BGBS 072: Chad Hutson | Leviathan | The Business of Creativity
As Leviathan's co-founder and CEO, Chad facilitates creative strategy and all key business developments for the specialized creative agency, including managing the company's overall operations. His efforts have led to client relationships with Nike, Disney, Amazon, T-Mobile, Kohler, Universal, McDonald’s, and Airbus among others.
Chad previously co-founded the digital creative agency eatdrink in 2002, which merged with Leviathan in 2012. Over the years, that firm produced breakthrough broadcast and interactive work for an amazing roster of brands and agencies. His prior experience includes highly productive stints with experiential marketing firm MC2 as an entertainment and technology project manager, and with leading Hollywood post-production sound company Soundelux as operations manager.
A native of the Southeastern United States, Chad earned his Bachelors of Recording Industry Management at MTSU. A past presenter at multiple SXSW conferences, Chad has also spoken at many other high-profile events, including InfoComm, TIDE, the American Marketing Association's High Five Conference, VCU Brandcenter's Friday Forum series, and numerous Society for Experiential Graphic Design (SEGD) events.
In this episode, you'll learn...
[4:49] "Leviathan is a specialized design firm. We like to transform environments into bespoke experiences using a lot of digital wizardry in the way of constant interaction to make people's jaws drop."
[24:25] "I once had another agency owner telling me that, 'Hey, man, you're in the service industry. You are paid for a service, you are not paid to be an artist. So you kind of have to get over your self-righteousness of trying to be—always trying to create art. You're in your marketing. You need to just accept that."
[25:10] "What do you see at a Disney or Universal theme park? It seems to be magical, and it defies reality. And those are the exact types of projects that we work on outside of, say, a corporate headquarters or a museum…So [we try] to focus on, what would make this special? What could no one else do? Or at least not do very easily that we could do from a technology perspective? And then how can we make that technology invisible, so you feel like you are experiencing something that is sprinkled in pixie dust, that is magical?"
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Chad Hutson 0:00
I met another guy who was a creative director who had been a painter and sculptor in his previous life. And at the time, he was running another animation studio. So we all got together and start talking about why I have this company. It's kind of coming back to life. We all love building things for physical environments. We like doing things kind of going beyond what is what is expected within those spaces. So maybe we just take what's left of my old company, and let's turn into something new. And that's literally what Leviathan was my old Rolodex. I'll use air quotes for people who might still remember that term, but my list of contacts money in the bank and started over with with those assets. And that was the vibe.
Marc Gutman 0:47
Podcasting from Boulder, Colorado. This is the Baby Got Back story Podcast, where we dive into the story behind the story of today's most inspiring storytellers, creators and entrepreneurs. I like backstories and I cannot lie. I am your host, Marc Gutman, Marc Gutman, and on today's episode of Baby got backstory. You know those amazing set displays at concerts that have crazy visuals projected all over them are those three storey digital display walls with all sorts of content you might see in the lobby of a big fancy New York City media skyscraper. Well today, we're talking to the guy who makes those. Before we get into this episode, I want to welcome you to the summer edition of Baby got backstory. The pace is a little more laid back, and my feet are perpetually Sandy. My tan is starting to come in. And every episode is recorded in boardshorts. And if that doesn't get you excited to leave a five star review and rating over at Apple podcasts or Spotify, nothing will, Hey, I know it's summer. I know you're probably about six white claws in while you're listening to this, you're going on post pandemic crazy. But ratings really do matter. Apple and Spotify use these ratings as part of the algorithm that determines ratings on their charts. Even during the summer, especially during the summer. I guarantee you a better summer than Kid Rock if you leave a review. Oh, and we like the likes and the follows and ratings too. So thank you for all that. Thank you for your reviews. I do appreciate it.
Today's guest is Chad Hudson, CEO and co founder of the award winning Chicago based experiencial creative firm, Leviathan, Leviathan. Chad facilitates creative strategy in all key business developments for the specialized creative agency, including managing the company's overall operations. His efforts have led to client relationships with Nike, Disney, Amazon, T Mobile, Kohler, universal, McDonald's, and Airbus, among others. Over here, if any of those companies I'm thinking you have Chad previously co founded the digital creative agency he drink in 2002, which merged with Leviathan in 2012. And over the years that firm produced breakthrough broadcasts and interactive work for an amazing roster of brands and agencies. His prior experience includes highly productive stints with the experiential marketing firm MC two is an entertainment and technology project manager with leading Hollywood post production sound company sound Deluxe is operations manager, a native of South Eastern United States, Chad earned his bachelor's of recording industry management at mtsu and a past present or multiple South by Southwest conferences.
Chad has also spoken at many other high profile events, including infocomm tied the American marketing Association's High Five conference, VCU brand centers Friday forum series, the numerous society for experiential graphic design events. If that didn't impress you enough. This is his story.
I am here with Chad Hudson, the CEO of Leviathan and Chad, thank you so much for coming on to the baby got backstory podcast. Before we get started. Can you tell us a little bit about what is Leviathan cool name I know it's a you know, kind of historic, weird sea creature but in your context, what is Leviathan?
Chad Hutson 4:47
Thanks for having me on Marc, appreciate it. Leviathan is a specialized design firm. We like to transform environments into bespoke experiences using a lot of digital wizardry and The way of constant interaction to make people's jaws drop. So hopefully that's a apt description of what we do.
Marc Gutman 5:06
Yeah. And why don't we just get right to my burning question? Where's the name Leviathan come from?
Chad Hutson 5:12
Whew, that was a hotly debated topic, we went round and round for a few different reasons. So I'd say out of the 100 or so names that we had come up with, Leviathan kept coming, this coming full circle, for us, the game part because we want it to be being in Chicago. Architecture is such an important part of the city, very, very classic city in regards to architecture as well. So that led to, okay, what's the classic name and Leviathan, as you may have seen, goes back from the days of the, of the, when the Bible was written, or at least how it was translated to essay by Titan by Thomas Hobbes about the Commonwealth. And also, if you look at the dictionary, there's something definition, something enormous. And that just kind of spoke volumes as far as we want to be probably somewhat intimidating to our competitors. But we also want to create the field of something big and something something unique. So all those different factors combined contributed to why we call Leviathan Leviathan. Awesome. And so
Marc Gutman 6:23
as the CEO of a creative firm, like creative services firm like Leviathan, I mean, is this what you thought you'd always be doing? Like, you know, eight year old Chad, are you running around thinking you're gonna be, you know, running a creative services firm thinking big and doing big things?
Chad Hutson 6:40
No, I'm kind of a kind of a shy guy in some ways. And so I'd never really thought I would be the CEO of anything. But as far as interests go, when I was a kid, I, I'm dating myself now, but I had what was known as the Radio Shack Color Computer. So I guess if you had a personal computer as a kid, you probably either had an apple, two e, or something like that, or Radio Shack Color Computer. So that in early age, I love to play around with computers I loved. We live in the woods. So I've always be outside and wanting to experience what nature had to offer. So I suppose that part doesn't surprise me. Love going to theme parks loves understanding how how the sausage is made and how things were were done. So the Creative Services part, glad to have, I guess, tapped into those childhood roots, but but leading an organization that does what we do. Yeah, a bit of a surprise for me.
Marc Gutman 7:37
And did you grew up in the Chicago area?
Chad Hutson 7:39
No, I grew up in the southeast. For the most part, I lived in rural Georgia, in a valley, lots of mountains nearby, I had a stream that ran behind our house in less fields. So it's a pretty interesting place to be raised. But a lot of childhood in Georgia, spent some time in LA suburbs as a kid as well. And I was born in Nashville. But Chicago has been my home for the last 16 years now.
Marc Gutman 8:06
As a young kid in Georgia, did you were you a creative kid? I mean, were you into those types of pursuits? Or do you have other interests,
Chad Hutson 8:16
I love to draw even though I sucked at it. I loved being musician, also not necessarily my greatest accomplishment. But I've learned how to play with a variety of different instruments within all the school bands and was in a rock band as a teenager, and even went to college to study audio engineering, just taking walk work in the music industry, man, it could be a producer. And certainly picked up some of the technical aspects of it, but just was blown away by by the talent that would go to go to my classes and be incredible audio engineers, as well as great musicians, I just realized, oh, man, I just don't know if I have what it takes to cut it. But it's also one school that I picked up not only the technical side of the music industry, to a certain extent, but also the business side. So I had that sort of more of a, a free form degree program where you could pick up essentially any number of classes that interest you, and that would formulate your degree. So everything from artist management, copyright, law, Music Publishing, as well as a business minor as well. So the finance side mix with audio engineering, mixed with other forms of management is a pretty, pretty unique kind of program of study. So I think that was also fortuitous for my experience later on in life.
Marc Gutman 9:37
Yeah. And I imagine you into that program and that school so you could go out into the world and work in the recording industry. Is that what happened? I mean is, you know, did you get out and you just like, you know, we're here now, so something happened along the way.
Chad Hutson 9:57
Sure. Yeah, I did. I did. Live in Nashville. For a number of years and worked in the music industry never really climbed too many rungs of the ladder there. But I would say, I spent Gosh, about five years worked for a country musician named Alan Jackson, who was, I guess, kind of a big deal at the time. So I worked for his management company, I worked for a music venue development company that never quite developed the music venue, I worked in, worked in publishing, work for indie record label for an artist named john prine, who recently passed. And in all those times, I thought, Wow, it's so cool to be close to the creative people in the industry, I get to see, see how it's all done. But the downside was, you got to see how things were done. And any sort of, I guess, business of creativity has the side where, at least in the music industry at the time, and this was right before the dawn of the mp3 and how that really transformed the whole industry. But that's a different topic. But just seeing how artists were treated as a, as a commodity as a thing versus as a human, and just how hard they were pushed. That, to me was a turning point where I realized, anytime you have someone who is an artist who is creative, those people should be better protected. And that's something that I think really resonated with me in coming years, as I became more of a producer project management of multimedia projects, that I understood just enough of what they needed to accomplish, and what what the process was for that. And being able to, again, protect them to a certain extent, or at least explain that to the outside world of here's the process, here's what needs to be done, and trying to shelter them, or shield them from some of the some of the crap that they may normally do so but actually discovered down the road that there's a career in that, and that is being a liaison, or middleman or producer. So that's what I became
Marc Gutman 11:58
it was that what happened right away? or How was that transition from kind of bridging that dream. And that fallen dream? It's really interesting, because I have a lot of stories like that to where like the, the vision doesn't meet the reality. You know, like you get there. You're like, Oh, I mean, I had, I did the same thing. I went out to the movie business. And I was like, Oh, this is great. And I can have a career, but I'm not sure I want one. And you know, and we could talk about that at length, but it just didn't match my sort of fantasy revision of what that experience was like. So how did you make that then jump or leap into to marketing as a as a career?
Chad Hutson 12:36
Yeah, this was a moment of frustration to a certain degree, as I mentioned, the ladder was was really tall in the music industry. And most people never really make it above a certain level. So while I was hovering towards the bottom of the ladder, some friends of mine, their company had been acquired out Las Vegas of all places. And it was a Hollywood based company called sound Deluxe. And they had a a themed entertainment, audio, visual, and Creative Services arm of that company. So they were supporting, like the Hard Rock Hotel and developing that music library. There were a lot of other themed places, universal studios in Hollywood, where different attractions that had audio visual hardware and components, but also sound design and sometimes content to a vibrating theater seats to robotics. So it's pretty interesting mixture of these physical elements with with media elements as well. And then the nuts and bolts that kind of stitch it all together. So I think the transition out of the music industry was pretty Swift. Even though sound Deluxe had its roots. In an audio, I thought, well, I'm getting on Nashville and leaving the industry behind, and then jumping right into this field, which then led to another gig with an exhibit company that also had a division that focused on developing these media rich, physical environments. I was, I was pretty hooked. And that's when I realized, I can still use some of the education I've had over the years, both in school and in my short lived music industry career. But I mean, just the combination of everything that I love on the on the technology side, as well as seeing, seeing these people that I worked with, create magic and doing it within the physical environment was a special. So that's what really stuck with me and caused that transition happened.
Marc Gutman 14:32
Yeah, and when we started the show, and you kind of talked about Leviathan, you gave us you know, an answer that, hey, we do these big things, and this and that, and you've talked a little bit about multimedia. But I don't think people really are going to understand like, if we go to your website, we see these amazing installations. I mean, I'm I got a couple scrolling right here in the background and they're like blowing my mind. And so, you know, I want to also set the like contrast between That work and we'll kind of get into that. But so that's what we're seeing today. What were some of those early, big sort of multimedia projects back in the day that now you look at and you're like, well, maybe it's not so fantastical now. But at the time, it was groundbreaking.
Chad Hutson 15:16
I have to admit, some of the early stuff still really resonates me I'm biased. So naturally, I'm going to pick favorites. But I think some of that early work still resonates even today with with people outside of the organization. There was within I think, probably the first seven or eight months of after Leviathan open, which was in 2010, there was an electronic musician named Amanda Tobin. And on top it's been around for a number of years, he was performing at a music festival electronic music festival called New Tech, and I believe in Montreal, and a friend of ours, a DJ, by the name of velo workhouse, had done lots of you remember the genre EDM, he did lots of electronic musicians and DJs sets, doing concert visuals for them. But what what Amman Tobin wanted to do was something a bit different. A lot of DJ sets, or electronic musicians would literally just be sitting in front of either a computer or, or turntables. And I'd have the cups of the earphones on their head. And there may be some lights blinking and then they would shake their head back and forth in the crowd would probably go crazy. But his idea was, let's give him something more to react to you. I want to have a think in terms of like an IMAX movie, something very cinematic, had a narrative experience, which would accompany his album Isom, which I think it was somewhat of a concept album for him. So now he just having visuals, but having those narrative visuals projection mapped on two crazy stage set. And for those of you who don't know, project projection mapping at home, that's okay. It's a technical term, if you can imagine wrapping a three dimensional object in a projected image or in light, and having it seem to be very form fitted for that object. So this the stage that was a bunch of white cubes look like they were stacked, stacked on top of each other. And these crazy visuals were projection onto that surface, as as music played, and turned out that the crowd loved it. And the work garnered a lot of press in wired and Fast Company, New York Times, much of the publication. So that was really a watershed moment for us and helped build our career. So I'll flag that one as a as a favorite that I'd say, from a financial perspective, not our shiny spot, but it's okay and paid dividends over the years just being a calling card for us.
Marc Gutman 17:51
Speaking of holding up and still resonating, it looks like it still might be on your reel on your site. If I see it cycling through Is that right? Is that what I'm looking at?
Chad Hutson 17:59
Yeah, it's again, it's kind of a legacy project from from the early days. But we it's been pretty remarkable. We've had people from, again, 10 years ago when that show was going on tour. But whenever I have conversations with folks, and they see that clients even seeing that on our we'll say, Yeah, I went to that show a decade ago, and I'd never seen anything before. Like it just completely blew my mind and I'll never forget it. So when you hear compliments like that mean, even though it's not, it's not marketing or advertising in the traditional sense. There's not a brand logo associated with it or no Grand Prix award that comes with that. Being that is probably one of the best competency and get some people have their mind blown and that they remember even 10 years later.
Marc Gutman 18:48
That is incredible. You mentioned the early years Leviathan, let's let's go back there like how what was the, the genesis of the business like why Why? Why did you start this firm?
Chad Hutson 19:00
Wow, yeah, definitely going in the Wayback Machine. I had started another smaller, called a web and motion production company. We did work for other advertising agencies and other smaller groups, building websites did some for for record labels, and some for big agencies like DDP. We also had some motion designers or animator errs on our staff that had been going along from how the early days of 2002 up through about 2008 2009. And that's when one of the previous big financial crises hits hit the US, and we had to layoff everyone. The other partners that had they were not interested in sticking around. So there was this company that we'd built over the years and just kind of sitting dead in the water. I was the last man standing literally, in a lofty warehouse space in Chicago, thinking what The hell am I gonna do? We, we had the work wasn't coming in, we had had dead at that point. So I'll save you the sob story to say over probably about six, eight months, the work came back, had the company to myself and had cash in the bank. So then it became a matter of what, what do I do next? And how can I do it differently. So I had met another gentleman by the name of Matt Daly, he was freelancing with with my organization. And he just turned to be a brilliant fellow, he was not only really talented and in 3d, but he was also a crazy artist. in other respects, he had graduated from the school, the artists stitute, designed and built robots for like a touring robotics troupe in Europe. And he had some of these other crazy techniques he was trying out so very much, we call them the nutty professor just as a nickname, because he really was that, that brilliant guy, he could do his day job as an animator, but he really had passion for doing these other, more technically advanced things, then met another guy who was a creative director who had been a painter and sculptor in his previous life. And at the time, he was running another animation studio. So we also got together and start talking about why have this company, it's kind of coming back to life. We all love building things for physical environments, and we like doing things kind of going beyond what is what is expected within those spaces. So maybe we just take what's left of my old company, and let's turn into something new. And that's literally what what Leviathan was, was my old Rolodex, I'll use air quotes for people who might still remember that term, my list of contacts the money in the bank, and started over with with those assets. And that was Leviathan.
Marc Gutman 21:45
Was that hard? taken on partners? Was there any pause there? Were you? Was there any concern? Or was it pretty easy?
Chad Hutson 21:51
Oh, getting married is never easy. It certainly came with its with its benefits too, though, having having to lead my own organization for a while having some other strong personalities come into the organization was I think was, it can be challenging, but it's also a very healthy thing to happen to have a balance between the business side and just called pure artistic side. And then the technical side, we kept the organization honest, for a number of years, we were able to, to at least support ourselves, I have just had a someone in the finance industry Tell me like, hey, a business is not. It's not to support a hobby. But in some ways, it kind of was because we got to build beautiful work. Some of it was very commercial. But I think it was just a good balanced organization for a number of years. But I think as, as we grew in size, and as we just wanted to keep it going, I think that's where the diversion of opinions between partners can sometimes come into play. It's not necessarily a matter of there was misalignment. The no one was necessarily wrong or, right. But the the aspiration is to be a pure artist and do nothing, nothing commercial and still make a healthy living. That's not that's not always a common happening. So, so some wanted to just have stability in their lives, and others want to be artists. And I think that's where some of the complications came in. But being I'd say as, quote unquote, parents who got married and had a baby that is Leviathan, certainly, we'd all be proud of the Leviathan that that exists today because of that parenting, if you will.
Marc Gutman 23:39
Yeah, that's such an interesting topic of that you just brought up in that. I think a lot of creatives struggle with this, this tension between wanting to be an artist and wanting to make money. I mean, there's nothing wrong with that. I think sometimes we feel guilty about it, we're like, oh, there's some like sin and being commercial or getting money, or we've sold our soul or compromising our what we do. But at the end of the day, you know, we're one of times very fortunate that we can do this for a living and solve business problems and get paid, but like, how do you reconcile that what was what was the sort of the, the recipe Leviathan for balancing that, that need to to be an artist yet be commercial?
Chad Hutson 24:25
I once had another agency owner telling me that like, Hey, man, you're in the service industry, you are paid for a service, you are not paid to be an artist. So you kind of have to get over your self righteousness of trying to be not always trying to create art now your, your in your in marketing, you need to you need to just accept that. So that was a moment where I had to pause and wanted to push back and say, well, that's, that's a bunch of crap. But the more I thought about it, I think it did resonate. So that being said, we wouldn't Next Leviathan or at least what made Leviathan great in the early days was really trying to push the boundaries of what? what is possible within the physical space. If you think about, what do you see at a Disney or universal theme park, it seems to be magical and it defies reality. And that's those are the exact types of projects that we work on outside of, say, a corporate headquarters or, or Museum, we love working in the theme space as well. So in trying to focus on if it's not, well, we try to make it beautiful as well. But what would make this special? What could no one else do? Or at least not do very easily that we could do from a technology perspective? And then how can we make that technology invisible, so you feel like you are experiencing something that is sprinkled in pixie dust that it is magical, but there's no reason why we can't make it beautiful as well. So I think just always trying to recruit the right talent that understands what is what is cutting edge, but feasible. Avoid the bleeding edge so that you don't fall on your face from trying technology, it's not been tried and true. And then also making sure you have people who are who value design above a lot of other things. And so therefore, you don't compromise you make it make it bespoke and unique in its execution, and you make it as beautiful as you can, and as beautiful as a client's and branding will allow and you can't nail it every time. But as long as you strive for that and you do have some some end results that meet that criteria, then I consider that a win for sure.
Marc Gutman 26:44
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As a hearing you speak it actually took me back to my very first job, which was I was working for Disney Imagineering in Cali. You were an Imagineer. I Well, I don't think I don't know if I was technically I worked there I was on the payroll. I don't think I was an Imagineer though I was like a runner. Right. And for your total projects. Yeah, for different projects. But I would report to this total skunkworks kind of warehouse in Van Nuys that was very nondescript, and you'd walk in through different security and you know, and then there'd be like, look like the land of Misfit Toys with robots and welding. And then I go through all that. And then I'd actually walk into a private theater that had three panels, 70 millimeter, and we'd be screening, screening movies for Epcot and stuff like that. But as we're as we're talking, I was like, wow, do they have their own version? Because I'm looking at your website like work? Where are these things fabricated? And do you have like your own sort of secret Imagineering Leviathan lab, if you will, where these were these projects are assembled? What's that? Like?
Chad Hutson 29:07
Yeah, I wish we had a gigantic fabrication facility where you could 3d prints something the size of a human being or to have tons of robots that are at our disposal. For the most part, we do have a a an engineering space where the team can work on prototyping things. We have other partners that will work with where they can fabricate other physical structures. But as far as like hooking computers up to that and projecting onto the wall and setting up different monitor arrays or testing out augmented virtual reality, any sort of installations that we might work on, we always try to set up a working prototype for that in our space. And it's, it's absolutely necessary that imagine designing a product and never really testing it and then just like sending out to the market and saying, Well, here it is. We really have to test out Those kinds of prototypes long before we get to the point of trying to roll it out or even showing it to the client. So it's been, it's always intriguing to see what, what works and what doesn't. When you just when you think you have the right plan, that plan is foiled by reality. And then you have to pivot. But a lot of important learnings come out of those, those mistakes. same can be said about live, as well as business. But prototyping, I think it's really important for us to test testings out, we learn new tricks, new processes from that. And, again, I love I love seeing much like those who work in in film, like you have looking behind the scenes and seeing how it's all made is, is intriguing in and of itself. So I love that process.
Marc Gutman 30:47
Yeah, absolutely. And you're talking about like prototyping and getting it right. I mean, are there any projects that like, you just wish you could have had to do overrun? Or wish you're never even took on? Like, do you have any that just didn't? didn't quite work?
Chad Hutson 31:01
I certainly I'd hate to bring up the the names of the of the innocent or the client names, either. But yeah, I mean, we have absolutely had some projects where, if anything, it's probably usually just a shortage of time. And when you, we don't have enough time to get something right. Even if it's less about being a perfectionist, and trying to do it over again, and maybe doing it even better the second or third time, sometimes you just don't have the luxury of finishing the work at all. So it's, you feel like you're stringing it together with with duct tape at the very end. So I would say sometimes those those projects happen. And all you can really do is stick with it, and work with clients and have them be as understanding as I possibly can. And you as much as you want to go back to them and say, Hey, we told you so we told you we needed more time, and still didn't happen. All you can do is let them know that, hey, we want to avoid what happened last time, right? So we need the ample time to to not only prototype this, but to install it and finish it out. So yeah, I can't really say a specific project. But I would just say time can be the enemy of of that kind of work. And anytime perfect.
Marc Gutman 32:19
Yeah. So what do you want clients to know about this work? Like? Like, how do how do we get it? Right?
Chad Hutson 32:25
Great question, I could probably come up with a pretty long list. So I'll just think of a few key points, I think that might be might be important for for future clients. No. I think for one, sometimes the the bells and whistles are not what makes these experiences as good as we all want them. technology's absolutely an important part. But if you are in a corporate headquarters, and you have a, say a gorgeous, giant display, floor to ceiling goes three storeys high. I've seen those where clients have cnn running on those screens versus having something that can be a valuable branded moment. So they invested all that money into probably millions of dollars in these gigantic view displays, and they don't think about what what the content is that goes on those. So that is that's kind of marketing 101, right, you need to have the right message to the right story. So I'd say think less about the technology and more about those, those immersive branded moments, you have to get that right. And you have to balance out the investment in, in the content in the story and in the design as much as you are on the technology side. If not, then you have a big expensive TV in your living room that you don't even have Netflix to play on. And you have a big screen that plays a screensaver. And that's, that's not doing anyone any great service, I'd say something else that's important about about these kinds of moments is that if you if you want to have a an environment that is cutting edge from a technology standpoint, you you have to understand that that comes with an investment of time and you have to experiment and some things you aren't always going to get right and it kind of comes back to the time aspect you need time to prototype and test and think that's what groups like, like a Disney or universal get right is they they spend a lot of time developing new technology new IP before they release it out into the world. So that's not always possible in the in the call the brand environments. So So I'd say maybe to come first. So first full circle on that point. It is clients sometimes want to push the envelope further than then should be possible and you need to kind of work with solid state technologies and techniques that that we know will work over the test of time and and can't always push the envelope as far as we'd like. There we go. That narrative first and foremost, and investing in content over technology, and then just kind of being realistic with expectations and what you can do within a branded environment.
Marc Gutman 35:12
Yeah, totally. And so when you think about all that, and you're talking about solid state technologies and tried and true, let's flip it and kind of go the other way, like, what are you most excited about in terms of technologies that are coming up in ways that can be applicable to how you work with your clients?
Chad Hutson 35:30
Yeah, I'd say, a lot of what we've been doing lately is I try to use a simple term real time content. This could be anything from say data visualization to artificial intelligence or computer vision, it's it's kind of taking taking some these technologies and putting it on steroids and making the content not just playing back a video, but having having real time aspects to it having data that's refreshed at the very, in the very second that you're looking at a screen. other technologies like game engines, so unity, or unreal, are the same kinds of technologies used to build console video games. And that kind of engine can also be very powerful with creating beautiful graphics, and affecting it real time, either through cards, sensing physical gestures, or using other external controllers. But I think the evolution of all that real time content has been pretty remarkable. And it's a cornerstone of what we do. And when you have that in the Brandon environment, I mean, you can have different types of industrial simulations or, or different types of data visualizations helps communicate to, to your organization or to your clients. Just how dynamically something can change. And it does it in a way that's compelling and beautiful. And that's what honestly, that's what creating all the these experiences is about. Much like in a, in a theme park as a kid, those kind of magical moments resonate with you for a long time. And that's what that's the kind of tools that we build for our clients is create an experience for them that they're not seeing, gonna forget. And for for those clients, it leads to, to either engage employees or transactions with clients. So those real time technologies, I think, are, are very exciting for us, and adds levels of personalization as well. So that if, if you enter to a space, this is an overused analogy of Minority Report, if you recall that film, but the the moment where Tom Cruise is running around, he has someone else's identity, but everywhere he runs within the retail space, these ads pop up that that speak his name, and supposedly cater to what his interests are. So while that's a bit, can you say it's a bit far fetched anymore, but Well, that would be a bit intrusive in real life, I think, when applied in the right way, if you share that kind of information, much like you would with a website or an app, to share it in the right way, within the physical environment, the real time personalized experiences that can come with that I think are it can almost be worth the worth sharing information. And to get that kind of payoff for that experience.
Marc Gutman 38:29
Yeah. And so I think about that, and I think about it's like using data for good versus data for bad. And it's, how do we do that? Because Because I want to be a part of that world where I get the personalized, customized experience that you just described. That sounds amazing, right? Like sounds like but like then there's always this like, other shoe that will drop of data being used against us. Is there a way to, to live in that cooler world without the dark side?
Chad Hutson 39:00
Yeah, it's a difficult question to answer. I would say, I know, I keep throwing out these Disney theme park examples. But I'd say it's a good model to think about what what Disney had created a few years back is something called the magic band. And I think they've since pivoted more to using mobile devices if people don't want to use the magic band, but it's more or less an RFID wristband that is that identifies you as a person. And when you register for the magic band, you also attach a credit card or a bank card to that so that when you go into the park, yes, you can use the park to get in to get in kind of recognize you and say okay, yeah, they've paid to their admission fee. But when they're going to a restaurant and they want to, to order a pick up their food, they know Okay, well this is this is Chad, he picked up the hot dog he ordered from his mobile device. But then there's also moments where if you're going through a ride and I think we worked on this for for the Haunted Mansion, which is an attraction, as you're riding through. It's called the dune buggy. There's an identifier where knows if you're sitting in a certain seat within the the buggy and the ghosts that's projected onto a surface in front of you hold up a science, that's Chicago or bust, it knows that I'm from Chicago. And it pulled that information and and displayed it, which made it a pretty remarkable move for me like, hey, how did they they know that they know us from Chicago. So that's a one specific case. I suppose that happening. But are they using that information for marketing purposes? Very likely. But again, I think it kind of comes back to the debate of a customer paid for this experience. Did it make it a better experience? for them? It's is it more remarkable? Is that more amazing or magical? I think the answer is yes. Then the customers are okay with that. But But that said, I think whenever whenever the question of ethics comes into play is transparency is key. So if you don't know what you're signing up for when you're sharing that kind of information, then yeah, that's one of the bad things start happening. And you don't always want to read through a 45 page agreement to see if, like, Am I really giving up information that I shouldn't? That's an invasion of my privacy or not. But that's our perspective. If it's, if it's worth the trade off to the customer, then I suppose it's okay. Question mark.
Marc Gutman 41:33
And I haven't been to Disney in so long and made me want to go back. Sounds awesome. And you sold it like it sounds great. I want the personalized experience. I want my magic band to work. So that sounds that sounds great. And a few years ago, you actually went through was it an acquisition or a merger with with the envoy group?
Chad Hutson 41:51
Yeah, absolutely. There's a group called envoy, and it's based in Southern California, specifically Orange County. And we had worked together with them. If you've ever seen a Vizio television, it seems like there's one in almost every household. But when Vizio first came on to the scene, as an electronics manufacturer, Ondoy was like their first digital agency. And at the time, they were doing a ton of work for them. And they'd collaborated with us on doing some 3d animation, software products. So what started as a successful collaboration some years ago, and the continued relationship, it just evolved into conversations around, hey, on voices, we're, we're trying to build something bigger. And we were looking for the right family members. So with them being a phone call, called a traditional digital agency, where they were focused more on creating websites and apps and digital products for their clients. And we were doing more of the call to digital spaces or environments. It just seemed like a great match. So they, when they purchase gas in four years ago, and now it's, yeah, I'm really glad to happen, especially in light of pandemic, having a larger family with with a greater resources, it's certainly been very, very important for our organization to, to stay strong and, and even thrive in those times. So it's been a, I'd say much to my comment earlier, sometimes when it comes to marriage. It's not always easy, but I think that we are like minded individuals, and we're making something bigger and better. That's been great.
Marc Gutman 43:36
Was it difficult at that time? I mean, I know, I know. Now looking back, you're like, this is great. And we got through the pandemic, and we're part of this happy family. But at the time, was it hard to think about giving up your autonomy and doing that and becoming a part of a different group?
Chad Hutson 43:53
very fair question. I would say there were mixed emotions that they're there and how was a boss of sorts, whenever you are, whenever someone buys you for what you have, I think that their hope is to, to make more money off of that. And that's the fair assumption. That's what when you run a business, you want to be profitable. And as I described, in our earlier years, we were probably more focused on making great work and at least supporting ourselves and not really going beyond that. So I think it was an important lesson to learn if you you can make great work, but you also have to if you want to grow if you want to have more stability, you need to need to earn money for your shareholders. So I think that that was while it was difficult to shift the mindset of being more businesslike versus being more suppose creative. I, the other part of my brain completely got it. And I think that was also the other part of my brain is what wanted to learn more about the Beside of how do larger businesses operate? What? What are the better financial models to pursue? And how can we be more efficient at doing things, we can't always just be the experimenters at some point in time, okay, we have to move on to the next project, we can't always just fund experimentation ourselves. While we try to do that, when we can, I think learning on the job shouldn't necessarily be something that that you have to pay for, you can build that into projects. So, so there were definitely some adjustments. But again, I feel like it's built a it's helped us to build a better operation, all the way around. And we serve a wide range of clients now. And they're still really good about giving us enough autonomy. If anything, they're there in Southern California, we're in Chicago. So even though everything is virtual, at the moment, it's still a good a good balance of letting us to what we do best and being a support system. And, and I guess a boss when, whenever needed.
Marc Gutman 46:05
Sometimes a little accountability doesn't hurt, right? Like I talked about this morning with someone I was like, wow, like not being accountable, because I have my own thing, but like I fully can recognize that some accountability will also go a long way.
Chad Hutson 46:19
Yeah, I mean, we all push ourselves, right? If we're business owners or operators, we push ourselves, but sometimes you need the outside influence. And that's, that's a bit of, yeah, I think we're on the same page.
Marc Gutman 46:29
Yeah, that's really cool. So as you look to the future, what do you what are you most excited about these days? What what are you looking forward to?
Chad Hutson 46:37
I don't think the Android had acquired Leviathan, as well as another company called Bulldog Drummond. And I don't think they're gonna stop there. I think they are certainly looking to find other like minded organizations that fit the mold. So having a bigger family having greater capabilities, it'll allow our team the ability to cross pollinate that much more. Our different offices have definitely started to team up more. And we're learning from those experiences and growing from them. Not only does it give our clients get some more, more offerings and more support, but it just gives our other employees opportunities to try new things and work in different offices. That that kind of growth, I think, is what's really exciting for us. But I'm also excited for, for the world to start opening up again, because everything we do is pretty much centered around physical environments and physical environments have been taboo for the last 1518 months almost. So having having theme parks, museums, reopen corporate headquarters, that are reopening and being able to put experiences in those spaces, because we've remained very busy during, even during the lockdown. But as the world opens up, and there's experiences that we've been building, have have also opened with them. I just think that, that people are going to be so excited about getting back into spaces and experiencing things that it's going to be a very busy next few years for us.
Marc Gutman 48:14
Yeah, I for one, I'm very excited about reemerging into the world and experiencing life once again. So Chad, as we come to a close here, I'd like you to think back to your time growing up in Georgia young boy and plan along the stream. And you know, if he was able to see you now, what do you think he'd say,
Chad Hutson 48:38
wow. Now what I just see today, or what I see the whole movie of the last 35 years or so.
Marc Gutman 48:47
That's up to you. What are you going to share with them?
Chad Hutson 48:51
Oh, no, I think I would have to say I want to take a moment to at least say You know what? We did all right. But I think the one important ones, important things that I always try to remind myself of is to is to not be so hard on ourselves. Now to say that good enough is truly good enough. It's not just it's adequate. Like No, I did. I did well, it's good. And we don't always have to keep flogging ourselves to say could have done better should have done better. Because we you try you fail and you learn from it. And so I guess I would just say that. Hey, man, you've done pretty well for yourself and be proud of it. But now get back out there and and do more do better. So yeah, I would just tell myself that it's going to be okay, and hang in there and don't give up and just know that you tried your best. Probably not the strongest answer I could give them but that's that's honestly what goes through my mind a lot of times some maybe you could have done more or could have done better but you did pretty well. So be good with
Marc Gutman 50:07
that is Chad Hutson, CEO and co founder of Leviathan. I've always wondered who made all those amazing digital experiences, I would interact with it performances, theme parks and office buildings. And now I know it's most likely Leviathan. I can't stop thinking about what Chad said that sometimes good enough really is good enough. Throughout my career, I haven't always agreed with that sentiment. But coincidentally, this summer my personal theme is, be content, not complacent, but be content with the good things. lean in. Remember why we're here to enjoy this experience. I also really resonated with Chad's notion that we should invest in content over technology. After all these years and all the technological advancements we've seen, from film, to radio, to television to the internet, one thing has remained constant, great and compelling storytelling wins above all else. A big thank you to Chad Hutson and the team at Leviathan. We will link to all things Chad and Leviathan in the show notes. And if you know of a guest who should appear on our show, please drop me a line at podcast at wildstory.com. Our best guests like Chad come from referrals from past guests and our listeners. Well that's the show. Until next time, make sure to visit our website www.wildstory.com where you can subscribe to the show in iTunes, Stitcher or via RSS see you'll never miss an episode. A lot of big stories and I cannot lie to you other storytellers can't deny