Media Entrepreneur, Carlos Leon, Started his own production company when he was 20 years old and launching his studio at 23, and now he has worked with some of the biggest companies such as Warner Brothers, MTV, Sirius Radio, Discovery Channel and VH1.
He founded his media company CML Studios in the summer of 2006, His media company offers a clean ample facility to independent producers, filmmakers and photographers at low costs. The studio is ideal for any video production or photography shoots including music videos, shorts films, commercials, casting calls, instruction videos, modelling sessions, corporate videos and commercial photography shoots.
Hello Carlos, how is it going so far? Thanks for taking your time to be on YHP, How was your weekend?
Hello Joseph, Thank you for the opportunity and interest in my company. My weekend was fantastic, just got back from a conference of entrepreneurs where fashion designer Christian Audigier and Sir Richard Branson, my role model, were the keynote speakers. It was very inspiring and a great way to start a new week.
How did you raise money for your business?
They say necessity is the mother of invention, and that was the case with my first attempts in business. I started making web sites and small video projects for clients from my parent’s home. After some financial success and room for expansion, I was convinced to join a partnership that promised to provide me with my first office in an event preparation center in my hometown.
After agreeing to sign all of the leasing paperwork in my name and obtaining the keys to my first shared business location, one of the partners decided to quit, rent the location literally next to ours and start her own business with another partner. The partnership feel apart after I signed the dotted line and before I even got the keys. Definitely, my first real challenge in business at age 21.
I did get the small corner office I was promised, as well as the entire building for a business I knew nothing about and the full financial responsibility with little income.
Out of necessity, I worked 7 days a week, 12 hours a day for almost an entire year in order to complete the full financial responsibility with the failed partnership and a hunger for something bigger and better. For me it was enough money to move to Hollywood and open up my own production studio from scratch. I raised the capital by saving the old fashion way, by working as fast as I could, as hard as I could and spending very little.
I ended up saving my target goal in 10 months, moving to Hollywood and the rest is history. My former partner’s business completely failed and ended up closing just 12 months after I moved to Hollywood.
Another key to my success in indirectly raising funds ,or in this case resources, has been bartering. Once you have created a product or service that can be of value to others that also have something of value for you, an exchange of goods and services can be a very smart way of potentially saving thousands of dollars and expanding your network.
I have been able to barter with dozens of people that provide services to me such as photographers, editors, animators, etc in exchange for services I require for several of my projects and companies. I have been able to save thousands of dollars this way and it is a “win – win” situation for both parties.
How did you get such a strong customer base, Warner Brothers, Discover Channel, VH1, MTV to mention a few, how did you get them on your list?
Marketing in Hollywood is key and that is what it comes down to. By providing a production facility and services at good rates and projecting a clean, straight-forward image, I have been able to get many of the top entertainment companies use our facilities and services.
Clients from all over the world and from practically all 50 US States have booked our facilities over the phone by simply reviewing our website and online presence. Everything comes down to image and marketing.
Ironically, Hollywood is also like any neighborhood in any small city, everyone knows each other. Eventually you start meeting the same people and having the same group of friends and colleagues that recommend each other, so the networking aspect of my business is very important.
How has the journey been so far?
It has truly has been an amazing journey with many ups and downs. In Business, you have to find something you love to do and have a passion for and figure out a way to live off it. You need to sacrifice and be willing to take risks most people that just have a 9-5 are not willing to take. That is the difference between failure and success.
What has been your most memorable moment so far?
There are many memorable moments since I started my company but my proudest achievement is having been named One of America’s Best Entrepreneurs under 25 by BusinessWeek magazine. The media exposure and expansion of my network due to the publicity has been invaluable.
Other surreal moments have been when an important client shoots in my studio during the day and that same evening appears on a live national television show which shows their importance in the industry. Every time I have any sort of important client or company use our facilities or receive a quote request from halfway around the world, is very surreal for me.
What would you say has been the most important lesson you’ve learnt along the way?
The most important lesson I have learned along the way is to always be prepared for the worst and hope for the best. There is nothing worse than working very hard to start a company and not having enough resources or funds to sustain it if things do not go as planned. I have learned that saving is very important and that in business being organized in terms of scheduling and finances is crucial for success.
I have also learned that marketing is an essential key for success. Having a strong marketing presence is very important. I started my company by bartering a couple ads in a local business directory in exchange for building the directory’s website. I also simultaneously sent out 100 flyers to the closest businesses around me from which I received my first major marketing contract from a multi-million dollar multi-national company.
Years later I still have clients from these initial free marketing campaigns which shows the immense power of marketing. A small marketing campaign can create a butterfly effect that can spiral into a whole network of clients and referrals.
Where do you see in yourself and your business in the next 5 years?
I see a true explosive expansion in the next 5 years. For the past couple years I have been planting several business “seeds” like I like to call them. These are ideas, projects and brands that I have developing from scratch. They include a spanish online channel that we have completely branded, trademarked and shot numerous amounts of content for that we see turning into a viable media outlet in Latin America. They also include a new record label division that we are currently developing by finding and nurturing talent in different genres.
This expansion will also include offering additional multimedia services in our marketing and web design division as well as growing of our sales and marketing team. Finally we are planning on launching a new production studio and company headquarters on 10 / 10 / 10 with a show and celebration that will combine and showcase all of the projects and companies I have launched. More information can be found at cmlmediagroup.com/countdown
What is the most crucial decision you’ve made so far regarding your business?
The most crucial decision in regards to my business I have taken is moving to Hollywood. In business, location is very important, and instead of shying away from a big competitive market like Hollywood, I decided to take it head on, create a competitive and successful formula and market and create a company that is growing day by day in one of the hardest markets in the world.
Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
I truly admire Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Group of companies. I had the opportunity to see him speak at a conference just yesterday. I admire his creativity, courage and tenacity to take on established companies in several markets and create competitive alternatives to them. He is a true visionary that is changing the landscape in several industries. He knows how to balance an image of adventure and wealth with that of being humble and soft spoken.
I was able to witness this first hand one night in Hollywood on the famous Sunset strip as I waited outside for a cab after an event. Out of nowhere, and without any sort of security or entourage Richard walked right in front of me heading to the entrance of a hotel. I had the chance to shake his hand and show my admiration and he was very cordial. It is an experience I will never forget.
What sacrifices did you have to make to be a successful entrepreneur?
Sacrifice is definitely one of the keys to success. From the very beginning of my career I knew it was an important quality I had to master in order to succeed. I started my business with literally no money and knowing how to value every penny I made and spent.
Success as an entrepreneur and becoming financially independent comes down to delayed gratification. This means being 21 and making $500 that you invest it into an advertising campaign for your startup company. You can eventually turn that into $15,000 by age 24 thanks to clients who found you thru it versus spending the $500 immediately on a pair of high ends jeans.
In order for an entrepreneur to succeed from the early stages you need to be willing to make sacrifices many people are not willing to do. Maybe it is not going on that expensive vacation or buying the latest video game console all of your friends have. It is also about sacrificing a bit of your personal life, whether is be leisure time with friends or even a relationship that takes a lot of someone’s time.
It took me 10 months to save the amount of money I felt comfortable saving in order for me to make my big move to Hollywood. For those 10 months I had very little social life and worked very long hours 7 days a week. For the first few months of the company I decided to sleep on a simple sofa in my office and not buy fancy car until a couple years after the company was profitable. It is always my recommendation to live below your means in order to survive until you see a level of profit and comfort in your company. If you make $1,000, only spend $300 and save $700.
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?
I have many hobbies outside the workplace that include traveling, going to the movies, working out, jogging, dancing, going to networking events and enjoying nightlife such as nightclubs and pubs. It is very important to follow the philosophy of working hard and playing harder. In fact, every summer I make it a point to throw a big red carpet party at a Hollywood nightclub for people that are somehow involved with the company.
An active entrepreneur in both a business sense as well as social and recreational sense is very important to creating an overall healthy lifestyle. I enjoy meeting young entrepreneurs like myself who also enjoy traveling to top vacation resorts, going to business networking events and enjoying a couple drinks at a nightclub or pub. This transmits a balanced image that shows you can work hard and manage your workload but can also take time to enjoy hobbies and time off.
How do you go about marketing your business? What has been your most successful form of marketing?
Marketing has been the key to my success. I have tried many forms of marketing throughout my career including newspaper ads, television commercials, online advertising, mass mailers, sponsorships and viral marketing.
The most successful has definitely been internet advertising including paid ads on Google and free daily posts on CraigsList.org. Having a strong internet presence is very important. The internet is all about looking bigger than you truly are without deceiving the client and creating marketing strategies that you implement every single day.
In my business I have been able to book hundreds of clients from around the US and the world after they simply looked at my website. The next step after attracting the client’s attention is to be as informative and helpful as possible on the phone and the third is closing the deal, signing the contract and obtaining a financial guarantee.
The most indirect source of marketing is referrals and word of mouth. As an entrepreneur, your #1 priority must be the satisfaction of your client no matter how big or small the project is. A good track record is important because 10 happy clients can turn into 5 referrals that can multiple and turn into 100 clients without having to spend a penny of marketing per person.
How do you find people to bring into your organization that truly care about the organization the way you do?
In my line of work I have a large group of qualified people that work for me on a freelance, project by project basis. The type of project and budget determines the people I hire. A good way of finding good people is taking a common sense approach by reviewing their resume, interview performance and referrals. You can also build a prior relationship with them before committing to a paid position by bringing them on board as interns. This will show you their qualifications as well as their ability to function in a possible paid position.
How important have good employees been to your success?
Good employees, interns and volunteers are essential to a company’s success. You are only as good as the people you work with and manage. Throughout the years, I have worked with dozens of paid and unpaid workers in every capacity from hosting for the online channel, to shooting and editing video projects and marketing the production studio.
These people have put a great amount of time and energy into helping me building several aspects of CML. When you are hired by a major company to produce a project and you delegate several aspects of it to complete it, the success of the project not only depends on me but also on everyone that is involved in making it happen.
What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear?
My greatest fear is actually fear itself. It is to allow it to stop me from making a decision. Fear is probably the number one reason why people do not take a risk and start their own business. It is not a lack of money, creativity or ambition.
I manage the fear of failure by having a common sense approach, preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. If I decide to invest on something for my company, I wait until I have at least 3 times the amount of cash flow in order to invest. I do not put all of my “eggs in one basquet” and always have a plan B if plan A fails.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
I think the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur is Creativity, Sacrifice and Persistence.
Creativity is a must in business. You need to find a product or service, market it towards a niche market and find a way of monetizing it. You need to think outside the box and not let anyone tell you that what you are doing is not the right or conventional way. When I told most people I wanted to save some money, move to Hollywood and open up my own production studio, online channel and record label they thought I was crazy. You also need to find creative ways to
In business sacrifice is essential. You need to be prepared for very long hours, a reduced amount of time for leisure activities and be aware that you will not be having the typical 40 hour work week. It all comes down to delayed gratification and sacrifice.
Persistence is probably the most important quality or skill to develop. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs have made and lost fortunes and despite this they have had the persistence to keep on trying and succeed. There is nothing more rewarding for an entrepreneur than to execute an idea he has for a business and after trying several formulas finding the key to long term success.