Million Dollar Monday

How The Chive Founders Built an Empire & Started a Business with Bill Murray

November 08, 2021 Greg Muzzillo
Million Dollar Monday
How The Chive Founders Built an Empire & Started a Business with Bill Murray
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Do you live your life with blinders on or off? Are you aware of the opportunities that surround you? Leo Resig is Co-Founder of the well-known lifestyle and comedy website The Chive and creates popular apparel such as “Keep Calm and CHIVE on.” He is also Co-Founder of Atmosphere TV, the world’s largest audio-optional streaming TV service for businesses.

Chapter Summaries

Key Takeaways 

  • “Enjoy” is a word that is thrown around our household a lot. If you're not “enjoying” it now, when are you going to? I think right now, we're moving so fast and we live in a very stressful world that, you know, there's no more appropriate time to stop and smell the roses.
  • Yeah. It's funny. You say, have your antennas up. I say, live life with your blinders off. And some people just go through life like that.
  • And we were just getting good at selling t-shirts with “Keep calm and Chive on” when we launched our Bill Murray shirt, it flew off the shelves.
  • So the commercial model is that we sell advertising on our website, the minority of the traffic comes through our website. Now it's mostly native iOS and Android apps on your phone is where we get the most of our traffic.
  • There are TVs everywhere. There are people with dwell time, they're stuck somewhere. They want to be you know, at a bar or restaurant. And for us, we curate a bunch of owned and operated channels on the platform with CHIVE TV. We built happy TV which is softer, cute puppies and kittens and, and fails, and baking and cooking and everything that is popular on YouTube. 

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Greg Muzzillo:

Hello and welcome to Million Dollar Monday. I'm your host, Greg Muzzillo bringing you real successful people with real useful advice for people with big dreams. I understand big dreams. I turned an investment of $200 and a lot of great advice from some really successful people into my big dream Proforma. That today is a half billion dollar company. Hello and welcome. I am excited to introduce a very interesting guest today who states that he starts businesses with a mission to make the world a happier place. How cool is that? He has a great story about doing business with Bill Murray. You got to stay tuned for that. He's founded, co-founded several companies, including his primary business. Today that's raised over $40 million with a valuation approaching $300 million after only a few years. Please welcome. Co-founder and CEO of Atmosphere, TV Leo Resig Leo. Welcome.

Leo Resig:

Hey Greg. Thanks for having me.

Greg Muzzillo:

Excited to have you and so many cool stories. I hope we have time for all of them, but let's start at the beginning. I know you and I are fellow Hoosiers. But tell us a little bit about your growing up years and , where did you learn your excitement in your passion for business business ownership, streaming video, the internet and more?

Leo Resig:

Yeah, absolutely yeah, I grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana , you know, had the classic, you know, typical childhood of playing all the sports and, you know, attempting to do schoolwork. But, and to be honest, I was actually a pretty decent student up until college and we'll get to that later, but , yeah, no, my parents just instilled a work ethic with us at a young age. At the time the child labor laws where you couldn't work before you are 14 and then maybe that's 16 hours a week at subway of which I've worked at three of those. But , before that it was caddying at a country club you know, you'd get out there at 11, 12 years old and lug big leather bags around. So that was my summers growing up. And then after, you know, after college, my parents were really supportive. My brother was an actor classically-trained theater major at Hanover college in Southern Indiana. And he was like, you know, I want to go to this really expensive liberal arts school. And then I'm going to move to LA and try to make it and be the 0.01% that does. And they're like, you know what, go figure it out. And they did the same thing with me and they said, we don't worry about you guys. You're going figure it out. And so that's what I think is best about, you know, having jobs early on, but also having the support of family members and friends to not go along with the cultural norms in life and getting that first job at enterprise rent a car or Wells Fargo as a personal banker , just to justify your, diploma if you will. And so, yeah, I moved out to LA, a nd well, first Chicago before that, and, you know, I waited tables and bartended and wrote screenplays c ause I've always had an interest in film and entertainment. But then realized that I can't do that forever. Moved out to , to LA and lived with my brother. Who's still in the acting community, but again, what's he doing is waiting tables and bartending as well. But him and I, when we lived together with a bunch of friends, we discovered the, you know, the internet, right? So to give everyone context is like, we think YouTube has been around forever. It was started in 2005, so 16 years ago. And YouTube, was probably one of the largest and first video streaming services still today. Everyone thinks Netflix is the, is the largest streaming service and it's actually YouTube. So, but it makes sense. T hey got the biggest headstart timing is everything that coincided with people getting smartphones and taking videos on their phone and uploading it to YouTube. So i t w as, this is this flywheel effect of UGC content. And John and I were really interested in that. And we were like, well, what if we identify really cool photos and videos and put them on a website? And that's when three years after YouTube started, we started a website called theCHIVE.com. And it ended up , resonating with a ton of people. Millions of people started coming to the website , and we weren't creating original content. We didn't have the money to do it. And it's easier to, it's easier to , eat at a buffet than it is to make your own meal if you know what I mean. So we just picked out the best stuff you know, we would license as much as we possibly could or get photo attribution , to as many people as possible, but really we just wanted people to come to the website and we had this, we'll figure it out later , attitude about it. And, when it got big, you know, we had to start doing right by the owners of all of this content. And today we spent a ton of money on licensing, but that's really how, you know, the cliff notes version of how I got into, into the media business today. But , at the end of the day, it's all about knowing that you can always make a buck for yourself and you don't need anyone else. You don't need to rely on a company to do that for you . And if you do something that you love and we love, you know showing and sharing other, people really fun, funny, uplifting content. And that's what we continue to do. And we, you know, we don't touch anything polarizing or political and it's just a nice little break in the day.

Greg Muzzillo:

So at theCHIVE do you select the content or people can up load to theCHIVE just like you can to YouTube.

Leo Resig:

Yeah. It's not exactly the same as YouTube.YouTube, you can upload something and it just goes live. They have moderators to make sure you're not uploading anything too offensive. But for us, we have a pretty large content team that acts as the buffer zone. So we pick and choose from the UGC content that gets sent to us. And we still today get a lot of it sent our way. So,

Greg Muzzillo:

So what's the economic model?

Leo Resig:

Yeah, it's a it's multi-pronged right. So in media, when you've got a scale and a lot of reach and eyeballs, if you will , you can sell ads against it. So the commercial model is, you know, we sell advertising on , our website, which is the minority of the traffic comes through our website. Now it's mostly native, iOS and Android apps on your phone is where we get the line share of our traffic. And then we also monetize our social media handles on theCHIVE as well. And then merchandising. So e-commerce was, we were really early in that , there's a company called Shopify, which you've probably heard of. We helped stress test their servers. We'd have flash sales with, with shirts. That said "Keep Calm and Chive On" or the Bill Murray shirt, and we would literally sell over a million dollars worth of product in less than five minutes.

Greg Muzzillo:

All right, so you've opened up that door. Now you mentioned Bill Murray, everybody listening has to love Bill Murray. So tell us the Bill Murray story. It's great.

Leo Resig:

Yeah. So the Bill Murray story came about , in a very organic fun way. And , we were living in Venice beach, California, John and I, and we were at the farmer's market one Saturday, cause our parents were visiting and we're like, what do we do with mom and dad? Thank goodness, they visited cause we would have never gone to the farmer's market where we saw a guy wearing a shirt , with Bill Murray on it. And it really caught my attention. And I went and I asked the guy, you know, where did you get that shirt? I'd love to buy it. And when I look closer, I realized he made the shirt with a Sharpie marker on a gray shirt and he goes, I actually made this, this is one of a kind , and I'm like, it's amazing, good on you, man. I was like, well, why'd you do that? You know why Bill Murray? And he goes, everyone loves Bill Murray, light bulb went off , went home and I'm a want to be a graphic designer. And I knew some Photoshop. And so I made kind of this rough version of Bill Murray and we put it on a t-shirt and put it for sale on The Chivery which is the e-com arm of theCHIVE. And we were just getting good at selling t-shirts with the shirt that said, "Keep Calm and Chive On". and when we launched Bill Murray, it flew off shelves. I mean, we ordered a couple thousand of these and they were gone within seconds. So the philosophy of those sales were like, oh wow this is something. And so we ordered more and more and more of those shirts. And we ended up selling over the course of a year , multi -millions of dollars worth of sales on this shirt. And it was exciting, but kind of scary, you know, because we had tried to reach out to find Bill and ask for, you know, not just permission, but we wanted a licensing agreement and to cut him in on the action. Can't get ahold of Bill. He's famous for not you know he'll show up in your life on your terms, but you can't get a hold of him and so we set a lot of money aside , of what we thought would be a good royalty to pay him and then knowing someday we'd want to make good by this and that someday came and we got a call from some organizers of the Caddy Shack Charity Golf Tournament in St. Augustine Florida, that he has been running for about a decade with his brothers. And , they needed a presenting sponsor and Bill was at the meeting and said, you know, call theCHIVE guys, they will be our presenting sponsor. So we got Bill didn't call us but we got hit up from a lot of people in that charity organization and said , we were told you're going to sponsor the event. And we're like, we absolutely are how much is it ? It was a lot of money. But we had the money set aside and we got the opportunity to meet Bill and his lawyer. And to be honest, what it came down to is, we came to him and said Hey, we have all this money for you, which I think anyone would appreciate. And he's from Illinois and he was a caddy growing up in a big Catholic family. And we were from Indiana and we were caddies from a big Catholic family and he was like, oh, I like these boys. You're good. And so to this day, we're still business partners with , on theCHIVE. And we actually started a golf company with him called William Murray golf about five, six years ago. And he's the logo for the brand.

Greg Muzzillo:

It's such a fun story. Just, it makes me smile, just thinking about, you know, Bill Murray and all of the memories I have from him from film . So, all right. So it was a lot of fun, but it also made some serious money, but walk us through how you got to what I think is your main business today. Atmosphere.TV.

Leo Resig:

Yeah. So Atmosphere.TV or Atmosphere TV is it's a free ad supported streaming service. So very similar to, your Pluto or your Samsung TV+. You're starting to hear about and start, people are starting to use services like Tubi where you can access free television. You just need to sit through commercials. That model sounds very familiar because it's the original television model from Philo T. Farnsworth from Fort Wayne, Indiana. My hometown he doesn't get enough credit for being the inventor of the television. Everyone knows Thomas Edison and Bell and Tesla, but the guy that everyone watched, the inventor of the television is from my hometown. And for Atmosphere really, it started with CHIVE TV. And what I mean by that is , with theCHIVE, you're always trying to extend your audience reach and the more people you can reach with your content, the more advertising revenue that you can bring onto your platform. And so you've got your, desktop, mobile, web, iOS, and Android native app you've got your social media reach, you've got your newsletters. That's kind of like the 360 of audience reach. But five, six years ago, that's when streaming started taking hold with some people and you saw it happen with apple TV, even before that. And everyone thought ok apple you're usually on the forefront. This is interesting. And then the little company called Roku came up and said, you know what, apple won't let third-party developers build an app or a channel on their platform. Roku said, come on over. And we're a tech company, you know, we know how to build apps on iOS and Android. We can figure out streaming television. So we started CHIVE TV , in 2015. And our whole idea with that was extending our audience reach, by basically you know, building an app that puts all theCHIVE's best videos and even photo galleries, which don't exist any longer. And our plan was to get on theCHIVE and say, Hey, do you own a bar or restaurant? And do you want this fun content? That's an alternative to sports and news and your bar. And you know, that seeded the market, there was about a thousand Chivers who, you know, managed or owned a bar restaurant and they called us up and we send them a free Roku device with CHIVE TV pre-installed on it. And it was the only app on the device . That's the only thing you could watch. And lo and behold people like the same content that they like on their phones and on the internet, they like when we curate it into package compilations for television screens. And so that's when we decided that there's a huge gap or a huge problem, to be honest with you in television for businesses, you know, a hundred percent of the content that's created for television is made for the use of audio. Whereas in 99% of businesses, they don't have the audio on. And so our content doesn't, you don't need audio, audio to enjoy it. You don't need to hear, you don't need to speak English to enjoy it. It's a globally recognized a nd l oved type of content.

Greg Muzzillo:

So it took me a moment , to really understand what you guys were all about. And then I saw, you know, at the website and then I started to understand, okay, you're talking about stuff that bars and restaurants and hotels and lots of other organizations play sort of in the background that we watch, maybe in a multi-screen environment , even, and it's just entertaining video. And in many cases, it doesn't, there's no sound or you can turn the sound off, is it? I'm not sure I have been in a place and I've seen it, but I just haven't known it. Is it like kind of silly America's funniest videos kind of stuff? Or what is the content?

Leo Resig:

Yeah, a great question. It started with just CHIVE TV. We turned it into the platform where we could house a lot more channels to, kind of solve the needs of different business industries. So, you know, medical office, waiting rooms , veterinarian clinics , bowling alleys, laundromats, car washes, we realized there are TVs everywhere. There's people with dwell time, they're stuck somewhere. They want to be there for, you know, a bar or restaurant. And for us, we curate a bunch of owned and operated channels , on the platform with CHIVE TV is just one of 50 channels now it's still our most watched channels, but Happy TV we built, which is more, it's softer, cute puppies and kittens and fails , and baking and cooking and, everything that is popular on YouTube. We reach out to these YouTube creators and Instagram, and we license their content and package them into themed channels. And then we also pair that with partner channels. So America's Funniest Home Videos is a channel on our platform , which makes a ton of sense, Red bull, we're launching GoPro soon. So there's other third-party brands who are looking at our, platform the same way that they looked at Snapchat early on and, still Facebook. And so when you, have the platform, you own the rails, and that allows you to bring whoever on that you want. We're not an open source marketplace yet where third-party media companies can build an app on our platform. We're being a little picky and choosy about who comes on , because we want all the content to be great.

Greg Muzzillo:

So far, it all sounds like roses. I've only heard about really fun and great and successful stuff. And they're all great and successful and great to listen to. Tell our listeners, maybe if you could, what were some of the hardest moments in making all of this happen? And how did you work your way through one or two of those most difficult moments in the business?

Leo Resig:

Oh man, there's actually a lot of them. I'm glad you brought that up. because there's, you need to fall on your face , to get to where you're at, for sure. So with theCHIVE you know, we, never raised any outside capital. We are fortunate enough to be profitable since day one. We scaled that business , as we could afford , you know, took some money off the table as you know, without, you know, tanking, future growth plans, and just being responsible about it. And, but what it allowed us to do is have the sandbox to try new things with, because we had this big marketing mechanism, or megaphone with our audience that we could try stuff with. So we did, we, you know, not everything works as well as it did as CHIVE TV and Atmosphere. But early on, we started a beer company , we were having a lot of CHIVE meetups, and a lot of folks were, we have over 200 CHIVE chapters throughout the world. And these folks would get together and raise money for charity and they'd , you know, drink beer. And we were having dozens of these a week and we thought, well, wouldn't it be cool if we had our own beer and they could drink our beer, you know , CHIVE beer at these events. So we partnered with red hook , actually craft brew Alliance CBA , started this beer company. And we actually were the 50th largest brewery in the US one year selling millions and millions of bottles of beer. And we didn't make a dime. It's a tough industry. We were doing this right when the whole craft brew mega boom was happening. Everyone gained about 15 pounds, we were going on these beer tours , at the same time we started , CHIVE Fest music festival, and really what happened is, we lost focus from our core product, you know , we were really good and efficient at entertaining people on the internet. We're really good at monetizing via advertising on the internet. We're really good at e-commerce. We're not good at selling beer, you know, and it's just a whole other beast of a business. So you know, unfortunately we had to shut that down and we had to lose a lot of great employees when we shut that division down. CHIVE Fest , that was a four city music festival. And we , pumped almost $10 million into that. And everyone made money, except for us, we probably lost $4 to $5 million on just that alone that didn't go in our pockets. And we had to let a lot of people go , on that front, but the silver lining with that business is there was a couple of folks who worked for CHIVE Fest and we moved them over to William Murray Golf, and they're still there today running the golf line with Bill Murray. And then I think the biggest failure overall was not so much anything that was in our control It was the internet got really saturated with a lot of content and a lot of competition, and there's an infinite amount of ad inventory. And so literally it's just a race to the bottom, and there's a lot of look alike websites, just like theCHIVE that popped up. And I'm talking hundreds of thousands of these . And they've started eating our market share and then mobile and then our competitors went from, you know, the Onion and College Humor and Cracked and ESPN and Barstool sports. Our competitors turned into Instagram, you know, because everyone's consuming everything on their phone. And so if you're , are you going to go to theCHIVE app? Are you going to go to Instagram? And so we grew the company to, you know, 150 employees , you know, we're doing north of 50 million in revenue and then it all t urned south. And, you know, we, still have this brand and we still have this audience. But it's nowhere near the level that it was in the past and, all good things come and go at the end of the day. And so while theCHIVE is still around and strong, it's smaller than it used to be in terms of o ur ability to monetize. And so we've gone from, you know, 150 employees in that business to almost 70. And so you do have these highs and lows in business, and you just got to roll with it to survive b ecause to be honest, all of those competitors that I mentioned earlier, except for probably Barstool a nd the ESPN, they're all gone. So we were able to survive it, but it was, it was a tough few years.

Greg Muzzillo:

And you also had to make some cuts painful, but sometimes you have to cut your losses. Now this "Chive On" thing, "Stay Calm and Chive On" I've seen a lot of shirts that, that have that theme on it Stay calm and a whole bunch of other things, are you, are you guys the originators of that whole "Stay Calm and Chive On", are you the first ones.

Leo Resig:

We are not, and it's funny, a lot of people think that we are, and really our neighbor in Venice beach , you know , was from outside of London and we were over at his house one night hanging out. And in his house, he had a poster that said, "Keep Calm and Carry On". And that was a red poster and it had the Queen's crown on it. And I remember looking at it and it just resonated with me like, wow, this is a really powerful motto here. I asked Donald about it. And he said that, yeah, it was a, World War II slogan , meant to keep people's optimism and their spirits high during a really dark time. And so , the government would print these posters and put them all over town and they, and "Keep Calm and Carry On" and was one of a few that exists today. And it was unearthed at this bookshop , and, and the countryside outside of London. And we just happened to be the first to kind of see that, you know, just wasn't out in the ethos yet. And with theCHIVE, a lot of our fans would, would end their emails and in the comments would say, CHIVE ON like, Hey, CHIVE ON man. And so when I saw Carry on and we have CHIVE ON, they will started with C same amount of letters, let's change the red, to green. And it was one of those things that like, in life, you get these signals and you get these , signs and it's whether or not you notice them and take advantage of them at the top.

Greg Muzzillo:

A hundred percent Leo, I'm a big believer in the law of attraction. I think that's what you and I are now talking about. And I think that when, we are positive and we have some intentions that somehow the universe brings us a signal. I don't know what the right words are, and I don't want to get everybody think that I'm goofy or anything. But I do think that a lot of things comes to out vision. It comes to us to see, you said the word we saw the poster, you saw the t-shirt, but so many people, they don't have their antennas up. And they may say, you know, I want to start my own business, or I want to do whatever. And they, many people saw that t-shirt many people saw that sign in the person's house. You saw a business opportunity , and many people just don't make those connections. And I just think there's a lot of subtle hints that come to us in life, like seeing the Bill Murray, t-shirt like seeing that sign, that turned into business opportunities for people that are paying attention. And I say, have their antennas up.

Leo Resig:

Yeah. It's funny. You say, have your antennas up. I say, live life with your blinders off. And some people just go through life like that. And it's not their fault. I was probably one of the first people to ever watch the secret and I watch it every year. And the TV that I do watch is YouTube videos. When it talks about, you know, bringing, you know, living your life with your antennas up, your blinders off and enjoying what we have in the present moment versus always trying to, attain something , it'll come.

Greg Muzzillo:

Absolutely it will. And a lot of people ask me for advice. And one of the things I tell them , I'm sure you would agree with me is I tell them at the end, after giving them some business advice about what to do, whatever I say and enjoy these moments, because these are your good old days, right. You know what I'm saying?

Speaker 3:

Enjoy is a word that gets thrown around our household a lot. If you're, if you're not enjoying it now, when are you going to, and I think right now, we're, we're moving so fast and we live in a very stressful world that you know, there's no more appropriate time to stop and smell the roses.

Greg Muzzillo:

This thinking I'll be happy when I'll be happy. If no, no, I'll be happy now. Anyhow. All right. So you built some really cool businesses. You've got an amazing story and a lot of fun to listen to, you've achieved a lot of success in life , but you're a young guy. And, so share with us, what are some of the big dreams left for you, your life and your business?

Leo Resig:

Yeah, I've been thinking about that a lot lately. And I've also learned a lot about who I am as an entrepreneur and there's probably two different types of entrepreneurs and one is I'm going to build something great, and I'm going to run it until, I'm going to love what I do and I'm going to run it until I retire. I found out that I'm the entrepreneur who likes to build things , get them up and running that's a really exciting part of the process for me and then I want to do something else, and I've talked to people who are like, I don't know what else I would do. And I'm very much in the camp of like, my list keeps getting longer. So , you know, I've got, you know, I've always been in the entertaining folks business. And so it doesn't always have to be video or photos. I have plans to, I live in Austin, Texas now. So , I love the city, but I think it's lacking on the cultural side of things with, you know, world-class museums . So my brother and I are opening a modern art museum here. I want to get back into film. That's how this all started. I was writing screenplays, my brother is in film. And again, that takes me back to like, these are projects that will take three years and I'm not saying, you know, a film goes out on the truck like that, and you can start something new. A museum. I don't want to run it forever. I just want to get it going and give it to the city and let people enjoy it. And so projects like that, I definitely want to and by the way, doing all this, I just want to work 20 hours a week. That's the goal is balance.

Greg Muzzillo:

Yeah. And my, guess is that a lot of what you do isn't work at all, but it's passionate and fun a hobby.

Leo Resig:

It is absolutely .

Greg Muzzillo:

Absolutely . I really enjoy spending time with you, Leo. You're a fascinating guy. There's a lot of great future ahead of you. A lot of great ideas and businesses and success. I do hope we keep in touch and once again, thank you. Thank you for your time.

Speaker 3:

Thank you, Greg. Really appreciate it.

Introducing Leo Resig
Creating CHIVE.com
The Bill Murray Story
Atmosphere TV
Don’t Lose Focus
Chive On
Two Types of Entrepreneurs