How to Make Partnerships Work in a Creative Business with Mordy Rapp


With special guest Mordy Rapp

Episode Resources

Episode Transcript


Hi and welcome to this episode of The Well-Paid Creative, I am so happy to have Mordy Rapp here with me. He is the owner of Video Sparks and we are going to talk about a whole bunch of interesting topics today. Welcome to the podcast, Mordy.

[00:21] – Mordy

I thank you for having me. Really excited to be here.

[00:24] – Gabrielle

Wonderful. So tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get to be where you are now?

Whoo! That’s a pretty heavy handed question. I’ll give you the shortest version I can think of. In high school I was introduced to a wide variety of art classes that I just fell in love with, like from fine art to drama to film class. And I was just blown away by them. All my friends there were all STEM people. Right. Nice Jewish school. Everyone’s going to become doctors and lawyers.

And I was just I was in love with the arts and after my first film class and like opening Adobe Premiere, the two thousand version, I fell in love with it and said, this is what I’m going to want to do with the rest of my life.

Fast forward like 10 years. I was not doing that.

I had odd jobs here and there from like cleaning toilets to, you know, working in different marketing firms and things like that. And I was always still doing little projects on the side. Eventually an opportunity came up. After working somewhere for a little under six months, realizing that I was not happy where I was, I said, I have to really, really have to go back to this dream I had a decade ago and I got it.

I gotta, like I got to take a risk.

So a friend of mine who we got in touch with again said, let’s do this together. Let’s go for a 50/50 partnership. So it’s not just my company, I should say, in your intro I’m the co-owner.

We said, let’s try it out for one quarter. Let’s see if we could get revenue, let’s see what we could do. And after that three months, we were already making a decent amount of money and saying, OK, the proof of concept is there, like we’ve got something good and let’s just do it. Let’s start making video products and we’ll just do this for for a living.

And, you know, now it’s been 11 years. And thank God. We’re a six figure company, a small boutique and work with tech companies, both large and small, both in Israel and all over the world. From the tiniest little tech you’ve never heard of to enterprise companies like Amdocs.

And there’s some others as well. And, yeah, that’s the short version of it.


[02:55] – Gabrielle

I love how you said that you took all these different classes and fell in love with video editing because I had kind of a similar experience. I went and did a digital arts and media program at my college, and it was essentially just a smorgasbord, like we did everything from audio and video to graphic design and photography. And everything in between. And then by the end of it, they were just like, pick one.

[03:26] – Mordy

I didn’t mention actually one very interesting part of the story is I actually went to film school for a semester. I went to film school for a semester and I’m like, this is it, I’m going to do it like I have to. And after one semester, there really was no one here who wants to make money. They’re all artists.

I don’t want to be here. And I switched to business school and I studied marketing. And so I had like almost seven or eight years of, I guess you could say, like hobby experience with the arts and then a background in marketing and eventually those two things just melded together what we have today.

[04:09] – Gabrielle

I love that. So Videosparks, tell me a little bit more about your company and what you guys do over there.

[04:17] – Mordy

Sure. So we are a boutique video production agency. We specialize in videos for tech.

So anything from those like creative explainer videos that you’ll find on websites to creative content strategies and production pipelines for large scale content. So it has such a wide range.

But when you’re a video producer, there’s no medium that you can’t do. Right. Because you know how to find third party suppliers when you need to. And it’s just all about coming up with a vision, finding out a way to execute it and making sure it fits within budget and creativity kind of does the rest and good management and communication, of course.

[05:03] – Gabrielle

But management and communication, that’s a big one, because you’ve grown the company from just you and your co-owner to how many employees do you have now?

[05:12] – Mordy

So now we have two, I hope to get another two by the end of this year. This is the year of the growth, the year of the lion, the year of the tiger. I don’t know what year it is.

[05:20] – Gabrielle

Yeah, it’s actually the year of the Ox, but the Ox is hard working. Right.

[05:27] – Mordy

That’s true. Yeah. So far we’re doing really well. We’re not even at the end of Q1 and we’re already past our projections. So that’s great.

[05:38] – Gabrielle

Oh, wonderful. It’s great to hear. So when you were first starting out, you and your co-owner, what were some of the biggest struggles that you had getting that off the ground?

[05:56] – Mordy

It was even though we still had paying clients and we still had expenses and it wasn’t my own company, we were still treating the company as like a mom and pop freelance model, but splitting the profits in two. So it didn’t go so far. And we were working out of one of my spare rooms in my house, and that wasn’t good at all. For us that was a bad mix.

You know it wasn’t good for our marriage, my wife and I, but it wasn’t good for our marriage. And we said, all right, we have to rent an office and whatever where we live the rent was still pretty expensive.

So, yeah, I think that was the hardest part, was really, you know, we could see that the company can make money, but the question was how much was coming back to our own personal lives.

[06:51] – Gabrielle

The financial issues?

[06:53] – Mordy

Yeah, financial issues were really hard. And the truth is, neither of us had, you know, a lot of business experience. And so we had to learn a lot along the way.

[07:07] – Gabrielle

Did you learn more on your own or did you work with mentors or did you bring in outside help when it came to finances?

[07:14] – Mordy

Both. I would say the two largest ways that we learned was mentors, having paid mentors was one of the best things we ever did. I had a sales coach who helped me for six weeks, and he taught me all kinds of amazing tricks and he taught me how to have patience and he taught me how to keep leads in the pipeline. When someone says no, it doesn’t mean no, it could mean no now. You have to clarify is it no now or or or is it no, get away from me.

And sometimes no now can mean follow up in Q2. And that’s a sale. And I didn’t think about those things. I was like, oh what my products aren’t good enough for you?  That’s  sad, my ego’s blown.

And the other thing, a friend of mine talked about the dummy tax, you pay the dummy tax, you will spend money and see zero return on investment, and you will have to eat that fodder and you’ll learn from it. And no college or MBA or anything can teach you that because it just has to kind of come with experience.

I remember we had one deal we paid ten thousand dollars for. It was like some kind of marketing thing. And it seemed like it was a perfect fit. And apparently  the sales guy who sold us this marketing package, he was just lying to people and he got fired. But the contract was already in existence and the owner of the company refused to give us a refund. So we just lost 10 grand in, like our second year of operations. It was a lot of money for us at the time.

I can’t even tell you what I learned from that.

[08:58] – Gabrielle

I think that can be classified as a dummy tax. I’ve had many, many experiences with that dummy tax and now I’m totally stealing that phrasing as that’s gonna make the perfect term for it.

And you are going to have those bumps and those moments in the road where you just have to pick yourself up and go, wow, at least I learned something from it.

[09:18] – Mordy

Yeah, totally. And then there’s just like the general grit that you have to have if you want to run your own show, you just have to have so much grit.

Covid is probably the greatest example of if you’re entrepreneur, you’re running your own company, the amount of grit you had to show this year was exceptional. We had three months of zero revenue.

I mean, it was awful. You know, and we’re still kind of paying back that, so to speak, that negative, impact, and I’d be a liar if I didn’t say, is this still worth it? Like, is it worth it for my family, for myself to continue to do this? Should I just go get a job? I’m sure I’ll get some kind of senior position at some kind of creative agency or something like that, you know, you just kind of hang on. And that’s kind of part of it.

[10:18] – Gabrielle

That second guessing yourself, I’ve experienced quite a bit like, should I just go get a job? Should I just give up? Maybe even if it’s just for now, you know, I could come back to it later.

[10:28] – Mordy

But it’s awful. It’s such an awful feeling.

[10:31] – Gabrielle

And since you had this company, not just yourself, there’s a little bit more to it with you being a co-owner. So how did that work out with you being co-owners in terms of getting over those hard periods of time? Did you lean on each other were you kind of a little bit more, I don’t know, independent. How did that work out with your dynamic?

[10:54] – Mordy

I don’t know, I haven’t even revealed some of this stuff to him, maybe he’ll listen to this and find out.

[10:58] – Gabrielle

Maybe don’t tell him about this episode.

[11:03] – Mordy

I had a colleague of mine, a mentor of mine, I should even say. And he also had a partnership. And I asked him, when I first started this company with a friend of mine. And our lives are so intertwined, like our wives, our friends and our kids are the same age and they’re friends and I asked him, what’s the success to a good partnership? And he said, you have to treat it like a marriage.

I can’t say that we’re the most functional heterosexual marriage out there. But, yeah, there is a lot of that. There’s a lot of leaning on each other. There’s a lot of like, you know, I feel like garbage today, man. This is just awful. And, you know, you get to share that burden with somebody else when you take risks, you’re not doing it alone. So I have a friend of mine who always says, and he runs his own companies, he says it’s lonely at the top.

I’m like, I totally agree with you. It is lonely at the top. But it’s sometimes nice to share that seat with somebody. It has its pluses and minuses.

[11:58] – Gabrielle

So what would you say would be the drawbacks of that?

[12:02] – Mordy

Well, for one, you know, you have to split all that money, right? So when you’re having a really good month, you know.

If I was doing this, you have this fleeting thought for a second, if I was doing this on my own, I’d have double the salary. Or I could probably figure out a way to delegate whatever tasks the co-owner is doing, you know, an employee could probably take over. That’s part of what we’ve been doing over the past 11 years is I want to take myself out of the picture and my business partner out of the picture so that this company can be, in theory, I want to treat it as something that can be sold.

[12:42] – Gabrielle

That’s a big thing. Starting a business with the concept and the idea, even if it’s just in the back of your head, that one day you’re going to sell this business. That’s a very different path then if you’re going to just be a solopreneur and just do your services and just kind of continue what you’re doing until you’re not. Whether you move on to something else or whether you stop doing it right.

It’s a very different mindset.

[13:06] – Mordy

I think I will say the other drawback is that, and maybe it’s just the way we structured our company and our tasks, but because I’m like the more outgoing salesperson. So I kind of represent the bringing in of revenue and the new clients, and my business partner kind of does the fulfillment end of things. So I’m having a hard time. And I can never stop, I don’t get to pause, I always have to hustle, even if people are saying no.

So I’m always working no matter what. But if he’s got no stuff in the pipeline, so it’s kind of a little bit of twiddling his thumbs, it’s like, where’s the work? Where’s the beef? And I’m like, well what are you doing? Right. So I’d say that’s the other downside

And I’m sure he’s felt this way about me, although he’s never expressed it like you could have this kind of resentment and like we have a partnership, you’ve got to pull your weight, even though there’s no weight to be pulled. But  it’s still kind of just part of it, I guess.

[14:07] – Gabrielle

Some good insight there, especially since you’ve split up the duties, so to speak, between the two of you.

So since you handle most of the sales and the client management and that end of things, what would you say has been your most successful strategy or tactic in order to bring those new clients into the business?

[14:32] – Mordy

That’s a good question. I think one of my favorite things that we’ve done over the past, and this doesn’t mean that we no longer take clients in certain areas, is that I try to continue to hone down what my message was and what was the value I was bringing to this industry.

I think it’s the fourth or fifth page of Agencynomics, which is a phenomenal book about if you ever want to grow an agency like out of a mom and pop store.

[15:00] – Gabrielle

I’ll put a link down there in the show notes for everybody.

[15:02] – Mordy

Now, it’s very big picture. I’ll be 100 percent honest, I could talk the talk, but we’re not even close to anything that is represented in that book. But it’s a very cool mindset. And I just remember, like, they show, this graph of like, you know, if you go over a very niche audience, you’re going to have way fewer competitors in that niche audience. So we chose specifically to go after tech. Right?

And I could even hone it down even more. Like I could say, even we’re experts in IT technology companies. And I’m even currently running a campaign targeting only IT companies. There’s not many people doing that. And there’s probably two or three maybe creatives specializing in video for IT. Like that is so crazy niche. I’ve got like nine clients in the IT space, like, wow.

Well, you know your stuff, right? You could talk about Xerox 450 part number 612.

[16:08] – Gabrielle

Oh, I love that. And you know, and niching, we’ve talked about it on a couple of different episodes here. But it really is key, especially when you’re doing more of an insubstantial service. Or I don’t want to say insubstantial, but a broader type of service.

Like if you’re a mechanic, then you can’t be making houses and fixing cars. It’s very clear what you do when someone goes to you for. But if you’re a creative provider, then you can essentially target everybody. Right? So that makes it very easy for people to say, well, why don’t I target everybody? But the effective marketing is the one that actually speaks to one specific type of person.

I love hearing how people have been using that successfully in their own creative businesses.

[16:52] – Mordy

Yeah, and that doesn’t mean, you know, because after 11 years and you probably have experienced this yourself, but word of mouth, does 50 percent or 50 percent of our work just comes from word of mouth. Right. So when a nonprofit comes our way and they have the budget, like, I’m not going to say no, we’ll still do it for sure, even if it’s not our target audience. But if I’m going to have a strategy and I’m going to spend money on marketing dollars and I’m going to be generating traffic to a certain area, like I want to make sure that stuff is so tight and on point.

That, you know, it’s very clear who the client should be and who we are and that we’re going to be a good fit and you want to fill that form out or you want to reach out to us.

[17:41] – Gabrielle

So powerful. So you live in Israel right now. I’m assuming you didn’t start out in Israel. You just don’t seem very European I’m not going to lie.

[17:56] – Mordy

I’m from Toronto, Canada.

[17:59] – Gabrielle

Oh, a fellow Canadian. Love it.  Perfect. So how did you end up in Israel? From Toronto, Canada?

[18:07] – Mordy

I was raised in a Jewish Zionist home, and it was kind of always the dream of my family to come back here and I have family here as well. And I came to study abroad here for a year, fell in love with the country, fell in love with the life here and I had already had a brother who had come to move here, it was called Making Aliya, so to speak, and it was a nice natural fit.

I did not think about career or anything when I did it. I was 19. I was very young.

[18:37] – Gabrielle

Oh, so you moved to Israel before you started your company?

[18:40] – Mordy

Yeah, it was going to be another four years until we opened up Videosparks. I did military duty, here.

[18:52] – Gabrielle

Do you have any issues with being overseas and working with clients – are your customers primarily in North America or are they European?

[19:01] – Mordy

I would say we started off working for mostly Israeli companies and used our own local flavor. And the truth is, I bring a lot of added value in Israel just because we’re Native American and all the tech clients, all of them, are doing global marketing.

If you can come with that American flag, once you live in Israel, doesn’t matter if you’re from Canada, you become American. Yeah, so they want an American. You know, almost I would say it’s so funny.

All the all the tech companies that I work with and all the people who are end up being my clients. Right. They’re all like marketing execs. They’re all American. They’re all North American. You have these Israeli engineers and CEOs who are running these companies, but they want marketing people who are going to be representing the client facing side of things.

[19:50] – Gabrielle

Would you say that’s been one of your advantages over there then?

[19:53] – Mordy

Yeah, I even specifically, if they want to speak in Hebrew to me, I’m like, we’re going to speak in English. We’re doing this meeting in English.

And I come into those meetings and I almost like have control over the room. Right. Because I am now an expert, even though, you know, we are who we are.

But  that confidence that I’m coming with my own language and I’m coming with this almost global feel. So they eat it up. And then it wasn’t long after that, that we started going after North American companies as well, because it was a good fit. And the companies that we were working with here already in Israel, they were already famous in North America. So that allowed us to tap into North American tech clients as well.

[20:43] – Gabrielle

It kind of ties into what we were joking about before we hopped on the podcast here. Mordy, for those of you just listening, has a very feminine dressing room background as a Zoom background. And he was laughing that his kids had changed it. But he said, well, you know, I’m a creative. It’s just expected of us. Right. We just kind of, get given a pass because that’s who we are.

[21:07] – Gabrielle

And using that to your advantage, especially here in this story, where you’re telling me about using your North American accent, and your experience to your advantage, is kind of finding those almost like your unfair advantage.

And some people will call it your experience or your skills or something. But sometimes it’s something completely unexpected, like just being a creative person or having a North American accent in Israel.

[21:39] – Mordy

It is a good lesson. I mean, you have to, also when you’re selling and when you’re representing something that’s kind of almost ephemeral, how do you sell creative? Like how? I can show someone a portfolio, but that doesn’t prove to them that I’m we’re the right guys for the job, the right team for the job to, like, come up with a vision that doesn’t exist.

A marketing company could say, we are going to do X, Y and Z. Her are our channels. Here are the tools we’re going to be using. Here’s the expected traffic. Let us reach those goals. How do you define a goal for a creator?

[22:17] – Gabrielle

I mean, I always talk about tying things into your results. And there are some avenues where it’s a little bit easier to do. Like, you know, if you build websites, you can say I can increase the number of your website leads by 20 percent or something like that. You can have some data to back it up. But for those more esoteric creative fields where you’re creating a video, but then once you create that video, it’s kind of out of your hands, like whether or not that video makes them money or increases their brand recognition is kind of not up to you.

So how do you deal with that in your day to day? Like if you have a client who takes this beautiful video that you made and doesn’t do anything with it or does something bad with it?

[22:56] – Mordy

Yeah, I mean, that’s sometimes like a sad reality, right? We’ve had clients who wanted to run and this is probably the most painful to watch. Like, let’s say crowdfunding was a space we were involved in. And you see the video on the campaign page. And that campaign is running for 30 days and that ticker just kind of stays static. You know, it doesn’t get past the twenty five percent, like, mission failed.

And you can’t help but feel a little bit almost responsible for that. Obviously there’s so much that goes into a crowdfunding campaign. But like we made one of their main collaterals and  they didn’t achieve their goal. So you feel a little bit bad about that. But you’re right. We don’t have control, but for every one, quote unquote loss, like we have one hundred successes.

[23:55] – Gabrielle

So you’d focus on the successes instead of the one or two failures.

[24:01] – Mordy

It’s not really a fail. We did our job, did a really high end job, we did not cut corners. The piece, the collateral that they got was phenomenal. And yeah, it just didn’t work. Like, we can’t always be responsible for someone else’s marketing plans. At the end of the day, not when we’re a small piece of the pie. The only thing we can promise is we’ll deliver on time. It’ll be frickin awesome. And we’ll make sure that you’re happy throughout the entire process.

But yeah, but then you have the clients who are very good at what they do and have nice marketing teams and have a plan for everything and they report the metrics back to you. They say here are the amount of views you got from the video and here’s how many of those things led to downloads that say and of those downloads, these led to paying customers. Here’s the ROI we got off your video. We’re super happy with you. Take some more money for Q2, Q3 and Q4, you got it.

[24:58] – Gabrielle

That’s wonderful. So anything else you’d like to add about, your whole process of getting from just starting out to now, you’re at a six figure agency, it’s quite the success story.

[25:13] – Mordy

Yeah. You know, it’s never ending. Right. I personally always want to just keep growing like I still feel like we’re not as big as I wanted to be at this point after 11 years. There’s almost like a sense of there’s never a sense of full satisfaction, if that makes sense.

[25:31] – Gabrielle

Because there’s no finish line really.

[25:33] – Mordy

Yeah, there’s no finish line. There’s just like this imaginary dialogue that I kind of want and it’s like resisting. I just want to, like, crank it to 11 and it’s never going to get there. So it’s kind of hard, but it’s also fun because there’s always something new and interesting to do. And we treat this, as much as we’re doing creative works, I treat this like it’s a very intense business.

And there’s so much, no matter how creative, let’s say I am as a personality, there’s just so much business acumen that I’m going to have to constantly learn to stay ahead of the curve and to keep this going into at the end of the day, pay employee salaries. And I guess that’s just kind of part of it. You have to remember if you’re any kind of creative, you have to get a taste for it and see if it’s something you want to do for the rest of your life.

[26:26] – Gabrielle

Because once you’re in, there’s no going back, now you’re trapped.

[26:30] – Mordy

There’s so much going back, there is so much going back.

[26:36] – Gabrielle

So I ask this of all of my guests, I’m always intrigued. Do you have a hobby or some sort of activity that you do on the side just for yourself?

[26:45] – Mordy

Yes. Oh, I have to answer.

[26:49] – Gabrielle

Oh, yeah, you have to answer.

[26:52] – Mordy

I’m a very big game enthusiast. I love strategy board games, magic cards, Magic the Gathering was a game I played when I was a little kid and I never gave it up. I never wanted to. I’m holding onto my youth forever. I’m thirty five and still that’s not old and I feel like a kid still and I’m going to hold on to that for as long as I can.

[27:13] – Gabrielle

We love board games over here too and my kids are now getting to be the age where they’ll actually play and do it competitively with my husband and I. So we just had the  family day holiday on Monday here in Canada. And so we sat down and played Ticket to Ride Europe. And I won.

[27:33] – Mordy

And no one could read any of the names.

[27:36] – Gabrielle

I know my younger one is like, Mom, can you read this for me? But my older one is getting into it and he’s starting to know the strategy and stuff. So they’re having more fun with us.

[27:45] – Mordy

We taught our nine year old to play Cities and Nights, Cattan Cities and Nights  it’s like,  that’s Cattan on acid. Right? So, yeah.

[27:54] – Gabrielle

That’s a good one. We’ll have to get over here. My goodness. So thank you so much for this Mordy. I’ve had such a great conversation here. Really enjoyed this. And I might just bring you back another time.

[28:08] – Mordy

Yeah, my pleasure. I got a lot to talk about. Can I add one more anecdote?

[28:12] – Gabrielle

Absolutely. Go right ahead.

[28:14] – Mordy

This is for all the solopreneurs out there, all the young creatives who are just starting out. I would say never be shy to ask people who are ahead of you career-wise for advice. I think I’m very privileged that I get to give back to these young people who I get random calls and texts from people that ask me to get into this industry. I’m happy to give back.

But the reason is because I received it also from other people and friends and colleagues, etc. There’s so much learning to be shared and to give and it’s good to build that network. So don’t be shy, reach out and ask for help.

[28:59] – Gabrielle

I love that. And I couldn’t agree more. That’s such a great anecdote. Well, thank you so much, Mordy. This has been an absolute pleasure. I’m going to be linking down to Mordy’s company VideoSparks, where he has generously offered a nice little coupon code for people to use. And we’re going to be linking to books and resources that we mentioned in this episode. Thanks so much for tuning in and I’ll see you next week.

[29:22] – Mordy

Thanks Gabrielle it was very nice. Have a good one.

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