Craig Cooke – Founder & CEO, Rhythm

Craig brings more than twenty years of interactive, marketing, and management experience to Rhythm. As CEO, Craig drives the direction of the company through his vision, strategic planning, and execution. He is actively involved in marketing initiatives, research and development, business development, vendor selection, and strategic partner development. He also participates in hiring and producing high-quality solutions that deliver true value to clients. Craig takes a consultative approach to problem solving with clients. Essentially, he believes in helping people, delivering quality, demanding excellence, and being accountable.

Spanning his leadership role at Rhythm, Craig has worked with notable clients such as Acura, Beats by Dr. Dre, U.S. Bank, Astra Zeneca, Anthem Blue Shield Blue Cross, State of Connecticut’s Department of Culture and Tourism, Abbott Laboratories, Irvine Company, Barona Resort & Casino, and many others. He has initiated and executed the design and development of large-scale websites, integrated marketing solutions, search marketing consultation and implementation, brand strategy, video production, and custom applications. He has a B.S. in Business from Cal Poly Pomona with a major in operations management and a minor in marketing.

How did the concept for Rhythm Agency come about?
It was originally a dot com model started in 1996 to market independent music. We built a website, RhythmNet.com, where people could discover independent music, listen to song samples, and purchase CDs through a secure server…way back in 1996.

How was the first year in business?
It was exciting, but interesting. It was very difficult making the money we had hoped, but we were very young, without any real funding (we funded it with $1,300 each and a computer, the three of us), and we made a lot of mistakes.

What was your marketing strategy?
At the time, we used a mix of online and print media. Over the years, it has evolved as we have evolved greatly. We believe in an integrated approach utilizing multiple channels working in conjunction with each other. We utilize a content marketing strategy to help drive our marketing effort with this underlying framework of an integrated approach.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
It was actually very slow growth since we bootstrapped it. However, in 2012, we hit a rapid growth cycle and landed on the Inc. 5000 list five years in row. Also, we have been on the list for fastest-growing private companies in Orange County (Orange County Business Journal) for the past six years.

How do you define success?
Success is about achieving what you set out to do. It can be a number of things. Of course, there are monetary goals but that is not everything by any means. Success can be viewed in the culture a company creates, new markets or products and services that are introduced, professional and personal growth for team members, etc. It’s really about what makes you happy and what you achieve along the way.

What is the key to success?
Discipline. Showing up day after day and never quitting. There are other things too, but to keep it simple, I would say this is number one.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
You need to be adaptable. You may focus in a specific area, which is good, but do not be so focused that you lose sight of opportunities that can fuel growth. Adapting to your business environment is crucial. But at the same time, do not lose focus on your core business. It’s a fine balance that must be maintained at all times.

What are some quotes that you live by?
I love quotes. The quote I have in my email signature file is:

“Personality can open doors, but only character can keep them open.” – Elmer G. Letterman

Another one of my favorites is by Lau Tzu, “Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.”

What are some of your favorite books?
For business books, I like Good to Great by Jim Collins. I also like Now, Discover Your Strengths. Other good reads are Rich Dad Poor Dad, Irrational Exuberanceand Think and Grow Rich.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I clearly remember one evening, working past midnight, alone in my office, freezing cold (there wasn’t adequate heat at the time) and struggling to keep things going. I remember thinking to myself, “What are you doing? Am I crazy?” I started getting filled with thoughts of just giving up. I was just about at that point and suddenly I received an email from one of my vendors thanking his customers for the business over the years. He went on to tell how he almost quit but hung in there and now he just reached a high level of success and elaborated on the joys of where he was at. It was a message that I needed that came at exactly the moment I needed it. Life is interesting and works in mysterious ways. I will always, always remember the moment I almost quit but I made it through with some help from an unseen force.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Faith. It’s the strong belief that I will overcome all challenges. Everyone has their own belief system. Personally, I believe in a higher power and unseen forces and I couple that with a strong belief in myself. And at the very minimum, if one doesn’t believe in anything else other that the world we see and touch, then at the very least, believe in yourself. It will take you farther than you can imagine.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Spend your time wisely in everything that you do. Time is our most precious resource and you have to make the best of it. Also, seek out a mentor or a group of people that can advise you from time to time. Outside perspectives help tremendously. And of course, don’t ever, ever quit – just adapt. They’re not the same.



This interview was conducted for research purposes by Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.

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