Playa Vista entrepreneur finds success with multiple ventures
By Bridgette M. Redman
The entrepreneurial blood runs thick in Geoff Shames’ veins. From selling marked up candy to classmates to co-founding two marketing-related agencies, the Playa Vista entrepreneur has made a career of building businesses that cater to his passions and talents.
It all started in the salad days of youth when Shames’ parents took him to a 7-Eleven, gave him $5 and told him to go crazy.
“I was doing things like charging other kids for candy on the playground,” Shames says. “I was out wheeling and dealing candy, turning it into anything else I wanted like better candy or somebody’s sandwich.”
By the time he was 15, Shames was ready to get more serious and organized with his business ventures. A fan of punk music, he and several friends managed to scrounge up $500 and formed their own record label.
“We printed a bunch of physical CDs for some local bands in the Bay Area,” Shames says. “That was our record label. We did not have contracts, there was no accounting, I don’t even know if we made money. We probably didn’t, but we did that.”
That would launch a career of making a living in a creative fashion where Shames was his own boss. He left California and moved to Boston to attend college. During that time he became a promoter, throwing weekly dance parties with friends in venues around the city, and eventually in several states.
“For a number of years, we were arguably the largest 18+ dance party in Boston,” Shames says. “We were booking national touring talent that would come through the city to play at our events.”
Eventually they developed a couple of sub-brands, but mostly focused on being a district and event producer in Boston. Shames worked at a talent agency for a long time, building up their marketing department, and his bosses became his current partners in businesses.
“Even during that time, I was spinning up side businesses and doing things with one of my other partners at the time,” Shames says. “I’ve always done different things that are spinning a bunch of plates.”
His focus now is on two businesses: Crowd Control and Upper Echelon Studios. Crowd Control is a full-service digital marketing agency that does a lot of work with entertainment and lifestyle-based properties such as musician’s festivals or, as Shames puts it, “anything that is fun.”
“If we’re doing marketing for consumer goods, it’s probably alcohol or cannabis,” Shames says. “If we’re doing fashion, it’s probably streetwear. Everything (we do) leans a little bit younger, a little more fun.”
They provide such services as digital strategy, social media management, paid media management, email marketing and creative services. Crowd Control was born in 2015 when they had unofficially been doing the work through the marketing department at Circle Talent Agency. A client asked them what their legal entity was, and they realized they didn’t have an answer.
That’s when they spun off Circle Talent Agency into its own company. Shames says their main goal is to help people drive awareness and sales for whatever they are doing. He likes to describe it as a mega boutique, a service that is more nimble than many of their competitors.
“We go toe-to-toe with some of the larger agencies in the space, but we aren’t bogged down with too many staff, too much overhead, or a really long lead time for everything,” Shames says. “We’re used to moving a little bit faster. That’s something we hear from people who get chewed up and spit out from larger agencies: they paid for two months and all they got was two months of a really long onboarding process. No work was actually done.’”
Shames says that because they cross many different industries and verticals, they can help a variety of companies—Crowd Control does it all. While there are no shortage of e-commerce agencies, they might not know anything about music or have experience with cannabis.
“I like to think we’re a pretty unique business at the end of the day,” Shames says. “People always ask me what differentiates us from other companies and outside of everything else, it’s really just that we truly care. That’s sort of a weird statement, but I’ve talked to one too many people who decided to go with a marketing partner and had a marketing plan delivered without seeing if it worked.”
The second business is Upper Echelon Studios. It was their “Web3 and blockchain services” company that spun off of Crowd Control. They were already doing work in the space and decided to make it a separate company.
“It’s a services-based company doing a lot of white-labeled work for other brands and IP holders to bring their Web3 projects to life,” Shames says. “We have grown the classic company so fast that we forgot to backfill basic things like the website. We are going through the process of branding that and effectively launching it online because we’ve been so busy with clients.”
Shames enjoys having the flexibility to do whatever he wants and says he truly finds it fun to run his own businesses.
“I’ve had record labels, clothing companies, event management, brands,” Shames says. “The one throughline was always marketing. That’s always what I was doing and where things came from. I was both a digital and marketing person. Once I figured that out, that’s where Crowd Control came from, as a true agency model. Within that, knowing that I like to touch a bunch of different things, to experiment and have fun all over the place, an agency model made sense.”
Shames says he’s doing something different every 30 minutes. He might be enmeshed in cannabis one minutes then recording music the next. Each thing though, has the same sort of goal. He’s always learning from everything that they do, touching on different things that make them better at everything.
“Something that we learned from a jewelry campaign might help us with selling K-pop tickets,” Shames says. “There’s that flexibility and breadth of experimentation.”
After graduating from Boston University, Shames made his way to Los Angeles—in part because he found Boston to be too cold. After living near Playa Vista for years, he always knew that he would end up there.
“We always really liked the neighborhood,” Shames says. “It’s like being in the burbs without being in the burbs. It’s nice, clean and quiet, but we’re 10 minutes away from anything we want. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Shames can do a lot of his work anywhere, so he’ll often work from home, in a park or at a coffee shop. He always meets interesting people in the neighborhood. He lives in Playa Vista with his girlfriend, Winter Morvant, who is also an entrepreneur. She owns Winter Fate Bakes, a company that bakes a wide variety of treats for people and their dogs.
When Shames isn’t working in Playa Vista, he’s at the house his partners bought in Culver City, which is where their formal office is located and where the rest of the team works. Like most businesses, they struggled at the beginning of the pandemic. About half of their business was tied to live music and events. They had just started diversifying into e-commerce work and the pandemic pushed them further into that.
Within three months they scaled their business up and were growing. Shames says they didn’t have to let a single person go and gave out bonuses halfway through the ordeal to thank their employees for putting up with the craziness.
“It gave us a kick in the right direction,” Shames says. “It made sure that we were future proofed, that we wouldn’t have too many eggs in one basket.”
He says it also gave them the opportunity to explore some things they’d been wanting to explore. As they move forward, Shames is starting to transition from the guy who did everything to one who is focused on more strategy and big picture stuff, and willing to delegate responsibilities.
“Given the nature of Crowd Control, we can pivot very easily if a new type of business pops up,” Shames says. “We can learn how to market it and go after it. If there’s a new social network, we can learn how to grow people on it. We’ll continue to scale and innovate as things happen. That is half the fun.”
He’s determined to care about all the businesses that trust them with their livelihood, saying that at the end of the day if they’re asking for help with marketing, they are truly excited about it and ever dollar and follower matters.
“I’ve said to my staff many times, we’re basically playing a video game with real rewards,” Shames says. “We’re doing fun stuff and sometimes you win. It’s really exciting. There are real world prizes at the end of the game.”