I always wanted to be some sort of entertainer. Creativity is something that has lived inside of me for my entire life, but when you’re an 18-year-old kid who has no idea how to channel it, you just go to college. That’s what everyone else was doing back in 2004. College is supposed to sort you out and all, right?
And, that’s how I ended up with a degree in psychology (of all things) from Middle Tennessee State University. I was interested in psychology, and thought, “yeah – this seems cool. Guess I’ll just do this for the rest of my life?”
But, deep down, I always wanted to be a wrestler. Wrestling was my creative outlet – whether it was running my action figure federation as a kid or doing backyard wrestling as a teenager. That dream was never really in the cards for me, though.
The truth is that I was sort of an aimless kid for the better part of my life. I didn’t have the body to be a wrestler, and I’m not talking about my look. Anyone that knows me knows I’m not too embarrassed to pull my gut out in any situation. I mean that my body literally would not hold up wrestling. I have bad ankles, bad knees, a bad back. There’s no way I would’ve lasted. But, I never really thought of a contingency plan.
You eventually get to a point in your life when the inevitability of the real world smacks you in the face.
Wrestling wasn’t going to cut it for a myriad of reasons. But, I really didn’t have much of a desire to pursue $100K in debt and an advanced psychology degree. So, I graduated from MTSU in 2008 and all I could muster was, “now what?” I was conflicted – I had to deal with some mental health issues related to this adjustment. But, I managed to just kind of go with the flow for a bit. Errr….from about 2004-2013.
I minored in management, so I guessed I was supposed to go into business for some reason. Started looking for jobs and found a gig literally hand-stitching leather journals for an online store. I felt pretty well isolated. What followed was nearly four years of just languishing about feeling complete restlessness. But, I was enthralled by the idea of making a living for myself.
I never saw in myself then what I see in myself now. I didn’t recognize any of my character traits as ‘special.’ I was just doing what I thought I was supposed to do. But, I just couldn’t shake this vague feeling of creative desire and wanting a bit of control over my own life.
Well….in 2009, I hear Clay Travis for the first time. And, yeah – it sounds fuckin’ weird. But, the only sports talk I had before the launch of 3HL was boring ass old man sports talk king George Plaster. All of a sudden, this guy’s on air saying ridiculous, hilarious things.
Eventually, he shared more of his story. It was inspiring to me to hear that this guy just gave up his career as a lawyer to go make dick jokes on the Internet. But, the message, to me at least, was clear…
Just do it.
It was the metaphorical light bulb going off. That, and the pair of Nikes I was wearing at the time. I was always good at writing, and though I was incredibly afraid of failure, I knew I couldn’t just let all of this desire just die out inside of me. I didn’t want to watch life pass me by.
That’s the moment SoBros Network was conceived.
I started with an account at SportsBlog.com: “The Southern Brothers Network,” writing for 12 people. I called up Brandon and Poppa Bear, and we played around with a podcast…but it was sporadic and we really had no idea what we were doing. We had an average of about 20-30 people listening…I wish I could pinpoint exactly who these people were and thank them for giving us a chance. Hope they’ve stuck around to see us hit the 30K/month mark.
I had an old high school friend who reached out to me, said he saw some of my stuff, and that it was “as good as anything he’d read at Bleacher Report.” Still thankful for that. But, he got me a gig with Titan Sized, then parlayed that into a strong run with Pro Football Spot.
I submitted an article to Outkick The Coverage that made the cut. It went live and suddenly my phone was blowing up with congratulatory text messages. A month or so later, I get a check for it…signed, “Clay Travis.” Funny how that worked out.
But then, I was fired from the journal-making job. And, don’t get me wrong – I’m incredibly grateful for that experience. It pushed me into a more traditional business environment where I’ve worked since (kind of – I don’t think I’d call a San Francisco tech startup “traditional”). That’s when I started to figure out the value of a strong work ethic, emotional intelligence, and communication skills. But, more importantly, during that time, I started to take an interest in and learn about how writers make money.
At one point, I was writing for five different outlets and maintaining a day job. I realized something about myself, though – I was doing something I enjoyed, but I still wasn’t feeling satisfied.
I worked with some great journalists along the way, but I never really thought of myself as the “J” word. Again, I wanted to be an entertainer. So, after nearly four years of a balancing act that wasn’t truly fulfilling me, I narrowed my focus, left all of my other writing gigs in April of 2017, went all in on SoBros, and here we are. Making vulgar jokes that would shame our families.
But, the mission remains the same…just do it. How do we sell advertising? Can we sell merchandise? Could we do this? Could we do that? Questions pop up every single day, and the way this SoBros team responds never ceases to amaze me. We’re doing this all on our own of our own volition.
We just keep figuring things out. In the last year, we’ve spent a lot of time, money, and other resources putting together a clear vision of what we want and how we aim to get there. We have a deep love of our city (Nashville). And, we care about connecting with people – something I’m prouder of than just about anything we’ve done. We’ve made a lot of friends over the course of the last year. But, what was once just the shell of an idea now looks like it could get some traction, and it’s all because of the foundation we’ve built on hard work, patience, and vision.
People have asked how we manage launching a media company with everyday life. I don’t have all the answers. There’s no clear cut road to success because success is something you have to define for yourself. I define success as being able to do what makes me happy and maintain a decent quality of life. We’re not quite successful yet by that definition, considering I hardly sleep. But, I can tell you we believe in ourselves and we believe we’ll get there one day. And, I can share a few of the major themes that I’ve identified along the way regardless.
Make a plan – Understand what you need and how you can obtain it. It may take a lot of research, but goals are critical. I sound like a nerd, but just getting organized was hugely beneficial for us. Starting in 2017, I sit down and make a vision board at the beginning of each year. From that, I set quarterly goals…then monthly goals…and then weekly goals. Yeah, it sounds a bit tedious. But, you would be surprised at how much it has helped keep this thing on the rails. Plus, it just feels good to cross something off of a list.
Content is key – It’s the cog that makes the whole engine run. You have to commit to creating the content, or nothing else will fall into place. It is step #1, and it will remain the most important component of your plan as long as you’re working on it. Think of it as a funnel. Your content pulls people in, through the funnel, and ultimately, converts them into customers.
Hone your voice – There are a million people out there who want the same thing you do. In this day and age, you can get stats, analysis, and opinions anywhere. You have to make yourself different. You need to be unique and you need to entertain a certain group of people. You’re not going to please everyone, but that’s fine. You don’t have to win over the entire world to make a living at this.
Work hard and be willing to figure things out – I keep harking on it, but there’s simply no substitute for hard work. I’ve been working on this company for five years now and we’re just now getting to a point where a little bit of money is rolling in. It’ll test your commitment…your patience…but if you keep grinding away at it, you will make it work. Or, you’ll figure out that you didn’t love it as much as you thought you did. Equally important. Be fluid – understand that your problems aren’t always a blocker. Sometimes, they’re merely guiding you.
Surround yourself with good people – My greatest accomplishment is surrounding myself with people who want to push this thing uphill with me. Because the reality is I don’t believe one person could do this all on their own. You need people that you can trust, and people that believe in the vision.
I’ve worked in management, sales, production, data, operations, and compliance. All in a short career of just eight years. I have a lot of experience in fields that a lot of big business would deem ‘valuable.’ But, I just can’t help myself with this. I’m always back on my bullshit – every day after leaving the office. Until one day, I won’t want to leave my office.
This is the right combination of exploring independence, entrepreneurship, and creative freedom. I wouldn’t have it any other way. If we never made another penny, I’d be proud of what this team’s accomplished. And, I’m happy to think of all the strong bonds and connections we’ve made along the way.
We’re just gettin’ started.
Stoney Keeley is the Editor in Chief of The SoBros Network. He is a strong supporter of Team GSD and #BeBetter. “Big Natural” covers the Tennessee Titans, Alabama Crimson Tide football, the WWE, and a whole wealth of nonsense. Follow on Twitter @StoneyKeeley