For this edition of FFS, we're delighted to be joined by Brand Strategist and Storyteller Andy Starr.
If you're new to FFS, otherwise known as Futureheads Five Stories, this is a regular interview series where we speak to people who have interesting stories to tell.
And we couldn’t resist the acronym.
Andy is co-founder of Level C – a new kind of education company that features a progressive 5-tier curriculum of branding workshops designed for working professionals who want to earn mastery and certified credentials in branding. His partner in this venture is design thought leader Marty Neumeier, who is speaking at our next Leaders in Change event.
What’s the story of your career so far?
Until recently, one word: ACCIDENTAL.
I’m a self-taught drummer who went to music school after graduating from college with a degree in English Literature, and then worked in commercial finance – which, I learned, is less about money and more about people: their motivations, their fears, and their businesses. Critical and analytical thinking allowed me to understand core business dynamics and grow as a strategic manager. Creativity empowered me to be designful about solutions for any given challenge.
Life eventually got in the way, the global economy changed, and branding fell on me. I knew marketing and sales, but didn’t really understand what a brand was until someone gave me a copy of a book called THE BRAND GAP by a guy named Marty Neumeier. That book changed my career and my life because it provoked me to think about business and people in a whole new way. Combined with my finance experience, I realized I had a holistic view and understanding of business that was unique and powerful. I made the agency and client-side rounds, but wanted to do something different, something provocative.
Now, I’m the luckiest guy I know because I’m building and launching a new professional education company to help create future brand experts. And I’m doing it with the world’s black-belt brand master, my mentor and the author of that book that changed my life.
So the story of my career now?
A new word: BANANAS.
What advice would you give to yourself when you were just starting out?
You don’t know everything – but you can learn.
Don’t play things safe. Safe sucks.
Keep it Simple Smart (not stupid).
It’s OK to trust people.
It’s OK to be patient.
It’s OK to fuck up.
What do you love most about what you do?
Branding is about strategy + design, showing potential + telling stories, human behaviour + professional combat.
I get to flex intellectual + strategic + creative muscles all day, every day.
I get to wrap my arms + brain + heart around different businesses, in different industries, managed by + catering to different people in different parts of the world.
I get to live different because different is what I own + sell + deliver + enable.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned over the course of your career?
Keep it SIMPLE SMART.
Simplicity is actionable + achievable, sophisticated + seductive. It works for you.
It’s not intuitive or easy, but it’s worth it.
What do you think is going to be the biggest challenge in our industry over the next twelve months?
Level C gets to play in two super exciting spaces: branding + education.
Both have significant challenges ahead.
In branding, there are challenges of evolving consumer markets and expectations, talent shortages, the commoditization and saturation of content (branded or not), and an eroding mastery of concepts such as “Marketing is driven by Branding” and “A brand isn’t what you say it is, it’s what they say it is.”
In education, there are the same evergreen challenges of insulated thinking, rising costs and perceived value, stale concepts proffered by sterile methods, chronic inflexibility, and an almost pathological and lethargic resistance to change. These are the things that have caused education to become a commoditized product. At the same time, the education market is becoming flooded with alternative options and solutions – which will simultaneously challenge inhibiting convention but risk further commoditization.
A little bit more about Andy
Andy Starr is a partner and co-founder of Level C – a new kind of education company that features a progressive 5-tier curriculum of branding workshops designed for working professionals who want to earn mastery and certified credentials in branding. He is a brand strategist and narrative designer with 18+ years of agency and in-house experience specializing with brands in higher education, and a portfolio of success in health care, CPG, luxury goods and non-profit organizations. Andy is a European Football fanatic and coffee connoisseur/addict, likely to play every instrument in the band, and lives in Philadelphia.
You can connect with Andy on LinkedIn
If you'd like to take part in our FFS series, say hello at email@example.com.