want to hear someone who has no relation or partnership with me say like, "I'm going to go get a Death Wish." You know what I mean? Like in the same way that people say Starbucks.
Will: I think we're definitely... We're moving in that right direction. I don't know if that's a five-year thing, but I think that that's very possible. So to me, whatever we have to do to get that, and I hope Mike thinks that's a cool idea because like to me, like that's what I think would be cool. I think getting to that point would be great. We have so many cool product ideas, and we have a lot... We don't fall into the same restrictions. We don't have the rapport to the stakeholders and do all those things, so we have the license and liberty to do things that we think are genuinely going to work and not follow the same trend.
Will: Again, practice makes perfect, but it doesn't create new. Like Mike didn't practice roasting all of his life to become the savant roaster, but with enough practice in it and intuition, created the world's strongest coffee. Like differentiation aspect of it, and so I think we leverage the differentiation of what we have and continue to be different, but in a commanding sense. So I think whatever we can do to help separate ourselves intentionally, but not just all willy-nilly and being different. I want to hear people walking around saying, "I'm going to go get Death Wish." You know?
Will: I think that would be cool.
Jeff: Yeah, me too. So then, finally, is there somewhere, is there some facet of humanity that we haven't touched upon that you think we should? Is there a culture? Is there a spot, a marketing, a ploy that we haven't tried? Is there something that we haven't tried that you think we should be looking towards?
Will: I feel like you know like five of my 20 responses to this too. So I mean, beyond... It's almost funny because I almost don't want to say it because I'm worried that somebody like other coffee companies are going to see it, but it's like... I mean, there's a huge opportunity for Twitch. I mean, Cold Brew, our Cold Brew line and what we're going to be doing with that, it's so sexy. It's so cool. It's cleaner. It's way more caffeine than Red Bull. I think there's a such great opportunity to make connection with that younger audience who are getting buying power because you can... 12 and 13-year-old kids can buy things with Apple Pay. They don't need a credit card, so getting...
Jeff: Yeah. Yeah.
Will: Looking at what that looks like. I mean, when you look at traditional sports like e-sports is very much so becoming a part of that and likely will become a part of that main staple sport. People watch hundreds... Millions of people watch a professional video game competition take place all the time.
Will: But I think there's a lot of really cool ways that we can get in front of that. I think that as well as good as our branding and marketing is, I think that we're so... Like we don't look at all the things that are going on around us and how we could maybe capitalize on that, and so I think... and not that it's a bad thing. I think it's just because we're so focused on what we do and how we do it. I think like all we have to do is make some slight little shifts or expansions and be more recognized by marketing agencies and media organizations in the way that some of our competitors do a good job.
Will: I think kind of looking at that, and I think that there's... When I was in Boston in September talking about The Scoop, and I asked everybody like, "Who here doesn't drink coffee?" I think like three people didn't raise their hand, and again, this is a big marketing conference. It's like three people didn't... or three people raised their hands. "Okay. So who here hasn't heard of Death Wish?" It was like seven or eight times that amount of people. I was like, "Wow." Like to me, that was a good thing because I'm like, "That's the void." You know what I mean?
Will: That's the proof that like there's all these like high-level marketing professionals who have never heard of our company yet. We're known for our marketing and our branding, and so to me, like that's such a huge opportunity.
Will: I'm really excited to kind of step into that, get more into the workspace, work environment aspect, and then... I mean, just the younger generation. I think it's such a great opportunity for us especially because they do have buying control and they get to... They decide who they want to buy their products from not based upon just marketing, but I mean, the honesty and transparency. You can't hide. You can't lie about things anymore. You know what I mean? You can't, and you can...
Jeff: You get found out. Yeah.
Will: You can delete a tweet, but it's really easy as... Many celebrities know about that. So I mean, I think we've always been really consistent with any mistake or flaw that we have. It's like everybody knows about them. We don't try to run away from that.
Will: So I think that that generation is absolutely looking at that first like, "Are you transparent? Are you honest? Do I align with you? Cool. Then, now, maybe I'll consider drinking your coffee or reppin your brand." You know what I mean?
Will: I think we've checked those boxes. We just need to be more intentional about wanting to be a part of their lives. I mean, we can't just expect it because we have it kind of thing.
Jeff: That's true. That's true. That's so awesome. So you're a big part of our community not only internally, but externally as well. Is there any... For people who want to follow your journey outside of Death Wish, is there any social media that you adhere to that you'd like to talk about, or none, or?
Will: Yeah. I'd love to because as I said, I'm a laymo, and the only thing I do is... Like I love what I do, and so I mean, the only social media I'm even remotely next to is LinkedIn, but that's... Again, because I just, A, because I like to... Sorry, this is such a tangent, but it's like I actually enjoy... This is how pathetic I am. I enjoy like I follow certain people who I like, again, maybe interested and I like.
Will: I know a poser when I see a poser. It's like you know a poser when you see a poser, and it's like... So I'll follow some people who I feel like are posers just to kind of see the kind of stuff that they do because again, like I feel... That's my comedy like funny videos and stuff like I'm just like, "Look at this person who has no idea what they're talking about." Like it's just this weird probably like condescending, egotistical thing that I do. It's a classic now. Everybody knows about it, but yeah, LinkedIn definitely. Instagram. I go on spurts. I'll post like three or four times in a month, and then I won't do it for six months, but Instagram is to others because I'm silly and stupid.
Jeff: Yeah, because you're silly.
Will: I'm silly and stupid, and then LinkedIn is just my name and...
Jeff: Facebook is your name too.
Will: Facebook is my name too. I actually had just my birthday a week ago, and I had a bunch of people comment on my birthday, and I'm like, "I need to get back on that," because I haven't even acknowledged anybody and thanked anybody, but...
Jeff: That's awesome. Do you want throw your Tik Tok out there?
Will: I do not because I don't want anybody to know. I love Tik Tok, man.
Jeff: I know you do.
Will: It's such a fun, cool thing. It's silly. I think it will evolve. I don't necessarily think Tik Tok itself is going to be the thing. I think the...
Jeff: It will evolve into something.
Will: I think the little spawn from it.
Will: I think it's close, but it's also... I'm going to go in a rant. It's also people who like... I'm a middle-aged millennial, but like an elder millennial would look at Tik Tok I think the same way as like a Gen x looked at Facebook. Oh, it's like that Facebook thing. I feel like that's happening right now. Everyone is like, "Oh, Tik Tok is just for kids." It's like that doesn't mean that that's not going to be super important to the hundreds of millions of people who are using it on an everyday basis who grew up with Tik Tok, not Facebook. Some of them, instagram. You know?
Will: I think Tik Tok is going to be... Like again, it might not be specifically... Tik Tok might be the MySpace to the Tok Tik or whatever it is.
Jeff: Right. Yeah, whatever the next generation is going to be.
Jeff: Yeah, it's interesting.
Will: It's cool when you see kids too like they're... Me, again. Like I love video games growing up as a kid, so it's like I would never like... I had my friends who knew that I love video games, but that was like the thing that everybody kind of picked on you for.
Will: It's like you had to be the jock kind of thing.
Will: But now, it's like even with Tik Tok, you see kids who are like making gaming videos who are just like just your average... like Little Billy, you know?
Will: Like who's just this kid, but it's like everybody is so inclusive, and so these kids will like make these really ridiculous funny videos about a video game like in their bedroom in a way that you would never catch somebody who graduated in 2006 doing that on camera. You know what I mean? These kids are like, "Yeah, this funny video rendition I made of me playing Call of Duty, I'm going to put it on Tik Tok." Then, all of a sudden, that video is so ridiculous. This kid now has a hundred thousand followers.
Will: I think it's cool to see like this evolution of like things that are... I don't want to say like... People I think are becoming more accepting, which as we always should, but it's cool to see like the shift in like what's cool and what risks like kids are willing to take when like I was like, "That's risky." But it's like this kid is like, "What are you talking about? You're an ass for thinking that's risky. That's just what I do." I think that's so cool. I think it's so cool.
Jeff: It is so cool, and what else is cool is being able to sit down and talk with you. Thanks so much for being on the show. I learned a lot. I loved doing this and having the employees on because not only do our listeners and viewers get to learn more about what makes Death Wish tick, but I get to learn about the people I work with.
Will: That's awesome, man.
Jeff: Thank you so much.
Will: It's like I'm stoked. I've been waiting a year for this.