Ryan Sheffer wanted to be a filmmaker since the age of 14 - when he learned filmmaking was a job - and not some God-given birthright delivered to a seldom few.
A creative storyteller with multiple decades of experience - Ryan has been sought after by the world’s best companies. Starting as an editor and technologist, Ryan’s technical and storytelling skills allowed him to quickly pivot into producing and directing. For the last two decades he has been on the cutting edge of technology and storytelling while making sure to do it with a smile on his face.
Mile 80 came about when Ryan realized he could no longer handle the demand for his style of creativity on his own and needed to build a team. Today, Ryan focuses on building technology that empowers creatives, writing, directing, and ensuring that his team has all the tools they need to grow and flourish. Ryan’s deepest desire is to prove to his children that they can do anything if they set their mind to it.
1. Can you tell me the story behind the name "Mile 80"?
Mile 80 started as a play on the location where I founded the company. When starting Mile 80, I lived on a remote island in the Pacific Northwest of the United States - Orcas Island. Orcas Island is 80 miles from Seattle as the crow flies. My thought was that being 80 miles from the nearest city is an interesting tweak compared to other competitors - all located with city centers. It was also a play on ultra marathons - 100 mile races.
I had started to think of business as a 100 miles race…and about 80% of the way to the finish line, you might want to quit. In this way, especially now that I no longer live on a remote island, Mile 80 represents a team of skilled folks who help you across the finish line of business right when you want to quit. Our skills are in marketing and visual communications - but the goal is the same - to help businesses with issues they face.
2. What does Mile 80 represent to you and the team behind it?
For me - Mile 80 is about freedom. The ability to do what I love to do - create film and video content - in the way I want to. Core to this is respecting peoples’ work and giving them autonomy of expression, without the hinderance of micro-management demands related to hours.
While we do work long hours at Mile 80 - they’re often not normal ones. We work with people all over the world and thus some days call for super early mornings, some days late nights, and at the end of any day we always prioritize health and family above the project. Don’t get me wrong, we work very hard - but the energy is about understanding that unlike many companies in this space, if you’re not healthy and content at home, your creation will suffer. Running a business the way I want to means valuing that health and human prosperity above the business prosperity because I know that the former creates the latter. Otherwise, I’d get burnt out and quit :) .
I believe that the folks who stick around at Mile 80 and really find a home here are looking for a similar change of pace when compared to previous places of employment. Mile 80 exists as an avenue to solve business problems with creative solutions. It’s a tool to build up a team of skilled artists who can help more and more brands express their stories in the world.
Running a business means valuing that health and human prosperity above the business prosperity because I know that the former creates the latter.
3. What are the three key factors that led to the current development of MILE 80's success?
Following the market - It’s very hard to win marketing contracts, so we focused on the growing number of video contracts in the PR and communications space. Many of the incumbents in the marketing and advertising world couldn’t operate at the lower budgets that the PR and communications arms of businesses had.
Focus on sales velocity first - Instead of valuing the biggest contract size, we value how quickly we land the contract. While this often means we have to handle many more projects at once, it also means we spend less time selling and pitching. This gives our company a much more predictable revenue stream than traditional paths of trying to land one or two big fishes.
Hiring young, smart, and creative - Many people believe that a resume is the most important part of an applicant. Well, I never had a resume that looked perfect and because of that I was often looked over for jobs I knew I would excel at. Because of this, in starting Mile 80, my focus has been on finding those diamonds in the rough and giving them chances to learn and grow as a part of a company that believes in their potential.
4. Identify a few challenges that the company had to overcome to reach its current level of success.
Stop chasing marketing dollars. The conversation earlier about PR companies and communications firms VS advertising came out of a sizable failure. One that almost tanked the company. In 2019 we started to get some business traction and thus had the opportunity to pitch for much larger jobs. This excited me and led to me spending 6 months pitching on two different projects that were each worth more than we had made up to that point the whole year. Both were “sure things” and because of that I put all my focus and the team’s time into it. In one week - both fell apart. We were left with monthly revenue that was 10% of the previous month going into 2020…which…we all know was a tough year for everyone.
However, the very positive side of this story is it allowed me to see that the best projects for our company don’t involve lengthy pitches. Otherwise we’re going up against huge companies that have the ability to spend 10s of thousands getting a project without worrying about it. For us - our focus became smaller projects, more of them, and sustained engagement with clients.
5. Who is the ideal customer for Mile 80?
Mile 80 looks for brands that have needs for design, video, and animation each and every month. We’d prefer smaller sustaining contracts to huge one-offs. The best client is probably considering building out their own creative team in-house. Any of these brands should take a chance on us and see if the costs are less and the quality is better if they partner with Mile 80.
Our goals this year revolve around achieving quality that matches the best agencies in the world while also allowing myself to step away from time to time and focus on our first feature film production.
6. What is the main difference between MILE 80 and other similar companies?
Our main difference is in our focus on repeat business and sustaining relationships. We don’t just want to do one single project. We want to shoot for 5 days alongside a brand and then edit and animate for a year. We want to take their creative production volume and 10x it. We want to finally give their media agency all of the deliverables they wish they had, all while not increasing the creative production budget. We’re about longterm efficiency and growth with brands - not single one-off methods of profit.
7. What are the three things you appreciate the most about MILE 80 at the moment?
Leadership taking more responsibility - For many years it was just me handling leadership parts of the business. As we’ve grown past 10 and towards 20 employees - I’m proud to see managers step up and replace me in many of the roles I held alone for years.
Our quality is ever-increasing - Our team is willing to go with me as I push us to always improve the quality of the work we deliver.
When teammates tell me they’re getting healthier - Besides filmmaking, my other passion is health and wellness. Whenever working at Mile 80 leads to people making healthier life decisions, it brings me great joy. Early in my career I was told that everyone in the creative world gets out of shape. But I now know it doesn’t have to be that way.
Our team is willing to go with me as I push us to always improve the quality of the work we deliver.
8. How do you envision Mile 80 in five years?
I see Mile 80 having multiple arms stretching between brand storytelling, original content creation (feature films, animation, documentary), and also technology empowering the work that we do. I see it growing year over year.
After all, we all need our daily motivation to accomplish our tasks, so Ryan's desire is to show his children that if they put their mind to it - they can accomplish anything. Family first, business second.