Interviewee Name: Sean Ward
Company Name: SeanWard.net
Avil Beckford: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Sean Ward: I’m an artist and an entertainer from Toronto, Canada and I’m doing stuff that I always dreamed and swore that I was going to be doing and I just have a lot of fun. I’m trying to make and retain products both in print and stuff to watch that I hope people can watch and enjoy so it gives them a tickle and gets them thinking about certain ideas that are going to lead to joy and a better world.
Avil Beckford: What’s a typical day like for you?
Sean Ward: A typical day such as there is one is getting up sometime in the late morning between 10:00 am and noon. I get caught up with the world checking in with the correspondence, Twitter etcetera. For the rest of the afternoon I like to crunch in some work time so I try to stay off Twitter as much as I can, often without much success. Late afternoon into early evening is spent interacting with other people. There is lot of shifting going on then with people getting off work, between the entrepreneurs that I know being able to actually get some work time in. And if there is nothing going on in the evening then I get a big chunk of work done on whatever is my biggest project at that time. Typically at some point in the night I have to make myself stop and call it a day, and that will be anywhere between 2:00 and 6:00 am. Then I rinse and repeat.
Avil Beckford: How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?
Sean Ward: Mostly I try to have the presence of mind to remember how good I’ve got it, and how good we’ve got it in this part of the world. I try to connect with that. There is a lot of spiritual minded stuff that goes into my work – how I do it and why I do it. I take a moment or two when I need to connect with those ideas and if I can sync with those ideas and feel the familiar sensation off the top of my head then I know I am in a good place and doing good work.
Avil Beckford: If you had to start over from scratch, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
Sean Ward: I’ve always wished that I could go back and talk to my teenage self and remind myself that the world that I was living in, and the value system that I didn’t connect with at that time, to really hammer home just how little it actually meant and how on the right track I was at that time. What would I do differently? I might have left the education system earlier, who knows if I would have gone back to it, but I would have gotten started earlier, because it was a little bit later when I started to make the decision to finally be an artist and try to pursue that seriously.
Avil Beckford: What’s the most important business or other discovery you’ve made in the past year?
Sean Ward: I discovered how little it matters what other people are thinking about what I’m doing or whether they are thinking anything at all. I guess the biggest thing has been about detaching my perception of other people’s perception of me and what I’m doing from my own perception of it, if that makes sense.
Avil Beckford: What’s one of the biggest advances in your industry over the past five years?
Sean Ward: Me being an artist on the Internet. The Internet itself has been revolutionized again and again so many times over the last five years, and the sheer velocity of which it has been hurdling toward the future. It’s tremendously exciting and I feel very privileged in a very big way to be here at this point, and to be doing the work that I do at this particular time in history. The answer is not so much the Internet but the speed at which the Internet moves.
Avil Beckford: What are the three threats to your business, your success, and how are you handling them?
- There is only so much attention people have based on the fact that there are only so many hours in the day and there are so many other things to do so standing out is always a challenge, and finding new ways to do that is a challenge, and how I address that challenge I’d like to think is by trying to cook up ways to be different from everybody else, or whoever else is in the space. I find ways to be unique and interesting.
- Money is a challenge and how I’m addressing that challenge is to bootstrap it and try to continue to deliver a high end product on a shoebox budget.
- My own time and how much time I have to put in it and the fact that there are so many moving parts to this huge lumbering beast that I’m trying to construct, and the best that I can do to address that challenge is to always be aware that time is passing and try to be on the ball and focused and limiting distractions and getting in tuned with my own working styles.
Avil Beckford: What’s unique about the service that you provide?
Sean Ward: I’ve spent a long time cultivating a worldview that informs the service I provide in such a way that I sometimes feel that’s great about what I have on offer. And I also feel that it’s what makes what I have to offer a harder sell, but at the end of the day I hope it all adds up and it meant more to me than it otherwise would have.
Avil Beckford: What do you observe most people in your field doing badly that you think you do well?
Sean Ward: I would say that what I observe other people doing badly is treating every new thing that comes along as if it’s the most earthshaking thing ever. In 2010 social media happened, and everybody, their hearts started beating faster and their breaths quicker, and they got agitated without the baggage that comes with it. Everybody got riled up and so what I see people doing badly is staying riled up and living in that world of tweets which are very ephemeral, and what I’d like to think that I do differently, and what I’d like to see people do differently, is to take a step back and actually start thinking about the sum total of what it all represents when you look at it as a whole.
Avil Beckford: Describe a major business or other challenge you had and how you resolved it. What kind of lessons did you learn in the process?
Sean Ward: My business and personal lives are so tied up and intermingled that I don’t think they can be separated. I thought I was on a certain trajectory and the work that I was doing took me into a mainstream entertainment job, which was to go to work for a late night TV show. The show was a legacy show and had been on for a couple of decades already so to try to try to get them to actually do stuff that they had hired me to do, and to get them to actually cooperate in the news ways I needed them to, and to think in the new ways I needed them to think and get done what I needed to was tremendously difficult because of the entrenched corporate culture, because of so much of what was going on. This was when YouTube was brand new, now a few years ago.
In the face of the realization that what I went there to do, and what I thought was going to happen, wasn’t going to happen. What I should have done differently, was to keep my momentum going under my own name. When I went to work for that show it didn’t end up being the outlet that I was promised, and thought it was going to be. But at the same time, to start actually putting on my own shows and this kind of stuff, I had so much of my output, so many of my projects tied up into that company and into that show that I was kind of tied up and there wasn’t a lot that I could do because of all the different stuff I had on the go sort of promised to and tied up in this TV show that I was working for. So to actually stop worrying about that, and to just do another show, start something new without worrying about how many people show up to see it or whatever is really what I should have done differently. All that happened is that I waited until the show was no longer working for them, and it ended up that I had to start over from zero anyway. So the lesson I learned is not losing my momentum when it comes to my own thing, not being afraid to trade on my own name. I worked for that show longer than I should have.
Avil Beckford: Tell me about your big break and who gave you.
Sean Ward: That’s a good question because on the one hand I would wonder if I had that one big break yet. But on the other hand I’ve done a lot of interesting and colourful things in my career so I would probably say that if I had to chock it up to giving you an answer like that to one person I’d have to say it was a man by the name of Peter Miniaci. It wasn’t so much that he gave me break, as in he was the producer of a show and he gave me the gold, it was more like he equipped me with certain modes of thinking, and certain ways of approaching what I do both in terms of my art output, and how I conduct my life day-to-day.
There was a lot he opened my eyes to, and a lot he coached me on how to conduct myself and be a likable person, and be a person that people would be interested in. That’s what entertainment is about, so the coaching and the help he gave me in the broader life sense is really what helped set the stage for me to have that boost of confidence to start being an artist, to take it more seriously, and to build up the confidence and faith that I needed to dive in and take the lumps that I had to take on my way to success.
Avil Beckford: Describe one of your biggest failures. What lessons did you learn, and how did it contribute to a greater success?
Sean Ward: The failure was that when the show was about to get yanked off the air I and the company I was working for decided we weren’t going to work together anymore and then being afraid and shy to start trading on my own name and put together a new show, entertainment product or whatever and spending the rest of that year trying to do it the straight way. Having come out of my underground ramshackle, squeezing a dollar out of a nickel way of doing things to them go to work for an established entertainment brand, coming out of that position having the weird compulsion that I felt to try and stay in the mainstream way things are done even though I had learned many times and previous to that, that I don’t operate that way. I’m unemployable that way.
I do best when I get “scene hot” and other people come to me and say we’ve seen what you do, we like it and want to be part of it. Those have led to some interesting partnerships, but the whole thing about trying to go around town and interview with production companies, networks and this kind of thing, trying to sell them on an idea. That’s never been the way I’d done anything successfully and I think that’s what I learned that year was that realization that there never comes that point that I was dreaming of when every thing is easy and takes care of itself.
I’ve had a lot of conversations with people over the past couple of years describe my attitude after working on that show that the game was over and I had won. So waking up to the realization that it never gets to that point where the game is over and you’ve won and it takes care of itself, that it’s always going to be hard, you are always going to need to hustle, it doesn’t matter how famous, successful or popular it gets, maintaining something takes effort. It’s never going to get easy, it’s always going to be hard, and you have to find the fun in that, and that’s got to be where the addiction is, so to be that kind of guy who’s the best at getting something going at the beginning, and that kind of thing figuring out how to do the work in a way that plays on my strengths and keeps it exciting and fresh and new. You know if I’ve got to be way out on the leading edge of things and it’s the people who are coming up next who kind of look like the first people on it because they were able to jump on something that was already there. You know what I mean, I’m figuring out my own working style and playing to it and that realization that it’s never ever going to get easy, it’s always going to be hard, it’s always going to be a challenge and that kind of thing.
Avil Beckford: What has been your biggest disappointment in your life – and what are you doing to prevent its reoccurrence?
Sean Ward: The biggest disappointment is realizing that the people on the show are not going to do anything differently because their habits are so entrenched. They can’t think laterally in the way that I needed them to. So that day that I actually said, “Oh my God, I finally get it. This is not a creative outlet for me.”
Avil Beckford: What’s one of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make and how did it impact your life?
Sean Ward: When I realized that it wasn’t going to get easy I felt that the decision was to get a job that had nothing to do with something that I actually wanted to do in my career and be able to have a modest living that way, or to go back in to that point that I thought that I had gotten to previously bootstrapping it and doing everything cheap, not knowing where the next meal was coming from and realizing that it was probably going to be a good six months, eight months, a year before the gears were well lubricated enough that it would start bringing in returns.
That decision to take part in that difficult year was the toughest decision I made in recent times. It’s one thing to take my comic books to Queen Street when nobody knows me, but it’s something else once you’ve already got what you think is a track record established, and what you think more people should be knowing about you because then you have the ego in it and all that kind of stuff and it takes a lot of inner work to conquer that ego when it’s talking to you so the decision became a bit easier once I was able to beat out whatever demon was whispering in my ear, but it was still a really tough decision.
Avil Beckford: What are three events that helped to shape your life?
- The first time somebody gave me money for a comic book that I had made. That happened when I was standing outside waiting for a ride to pull up and I had a handful of copies of a comic book that I had just made that I was taking with me to wherever I was going. While I’m standing on the street corner waiting for my ride to pull up, just to be silly, just to be obnoxious I started asking people as they passed, “Hey, you want to buy a comic book?” And maybe the third or fourth guy stopped and said, “Sure, how much?” And at the top of my head I said, “$3,” and he handed me a loonie (Canadian $1) and a toonie (Canadian $2) for the comic book and I quickly did the math on how many I would have to sell to be able to pay my rent, and what that worked out to be per day, and it actually was doable so that’s what I decided to do, and that completely consumed the next three years of my life.
- The second event is the first comic book convention that I exhibited at after I had been doing the comic book thing for a while. I had been out on the corner selling on the street for quite some time by that point, so now I’m taking it a little more seriously and I’m actually getting a table in the Indie section of a comic book convention. So to go in there and do the thing I do where I’m loud and funny and having a good time and I’ve got pretty girls in tow with my logo on the t-shirt and I’ve taken over the whole convention floor. Seeing the fun we were able to have in amongst some of the sour, quiet, introspective artist types and to see how we were able to turn that whole scene on its head and to see how much business we were able to do, numbers that were very contrary to conventional wisdom, in those kinds of situations.
- Podcamp Toronto 2010 because I mentioned that 2010 was the year that the social media thing, the Twitter thing just exploded so there was a lot of us that was already into it and there for when it exploded. And it felt pretty much like Podcamp 2010 was the moment you could pinpoint as the beginning of what I describe as 2010 social media “Summer of Love.” So you had from February on, all kinds of tweetups going on, and all kinds of events happening where you go and see all kinds of people you knew from Twitter. The community had gotten very close and tightly knit over Twitter around that time so Podcamp was really the first time that a lot of us were actually meeting face-to-face especially in that context of the big, large group where we all are, and that sort of felt like it set off the movement over the next few months toward these bigger and bigger gatherings. You would go out and start seeing all these people you only knew from Twitter and everybody’s got their name tags, and you go, “Oh my God, I remember you. I follow you.” And this kind of thing, meet new people and follow them. From February 2010 on it altered how we think and communicate to the point where now, I can’t speak for everybody, but I know for me, as a “Twitter influencer” it’s really hard for me to talk to people who aren’t in it about how it works, why it works, how it has changed my approach to communication. The world is different now in a really big way and I pinpoint 2010 Podcamp as the beginning of that change.
Avil Beckford: What’s an accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Sean Ward: It’s the number of comic books I have sold on my own over the years. I was doing it whether it was an industry thing, conventions, events or whatever. There was no bar set yet for me because when I was first doing it whether it was the comic book thing or putting content online on YouTube or this kind of stuff, I’ve always been kinda see something which looks kind of fun, I jump in and do it. And it’s not until later on, when I’m able to assess how it did. So having no idea how well I’m doing at any of this stuff, to be able to look at it later on, once it actually grew and more people were doing it, and business models around this stuff started to emerge, to be able to look at the numbers I was doing on my Internet radio show I had, and to look at the number of copies of comics I was able to sell at the convention and whatnot. I was actually doing really good, especially looking at the numbers that are now established as the benchmark of what’s doing good and what’s not.
Out of those sorts of things, the number of comic books I was able to sell on my own by myself in this city is probably what I’m the most proud of because I look at those numbers and what was written up in a magazine article as successful sales number for an indie comic and so to see that someone was able to sell X numbers of copies of their indie comic via all of these traditional distribution avenues and to be able to look at that and say that over my X number of years doing comics I sold three, four times as many from a street hustle is a good feeling.
Avil Beckford: How did mentors influence your life?
Sean Ward: They influenced my life in a very big way, especially when I think about what I just told you about how so much of what I’ve done has been about just jumping in when something new is happening, and being one of the first one to try stuff before there is any mode of how to do it before it’s established or any idea of what success is. So mentors are vitally important to me because without that thing to compare against because everything is either new, or the way it is combined is new.
The mentors have been important to me because the only thing that I’ve had to compare myself to is like successful stories. Stories of people who I look up to, heroes of mine and that kind of stuff. The mentors have been vitally important in keeping me focused on trying to be an artist who creates timeless work that people enjoy long after their time is done and to try to continue to see myself in the mode of some of my heroes. They have been also vitally important in keeping me on track, from giving up and keeping me from selling myself short, and in fact if I look at that year and a half or so that I was telling you about earlier, when I didn’t know what I was going to do, and was thinking about what I was going to do next, I would say that it was a lack of suitable mentors that was why I was in that situation if that makes sense.
Avil Beckford: What’s one core message you received from your mentors?
Sean Ward: To sum it up, that core message has been that there are things that work, mysterious forces, whatever, that are beyond us, bigger and at the same time smaller than us, and the things that we are not equipped to think about and process, and it’s fun to talk when you get together with certain likeminded people but you can’t spend your whole life thinking about it because it will drive you crazy. But art is how we try to express it, and art is how we try to take that thing that you can never put into words to make it knowable and to give it form and I’ve always felt like anything less than an attempt at that is a failure and a waste of time.
So mentors have really given me that thing that keeps me warm at nights, that thing that keep me full when the cupboards are bare, and that is the idea that I’m going somewhere with this that’s beyond anything that I can see and imagine right now than to be confident in that, have faith in that and to respect and have the work that I do be a tribute to that idea. That’s in a big way what I got from my mentors, and the people who helped me to grow my conception of that to develop modes of living it, and working it into my day-to-day working life including and especially when things have been tough.
Avil Beckford: An invisible mentor is a unique leader you can learn things from by observing them from afar, in the capacity of an Invisible Mentor, what is one piece of advice that you would give to readers?
Sean Ward: I would try to explain to the readers to look at it as if you are a superhero. Your talent is your super powers, and the work that you do is your feat of gallantry. So keep that context in your head, and to do it right and to remember the Spiderman thing, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Well if you’ve got a talent for writing songs, or you’ve got a talent for painting, or an eye for photography, that’s a great power and you have a responsibility to that great power to try and shepherd the world toward where you’d like it to be. The real big takeaway from all of that from my Invisible Mentor message would be that the world really is what you make it, and the world really is here for you and mysterious forces will come to your aid when you need it if you trust in it.
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