Melissa Core-Caballo, CEO of the award winning branding powerhouse Dead Horse Branding, has teamed up with Brett Lucas, founder of the Academy of Music, Dance Drama, to launch Education Connection, an industry injection into Australia’s education system – propelling our students and giving them a massive industry kickstart before graduation. With such an exciting slate of projects on the go, we had a chat with Melissa to find out what keeps her motivated and focused as an entrepreneur during challenging times.
It’s a well known fact that when you first launched Dead Horse Branding, in under 5 years you managed to take a startup company making $0, to managing over $100 million in yearly brand revenue. Where does your entrepreneurial drive come from?
I have always wanted a different lifestyle for myself, my family and my team. That lifestyle is working from different locations on a daily basis nationally and internationally. Of course, we all need a hub we come to, but I feel that a flexible working environment promotes healthy staff, self-motivation, accountability and super creative environments. So, I created it. That was my drive for working for myself. In regard to Dead Horse Branding, I noticed a gap in the image building and promotional sectors where no agency was doing all formulas of brand building and promotion under one roof. Nor could an agency flip a switch to move from public relations and marketing to photography and then back to public relations. I found it very hard to track and communicate with various agencies for one project and wondered why it could not be under one roof. I realised it could – as long as you know the branding formulas and strategies in which they are built. The Co-Founder and Art Director of Dead Horse Branding, Rick Caballo second my findings and agreed we should launch a boutique studio that builds images and promotes brands. Here we are today – 10 years in, internationally acclaimed and loving life.
It would be remiss to not mention the unprecedented times we currently face with COVID-19 and the damaging effect it has had on the marketing industry. What keeps you motivated during these uncertain times?
I’ve personally never had an issue with self-motivation. I find that you either want something or you don’t. And that is generally your motivating force. Being an entrepreneur, I don’t mind uncertain times. I think every day in an entrepreneur’s life is uncertain and that’s half the challenge that we like. During the uncertainty of the COIVID-19 pandemic, I have kept up my motivation through finding opportunities to grow our business and the businesses of others. We just launched an initiative to provide free consulting to local businesses during the current lockdown here in Australia. Dead Horse is adapting to the everyday change that accompanies this pandemic.
What informs this work ethic of yours?
My work ethic comes from my natural drive to enable brands to reach their fullest potential. After seeing firsthand the power a strong rebranding and media strategy can have on a business, I want to share that vision of success with others. By pursuing this mission, I am also driven to further ensure Dead Horse is the best full service publicity agency in town through building talented staff and propelling killer brands.
Do you have a vision for yourself in 5, 10 years?
I don’t have a specific vision for myself as much as I do the company and our staff. I have always wanted Dead Horse to be a global operation with staff that have an awesome balance of work and life. I want the team to have international opportunities where they can fly to different places and experience different cultures, brands, and clients. We have currently put a heavy business strategy in place to establish a strong Australian hub where staff can come work. That will kick off in 2022. We have also launched the DH 7 branding module which is an industry injection into the education system. It kicks off in schools, colleges and universities this fall 2021. We also want to take this program global and be a leading industry pathway and resource for students and educators.
When things don’t go to plan, how do you manage disappointment?
I don’t dwell on anything that hasn’t gone to plan. However, I do step back, look at why it happened, review the reason it didn’t go to plan, and make sure myself, the team, and company can understand what led to the negative outcome. I tend to change gears very quickly and have a pattern of not looking back once it’s done and dusted.
Do you have a quote or mantra you live by?
Nike’s “Just Do It”.
You must have some productivity hacks, care to share?
I’m really big on organisation so I have several different types of software to help my productivity stay intact. I find that when these hacks are all working, productivity is at its maximum best.
I love the project management software Asana and I also use Google Drive along with the Google calendar system. All of our emails are IMAP set up so when you read one on one device they appear correctly across all devices. That could be a simple thing to most people but if you don’t know about it, it’s a huge time waste if you’re not doing it properly.
How do you ride the start-up rollercoaster? What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
This is one of the most important rollercoasters you could ever ride. The start-up phase for any business will make or break your goals. Through Dead Horse, we have seven strict branding modules that need to be in place for your start-up phase to work successfully. So, advice number one is to do your seven branding modules and start up properly from the beginning. Number two is that if you’ve got 14 hours a day when you’re awake then you should be spending 14 hours a day on your start-up and on your business in general until it becomes sustainable. That word “sustainable” can be interpreted many different ways but at the end of the day it just needs to be sustainable according to your strategic plan.
What attributes do you look for in team members?
I look for staff members that are very versatile, meaning they not only know their craft for what they’re being hired for but understand the overall branding techniques and have a higher vision across all branding formulas. You do not need to know how to do all seven formulas at Dead Horse Branding but you do have to understand how they work together and why they will or will not work together. You may specialise in one formula only but without this knowledge base we wouldn’t be able to take you on. Our team members also enjoy working with an array of brands across many different industries from music to fashion to lifestyle products.
What does the future of education look like?
I definitely think education looks more industry based. I think there needs to be a very strong industry injection into the education system, hence why we launched the DH 7 branding module for schools and students. The best way to learn is hands on. That’s never going to change even though in these uncertain times, in-person education and going into the office has come to a standstill in some industries. We need to keep focusing on hands-on experiences. The DH 7 branding module that we are launching aims at branding and giving students all the tools and contacts they need before graduation. So, by the time they graduate they have their strategic plan, their brand built, and are ready to step into their desired role. This way they not only understand how they are a brand and how they fit in with an organisation but know how the organisation is a brand and what it stands for. Then, they’re able to sell themselves better into their desired position.
What are your favourite podcasts and apps? Please name three of each and give me one line about what you like about it.
Since having the pleasure of being a TEDx national committee member, I of course love the TEDx podcasts and the TEDTalks brand. The TED brand has a unique vision of storytelling, with a creative way of how you tell your story that’s 100% unique to the TED brand.
I also love the fashion rewind podcast. It’s a podcast that concentrates on people that have had to rewire their life or want to rewire their life to move into the fashion industry. It’s so interesting to hear stories from successful designers and industry professionals on how they actually got into design when it wasn’t their initial goal from the start.
Asana for project management is awesome on your desktop or on your phone. For me it’s one of the best project management tools.
This isn’t an app, but it’s a new device called the Remarkable. It is an incredible notebook that is super thin and has paper-like pages that text you what you are writing as you go. It’s very similar technology to a child magnetic sketcher and it has revolutionised my note taking. Due to this technology, Remarkable is infinitely reusable and saves paper, making it easier on nature so it is something I definitely had to mention.