Season 1, Episode 16
J Schwan, former CEO of Kin + Carta, entrepreneur, and tech services investor
In episode 16 of Pitch Masters, I speak to inspirational leader and former CEO, J Schwan. We have an incredibly candid talk about what being a CEO really involves. We discuss red and blue oceans, pitching to investors, choosing the right clients for your business, the importance of having a great mentor, and using the story from the movie 300 to motivate a team to success. Grab a coffee (or something stronger), sit back, and enjoy the show.
I had the pleasure of working for J when he was the CEO of Kin + Carta, a 2,000-person data and experience consultancy. But it wasn’t always that way. The St. Ives Group was a printing company, responsible for getting books like Harry Potter into the hands of readers. Its leaders decided that printing was perhaps not the medium of the future and completely pivoted their mission to become a digital consultancy, acquiring 11 agencies globally within a short space of time. One of those agencies was Solstice, a firm that J Schwan had built from the ground up, and one of the leading mobile development firms in the US. Not long after the acquisitions, the CEO of St.Ives stepped down, and the CEO of Solstice, J, was asked to take the role.
In this episode, J talks me through the highs and lows of becoming a CEO of a large, publicly-listed firm going through a total transformation. We discuss the role of the CEO and the imposter syndrome he had when he took the job. J rebranded St. Ives to Kin + Carta and consolidated the agencies to achieve where the firm is today: successful, profitable, and performing in a growth market.
Early this year (2023), J stepped down from the role and left his legacy in the hands of his close colleagues, many of whom have been on the rollercoaster with him since the Solstice days. He reflects on some of the greatest pitches that his company won and tells me exactly how they did it. He also talks to me about pitching to investors and the importance of being picky regarding which clients you agree to work with. He also talks about his mentor, how he came to meet him, and why we all need to make sure we have people with more experience in our lives available to support us.
My favourite story from the episode is when he rallied his team in a David and Goliath competition for a client that would change the company’s fortunes overnight. It involves turning away a rockstar developer with all the answers, a trip to Mexico, and the movie 300. Watch the video below.
J is now on a new mission in life, mentoring and investing in young businesses in the tech services sector, which you can learn more about at thesecondmountain.io. He also posts regular videos, free for everyone, in his Masterclass series at youtube.com/@thesecondmountain.
@PITCHGUY ON SOCIALS
Follow @pitchguy on socials for regular video clips from the podcast, as well as tips, tricks, and advice on pitching. And feel free to connect on Linkedin.
Season 1, Episode 25 Graham Thomas and the pitch for British RailThe pitch to become British Rail's advertising agency in 1979 is one of the greatest of all time. It involved an immersive theatrical experience that showed an audience a problem in a completely new...
Season 1, Episode 24 Oren Klaff, bestselling author of Pitch AnythingThis week on Pitch Masters, the one and only, Oren Klaff. I’m tempted not to even write anything else, BUT, in case you haven’t heard of Oren, let me indulge you. Oren Klaff is the real deal. He...