David Reed-Brown is an ordained member of the clergy who has been passionate about the art of theatrical magic since he was a child. He began living his dream as a part-time professional magician in 1997 and founded Enlighten Entertainment in 2011.
Watch a video “The Hopeful Magic of David Reed-Brown, Enlighten Entertainment”
Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price met with David to discuss his entrepreneurial journey and find out how the magic happens.
NAN PRICE: How does being an ordained clergy member factor into your entrepreneurial experience?
DAVID REED-BROWN: There are entrepreneurial types amongst the clergy. We are constantly trying to launch the next-vision project.
Entrepreneurs are very good at having the vision and starting something. And amongst the clergy there all those types. They’re starting soup kitchens and organizing mission trips. They’re getting different organizations in the community working together to make social services happen. Or they’re bringing all of the different congregations together to serve the community.
NP: So why entertainment?
DRB: Because it’s always been part of who I am. I’ve been in front of people for a long time. I’m used to holding their attention and having them listen to what I have to say.
And it’s very rewarding. It’s a gift you’re giving other people, especially as a magician. See, I know the secrets. The real magic is happening in your mind. I’m like a painter helping you paint wonder and mystery on your canvas of life.
NP: When and why did you found in Enlighten Entertainment?
DRB: I was full-time clergy for 17 years. I’ve been performing magic part-time the last six years since I founded Enlighten Entertainment.
I find if I don’t do this, I’m not a happy person. In a lot of ways it’s like a calling the minister has. You have this thing deep inside of you that says: I have to do this and if I don’t, I’m going to be sorry.
People don’t say: I wish I spent more days in the office. They say: I wish I followed my dream.
NP: Let’s talk about the startup. Did you tap into any resources to develop your business concept?
DRB: I’ve worked with Tobias Beckwith, who’s really good at helping magicians get their businesses going. I also read Guy Kawasaki’s Art of the Start, an entrepreneurial book about how to get started.
I’m also part of something called Magic & Mystery School, the school behind successful magicians such as Michael Carbonaro, Romany, and Mat Franco, who won America’s Got Talent. The Mystery School even gives input to David Copperfield. It also has an online discussion group. We support each other and discuss things like how to entertain and where to get the next client.
NP: How are you networking and finding clients?
DRB: I go to entertainment showcases. I also go to conferences, set up a booth, and network with people and meet them.
I was also encouraged to get a regular restaurant gig so I get my face out in front of the public. I’m at Antonio’s Restaurant in Simsbury every Friday night from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. It’s taken a couple of years, but now it’s a regular thing and people come to the restaurant just to see me perform.
NP: Where else do you perform?
DRB: All over New England. I do perform for congregations and spiritual organizations as well as businesses, nonprofits, and charities—I love doing fundraisers and doing things for a cause. I’ve performed at First Night Hartford and the Griswold Inn in Essex and I did a small run at Lyric Hall Theater in New Haven.
NP: Who is your target audience?
DRB: It’s more adults or a events where there are adults and children. That’s probably my favorite, where there are about 25% kids.
One of the things I want to do is to go into schools and talk with kids about happiness. What are the things that make us happy? What does it mean to have compassion? What does it mean to walk a mile in another person’s shoes and to embrace their suffering a little bit? What does it mean to be grateful?
So that’s one of the areas where I need to step up my networking. If I want to go into schools, I need to find out what kind of conferences principles and administrators go to so I can get in front of bunch of them.
NP: I imagine you probably don’t have a lot of overhead? I’m visualizing a top hat and a bunny!
DRB: It’s more like a deck of cards and lemons! But there are costs for maintaining the website and the materials for putting on a show.
NP: But it’s not one of those startups where you needed a lot of seed funding.
DRB: Not really. If you’re going to go into a theater then you need to build a set. If you need to build illusions, then you need some investment.
NP: What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing?
DRB: It’s the networking—getting out there and selling myself. A lot of what I’ve been doing is going out there and helping other people. So getting out there and selling myself, and doing it consistently, is not something I’m terribly comfortable with.
I hate making phone calls! Even when I was in the parish full-time didn’t like calling up volunteers. I’m an extrovert, so when I’m in front of a group of people, I’m in heaven.
NP: In terms of selling yourself, what efforts are you making?
DRB: I use MailChimp to send out emails to different groups. Right now I’m working on churches because I get largest openings and I know their language and I know my colleagues, so I can engage them. I have a 40% open rate from the emails. Normally in entertainment there’s a 10% to 20% open rate.
NP: Describe your best day as an entrepreneur. Was there a moment when you felt things were really coming together?
DRB: It was when everything synergistically was working together.
NP: Any advice?
DRB: Nobody is going to believe in what you do more than you. So you have to be your biggest supporter. And if you don’t believe that, nobody else is going to believe it. So you’ve got to hold onto it with all of your heart, give it everything you’ve got, and let them know how important it is.
When you’re about to give up, just keep swimming and do the next thing because you never know what will happen. You never know how the next opportunity is going to strike the next person you’re introduced to—and it can open up into something beautiful. So just keep going.
Learn more about David Reed-Brown and Enlighten Entertainment at www.reed-brown.com.