Kyle Kane – Founding Principal & CEO, 180 South Group

Kyle Kane is a founding principal and CEO of 180 South Group, overseeing the multimodal marketing and production efforts, as well as client relations amongst the world’s premier artists and brands. Kyle has budgeted, coordinated, and executed strategic branding and positioning campaigns for clients such as Universal Music Group, Capitol Records, Samsung, Piaget, Montblanc, and others. Kyle is a highly motivated, personable, cooperative team player, experienced across all facets of business and entertainment. His enthusiasm for learning and development exemplifies the core values of the 180 South management team, and his ability to benchmark and multitask in fast-paced environments is proving instrumental to the rapid growth of 180 South. Kyle has most recently won the SmartCEO Award for Outstanding Corporate Culture.

Kyle spent four years at the Academy for Business and Computer Technology, followed by undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland – College Park where he cultivated his own major focused on marketing and consumer psychology, with a minor in ethnomusicology. In conjunction with New York University and the Institute of Audio Research, Kyle also completed courses for Auditory Excellence, focusing on musical engineering and arrangement. He has over twelve years of experience in musical performance, and ten years of progressive experience management and leadership positions.

Kyle’s passion for the entertainment business led him to engage with TVT Records, which was the largest independent record label in the world at the time. Working alongside VP, Les Dixon, and CEO, Steve Gottlieb, Kyle learned the inner workings of the industry through day to day operations, including the deliverance of market research to key decision makers, communication of weekly team meetings regarding BDS, Media Base, and Nielsen reports, and assisting projects totaling over 30 million units, grossing roughly $400 million.

Capitalizing off of the knowledge acquired through the experience working side by side with entertainment executives, Kyle decided to embrace his own entrepreneurial spirit by incorporating an independent label with cousin and co-CEO George Metaxotos. Kyle performed on a 21-city international tour, opening for artists such as Pink, Shakira, The Roots, Jadakiss, and Common for crowds of 1,200 to 12,000 people, building a catalogue of original music with producers such as Swizz Beats, D/R Period, Scott Storch, and Max Martin. Upon culmination of the tour, George passed away at the age of 23 years old, due to an advanced stage of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Kyle started a 501(c)3 non-profit organization called A Better Way Foundation, and in one summer, single-handedly raised $25,000 for cancer research. Without George fueling his passion for live performance, Kyle’s career would soon be in for quite a “180.”

Kyle’s first major label position was secured through Universal Music Group. Working with Jay Brown under Sylvia Rhone’s team, Kyle effectively forecasted sales throughout international territories and executed Radio One and ClearChannel programs for upcoming Universal projects. This experience awarded Kyle the assignment of traveling the world in search of new avenues to reach consumers with music and entertainment, specifically through Europe, Asia, South America, the Caribbean, and the Middle East. Kyle was able to assess sales trends to increase revenue potential and reduce the risk on international investments.

Upon returning to the US, Kyle and partner Adam Sussman formed Sussman-Kane, LLC, which maintains an extensive network of business and entertainment professionals spanning four continents, with concentrations in northern Europe and eastern Asia. As Kyle’s former English and Language Arts teacher, Randy Rossilli, Jr. was added to the client roster upon winning his first Emmy Award for The Adventures of Young Thomas Edison, and Kyle was subsequently offered a position with Randy’s company, Nightstand Creations.

Working with Nightstand Creations, Inc as the director of marketing and operations, Kyle’s focus on market traction and the development of new media created an opportunity to enhance a $3 million production facility in Fairfield, NJ, subsequently called “Nightstand Studios”. His exceptional aptitude for assimilation across various demographics has opened up windows of opportunity for the growth and development of the studio, earning four Emmy nominations and one win, as well as working with dozens of advertising agencies and production companies to produce Award-winning content. It was this experience in content production that led to the creation of 180 South.

Beginning as a platform to provide solutions for artist and brand partnerships, and after multi million dollar deals with Katy Perry, Samsung, and a sports investment franchise, 180 South has grown into one of the world’s premier brand management firms. Recognized as one of the fastest growing companies by Inc. Magazine, #13 in NYC, and #24 in Global Marketing and Advertising, 180 South has received numerous awards, including SmartCEO’s “Corporate Culture” Award alongside Russel Simmons and Arianna Huffington.

Kyle is also a NASM-certified personal trainer, former Division-I athlete, a contributing member to the Hudson County Chamber of Commerce and the Meadowland’s Chamber of Commerce, and is involved with regional development initiatives throughout the northeast corridor of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Washington DC. Kyle most recently developed a $3.5 million production facility in the Princeton, NJ area. 180 South headquarters are located on 37th and Broadway in NYC, with executive offices at Kaufman Astoria Studios.

Tell me about your early career.
I cut my teeth in the music industry, and watched the dollars flow towards content production, so I helped to build a couple of production facilities, thinking that would secure my future. Then, I watched the dollars flow towards brand integration. I built a brand management company, thinking that was the future of the monetization of media. Then, I watched the dollars flow towards experiential marketing, and now, for the first time in my career, I feel like I’m finally ahead of the dollars.

How did the concept for 180 South Group come about?
During my time on set, I noticed most of the production costs and talent fees were subsidized through product placement and brand integration. As a clear win-win for the artist and the brand, I wondered why more of these deals weren’t being executed. Upon further investigation, the answer was apparent: artists and brands didn’t speak the same language. At the time, artists didn’t really understand the demographics of their audience, nor did they really care how to quantify their impact on buying power or spending habits, and the companies fueling the early days of product placement didn’t understand the creative process, nor how to effectively motivate the audience of an artist. So, when it came to creative collaboration, where art and commerce were supposed to meet, one of the two never seemed to show up. Once I sat back and took an inventory of my assets, I realized that most of my purest relationships were rooted in artistry and creative production. My education and experience in the corporate world helped me to speak the language of the brands, while the former recording artist within me helps to translate this language for my clients, understanding that without artistic integrity, this all falls apart.

How was the first year in business?
Our first year was not typical of any of my other start-up business ventures. We began the company with partnership between Katy Perry and Samsung, and ended the year stumbling into a contract to produce ten LIVE two-hour broadcasts for CBS Sports. We opened up a second office in NYC, and for the first time in my career, I didn’t have to solicit any business. Phones were ringing, the inbox was full, and life was as hectic as ever. Company-sponsored trips to music festivals, court settlements with Fortune 500 companies, and a 100% retention rate. It’s safe to say that our original crew will never forget year one of operations at 180 South.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
180 South is a destination, and we’ve worked hard to build our brand architecture in a way that creates a sense of wanting to join the party, while still encouraging the individuality of each team member. This mindset, paired with 180 South’s create-your-own-schedule staffing style and its music and film festival field trips, has propelled the creative management agency through tremendous growth and nabbed it business with some of the world’s premier artists and brands. With a 92-percent retention rate and a five-fold increase in staff over the last 12 months, 180 South has been named the 13th fastest-growing company in New York City, 24th in global advertising and marketing, and 157th on the 2016 Inc. 500 list. Day in and out, a diverse group of marketers and scientists lives the 180 South motto, “Every day is a celebration of the opportunity.”

What is the key to success?
Managing your thoughts, understanding that they play a role in the reality you see. Grasping the key concepts that work doesn’t have to be “hard,” unless you think it does. I believe that we emit a certain frequency to the universe, and that frequency attracts/repels certain energy. Money can come easily and effortlessly, if you believe it can. Love can come in and out of our lives without us even blinking an eye. I try to protect myself from negative thoughts and emotions as much as possible. I try to see the good in everything. Achieving a higher perspective and learning to laugh at ourselves may be the key to happiness.

What are some quotes that you live by?
“A ship is safe in harbor. But that’s not what a ship was made for…”

What are some of your favorite books?
Lovemarks by Kevin Roberts. That book really changed the way I looked at branded content. It helped me to more clearly identify the relationship between a piece of advertising, and the mission, values, and guiding principles of an organization. It’s a simple book, but the core message is powerful.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
It’s tough to choose just one. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that I looked up from my phone, after scrolling through multiple negative bank accounts, an IRS audit notice, a cancelled Livenation event, and an unhappy partner, and I said to myself, “I’m done. I can’t do this anymore. I’m going to die, or someone is going to kill me.” We had a marquee artist booked for a big event, and due to “medical reasons,” the event had to be postponed. To this day, I can still feel I the burden.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I have this one particular memory I always draw to the synapses during times of adversity. At the time, I was a recording artist on a tour through northern Europe, and there was an extra stop added to the tour in Dubai, a place that was really buzzing at the time. Fast forward to after the show, after an awesome performance doing what I loved to do, and being paid handsomely to do it, I’m sitting at the top of the Burj Al Arab hotel, surrounded by strangers, and feeling the most alone I’ve ever felt. To this day, I’ve never felt so lonely in my life. It was in that moment of smelling the stench of uber-wealth and indentured slavery, which grew my motivation to only be surrounded by people I love the most, and doing good work. I feed off of the happiness of those around me. Drama adds the salt and pepper to life, but if you’re on a winning team, it certainly helps you to roll with the punches during times of adversity.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Start early; make mistakes. No matter how many smart and experienced people you surround yourself with, there are some lessons you will need to learn on your own. And most importantly, do work that you care about. It’s easy to be numb to what you’re doing, especially in the digital world. It’s easy to chase money, and to be apathetic towards your path to financial independence. You want to look favorably on the work you’ve done, because as you grow older, the work you’ve done becomes the legacy you leave. And when your work is aligned with your passion, you can be content with the time you’ve allocated towards work, during this short life of ours.