Lacey Kaelani – CEO Interview

Lacey Kaelani

CEO + Co-Founder of Casting Depot

When did you know you wanted to start your own company?

If you don’t know what casting is, chances are you don’t work in the entertainment industry. If that sounds like you, I can explain the field in the most simplistic terms – HR recruiting for on-camera placements. There’s a massive gap in the talent-booking industry and when we noticed that gap, we knew we had an opportunity to innovate.

What was your original idea for this company, and are you still doing that (or did you pivot, if so, what is the new focus and why)?

Like most start-ups, the plan is always changing until you find Product-Market Fit. The biggest change we saw very early on was an adaptation to our business model. We had a surplus of supply that called for every type of talent – from financial experts and single ladies to traditional actors and voiceover artists. Because of this, we discovered that our platform could be used for anyone and everyone who would want a relationship with the media, catering to every type of media outlet. So, we decided to make Casting Depot a completely free professional network and instead take a piece of the transaction.

How long did it take you to finally take the leap, and what was it that pushed you over the fence?

The decision happened about three months after launch. After a few discussions, listening to our user feedback and chatting with the VC community, we took the leap. In order to operate a startup, a team needs to be adaptable to change and have the ability to execute quickly.

Who inspired you to pursue your dream, and why do you think they believed in you?

My Co-Founder and CTO Brad Larson saw a massive vision for Casting Depot when he joined the team, which inspired me to pursue it. I always knew there was an opportunity to innovate in this space and knew that I had the skillset to be able to execute. Brad was one of the first people to believe in the dream. His passion for innovating within the gig economy and persistence for product excellence is a substantial contributing factor as to why I’m confident Casting Depot will be a success.

Who is your favorite mentor and why?

Our team is lucky enough to be surrounded by incredible advisors who share our vision. In particular, I have two mentors who help me push my personal and professional limits constantly in efforts to grow as a leader.

Lastly, we’re an Antler portfolio company. They’ve been a great sounding board to-date.

What was the hardest thing about starting your company, and what did you do to make it through the first stage?

The hardest thing at first was finding a Product-Market Fit that satisfied the entire media and entertainment community. Questioning the status quo can be a difficult dream to sell, especially pre-launch. Pushing the limits for what Casting Depot could be in 10 years is something we’re constantly molding every day at work.

What has been the hardest lesson to learn?

The fundraising process was a difficult curveball for me, personally. I learned to think of a Series B even if you’re only raising a Pre-Seed. I noticed that in my initial investor meetings I continued to get questions revolving future rounds (primarily because the funds I was meeting with like to support their portfolio clients throughout the company lifecycle). As a first-time founder, I wish someone had prepared me for those types of questions. It’s never too early to think about the exit of your company, even if you don’t know what’s on the agenda for tomorrow.

What has been the most amazing thing you have experience while running this company?

The best day was launch day. We had worked extremely hard building and strategizing Casting Depot and to be able to finally press “live” was an experience I’ll never forget.

What is the weirdest thing you have experienced while running this company, and how did you react to it?

The weirdest thing I’ve experienced was the first company “plug” I did. To set the story, I live in Los Angeles (recently moved from NYC). One day, I was sitting in the clubhouse of my building where I was working, minding my own business. I overheard two guys behind me talking about their recent auditions and scheming of ways to get more auditions without an agent. I turned around and said “have you heard of Casting Depot?” It was a funny blip in time, but more bizarre to me that I had officially just done my first “plug” with no shame.

What is the best decision you’ve ever made while running this company?

Bringing on my Co-Founder and CTO Brad Larson, our designer Josh Rawlings, and advisor Jake Prudhomme. Saying “let’s do this” to this founding team was the best decision I’ve made.

What is the biggest mistake you made while running this company, and why do you think it happened?

Our biggest challenge has been incorporating user feedback quickly. While it wasn’t a mistake, it was a massive challenge. We’re a small team and creating a product that supports the entire media space is a big monster in itself. We’re lucky enough that our users are consistently giving feedback which allows to build a better product. Standby on V2 of our beta over the next two weeks.

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your company?

Surprisingly not so much. Casting is a part of the pre-production process and the year works in cycles. Casting budgets were set pre-Covid, so we’re still seeing activity in our space. In fact, we’ve seen a growth in casting for Ad companies who have to use their products as a response to Covid-19.

What keeps you passionate about your company?

My team, my advisors and our users. Seeing people interact on the site means everything to me.

What daily routine have you developed to help you take care of your mind, body, and soul?

I have two self-care activities that I indulge in often in order to take care of my mental health. First – I play soccer two-three times a week and binge MLS/Premier games. It’s my healthy obsession. Second – I do small things every day that make me smile such as grabbing coffee at a local coffee shop, buying myself flowers or reading thought articles on Medium.

What one thing would you like people to take away from this interview?

A very close friend once told me, “make decisions fast, execute faster”. Being a founder is difficult. You’re constantly faced with making tough decisions that’ll ultimately better the health and success of the company you’ve built and you have to be willing to act on them.