• Grew up with a love of art
• Marketing and art in his blood, both dad and grandfather were painters and ran their own marketing firms
• Discovered a love for filmmaking at age 14 on his Mac computer
• in business since 16 years old, “Conedera Studios” film and video production
• Vice President of his high school’s RB Digital Media, one of the top high school digital media programs in the country
• in high school, completed over 70 short film/video projects
• winning over 25 awards, including three Student Emmy Awards
• summer of 2008, sold $32,000 Cutco Cutlery, winning sales rep champion award selling $15,000 in their 2-week PUSH period sales competition, then recruited by the corporate office to be their Video Marketing Director
• graduated Chapman University 2010 magna cum laude, BFA Film Production, emphasis in writing/directing
• photography minor @ Scuola Lorenzo de Medici, Florence, Italy
• moved to Los Angeles to be a filmmaker!
• raised $222,000 for his first feature film, SHARP, inspired by his experiences selling knives
• employed 100 artists/professional straight out of college during one of the worst recessions of our generation
• immediately secured a digital distribution deal
• now available on DVD, iTunes, & online @ http://www.sharp-movie.com/free
• now working with author/speaker/podcaster Hal Elrod on The Miracle Morning Movie feature-length documentary uncovering the morning routines of successful entrepreneurs
• still doing client work, helping companies create their content marketing & video marketing
• getting masters degree, MFA in “Interdisciplinary Arts” from Goddard College, studying Documentary Film Production, Marketing, and Distribution
• passion for coaching filmmakers on fundraising, low-budget indie film production, and digital distribution
Zephan: What’s going on everyone, this is Zephan Moses Blaxberg from the Year of Purpose Podcast and today I’m joined by Nick Conedera and Nick grew up with art and marketing in his blood. He discovered a love of filmmaking at just 14 years old and he’s been in business for himself since he was 16 where he won a few student Emmys to boot in high school. High school or college?
Nick: High school, yeah.
Zephan: High school, cool. Got that right, awesome. In the summer of 2008 he sold $32,000 in Cutco Cutlery winning the sales rep champion award and was then recruited by the corporate office to be their video marketing director. Ultimately he moved to Los Angeles to be a filmmaker raising $222,000 for his feature film SHARP inspired by his experiences selling the knives. He now works with one of our past podcast guests, Hal Elrod, author of The Miracle Morning to produce a documentary uncovering morning routines of successful entrepreneurs and today he’s hanging out with us. What’s going on, Nick?
Nick: Zephan Blaxberg, that’s such an awesome name, man. I’m doing great, how are you?
Zephan: I’m doing well. The sun is shining, we actually have some decently warm weather for November, so I’m happy to have a couple more warm days left in the year.
Nick: Yeah, it is actually super nice for fall I feel like.
Zephan: Yeah, so hopefully no crazy big winter storms coming in because that’s when I just all right, guys, see you, peace out, I’m going to fly somewhere warm. I want to dive into a couple of different things here because after hearing about your story. Hal actually referred me to you and was like hey, you got to talk to this guy. Cutco has always been interesting to me because I remember very distinctly when I was a kid, this guy came to our door and cut a penny in half at my kitchen table with these scissors. It’s always been interesting to see sales door to door and I always wondered how that all worked. Maybe take us back to just before that, what your life was like easing into that summer of 2008 and then how you fell upon this job with Cutco.
Nick: That is a great question and first of all I just want to say thanks so much for having me on. You could have interviewed so many people, but you chose me. I’d just like to acknowledge and thank you for that, but also to your listeners because there’s so many podcasts they could listen to, but they chose to spend their time with us. I want to thank everybody for that, too. Going back when I first started selling Cutco, I was trying really hard to find a job. I was in college, I really wanted to make money and I was tired of just spending money and not making any money.
I wanted to get some experience on my resumé, this pointless piece of paper really. I tried to interview at so many places and no one would hire me. I think maybe a little bit because I’m difficult to hire, you probably shouldn’t employ me. I don’t do well with rules, I used to not do very well working with other people, but also because at the time I was looking for a summer position, just a summer job. Everybody told me just tell them you want a legit for a year or two job. I wasn’t willing to lie, I wanted to be honest and hoping with everybody saying I’m just looking for something for the summer before I go back to school. Nobody would hire me. I interviewed at Target to push carts and they wouldn’t hire me.
I got a letter in the mail magically, I don’t know how—the universe just sent me this letter saying there’s this company in your area doing interviews looking to hire just for summer positions. We’re looking mostly for college students and the base rate was starting at $15 or $17 an hour. I was like that sounds great, I’m looking for a job. I called them and they scheduled me for an interview the next day.
I immediately felt it was different and it’s definitely not a normal thing. It’s not door to door, it’s direct sales which is a completely different program. You start with people you know and then you get references from there. I knew that it was different and it would allow me to create my own schedule and the opportunity to make money was really impressive for a college student. I mostly just really liked—I was really interested in the opportunity because it was different and it wasn’t a normal nine to five type job or restaurant job or department store job. That’s what really, really interested me about it.
Zephan: It sounds like it gave you the proper framework that you needed that you weren’t really getting out of any other job. It was really your first taste in entrepreneurship of I can wake up when I want to. The amount of money I make is directly correlated to how hard I work and it sounds like it gave you the right start for the rest of your life pretty much.
Nick: Yeah, my grandfather was a huge entrepreneur. He had his own marketing firm, so did my dad and I was groomed to go and follow that, but I’ve been in business since I was 16. I didn’t set out to start a business or try to get work, it just came to me because of my skill and I think maybe because of my personality and the fact that I was so young. Vector Marketing selling Cutco Cutlery was definitely my first real taste of actually running a business and creating my own life in business basically.
Zephan: Yeah, and so much like you when I was 16 my dad put an ad in the paper and basically said I would go and fix anyone’s computer. At 16 I had a small business as well, but it was very short-lived because when your parents have to drive you to a stranger’s home and sit there while you fix their computer in their house it doesn’t last very long.
Nick: Yeah, I can imagine. That’s hilarious.
Zephan: Yeah, but it definitely gave me the right framework for where I’m at now and very similarly when I started my video business three years ago I never really did a whole lot of marketing. It was all referrals and clients just kept coming in and ever since I don’t think I’ve ever actually put out a real marketing piece to get in more work, so I definitely know what that’s like. Now on the flip side of that for people who are listening in and have considered taking the dive into the deep end and starting a business, that’s tough to say because it’s like we’re sitting here and saying oh, you just start a business and it just happens. What advice do you have for people who are considering taking the leap, starting their own business other than just the world gives you what you need when you tell the world what you’re looking for.
Nick: That is a great question and that is actually my first—my impulse response was going to be if you make the leap and you quit your job, that’s maybe not the easiest but the fastest way to start your own thing whether it’s a business or whatever, doing whatever you love, whatever that is because the universe always gives you what you need. It will never not give you what you need, but besides that—to me I feel there’s a difference between being self-employed or being in business for yourself and being an actual entrepreneur.
My dad always used to say that he was an entrepreneur, but really he’s been self-employed with several clients almost his entire adulthood, definitely for my whole life. I used to always disagree with him on that. Nothing gets my dad, he taught me almost everything I know about being in business. I always used to disagree with him on that because I consider entrepreneurship actually pursuing something, building a team, finding a need, creating a product or service that satisfies that need and going big.
Being self-employed you don’t really do any marketing, you don’t really do any outreach, it sort of just comes to you by referral or by word of mouth. That’s what I was doing for a long time, too. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there is a difference in running a business and being an entrepreneur and just being self-employed. I would say being self-employed you just have to make the leap and the work will find you when you need it. The money will come to you when you need it and being an entrepreneur that’s a whole another ballgame. It’s much bigger, it’s much more exciting and that’s what I’m personally interested in.
Zephan: Yeah, and as crazy as some of this might sound to people tuning in, maybe you’ve experienced this, too. Essentially I live a freelancer lifestyle. I’m providing video and photo services to people and it comes in waves, right. This past month, October, was one of my busiest months, but the month prior to that it wasn’t so busy. I remember getting three-quarters of the way through the month and thinking oh, my god, I have nothing booked for October. I have no clue how I’m going to be making money. Then my attitude shifts. I catch myself in that moment and I say all right, I’ve always been taken care of in the past. If I don’t continue to freak out, if I just keep calm and keep going something good is going to happen.
Sure enough I’d actually taken on a new coach and mentor for just my own self-improvement in my life and that was somewhere in the range of a 3 to $4,000 investment and the next day I landed a $3,000 contract. I think that while it’s tough for people listening in—Nick, you probably know exactly what this is like is when you put that message out into the world of hey, I don’t need this, but it would be really, really helpful right now if I could get some work or some sign could come my way much like how that letter came in the mail to you. I’m sure you’re seeing a lot of that, too.
Nick: Yeah, it always happens and I think being in that position when you are self-employed and you don’t really know where your income is going to come from next month it’ll happen. I think part of that is just being comfortable with that and having enough confidence in yourself and enough self-love and self-worth to say to yourself don’t worry, don’t freak out, it’ll come, it’ll happen. Even if it doesn’t—even if you can’t pay your rent, your landlord can’t come into your home and say get out right now. It’s against the law for them to do that. Even if you don’t have enough money for food I’m sure people that you know, friends and family who would absolutely support you when you’re in a time of need. There’s really no reason to completely freak out. Part of that I think is mindset and self-confidence and a self-love, but yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Zephan: Yeah, it definitely takes an attitude shift away from oh, my god, I need this, I need this, I need, need, need and it’s got to shift to hey, I’m going to be taking care of, but it would be really great if I could have this right now.
Zephan: I think when it doesn’t come out of this mindset of needing stuff it’s weird how
much you get taken care of. You ultimately were recruited by the corporate office for a job, so how did that work for you when you became their video marketing director because that’s like a little bit of a role reversal there, isn’t it?
Nick: Yeah, it was really interesting because I’d only sold one summer and I’d only assisted managed for a couple of weeks out of the office that I sold from. I started doing a little bit of video work for the manager that I was working for. Then I was almost immediately recruited by corporate itself and I was maybe 22, 23 at the time to be their video marketing director. I did something like 47, 45 videos for them in 18 months. It was actually very comfortable for me. The woman who hired me whose house I’m actually in right now, I’m helping her do a video for her new business, so I’m spending some time in her place in Delaware. I don’t know, it was very comfortable for me to work in that position and it actually allowed me to pay all my bills while I was focusing on getting the next step in my career going which was my first feature film, SHARP.
Zephan: Did you save up money before you—because you left that role and then you moved to Los Angeles and you started working on this film, so was there any plan or was it just one day you woke up and you’re like all right, I’m done with this. Peace out, guys, I’m headed to California.
Nick: Yeah, I had no money saved up whatsoever. Here’s how it happened. I’d moved to Los Angeles after I graduated and for all your listeners whether you’re trying to get out of this “system” or you’re already out, I think, this story is going to be valuable either way because I feel every major entrepreneur and every person who’s gone through something huge and has done something great has pretty much a similar story. What happened with me is I had been living in Los Angeles in a crappy, small apartment for a year. I had made $25,000 doing my own video gigs for that year, so I was able to pay all my bills for a whole year, but I hated it. I was waking up every day literally just to pay my bills and it was the worst thing ever. I just felt awful.
I remember I was sitting in my bed, it was either New Year’s Eve or January 1st and I was sitting in my bed and I was writing, I was journaling, it’s one of the habits I have. I was journaling about just how crappy my year was and how I felt and how much I disliked it, my current situation. I was looking at all my movie posters up on my wall of all the movies that I had made and I was remembering that movie I filmed in a big mansion and threw a huge Halloween party. That movie went off to this festival and won this award and that movie I had a crew of 50 people and we had that big $10,000 day. All of these memories and accomplishments from the movies I had made I realized that is when I’m happiest, that is when I’m most fulfilled.
I had a script that was just sitting there waiting to be made about my experiences or really inspired by my experience of selling knives and I realized I have to make a movie. I just have to do it. I called my dad because he was always the sounding board in my life and I said I’m going to drop all my clients, I don’t care how I’m going to make money, I don’t care where the money’s going to come from. It’s just going to come when I need it, it’ll happen, but I’m going to focus 100% of my time on making this film. He was like no, no, no, no, Nick, you need some source of income, you need to keep those clients and still you’re a service provider, you still got to provide a good service and you need some source of income. I said no, no, I’m not doing it anymore, I hate it, I’m dropping all my clients and I’m just going to do this film.
Basically what happened was I scrounged together $1,000 and made a promo video to promote the idea of a movie about selling knives. It basically went viral. We got 1,000 views in 36 hours or whatever which wasn’t that much, but it went viral and very shortly thereafter the head of external relations at the company called me and said I really like this video, can you do a video for us? That turned into three videos and that turned into a full-time video marketing position. That’s how it happened because I really just made that decision and I made that leap which again like I was saying before it was maybe not the easiest, but it’s the fastest way to get there for sure.
Zephan: I think that’s the toughest part for a lot of people is—because I’ve had people in the podcast who are like oh, you need to save and prepare, don’t just quit your job right away, start a side hustle and everyone’s perspective is going to be different, right. This is going to work for people in different ways. For me and you we were both people who just had to dive right in. I remember when I quit my job it was literally I decided and two weeks later I had my two week’s notice.
I definitely know what that’s like and I think that the people who are willing to take those bigger risks and really drive home this is what I want to do and this is where I want to go, I think that’s where they’re going to see the biggest rewards right out of the starting gate. You started, you’ve got this film SHARP that you started working on around that time. Maybe share with everybody what’s the premise of this. How are the experiences of a guy selling Cutco turn into a performance on camera and what came out of that ultimately?
Nick: That is a great question. The film is about—the logline is a lazy, stoner surf bum has to learn to adapt to the corporate world and learn to sell knives in order to support his family after his dad loses his job. Basically, it’s really about the economy, it’s about personal growth, it’s about entrepreneurship, it’s about going out on your own. The transition, it’s a charming, indie dramedy. It’s really a coming of age story about this young man. It’s really mostly about his character arc of who he becomes. He goes from being a boy to a man through this very different experience about selling knives, doing a direct sales program.
At the end his transition is he’s able to apply those skills that he learns selling
knives to pursue his dream which was surfing and he starts his own surf shop. I didn’t really give away the ending, but that’s the [inaudible 00:21:17] of the film, after the end of the film. That’s how the story resolves. That’s basically what happened to me, I was able to use the skills that I learned selling knives to approach legitimate investors and raise almost a quarter of a million dollars for a legitimate investment and pursue my dream of making a feature film.
Zephan: That’s awesome. What do you think was your biggest transformational moment through all of this as it’s going on? You learned a lot from selling of knives and working with Cutco, but in making this film what do you think was the biggest moment for you where you’re like, wow, everything’s going to be different from here on out?
Nick: I’m sure all of your listeners—if you guys are looking to become independent and have control of your schedule and your life and create the life of your dreams and get everything you want whether it’s a lifestyle, cars, big house, travel, money, relationships, or just doing what you love every day, pursuing your passion, pursuing life to its fullest, that’s what I wanted. I’m so humbled and grateful to say that I’ve actually done that and I really have come to the realization that I want to help others do the same in their lives.
I used to be there, I used to be not satisfied with where I was in my life and struggling, living every day just to pay my bills and it’s just not a fulfilling life. I think the biggest transformation that I had throughout this whole experience was the person that I became through the experience. I literally became a man. I went from a boy, a young boy, a great, young boy, there was nothing wrong with who I was, having a dream to a man who is worthy of manifesting that dream. I think that was the biggest transformation for me is that personal growth and understanding, you know what, I am worthy of these things.
Every human being is, every human being on the planet, we all have the same energy, we all have the same elements, atoms and minerals in our body, we all have the same exact stuff to work with and we’re all capable of—so many people have done it, so many people have these incredible stories of going from nothing to becoming these great people, achieving great things and changing the world. Every single one of you are absolutely worthy of that and that was a big deal for me to actually realize yes, I am worthy of this and so I should go and get it.
Zephan: I think that’s probably the best advice right there is knowing your self-worth and knowing that you’re just as capable as anybody else is and it’s totally up to you to make it happen. You mentioned a little while back that you had been doing journaling. What are some of the other things just for self-improvement that you do, just in working on yourself and keeping yourself grounded because I know from also being in the video industry it gets extremely stressful. There’s lots of late nights, there’s a lot of hard work, a lot of long days filming on set. What are some of the things that you do just throughout your day or your week that are keeping you centered and just really bringing you back down to earth and saying, wow, this is an amazing opportunity, how grateful am I that I get to participate.
Nick: That’s a really good question. I feel like so—I’m going to do a little plug for Hal because Hal Elrod, you talked about before, one of your past guests, he’s changed my life so many times now because I work with him on a daily basis. His book, The Miracle Morning, it’s really the book that I recommend for any type of personal growth. It’s a morning routine that you do in the morning an hour before you are normally supposed to wake up for somebody else.
You wake up an hour earlier for yourself and you do this morning routine that requires meditation, affirmations, visualization, journaling—V-E-R—and exercise times affirmations, visualization…and reading. I really follow that. I don’t follow it to a tee, but the biggest things that help me personally are the meditation… Every entrepreneur you talk to will say that their success is as a result of them as a person which comes from their personal growth work. If you’re not working on yourself on a daily basis then you’re not growing. For me it’s the meditation which helps me really calm my mind and create my mindset for the rest of the day. The journaling just helps me to dump out everything out of my brain and to track my progress and my life.
Exercise is a huge thing. I run an hour in the morning every single day now because I’ve got so much energy and if I don’t channel it into something to calm me down in the morning—if I don’t run in the morning I just have an awful day, I feel terrible. The chemicals in my brain are all messed up. I feel depressed and it’s just not a good thing. The other thing is reading. I feel reading is an exercise for the mind and if you start the day exercising your mind it makes you much more limber for the rest of the day to solve problems, overcome obstacles, and stuff like that. Reading, I really, really, really, really love in the morning, just learning something new and podcasts, too, I listen to a lot of podcasts which also helps me to learn while I’m running.
If you do these things when you’re in a peak physical state it’s sews it into your mind even more, so you’re able to retain more of the information. That’s why I listen to podcasts and also affirmations while I’m running. That’s really the routine. It’s the quintessential, the best thing, all of the personal growth practices and ancient wisdoms that entrepreneurs and leaders have been doing for centuries are all conglomerated into one routine which is The Miracle Morning and I would highly recommend that routine and reading the book, The Miracle Morning, by Hal Elrod.
Zephan: I definitely back that up as well. It’s funny that you bring up podcasts. A little known fact, most people don’t know that I was actually a terrible podcast listener before I started my show. I didn’t really listen to much of anything other than Serio and I thought oh, this is really cool, I got to do this. Then once I actually started podcasting I’ve been hooked on so many different shows. Much like you were saying, while you’re working out or while you’re doing physical work, to tune into a podcast, I’ve actually found some really good ones where I can learn about the stuff that I don’t know about yet.
Travel hacking is a big deal for me and just travel in general. That’s where I found a couple of different shows, but my favorite right now is called Extra Pack of Peanuts and it’s this guy and his wife. The last one I heard they were recording live from Thailand. It’s really cool to see other people’s perspectives, but to be able to learn and be more productive throughout your day. You might get this. For my video shoots sometimes I drive as far as two or three hours away and so I’m in the car a lot. It’s like I can sit there and listen to music or I can sit there and learn 18 new things.
It just makes perfect sense that even the morning routine doesn’t have to be laid out exactly how you were mentioning. Everyone’s got their own way of doing it, but I think doing these things every day is huge. Where are you now? What has this brought you to? You’re working with Hal, you’ve got The Miracle Morning documentary that you’re building. You’re also in Delaware today working with another client. If I took a snapshot of your life today what does that look like?
Nick: Another great question. It’s so funny how much we love and how much we enjoy talking about yourselves. It’s just really fun and I’m super grateful. Basically, I’ve been traveling since July, so I haven’t been—I don’t have a home right now. I haven’t been in one place more than two weeks, so I wake up in a new place. There’s a lot of airplanes involved, but I wake up in a new place I’ve never really been before. I do my morning routine, I go on my run, I do some reading, some meditation. Then I come back to wherever that home base is at the time and I make a shake. Wherever I am I have to have a blender to make a shake and it usually involves bananas, spinach, berries. It’s just a good way to get your fruits and vegetables. It’s the best way to start the day.
I drink a lot of tea and work; I work a lot. Sometimes I’m working around cool people, amazing people and it’s a lot of driving whether it’s a car that I rent. I just like to be busy. I like to be going all the time. I don’t like to be focusing on one thing for a long period of time because I get really bored and frustrated. Every couple of hours I’m doing something new just to keep my mind occupied, but basically doing what I love. Every day I’m either editing or shooting which is basically things that I love, working on The Miracle Morning which is a feature film and I’m always most fulfilled when I’m making a feature film specifically.
Also I get a lot of fulfillment out of helping clients. Basically marking themselves better with a video, with moving images and I actually recently just started coaching, too. I’ve always wanted to teach and I’ve always wanted to help and serve and give back. I recently started coaching other filmmakers and helping them to get—like I said I’m very humbled and grateful to say that I’ve actually done these things and I really want to help other people do the same. I’ve started coaching other filmmakers on raising their money, their crowdfunding or investors or sponsors and going step by step through the indie film process and that’s been hugely, hugely fulfilling for me. That’s a day in the life of Nick Conedera.
Zephan: That’s awesome. Real quick here, just to round it all off, what’s next and how can we have our guests check out the SHARP film and learn more about you?
Nick: That’s a great question. If you go to—I feel like the film is really going to hopefully resonate with a lot of your audience because again it is about personal growth and about entrepreneurship and breaking out of the system and following your dreams. If you go to sharp-themovie.com/free. That’s sharp-themovie.com/free. You can just by giving your email address you can get a private link sent to you to watch the first 30 minutes of the film for free.
Then if you like it you can watch the rest of the film on the website. It’s $7. The DVD, they’re like 5.1 surround DVDs with tons of special features including a 45-minute behind the scenes featurette. It’s also available on the website for $17. By the time this episode comes out it will probably also be on iTunes and Amazon DVD as well, but if not you can still just go to sharp-themovie.com and I hope you guys really enjoy it. I get a lot of enjoyment out of it and it seems people really get a lot of value besides just—not just entertainment, but also a lot of educational value out of it, too. That’s what I hope to do with my films.
Zephan: Awesome. Nick, it’s been great having you here today. It’s always good to chat with another filmmaker to hear someone else’s journey and I think that you’re definitely the example here for anyone else who is on the edge, not sure what’s going to happen next and wants to take that leap, but just hasn’t done it yet. Thanks for being here and thanks for sharing your experiences and can’t wait to keep in touch with you.
Nick: Dude, thank you so much for having me. Your time is valuable and I really appreciate again you spending time with me and thanks again to all your audience for doing the same. You’re awesome and we’ll definitely be talking again some more.