This week I’d like to introduce you to Nick Justicz, Founder of Gazpacho. No, not the cold soup, a mobile app that “serves up the best of the internet based on your tastes.” The app is what happens if you merge Pandora and Tinder together - swiping action while building up a database of your likes and dislikes, all based on memes. It’s a unique app and incredibly entertaining.
This week I’d like to introduce you to Nick Justicz,, Founder of Gazpacho. No, not the cold soup, a mobile app that “serves up the best of the internet based on your tastes.” The app is what happens if you merge Pandora and Tinder together - swiping action while building up a database of your likes and dislikes, all based on memes. It’s a unique app and incredibly entertaining.
Nick’s background is not in technology, it is in stand-up comedy and film making. As we unpacked Nick’s Startup Story it made sense that his first entrepreneurial endeavor would be such an entertaining one. What I love about Nick’s journey is that it is one that I know many of you will resonate with as he still has a 9-5 job and is building Gazpacho on the side. Another area of relatability is that, like many of you, entrepreneurship was not something he became aware of until much later in his life.
As we recorded his episode, I was incredibly surprised at how similar film making and entrepreneurship really are… this is Nick Justicz’s startup story.
“Nobody cares about your idea, they care about whether or not you can execute.” – Nick Justicz, Gazpacho
Nick Justicz on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nickjusticz/
Pauley Shore: http://www.paulyshore.com/
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Jason McCann on The Startup Story: https://www.thestartupstory.co/varidesk
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Special Guest: Nick Justicz.
The Startup Story - Nick Justicz
Nick Justicz: Hey, this is Nick Justicz, founder and CEO of Gazpacho, and this is MY startup story.
James McKinney: Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story.
James McKinney: Before we jump into this week's episode, I want to read review from Kaszygk who gives the podcast five stars and writes, "James McKinney is amazing at bringing amazing entrepreneurs to the mic. I'm new to this show, but I will have listened to every show by the end of this week. What more can I do to build up listenership for this show? Because the stories here are empowering to those of us starting and growing our businesses. My goal is to get James to interview the founders of Zen Bug Yoga. Check it out at ZenBugYoga.com. Through the practice of yoga, we aim to cultivate self awareness and self regulation, using the art of play and imagination. Our unique curriculum targets the developmental stages of each age group we work with. We hope to instill a love of learning and inspire you and your family on your yoga journey."
Well, thank you Kaszygk, for the kind words and for leaving your review. I'm not going to lie, it is a bit odd to read a compliment about myself out loud when I read these reviews, but I do love hearing them. You've heard it said before that many of our founder guests and from other entrepreneurs that we are just bad at celebrating the smaller victories, so I thank you for the kind words and for allowing me to celebrate the impact the show is having. I hope everyone listening will visit ZenBugYoga.com to check out what a fellow entrepreneur is working on.
If you have found any value in The Startup Story, please leave a written review on iTunes and plug your brand, URL, or social media accounts. Just like Kaszygk experienced when he plugged Zen Bug Yoga, it becomes a mini ad and is just my way of saying thank you for taking the time to leave a review. The written reviews mean a ton for being discovered within the iTunes platform. I mean it, it really does. Climbing the charts on iTunes is not just about listeners, but it's about engagement. Listening is one way iTunes measures engagement, but written reviews has a multiplying effect, so please leave those written reviews. Now, let's jump into this week's episode.
Our guest this week is Nick Justicz, founder of Gazpacho. No, he did not create the cold soup that bears the same name. Gazpacho is a mobile app that, to use Nick's words, serves up the best of the internet based on your tastes. It really is a unique app that reminds me a bit of Tinder with all the swiping action, but the content that you're giving a swipe to are memes. As you swipe the memes, the app will learn your preference and begin to deliver you exactly what you want, so really it's like a Pandora meets Tinder, but for memes. It's really a unique app and incredibly entertaining. As you unpack Nick's startup story, it makes sense that his first entrepreneurial endeavor would be such an entertaining one. His background is not in technology. He was in standup comedy and filmmaking. As we recorded this episode, I was incredibly surprised at how similar filmmaking and entrepreneurship really are.
Nick Justicz: A huge parallel is the person in charge often has this ethereal, mysterious quality to them, right, which is like why is this person leading us? They often come from mysterious backgrounds, they often don't know how to do the craftsmanship of everyone below them, below in quotations of course, which is that filmmaking, a lot of it is just craftsmanship. It's having sound people, it's having lighting, it's having cinematography, it's having permits, it's having actors, it's having craftsman. And entrepreneurship is the same way. You have the person in charge, but then you have all the craftsmen. You have the accountants, you have the lawyers, you have the engineers. So fundamentally, there's people who are just really good craftsmen following this one person, often following an idea or a dream that isn't fully there yet, and often promising riches that may or may not materialize. It takes a degree of faith and acceptance of ambiguity.
James McKinney: What I love about Nick's journey is that it's one that I know many of you will resonate with as he still has a 9 to 5 job, and is building Gazpacho on the side. Another area of relatability is that, like many of you, entrepreneurship was not something he became aware of until much later in his life.
Nick Justicz: You know I was born upper middle class in Atlanta. People always say, "You don't seem like you're from Atlanta." I don't really know what that means, but I think what they're trying to say, my dad's from England, my mom's from Miami, I'm half Jewish. I think these always come up as part of the conversation. So there's always that feeling of kind of like that otherness I guess, do I really belong here. On top of that, I'm one of four siblings. They're all brilliant. They were all very kind of structured and driven in what they wanted. My dad's a doctor, a surgeon. He's very precise and knew, as far as traditional kind of albeit very hardworking careers, that's kind of the pinnacle of that.
So I was exposed very early to just traditional success, if there is such a thing, where yeah my dad worked very hard to provide for me and my siblings. My mom worked very hard making sure we had what we needed at home. I went to a good alternative school called Paideia. It was kind of like if you grew up in Atlanta, there's like two types of private schools. There's the kind of like all of them that are very traditional and there was ours, which was like the hippy, progressive school. So where I'm going with all of this is that I think I kind of had a feeling of otherness, like I'm not entirely from this world in some way. I don't mean that to sound arrogant. I realize I'm just human, I'm just like everybody else, but I never felt satisfied with how I felt there. I just knew there was more.
James McKinney: Would you call that unrest or was it ambition? Now looking back, what would you call that, that you were processing then?
Nick Justicz: I would call that boredom, but deeper than just like, "Hey, dinner's not ready," bored. Like a deep, spiritual boredom. The French would probably have a word for this, but like ennui, that's the word I'm looking for. Just there's more, you know? Even though I was a very, very good student, particularly with math and science, I found myself inevitably getting bored. I did things like I would build a computer which was a lot of fun, but then it's like as soon as I built one, I was like now I'm sick of that, I want to try something new. Maybe I'll try programming flash games. I did one of those, and then I figured it out, and that was fun. But it's like what do I do now? YouTube was coming out around when I was in high school and I started making YouTube videos. That was like oh, these are pretty exciting too. There wasn't really any overarching philosophy behind what interested me other than I was always chasing what felt exciting to me at the time.
That excitement inevitably led to well, I just need to explore this feeling and see where it goes. I'm not going to lie, I was very fortunate to have friends and family just to support me enough to go in that direction. I realize that's not always a luxury for a lot of people to be so supported in that degree, but basically I knew in high school… If you had looked at me on paper, I was an engineer. I was perfect math, perfect science, he's probably going to go to Georgia Tech and become a data system engineer at Oracle or whatever, but I saw that and I was like no, I want to try something different.
James McKinney: So as you're coming to the end, again your dad a surgeon, so he had a certain journey that he took to get to where he was. There's some stability in his job. You're very exploratory in what things bring passion to you, what things excite you, what things interest you. You are getting to a point at the end of high school where you have to make a decision. It is a natural transition in life and for many it is very much oh, I'm just going to go to college and either figure it out in college or I know what I'm going to do. Where were you specifically come the end of that chapter? What did you want to do?
Nick Justicz: I did not completely know, but I knew a couple things of what I did not want. I knew I did not want to major in computer science. I knew I did not want to major in engineering. I knew I wanted to leave Atlanta. I knew I needed to try something new, and probably watched too many episodes of entourage and was like that looks exciting.
James McKinney: That is awesome. Before we go any farther though, you very clearly knew you did not want to do two things that you were very clearly great at.
Nick Justicz: Right, and that was a hard thing for me and my parents to get over, for sure. And it's hard for me to articulate to this day, but I just knew I didn't want to do that. It felt very expected, not that that's a bad thing, but I just kind of felt like I knew that story already and I just felt like I needed just to create my own story.
James McKinney: Awesome. So what ended up happening? What did you do?
Nick Justicz: Yeah. So I was like you know what, I want to go to film school. Film sounds exciting to me right now, entertainment sounds exciting. It always sounds exciting to people not from it, right?
James McKinney: Let's just reiterate that phrase. It always seems exciting from not people from that area.
Nick Justicz: Right, right. We'll get to it, but as soon as you find out how the proverbial sausage was made, it's not always as fun. But to a 17 year old kid from Atlanta who has watched too many episodes of Entourage, it still seems pretty exciting. So I applied to some film schools. I was fortunate enough to get into a good one at USC, and my family supported me. That's all I needed. I'm like okay, let's go to LA.
James McKinney: That is awesome. So you get to LA from Atlanta. Obviously, the coasts have their differences, but there are some similarities as far as metropolitan area. But LA is different, and USC while I'm not a Trojan, I'm a massive Trojan fan so fight on for all the Trojan's listening.
Nick Justicz: Fight on.
James McKinney: But you landed at SC, one of the top film schools arguably. What were you hoping to come out of that experience at SC? Did you go knowing what element of film you wanted to be a part of, or were you still just the wild west and you were just exploring new territory?
Nick Justicz: I had a small idea, but really I had no idea, right? I had started making videos for Channel 101 in high school, which is Dan Harmon's in Rick and Morty. Comedy was kind of my thing and still is to a degree. So I tried to keep that going to a degree, but what I found out very quickly was that a lot of the videos I had made in high school were built on relationships I made with high school friends. Getting the humor out of people was based on my previous relationships with people. So I wasn't able to, you know when you go knowing nobody, you don't really have that immediate group of friends to make things with, and so I felt a bit lost.
And not only that, it's like a lot of the film majors are very caught up making their own projects. Everyone wants to be the king of their own story, everyone's working on their drama, their masterpiece. So yeah, it was definitely a bit of a culture shock, being from out of town, the LA kids tend to speak a certain language, people familiar with Hollywood tend to speak a certain language. And then comedy itself is kind of the bastard child of entertainment. On one hand, I was kind of expecting to immediately hit the group running and find my people, and that didn't immediately happen but that's okay.
James McKinney: You know, you brought up an interesting point that I want to talk about, I want to kind of get your thoughts on. You mentioned that everyone's kind of working on their own project and I guess to some degree, there's some similarities between making a film and entrepreneurship in that we are solely focus on our own project. While not every entrepreneur does this, and I'm sure not every filmmaker does this, but the fact that you observed it that people really become just laser focused on their project, which kind of isolates them from other opportunities, other networks and relationships, really some autonomy, that is also similar for the entrepreneurial journey.
Nick Justicz: Absolutely. There's so many parallels here.
James McKinney: I was going to say, now that you've kind of done both of them, can you share some parallels that you've seen with entrepreneurship and filmmaking?
Nick Justicz: A huge parallel is the person in charge often has this ethereal, mysterious quality to them, right, which is like why is this person leading us? They often come from mysterious backgrounds, they often don't know how to do the craftsmanship of everyone below them, below in quotations of course, which is that filmmaking, a lot of it is just craftsmanship. It's having sound people, it's having lighting, it's having cinematography, it's having permits, it's having actors, it's having craftsmen. And entrepreneurship is the same way. You have the person in charge, but then you have all the craftsman. You have the accountants, you have the lawyers, you have the engineers. So fundamentally, there's people who are just really good craftsmen following this one person, often following an idea or a dream that isn't fully there yet, and often promising riches that may or may not materialize. And it takes a degree of faith and acceptance of ambiguity.
James McKinney: It is interesting. One, this is what I love about The Startup Story, particularly what I love about the format of this podcast, where the listeners know I don't submit questions ahead of time. This is an organic conversation that we have together, with kind of unpack and journey through. But as an entrepreneur, there are things that intrigue me about every individual story. Because filmmaking is part of your story, do filmmakers have the same ambitions or high dreams for their films that entrepreneurs do for their startups, right? A lot of times, we go into something as an entrepreneur thinking this is going to be so disruptive, this is going to change the game for X, Y, and Z. This is going to be an exit sold to Yahoo for $100 million. We have these very high ambitions. Rarely does an entrepreneur say this is going to provide a steady income for me and my family, as well as the people I employ. Very rarely is it that. It's always very ambitious thinking that they have. Are filmmakers the same way, where this is going to be the Oscar, this is going to be that?
Nick Justicz: I think it depends what age you catch the filmmaker in their career, right? I think the college filmmaker is probably different than the person a bit later on, but I think you're on point in the sense that everyone goes in with kind of high ideals of what they wanted to be. People going into film school are these people who grew up with Tarantino and David Fincher and Wes Anderson, these people who have very, very specific points of view. And don't get me wrong, those are great movies, but they're able to do those movies because they've already established themselves as great craftsmen, as great businessmen, as people who can succeed doing everything else already.
So 99% of filmmaking is like 99% of business, where it's just doing all the small boring things, and then the really exciting things, the movies that are great, the ones you remember, those are people who figured out the other 1%. Most of the filmmaking is going to be, sorry to say, pretty boring. It's getting permits, hiring people, it's doing budgets. And then, don't get me wrong, there's that magical part but that magical part is just 1% of it.
James McKinney: That is awesome. You bring up such a great point about these iconic films that we know by filmmakers that have so much experience, and have too, if we had the opportunity to unpack it, so many challenges and failures along their journey to get to where they are, and that's bringing it back to business, that's why we have The Startup Story is to unpack those things because we see the endgame. We see these success stories, whether they be grand or small, and we think wow, that happened overnight when in the case it didn't. There were so many challenges too. So let's bring it back to your journey into film school.
Nick Justicz: Sure. No, I can talk about any of this all day.
James McKinney: Yeah, this is awesome. I love the parallels and I love the fact that we didn't know this is where it was going to go, but I love every bit of it. So you're now in film school. You're trying to find your community. It's challenging, especially because you're in comedy. Where did that journey in USC take you?
Nick Justicz: What I found quickly was that people, they say you want to go into entertainment, you need to A, meet people and kind of B, understand how everything works. Believe it or not, what happens in a classroom was, while fun and often educational, it wasn't really emphasized as much. There's a point there, which is you're going to learn most of your real work on the job and knowing people, and knowing how the business works is infinitely more important. After all, you don't really need to go to film school to go into entertainment. So anyway, the question becomes how does this kid from Atlanta, not knowing anybody, break into the business? When you're in college, the answer is an unpaid internship. Series and series of unpaid internships. We had fun with those. Did one with Underground Films. In my fraternity, there was a guy Trevor Engelson who helped me out. He was the first husband of Megan Markle, who went on to marry prince of something, right?
James McKinney: Yeah, Prince Henry? I don't know. I don't know what prince it was, but I know Megan Markle.
Nick Justicz: Anyway, yeah, yeah. So there's other internships. I did one at Chelsea Lately which was fun, but the one that ultimately got me started on my journey was one at Showtime. They had an acquisitions department. They would buy movies and basically they needed some interns to screen the movies to see if they were actually any good, they met the production qualities and the actors needed to actually be playable on the network. So I locked down an internship at Showtime and it was a really, really fun internship. Yeah, again with the goal being of maybe I'm going to learn a bit more about how Hollywood works and maybe I'll meet some people along the way.
Basically, the next thing which I think will springboard into the Pauly Shore conversation, after I graduated school I was kind of going through calling all my internships and being like hey, are there any jobs available? This is 2011, kind of fresh out of recession. Certain aspects of show business aren't as effected, but everyone's hurting to a degree. Called up my old boss at Showtime, really good guy named Gary Garfinkle. Was like, "Hey, are you guys hiring?" He's like, "No, but I know this guy Pauly Shore who we licensed his specials from occasionally, and he's looking for an assistant." I was like, "I'm listening." He's like, "I think you'd be good at it."
James McKinney: Did you know, based on your age, did you know who Pauly Shore was at the time?
Nick Justicz: I'm glad you brought that up. The short answer is no. I heard the name, I knew he was involved with comedy. To a guy without a job trying to break into comedy, that's good enough for me, you know?
James McKinney: Yeah, yeah. That's awesome. What's funny, I wish… I would love to be inserting all these like underlay sounds of just quotes from Pauly Shore from all his various movies, because he is of my generation. So I know many of his movies.
Nick Justicz: Oh trust me, I learned those quotations very, very quickly.
James McKinney: I'm sure you did. So you're talking with your friend at Showtime, he mentions an opportunity with Pauly Shore. What happens from that?
Nick Justicz: Yeah. So he's just like, "I'll introduce you and see how it goes." And believe it or not, there's lots and lots of job opportunities, or applicants, for this. It's incredibly competitive position, so I kind of have to count my blessings and be like okay, this guy's introducing me, he's going out on a limb putting me in front of hundreds, maybe thousands of people. I've really got to prove myself here. So I meet him and, to be honest with you, only goes okay. He's showing me everything that needs to get done. He's actually kind of busy. He's touring, doing a lot of comedy across the nation. He's working on his own specials, his own side projects. He's like, "Why do you think you can do this when I have all these other people?" I'm like, "To be honest, I don't know, but I'm going to give it a try." To be honest, it was Gary, my boss at Showtime who kind of talked him into it, being like, "Listen, this guy can actually do it. Just hire him."
James McKinney: That's awesome. So this was a personal assistant for Pauly Shore that handled a lot of his touring operations?
Nick Justicz: It was a lot of things that would traditionally be a professional doing as well. So basically, a Hollywood comedian or actor is going to have lots of representation. They're generally going to have an agent who's going to take 10-15%, a manager who takes 10-15%, a publicist and a lawyer. Pauly Shore was far enough in his career at this point that he had actually cut out a lot of these people and just gone to the venues directly. That was a good way to save money, but what that meant was for somebody like me was I was functionally acting as a manager and an agent in a lot of circumstances. So he was still making the lion's share of a lot of his money doing standup, so I was dealing with a lot of contracts and tour routing, things that a manager or agent would typically do.
James McKinney: Yeah. Was that overwhelming for you as your first gig?
Nick Justicz: At first it was certainly a lot, but it's like anything else, riding a bike or driving a stick. It just becomes second nature at some point. But it was invaluable too, because you just learn the language people speak. In Hollywood, I mean specifically. That's the biggest thing against outsiders is not being from the outside, but not just knowing how people speak in Hollywood. It's just a certain… it's like any industry is going to have their own way of speaking, and Hollywood just has that very specific way of speaking.
James McKinney: So we're talking to you today, not because you were Pauly Shore's assistant, but this led to one of those moments that changes the game a bit for a lot of people. Obviously, there was so much that you learned from your time with Pauly, so let's unpack a little bit about your time with Pauly Shore, and how it got to really how you and I came, one a listener referred a Medium article you had posted that unpacks your time with Pauly Shore and ultimately an email you sent to the founder of Snapchat. Let's go back to your time with Pauly and unpack all the things you had learned along that journey, and how it got you to that point where you reached out to Snapchat.
Nick Justicz: Yeah. So he had this habit of just always asking for the things that he wanted, just all the time, and like I know that may just sound simple, but you'd be surprised. I didn't realize until working for him how many times I would just assume know for whatever reason. He didn't really think that. For instance, we were working on his Showtime special, his political special Pauly-tics, which you know we learned a lot making that. But he wanted to get all this talent. He wanted to get like everyone, Ralph Nader and Larry King and Herman King and Dog the Bounty Hunter. He's like, "Let's just call them and see if they want to do it." My initial response was going to be like, "No, why would they want to do that?" I didn't say that, right, but I learned he had this way of talking of, "Hey, we're all doing this thing. I can't really pay you anything. It's going to be fun though. Do you want to be a part of it?" Granted, not everybody would buy that pitch, but a lot of people would.
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Nick Justicz: Yeah. You only need some people to buy into whatever it is you're selling for it to work. That was invaluable to me, and granted like often he would cross lines I wouldn't necessarily cross, but the point is still there which is that he was able to do things that I wouldn't think would have been possible given the constraints of time and money, or whatever else. So he was able to, especially being in a small town where it's like hey, there's guys there that want to go take you out drinking just because they're bored and they want to see Pauly Shore, and go for it. It's like that was the attitude of he's not necessarily asking for a handout, even though sometimes it was, but if he's asking for something and the other person wants to give it, sure let's do that.
James McKinney: That's awesome and I love that you bring that up because with the entrepreneurial journey, there are so many things that we will just sell ourselves short on, thinking oh that investors not interested in that, or those people will never invest, or that demographic will never be interested in this content or this piece. We just assume the narrative and really we assume the narrative out of fear. It's that fear of rejection. We don't want to hear the no because we personalize that no as opposed to just they aren't wanting this transaction or whatever it was.
Nick Justicz: Exactly, exactly. It's an incredibly self defeating way, because often there's no reason... with some exceptions, there's harm in asking, but by and large there's usually not harm in asking for the things that you wanted. Granted, you can't be dishonest. You can't promise somebody money and not pay them obviously, and kind of the going wisdom in a lot of tech and Hollywood is oh, if they're not paying me full wage I don't want to be a part of that project. I totally understand and everyone has the right to refuse work if they don't want to. At the same time, there's lots and lots of projects out there with really, really passionate people who don't have big budgets, who just want to make a great product. I think people who are really interested in whatever it is your passion is, whether that's filmmaking or comedy, I think you might be doing yourself a disservice if you just automatically decline anything that doesn't have an immediate profit to it because there's so many passionate people out there doing amazing things without a budget.
James McKinney: Man, I love that you said that because it goes back to one of the people that I point to with such immense gratitude for The Startup Story is Jason McCann, the founder of Varidesk. The Startup Story had no listeners. I had this concept September or October of last year, was getting ready to launch in early January. Was lining up my founders, and I heard a little bit about Jason's story and I'm like, "You know what? I'm just going to reach out to him and see." That was my pitch to his PR team. I don't have listeners, here's the concept of it, here's what I've done with live events, would love to have Jason be episode number one. Sure enough, he was gracious enough to do so. The first month, his episode only got a couple hundred listens. I replayed it recently and he got tens of thousands of listens, because our audience has grown. He was willing to do so without the immediate return. I love within the filmmaking space that there are people who do that as well, but in the entrepreneurial space, don't hesitate to ask the question and don't personalize the rejection if it comes that way. But at the same time, if it does come to you, if they do deliver for you, show up for them. Just pour back into that person, that opportunity with just such immense gratitude. So I love that's one of the things you learned.
Nick Justicz: Absolutely. You've got to return the favor too, right? When people come to you and you have to give them as much as you received. Granted, it can be hard at times. You're going to meet a lot of people. You don't always know who is actually for real, who has your best interest in mind, but you can't go through any of it expecting the worst from people, because if you expect the worst from people you'll get it. Whereas if you expect the best, if you expect people to do well, if you really give them room and respect them, and realize what they bring to the table, people will deliver.
James McKinney: I love it, I love it. So that's open of the things you learned from Pauly Shore. Along this journey, what are some other things? I want to see the path that led you to that moment again, where you emailing the CEO, the founder of Snapchat.
Nick Justicz: The other thing I think he was really big on, that he was constantly reinventing himself. Everyone in Hollywood has to do this too to a degree, which is… because he was in some big movies for a while. It's hard on him to be like okay, I'm not in these big movies anymore, what am I doing now? But he still has a name people pay money to see. He's working on some independent movies, he's trying to get that off the ground. He's working on a web series trying to get that off the ground. I believe he has his own podcast, getting that off the ground.
James McKinney: Oh, that's awesome.
Nick Justicz: Yeah, yeah. So it's he always had an ability to try something and give it a really good shot, and then if it wasn't working he wasn't afraid to say you know what, that's not working, let me try something new. Even though he hasn't really been in the public since the early nineties, I'll give credit where credit's due. He still keeps trying to do things in a new way, which is really kind of a… it's an artistic game and entrepreneurial mindset. I think those mindsets are actually pretty similar.
James McKinney: How long were you with Pauly?
Nick Justicz: A little over a year.
James McKinney: And what was the reason for transitioning out of working with him, and then what was the next step?
Nick Justicz: You try being Pauly Shore's assistant for a year and then we'll have that conversation. No, I'm just… love you Pauly. Just kidding. But you know, you do have to see where things are going which is that I had met his people, I'd see how he operates and to continually grow. I needed to try something a little bit more established with a bit more just reach in Hollywood. Yeah, after about a year I got an opportunity to work at a startup YouTube channel called Jash and this was one with people like Sarah Silverman, Reggie Watts, Tim and Eric. It was time when Google had this thing called the Google Originals Channels Initiative. This is back in like 2012. Do you know if this by any chance?
James McKinney: I don't, but I know of YouTube original content because my daughter is actually part of a pilot for something.
Nick Justicz: Nice.
James McKinney: But not 2012 though, so I don't know what was going on back then.
Nick Justicz: They don't really reference this program anymore because I think it had mixed results, but what happened is they basically wrote a lot of blank checks to the producers to make content on YouTube, the idea being YouTube was the new TV, everyone's going to start watching YouTube. So they brought some people from late night, from new media, from Maker Studios. My bosses were from Maker Studios and David Letterman. They're like let's combine you with some established comedians like Sarah Silverman, Tim and Eric, Reggie Watts, Michael Cera. We'll give you a budget to make some weird projects that they wouldn't get to make otherwise. So my boss there, through a comedian I'd met through Pauly. These are the connections spinning off. This was a logical next step, which is that I was going to be exposed to all the comedy agents, all the comedy managers. Just a lot of comedians. I was going to be, as an assistant to these producers, I was really going to be the liaison between a lot of people. So it was a logical next step in terms of growth as a comedy producer.
James McKinney: And how long were you there for?
Nick Justicz: I was there for about two years and that was kind of, going back to taking the myth out of jobs. At the end of those two years, that had happened, which is that you know you go in to meet people, to see how Hollywood works. I had met people, I saw how people, how everything works. But I wasn't enjoying myself. I wasn't really making much money. If you're not making money and you're not enjoying yourself, why are you doing it? This isn't to fault anyone. I learned so much, I met a lot of people. I was also writing at the time, trying to sell my own scripts.
I didn't feel like I was growing anymore, and I learned at the end of the day, I assumed show business was going to be exciting. What I learned was that it can be exciting. It can also be boring as hell. And for that matter, anything can be exciting or anything can be boring as hell. It's what you bring to it. There's so many startups doing traditionally unsexy work, but there's so much room to make whatever is not boring exciting. It's just a matter of how you feel about it.
James McKinney: Yeah, and it's great that you brought that up. It sounds like around that time, you were losing your passion for the entertainment industry.
Nick Justicz: But it wasn't necessarily the entertainment industry itself. It was the way things were done. I'll explain that a little bit, which is that I had always assumed, for no reason, that the way a project was made in Hollywood was a bunch of kind of smart people in a back room saying what would be really funny, what would be really good, and how are we going to make this. Then we're going to hire people to make it happen. This does not exist. As far as I can tell, this is how Hollywood actually works, which is producers, they see who's hot at the time, who has a following, who is going to put butts in seats, who is going to get people to watch YouTube. They try to get in touch with them. They invite them to the office and they say, "What do you want to make?" Then this person will pitch them ideas, and some of those ideas will be good, some of them will be bad, some of them have a hint of being good but they might not be developed. And then so whatever it is of who's hot at the time, who may or may not be a talented person, is what is going to get made. So I kind of lost faith in this process of making things. It wasn't interesting to me because at the end of the day, I needed to feel really good about what I was producing and I just didn't feel that way.
James McKinney: So what was your next step? Because now you're 2014, 2015 right?
Nick Justicz: Yeah, 2015, about that yeah. I had been working in entertainment in some capacity almost four years. There's a brief gap between Pauly and this, but basically yeah. I was like shoot, what's the next step? I met all the people I was going to meet. I learned how the system works. I just need to try something different. It was a hard time for me. I wasn't sure what the next step was, but I was like-
James McKinney: How old were you?
Nick Justicz: 25 or 26.
James McKinney: 25 or 26. You went to USC film school. You were in the industry for four, including your internships we'll say five or six years and now you're starting to think maybe this just isn't-
Nick Justicz: Yeah, I'm not having fun. I don't have money. I need to get some health insurance, you know? There was a part of me, that egotistical part of me that was like I'm a filmmaker, I went to a good film school, I can't leave that behind. But that wasn't serving me anymore. It wasn't making me happy. I was kind of miserable, so you know what, I need to try something else. And so I started looking at tech jobs.
James McKinney: With really no background in tech, right? You really, at this point, maybe call the YouTube experience some tech experience because it's with a tech brand, but really no tech experience.
Nick Justicz: Not really, no. I had built stuff in high school, and a bit of programming, and that type of thing but no professional tech experience, absolutely not. But the good news is tech, much like Hollywood, doesn't have many barriers to entry. They just care if you can do the job, and they can tell. People in tech can tell a tech person when they start talking. Granted, I didn't start applying for engineering type jobs because I still very rusty with that type of thing, but there's plenty of operational jobs in tech, and that's what I've been doing for the past four or five years or whatever.
James McKinney: And you're still doing that, correct?
Nick Justicz: Yeah, a little preface to all of this right which is as much fun as I have being an entrepreneur, I'm still very much an employee. You can be an employee and an entrepreneur, why not?
James McKinney: And I love… I love that you just said that, and I love that we're unpacking your story because there's this narrative out there where if you are not all in and fully in, and not employed by somebody, then you're not a real entrepreneur. I think that is a such a destructive narrative. One, I think there's a lot of falsehoods to it, it's just not true. And I think it doesn't empower people to pursue entrepreneurship. The success stories we hear of people that went all in, and bootstrapped for 18 months, sleeping on the couch and eating Ramen every day of their life with maybe some fancy cereal for breakfast if they somehow had a payday, the stories we hear of that, they're few and far between because they do not happen regularly.
Like that is not how all these successful businesses are started. They're started by real people that have real responsibilities, and a lot of those times they're side hustles. So you're in that season right now as a side hustle. Being that you are employed, when did your startup, which is Gazpacho, when did that come to your mind, your being? And what was the catalyst, and how did you start growing that while working?
Nick Justicz: So it actually did start fairly shortly after I got my first job in tech. so I became an office manager at this financial tech company called Zest Finance. You know, this was started by a lot of ex Google people, so silver lining here is there's going to be a lot of Google perks. For anybody working in Hollywood out there, let me tell you this, you can put up with half as much BS and you can get paid twice as much, and get a lot more benefits. I'm not saying it's for everyone.
James McKinney: Side bar, Nick is going to open up a recruiting firm shortly after this episode.
Nick Justicz: Yeah. Granted, by all means, do what makes you happy but let's be clear, you can easily transfer your skill set to tech and be treated a bit better. I was just trying something new at first. I was pretty up front with them. I was like listen, I can't do the Hollywood thing anymore, but the good news is I got this operational stuff down, I'll be good to you guys. And so I got that job and they had some great benefits. One of the benefits was tuition reimbursement. So I was like I've got to go try something from there. I wanted to take an iOS class for learning how to make iPhone apps.
This didn't happen immediately. It took me, after working there a couple months I was like okay, even if I'm not in entertainment anymore I need to focus my energies doing something. I need to make something. I'm not making scripts anymore. I'm not making videos, I've just got to make something. It could still be related to entertainment, right? I do consider my app an entertainment app, so in some ways I say I never left entertainment. But anyway, I started taking a class there and I just started thinking I want to make an app. Start again with what I don't want. I use this analogy a lot. Remember that game Guess Who? Or do you know that game?
James McKinney: Yes, yeah.
Nick Justicz: Yeah, yeah. It's like does this person have a beard, are they old? You start knocking down the things you don't want. That's kind of how it was like building my first product, which is like I know I want to make a product. I know I want it to be an app. l I know I want it to be entertainment focused. I know I want it to be media focused. Then I was like, got a bit more specific. I like Reddit, I like how it has kind of the meritocracy of content. I don't like how it's not really optimized for mobile. I don't like how it's not really optimized for media. I don't really like how it's not really that fun. So I kind of just was like if I made an app, what would it look like?
I started putting together the first version of what would become my app, Gazpacho, which is basically it's the back end of Reddit and the front end similar to Tinder, so you swipe through some memes and it'll up vote and down vote them the way Reddit would, and show you best content theoretically of that day.
James McKinney: Interesting. And when did you start building this?
Nick Justicz: I started building this, the class was the summer of 2016 so started building it around then.
James McKinney: And you developed the code yourself?
Nick Justicz: I did the first draft of it yeah. I got through the first draft of it. Lo and behold, for somebody who had only been coding a couple months, the code isn't that good. I put an ad on AngelList, if you're familiar with that. It's like a job board for developers and that type of thing. I post the product there, looking for a developer. You know, this is a hard sell, do you want to do a bunch of work on this product for no money.
James McKinney: 2016 at the time, so a lot of the developers for equity only were scarce. People had kind of wizened up. They went through the idea that if we build it we'll make millions, and now it got to everyone was trying to build something. It was probably challenging to find a person.
Nick Justicz: Absolutely, and you go to college campuses. It's kind of a cliche amongst engineering majors. You're always going to find a business major who has the best idea and they just need a tech cofounder. The teachers tell these kids don't do that, because you're worth something. By and large, I think that's true probably 90% of the time. But once in a while, honestly there's going to be a person who has a great idea and just not a technical background, and they just need somebody. And by no means am I saying you should work for no money. I'm just saying there's lots of opportunities out there and you never know where they're going to go.
James McKinney: So you found someone on AngelList.
Nick Justicz: I did yeah, somebody who Dave, he's the programmer of Gazpacho. He's great. Coincidently or not, he also is a USC film grad.
James McKinney: A film grad who is a developer as well, interesting.
Nick Justicz: Yeah, he's a film grad who went into iOS developing and has a great, great resume. Honestly I'm so lucky to be working with him. But basically, I set up a meeting with him and I showed him what I was working on. He was like, "I get it. This is dope. Let me…" he kind of looked at the code and was like, "Okay, this part is not so good, but I see what you're trying to do, and I can do it better." I was like, "By all means, go ahead." Yeah, and around that time, through some friends of friends, I have a friend Jen who's a really good copywriter who was going to help with a lot of the copy of both the words within the app and also some ads, and she knew a graphic designer. So before I knew it, there was three very talented people helping me out on it, just working for some equity.
James McKinney: That's awesome. So you've been working on it for three years now. Again, we met because of a Medium article where you had posted about the experience of emailing the founder of Snapchat. How does that play into your current project?
Nick Justicz: I think it's definitely part of the current Zeitgeist of kid creates app, blows up overnight, and that story sounds fun which is like wait, if I can take a shortcut to being huge… I'm not saying that's a healthy way to think, because chasing fame and riches, how many stories have been told about that? But I'm going to be honest, it definitely was like wait, if people can do that, why can't I do that?
James McKinney: And there's some validity in that thinking because it has obviously been evidenced that it can be done, but there's the variable of individual execution.
Nick Justicz: Yeah, yeah. And at the end of the day, it was just like I have nothing to lose, right? Worst case scenario, I make an app and it doesn't blow up, and I could live with that. I have lived with that, I should say.
James McKinney: So you swing for the fences. You're building this app. You see a model with Evan and the founder of Snapchat, and how that grew. In fact, a little bit of the story of how Snapchat grew because I remember a very early stage investor, and now they are very well to do because of that venture. But I assume that one of the reasons you reached out to Evan was part of your experience with Pauly Shore was what's the harm in asking. And two, you had a lot of entertainment networking and experience, but I assume you didn't have a lot in tech. am I right in that?
Nick Justicz: Absolutely right, yeah. I knew virtually nobody in technology in that kind of entrepreneurial level. Networking is always important, even if you're not in Hollywood, so what's the harm. Pauly Shore, I had emailed lots of people trying to sell my own stuff. Worst thing that happens I you don't get a response. Well, if this is a similar journey of someone who started with an app, he's not a technical cofounder either. It's also a media app, there's a lot of parallels, maybe he'll talk to me. So it was just kind of like what's the harm? Just shot him an email. I even had a feature or request, just an idea which was like it would be cool if people showed up on a map. I forget the exact thing, but I sent him that message and the reason I even remembered it years later, I have sent so many unsolicited emails by the way. That's just kind of…
James McKinney: That's just part of the job.
Nick Justicz: Yeah, like why not? But I remember that literally a year or two later, the app came out with the feature that I was thinking of. To be clear, I'm not saying anyone stole anything-
James McKinney: Yeah, of course.
Nick Justicz: … I was just like wait-
James McKinney: Well you offered it to them.
Nick Justicz: Yeah, and if he did read it and take it, that's great. But you can understand it just feels weird, emailing something and then seeing it show up. It's like, I don't know, what if anything happened, I don't know. So I find that story interesting, where it's emailed a feature. And what you find is this happens in Hollywood and tech too, right, which is who is stealing whose idea and the answer is nobody cares about your ideas, they care how you execute them. Every idea has been done before.
James McKinney: Yeah. I think a lot of new startups, to that point about stealing, a lot of new startups, they care so much about getting that NDA signed before they have any conversation about their technology piece, and investors just don't sign them. The idea that someone is going to steal your idea, one, comes from a pace of scarcity as if there's only so many ideas out there, as if you're the only one working on it. But two, it is 100% dependent upon the ability to execute, and investors do not make money by developing. They make money on finding great deals and great founders who they believe can execute.
Nick Justicz: Absolutely. You look at a popular product. You've seen White Claws are popular now, these spiked seltzer drinks. It's not like they were the first person to think of oh, let's put alcohol and seltzer together, but they did it in a way that people wanted to buy. That's all it is. You can start a new water bottle company. It's not like oh, you can't start a water bottle company because there's water bottle companies already. It doesn't work that way.
James McKinney: Yeah. So you have Gazpacho, you're doing it on the side. What is your hope with Gazpacho? Do you have a vision for how you monetize it? What is the game plan for Gazpacho?
Nick Justicz: The game plan has changed over the years, for sure. There was definitely the hope of I'm going to, this is going to be my fulltime gig and this is going to be my job, this is how I'm going to define myself. And that's all great. I'm not necessarily saying that I don't want to do that one day, but my goals have shifted to just being I just want to make a dope product that other people enjoy using as well. I just need a creative outlet to express those things that I'm not getting elsewhere, and that's it. As soon as you kind of let go of anything it's supposed to be that's superlative or huge, it's a huge weight lifted off your back. Why do you need the money and the status? Granted, those things are fun but there's plenty of other ways to do those besides entrepreneurship.
James McKinney: How do you, well quick question I'm going to poke at that a little bit. You have people that are doing it for equity, which means they're not getting paid right now. I'm assuming there has to be a vision for monetization, whether it be ad revenue, sponsored, what is your vision for that?
Nick Justicz: In my ideal world, what will happen is we'll grow a user base, we'll sustain those users, we'll get a lot of eyeballs on an app, and a lot of monthly active users on app. A lot of monthly active users are worth something. At that point, you don't need to worry about monetization quite yet, you just need to worry about scaling it even higher. It's not like Snapchat did ads immediately, it's not like Facebook did ads immediately. But what they did have was a lot of users and a lot of data about those users, and a way to grow. So the next step, if or when that comes, would be having a user engagement that is trending in a strong direction upwards that would secure VC funding for more iterations to build on that base, build a community, and build more features.
James McKinney: I agree with everything you said about Snapchat, but the key was they had a ton of investment capital to delay the advertising side of it. Facebook's the same narrative. It is about delivering as much value as you can, building up that community and that user base, but at some point, you have to, whether it be granted if you're a trust fund baby and you don't need to get investment capital, then more power to you. But most people aren't that. They need to get investment capital, so investors are going to want to see so at what point do you flip the switch on and start monetizing this? And then where do you see this being a long-term opportunity like Snapchat, or do you see it being a plug-in to something greater?
Nick Justicz: I should backup and say I received a small investment already. It's just not enough for me to quit my day job so to speak. The way I received that investment was posting about the Snapchat emails, going back to the idea of you never know where asking is going to lead. I was just kind of opening up to my network like hey, let's check out this one sided interaction I had with Evan Spiegel, the CEO of Snapchat, I think this is funny. Then all the sudden, somebody on LinkedIn reaches out to me and says, "Are you taking investments?" and I was like whoa, I hadn't really considered that.
James McKinney: That's awesome.
Nick Justicz: I mean, I had to back up like what am I going to do with money, which is that may sound like a silly question, but it's like well, this is a relatively small time person, they're not going to give me enough money to work on this and hire programmers full time, so the answer I came up with is well, I can run some ads, I could use the money to incorporate into a business, get the equity split solidized. We'll take this modest investment, we'll incorporate, we'll run some ads. So that's what we did. It's been a journey, right? I can't say that I have all the answers clearly, but yeah. We've grown some users. User retention is a bit harder. There's a lot of features that we want to try out, and I'm not going to lie, I don't have all the answers here otherwise I might be there already. I can tell you just getting to this point where it's on the app store, where people see what I'm trying to do at least completed partly what I said I was going to start with, that's very, very fulfilling.
James McKinney: That is awesome. I love that. And you're right. Building an app is extremely challenging. Actually, let me clarify that. The developing the app is challenging depending on what the feature set is. Getting users to actually go through the steps, to install the app, depending on the setting up an account process, but getting to install it and then use it, that is so challenging. There are millions of apps in the app store now and very few of them see any daylight because it is so challenging. I don't think people fully understand it. So I hope, and I'm sure my listeners know, but I hope my listeners will show up and get that app in the app store. I'll make sure to include a link in the show notes for sure.
But as you find yourself now, and unfortunately our time is coming to an end, but as you find where you're at now where you have a great job, you have this app that is fulfilling a lot of needs that you have in building something and being creative. You have partners that are alongside you and fully invested in the idea of Gazpacho as well. When you look back on the entire journey, all the people that have crossed your path, all the people that have poured into you, who do you look to with incredible gratitude for?
And the reason I ask that question is I believe that if we lose sight of those people, and lose sight of the perspective that we did not get to where we are today on our own, we'll begin to isolate ourselves and actually start believing the lie that we did do it on our own, and ultimately that isolation leads to our failure. So when you look back on your journey, who do you look to with such incredible gratitude for their contribution to your life's journey to where you are today?
Nick Justicz: I have to thank, first and foremost, my parents for doing an environment where they encouraged me to really blaze my own path and develop my skills, and see what would happen because we really had no idea. Also, my friends in college are really good at just… they know me very well. They're very good at keeping my ego in check and just kind of recognizing my good ideas and recognize my bad ideas as well. They were essential in helping me whittle down what the app is.
Also, you know my immediate team of course because they take huge risks building something that is frankly worth a lot of money if they had just taken another job traditionally. So everyone's taking a huge risk there. So yeah, I have immense gratitude for people who are taking a chance on me, not just doing work for free but just using their time and believing in something that really objectively they have no reason to believe in.
And of course, I've got to thank Pauly Shore for really showing me the creative process and how things are done. And I have to thank all the terrible jobs I had too in between, because if they had gone a little bit better, I would still be doing those things. I have to thank all the people who rejected my job application, because by doing that it forced me to reach deep down and make something that was truly mine. Yeah, just got to be grateful for the no's and the yes' because they ultimately point in the right direction I think.
James McKinney: Oh, I love that. Love it. Last question, and I ask this of every founder. We've been talking to tens of thousands of listeners, and I'm telling you the growth over The Startup Story last couple months has been unbelievable. And so to know that there are so many people listening to these amazing stories that are authentic and raw is incredibly humbling that I get to be a part of that. But while we've been talking to so many people, this is the segment of the show where I ask you to speak to one singular persona.
Whether that persona is the existing entrepreneur who's frustrating at the lack of traction and growth, it's a lot harder than they thought it would be so they're just really discouraged, or maybe it's the entrepreneur who has failed so many times and every time they start something, it ends up shutting down and they've lost seed capital from people maybe. They're about ready to call it quits. They're hanging their hat, they're done with this. Or maybe it's the want-repreneur, the one who has a 9 to 5, a book full of ideas and dreams, but maybe because of the narrative that we've talked about where if you're not all in, you're an imposter. Maybe because they have all these responsibilities of a spouse, kids, and a mortgage, or maybe because they're even 60 years old, they have told themselves my days of being an entrepreneur, my opportunities of being an entrepreneur are long gone. Which of those personas do you want to speak to right now?
Nick Justicz: The first person I want to talk to is the person who just says I want to be an entrepreneur because that's cool to put in your Tinder bio right now, and is like I'm an entrepreneur side hustle. Which is that I think there's lots of bad reasons to do it, like there's lots of bad reasons to become an actor. I think people think it's a shortcut often to rich and fame, and being a big shot. What I would say is ask the reason you want to be an entrepreneur, because I think a fulfilling way to become an entrepreneur is being attracted to excitement or being attracted to problems you want to solve, or fundamentally doing it for yourself. I think if you're doing it to chase money or some type of clout, you'll probably end up being disappointed. So just ask yourself why you're doing something.
The second thing I'll say is I think it's really easy, to the person who wants to become an entrepreneur but doesn't know where to start, is don't be so hard on yourself. I think there's an inclination for a lot of people to say I want to do everything and I want this thing to be encompassing my whole being, and it needs to be perfect. That doesn't exist. My advice to people wanting to start off is just make something that you would use, that you enjoy. Don't do everything. Just do one thing specifically. And it doesn't need to be perfect, because that doesn't exist. It just needs to be pretty good. So just have an idea that you would like to talk about, that you wouldn't mind talking about even if it goes nowhere. And you can't lose. As long as you have an idea that you truly believe in, that you can talk about even if it goes nowhere, isn't that fun? Isn't that worth doing? Just take an idea and run with it.
James McKinney: I recently wrote an article for a small business magazine where I spoke about starting a business for the wrong reasons, and Nick addressed it as well in his final moments of his episode. He mentioned to us that if you're pursuing entrepreneurship to chase fame and fortune, you'll ultimately end up disappointed. I know this is challenging to avoid because we live in a culture where media headlines point to the new startup sales for $100 million after 18 months. Now, compound that idea with the fact that we are fed content driven by algorithms that know what catches your eye. That's why we only see the same headlines over and over again, and we're only consuming the narrative that's not helpful because we're building a business based on information that is biased towards success stories that we initially were seeking out.
The disappointment that Nick was referring to was the overall challenge that comes with starting a business. I've said it before, but starting a business is so freaking hard. If you're doing it for fame and fortune, then you will not be able to endure the hardship that will, and it will. Hardship will definitely occur while you're building your business. If you pursue passion before fame, you'll be able to endure those moments because your purpose will always outweigh the hardship.
I wrote an article for Medium about that topic as well. I'll post a link to both articles in the show notes. I hope you give them a read and let me know your thoughts. And I hope you found some real value in Nick's episode. In addition to the overall entertainment, Nick's startup story was incredibly powerful. And if you have been around The Startup Story for any length of time, then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs supposed other entrepreneurs. So if you have found value in Nick's startup story, please download the Gazpacho app today. It's only available for iOS right now, so if you're an iPhone user, please download the app and use it. Then, send Nick some thoughts about your experience with the app. He wants this feedback from you, the user, and in the app itself there's a feedback icon. So again, if you're an iOS user, please download Gazpacho, use it, give Nick some feedback. Entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs, so let's make sure to show up for Nick Justicz in a major way and download the Gazpacho app.
And now for my personal ask. The Startup Story community has been so incredible about sharing our podcast with others, but we have more stories to tell and more people to reach. We too are a startup and word of mouth is everything, so please follow us on Facebook and Instagram @TheStartupStory or on Twitter @StartupStory_. If you're on LinkedIn, please search for The Startup Story and follow our company page. LinkedIn is a really powerful way to raise awareness of the show. But the most impactful way you can help us grow our audience is to leave a review on Apple Podcast. Or if you listen to the show via Spotify, then please simply share the podcast directly from your Spotify app or wherever you listen to the show.
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If you like this podcast and are thinking of creating your own, consider talking to my producer Danny Ozment. He helps thought leaders, influencers, executives, and authors create, launch, and produce podcasts that grow their business and make a real impact in this world. You can contact him today at emeraldcitypro.com/startupstory.