Today we’d like to introduce you to Darin Stewart.
Hi Darin, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
My professional journey started shortly after I graduated from college. My first job was at Enterprise Rent-A-Car where I was part of their management program. Within a year, I was running one of the largest locations in the U.S., was responsible for 90+ employees and a fleet of more than 2,500 cars. Even though I was having some success in corporate America, I was miserable going to work every day. One day, a regular customer of mine pulled me aside and asked me what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I told him I wanted to run my own business someday, to which he looked at me with a blank stare and said, “Do it. You don’t belong here renting cars.” I’ll never forget this day because it was the first day of my entrepreneurial journey. That night I started reading this book called “App Empire,” and no more than 30 days later I had hired an app development team based in India to build an idea I had for a mobile app.
I quickly realized that I needed to learn more about digital marketing, so I started taking extracurricular courses and certifications for Facebook and YouTube ads. I loved marketing, coming up with new ideas for apps, and the branding aspect of building platforms. Soon after, I began networking with other startup founders around Silicon Beach, and by then I had built strong enough of a client base that allowed me to leave Enterprise and run my own business full time. My first two years of running a business was difficult and definitely a learning experience. I had ideas stolen, unpaid invoices, experienced countless number of pitches rejected by VC’s, and eventually had to pick up a side hustle to pay rent. Even though this was the hardest period of my life, I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world. Failing and rejection helped me build a business that I’m still running today, which is my creative agency VOTO. I bootstrapped and built a business around creating content for music artists, brands and using marketing to help promote our work using social media. Our first clients were small artists who had little to no budget, but we took them on as clients because I believed that good content, innovative marketing ideas, and the right music would get the attention of bigger artists, labels, and brands.
Fortunately, it worked. We became known as the team that was working with cool up and coming artists, creating cool videos, and helping artists run paid ads and creating rollouts that were different and innovative. Fast forward to today, I’ve worked with some of the biggest artists, labels and brands in the world and it’s opened doors I never thought was possible. A few accomplishments I’m proud of is receiving my first RIAA certification on a song called “Hot Girl Summer” by Megan Thee Stallion ft. Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign. As well as two other plaques on the “Fever” and “Good News” projects by Meg Thee Stallion. I’ve also helped clients secure investments with companies like Epic Games (Fortnite and Houseparty), Robinhood App, and ZenWtr. And lastly, I helped broker a deal with Gary Vaynerchuk and Juicy J on a cannabis brand called Asterisk. Gary was someone whose podcast I would listen to in the car on the way to my job renting cars, and to now be doing business with him just goes to show that I’m one example of how you can do anything you put your mind to.
I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
Definitely not. I think the most difficult thing was learning how to take all the negatives of entrepreneurship and turn it into a positive. The first app I created only got a few hundred downloads, but this helped me dive into and find a passion for digital marketing. I had a client hire my team for a music video knowing that they didn’t have a budget for the video, and this helped me realize the importance of having the right agreements and creating a system that protected the business. I think every mistake, failure, or negative situation that occurred along the way was really just a lesson to be learned and made me a lot better along the way.
Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I run my creative agency, VOTO, full-time. Most of our clients are record labels, artists or brands who hire us for our creative services and/or marketing/consulting services. We specialize in being innovative and different in regards to how we create and release content. I’m always looking for content creators who have a unique style, vision, aesthetic or just doing something different. I think I have a good eye when it comes to content, an innovative mind when it comes to marketing, and I trust my ear when it comes to good music. I think being able to access both sides of the brain is a gift and probably is what helped me to create my own lane. I love creating a product with people I work with that comes from an idea and seeing other people enjoy it and share it with other people. That is something that I see myself doing for the rest of my life.
Can you tell us more about what you were like growing up?
I didn’t realize it until college, but I have always been an entrepreneur, even when I was a kid, I guess it kind of came natural. I started my first “business” when I was like 7 or 8 years old getting paid to do chores around the house. Then, I offered family and friends to do chores for them if they paid me. After a few months charging $1 a week for a few “clients,” I saved up enough money to buy an MC Hammer cassette tape and some LA Gear basketball shoes. Also looking back, this was a sign that music and sports would play an important role in my childhood. I played football, baseball, and ran track, but basketball was the sport that would eventually pay for my college education. I remember in high school, I was the guy on the team that had the best mixed CD’s, which was also during the time of Myspace. This became another business of mine where I would create friends’ Myspace pages and naturally found a skill of branding and curating music playlists for their page. I think sports really taught me about competing, teamwork, and leadership by being a part of both good and bad teams, which is something that has influenced myself today doing business. I compare a lot of things to sports and understanding how everyone on the team has their role and as a coach or leader the goal should be to create a winning environment.
Briana Stewart / VOTO Edgar Daniel / VOTO Zachary Burnett / VOTO