Just Give Value, Dillon Burke Co-Founder of Front of House
"You know when you hear all those crazy stories from your parents, about when they got arrested, or just in general ... like, when people tell you these wacky stories. It means they did something, they took a risk. You can't write an autobiography if you haven't done anything, right? So, I think you gotta live so you have something to write about. What is your story going to be? How are you going to fill your pages? That's how I try to live my life."
Dillon Burke is the co-founder of Front of House, a social marketing agency based in New York. He comes from a family of entrepreneurs, and over the past few years he's found himself pursuing one opportunity after another, being mindful of stepping on the non-sinking stones, though he admits, " ... some were sinking sometimes," that has led him to where he is today.
Dillon and I met on a humid July morning. It was barely 10:30, but the air was heavy. I emerged from the West 4th station, celebrating my choice to wear shorts. As Dillon put it later that day, "... it's hot, it sucks, but you live here, so you just have to get used to it". And that's the type of guy I found Dillon to be, someone with a sense of humor, genuine and full of things to say.
I grew up in a restaurant family in Jersey, my dad was a chef here in New York. Restaurants were in my blood, I always felt so comfortable, and when I was growing up, he [my dad] was running like these really hot restaurants, and I got very accustomed to it and I went to school for restaurant management, and I was like, that's what I'm going to do. But I graduated and I realized, I don't really want to do this. And the last two years of college, you know, I got into Tumblr and men's products, and I had a little bit of money from bartending, so I got into this menswear bubble, and I ended up starting this blog. It was clothing, which was my interest, and food, which is what I was doing, and going to school for.
After I graduated, I moved to NYC, because I knew I wanted to be there. And at the time, I was getting some notoriety from my Tumblr and Instagram was at its infancy, and I was just thinking, how can I leverage these digital platforms for my interests in food, and interests in menswear and so when I moved to NYC, I got an internship with Ernest, and it was such a small company that I got to do so many things for them. I had a camera so I started doing content, and then social ... and it just led me down this pigeon hole, and I was just helping them run their brand, right(?), and it was really interesting to see how it all worked.
I realized that the more I got into it, there was this emptiness, or vacancy in the people that I was surrounding myself with, and since I was still bartending I was slowly getting pulled back in that direction, and thinking, how do restaurants utilize social media, what do they need, what's the content structure for restaurants, and is there any room there?
Fortunately, my dad runs a restaurant group, so I started working with them to essentially start their social, and then after I worked there for a year, I just realized that there is just so much more room here. I'm going to start a company. I did that.
A lot of restaurants still don't realize how important social is, but I think we offer a young and hip vibe, and especially in NYC a lot of restaurants are slowly starting to realize that you need it.
You know I really like it, it really grew for me from a space of comfortability and expertise. I just get it. I washed 100 dishes, I bartended, I taught myself digital media, and both my parents are entrepreneurs, so I guess I just kept on trying to take those steps on the non sinking stones, [sometimes a little sinking], and yea it just brought me to where I'm sort of now.
It's interesting to see how other creatives and business operators function in other cities, you know, like Chicago or LA or Detroit. They have good lives and at some point you start thinking, what's the trade off?... . Here you know, everyone has that rise and grind mentality, but like, I don't have a car, I can't just drive off. I joke that in NYC we all have backpacks instead of trunks.
Truly that's an interesting question, because, I think there's a sacrifice I'm putting forth right now, in terms of quality of life here, but I also don't know it any other way. I fantasize that the quality of life is much better elsewhere, or the grass is greener, but I'm from a family of entrepreneurs that are based in the New York City area, and have done well for themselves, and I was joking the other day that ...
like I took a trip to Michigan this weekend with limited cell phone service for like 5 days, for the 4th of July, and it was cool, but it took me two days to get used to having one bar of service and shoddy wi-fi. I was just so tethered to this idea of working, and I mean, it faded after like six Coronas, but at the same time being able to really let go, like if I can get there, while also doing this, that would be great.
Quality of life, I think it's a sacrifice in New York, especially being this type of business owner - we're offering a service that never ends. We're offering it to an industry whose on-hours are everyone else's off-hours. We're getting emails at 2am when they get off, and they're cleaning, or urgent emails at like 7pm on a Thursday, that's whats happening. I know those hours, but the balance is truly something I'm trying for.
Hobbies. Hobbies is my quality of life.
I'm tethered here though, because the industry is here. But I just miss trees, and the quality of life, man, that's time, availability, finance, that all rolls into it. And listen, it's not like I have it bad here, I'm in a place where I get to try great food and there's luxuries here, right, I get to afford a nice apartment through the business I built. I used to live in this small shoe box of an apartment in Alphabet City, and now I get to host friends and watch Game of Thrones, sure, I take a hit for it financially, but it's all worth it for me. I get to host game night.
That's quality of life I guess, and the business affords me that. It's a Catch 22 in a way. And I like it. I'm thankful for it. I don't know if I'll be here forever, but I'm used to it, I'm comfortable with it.
Hmm, yea, challenges.
I think I've never been good academically.
I mean, I'm fortunate, because I'm from a family of entrepreneurs, but just jumping out on a whim and starting my own thing. My parents were like, great you graduated, moving to NYC, hope you have a way to pay for it. So, for me to start this company without a business backing or anything, you know, I didn't know anything about accounting, I didn't know how to hire people, or get clients .. there's just a lot you have to learn. Risk, just knowing that my entire well-being, and the well-being of now eight other people rest on you.
You learn about your weaknesses, and your strengths. Learning at a certain point, you need to step back a little bit, you can just nudge it a little bit.
I have a great life. It's just choosing one thing over another. Everything here is a scale right(?), if you want this, you just have to put more onto this side so that it rises up.
Quality and quantity. I don't think their needs to be a less than more than sign. I think you can appreciate both. I think it can be encompassed in all parts of your life, I think you can deliver both, and it requires a lot, but people appreciate it and recognize it, and then at a certain point you can say, look what I've done. It may end up stretching you thin, but you know, it works, it's worked. And umm.. buy good things, because they last you a life time.
It's the grind right now. And I'm okay with it. There'll come a time when I'll have to prioritize differently, but you know, it's time right now. I'll say that what I'm doing right now isn't very relaxing, but I live in New York, nothing's relaxing, and I'm okay with it. I will eventually relax. Because when I do really get to relax, when I get to turn off just a little bit, I appreciate those things so much more.
And ride yourself until you can't and then you can scale yourself back appropriately, but like if you don't try to give both, like if you accept that sacrifice in the beginning, why not try and max yourself out, and then pull back? Why not go 100 and then realize that's not for me and go 85, but you know you can go 100, and eventually when you scale back up, you can go 102, and 105.
And truly you can move over any time - change lanes to the right side and go 65, and watch the cars whizzing by, but you know you still got that, you can still move over anytime you want, and go 100 again.
Just give value.