We had the good fortune of connecting with Charlie Poulson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Charlie, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, which seems pretty normal, however, growing up and transitioning from female to male in 2010 was something that totally shaped how I interact with the world—and even more specifically, how I do business. When I started to transition, I was a sophomore at Iowa State University and there wasn’t another transman that I could look at and ask “how did you transition here?” so I looked at it as a challenge to just figure it out. There was a lot of trial and error, but one of my survival tactics would be to disclose my trans identity casually in conversation and treat it as if it was no big deal and totally commonplace in that climate. I did this because I knew for the most part, that Iowans never wanted to be perceived as rude or impolite, so nobody wanted to be that one person that had a problem with something that was none of their business. It also allowed me to get to know people and vice versa that I might not have ever gotten to know just based on the difference in life experiences. Overall, it taught me how to talk to completely different types of people and understand the shared core needs that groups of unrelated folks actually had in common. Now, 10 years later, I lead with this part of my identity as a business owner because ironically, my profession is branding and sometimes entails rebranding an existing company. I mean, talk about a rebrand wherein you change your entire external identity to match your internal identity. These experiences, that can’t be taught anywhere, give me a competitive advantage where I’m able to deeply see and understand brands as humans if they choose to be open to that. I created this process because I saw the old ways of branding didn’t really bring a whole lot of value to a company unless you were a huge company like Coca-cola. And with anything, times are changing and the way we create and interact with brands should change with it; or get left behind. The new process my company uses combines artificial intelligence and humanistic aesthetics to make design less subjective and more objective; without sacrificing creativity. I think it’s also a really interesting time to be creating brands that consumers can relate to given that we have all collectively been through drastic life changes with the pandemic. It’s similar to going through a breakup or something traumatic and knowing you can call your best friend for support. Except, in this case, the breakup is a pandemic, and the brands you once bought from or get your mortgage serviced through or something you relied on majorly in your life have the opportunity to play the role of your best friend looking out for you. Some brands did this amazingly, some failed massively, and others were designed from the beginning to play this role. I think if a brand wants any kind of longevity in a post-COVID world, they need to be able to relate at a human level and play the best friend role from the day they’re created, or rebrand to withstand or elude the increasing bullshit radar that everyone is fine-tuning.
What should our readers know about your business?
I started Americano in 2014 after successfully freelancing solo when I realized how much more efficient things would be if I worked remotely vs. coming in to work onsite. I believed this so much, that I got rid of most of my material things, and moved across the country so if clients wanted to work with me, it had to be remote. This was one of the best decisions I ever made because it really shined a light on old ways that needed to be challenged; which seems to be a specialty of mine. One of these old ways, aside from branding, was looking at the pitching process of agencies. As the process stands traditionally, pitches and proposals are a high-risk dumpster fire, to put it lightly. When I worked on the New Business Development team at Ogilvy & Mather North America in NYC, I started to notice that the questions I would ask prior to designing a pitch deck were a major influence on whether the new business was won or lost. Initially, these questions would be something like, “Do you think this client is more left or right-brain oriented? What is your ideal outcome of this presentation?” Eventually, I found the data legitimizer I was looking for: personality artificial intelligence. Instead of two options (left and right brain), now I had 16 personality types to draw upon. For example, most CEOs are either a Captain or Driver personality type—which means for pitches and proposals, they only want the high-level information, and all the details and data will bore them to tears. Knowing this, I’ve created a process that outputs succinct presentation templates for each personality type with a variable of outcome objectives that have exactly what the personality type needs to maintain their attention for the entire presentation and the exact type of content in order to make a decision that they feel good about. It’s really one of those things that nobody ever thinks about, but everyone has to deal with and shares similar deep pains that they just accept as part of the job. It’s also an area that no good designer wants to touch with a 10 ft pole, which is why it continues to be a huge pain point. My hope is that agencies, or any business that goes through a proposal or pitching process, will adapt the system so they can become more efficient, streamline the process, and hopefully save a few folks from pulling all-nighters and being subjected to boring presentations.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Assuming this is under pre- or post-COVID times: I would always take friends, family, dates, etc. to the Blind Barber speakeasy in Highland Park; which I lovingly call the Grilled Cheese Speakeasy for their amazing grilled cheese and cocktails. Would you expect more from a Midwesterner? Probably not. La Cuevita is a favorite for the mezcal collection, APOTHEKE for the vibe and cocktails, Mess Hall for the food, Frolic Room for a taste of old Hollywood, and Cafe 101—my old faithful. I’m also a massive fan of donuts, so I’d drag every single person around me to Kettle Glazed in Hollywood as it’s located at the bottom of the hill of my first apartment in LA and some of the best donuts I’ve ever had.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My grandma and mom, without a doubt, for encouraging all of the entrepreneurial endeavors I started as a kid. My grandma was a phenomenal businesswoman in the 70s until retirement and was the first woman to win the “Businessman of the Year” award in Iowa; carving out a way for others is generational. My mom saved the first contract I wrote when I was 7, which I have framed on the wall and is very telling to who I became. My aunt Laura who owns Glazed Expressions in Iowa also had an influence on my natural love for entrepreneurship when she opened up shop when I was in 3rd grade. I love love love learning from her. My mentors also play a massive role; Leon Wu with Sharpe Suiting has been a great sounding board around being a queer-owned business. Pete Nevenglosky with Drifter Spirits, Avuà Caçhaca, Svöl Aquavit, and more has taught me how to combine my design eye with traditional marketing research to make ownable products that many people want instead of beautiful things that other Charlie’s would buy. My friends who support all of my ideas and let me use them as guinea pigs, even on the worst ones, are so deeply appreciated.
Adidas: Johannes Leonardo.