Here's How This Creative Entrepreneur Launched His Own Digital Agency While Balancing a 9-to-5

"Take advantage of the position you're in."

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Modi Oyewole, founder of Heating Up! / Macey J Foronda for ONE37pm

Modi Oyewole is the founder of a cutting-edge creative agency called Heating Up! The goal of the agency is to help tell cool and unique brand stories through a creative lens.

Oyewole has always been a sort of marketing maven. Previously he's held roles at Nike, Complex, and Red Bull, to name a few. Now, while balancing a full-time job at Sony Music, he's working to get this new endeavor off the ground, and it's just starting to boil. 

We recently caught up with Oyewole where he gave us insight into how he got started, advice he'd tell his younger self, and how he keeps things hot. 

ONE37pm: Tell me a little bit about how you started your agency, Heating Up.

Modi Oyewole: Between growing up in Washington D.C., attending college in Boston, working summer internships in New York, moving back home as an adult and eventually heading out west for job opportunities, I feel like I've developed a fairly diverse network of people across several industries. Most of my professional experiences have been at the intersection of entertainment and marketing, and once I got settled in LA, people from each of these eras of my life would often reach out about working together on freelance projects. I was just happy that people thought my opinion mattered and that I could add value to what they were doing. 

At the end of 2017, my girl Dana reached out to me about working on a project with Netflix and Complex to help produce and promote an event around Dave Chappelle's new standup special in our hometown of DC. The real reason I started the company was to organize my taxes properly because I didn't want to end up like Wesley Snipes. This wasn't the first gig I had done, but it was definitely the biggest. It was also the first moment I realized that this could be a business in itself—helping brands connect with their target audience in a meaningful, authentic way.

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I have a group chat with some friends I used to work with at Nike, and we'd just keep each other up to date on stuff we were working on. It was kind of a term of endearment, you know? “Oh shit, you just dropped your own sneaker? You heating up!” I honestly don't know who used it first, but we're all big basketball fans and of course grew up on [the video game] NBA Jam, which is where the phrase actually comes from. After you hit two consecutive unanswered shots, the announcer says: "HE'S HEATING UP!" which essentially motivates the player to try and get a third consecutive shot. When that happens, the net burst into flames the announcer screams, "HE'S ON FIRE!" It's just one of those things that if you played that video game, you'd understand. I just liked the phrase and figured it would work well for the name of a company.

The way I look at it, we're always working on projects, so we're not missing shots. We're perpetually "heating up,” so to speak. Once I had that phrase, I figured I could do so many things with it creatively from a branding and marketing standpoint. It doesn't just have to be an agency with services, but it could grow to be so much more—a lifestyle brand, essentially.

Back when I had just graduated from college, I was fascinated by the concept of influencer marketing. I used to take day trips from DC to New York to catch speaking engagements that this guy Coltrane Curtis was involved in. Coltrane founded a consumer marketing agency called Team Epiphany that was (and still is) super tapped into the spaces that I was most connected to: music, lifestyle and culture.

I've pretty much always had one foot in the corporate 9-to-5 world and one foot in entrepreneurship. After my friend and I started a radio show in college and evolved it into a successful music blog, we used that platform—as well as the relationships we'd fostered through that journey—to throw concerts in our hometown of Washington D.C. The first show we ever threw was in 2011 with Kendrick Lamar, but we also had full-time gigs, too.

I was just happy that people thought my opinion mattered and that I could add value to what they were doing. 

- Modi Oyewole

What's the thing nobody tells you about running your own business?

Oyewole: I think the toughest part is just making sure that you've got the bandwidth to do everything. Don't be afraid to hire people, delegate tasks, over-communicate and don't think you have to say "yes" to everything, either.

If you've got one foot in the corporate world, it's about balance and making sure you don't run yourself into the ground trying to juggle everything. It's important to take time for yourself, practice self-care, do what you need to do so you don't feel overwhelmed and you still enjoy doing what you're doing. And make sure you have somebody to help you with your money! An accountant or something. Oh, and be confident—90 percent of this shit is just having confidence in what you're doing. I struggle with that often, but if you believe in yourself, you'll win.

What's the vision for Heating Up? Ultimately where do you see it going from a 30,000-foot view?

Oyewole: I really want to focus on finding our niche, as far as our services are concerned. I don't think we need to conquer the world necessarily, we just need to make sure we figure out what we do well and focus on building that out and becoming the leaders in that space. I think TV and film is a space where we could do really well. I've been working at Sony for over a year on the music side, but I'm on the lot, so I'm around a lot of the Sony Pictures folks and slowly starting to learn about that space. At the end of the day, I really want to continue to work with clients who understand what we bring to the table and who can keep us inspired by giving us work that's challenging yet rewarding.

I also want to start developing products. Working at Nike, nearly every designer had passion projects that they worked on to keep inspired, and work actually encouraged it. I saw so many mind-blowing creations that these super-talented folks were cranking out, and it made me think about collaborating with some of them to make my own stuff.

I actually just wrapped production on this candle that I developed with my friend Fabrice the other day. I made 200, sent a few out to the folks who hired me for gigs as a thank you and sold the rest. We've got around 20 left and we've only been on sale for three days. All I did was put up an IG post and some IG stories and its taken on a life of its own.

In the future, I'd love to do a proper rollout with a marketing plan and all that, but this was really just to see if there was an appetite for anything like that. Imagine if the products take on a life of their own, and the agency is secondary to the actual products? That'd be ideal. Lots of people I know have their own brands and are killing it, so I just want to figure out where we fit in within that space.

What advice would you give to someone who's 18, trying to do what you're doing?

Know that you have the power because you are the culture. Brands are looking at people like you to figure out how to connect with that demographic. You have insight, you have the knowledge, and it's very, very valuable. Take advantage of that position you're in.

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