This is the second half of our interview with entrepreneur and rapper Kellee Maize. Part I focused on Kellee's music.
Today we're discussing Näkturnal, Kellee's events production and promotion company in Pittsburgh, PA.
Click the play button to listen to the podcast:
C: Näkturnal is a woman-owned and operated business, like Business Know-How. Kellee, how important is all that female energy to the success of your business?
K: Well, I mean, it's a beautiful thing. It's been, since Näkturnal started, it's been almost - I'm gonna say going on six years now - that we've been building the business and it has primarily been all female. And you know, there's challenges that come with that, and when I first started it I really had this spiritual sensibility and had learned a lot about ancient wisdom and prophecies and various things that were sort of pointing to the idea that when women finally work together and love one another and trust one another and start putting their heads together, if you will, that the world will begin to transform. And I really believe that. And I really took that seriously, and so that's what the business was based upon the idea that we create our reality and that everyone, every woman who is involved in it would have a dream and that we would work to fulfill each individual dream and the collective dream as well, so it really - now looking back over the last six years - it really is happening. I recognize now that part of what those ancient prophecies and things like that were talking about was also just the idea of the feminine within all people, that men and women have feminine and masculine energy, and I learned that through working with women; that there are some women, including myself, that at times maybe are more masculine. Our society has really focused on that particular type of energy and so, you know, it's all about finding a balance. And I recognize now, particularly in working much closer with men, and involving a lot of men in our business, that it's not to the exclusion of men and that's sort of changed my viewpoint in being that we can only - it's gotta be all females - and if the right guy came along and wanted to become a partner and jived with everyone in my business, I wouldn't be against it. It's just important to me to create that opportunity for women, particularly young women. We've got a lot, a lot, a lot of women that we've worked with over the years through our internship program and street teams and that's been a really awesome part of our business, is just being able to work with them and share with them some of these ideas and concepts and give them an opportunity to learn more about something that they really care about. So, it's been pretty awesome being around a bunch of girls. Not to mention - my two primary people that I work with are also like sisters, and best friends. So it's like, the ownership of the company is like a marriage! They're much more than just people that I work with. So that's pretty awesome too.
C: You mentioned the street teams. Can you talk about what they do for you, for your company?
K: Yeah. My company, primarily - we say that we're an events and promotions company and that we specialize in guerilla marketing. And so, for events - our own and others - or for initiatives, for example, or we've even done some political campaigns - nothing crazy, but we have a team that we will hire to go out and promote the event or promote the project or promote the idea or the initiative, and they are essentially a representation of us. They are trained on whatever it is that we're promoting at the time, and then therefore they are a representation of also the business that they're speaking for or the event that they're speaking for. And we call them kind of - we think of them as memory makers because with today's world, we're just so bombarded by so many different sorts of advertising: in our faces, on our computers, and on television and all that kind of stuff - you now, these are real, live people talking to someone about whatever it may be. And sometimes you know, people don't want to stop and listen, but at the very least we hand them a flyer that tells them more information and then they've got that piece of material to take home with them and hopefully read at a later date. So that's a very big part of our business. It's not necessarily incredibly profitable, but it is something that we love because we get to work with young women, and have a team, and also help a lot of organizations that can't necessarily maybe afford to place a big television ad or newspaper ad or whatever, so it's definitely a cool part of our work.
C: How important is social media in a business where, like you said, you're trying to help organizations that don't have a lot of money? Social media - a lot of it is free - does that help?
K: Yeah, definitely. We do do some online work... Facebook, and that's definitely an incredible way to promote your business. And yeah, it's great, it's free, so you're really just paying for our time and our energy to do work on Facebook. And we also do search engine optimization, so we can start blogs for people and do viral publicity to help you achieve top search results for whatever given keyword may be of interest to you. We've been working with a company called Branding Brand, who's really cutting-edge technology. They build mobile websites, and we're actually working to sell, we're working with a ton of different, bigger corporations to try to sell that technology and that mobile website, because basically it just mirrors your website. So we're very involved in all the techie stuff. We've also worked with some of the text-messaging services and things like that. We like anything that's not traditional. Although, online is I guess becoming traditional in a way! It wasn't when we started, so we still kind of think of it in that realm.
C: Are all your clients in the music field?
K: No, no, our goal - you know, I'm kind of like the guinea pig in a way - down the road we really do hope to be able to have kind of cracked the code and figured out how all this works and make it profitable or make it work and then eventually be able to work with other artists in the future. So right now, because it's expensive and it's hard to do the type of work that we're doing for a lot of different people, we're just sort of focusing on me, trying to make the mistakes and figure out what works and figure out what doesn't and then move forward. And the rest of our clients are everything from nonprofits to small businesses to large corporations - we pretty much run the gamut as far as the type of clients that we have. We have a very diverse group actually which we enjoy. It's like - never a dull moment!
C: I've read a lot of your press and you're very big on giving back to your community...
K: Yeah, well I would say on some level over the last year, I probably haven't gotten to do that nearly as much, but obviously a lot of our work that we do in our business is non-profit oriented, and at every opportunity that we can, we promote events that we're not paid for but that are raising awareness or that are spreading a good message. That's really important to me because I've done a lot of charity events in my day. It's pretty much primarily how I started. When I worked at the Pittsburgh City Paper, I did a lot of events. We were involved in a lot of events and I also volunteered for a lot of events that were to raise money for anything from a disease to a community organization. And so I really recognized how hard it is to do that and how important it is to help and lend a hand so we always try to support initiatives that can't necessarily afford us through our e-blast and what-not. And we also do, in a lot of cases, try to make it so that, for example if there is a non-profit that is interested in working with us that can't afford to pay us that we actually do a lot of work for free in order to get sponsorships that will eventually pay us and it's one of those - you know, we just kind of take the risk that we may or may not actually be paid, but if it's something that we actually believe in, you know - we want to make it happen and of course we're incentivized to eventually, hopefully get compensated on some level. And then I'm very, very involved in the spiritual community in Pittsburgh, which is full of activists, and everything from doing meditations for the water to actual marches for various things and raising awareness for different things that are happening such as the Marcellus Shale craze that's going on right now - just spreading the word about different things that need to be done to protect the water here. So you know, I just try to be aware of what's going on and do everything I can to help, and I'm very interested in involving young women specifically in the spiritual realm of the world. So I've been working for a couple years to try to just get more and more women to work together in that regard... I love also working with kids, and I've been mentoring one young man in particular and it's really a great feeling when you know you can be around someone younger and give them ideas or listen, to just listen to them. I think that it's really something that you can receive a lot of benefit yourself as well. I think some people are scared that "Oh I don't have time to do this x, y, and z," and at the end of the day, there's always time to help someone else. So, definitely important.
C: With everything that you've got on your plate, it's amazing that you find the time. So you were working at the Pittsburgh City Paper. What made you decide to start your own business, and why promotion?
K: Well, I've always been a very outgoing person, despite being a bit insecure, it was something natural for me. Like I said I was always performing, I was always in front of people so I always felt comfortable talking to people I don't know and that was a big, big part of my job there. It was really being everywhere and being involved in everything and making sure that I knew as many people as possible and knew what was going on and I worked a lot of the events. It used to be sort of like, I was the city paper girl, you know. People would always see me out and I was usually speaking in front of people or passing out flyers or letting people know about something that was happening. And so I just got really used to it and I recognized that there was a lot of really talented other women who were doing the same thing and just kind of had this awakening in a way. And it was somewhat of a spiritual thing - my father had actually passed away, and it kind of like dawned on me that I wasn't really cut out, let's say, for a normal job. Like the idea of a regular, same schedule every day - none of that ever appealed to me so I kind of was interested in being an entrepreneur and I started learning about how the world works and why things are the way they are and how we really do create the world around us and I just kind of was like - you know, I could start my own business. I could work with a ton of amazing women and do amazing things and help the earth. You know, I was just very ambitious at the time and slowly, very, very slowly built the business, while I was still - I was still working at the paper and there was so much amazing things that I wanted to be involved in - I was always working at night and working extra hours at that time in my life, I really didn't have anything to worry about. I just loved being around people and was able to use my free time to build the business, and eventually we got a big client just almost by accident, and that was the end of my full time job. And I was able to just focus slowly on Näkturnal.
C: So what's next for you?
K: Well, I'm working hard to just really make sure that Näkturnal is really solid foundationally and we have a lot of amazing opportunities and a lot of really great things going on, and I'm just trying to focus on being as supportive as I can to everyone. Generally in my business I have a birds-eye... I'm sort of paying attention to everything, I'm involved in everything on some level. And I'm trying to kind of pull away from that a little bit, and kind of let my mind chatter just come down a few notches and just trust everyone that I'm working with and really focus more on the music, and really on that as my future and that I will be primarily, just focused on music. You know, I'll always be a part of Näkturnal and everything that we're doing. My music is Näkturnal, so it's not like I'm choosing one over the other. You know, we want to see this work. I think everyone - both of my partners really see the music as something that we all care about so much and we want to see this work. We want to see, make it be possible, that an independent artist can have a sustainable living. So that's definitely what I'm out to prove, and also, like I said I'm very spiritually inclined and I believe this is bigger than me and I think we're going through an evolutionary process in a lot of ways and so I see myself as being very involved in that process as an artist.
C: Anything else you'd like to add?
K: If people are interested to find me, another simple way is to just to Google "female rapper." We've got a lot of press with those particular words, and we're able to come up first in the search results so if you actually Google "female rapper," you can find my website, which has all my videos and all sorts of other things that you can connect with me through.
C: Excellent. Alright, thank you, Kellee for speaking to us today, and we wish you well.
K: Thank you, and I wish you well, too. Thank you Cathy so much. I really appreciate you and Janet taking an interest. Very cool, I'm very grateful.
C: And hopefully, we'll get you a lot more fans.
K: Thank you, thank you. And good luck with all that you're doing. It's really wonderful. Girl power!