Nathan Reuss, a former global accounts creative strategist at Facebook and Instagram, and creative director at Google, was inspired to leave the safety, financial security (and free meals) of his previous jobs because, like new business owners should, he saw a gap in the market. The big-tech companies and agencies that he has spent his career working with are, in his words, “not equipped or willing to evolve their internal politics and processes” in order to keep up pace with the times we’re living in. Carpe Diem, a full-service agency based in Las Vegas and Brooklyn, is his answer.
CDCA (short for Carpe Diem Creative Agency) only takes on three clients at a time. And for every three, they pay it forward to a deserving small business, pro-bono. Through diversity and agility, they agency is looking to break away from processes and structure that are often roadblocks for brands of all sizes. “Having worked at large agencies, it was challenging to consistently keep businesses moving at the speed of every day,” said a launch press release. “Now we’re able to move with the impact of a large seasoned agency, at a fraction of the time and budget.”
To find out more about the venture, LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with Nathan.
LBB> What are the foundations of Carpe Diem? When did the idea initially spark and what inspired it?
Nathan> The idea initially sparked when it became evident the multiple big-tech companies and agencies I worked with are not equipped or willing to evolve their internal politics and processes to keep up with the ability to launch, raise, and maintain brands at an effective pace necessary in our current times. The foundation of Carpe Diem is built on the ability to stay small, diverse, smart, and impactful with strategies for long-term brand and business objectives but also keep up with the daily pace of real life, as well. Similar to the butterfly effect, all the little daily and weekly decisions and executions impact the larger and long-term direction of brands. We see the forest as well as the trees. Why a brand and/or agency would spend six to 12 months and millions of dollars on a single :30- or :60-second television broadcast spot in this tech age reveals a disconnect with the zeitgeist of our times. The money would be better spent donated to non-profit causes who need it. Carpe Diem can create an entire database of content with multiple versions of :15-, :30-, and :60-second spots in a matter of days or weeks within a fraction of that budget without losing the impact of the message.
LBB> The agency is part based in Las Vegas, which isn’t a typical ad town. Is there any reasoning behind that? Will the location inform the business at all? How?
Nathan> I originally tried opening the agency in San Francisco during 2019 after departing Facebook and realised very quickly that the overhead costs of opening a shop in Silicon Valley were so large and scary that I spent most of my time in the foetal position worrying about raising money to pay bills instead of creating a community, business, and, most importantly, good work that helped build brands. As with many California-based startups, we see many businesses leaving for cities like Las Vegas, Reno, Phoenix, and Austin to get out from under the taxes and expenses. When I moved to Las Vegas, I was overwhelmed by the creative and digital community here, and how motivated everyone was. It made me realise how many people in the valley (including myself) were too comfortable going to their creative jobs at big tech companies, collecting big paychecks and bonuses, going to top-shelf parties, and going along with the flow of what we were told to do. Moving to Las Vegas reminded me what it was like to be hungry again - motivated, passionate, and excited about building something from scratch - to the point where I couldn’t sleep at night. That was the same rejuvenated feeling I had right out of school where all I saw was opportunity. Location has no bearing on our business. We are nowhere and everywhere all at the same time. It truly has never been an issue or come up with our partners. One of the reasons we are able to move at the speed of light and beat out big agencies on price is because we don’t pass on the costs of fancy office spaces or commutes on planes, trains, or automobiles to our partners. Plain and simple: We just kick ass from wherever we happen to be at the moment.
LBB> Nathan, your previous roles were at Facebook, Instagram and Google. How will this social media experience play into this venture?
Nathan> I'm a 44-year-old art school kid at heart. I attended the College for Creative Studies in Detroit in the early 2000s. Working my way up from there to these culture-shifting companies was my greatest professional success. In fact, I owe most of my professional success to the people and opportunities I had at these companies. I’m forever grateful. I think of these companies as my master’s and doctorate degree alma mater in the craft. When I got to a frustrated point where I felt like I wasn’t learning, I left. You can’t go through an early experience like that without feeling that. I think of my colleagues and friends as family members, and I love and respect them as such. And, leaving these companies felt similar to turning my back on my own family. Like moving out of your parents’ house all over again - the safety, the financial security, the free meals. Once you leave those halls, it’s a cold, raw, and lonely feeling (at least it was for me). No one cares that you worked at these big companies, no one cares what awards you won, and no one cares who you know. It’s all about what you can do today. Once I quit looking back, I took my first steps forward all over again.
I was at these companies in the fairly early days. I was there post-IPO at all of them, but only by a year or two. So, the cultural vibe and the trajectory was like nothing else I had ever experienced. It was overwhelmingly exciting. The people, the numbers, the money, the work, the dinner parties - every day was off the charts. Growing up in a little suburb north of Detroit, I never thought I would have been a part of the global impact. And, I’m still professionally proud and honoured to have been a small part of that - and I always will be.
But, I'm an observer at heart. And, I saw how my big brothers and sisters at these companies built work, teams, and organisations within these exceptional ‘startups’ of the time. I saw difficult decisions being made that yielded positive results. And, I also saw bad decisions that caused negative results for the creative business. I learned equally from both.
Our little creative agency is fewer than 10 people, but we are mighty. And I take into account all of the decisions that were made during my time at these companies and pour them into my daily decisions I make for our agency here in Las Vegas. It feels right, and it feels bright. When you don’t have any bosses to go to, to tell you what to do or to tell you everything’s going to be ok, even little wins feel monumental because it came from decisions we decided for ourselves to pursue.
LBB> Given that experience, what are your main aims and ambitions with Carpe Diem?
Nathan> My aims and ambitions are to stay small, diverse, nimble, smart - and most importantly, stay happy. Happy agencies make good work. I do not have dreams of building some big complex behemoth billion dollar agency. I’m not doing this for money or notoriety, I’m doing this because I found a group of very talented individuals that felt like I did and wanted to create something of our own. Through my learning over the past 20 years, I have the knowledge to build it for us. My plan B is to be a full-time mountain hermit–I’m totally fine with that too.
LBB> There’s quite a fixed business model in that you only take on three clients at a time. Why have you opted for that approach?
Nathan> It’s our startup mission. Our goal is to replicate this system at a 3:1 ratio in the years to come. The approach allows us to build our agency at a pace where we can stay small and happy and be able to actually focus on building our paying clients as well as growing a new business. It’s a mission we can all get behind. We didn’t want to rebuild our own hell by creating what we wanted to get away from in the first place in our past roles. Where you have so many clients and so much work that you never get through the candy-coated shell to the gooey nugget on the inside. It allows us to really go deep with our partners instead of giving them whatever minimal viable service that keeps the checks rolling in. We don’t just want clients. We want partners, friends, and extended family members. Sound idealistic and emotionally mooshy? Yeah, that’s how we roll.
LBB> You’ll also be supporting small businesses - can you tell us a bit more about what you’ll be doing and the inspiration behind it?
Nathan> Being a small business ourselves and going through the process of creating our own brand, business, and community from scratch, we are well positioned to do the same for others. We figure if people like how we’ve built our little agency, then they will want us to do the same for them. We understand the hardships, the fear, and the lessons learned from going through the process ourselves.
LBB> How did you go about hiring for Carpe Diem prior to launch? What was important for you?
Nathan> My team hired me as much as I hired them. We all hired each other, you might say. Our lives and ambitions happened to converge through similar time, space, and intentions. So, we decided to seize the day together. Each one of us comes from different geographic locations, cultural backgrounds, spiritual faiths, and sexual orientations. One of the things I'm most proud of is our little agency represents a wonderful cross-section of culture we would all love to live in. And, now we do. During these unprecedented times, there is nothing more important to us than working, learning, figuring out difficult tasks, making beautiful things, and, most importantly, smiling - together. I can’t think of a more fulfilling professional life. Making a profitable business out of it is just a by-product of working in a healthy community toward shared goals.
LBB> What does the next 12 months hold in store for you?
Nathan> We hope to sustain our personal and professional happiness with each other and our partners. Life’s pretty simple like that. For the business, we’re excited to further develop our existing partnerships and work that launches profitable new brands, we’re curating our agency podcast, leading our agency meditation sessions, and working with our partners toward the common good of society.