Being Forward Obsessed with Pete Sena, Founder of Digital Surgeons


By Assemble

December 14, 2022

Pete Sena is a serial entrepreneur, futurist, investor and CEO coach. Amongst his many initiatives, he is the founder of Digital Surgeons, a brand experience design consultancy, and also runs the co-working space District, a founder community, podcast and much more.

Pete is a firm believer in being forward obsessed, and constantly learning new technologies to position yourself for success. In this episode we talk about opportunities to start businesses in AI, the importance of community in the next ten years, and some one-on-one consulting for yours truly.

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Nate Watkin: Welcome to our show, Pete.

Pete Sena: Good to be here.

Nate Watkin: Yeah, excited to have you. So much, uh, that we are gonna get to dive into today. But before we start, it's just a quick background on you. Where are you from and what did you want to be when you grew up?

Pete Sena: Yeah, that's a great question. So I grew up in southern Connecticut, a place called Milford. Um, so in the Northeast and in the States. And when I was a kid I wanted to be a game designer and, and make video games.

Nate Watkin: Interesting. And I, I think I I read that you started coding as like a preteen. Uh, was that something, was that the first thing that you got into was game design?

Pete Sena: Well, it's funny, it's a great question. The most of the roads that got me to where I'm at today all started out with this curiosity for wanting to be involved in video games or special effects for movies. So early on I was, you know, like most kids, uh, you know, eighties baby, I loved playing video games and ultimately was like, how do these things get made? And, you know, there, there wasn't this thing called Google or YouTube back then where you could just pop online and teach yourself. So, you know, you ended up at like bookstores, reading books and doing some different research. And I learned early on that one of the ways that these games got made was it's through this thing called programming. And that was really where a lot of it began is, you know, self-taught coder. Um, I remember having the, the borlin c plus plus books and the different books that they had at the time, uh, where you would like install a CD rom on a computer.

And, and, you know, that's ultimately where I started to learn code. And then through there I realized, okay, well you couldn't just code games cuz I was really big into graphics. I didn't want to just have one of those story-based games where words come up on, on the screen and you ask, you know, say yes or no and you know, or go to the dungeon or go to the, you know, the, the highway or whatever. So I realized I needed to make graphics too. And that's ultimately where, um, I got my, I got my hands on my first crack copy of Photoshop, sorry, Adobe, but now I spent a lot of money with these guys, uh, for the companies we run. But yeah, that's, that, those are the early days. I hope that that answers the question.

Nate Watkin: It's the Adobe freemium model, right? ?

Pete Sena: Yeah. Well we spend, we spend more than enough money with them now across the seven or eight companies I'm a part of. So they're, they're getting their, their fill.

Nate Watkin: I mean, you have your hands in so many different companies, which we'll get into, but it seems like the one defining company has been digital surgeons, which you've been running now for 19 years, I believe. Tell me the story of how you started that. And I believe it was just $5,000 you had to start that company initially.

Pete Sena: Yeah, so I, I originally started what was the idea of digital surgeons while in my Yukon dorm room. And at the time I was doing some work with a pretty large sports company and I had this idea for combining design and development. And at the time, um, I was getting a lot of people telling me that I could do this or that, uh, and the job I was at and that sort of thing. And I really always believed in this idea of, and, and today it's preposterous to think of something being this or that cuz everyone does the and thing. You know, you've got designers who code, um, you've got, you know, writers who design, you've got lots of different things. But back then the, the really the early days was when I started digital surgeons. I wanted to bring those two disciplines of design and technology together.

I didn't know about business, I just wanted to make cool stuff for the internet. And at that time there wasn't that much cool stuff on the internet. Um, so I was sort of early in that time, around the time where this thing called the digital agency was getting created. You know, you had shops like Motor Media, which was founded here in Connecticut starting at the early advent of digital. But I got into it and I got really into it. And what I always tell people is that one of my superpowers is obsession. Not just passion, but obsession. And I really, really dive into stuff. So when digital surgeons first was born, it was me just, you know, starting out with like, making websites for like my dad's friends companies and, you know, local businesses and that sort of thing. And then after doing that for the first year or two, it was exhausting.

It was exhausting because I didn't like sales and business development. I didn't like all the other things that went into, um, building a agency or a software dev shop or whatever you wanna call it. And it was at that point that I met my business partner, uh, Dave Salinas, and he was a very talented and gifted, uh, business developer and sort of strategy mind. And the two of us, uh, sort of had this interesting serendipitous connection, um, through, through, you know, local friends and local networks. And the two of us sort of came together and said, well, what if we could do something differently? Um, and I didn't know anything about business. The, the joke that we always said was, okay, we'll do a three month trial and if it works out, we'll become partners and it doesn't work out, we'll go our separate ways.

But at the, you know, I had digital surgeons, it was my thing and I was gonna let him into it if things worked out after that three month period. Here we are, 19 years later, probably a half a dozen businesses that we've built together, you know, easily 10 or more investments that we've made together. And, and those numbers are probably much larger than, than I'm giving credit for. And we took $5,000 together in credit cards, put it into a pot. And the company that, you know today as digital surgeons was born at that time, and when I say the company, you know, today, what I mean specifically is we went from being a solopreneur, you know, me doing my own thing to actually starting to hire people and working with larger clients and working our way up market and that sort of thing. So that's the early origin story of digital surgeons. Does that answer the, the main question?

Nate Watkin: Yeah, yeah. Really cool to hear about and something that I have a lot of familiarity with. I started my first company out of our dorm, uh, a dorm room as well.

Pete Sena: Right on.

Nate Watkin: But yeah, then grew the production company for many years in Los Angeles. So, uh, I can relate, I can relate to that. That's, uh, that's really cool. And along the way, I mean, you as mentioned, you've started so many other companies. Uh, tell me a little bit about the co-working space that you started district.

Pete Sena: Yeah, no, for sure. So before I tell you about district, what I want to help you and the audience understand is just the way that I think about digital surgeons, because I think that we we're unlike other ad agencies in that we are makers, marketers, and entrepreneurs. And I think that a lot of agencies, um, that are out there, or consultancies, you know, they have clients and they do great things, but what I think makes us unique is the way that we think about business and creativity specifically, and putting those two things together. Because ultimately earlier when we, when we were first doing district, which is so much more than a co-working space, it started from this idea. And I believe that all great businesses start from an idea and a real problem, uh, specifically an unserved or an unmet need that people have. And at that time, the unmet need, you mentioned that you did a production company in LA at the time, my partner and I had this idea to bring together multidisciplinary talent.

So we asked ourselves the question, most great ideas start with questions, in my opinion. We, we said, why don't great engineers and great photographers and great videographers and great designers and great writers and great storytellers and great business people, why don't they all work together? You know, why do they all go off and start separate companies and, you know, have their, their wins and their losses? What if there could be like a Hollywood model, you know, in Hollywood, as, you know, doing a lot of work in production, um, you have these teams that come together and they become SWAT teams and they assemble and disassemble and reassemble based on the needs. Um, so we, you know, I had this idea for like a creative mecca where we could bring everyone together. We were actually gonna call it Mecca, probably a good thing we didn't because it would be appropriating the amazing pilgrimage to Mecca.

And that would probably have been a bad name , that we would've ended up adding the change. But we had this idea to bring people together on under one roof. Um, and at the time, co-working wasn't a thing. You know, this is pre WeWork, this is pre, you know, a lot of the models that were doing co-work, the only models for were like what Regis was doing back in the day with like shared office space, but it was very corporate, it was a little bit stale. Again, they'd done a great job recently in, in, you know, reimagining things. But back then that didn't exist. So, um, really, like most great things, you know, necessity is the mother of invention. And we had a lease, uh, believe it or not, a building across the street that we were in, in New Haven. And we had these high ceilings and this cool industrial feel, and we're like, all right, well, our lease is up in like a year.

We're gonna think about someplace we need to move to. We didn't wanna leave New Haven because New Haven had this really interesting charm. You know, you've got Yale and New Haven, you've got almost like a, an interesting small upstart of a city. You know, it's, it's, it's similar to what Brooklyn, or similar to, you know, the early days of Austin, obviously Austin is blown up, but I would say akin to a lot of, lot of the, the Brooklyn vibes early on, or the Austin Vibes, new Haven's got, you know, it's a small study with a big heart and a a lot of charm. So we didn't wanna leave New Haven, and we were looking for office space, and we were reminded of this idea of what if we could bring together entrepreneurs and creatives and bring a community of innovators around. So we launched district, what we did is we bought a abandoned bus depot, uh, which was actually across the street from our original office that we leased from.

And we, we raised a bunch of capital. We invested a bunch of our own capital, we built district. And what district is, is it's a tech innovation campus. Um, we're home to the largest venture capital company in the state of Connecticut, Connecticut Innovations. Um, we have created a space and a haven for entrepreneurs in a big way where they come together through a community and it just so happens to have a coworking space, um, which is doing really well, which, um, even w even in the, in the, the face of Covid, we've expanded twice, um, for the physical size just based on the demand for that. So what we're really proud of is this space now that, you know, unlike a WeWork that rents a building and brings people together, we own the asset, we own the building, we're able to shape the culture and the community in a way that really serves the, the market here.

And we've seen some great things, right? Uh, one of our companies that's in the coworking space just raised, I think about 20 million in venture capital. A couple months ago, another company just sold to a medical device company for a couple hundred million dollars. So we're seeing some amazing things. And our thesis backed 10 years ago was if we could bring together like-minded and diverse minded people that all had this one shared interest in building businesses, magic could happen. And we're just getting started. You know, we've got our, a podcast studio here on campus, a video studio called District Studios on campus. So it's really evolved a lot from just bringing people together to now a community of companies all working together and finding ways to bring their vision to life. So that's district, um, and obviously a lot more than a co-working space.

Nate Watkin: Yeah, that's, uh, that's really interesting. And going back to what you were saying about the Hollywood model, and I guess your initial vision of that, did you see it as just these, these teams of independent creatives or technologists or designers that could then come together? So, uh, almost a a a sort of a agency in a sense, uh, but just a new model of agency, and if so, how has that vision updated for the future world that we live in now?

Pete Sena: Yeah, well, I think there's a lot of factors that are driving this future economy, right? We've got the gig economy, we've got the remote economy. Um, I, I would be remiss to not mention the circular economy in some cases, but I think what I'm probably the most equipped and passionate to talk about on this conversation is really evolving business models. So I mentioned earlier what digital surgeons has essentially become, you know, fast forward 17 years later is a power plant. It's been a power plant to help to start and spark a lot of other businesses. So while I would say like our primary need in the market is helping people to create brand experiences and stories, I tell people their story is their strategy and how they express it makes the difference between, you know, breakthrough results or medio mediocrity in some cases. So I think what digital surgeons is doing is, yes, we've got a lot of large clients that we do branding and brand experience design for and growth marketing for, but really I think the magic of it is we eat our own dog food.

What I mean by that specifically is not only are we building products for our clients, but we're building products for ourselves and we're solving problems for ourselves. So because we're not afraid to put our money where our mouth is, and because we understand, you know, what we believe is, is good business building, it's really enabled us to have a lot of great success. And I'm inspired by that because I think the future agency model, to answer your earlier question, it's not just about bringing people together that are independence. For me, it's about finding the adjacencies where when you put these things together, it's not just two plus two equals four, but two plus two equals five. Um, you know, again, I'm an eighties baby, so when I say things like Voltron, which you see here behind me on the, in the video, not a lot of folks know who Voltron is, but if you don't know who Voltron is, it was essentially all these different people that were coming together. They were all a bit of underdogs, and when they came together, they had these different sort of lion robots. They would all come together and, you know, unlock this super powerful character called Voltron. And I say that because it's really been an inspiration and how I build businesses. It's like, it's not about individuals. It's about how individuals unlock superpowers when they work together. And that's, I think, the power of creativity is ultimately just connecting things.

Nate Watkin: Yeah. And you run a, a, a brand experience design agency, so you are helping teams and companies, but at the same time, you're also a c e o coach, so you're helping people, uh, it sounds like on a, on an individual level as well. And one thing that, uh, you've said before is that you're forward obsessed. What does that mean to you?

Pete Sena: Yeah, well, the one thing I want to just make sure to cover too for the audience is that my co-founder and I started the business. We ran it together as sort of like a two-headed monster, if you will. So, uh, there was periods of time where he was the ceo, periods of time where I was the ceo, because I, I believe you can only have one ceo. Um, because when you have two CEOs, it, it just, it gets messy. Um, but ultimately now we've installed an amazing leadership team at digital surgeons. You know, an amazing president, an amazing chief operating officer, uh, chief experience officer. So the team now is really equipped to be running and growing the company on its own. And what I realized is I had this moment, which I call like Mike, sort of light bulb, green zone moment where I realized what I love to do most is coach leaders and not just coach them in the, like an executive coach, which I think is, is great.

I've had some great executive coaches in my life, but really like helping to be that consigliere. So founder, coach, CEO, coach, I've coached CMOs. Um, and really what it does is it activates a two of the things I love to do most, which is listen and connect the dots. So as a CEO and founder coach, now, a lot of our larger clients, what the role that I'll play is not running the day-to-day agency of digital surgeons, which we've got a great leadership team doing. Now what I can do is sort of go, detach, go inside of these, uh, clients' organizations and really help them figure out what's gonna unlock their vision or help them co-create or shape their vision. So that's when I do, you're absolutely right. I do a lot of that now. And I think the only reason I'm able to do that and do more of it is because I've got such an amazing team here that's taking care of running the day-to-day of the company.

Because, you know, in a lot of companies there's this great book called Rocket Fuel. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. And they talk about two types of leaders. They talk about visionary leaders who are really good with, you know, ideas and relationships and big thinking. And then they have what they call integrators, which are really great at operations and execution and really bringing that together. I know this is a, an audio only podcast, but behind me there's a big plaque that says ideas are, are nothing without execution. So what me and my partner realized early on is the balance between ideas and execution was critical. And what I do as a coach now is when I go into organizations, I help these entrepreneurs, or I help these business leaders identify what type of leader they are, and more importantly, what type of leader they want to become.

And then I sort of tap into what those superpowers are. So if you're more of a visionary or more of an integrator, the the playbook or the rule book I'm gonna deliver is gonna be very, very different. So in my case, I work really well with visionary types of leaders because a, I am one myself. So I think I can bring to the, uh, the table a lot of credibility cuz I've been in the chair or I have a ton of empathy for the chair that they sit in versus I integrators or more operational leaders, they're more focused on process, they're more focused on, um, specific operational duties. And that's, I'd say, where I don't have the biggest of skills.

Nate Watkin: I, uh, I read your article on the, the seven types of leaders nice for, sorry, seven types of entrepreneurs. I would've taken you a as the serial disruptor given how many, uh, companies you've started. So it's interesting to, uh, to say visionary in terms of, uh, technology. The leaning into that obviously is a huge, huge topic now, especially in the creative industry. And, and I know that you are somebody that, uh, tries to be on the bleeding edge of technology and, and understanding the latest, uh, trends. What would you say is the most exciting technology you've learned about recently? Uh, I know AI is the elephant in the room, but any specific applications or even something outside of that

Pete Sena: 1000%? Well, one, I love the question, and I think that the single greatest technology that has, that has hit us as a society, in my opinion in the past 50 years has been G P T three. So, you know, I have these numbers burned into my brain because think about the speed of adoption, right? Speed of adoption is always a very interesting thing. It's a, it's a, and it's own ways it can be broken down and studied, right? So if you think about it, Netflix took over three and a half years to get to a million users, right? Airbnb took over two years to get to there. Facebook, you know, it's a social network, so very viral in terms of the way it worked. Obviously played to a lot of the, uh, the, the greed of social society. So Facebook got there in about 10 months.

You know, Spotify obviously the ability to, to stream music, they got there in, you know, under six months. Instagram got there in a couple of months. Um, the iPhone itself, you know, took about 74 days to get to a million users chat, DP Chat, G P T three, which for those that aren't familiar, it's powered by with something called Open AI Chat. G P T three took five days to get to a million users and crashed some of their servers. G P T three, in my opinion. And for those that don't know, what it is, is essentially it's a open AI is an amazing company that did tons of research, and they basically indexed billions and billions of different pieces of data from the internet. And as a result of it, the, they were able to train a machine learning model that, in my mind is superior.

So if you haven't checked out G P T three, um, you definitely should because AI is more than just a buzzword. Nate, in my opinion. G P T three can do incredible things, right? It can write you a recipe, it can tell you what to do for a date night. Uh, people have created a Linux virtual machine in it, and this is all in a chatbot interface. So in my opinion, this technology is going to completely disrupt every possible thing that we do as humans. It's going to, and it not just this technology, but what this technology can do, which it, it can provide smart human interaction with a computer at a speed and a quality that will blow your mind. And again, happy to do a live demo if it's helpful, um, with you right now. Um, but what this thing can do is just absolutely incredible.

It's gonna change customer service. It's gonna change brainstorming and ideation, which is something I'm really passionate about as a creative, it's gonna change research, it's gonna change how we parse and understand information. For example, um, I used G P three the other day to explain a machine learning model to me. So I sent it, I put code in really complex code. I'm not a mathematician, but I have an engineering background. I put a really complex, uh, machine learning problem into the thing and asked it to explain it to me as if I was in, uh, in 10th grade. And it explained it to me in a very simple way. So now, something that would take me hours on Google, maybe 50 hours, 60 hours to figure out, took me two and a half minutes. So we can see why this technology is spreading at the speed that it is.

You have entire new business models that are being created on these different AI-based platforms. I just did a presentation recently at Carnegie Mellon, Nate, and they asked me to come in and talk to their students and their executive MBA program about the use cases and applications of AI-based tools. And I took both a narrow and broad approach to it to say that the way that humans interact with computers is something that can be prolific if we approach it through a creative lens, not through a negative pessimistic, dystopian lens, which is how most of us typically think about ai. And I showed people how you can use AI to write applications with coding. I showed 'em how you can use AI to create images using, you know, you've probably heard about tools like Dolly two or Mid Journey, um, if you've been on social in the past five days, you've probably seen Lens, which is sort of, I think a spinoff from Prisma or Prisma, uh, I can't can't remember the name of it, where everyone's doing these AI selfies, uh, all over the internet, um, cuz we're so vain as humans.

But yeah, I think that that's probably the most prolific technology that I've seen, um, because of how it's gonna change society and how it's gonna change the way that we interact with computers. So I can talk about AI for our, but I think what is more important about that to me is not the technology, but the problems that can be solved with this technology. The way that we can create a seat at the table for people in their own way of learning, in their own way of interacting. Um, and I think G three is gonna do a lot for a lot more good than it is bad for the world.

Nate Watkin: Yeah. It's a, uh, how, what's time to be alive? Yeah, of course, of course. Yeah. Uh, I think it's, um, it's the only piece of software or of technology that we've seen in our lifetime that can legitimately disrupt Google, which I think is a, uh, incredible feat, uh, Google, most likely the best, literally, most likely the best business and business model of all time. And it's gonna be exciting to see where AI goes from here. As an entrepreneur, where do you see the biggest opportunities to start a business in ai?

Pete Sena: That is a very difficult question to answer broadly. So let's, let's unpack that and, and make that a smaller question. So there any industry can benefit from margin increases, user behavior improvements. Um, I, I think it's, it's a hard question to answer because you could pick any industry, like at random. You could pick climate tech, you could pick FinTech, you can pick healthcare, life sciences, any one of those things. But I think what is really interesting is to, to look at unmet needs, look at human unmet needs, whether those are product needs, service needs, or experience needs, and start to think about how you would solve those unmet needs today. And then how you would solve those unmet needs if you had the power of these supercomputers and, uh, models to solve that. And I think the way that you will solve problems will be different.

Um, so what I don't really want to talk about, because I don't think it's gonna be valuable for your audience, is talk about all the ways that people are building like these little micro businesses with G P D three. You know, like for example, um, you know, down to like the small business owner. Like think about what a restaurant, how powerful this could be for a restaurant. Think about how powerful this could be for, um, social media influencers to be able to, to train a model on all of their content, right? So right now, G three can do a bunch of stuff that's a pre-trained model. What's nice about some of these technologies, if you follow the ideology of it, is if we start to train a model on how we interact, right? So if you said, okay, what are all the questions Pete's ever been asked?

Well, forget about Pete cuz I, I, I'm, nobody's small. But if we said, what are all the questions Elon Musk's ever been asked and how did he answer those questions? We can start to unpack the way people think and solve problems and the beauty of AI and neural networks or, you know, training in terms of how these things are done. I don't wanna get too technical cuz I don't know, the audience might not be as nerdy as I am, but once we train people on how to make decisions, then we can teach people on how to make better decisions. More importantly, we can automate how to make better decisions. One of the most prolific minds in, in my mind in the past 30 years is Ray Dalio. Ray Dalio has been using quants and machine learning for years to create ways for Bridgewater Capital, his, his group, to make better decisions so much that now he's not even running the company anymore and may still continue to be massively successful. And that comes down to the principles, you know, Roe, great book called Principles. But if we think about the principles, if we embed these principles into the, into the machines, these machines now can take these, these principles forward. So that, that's sort of what, not to get too theoretical be, but it, I wanna make sure we start from the right size, if that makes sense.

Nate Watkin: Mm-hmm. , that's very interesting. So you could say, uh, you know, I want to invest like Warren Buffet, right? Like, let's understand his investing trends and tendencies and should I buy this stock or not based on Warren Buffet, things of that nature. Let

Pete Sena: Me just give you an example really quick. The audience is gonna hear me typing because I just really want to show you this really quick, um, as an example, right? So I've got a couple things running here on the computer, so lemme just move my microphone. So I'm gonna, I'm gonna a answer the question really briefly for you, right? Okay, so you said that, so what I've now asked, so I've now broken down Warren Buffett's investment thesis. So here's, so here's what I said to the computer, Nate, break down Warren Buffett's investment thesis into five repeatable questions and steps. I can apply to everything I do in life out this into a bulleted list format. I run it. And first question, what is the value of the opportunity? Second question, what are the risks associated with this opportunity? Third, what is the return on investment?

Fourth, what are the competitive advantages? Five, how can I maximize the potential of this opportunity and minimize the risks? Now one might say that knows how these things work. One might say that those are five pretty generic outputs that if I was to remove Warren Buffet from this, I might, uh, I might get a similar set of questions and that might be entirely true, but I think, so what is interesting here is I've just got investment advice from a machine in seven seconds. If I had to go and start reading about investing and I end up on sites like Investopedia or those kinds of things, or maybe there's a bunch of books on investing that, that I go and read. This is a very powerful thing. It's also a very dangerous thing because for all I know, based on this pre-trained model, this pre-trained model might not actually have any information specifically about Warren Buffet.

This might not actually be Warren Buffett's investment thesis or advice. So it's dangerous, but it's also extremely powerful, right? So for example, when I was looking for the highest ranked, uh, chicken carbon era recipe, um, that I, I used the other day with chat GP two three, I got a really fast and awesome recipe, which turned out to be a really delicious, tasty meal, um, that probably would've taken me 20, 30 minutes to do and then maybe some time going on and shopping with it. Imagine when I can ask a chatbot for that and then imagine when the chatbot can automatically order all the things that I need and have them sent to me by a local courier or a local door dasher, uh, or UberEATS order inside of a couple moments. We've now basically just invented an entirely new direct to consumer business model for tell me what you want to eat and I'm gonna send you all the things right there.

Now, many businesses that have existed, like Blue Apron or those kinds of things, those things didn't take into consideration my personalization, right? Blue Apron would ask me a basic question, do you have dietary preferences? Do you want me, do you want fish? Do you want whatever? Maybe I'm a vegan, maybe I'm this, maybe I'm not. So now just think about the power that this puts in the hands of, of, I would call it gen gen Alpha or Gen Z. These generations expect instant gratification, right? I want to binge everything I can watch now on Netflix, I want to flick through everything that's happening right now on TikTok. I wanna be real in the moment and snap exactly what I'm doing on the social network. AI can transform all that. So I think that what's really important for us to do with all these technologies is have creatives like you and me at the table, Nate, right? Because creatives, what we can do is we can bring ideas and use cases to the table, right? Because you and I are not mathematicians, right? We don't understand the symbolic lexicon that these particular adversarial networks and generative things do, right? We don't know all that shit. What we know is like how to come up with really cool ideas because we've been doing it for, for our whole lives, right?

Nate Watkin: Yeah. And it's, it's just crazy to think about the way, you know, once again, going back to search, right? Like you used to be rewarded for long form, right? Seo, like the longer the article, the better, the higher you'll rank. And, uh, and that that process of going and looking through articles and parsing, you know, multiple different sources, now it's just instant, right? Like you said. Well, what

Pete Sena: I mean, I'll push back on that a little bit because I think seo, good seo, so like one of my good friends is a guy by the name of Mike King. He, he was just rated one of the top SEO people in the industry. And if you don't know Mike King, look him up cuz he is just an incredible human being and very smart, very provocative SEO has been way more than long form content and keyword stuffing for a long time. It's been about, you know, who is linking two things, what are people doing with that content? So Google's gotten very good about what is quality of content and how to understand that. Um, I would argue that they're superior to it. I think what's more important than the G p T three reference you just made is what I like about G P T three is it can help me understand what questions to ask.

The problem with search, that's that's very much flawed in its idea is search implies you know what to search for. How many times when we're learning something do we not know what we don't know? We don't know what questions to ask, and that leads to our own set of, of biases that often will put us on a journey that might not be the journey that we want to embark on, right? What's interesting about tools like G D three is we can ask smart questions like what are the, the, the top questions I should ask? Or what are the best books that the top financial advisors in America recommend? So now, instead of getting the biased New York Times bestseller list, right, which is extremely biased and a lot of people shaking hands behind the scenes, a lot of money transacting, a lot of expensive dinners happening and gifting happening to get on that list, now I can start to understand if the datasets trained on the right amount of things, what questions to ask. That's where I think that search turns into a much more personalized solution. That's more than just when I ask a question, I get a better result based on where I'm at, what my context is, that sort of thing. So I think that the interplay between humans and machines is gonna change. And I think for those of us that are, are curious enough, we can really create 10 x value for ourselves and for our clients.

Nate Watkin: If you're enjoying creatives off script, make sure you check out Angle On Producer's podcast hosted by Emmy nominated producer Carolina Grappa with over 80 episodes released the podcast, shines a light on the unsung heroes behind your favorite movies and shows through her guests, Carolina Demystifies the age old question. What exactly does a producer do by giving you an honest glimpse into what it's like to walk in a producer's shoes. These time capsule conversations help others, especially women, navigate their own paths in the industry. Past guests include formidable producers such as Eva Longoria, Lynette Howell, Taylor, Molly Asher, Stephanie Elaine, and many more findel on producers. Wherever you get your podcasts, you are listening to the Creatives Off-Script podcast hosted by Assemble,

Thinking about product discovery and getting back to commerce. You know, that whole model can change entirely. It's no longer searching. And maybe, you know, how how is product discovery going to happen through ai, through chat G P t, things of this nature. And it's really gonna put the power in the hands of the person making the question, right? So it's gonna be exciting future, but getting back to the creative industry, you know, and getting back into just, you know, going back to the, the, the last version of this, which was the generative art and everything that has been just shaking up the industry as a whole. What do you think the creative industry looks like in five years? Where do we go from here?

Pete Sena: I think the two single greatest things that are gonna power the next five years when we remove technology from it is we are gonna see community and the power of creators. And what I mean by that is when Steve Jobs put an iPhone in all of our hands, and that iPhone had a great camera and a great chip for browsing the internet, he put content creation tools the same way that Stones and Flint gave us the ability to make fire now with the have the ability to create, have these creators. So what I think is really, really provocative over the next five years is we're gonna see individual creators build single businesses. I mean, look at Mr. Beast as an example. This is a guy that was, you know, in his mom's house, you know, making YouTube videos and you know, he's now asking for over a billion dollar valuation for his company when he was going and raising investment.

I don't know if he's, he's raised that investment yet, but, um, you know, Mr. Beast, right? Yep. So, you know, I think that's a great testament to your ability to create content and tell stories and rally people around that that engage with you. That's a super powerful thing. So I think what we're gonna see over the next five years is we're gonna see the rise of super apps. You know, whether that's Super App is something that Elon's version of Twitter creates, um, or whether it's Mark Zuckerberg's meta, um, or what Google ends up creating. I mean, ultimately Google's not great at social. We, we've learned that over the years, right? Remember Ping, um, was it ping or circle or what? Can't even can't even keep track of it. I'm gonna get 'em wrong. But I think over the next five years we're gonna see creators shaping communities and creators shaping communities are going to change how content gets created.

You know, we're moving away. We've, I would argue we moved away from the big media company or big journalism media company model, um, ages ago. You know, it's why Disney, you know, Bob Iger, when by Bob I, Iger was just recently reinstated as ceo O one of the first things he said that they're doubling down when they restructure the company is on storytelling, putting more power in the creator's hands. Because ultimately I believe as a society, our ability to tell stories is one of the things that makes us unique from a computer. Because most of these computers that are telling stories, they're just rehashing other stories that have already happened, um, that people have already told. So there's a lot of derivative in that, I think to, to sort of unpack it. But yeah, I think the next five years the industry's gonna change. You're gonna see a lot more, um, solopreneurs working together.

So smaller teams teaming up, um, that are a little bit more anti-big company. I think you're gonna see a lot of smaller, innovative ways of bringing content together. Um, I know creators that are more tech savvy are already doing interesting things with, you know, generative technologies. So, you know, if you look at, uh, apps like Runway, what they're doing with like, very fast, you know, machine learning to, to swap things out in photos. So a lot of the cool stuff that you're seeing on, you know, whether it's Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, um, with filters and, you know, the, the ar XR stuffs are augment reality, mixed reality. I think we're gonna just see just a heightened level of creativity, and I think what that's gonna start to unlock, you know, I I didn't talk about Web three at all today or Metaverse because I might get stoned out of the room because all the, all the crypto heads, you know, are upset because of the current volatility.

And you know what, I think that, so that's a whole different podcast in itself, right, Nate, but I think big picture in five years, what's gonna change is everyone's gonna have the ability to impact culture. Um, everyone's gonna have the ability to tell stories and content, um, and things are gonna spread faster. They're gonna spread faster because of the power of technology. Um, what super apps will mean for us is that we're gonna spend so much more of our time in singular platforms or experiences, um, at least in the centralized world. So I think that this creates a lot of opportunity, you know, in terms of what innovators can do to decentralize their contents, decentralize their community, um, but I think rallying around people and ideas is something that is not a new concept, um, though it might appear novel right now. And

Nate Watkin: What do you mean by super apps? Exactly?

Pete Sena: So when I describe a Super app, what I essentially mean is if you've ever seen, um, Alipay, um, or if you look at what happens, you know, in apps like WeChat, is that everything is done via a inside the app. So you can buy things, you can make payments, you can converse with one another. You can, uh, get access to a series of, of microservices all from one app. So imagine having one app where you can, uh, stream your content, interact with your friends, uh, post your wears and, and you know, buy, sell, transact, and, and deliver whatever you want all from inside one app. You know, right now if I want something sent to my door, I will go on Amazon and I'll buy, I'll buy it typically for, you know, my a prime delivery. Um, if I want food, I'll use Uber Eats or, or Uber or one of their suite of products.

You know, obviously that's why Uber's, you know, bought companies like Drizzly. Um, I think they're, I think they already bought some cannabis delivery companies, but I know that that's gonna be a big thing next as well, um, as, as the stigma goes away from that. But I think ultimately what Super App is, is being able to do everything all in one, not having to leave the app. Um, you know, TikTok I think already has done some interesting things with their in browser. Um, but I'd say here in America we are very far behind because super apps are not a new concept in, in parts of the world that are moving much faster than us technologically.

Nate Watkin: And so for people who are in the creative industry, what advice would you give them to be as dangerous as possible in the next five to 10 years?

Pete Sena: The one biggest mistake that I made in my life and career is that because I was always behind the scenes helping other leaders build their brands, both their personal brands and their business brands, I think that the power of community is something that I would tell any young person right now, figure out what you believe in, figure out what your purpose is, and make sure that that is known to the world, whether it's in a closed, small community or in a large open, massive community. I think that the new celebrity is community and the ability to be able to build a set of beliefs and principles and brand is gonna enable you to, I mean, for one, it's gonna enable you to scale your wealth. Um, you know, like my favorite example is if you look at some people's ability to like launch a book and make it an overnight success without ever having to go to a publisher, publisher, if you have community and they will listen to what you do and they'll follow and they'll buy into, you know, what Kevin Kelly referred to as his concept of super fans, right?

If you have a thousand super fans, you can make a really good living every single year. Um, many of these, these super creators now have millions of fans, and they're not just millions of fans that, like, when they go to sell their t-shirt like that one influencer did, they only sell a couple. If you have a deep connection to your community and, and you're, and you're serving that community in some way, shape, or form, you can just build an absolute incredible breakthrough business that opens up doors and opportunities for you that are just unprecedented. That was a mistake I made. Yeah, I I invested in my brand far too late. Um, I, I, I cringe a little bit when I think about where my brand's at and when I think about just some of the success we've created for some of our clients and some of the leaders at, at our client brands, um, the opportunity landscape is massive when you can build community and build brand. So that's what I would say.

Nate Watkin: So since you consult so much with large brands, CEOs would love to just turn the table and ask you a few questions about Assemble and have you quickly consult on us. I love it. Uh, if you need me, if you need me to give you the elevator pitch, can give you that real quick and definitely

Pete Sena: Gimme the elevator pitch, because what I a, I would love to hear in your own words, and b it might be helpful for the audience too, just to hear you describe it.

Nate Watkin: Definitely. So the literal 15 second elevator pitch is that we are a project management platform for content creation teams. So we work with production companies, creative agencies, media companies, studios, and give producers tools to collaborate more efficiently.

Pete Sena: Awesome. So typically what I start with, with all of the things, the first place I start, which we skipped in this conversation, is I start by getting to know you. I start to get to know your why, your purpose, why did you start assemble, you know, why did you move away from the, the production business to start this tool? May, maybe it was because you were so pissed on how running production companies were that you went in and started an assemble and there's a real true reason for that. I don't know what it is. I'd wanna unpack that. I'd want to figure out the brand, the story, the product, and then I wanna figure out what you as a CEO and a founder need, right? Maybe you just need a like-minded individual to bounce ideas off of. Maybe you just need a thought partner. Um, maybe you really want to transfer the company into a marketing letter, a product-led organization versus a sales led organization.

So all these different levers is what I call business orientation, right? And business orientation for me helps to get to what I call a business operating system. And every business's operating system's different, right? If you're a SaaS company, it's different than a cleaning supply company. Now, one might say, well, no, that's not true, Pete, because every business has, you know, two ways to grow. You can either acquire more customers, uh, or get your current customers to pay you more than they're already paying you for new products and services. But that's, that's typically where I'd start. And what I did a lot on this podcast as the guest is I did a lot of talking. If we were working together, I'd be doing a lot of listening. I would ask you a very pithy question. I would shut the hell up and I would let you talk, and you might talk for two, two minutes.

You might talk for 20 minutes. And I'm just gonna sit there and be taking, you know, copious notes, drawing diagrams on my iPad or in my notebook. And then when you sort of ran outta gas and stopped talking, I might ask you a different question. And together we would work to, to figure out what things you need most and what things you need least to take the business to the next level. We have this framework we call the brand DNA framework. It's how we build brands at digital surgeons. Um, and, you know, it's, it would, it would take me a, a little while to kind of unpack it now, but for all of the, the coaching programs that, that I offer, typically I'm looking at it through three lenses. I'm looking at it through the lens of the leader. So I'm starting with helping that leader understand who they are because my biggest mistake that I made over and over and over again for 15 years of my life and 15 years of my career, is I didn't know myself.

And by not having the self-awareness, I wasn't able to get into what my green zone was, which is those unique zones of genius that I have that are where I shine the most or where I'm lit up the most. So I have a whole process I go through with people to get to their green zone to define it. I have a whole process I go to to get through the, the businesses operating system to define it. And then from there I look at how all those pieces come together, the team, the product, the service, the brand, the story. And oftentimes, um, in a lot of cases, I'm helping people line up those resources. That's, that, that's probably the shortest way I could answer that question.

Nate Watkin: And for any of the founders listening out there, if anybody wants to find you, how can they get in touch?

Pete Sena: Yeah, so if, if you're looking for founder coaching, I'd say you can find me@pete.com. Um, p e t e s e n a. If you're looking for brand experience and transforming your business or brand, I'd say check out digital surgeons. That's, that's our consultancy. We've got an amazing team there that would love to talk to you. Um, but moreover, I'd, I'd love to hear from the audience in terms of what they're facing. I'm super active on Twitter, at pizza, um, you know, fire questions my way there and I'm happy to put them out there so that you and others can get the benefit from it as well.

Nate Watkin: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining us, Pete.

Pete Sena: Thanks, Nate.

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