Ethan Fedida

B.A. Medicine, Health & Society, Class of 2012

Co-Founder, Campfire Group

Could you provide a brief recap of your career since graduating from Vanderbilt?

I graduated Vanderbilt with a Medicine Health and Society degree planning on going pre-med. After graduating I decided not to immediately go that route and ended up getting a job in media. I started at Huffington Post as a social media editor and was there for about five years. During my time there I ended up running all the social media for the entire company. I left sometime in 2016 to try my hand in the media startup space and did a similar job running all the development and social partnerships for a media startup out West called OZY Media. Following OZY Media I went to CBS Radio as their Vice President of Audience Development and Digital. I worked there for close to two years running their digital business and preparing them for their merger with another company. Those were my three stops post graduation and then after that job I started my own company – Campfire Group.

What is your company and where did the idea come from? What served as the biggest motivator or influence in starting your company?

Campfire Group is a digital full service consultancy that does everything from social media, email marketing, social media strategy and execution, paid media to short and long-term editorial content and video content – everything under that digital umbrella. We specifically focus on social impact storytelling and that realm. We work in the social impact niche and want to work with companies who are doing some sort of good in the world. Effectively we view our role as the storyteller and optimizer in a digital sense of those social impact campaigns. We want what’s being done to be something that’s as beneficial as it can be. We want to allow the companies to capitalize or benefit from the good that they’re doing, help them tell their story, help them reach whoever their end consumer is, help them with the digital execution of the good that their doing and ultimately get that story and execution out there. 

I think there were a few things. One, in my previous experiences I had very distinct and clear visions of what I was working on and how I thought it should progress. I recognized in all those stops that that vision doesn’t always align with what you want to do and what you think is the best path forward. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s part of working for someone, but at different instances in my career I was frustrated with not being able to have the full creative or vision capacity that I had wanted. There were some instances where my vision and the company’s vision didn’t align. I got tired of working for someone else’s vision. I wanted to find a way to craft and create my own and have a full understanding and responsibility of the successes and failures. On the other side of it I had garnered skills that had a lot of real world and practical application. I wanted to find a way to apply these skills that was more intrinsic to myself. Taking the ability to take the skill set that I had developed and apply those to projects that we believed in and wanted to push forward was the other driving force here.

What is the most challenging thing about being an entrepreneur and how have you worked to overcome this challenge?

On one hand the biggest challenge is that when you work for someone else the buck doesn’t start and end with you. All successes and all failures are on your shoulders which is something an entrepreneur needs to be able to recognize when they’re starting something. They need to be willing to take on that responsibility. Definitely some of the challenges have been knowing that if and when something doesn’t workout it’s most likely your fault not necessarily somebody else’s. In a more corporate or collaborative setting you can probably point to some other shortcomings that caused something to come up short but when it’s just you it’s entirely on you.

Beyond that from our perspective one of our challenges is that we’ve had really great success or reception to the idea of pushing social impact campaigns or pushing social good from a corporate and business perspective. Both the consumer side and the company side all recognize that this is the future of business.

What qualities are most important to possess as an entrepreneur?

I’d probably give you a somewhat different answer a year ago, given all that unfolded in 2020. I think the most important characteristic at this point is flexibility. Many things can change so quickly and being able to adapt to that is important. Your team needs, your client needs or your business needs will change.

If you look at COVID the whole world changed overnight and throughout the entirety of the year. Your ability to be flexible and to adapt is put to the test. What was working for you for months or years may all of a sudden stop working fundamentally. You can decide to stick with it and plow right through and freak out at the same time or take a second to look around, reassess where you’re at, possibly reimagine what you’re doing, what you’re executing and then get back to pushing it forward and finding a way to persevere. Before COVID, I’d say being driven and self-motivated but if I had to distill one thing out, flexibility or adaptability would be number one given everything that’s transpired and unfolded.

What are you most proud of about your business?

I am most proud that we were able to figure out a way to push the social good component that was inherently really important to us. We found a way to apply that in a professional setting and take that to other groups, companies, startups, individuals and non-profits to help them in their execution to develop models, devote resources, finances, time to doing good and ultimately seeing there is a benefit to doing that. Effectively if we do our job well we create a sustainability loop on social impact and social good campaigns themselves. We’ve been able to help work on some really cool projects and tell some really cool stories. 

When we develop the social good and social impact campaigns we work on, we find ways to tie them authentically to the businesses we’re working with and what the business actually does. When starting we understood the tangible good in what we were doing but we didn’t realize how it would benefit everyone else around that. It creates a great work environment and excitement not only for the people that are purchasing the products but also for the people who are working for the company – the staff.

The final piece of that is one of our specialities is in storytelling and narrative building. We take our journalism and media experience to our clients in helping them create the right narrative and story. Ultimately that culminates with an earned media campaign so instead of a PR blitz where we talk about ourselves and how good we are the goal is to deliver a narrative and a story that is something that everyone else wants to talk about and tell. If someone else is saying how great you are and about the cool things you’re doing it holds a lot more value than if you’re saying it about yourself. It’s really cool seeing the ideation and execution of this good and then the excitement that builds from the story being told and getting out there. It helps capture the enthusiasm of both the effort that’s being involved on the business side and the consumer or customer that it reaches. 

What advice do you have for students as they launch their business? Are there any tools you consistently use as an entrepreneur?

I was lucky to have a co-founder in my business who I ideated and ultimately together decided to move forward with. I understand not everyone wants to go about it with a co-founder but if you’re not going to have someone alongside you in the process, definitely find people to support you. Be it to challenge your ideas, to help make connections, to help facilitate or bounce ideas off, you need some sort of support network in whatever that capacity is. In my case it’s primarily my co-founder but in other instances its friends, family, old colleagues or other people in the industry who you can sort things out with. That’s definitely one.

Specifically for me there are some social impact or networking groups that directly pertain to my business. There are a number of facebook groups for every topic ever. There is an incredible flow of content and information in any field. Finding the thought leader in those spaces be it somebody that you know or don’t know and consuming them. I have endless twitter lists, accounts on LinkedIn and companies I follow that I think are doing interesting things. Constantly trying to consume that information and see what contemporaries are doing to see how that can push you in your space. That’s really valuable and interesting.

What do you do to live a balanced life? Do you have any interesting or fun hobbies?

Travel is my number one. I love to travel when I can. I’m lucky that my careers have been ones where I can work remotely and work from anywhere at any time. I try to take as much advantage of that. I’ve been lucky in the sense that I can go on vacation for 4 weeks and work from the beach or a house or the road. 

After travel is food. I love to cook. Cooking is my therapeutic release. My ideal day is a full productive work day and then cooking for myself or others to decompress. Off of that, through past jobs and other experiences I’ve found my way to the food judging world. I am a judge for the New York City hot sauce expo every year and I also have judged the Queens Wing Festival, the New York City cocktail expo and Brisket King which is a brisket barbecue competition and Pig Island which is a whole pig/BBQ competition.