Creativity these days is often overlooked, and unjustifiably so. Phil Tadros has seen a lot of success over recent years, but he’s not stopping there. With businesses up and running all across the city — Bow Truss coffee company, Aquanaut Brewing Company and Bunny the micro bakery to name a few — Tadros is only looking forward. He and his partner, Darren Marshall, have been working hard at Doejo, an innovation studio creating brands, photography, advertising, graphics, platforms, products, experiences and so much more.
Doejo is a new kind of company that is focusing more on collectivity and cooperation rather than individual success and the old, hyper-competitive form of capitalistic enterprise. With inspiration and momentum bursting through its seams, Doejo and its partners are fearlessly taking on the city. And while obstacles may present themselves down the road, that’s nothing the creative minds at hand can’t manage. Powerful minds are powerful tools.
CUSP Magazine sat down with Phil Tadros, founder and CEO of Doejo, to discuss his entrepreneurial background, past business ventures and future plans for all things Doejo.
Q&A – CUSP Magazine & Phil Tadros
CUSP Magazine: Tell me a little bit about who you are and what you do.
Phil Tadros: I guess you could say I’m a problem solver in the sense that I like to creatively get involved in a lot of situations, even as a kid. I always try to figure it out like, “Oh yeah, I can do that,” or “I can help with that.” I’m always getting into jams by thinking I can do a lot of stuff, and it forces you to learn how to work with different people and figure out different things and try to help with so many different random situations. I think that’s a background that I’m flashing back to. When I was a kid, I was the person that would be like, “I can figure that out” or “Let’s do that” or “We can get that.” [I was] just always positive and always being like, “Okay, I can help,” but not having a plan and not really worrying about it. I dropped out of school when I was 19. I went to Columbia College, but I dropped out. I figured that I’m not going to work my way up some big advertising company, even though I wanted to be a creative director at some ad agency. One day I just figured that I’m probably not going to be. I’m probably going to get a job somewhere where I’ll be selling ads, but then I was like, “What am I doing here?” Then I dropped out of school. I opened up a little coffee shop, because I couldn’t open up a bar or restaurant really. I didn’t have any experience in coffee prior. I was 19, and it was just an excuse to kind of jump into some sort of hospitality. It was my own little spot, people come and hang out and you take care of them. I waited on all of the tables, washed dishes, made sandwiches, did everything. I closed and opened the shop every day. The rent was $500 a month. It was about the least travelled stop in Chicago, Jarvis Park. And then one day, after working like crazy for about a year straight every single day, I was just done. I need to sell it, I need to move on. And I sold it, just really simply to a neighbor who coincidentally wanted it. I bumped into them on the street, wrote a contract in handwriting, and notarized it. Then I went to the currency exchange, and they gave me a check. It was ridiculous.
CM: What happened next? How did you end up with Doejo?
PT: Then I moved on to my next space, and that was more of a big, open creative space. It was a cafe venue in a 1920s hotel lobby and ballroom, and that was kind of a free for all. That was like a human experiment of just trying to see what the hell anybody would do if you gave them complete freedom and expected them to figure it out. It was interesting. I learned to start picking the right people and had a bunch of ups and downs there, but it was an amazing experience. I guess I just got better and better at picking the right people and then letting those right people be their own boss and do their own thing. So the theory wasn’t wrong, it’s just that I got better at picking the right people. And then I opened up another shop, Dollop, and lived above that. I started Doejo, which is a creative agency that organically grew out of Dollop when people kept asking me for help with their projects, because I was working on my own web project. The checks were getting bigger and people wanted me to work directly with them and help them flush out their business ideas, from names to teams to technology to everything, depending on what project. I fell in love with that, because I get to problem solve anything with design, with team building and just creating products, brands and campaigns or whatever. That is my current love and day-to-day — Doejo. It ties into everything I do, and our client range is any industry and product you can imagine, and it’s international. We also launch our own products too, so Doejo is like the hub of all of it.
CM: Do you have any projects in the works?
PT: We’re really proud to soon be launching Bunny the micro bakery with Iliana Regan. She’s amazing. I’m super excited to get open and let her be the magician that she is. I just learned that I’m good at knocking the door down and getting things moving. I’m also good at putting the right team in place and letting them help me build and grow. I remember when I was first starting, even though it was just a simple little dive cafe, just even how I would plate things. I was so anal about it. I was trapped. I was trapped in this box, because I wanted everything to be exactly my way. I learned the hard way that I have to just let go. I have to let people fuck up, experiment, let them do what they want to do, learn from them, just let go. I’m very driven, focused, intense, whatever, but at the same time I know to let go. I know when to push hard, and I know when to let go. Keeping everybody and everything all going on at the same time, you have to decide — it’s kind of like paying your bills. If you’ve got a bazillion bills, you’ve got to know what to take care of and when you have to take care of it so that everything doesn’t collapse. You need to get good at hustling like that. It’s the same thing with the priority levels of day-to-day and what needs attention. You should get better and better at doing that on a larger scale, but it’s the same stuff. … Everybody has the up and down and up and down and up and down, so really just learn that’s how you ride that wave, and it’s okay. It’s interesting, and then it becomes awesome. It becomes exciting. It’s like, “Alright, bring it. This is cool.” I’ll wait until my face scrapes the ground, and then I’m back up again. We have a lot of great people and great projects, and I’m really proud of our team that allowed me to look good, because they’re just creating ridiculous stuff.
CM: What do you have under that umbrella? What are you working with right now?
PT: They’re all their own companies, but the common theme is that the brain power in Doejo is fueling, facilitating, financing and designing whatever a lot of the stuff is. We have tons of great clients, and that’s our primary focus as a team at the end of the day. We also have a lot of spin-off projects that we’ve created ourselves and built teams for. We treat them like clients, we have a big enough team. I spearhead most of our internal products. Doejo is an innovation firm. It’s a lot of design development, not just web, even though we do serious front end development and back-end development. We do hardcore, heavy duty stuff, and both almost equally, as far as intense. We don’t shop anything out. We don’t outsource it with anybody. It’s all in house, it’s all in the same room. Ruby, WordPress VIP, IOS, Android, all use experience design, branding, strategy, business development. It goes into raising capital. It goes into just some of the packets we do for a brand, which are like 100 pages. It goes deep into raising capital and knowing who your company is and who it will be. We do so much, but we do it naturally. We love it when the right client lets us just go at it, and then we love it when we have our own company to launch, because it’s just smooth sailing. It’s a lot of hard work, but as a group we can just knock out an entire company so quickly. Now we’re launching a juice company called Apotheca, all organic with partner Sami Dababneh ; Pressed Produce in food. We have Bow Truss, a coffee roastery. We have Aquanaut Brewing Company with partner and brewmaster Eric McNeil. We have Bunny the micro bakery with partner and chef Lliana Regan. We have space, about 30,000 square feet of shared office facility. We have Realigram, you log in with your Instagram and pop in your photos to one of those old school viewmasters. … We launched Map the Dead, a zombie apocalypse app and game. There were like 4 million people that went to the site within the first week or something, it was crazy. Then we have amazing clients. We do a lot of heavy-duty publications. WordPress recommends 10-12 companies internationally, and we’re one of those, lucky enough. We do a lot of WordPress stuff. We work for Samsung [and] Pandora. We build Jared Leno’s company called Vert, live streaming music, pay per view, chat.
Phil – “Doejo is an innovation firm. It’s a lot of design development, not just web, even though we do serious front end development and back-end development. We do hardcore, heavy duty stuff, and both almost equally, as far as intense. We don’t shop anything out. We don’t outsource it with anybody. It’s all in house, it’s all in the same room.”
CM: Is Doejo only specific to Chicago?
PT: We’re in Chicago, but half of our clients are from the West coast. We don’t know how. We just have a lot of demand from the West coast, so we’re opening an office there in Beverly Hills right now. … We’re opening a Bow Truss in Beverly Hills too. … Allowing me to start over there and launch that arm out there is so exciting, because I’m just so stoked to not start over, but just shake it up again. Just walking up and down the street, being in my store, going upstairs to the office, meeting people, shaking hands and starting it up again. We’re really excited about that. It’s just a lot of helping people build what they’re trying to do. You’re helping people launch their companies, you’re helping people. I’m a big believer, and I’ve always been like this, but you make up your own world, you make up your own story. People listen to what the story is and you prove yourself, end of story, by following through and just continuing to fight for what it is your intentions are. When somebody comes to us and they need help with something, I’ve very passionate. I turn that on, and I will fight for them. That’s really helped us grow and attract more people that want to work with us, because we will fight for them. We love that. We love when someone wants to do something. Yes, shake it out. Do something. Go all out, go crazy.
CM: What does Chicago mean to your brand and what you do?
PT: Well, Chicago is home. It’s what I know. It’s home, so it’s big business, it’s innovative, it’s Midwestern. We’re like the third largest commerce or something in the states, and so we’re a classy city. We have it all. You know what I love about Chicago, especially in technology? Chicago has the leaders in most of the companies where you charge somebody right away, like Grubhub. They’re the leaders in that, they started that. You charge right away, you know? They’re Chicago. … The online coupon giant Groupon, Chicago dominated that. Threadless, the biggest t-shirt retailer. A lot of the companies who charge right away are in Chicago, there’s a lot of them. … There are a lot of stories, but there’s a lot of great leaders in tech that are from Chicago, that are based in Chicago, that are leaders in the industry for their niche. They’re usually ones that charge right away. I worship Chicago, Chicago is the best. I don’t know how to compare it. We have clients all over, but this is my home. … We’re all going back to trying to figure out how do our own thing, keep it real, create our own food nearby that’s not crap and create our own products that people care about that are in small groups. That’s just going back, because we all fell for it. We didn’t know it was the first time for mass everything, but we’re getting out of that. It’s the best. There should be a little shop where someone is roasting coffee, and then you go next door and someone’s the butcher. We want that. Everybody wants that, and that’s what’s happening. People are making their own products, people are building their own things. People are learning with all of the information, with the accessibility to information and other people, people are learning about everything. Anything you want to know about, there’s just so much information out there. You want to build something? You want to research something? You want to ask someone a question that knows everything about it? You can ask them really easily. We wouldn’t have been able to do that. It’s amazing. It’s more and more a very small world, but it’s massive. You need to keep it small to be able to care about it. Even with a bigger company, who cares? When it’s so big, who cares? It’s too much like a band that got way too big. It’s just doesnt have the same feeling, and that’s a natural thing. You can’t maintain that. I think everybody should just start something, do something.
CM: Do you have a favorite company?
PT: Doejo is the brainchild of all of them, so Doejo is — I don’t want to say my favorite, but it’s where my desk is. It’s hard, because Aquanaut is killing it. I mean, it’s only nine months old and it’s in like 100 accounts, people love it. Were trying to keep up with demand. I tell some people Aquanaut is growing faster than Bow Truss did. You just don’t see it as much, because it’s a beer. It’s on tap, it’s at 100 locations, and we don’t really have retail stores. But it is killing it. But with Bow Truss it’s like, “Huh, you own Bow Truss?” They’re excited about Bow Truss. They love the coffee, and it’s part of their daily ritual. They know about it. You’re a part of their day. … But the thing is, someone that drinks 65 days a year wakes up in the morning and potentially is drinking the coffee that you guys source, roast and prepare. That is exciting. That is growing fast and that fuels, we are very excited about it. I do focus on that a lot. All of my work is easy. Even if I’m working 24 hours a day, it’s easy. It’s because it’s natural, because I love it. It’s our stuff, it doesn’t even feel like work. Some days you’re exhausted, some days you have nothing to do, it really depends. Having the nothing to do days is me not even realizing i’m working, because I just love working. I started in coffee. I love the community that it brings. I love the entrepreneurs and productive people that are in there. The environment is so productive. It’s just a productive, cozy safe haven. People recharge there, even if it’s walking in for 15 minutes. You go there to recharge, get something cozy, get going. I love that. I love being able to offer that. People are helping facilitate this super good thing. I feel really good about what I’m doing. I’ve always wanted to do that, and I’m glad I fell into coffee. Bars are fun, restaurants are fun, but it’s different. There is this really nice, clean, safe, productive thing about the neighborhood coffee shop, and I love it. So Bow Truss is up there.
CM: What’s next for you and your brand? What do you see coming up?
PT: I’m looking for a space to have a brewpub, because I do want a physical space. We have a beautiful facility, a beautiful brewery. … I want a street level, in and out rest, brewpub for Aquanaut. It deserves it. It’s a great company, great group of people. It deserves that action, retail level, ground floor. It’s going to happen. I’m searching. I want to find the right space. I should say I want to find the right landlord. You want to find the right landlord, that’s important. We’re working on that and space, we have 30,00 square feet here. We’re going to take another floor. We’re going to expand here too. We have Bow Truss that’s signing new leases, I mean monthly. I don’t even want to say the number that we have lined up, but we’re almost going to have 14 stories legally lined up. We’re under construction with a lot of them right now. We never have money sitting somewhere, we always grow. We never have an ideal plan mapped out that we follow, but we’re always doing better, we’re always growing, and things are good. I’m a big believer in just doing it. Nike really had it right with that slogan, it’s amazing. You just gotta do it sometimes. Just knock it out and figure it out as you go along. I’m excited about Bunny. Bunny is going to make amazing food for everybody, and we’re going to be able to serve it at our Bow Truss locations exclusively. It’s really exciting, and it’s great for Bow Truss. And Apotheca? We’re really excited. It’s organic juices, 8 ounces only. We’re gonna put them in the Bow Truss locations and open up a flagship store. It’s really important to have food as medicine, preventative to disease food. We want to pull off something where you buy a juice, and we give a juice away to an underserved community or something, whoever can’t afford it. It’s an organic, 8 ounce, fresh juice. … If we can pull it off, the goal is to do that and just make it simple.
CM: Who do you feel is on the cusp? Who else is doing some really cool?
PT: Victor Saad, Experience Institute. He is a brilliant guy, super sweet, smart, just a great person. He decided that getting his MBA was too expensive and not really what he needed to do, so he started his own MBA program called the Experience Institute, where he takes on students and places them in different companies with heads of whatever and gives them real life experience. He created his own MBA program, and its just a striving school that’s only a few years old right now. It’s already in its second class or whatever, and there’s more students. I’m just really proud of him. He’s definitely going to be a big deal.
Doejo is about more than seeing a business plan through from start to finish, it’s about those who accompany you from that start to that finish. It’s about the support and inspirations that even allowed you to see the project through to begin with. Creativity is the bottom line, and that’s everything that CUSP Magazine is about: “creatives helping creatives.” This idea of cooperative business, of climbing the ladder together, is only gaining more and more support — as it should be.
To stay up to date with everything coming in and out of Doejo, follow them on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and GitHub. For more information on what Doejo is all about, visit their website.