Making Something Great: An Interview with Chase Reeves


Chase Reeves is a designer, writer, and marketer with a penchant for drinking cocktails and getting lost in his own head sometimes — in a good way! He made his name on the web with his blogs Ice to the Brim, a site about finding your creative habit so you can make great stuff, and Father Apprentice, an exploration into the meaning of young fatherhood.

Lately, Chase has been busy with a new project known as Fizzle, a site with video training courses intended to inspire and educate online entrepreneurs about growing their business. I've had a chance to check out the courses myself, and I can attest to their quality and personality.

Chase is a high-energy fellow, and I laughed out loud several times throughout our email exchange. I hope you guys enjoy it as much as I did.


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Tell me a little about yourself. Who are you, where are you from, and what would you say you are most known for?

My name is Chase Wardman Reeves. I am from the bay area where I grew up playing in many hardcore and metal bands. I'm not known for much of anything, except for my friends know that I can be a bit over-enthusiastic at times.

I make my wages as an educator of, and creative director to, what I call "small time entrepreneurs" — those who want to make a living doing something they care about.

How's that?

That's perfect. So, I know you just went into this on episode 4 of your new podcast, but for people who haven't heard it yet, can you describe the path that led you to where you are today?

I always did the music thing. Got decent at guitar and drums. Started recording on my laptop. And I started getting better and better at using computers because of it.

“There are loads of people who can design and code and write and think better than me, but I've got a way of doing it that some people seem to really resonate with.”

I also started honing my taste and voice as a creator. To this day I kinda think that's the only thing that I'm actually good at — there are loads of people who can design and code and write and think better than me, but I've got a way of doing it that some people seem to really resonate with.

Through trying to make ends meet in jobs in media and project management and sales and marketing and things like that (at interactive agencies and video shops and tech startups) I continued to grow some skills, learn how the world kinda works and honed in on more about what I actually enjoyed/was good at/wanted to do.

Along the way I met some great people who championed me. Sometimes bosses, but mostly other people making things, like Chris Pearson and Corbett Barr. The relationship with the latter turned into a partnership (a heated romance) and what appears to be a successful business in

Before we get to the Fizzle stuff, I'd like to talk a bit about your previous endeavors, namely Ice to the Brim and Father Apprentice. Well, I say "previous," but you're still regularly posting on IttB, and both sites remain excellent resources for inspiration and advice.

I guess what I'd like to know is, has the experience of running those sites been beneficial to you personally? I mean, they're both obviously meant to help readers gain a better understanding of life/parenting/whatever else, but have they also helped you gain more insight about yourself in some way?

Yes, absolutely. I'd say I started both of those mostly to work through these things myself... not because I had some fountain of wisdom to share.

“I was a sh*t poor dad and needed to force myself to take this stuff a bit more seriouser... or else.”

Ice to the Brim started as just a sort of sandbox for me. And that's what that remains (though I try to tie things up with a pretty bow about who the site is for, it's basically just a place for me to put quotes I want to remember later... and the occasional lil' iPhone wallpaper and personal post).

Father Apprentice was the first thing I started with a purpose: to help good men become great dads. Sounds pretty nice. But mostly I started it because I was a sh*t poor dad and needed to force myself to take this stuff a bit more seriouser... or else.

Yes, the experience of running both of these has been very beneficial. It still is.

The "fountain of wisdom" thing is something I've thought a lot about in my own writing. There are so many sites out there claiming to have all the answers but most of them are self-serving, full of shit, or both. I think it's often more interesting to take the approach of writing from a place of discovery, and allowing others to experience that journey with you.

Would you agree with that sentiment? And, have you received feedback from readers who appreciated that you're just a guy trying to figure this stuff out as much as they are?

Yes I agree with your statement. There's a great quote about this from a guy who has "sir" in his name (!!).

Chris, I only receive feedback from readers appreciating my "just-a-guy"-ness. If I could find a way to cash in those "hey I like that you don't know who you are and what you're doing and that you air your insecurities and narcissism and idiotness with all of us" emails, I'd buy us both a latte!

In all seriousness, though, one of the ongoing battles in my life is trying to make something great. I see things from people I admire and I want to do it like that, that good. I want to make something really great.

But I'm just a kid. And I'm not all that bright (though I can get sparkly). If I try too hard to make something "great" I can end up digging myself into a self-absorbed, moody and relationship-straining hole.

This balance between "making what I know I can make" on one side and "making something great" on the other is where I end up spending a lot of thought. This "how to do your goodest work more often," creative habit type stuff.

“One of the ongoing battles in my life is trying to make something great.”

Stephen Pressfield has this great post on the way Rocky and others in movies come to terms with what he calls "Story B". I think the first story in a lot of creators' heads is: "I'm an artist retreating into myself to create my masterpiece." And eventually with the heartache and varicose veins of world weariness and experience comes a story B which can either be horrible ("I am worthless... life is hell... I should eat that twinkie") or hopeful ("I don't care if they call this a masterpiece, I'm enjoying the making of it and my mom says it's the best paper mâché ashtray she's ever seen").

If I camp out a bit more in the "making what I know I can make right now" camp, I think I have a better chance of stumbling onto something "great."

I'm sorry, what was the question?

I think you just had a Merlin Mann moment there (not necessarily a bad thing). So, do you feel like Fizzle is your greatest work to date, then? What has the experience behind-the-scenes been like since you guys opened up your doors to the public?

That's a hard question. I can say I'm more proud of Fizzle than just about anything else I've created (except for when I give my wife that "you're-such-an-idiot-why-am-I-still-laughing" face... I'm proud of that as well).

Corbett Barr, Caleb Wojcik and myself have really put our whole persons into Fizzle to make it an excellent resource for solo entrepreneurs... the community, the education, and (maybe most importantly) the fact that we're making it about our point of view, our own experiences (and the experiences of our mentors and friends)... not that bland, "cover all the bases" kind of education.

There's a lot of things I love about Fizzle (the design, the content thus far, the really earnest, great people who've joined and shaped it), but what I think is the best part is that these Fizzlers – the entrepreneurs in Fizzle – are really putting their ass on the line, are really trying to do their thing. They get up early in the morning (or stay up late at night) to write or code or whiteboard or study up and get better in some way... these people are admirable to me and I really resonate with the story (I took the same path).

So, watching them make moves and put themselves out there is what makes this a capital "T" Thing for me.

Behind the scenes it's a lot of work — this constant balance between creating training (we release a new course, founder's story and office hours session every month), running the business, promoting and marketing to get into the eyeholes of other struggling entrepreneurs, etc. It's a difficult balance — my tendency is to retreat and make a bunch of stuff and then release later. But there's three of us and we take turns and, due to the fact that the community is built right in, we get excellent feedback as we grow, each time getting better and better at nailing the stuff that matters.

Helping other people become better at doing the thing(s) they love is something I've been thinking a lot about lately. I believe this philosophy is a huge part of what drives you, along with people like Merlin Mann (sorry to keep bringing him up), Seth Godin, Leo Babauta, etc.

Of course, there's a lot of BS "self-help" stuff out there, but I see you as part of a group that genuinely wants to lift people up to a more creative place (which is something I also aspire to) rather than appealing to people's emotions for a quick buck. What is it, specifically, that draws you to this way of thinking and working?

I can't speak for the others on that illustrious list, but for myself I can say this: it's what feels real to me right now.

It's not cheesy or beefy or overhyped or goofy or insecure or fake or immodest or overmodest as it lives in me right now.

My hunch is, this is due to the fact that it's my very own story: I'm trying to find this way as well.

But it's also due to the fact that it's our very own story. It's human. It feels very human to me to be a bored caveman inventing wheels or a poor kid in some borough inking up his sneakers or a middle class kid at a hardcore show inventing some new, ridiculous dance move. It just feels so normal, like we're supposed to be doing it.

And there's so much goddamn pressure around "career." It's tough to navigate. More than tough, it can be tragic, too heavy to steer or think about properly. And I find this "what do you already care about? let's try to find a way to get you paid doing that" a very human approach.

Ah, so if I understand you correctly, you aim for two goals at once: 1) help people live better lives by inspiring them to tap into their creative potential, and 2) as Dan Benjamin of 5by5 would put it, to "help people kick their crummy corporate stooge jobs to the curb."

Does that about sum it up?

I don't hate the corporations so much... well, I hate them but I don't hate them, you know? I think the goal is to enjoy our work more. That can happen for you at a corporate job (but so rarely does).

And maybe it actually can't happen. Maybe we really are built for independence. I'm not sure. I know I am, and I'd like to talk more to others like me.

I believe I heard you say recently that not everyone is capable of being an entrepreneur. What kinds of people would you say are "built for independence"? What factors are involved, in your mind?

I think you're thinking of this episode of the podcast where I discuss this question with people smarter (and handsomer than me).

“It takes hard work, grit and tenacity that many people aren't willing to put up with.”

My thoughts here are this:

  1. Anyone can make something they like and care about and learn a few skills to sell it for a buck at a swap meet or farmers market or on a website. It might be a bracelet or a desktop background or iPhone app or door stopper or coaster or electric motorcycle or whatever... Time was when we were all business men and women, it just looked like being a shepherd or a cobblestoner or a carpenter or a basket weaver or a fisherman, etc.

  2. Not everyone can support their family and lifestyle by creating a business out of their thing they like to make. It takes hard work, grit and tenacity that many people aren't willing to put up with.

  3. Some things are best served when they aren't something you need to make money from. I'm reminded of a good Alan Watts quote here.

  4. Some people really, truly thrive in the role of creating an independent lifestyle doing something they care about. These people look back at their cubicle days with horror in their hearts because, like the caged lion who got free, they've rediscovered what they were created for, what's in their DNA. I don't know if this could be the case for everybody, but it's been the case for me and for the people I serve.

I wish were already at the point where I could "look back" at my cubicle days, but there's also something a little exciting about the unknown path ahead of me. There are just so many incredible things happening on the web right now – especially with crowdfunding – and there's never been a better time for creative people to gain exposure and escape the Rat Race™.

With that in mind, what sorts of innovations in the 'web entrepreneur' world do you find most exciting at the moment? Any favorite success stories (especially those of Fizzlers)?

My favorite part is definitely the part where you can make something and hit "publish" and THE WHOLE WORLD CAN SEE IT. That's my favorite.

The other favorite part is, even though it's all bytes and digital, the web is still just people. Getting to know people, becoming friends with folks, and then they promote your thing to their audience and you do the same with your audience... I've never needed to do any SEO or paid search to get people interested because my very human network has taken care of that.

“Even though it's all bytes and digital, the web is still just people.”

Admittedly, all my stuff is small time... but that's the third favorite part: you don't have to make a shit ton of money or have a crap ton of traffic to create a business that covers your bases.

I'm still really enamored by the whole "connect with another human on the other side of the monitor" thing... still my favorite innovation.

And as to Fizzlers, this is the kind of stuff we teach them. When you see your business this way it opens up room for finding your own way, you can naturally see a path through all the noise and shitty advice about how to grow a business... and we're seeing folks put their ass over the fire to try something. That's another favorite: when a working mom from Scotland puts her whole ass over the fire to make a new future for her family. That's a favorite.

So, with all of these crazy things going on in your life, do you have a typical schedule you stick to? What does a day in Chase Reeves' life look like?

Up at 6am, 2 eggs, half a piece of bacon, 320g of good coffee brewed in a Chemex.

From there it's all LCDs and emails and pixels and letters and whatever I've got going on throughout the day.

I weight-lift at 11 on M/W/F, followed up by too much mexican chicken and black beans for lunch.

Shot of espresso (or turkish coffee at home) and try to get back into it (though the afternoons are always slower paced than the mornings).

It's a goal to stop work at 4, make a cocktail and/or light a cigar and (this is embarrassing) read a parenting book (parenting is hard, you guys. This lil' 4pm break helps me transition better to "dad" mode before my little turkey breaks through the door at 5:01pm).

From there it's either have life-changing moments with my son and end the night with my wife in passionate (and multiple) bouts of love making, or we struggle through the suicide hours, get him to bed and watch Downton Abbey (there's never enough Downton Abbey).

Sounds like an ideal day to me. So, what are some of the apps and other tools you use to get all your work done? I know you're a fan of great bags, so do you have a favorite one at the moment?

I have a slew of Rickshaw Bags I really dig (did some videos on them here). One of those is my main bag at any given time.

MacBook Pro 15"... an older one. The Logitech Solar Wireless Keyboard and a Mighty Mouse.

TextMate, WordPress, Google Docs, Evernote, Final Cut Pro X, Photoshop, lots of index cards and Post-It notes, a big ol' magnetic whiteboard, foolscap, OmniFocus, Apple's Logic, Canon EOS 5D Mark III, TextExpander, Dropbox, Fantastical, Due app for iPhone, Drafts app for iPhone, QuickSilver, and the Above & Beyond podcast.

That just about covers it.

What's the biggest risk you've ever taken in order to become successful?

That's a hard one... you know, going through partnership conversations can be harrowing. It can be one of those "try to get the other guy to show his cards first" kind of scenarios.

I'm so poor at that stuff... just barely bright enough to know I probably shouldn't show my cards.

But I took some risks in those discussions with Corbett Barr (of – we both did – and it ended up paying off in a smooth and human partnership journey.

I'm glad to hear that, and I really think you guys have got a killer project on your hands. Everything on Fizzle – from the video production to the content being taught – is top-notch and I think other creative entrepreneur types should check it out.

Well Chase, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks for stopping by to chat with me!

Thanks man! Great talking with you too, Chris. Much obliged.

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You can find Chase on Twitter as @chase_reeves.