Building a Quiet Brand

calvin hobbes

At the height of the of popularity of Calvin & Hobbes , creator Bill Watterson made an unprecedented decision: he rejected all merchandising offers.

No licensing for stuffed animals, cartoons, lunch boxes, shirts, or stickers. He wouldn’t even talk to Pixar about an animated film. To this day, there is nothing for sale but reprints of the original comics.

When compared with brands like Peanuts & Garfield, it’s likely that Watterson turned down at least $400 million in deals.

His focus was the integrity of the art. He didn’t want these products to distract from the storytelling. He wanted his characters to live in just one format, with one voice.

Most industry experts predicted that when the newspaper strip ended in 1995, Calvin & Hobbes would disappear from public consciousness. Without new content or outside licensing, it would vanish. Conventional wisdom says that’s how you build brand recognition.

But Watterson intended it to be a self-contained work, within his control from start to finish. And he built exactly the brand identity he envisioned.

Calvin & Hobbes remains among the most successful comics in print. The collected editions of the original newspaper strips have sold more 30 million copies.

Today, many believe that Watterson’s refusal to license created a purity that keeps us intrigued with the original work. There is only one version of these iconic stories and that strengthens our love for them.

In our noisy world, sometimes the best branding isn’t about getting louder. Sometimes, it’s about quietly growing in your craft, obsessively pursuing the work, building real connections one person at a time, and focusing on the long-term legacy you are creating for your life & your career.

Be willing to LOSE so you can WIN


These days, being myself feels like a dream job. But there were times when it was torture. 

I was misunderstood. I was afraid. I was lost.

Being myself required me to walk into the fire. Into places that were uncomfortable & unknown. 

There were many logical reasons to compromise & fit into someone else’s vision of success. 

But I was willing to LOSE in many ways - sometimes for years - so I could ultimately WIN at being myself. 

The ‘real me’ eventually intersected with opportunities that have led to a beautiful place. A place where I am able to share my heart through inspiring films & speeches to audiences across the country. 

But none of that would have happened if I had accepted the typical career, the quick payout, or the simple answers. 

I’m grateful to be me. Even more, I am grateful I chose to stay true to my own process & my own version of success, even when it felt like failure.

It takes time, but eventually the world catches up with you.

The Magic You Are Carrying

The director of the new Aquaman movie watched my 19-minute video about his film.

He tweeted about it. And it stirred up a whirlwind of inspiration.

I feel a little insecure every time I post one of these videos. Showing this kind of emotion about superhero stories puts me in a vulnerable position. There are always people on the internet who make fun of me.

But, today, I’m reading hundreds & hundreds of messages from people who were helped by the video. It showed them a new way to be a hero to others. They feel more empowered to make the world a better, more loving place.

My life continues to be filled with wonders. I don’t plan these moments - they are always beyond me. Most of them happen because I’m willing to show my heart and risk looking silly.

Sometimes, I create things and nothing happens. Sometimes, they start a beautiful whirlwind. Either way, today I feel encouraged to continue sharing my authentic self.

And I’m reminded of the magic you are carrying within you. Maybe you’re holding back because you think the world won’t understand. Perhaps you think people will show anger or hatred. And perhaps they will.

But I know for certain that there is something in YOU that the world needs. Please share it with us.


Here’s my video about the Aquaman movie:

Feel the fear. Don’t let it stop you.

brett culp

My son Judah has a blood test today. He’s nervous about it.

He asked me, “Will I stop being afraid when I get older?”

I said, “You never really outgrow fear. But, if you face it with people who love you, you get stronger inside. You feel the fear, but you don’t let it stop you. That’s how you become a warrior.”

He replied, “Do you think I’m doing that right now?”

“You are doing this every day, my son,” I said. 


Mentors Matter

In 2004, I was profiled in eMedia magazine. The article began like this:

“As they grow up, most sons want their dads to get out of the way. Then, there’s Brett Culp. He admits that his business thrived once his dad got involved. It was an involvement Culp says he both needed and welcomed.”

The best thing that happened in my career was having my Dad work with me for over a decade.

So much of my work is built on the insights, attitudes, and values he showed me.

I am grateful every day.

If you’ve had a mentor that has helped you succeed, take a moment to say THANK YOU.

Powerless with Irma

Along with 7 million others in Florida, Hurricane Irma knocked out the power in our home.

The assessments this morning showed that it would take up to 6 days to restore all the electricity in Tampa.  So, we decided to move to my parents house a few miles away, where they still had power.  We spent today packing up to be away for several days. Clothes, food, everything we would need.

Tonight, my family was sitting in our fully-packed car as I locked the front door.

And the power came back on.

Have you ever felt extremely grateful & extremely frustrated at the same time? It's a strange whirlwind of emotion.

The last week has taken me deeper into the meaning of being "powerless". For me, Irma has been a lesson in surrender.  I try to plan wisely & act with passion, but I can't control a hurricane, the utility company, a potential client, or my teenager.

But I can choose to bring my heart to every moment & stay open to the unknown.

Things never go quite the way we expect. But I believe there is beauty everywhere.

Stop Attempting to be the General Manager of the Universe

On today's flight, the passenger next to me got really upset with a woman who didn't end her phone call after the cabin door was closed. The frustration escalated as the passenger's demands for her to end the call were completely ignored. The passenger loudly repeated the rules about turning phones to airplane mode, with no effect. And this cellular rule-breaker was slowly driving her insane.

After a few minutes of this, a flight attendant casually wandered by and asked the woman to stop her call. She immediately hung up. And we flew to Los Angeles.

This experience reminded me to stop attempting to be the general manager of the universe.

Some of my greatest emotional struggles have been with problems that were not within my power to fix. I've wasted lots of energy on those challenges, and I don't want to keep doing that.

The next 10 days are going to be a whirlwind for me. So many wonderful things are happening right now, and I am committed to contributing my whole heart to these moments. But, I also want to trust that a power bigger than me is going before me, guiding the journey, and taking care of the stuff I can't handle alone. That thought removes the emotional weight of trying to fix everything, leaving me free to be joyful, relaxed, and confident.

So, I'm happy that women kept talking on her phone, even though it was kinda annoying. She reminded me to do my work in the world, and then let go of the rest.

You are Not a Statistic


With 2:38 left in the 4th quarter, I knew the New England Patriots would win Super Bowl 51. I'm not a big football fan, but something inside me knew it. Maybe you knew it too.

But the computer at ESPN didn’t know it yet. Based purely on the numbers, the Atlanta Falcons were still overwhelmingly poised for victory, with a 95.3% chance of winning. But I was so confident the computer was wrong with 2:38 left that I took this screenshot & started writing this post.

Statistics are important. They provide vital data for making many decisions. But they are often bad predictors of the human spirit. They easily miscalculate determination, heart, & willpower.

Perhaps you’ve heard statistics about your life from a parent, friend, teacher, or boss. Maybe those percentages are controlling your story.

Here’s the good news… YOU are NOT a statistic. There’s stuff in you that my son’s fancy scientific calculator can never accurately analyze. There is a truth about you that cannot be input into the formula ESPN’s computer uses to predict winners & losers.

So, keep fighting. Because YOU are MORE.

Beauty in Unexpected Places

After yesterday's speaking engagement, someone I'd never met rushed straight over to tell me a story.

Two years ago, he & his wife were deciding if they were ready to be foster parents. They happen to watch my film Legends of the Knight on Netflix, and it inspired them to take the leap. They ultimately adopted the kids they welcomed into their home.

I never imagined the film impacting a family this way. It was a reminder that when you choose to express hope & kindness it spreads beauty into unexpected places.

Dear friends, keep shining!

Anything is Possible

After 71 years of failing to reach the World Series, last night the Chicago Cubs forced Game 7 with a Grand Slam.

A few days ago, many people thought the series was over. Months ago, most people would NOT have imagined the Cubs in Game 7.

Will they win the World Series for the first time in 108 years? No one knows. But for me, the joy is in the idea that it COULD happen. This improbable possibility fills me with such hope for me, for you, and for the world.

If this opportunity can exist for baseball players in Chicago, just imagine what might happen in YOUR LIFE today, tomorrow, or in the days ahead!

Anything is possible. There is always hope.


UPDATE:  They won.  Congrats to the Chicago Cubs & their legions of fans who have waited & believed.

Have a Beautiful Life!

I bought a souvenir from a street vendor in Florence, Italy. With a thick accent, he said, "Have a good day. And since we probably won't meet again, have a beautiful life!"

I was touched by his words, and I want everyone I meet today to feel this from me. Even if we are together for only a few moments in the span of our entire lives. Even if our encounter seems small & mundane. Even if it is simply someone reading this post on Facebook who I may never meet face-to-face. 

My heart is for everyone to feel this blessing from me: I hope you have a BEAUTIFUL LIFE!

Here's how you build something BIG...

italy duomo.jpg

I’m filming in Florence, Italy this week. 

When the architect designed Il Duomo di Firenze in 1294, his plans included a giant dome.  At the time, the technology didn’t exist to actually construct the dome he envisioned, but he launched out in faith that someone would figure it out when it was time.  Over 100 years later, when the rest of the basilica was complete, a different architect engineered a solution for the dome.  You can see the beautiful accomplishment behind me. 

Maybe you have an extraordinary dream in your heart, but you can’t envision how you will complete it.  Don’t let that stop you.  Most of the great innovators and world changers couldn’t see all the solutions when they began.  And for most of them, the final vision turned out to be different and much better than they first imagined.  They found the best answers during the adventure.

So, get started.  You can begin right now without knowing exactly how to finish the dome.  You are smart, other people will help, and the solution will be there when you need it.    

You Don't Have to Stay Down


I remember when I saw the photo of Michael Phelps smoking pot. He had become the most decorated athlete in the history of the Olympics, but overnight he lost millions in endorsements and outraged countless ‘fans’. Phelps reportedly told a close friend, “I don’t want to be alive anymore.”

Just a few years later, he was arrested & charged for driving under the influence of alcohol. He voluntarily checked into a 45-day rehab program, but I thought Michael Phelps was done as a swimmer.

Last night, Phelps won 2 more Olympic Gold Medals. At 31, he became the oldest swimmer to win an individual gold in Olympic history.

In life, you will fall. You will make mistakes. It’s unavoidable. But, when it happens, will you choose to get back up?

No matter where you find yourself today, you don’t have to stay down. Take a breath, ask for help, and keep fighting.

A Heart to Help

Nine-year-old Tyler Fugett used his allowance to create a library for inmates at a local jail. He wanted to give people who were behind bars something to take their minds off their surroundings.

He showed up without warning at the sheriff’s office, armed with more than 100 books. Tyler told them that if inmates read, maybe they wouldn't have time to think about doing bad things.

I love his heart! 

Photo Credit: Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office

How the Big Stuff Happens

nyc flyer

I saw this flyer while walking in NYC. Nearly 20 years ago, I started my business with flyers just like it... complete with the rip-off tabs on the bottom. Mine advertised wedding videos for $150. 

Launching a new idea is rarely glamorous. Typically, it's high on passion & low on funding. There aren't any limos, press interviews, or famous clients. It's just you & an ugly flyer. 

So, just start. Wherever you are today, get moving. Post the flyer. Send the emails. Make the phone calls. Set the meeting. Stir up some dust. 

The greatest stories we've ever told begin in wildernesses, and barns, and dirty streets, and in the minds of everyday people who were willing to look foolish to pursue a dream. 

Today, feel free to do something a little crazy in pursuit of something beautiful. That's how the big stuff always happens.

Struggling with the Unpredictable

While we were out with friends on Friday night, we discovered we had a flat tire. A rainstorm began immediately. When we tried to change the tire, we realized it had a bolt lock, and we didn’t have a key for it. So, the car had to be towed to a nearby tire store for work the next morning.

The tow truck driver & I agreed on a location, but when I called the store first thing the next morning, my car wasn’t there. It took an hour of calling around to locate it at a different shop. Rather than putting the key in their dropbox, the tow truck driver had locked the keys inside the car, so I had to immediately drive 30-minutes to open the car. They had several morning appointments, so we wait a few hours for the tire to be fixed.

It shouldn’t take this much effort to fix a flat tire. But sometimes this is life. Simple things can become complicated, and unexpected small details can bring our plans to a halt. Certain days, this is our reality and we can’t get away from it. But the way we choose to emotionally respond to these moments defines the way we feel about everything else.

For much of my life, I have struggled with these unpredictable moments. I have let them distract me from joy. I have allowed frustration to disturb my peace. But this weekend I was able to laugh with the journey, embrace the craziness, and accept the moment as a gift… even though it wasn’t what I would have chosen. And I was blessed to be surrounded by people who saw it the same way.

For me, it wasn’t wasted time. It was an opportunity to remember that I’m not in control, but I can be at peace wherever I find myself. And I believe you can too.

Return to the Source of Joy

25 years ago, my cousin Matt & I saw The Monkees in concert. We became obsessed!  We sang their songs in performances we created for our family. We used my Dad's video camera to recreate scenes from the TV show. 

Last night, we saw The Monkees perform again, in the same venue we first experienced them when we were 14. 

It's rare that you have the opportunity to feel exactly the way you did when you were young, but it happened to me last night. I remembered the joy of being young, acting silly, & sharing fun with friends. And the past gave me fuel for the future. 

If you are feeling tired or a little lost, I recommend going back to the places that inspired you as a kid. You may rediscover the light you need for the journey ahead.