David VS Goliath Podcast – S1 – Episode 35 – Clay Cook
In this episode of DVG Adam DeGraide interviews Clay Cook from Clay Cook Photo. Clay literally takes us around the world with his business and artistic skills. This interview is packed with great advice, funny moments and a message we can all learn from.
Adam Degraide: Coming up today on David Versus Goliath.
Clay Cook: I always believe that regret is embedded in the risk you didn’t take.
Adam Degraide: Everyone’s going to be wearing tutus. I’m just kidding.
Speaker 3: Welcome to today’s episode of David Versus Goliath, a podcast dedicated to helping small businesses leverage technology to not only help them compete against their large competitors, but win. Your host is currently the CEO of Anthem Business Software, a three time, Inc 500 recipient and a serial entrepreneur with a passion to help small businesses everywhere find, serve, and keep more customers profitably. Please join me in welcoming your host, Adam Degraide.
Adam Degraide: Hey everyone. It’s Adam Degraide with another great edition of the David Versus Goliath podcast. I’m your host. Welcome to the show today. Today’s interview is going to be with a gentleman by the name of Clay Cook. You’re going to learn so much, see some amazing pictures. Hear some great stories and learn about how solopreneurs are another whole segment of entrepreneurs that we want to interview here on the David Versus Goliath podcast.
Today’s episode is brought to you by Anthem Software, where you can find, serve, and keep more customers profitably with their all in one solution of CRM software, marketing services, and a training lab, all built specifically for small businesses to help you get results. Every business has a song, let their software and marketing system sing yours. Visit Anthemsoftware.com today.
Also you could visit us online at DavidvsGoliathpodcast.com. There you can subscribe to receive newsletters and email updates on the new episodes coming out from DVG, and you can also apply to be on the DVG podcast as well. Plus, you could shop look for little hats, mugs, T-shirts, have some fun with that. And you can even ask us a question. Simply type in your question to DVG, get some free business advice. We look forward to helping you and your business. Well with no further ado, let’s get into today’s interview with Clay Cook. Clay, welcome to the David Versus Goliath podcast.
Clay Cook: Thanks for having me, man.
Adam Degraide: Man. You’re like an international man of renown and mystery. First of all, you’re clothed in black over there and I love it, man. And what I love about DVG, I don’t know how much you’ve watched the show, I’m an artist myself, a musician myself. I have a soft spot for creatives in general. So people that have creativity just oozing out of them. I love the visual arts. I love the musical arts. I love just about any art you can imagine. And that’s why I’m so excited to have you on here. And for the watchers and listeners, just listen to this really quick. I don’t want to steal his thunder, but he talked about how he’s an advertising and portrait photographer. He’s a coach, author, director, social influencer, I guess I would be that too now that I’ve started this podcast, I’d be considered that. He’s an entrepreneur. He’s a commercial photographer who’s been across the globe from the killing fields of Cambodia to the Ninevah plains in Iraq to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. It is awesome.
And ClayCookPhoto.com. And I know we don’t start out of the gate promoting a website, but I was spending some time on it this morning before the podcast. Your work is fantastic. And I’m assuming I have permission, throughout this podcast, to show some different images when we’re talking about different things from the website. Is that okay?
Clay Cook: Of course. Yeah, absolutely.
Adam Degraide: All right. Awesome. So we have a lot of business owners here that have tons of employees, but I also have a passion for solopreneurs, people that have their own business, they’re using their primary talents to build and sustain a lifestyle. And that’s exactly where you fall in. So without belaboring the point and listening to me gab for the rest of the thing, let’s get to you, which is the most important, the interviewee. So Clay, tell us a little bit about your journey and how you discovered you had creativity in you, to some of your fun projects and we’re just going to let the conversation lead us as it goes.
Clay Cook: Yeah, sure. So, I mean, you have to go back to my teenage years. I’ve always been fascinated with movies and music. I used to make little short films with my old eight millimeter video camera growing up and then always wanted to be a film director and aspired to have some position in the movie industry. And then music took over my life and became just utterly obsessed with Metallica and like all these awesome bands. I was getting out that teenage angst at the time.
Adam Degraide: I still, by the way, I still rock Metallica, man. I mean-
Clay Cook: I do too.
Adam Degraide: My dad always used to tell me, I was 17, 18, he’d be like, when you get older, when you turn 50, you’re not going to listen to that music anymore. Well, not only am I not listening to it, I’m writing it. So I still write hard rock and I still listen to it on a daily basis. If I don’t get my dose of metal and my dose of adrenaline rush, it just doesn’t work for me. So that’s interesting. That’s fascinating.
Clay Cook: Yeah. I still listen to it. I took a break for a long time. I was really phased out from music industry, but I’ve recently just gotten back into some of the harder stuff recently. But anyway, so I got into the music industry pretty hardcore and I was in a hard rock band called In The Clear for about 10 years and we did pretty good. We toured a lot all over the United States and played some pretty big shows and toured with some relatively large bands at the time and did pretty good. But I was always fascinated with the graphic design and then we would do promo shoots and things like that where we’d hire photographers and it was always a really interesting thing for me. And I would have these long conversations with these photographers along the way, like, what do you do? How do you do this? What is this lighting? All that. So I was always interested in the process because of going back to my younger years, to wanting to be a film director.
And so music, I was in it for a long time. And then when the band broke up, I had kind of formed a plan B, which was my graphic design business. And I was mostly working for record labels and other bands in the industry. And I did some ad work here and there, but for the most part, I was working, still in the music industry, and I was getting these crazy requests for the implementation of stock photography. So these bands wanted this Reaper with a bald Eagle on their shoulder. And I’m like, I don’t even know how to source this in stock Photography. Where do I get this?
So I received a camera for a Christmas gift, actually, because, I wanted one so bad because I just wanted to shoot things to just implement in my graphic design business. And it kind of just changed everything for me. I started out shooting just those random requests for graphic design. And then I started shooting more and more, just different things like people. And I was photographing my friends at parties and their newly born babies and families. And then I get into weddings and all that stuff. And then it just kind of snowballed into what it is today. And over the years, it’s grown into be something that’s just such an impactful thing in my life.
Adam Degraide: Now, let me ask you a couple of questions about that. Cause I’m always fascinated people’s journeys, right? So you and I had very similar experiences with our moms, but your mom was creative. My mom was super creative. My dad was a disc jockey, which obviously helped me learn, I can now, “Hey it’s Adam Degraide.” I get the voice. I could totally do the whole thing. I remember him announcing the circus. He’d be the guy announcing the ringmaster for the circus. So I got a lot of that from my pops as well, too. And a lot of my creativity, my whole family’s been musicians and artists and my brother, I don’t know if you know, Neil, Neil’s an amazing musician. He’s an amazing artist as well. And I’ve always valued visual arts, but I’ve never been able to actually draw. My idea of drawing is like a little stick figure with a little house and a little chimney on it. And some suns. So you were in a band for a while. Were you the singer? Were you a musician? What did you do?
Clay Cook: I was the rhythm guitar player.
Adam Degraide: Awesome. you were Angus Young’s brother.
Clay Cook: I was one of the songwriters.
Adam Degraide: You’re Angus Young’s brother. Is it Marco Marks?
Clay Cook: Yeah, exactly.
Adam Degraide: You know, it’s funny, in our bands too, Clay, my brother’s such a great lead guitar player that I just couldn’t even hold a candle stick to him. So I became by defacto, rhythm guitar or bass or keys or something, anything other than lead because he was so much better at it than me. So I can relate to that. And so when you’re in the band and you’re touring and you start to see director of lighting, when they’re doing video shoots and you start to see the different types of cameras and the different angles and things that you probably watch back and you said, oh, I like that. Or, yeah, I’m really not crazy about that. That kind of spurred you on to say, I want to just kind of experiment myself.
And what I think is fascinating about the way the world works and the way I believe all of us are uniquely created with certain gifts and talents that we unearth as we go along, is that all your life’s journey led you to be where you are today. Even talking to a crazy guy with spiky faux hawk hair who still thinks he’s 16 years old. I had a comment the other day, this you’ll like this Clay, I had a comment that guy’s like, when are you going to grow up, Degraide? Your little faux hawk hair, what are you 16? And so I said to him, his name was G money. I said, Hey, G money. I said, I appreciate the feedback. I said about 10 years ago, I started losing my hair. And so I realized I was going to go out with a bang and he goes, you know what, as a result of that comment, I’m subscribing and liking.
Clay Cook: I love it. Love it.
Adam Degraide: All of these things in our lives lead us to where we are today. So from music to photography, how much of a difference in leap was it, or is it just a different angle of the same creative spirit?
Clay Cook: Yeah. Playing live, there’s nothing else like it. It’s a very visceral feeling and an adrenaline rush when you’re playing live in front of a crowd. And I always enjoyed that. It was almost like theater to me. So there was always some sort of thing that came back to movies and acting and directing and that kind of stuff. So when I played live, it was kind of theatrical for me in a way. Of course it was like the adrenal rush and all that stuff.
Adam Degraide: Sure. It’s hard to replace that. It’s hard to replace that.
Clay Cook: Yeah. Yeah. And then when it came to recording, that’s where that creative process came in. And then when I started doing graphic design and then ultimately photography, it was just sort of like a flow. It wasn’t something that was a drastic right angle or transition or anything like that. Slowly I started tapering off my graphic design clients and I actually continued playing music well into photography. It just wasn’t on a serious level. It was like, I still played with some of my bandmates and we had a new band and it was just a different type of music. It was more alternative in what we were doing. And it just kind of all flowed. It wasn’t this hard transition. There was a hard transition in my personal life where there was markers where I can clearly define, okay, this is where I started this. And this is where this ended, and this is where this started. But it was more of a personal thing than it was a professional thing.
Adam Degraide: Yeah. It’s fascinating because my whole life growing up, Clay, I thought I was going to be a rockstar. So I was convinced. My brother and I had bands, I was the manager of the band. So I was always pushing for shows. And I was the one that made the albums, worked with Neil, I produced most of the albums back then and Neil’s way better producer than I am. But little did I know, I didn’t know because he wasn’t producing. I should have just surrendered to him immediately. But anyway, as we were producing music, you think that’s going to happen and then life does curve ball. Right? Got married, had kids had to provide for them, started going into the business realm and went into banking.
And then all of a sudden I realized in my life, that business for me was as much a musical and creative thing as it was playing the guitar or bass or drums for me because I started to look, okay, how is this business band put together? Who’s the lead singer and is he still a prima donna? Yes. Who’s the bass player? Who’s all these things? And so for me, business started to shape. And in the beginning, I think when you’re a creative and you’re an artist and you have to start earning a living, it’s almost like your whole life you’ve been told that’s not art. Well, I would tend to say to you, it is 100% art and you can find creativity and beauty in making money within that art as well too.
But it takes a while to come from that purist, artistic mentality to it’s okay to make money doing art and photography. And I was looking at some of your portraits, man, and I don’t have one of me like that. And I think I got to get you down here. We got to try to recreate the DVG studio, Degraide vibe. I mean, we’re going to do it. I mean, we absolutely have to.
Clay Cook: I would love to.
Adam Degraide: Yeah, we’re going to totally do that. And I’ll make sure that we film the process and I’ll do a little segment on it in the future about how we did it. We’ll have some fun with it.
Clay Cook: Let’s get Neil over there. And Tyler and all the buddies.
Adam Degraide: It’s funny you said Neil. When Neil was a kid, just like you, Clay, he had these eight millimeters and these camcorders that my mom would have and him and Pete Mitchell, who’s the singer for No More Kings, they would make movies like genetically altered kitties. It was literally this mad scientist that had these altered kitties and he would do all these special effects on it. So I think in some ways, man, you’re born with something, you’re going to end up doing what you’re supposed to do. Was that transition for you though, from being an artist, to making your art and still making money with it and probably doing shoots that you wouldn’t do personally, but because it’s somebody else’s vision and project, you’re going in and being creative on their behalf. Was that transition difficult?
Clay Cook: Yeah. I mean, for me, I never made a dime playing music. I mean, money was never a driver for me ever. Now, when I got into photography, I was like 26 years old and I was getting married at the time. And life was just smacking me in the face, sort of. So for me, I had to start making money somehow. And it came relatively easy for me, comparative to the music industry where I always say oh, in the music industry, you’re hustling, you’re in the ticket and t-shirt business and you’re running on a treadmill and never getting anywhere. And so when it came to photography, I found that doing what we call retail work, which is weddings and portraits and consumer work, it was fairly easy to come across that type of work. And so suddenly I was making money. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was something.
And then when I got into commercial work where I’m trying to execute other people’s ideas, that was a challenge at first. But a lot of the cases, in the photography world, when you do work in the commercial industry, you are taking an idea and then they’re hiring you to bring it to a tangible state that is within the parameters of your style or your uniqueness. And that is why they hired you in the first place.
Adam Degraide: Yeah. That’s why they’re hiring you. They’ve seen your art. They’ve seen your eye. That’s fascinating. Now I am way over on break, because I’m not paying attention to my own time. Cause I’m having so much fun. Just hanging out with a fellow artist and a fellow creative. So give me a second here. Hey guys, this interview is awesome. You have to be loving it with Clay Cook. This is fantastic. Where else do you get interviews with CEOs of software companies followed the following week with an amazing creative who’s built a business with his photography? Only here on DVG. We’re going to take a message here from our corporate sponsor, Anthem Software. We’ll be right back.
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Adam Degraide: And we’re back with Clay Cook. Photographed, not photographed. That’s a great song by Def Leppard. It’s an awesome song.
Clay Cook: There’s photo, photography, photographed.
Adam Degraide: The photographer. And when I was reading your sheet, I thought this was pretty cool too. You have built a pretty decent following and social media following, which I’m hoping you share this podcast with, by the way, when it comes out.
Clay Cook: Yeah, absolutely.
Adam Degraide: You’ve got a community of about 60,000 on Facebook, 57,000 on Instagram, 18,000 on YouTube, you have 140,000 unique followers across all your combined media. That’s got to feel great. And this is all organic. This is just people who value what you’ve done. People tune into this show and they love to learn about how would I do that for myself if I had my own business out there? What did you do to get that out there? Was it just purely organic or were there some strategies behind that?
Clay Cook: Yeah. I went to an influencer event a year or two ago, right before COVID. And I met a couple of people and they just called me an OG because I was just on social media, very early with the band stuff. I was on Friendster and Myspace and all these original. And so like as soon as a new social media site just popped, I would immediately sign up and just start putting stuff out there, not even having intent or an idea of kind of what I was doing. But it really took it to another level when I started doing a lot of education and blogging and things like that early on. And it is a vastly important thing, obviously, now to have social media, at least some sort of presence and for a business.
And it has become sort of a business thing for me, especially recently. Social media used to be this thing that was brand new and exciting and fun, and it’s really morphed into something that’s like, I couldn’t even imagine it’s become.
Adam Degraide: It’s exhausting.
Clay Cook: Yeah. I mean it really is. But you know, it is important and I do utilize it and I do love it. I love mentoring and education and putting out information out there that isn’t just widely known, especially about the commercial photography industry because a lot of commercial photographers kind of hold their stuff tight to the chest.
Adam Degraide: People are always afraid to share what they’ve learned with others. And I think it’s a big mistake. I think if you openly share with others and people sense that, not only do you endear yourself to the masses. Most importantly, you’re benefiting the world at large and this is not all about us. It’s about helping other people and there’s enough commercial photography gigs out there for many amazing commercial photographers. And I think that is great.
So you’re trying to mentor. I mean, I was also reading here that you’ve done some Ted talks. You’ve personally consulted with over 5,000 photographers. You’ve been a coach and you’ve mentored 30 interns, personally. I mean, people are so important. You think about all that goodwill that you’ve had out there and not only are you helping spread other talents and other skills and other people that have those same life skills and talents, you’re also not afraid to give back, which I guarantee is helping you land gigs from people that really appreciate your openness to that. Has it been difficult training those interns and giving those talks? I mean, tell us a little bit about that.
Clay Cook: You know, I’ve always been one that is all about paying it forward. The way that I learned photography wasn’t through a course or a class or tutorials didn’t exist, Master Class wasn’t a thing back in 2010, 2011. So there wasn’t this widely known information about how to light and how to do all these things in photography, because it was just a different animal then. With social media, obviously, there’s more and more information about how to take beautiful pictures and things like that. But I learned from other people. I learned from a couple of mentors myself and who were doing it and exploring themselves and I would go on sets with them. And so I’m always one to try to take how I learned and apply it to others and get in the weeds with them and really try to be hands on with my interns. And some have different levels of experience than others and everybody’s different and everybody learns differently, of course.
But I’ve had some really incredible assistants and interns come through the program over the years and they’re some of my best friends. I still consider many of them to be some of my great friends and extremely talented. And they’re well on their way in many of their careers, most of them have branched and moved on to different places and are having their own experiences and trying to advance their careers.
Adam Degraide: That’s awesome. Let’s take some time here to look at a few things, look at a few photos together. I’m not going to be able to put them up for you and I to see them, because obviously when we’re recording this it’s difficult. But I want you to go ahead and talk about a handful of some of the things that you did, a little bit about each project. So, let’s spend like four or five minutes just looking at some different things that you’ve done together.
Clay Cook: Okay.
Adam Degraide: Which one would you like to start with?
Clay Cook: You know, I think probably the most rewarding thing that I’ve done has been my work in east Africa and a lot of my humanitarian work.
Adam Degraide: That would be, is that your Na Kisima?
Clay Cook: Yep. That, and there’s a gallery called humanitarian.
Adam Degraide: All right. Awesome. Let’s do that. So my producer’s going to scroll through these images as we talk in and out about this project. Tell us a little bit about them.
Clay Cook: Yeah. As a photographer coming into it, you’re always concerned about composition and lighting and making that perfect image and having the person in the perfect pose. And I really learned a lot about storytelling and the importance of storytelling through my travels in east Africa. And I actually had never traveled outside of the country before 2015. And I was invited to go to Tanzania in 2015. And it was my first time I’d ever gone outside the country, the United States. So I had maximum exposure there, the travel and an adventure.
Adam Degraide: I bet you that was a shock.
Clay Cook: It was. But I did so much research and I did so much prep as a photographer and how to travel and do all that stuff. I was just utterly obsessed and so excited about it. And anyway, I went over there and it was kind of a shock to the system a little bit. Like, oh, the world is a big place. And I learned a lot about other cultures in a very short amount of time. And in one year, like I went to Tanzania, Ethiopia, India, Bangladesh, and all these different countries. And it just was a super explorator of time for me. And I learned so much about how to tell a story through photography that I took that knowledge that I learned about how to shoot photojournalism and shoot this humanitarian work and then applied it to my ad work. And it really, honestly changed my career and my trajectory of the style. And shortly after, I started getting hired more and more because of the style that I incorporated from learning what I did in east Africa.
Adam Degraide: Yeah, it’s amazing. I’m scrolling and I know that my producer’s doing the same thing right now, but I’m scrolling through your website, just under your humanitarian section right now. And I’m looking at some of these photos. I mean, man, this is beautiful composition. I’m looking at one right now where there’s a woman who is with fresh water and she’s just experiencing, it looks like, almost for the first time experiencing fresh, clean drinking water. And the expression on her face is so powerful. Am I reading that picture accurately or is it-
Clay Cook: Yes. Yeah. So ultimately our client is an NGO called Water Boys and Water Boys, basically partners NFL athletes, or retired NFL athletes or NBA athletes, PGA athletes, just athletes with fans. And we go over and we build clean water wells in east Africa, where there is a big water problem there.
Adam Degraide: Totally.
Clay Cook: It’s really hard to get clean water. And so waterborne illnesses are the number one killer in that area.
Adam Degraide: Yeah. Still crazy. Right? Still crazy. I forget what I heard, is it 40% of the earth doesn’t have clean drinking water or something?
Clay Cook: It’s a fact. Yeah. It’s a pretty crazy statistic. So we’ve been going over there, like I said, since 2015, and I’m over in east Africa about twice a year, just documenting these players and these athletes that go over and their experience there. And we’ve raised a lot of dollars for, I believe we have almost 80 wells built and we’re serving almost half a million people. And so the goal is to serve 1 million people with our clean water that we’ve built over there, or drilled for over there.
Adam Degraide: It’s unbelievable. And I highly encourage my watchers and and my listeners, this is primarily a visual podcast. 90% of our subscribers are visual, but for the 10% of you who aren’t, get off your mobile device and get on a computer and get on a tablet and look at the actual podcast, because these images are breathtaking. The portraits you did under the project, Na Kisima, am I saying that right?
Clay Cook: Yes. So that’s basically Swahili for Under the Well. So what I did was take a lot of these beautiful Masai women and men and photograph them under one of the water wells. There’s a pretty interesting blog piece, if you want to check out my blog, which you can get through on my website about how I did it. And it was a really quick process, but I’ve always wanted to capture the faces of these beautiful people over there and their jewelry and their-
Adam Degraide: Oh man, you did it, you nailed it. You nailed it. It’s awesome. Switching gears to more of the commercial side of it, I have a sweet spot for Palm Beach. My wife and I, Crystal, got married at the Breakers in West Palm Beach. And we have stayed many times at the Boca Raton resort. You got this beautiful shot at the Boca resort there, and you got some awesome shots of Palm Beach there. And what I think is so cool about showing the juxtaposition between your humanitarian art that you’ve done and this, you can see that it’s actually just high quality, no matter what. And the vision is so different for each project. And yet you’ve done such an amazing job capturing both parts of the world. I just commend you big time and highly recommend for my viewers and my listeners that they check out your website because it’s really, really something special. And if only I could have a portrait as well done as some of these portraits in here.
Clay Cook: You will. Let’s do it.
Adam Degraide: I would be psyched out of my mind. Matter of fact, I’ll send you one of my favorite pictures of myself and I’m trying to figure out to recreate. The problem is I looked a heck of a lot better back then. So we’ll have to figure it out. We’re going to take another break here from another sponsor. But when we come back, I want to keep talking about your art, your creative process and a few other fun things as well. So, Clay, this is awesome. Hope you’re having fun. I’m having a blast. Can you believe what you learn and see here on the David Versus Goliath podcast? No, you can’t. Cause it’s too good to be true. But it’s not too good to be true. It actually is true. I’m your host, Adam Degraide. Here’s another special message from another sponsor. We’ll be right back.
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Adam Degraide: And we’re back again with Clay Cook, whose photography is cooking to be probably one of the worst puns I’ve ever used here. Some people do tell me I’m a little punny and not funny. But at the end of the day, I also was reading this, that you have a podcast.
Speaker 4: I do.
Adam Degraide: And you have a podcast and I’m trying to find the name of it. Stay Buzzed. It’s a bourbon enthusiast, by the way, I am, too, probably not as much as you are, but bourbon’s one of my favorite things to have as an adult beverage. If I’m going to imbibe, which I do imbibe. And the bourbon podcast, Stay Buzzed, how often do you create it?
Clay Cook: We do it about every other week. So we’re not insane about it. And it’s honestly just two guys getting together in a room, maybe having a pour of something and talking about it, but it’s mostly just what we’re doing, what’s going on. It’s with a friend of mine, Tyler Zoler, who’s also a photographer. So we’re both photographers and we’re both bourbon enthusiasts and we love it. And we live both in Kentucky. And so it’s a thing here.
Adam Degraide: Yeah. And it’s the official spirit of America.
Clay Cook: Is it really?
Adam Degraide: Yeah. In 1963 Congress passed the order where bourbon became the official spirit of the United States of America. Just like the bald eagle’s the official bird, bourbon is the official liquor of America. And as you know, you can only be a bourbon if you’re made in certain areas. Every whiskey is a bourbon, but not every bourbon, you know what I’m saying? I think I’m saying it backwards. These are little things that people don’t really realize, and they don’t know. But yeah, Congress, I think it was 1963.
Clay Cook: I actually didn’t know that.
Adam Degraide: Yeah. I didn’t know it either. I looked it up one day, I heard it on a show and I said, is that true? Is that really true? And I looked it up and sure enough, heck it’s true. It’s the official spirit of the United States of America is bourbon. So you might want to do a little show on that.
Clay Cook: Yeah. We don’t really get into the bourbon history a lot, but we do want to do a full episode on bourbon lore and how cool that would be. Like folk lore and like rumors and things like that from the back country of Kentucky and stuff. And how cool that would be.
Adam Degraide: And then why is it this one particular zip code can’t make a bourbon? I don’t get it. These are the great mysteries of the bourbon folklore. It’s awesome. So I encourage people to check that out. That’s at Louisville Bourbon Buzz, is the podcast for that. I’d love to be a guest sometime on that. Share a little bourbon with you guys. We can do it virtually. That would be a lot of fun.
I too, by the way, am diagnosed, myself, with OCD. And I noticed, it’s weird, I can go for like a week if something’s out of place. But then after that, I start to get crazy. Like I’m running an experiment right now. My wife, I don’t know if this happens to you, my wife gets tons of packages. I feel like sometimes I’m a UPS store and they’ll gather in the front of the house right near my front door. So every time I walk in my beautiful living room, I see these boxes, they’re starting to pile up and I don’t say anything for while. I just try to figure out you how long it’s going to take before somebody does it. No, I’ve got to bring it up every single time.
And so right now I’m running an experiment and hopefully these boxes are still not here when this episode comes out and my wife listens to this episode. But there’s these two boxes sitting on my kitchen counter that are gifts from my in-laws and they’ve been there for, I don’t know, five, six days already. And I’m just running an experiment to see how long it’s going to take before she removes them. So stay tuned folks. I’ll let you know, in a future episode.
Clay Cook: Just move them closer and closer to her.
Adam Degraide: I don’t even know how you can get any closer. The coffee machines right there, there they are. The sinks right here, but they just stay there magically. I don’t know. So everyone’s a little bit different and I bet you though, that OCDness, your need for clean and that organization has helped you with your composition, not only musically in your production, but in your photography. And so therefore it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s actually a gift. Is that true? Has it helped you?
Clay Cook: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve always been one to love structure. And even though I live in a completely unstructured lifestyle and career, for the most part. But what I love to do, I love my art to be structured and clean and polished, but be real, organic, relatable, all of those words. And that’s really important for me. And so, yeah, absolutely. I love the clean lines. I love the parallel lines.
Adam Degraide: Your compositions are absolutely just beautiful.
Clay Cook: Yeah. I can see it. I often compare it to how, if you’ve ever seen the Matrix, Neo seeds, like the green code. It comes across in the green code in the Matrix. That’s how I kind of see the world with light and lines. And so I’m super particular about how things are put together and placed when I do not only in life, in my studio and in organization, but also in compositions in photography.
Adam Degraide: You know, when you’re taking a commercial job, I think this would be something, because I have a lot of businesses that listen and watch the David Versus Goliath podcast. And they probably have done some things with photographers, but they’ve really not taken that next level and maybe hired someone of your caliber. What is the process of, I call you, Clay. I say, I’m looking for this. I like what you do. From that call, from concept to final product, walk somebody through the life of what that would be like working with someone like yourself.
Clay Cook: Sure. Yeah. I mean the first thing is to basically get an idea, obviously, of concept and your needs. In the commercial world, we have a licensing model for photography and the photographs themselves. So we have to understand what your usage is. So how are the photos going to be used? Are they going to be used in an unlimited way or a limited way? All those things are important, where they’re going to be shown. And from there, we determine what it’s going to look like from both a deliverable and assets lens as well, no pun intended, but also a production level.
Adam Degraide: That was very punny. That was very punny.
Clay Cook: And so we have to determine our production level, how long it’s going to take, how many days do we need, styling or is there food involved? Is there props? Is there makeup, wardrobe? All those things we have to determine and that’s going to determine our expenses.
Adam Degraide: There a craft cart?
Clay Cook: Right? Is there an RV? I did a job-
Adam Degraide: Do you require only peanut M&Ms that are red or is all the colors okay?
Clay Cook: That does exist sometimes.
Adam Degraide: I know it does.
Clay Cook: Special requests.
Adam Degraide: I got some special request when you come down and shoot for me, I’ll make sure everyone’s going to be wearing tutus. No, I’m just kidding.
Clay Cook: I love it. It breaks the ice real quick.
Adam Degraide: Exactly. That way I don’t feel uncomfortable.
Clay Cook: Yeah. Yeah. So we often determine all those things and then basically we get an idea and a proposal together and then proposal is negotiated down or it’s edited or revised. And then we get some signatures on the dotted line and then execute the project.
Adam Degraide: And by the way, and for a lot of creatives though, Clay, this part of the process is difficult. Because they just want to do their art. And so they view this as an intrusion, but it is not an intrusion. It is a necessity and it gives structure and stability to not only you, the artist, but to the client. I get worried if I’m hiring somebody and it’s too loose goosey. I would much rather know that they’re buttoned up legally. They’re buttoned up in their process. They’re buttoned up. They’re not afraid to ask for what they’re worth. I think I value that. And that is a tough thing. Was that hard for you to get used to submitting a proposal and then following up on it and saying, “Hey, are you going to buy for me?” I mean, it’s kind of not in the nature of most creatives.
Clay Cook: I think a lot of young entrepreneurs struggle with talking about money. I know I did for the longest time, because I didn’t have any money. And so it wasn’t something that-
Adam Degraide: Who am I to asked somebody for money when I have none myself.
Clay Cook: Yeah. So it was an uncomfortable, awkward position to be talking about that. And so you’re clicking off this proposal like I hope they go for it kind of thing. But it’s become easier and easier over time. And I also work with a producer that is a third party resource if we need that that can handle-
Adam Degraide: You need the hammer man, Clay. You need a guy like me that says, “Hey pal, are you going to do this? Are we signing on the line that is dotted or what?” No, I actually, have a lot of sympathy for people that are in your situation because it is not easy transitioning. Although it’s funny, I’ve talked about this because I want to make DVG something where musicians either, whether they’re bands or solo artists or the creatives like photographers and filmographers, if they can come on DVG and then we can talk business, but without sacrificing the creative side. And I think for the watchers and listeners, if you have a business and you don’t value creative individuals, you are making a major mistake. Some of the most powerful brands that have ever been created are created from people that are creatives. And so you may not be that, but you’ve got to find somebody alongside of you who values it. And if you don’t have anyone in your organization that values that, you’re stunting your own growth.
So in our business, for example, Clay, I’ve got my COO couldn’t tell you what a good graphical layout is if he wanted to. But I don’t want him to tell me what a good graphical layout is because I feel like I can do that. So I need somebody that can have organization, structure, run it like a machine like it’s a mission that is on and then I can focus on the more creative sides of it. And I give you a lot of kudos because it’s not easy transitioning. One of the things we talk about, cause we’re running out of time, would you come back in the future by the way, because I think this is better.
Clay Cook: Hell yeah. Absolutely.
Adam Degraide: I just feel like we’re just hanging out. The only bummer is that we should have been drinking bourbon this entire time.
Clay Cook: Well next time, we’ll see.
Adam Degraide: Yeah. The interview might get a little weirder as it goes along with Virginia Bourbon. But one of the things we talk about is courage on David versus Goliath because the whole concept is small individuals taking on corporate giants and winning. And so even though you’re a solopreneur, you’re working with big companies and you’re helping their vision come to fruition. It does take courage though, to go from guitar, to buying, to then start taking pictures of your friends and family to saying, I think I can make a living at this. Then you start asking for it. Then you realize, I don’t do weddings anymore. So I noticed that’s something that you do not do anymore. So I know he mentioned that early on, folks, Clay does not do that. He does only commercial projects at this point in time. I don’t want you getting bombarded with my nephew’s wedding coming up soon.
But taking that transition and all of that takes courage. So for you to move through your life and those different life experiences that you had, it takes courage. What was it in you that gave you the determination to turn this into a business? And then the second part of that question is what advice do you give to someone who might be in a similar position? Maybe they’re not an artist or a photographer, but they’re working for somebody else and it’s time for them to go on their own? So number one, what gives you the strength? Number two, what advice do you give to them?
Clay Cook: Yeah, I grew up being in a household where I had a dad that was an incredibly talented businessman and took a business from the ground up. And so, in many ways, I always just wanted to be like my dad, except I did want to be in the flooring industry. I was always creative. And so I think the ultimate driver for me is always, I just wanted to be my own boss. I didn’t want to wake up to an alarm. I didn’t want to go in the office and grind it out day after day and have that type of lifestyle. And so I wanted to be my own vehicle for whatever I wanted to do. And that’s always been the ultimate goal for me.
It’s changed obviously now I’ve been a business for 11 years and so now the driver for me is just using my passion and my creativity to tell stories and to use my talent for the greater good. And I think that’s very important. Obviously I’m in it to make money and make a profit. But I also have a humanitarian side that’s vastly more important to me. And so that’s what the driver is for me now. If there’s somebody in the position that’s a photo assistant or they’re a young photographer, I’d say the biggest piece of advice I could give is to take risks. I always believe that regret is embedded in the risk you didn’t take. And so I’ve always been one to just do it. And the most-
Adam Degraide: Regret is embedded in the risk you didn’t take. Regret is embedded in the risk you didn’t take. I always tell people, hesitancy is the death of the entrepreneur. Action is the life. But yours is way more eloquent and I’m stealing it.
Clay Cook: Do it. Yeah. And I’ve taken a lot of risks in my life, both personally and professionally, and doing some wild, crazy things and it’s paid off and I’m very, very blessed. I’m very, very happy that I took those risks. Because, again, I would probably regret it if I never did any of those things.
Adam Degraide: That is amazing advice here on the David Versus Goliath podcast. Regret is embedded in the risk you didn’t take, says Clay Cook and Adam Degraide totally agrees. Clay, did you have fun today?
Clay Cook: Yeah, man. Thank you so much.
Adam Degraide: I had so much fun and I’m glad you’re going to come back. How could people find you?
Clay Cook: Yeah. So across the board, social media @ClayCookPhoto, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, all those things @ClayCookPhoto. Check out my website, claycookphoto.com. And my blog is clay-cook.com. I got some fun stories on there.
Adam Degraide: That’s amazing. I wish we got into more stories. We didn’t even talk about Kilimanjaro.
Clay Cook: Yeah.
Adam Degraide: By the way, he’s the stooge who climbed Kilimanjaro. We’re going to hear all about it in a few months back with Clay Cook. Clay, thank you so much for joining us on David Versus Goliath. We hope you guys had education, inspiration and activation right here on the David Versus Goliath podcast. Thanks for watching. We’ll see you next week.